STALKER 2 in the works, STALKER 2 in the works, STALKER 2 in the works. … (calmly reclining) and I’m mildly excited about this. Not a huge amount is known about the follow-up to the first trilogy of STALKER games yet, the original press release was somewhat short on details. However, we do know that the same studio (GSC) are already working on it and it might use the Crysis engine.
I found the original trilogy to be somewhat of a flawed gem – breathtakingly exciting, compellingly authentic and very engrossing; but sadly each title lacked a certain ‘something’ that ended up detracting from the experience. Luckily a number of talented community members have released various spruce up mods which (especially in the case of Shadow of Chernobyl) really make the games feel MUCH more complete and enjoyable, greatly enhancing what is already a phenomial gaming experience.
If you’ve not played a STALKER game before I can’t recommend enough grabbing a copy of Shadow of Chernobyl (£9.99 currently on Steam) along with the STALKER Complete 2009 fan made spruce up mod and Call of Pripyat (currently £19.99 on Steam or £14.99 if you own either Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) or Clear Sky). Somewhere between these great titles is pure gaming gold, I really hope GSC find it for STALKER 2. Roll on 2012!
The COD 4.2 full trailer has been released and boy does it look good! I can’t wait to get my hands on this (although the preorder price of £45 is crazy!!!), for now – let me direct you with all haste to the Infinity Ward COD 4 MW 2 webste
26/05/09 Update: now hosted on youtube as well, so enjoy the embedded goodness
Happy New Year to you all! I have a real New Years treat today, regular (or sporadic) readers will no doubt have noted the high regard I have for some old console games (particularly from my long lost gaming youth days.) Goldeneye is a game that stands out in particular not just for me, but many others. I randomly came across a lengthy piece by Martin Hollis, who was at the time, Head of Software for the Goldeneye (and later Perfect Dark) projects at Rare. His account of the frantic months and years of work which eventually culminated in these masterpieces make for fascinating reading.
So, in the specific case of GoldenEye, and with the benefit of hindsight, the gameplay model was Virtua Cop with a bit of Doom, plus some Mario 64. The theme or setting was (obviously) the Bond universe and particularly GoldenEye. Many of the visual effects and kinetic moments I took from Hard Boiled or other John Woo flicks. Especially, things exploding. Visually, there’s more to that than you might think.
His accounts of the lack of discernable direction or ‘game plan’ for many of the elements speak particularly loudly to me as I am myself now in software development. It is frankly amazing that the project was able to organically mature into the final product given how late in the day some design decisions were ultimately made.
I compiled a list of about 40 gadgets from various Bond films, most of which were modelled, and then Dave and Duncan tried to find levels where we could use them. This is backwards game design, but it worked very well. These models were the game design; there was very little written down on paper. And the models were researched and milked extensively.
Even more incredible was the lack of any real development hardware to properly test their work. Whilst architecturally similar, the SGI Onyx machine they did have was sufficiently different (and underpowered) to make the whole project akin to stumbling blinding along a dirt road at night. From my own coding experiences, it makes me a little edgy if I have been working on a large project (or piece of code) that can’t be compiled or tested until completed. In this situation it is far too easy to make a mistake which could cause untold hours of grief later on. The fact that this lack of ‘comfort zone’ for the majority of the Goldeneye project and not even having the concrete hardware capabilities of the Ultra 64 (later n64) platform until close to completion speaks to the commitment and, frankly, the nerve of the development and management team.
I mentioned we didn’t have an N64 or anything like one. The closest we had was an SGI Onyx or two. Thankfully, as it turned out, the N64 could render triangles much faster than the SGI Onyx. This was shocking as the list price of the Onyx was $250K dollars, and the N64 launched for about 1000th of this price. That’s progress. And it totally saved us, as several of the backgrounds rendered at about 2Hz (2 fps) on the Onyx, without even drawing enemies, objects, or Bond’s gun. My attitude was always, well, if it runs at all on the Onyx, we can probably get it to run at about 30Hz on the final hardware.
As you can no doubt tell from the gushing commentary I am very much in awe of this team’s accomplishment. I can’t recommend highly enough that you read the whole post for yourself.
The Command and Conquer franchise has, since its debut been noted for its focus on high quality sound and FMVs. Infact, it was this production quality that initially drew me in to the first Command and Conquer when I saw it at a friend’s house many many years ago. It was the first time I had heard intelligible language uttered in a real time strategy game and coupled with the sound track I was completely blown off my feet. Since then, every other RTS game has embraced the class specific whimsical audio commentary with a gusto and yet, no-one seems to quite do it like Westwood Studios(now .. unfortunately … EA.) The FMVs (Full Motion Video, an acronym that reveals its age) have always been on the grand scale with fairly cheesy acting. Despite of this, they were literally the reward at the end of every level and sometimes gave hints of new units you were about to obtain as you progressed further and further up the tech tree.
