Steam have a rather timely offer given my last post on STALKER 2, buy both STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) and Call of Pripyat (CoP) for £6.24 !! Interestingly the offer doesn’t include Clear Sky but that is another story ;-)
This is a real bargain and a perfect opportunity to experience these fantastic games, so go and grab your copies.
Remember, to get the most out of Shadow of Chernobyl get the STALKER Complete fan made spruce up mods.
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!
We have oh so many reasons to worship at the gilded feet of ATi and Nvidia at the moment – their continual graphics development has lead to some extremely immerse and consuming games of late, with the promise of still more to come as the Silicon wars heat up. Although many have heralded the start of ‘real life’ or (‘VR’ in the 1990s) quality computer graphics as just being ‘around the corner’ in practice we are nowhere near. (Ask anyone who does Ray Tracing about their render times). :D
Despite significant leaps of late, GPU hardware presently lacks the horsepower to pull this feat off and as a result, game engines utilise trickeries which enhance the final rendered images on our screens. HDR/ Bloom to simulate ranges of lighting, AA / bump/parallax mapping to give flat textures the impression of having three dimensions, film grain and post processing (to name just a few) are all examples of ways in which we are catapulted into the darkest realms of the minds of game developers.
And you know what – it works. It works because the vast majority of games are not based on real life and there is a good reason for this – they would probably be slow paced and/or boring. It is much easier to transport a player into a gritty or glossy world and tell a story where the developer has complete control over the experience – and it is fun. Although please don’t get me started on recoil-less rifles, enemies who can take so much fire to put down you would expect them to look like apple cores, ‘unlimited’ ammo vehicles and some of the other ‘realistic’ travesties that have occurred in recent games.
I would write more on this topic, but I should veer back onto the point. Short films inspired by games are not new, however upto now they were normally poorly voiced over clip shows rendered in the originating game engine. However this is different- I discovered recently; well actually it was back in February so sue me 8) , Escape from City 17.
I can already see the 60 Watt bulbs illuminating above your heads, but for those of you on energy saving varieties, City 17 is the fictional setting of Half Life 2. The fan movie really serves as an advert from ‘The Purchase Brothers’ and it is fantastically put together considering their tiny budget. It blends the oppressive Orwellian City 17 with real life environments seamlessly resulting in a fantastic short video which I highly recommend.
At the rate Valve are working, Half Life 3 Episode 2 may look just like this… probably not worth ordering a bunch of 4870s or 295 GTXs in anticipation though.
I came across a cool trailer for the upcoming Call of Duty release scheduled to be unleashed in mid November. The video has certainly whet my appetite but I find myself a little cynical about this release. Given the resounding success of Call of Duty 4 (I can’t believe it has been out so long already) and my general apathy towards World War 2 shooters, bred by continual disappointments from previous releases, I feel like a kid who just unwrapped a game at Christmas from a distant relative and is on his way to his PC excited but quietly hoping it doesn’t suck. Given the (so far) direct correlation between odd and even numbered Call of Duty games being forgettable and awesome respectively, lets hope CoD:5 breaks this trend.
Even if it ends up ultimately disappointing, the trailer is awesome – I am an absolute sucker for cinematic games and trailers. :)
Yes, it is another post about Stalker: Clear Sky but I have been (and continue to be) so impressed with the quality of the dynamic lighting that I want to share some screen shots I have taken whilst playing. Real time lighting and graphical effects really add a whole new level of immersion to this game, days are bright with sun rays bursting through the trees and nights are so dark that it genuinely influences the player’s tactics.
In the first two images, you can see the shadows cast by the tower creeping along the ground as the sun sets in the distance, followed shortly afterwards by night descending.
Shortly after that, it becomes so dark that navigation without the assistance of your PDA and torch / NVGs becomes difficult. This still, ink black night really enhances the atmosphere of the game leaving the player feeling, at times, quite alone and isolated.
The in-game ‘night’ lasts between an hour to two hours of real time and when the sun rises the entire landscape is literally transformed. In the screen shots below, you can see art work on the wall of the Duty base near Agroprom with the shadows of the trees slowly moving across as the sun rises higher (all updated in real time by the engine).
Although the basic environmental lighting is simply stunning, the range of weather the game simulates is also fantastic, from cold wet downpours to fantastic thunderstorms (which no single screen shot could do justice to.)
I also want to share some screen shots of some of the graphical effects when you come across various types of anomalies. In the tunnels underneath Agroprom, the player has to carefully traverse a winding tunnel filled with jets of flame. In the second screenshot, the player is affected by a burst from the Brain Scorcher outside Yantar.
I am the first one to point out that graphics are not the be all and end all when it comes to gaming, however when a game relies so heavily on the atmosphere it creates as part of it’s story telling machinery it would be unfair not to give them due scritiny (particularly when they are this beautiful.) More screenshots can be found on my Xfire page and more will be added as I play the game.
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.. . :)
Portal has been a resounding success for Valve. It