There are many great examples and youtube probably (I have certainly seen the majority listed) has them all. In more recent games (read Command and Conquer 3) EA have tried casting big name scifi stars with varying degrees of success. I am a bit biased in this, as I am of the firm belief C&C 3 was a bit of a step backwards from Generals, but I digress.
Today, whilst browsing I came across this video showing cut scenes from a variety of videos from the as yet unreleased C&C: Red Alert 3. The cast list seems to include a more down to earth selection of big names and I must admit I am very excited about how C&C:RA3 is shaping up. According to trylobyte, the cast list is as follows:
Evil Communist Russian with cheesy accent – played by Peter Stormare (Prison Break, Armageddon), Andrew Divoff (Patchy from LOST) and TIM CURRY!! The clueless US president – played by JK Simmonsof Spiderman fame The old humble Allied General (Jonathan Pryce) Hot Communication Officers – Gemma Atkinson 8-0 Ivana Milicevic (the bad guy’s gf in Casino Royale) 8-0 and Kelly Hu (X-men2) 8-0 Tanya (now blonde and played by…Jenny McCarthy )
But anyway, for now.. enjoy and join me in giving thanks to the Church of Conquerology.. .
The game I briefly want to talk about was released over 15 years ago on the SNES, I played it back then and found it thoroughly enjoyable. I recently picked it back up and thought I would give it a whirl, given that my media center has a SNES emulator – and I must say I very pleasantly surprised. It is very easy to be carried away by simply drooling over improved graphics in new game releases. This can save all but the poorest modern releases, however, games like Portal on the other hand, bring us crashing back down to earth showing us that the way the game plays can (and normally is) far more important than any visual polish the game studio applies with a trowel afterwards.
I didn’t realise until I did a bit of background research for this post, but the Choplifter ‘franchise’ began way back in 1982 on the Apple II and has enjoyed a release on the gameboy as well prior to the final version on the SNES. The gameplay elements do not appear to have changed much, the game is still a sideways scrolling action shooter, but they have been perfected in Choplifter III.
So, what’s the story? Simply, you are a helicopter pilot who is tasked with rescuing a quota of downed pilots or hostages in each mission. This sounds simpler than it is, as the game throws you from Jungle to Naval encounters, culminating in a vicious city fight followed by an intense and unexpected setting for the final ‘world’. You pick up a variety of special weapons along the way and the enemies get progressively tougher as you go along. For those who find the game too easy, there is a non-’practice’ difficulty setting which is a lot less forgiving.
Below is a video of some of the early action made by someone else.
All in all, the game is a little short – taking between 3 and 4 hours depending on player ability, but it is varied enough to be a lot of fun. I get the impression that it was not one of the major releases back when it came out and as such may have been overlooked by many gamers which is a shame.
Graphics: 8/10 – Nothing special, but fairly detailed and pleasing to the eye.
Sound : 4/10 – Unimaginative, the main let down of the game.
Gameplay: 7.5/10 – Simple premise, not enough reward for rescuing extra hostages.
Overall: 8/10 A classic, casual game that is worth picking up and trying.
I was having a long overdue clear-out of my cupboard and I found a few interesting things I have managed to accumulate over the last few years. The one bit that peaked my interest the most was the box for Red Alert: Counterstrike. This was the first (and worst) expansion pack for Command and Conquer Red Alert, still inside the box was the manual and the coded communication. For those of you who do not remember (or never played this game) to the right is a picture of one side of this coded communication.
The encoding was very simple, it was Morse code, if you deciphered it, you would be told how to access the built in (and secret) hidden ant missions which were not alluded to in the actual game. It got me thinking, when was the last time gamers were really challenged with puzzles in mainstream games? RPGs in general almost always feature quite unique and challenging puzzles. The n64 versions of the Legend of Zelda series of games had some of the more varied and fun puzzles but there are many more examples of such games. This is a genre that has Incorporated RPG elements as one of its key gameplay points. How many new RPGs actually utilise puzzles to challenge the player? Most newer RPGs seem to believe NPC or item hunting around the game ‘world’ map to be the height of puzzle solving, whilst this can be fun, it does not even remotely compare to RPGs of old.
Lets take a look at the main genres in PC gaming and see how they are (or are not) innovating.
Real Time Strategy games in general have no puzzle solving within the gameplay. That does not mean they are brainless mass-mindless-click games however, more modern RTS games like Company of Heros or Supreme Commander do require the player to carefully think through their next move rather than rely on tank rush tactics of old. Games like Company of Heros have value added features which require the player to complete each mission whilst meeting some modest requirement (e.g. no less than 5 tank losses or inflict 300 casualties) but these only serve to give the games some limited replay factor, they do not encourage the player to think much. The unfortunate downside to many of the more complex RTS games is they suffer greatly from their own complexity. This is most obvious in Supreme Commander where the great requirement for micromanagement seriously detracts from the fun gameplay.
First Person Shooter games are some of the worst culprits when it comes to innovation. More and more game companies believe that the answer to their next shooter is to build a new engine and rehash gameplay from previous titles. Whilst in a lot of cases produces some excellent games (Crysis, Call of Duty 4, Bioshock etc) in terms of innovating or bringing something new and challenging to the genre, they tend to fall flat. There are a few notable exceptions thankfully and by a strange coincidence they mostly appear to use the early ID engines or Id tech 4 engine. It all started with Quake back in 1997, a (for then) stunning true 3D game which became the most touted reason to buy a (or upgrade your) computer that year for gamers. What it did well is, apart from being an ego shooter, there were secrets which were challenging to find as well as a number of func_triggers that either had to be shot (or touched by the player) in order to allow them to progress in the game. This along with the introduction of pseudo physics gave players a new dimension to think in when playing FPS games and was in stark contrast to pseudo 3D games like the original Doom series.
Doom 3 on the other hand was a different story, featuring a (then) revolutionary FPS engine, it sought not only to stun gamers, but also to add a little bit of uniqueness to the genre. It was a lot of fun to play but in a lot of ways it’s desire to innovate fell short of the mark. Whilst obtaining UAC PDAs was a new take and added to the immersion in the UAC universe (hunting for codes to Supply cabinets was interesting) it didn’t really present any new challenges to the seasoned FPS player.
Prey, a game based on the Doom 3 engine on the other hand had an excellent concept – one of spirituality. Unfortunately this game seemed to have dropped out of the lime light fairly soon after it’s release which is a shame, but it presented a Doom-esque game whilst presenting a fair few challenges. The protagonist is an American Indian who has the ability to move through some objects / force fields with his spirit, which, the player can swap into and then back to his physical form. This coupled with the physics defying walkways gave the game a fairly unique feel seperating it from the realms of the generic Doom shooter clone.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is also worth mentioning here because, whilst it does not have any puzzle solving quests in the traditional sense, the game itself can be thought of as an FPS game crossed with a RPG Mystery. It is by no means the first game to have alternative endings and although all seven of them can be broken down into two categories, there was something very fun about unravelling the mystery. It takes effort to go after the side quests in order to achieve this and it is very easy to by pass altogether. This is an example of an FPS story told well, it is a story that unfolds very slowly based on player effort and interpretation. Other games tend to just unravel their stories based on the player’s progression which is by no means as effective (although F.E.A.R is an except to that.) S.T.A.L.K.E.R. could have done so much more though, for example introducing PDA style journals inside their existing system to add atmosphere. The existing system of, you kill someone/find a body and automatically download the information (including stash locations) is a bit too automated. Something like this has to be carefully implemented in order to add to the game rather than give the player reams of pointless prose which they (mostly) will skip like the copious books in Morrowind and Oblivion. A good example of where this journalised PDA system could have been put to good use would be in the X18 lab (With the poltergeist) with all the keypad locked doors. I would have loved to read a paragraph from the dead scientist’s PDA rather than just hearing a brief voice clip telling me the code.
Of course now we come to Portal. The reason behind Portal’s phenomenal success (it was initially viewed as a fun side-mod to Episode 2 by Valve) was that is was completely different. In a way, it was more of a tech demo with a story than a game in itself, but look at the critical response it had from users and reviewers. If nothing else, the amount of fun and enjoyment Portal gave to a wide gaming community speaks volumes for the need for more puzzle elements in modern games.
I wanted to talk about RPG games as well as some other genres, but I can not really find any examples which add greatly add to this discussion. I will however make them the focus of a future post on this topic.
A puzzle does not have to be a scrambled message on an extra bit of paper shipped with the game, it could be far more subtle, it could be a geometric puzzle (wonderful examples in Zelda, Ocarina of Time), it could be a story driven puzzle which gives secondary story arcs (like STALKER) or event a RPG style event driven puzzle. The point I am labouring to make is that there are a huge variety of ways games puzzled and challenged us before graphics became the driving force behind game development. I just hope we will start to see some mainstream games which present more of a fulfilling challenge than we have seen in the last few years.
At the risk of jumping on the Sony bashing bandwagon, I thought it would be funny to post this message we got from our head office this week:
Regardless whether the shortage is artificially Nintendo imposed or genuine, whenever we have had stock of either the Nintendo Wii or DS they have flown off the shelves. The PS3… lingers hopefully in the shadows…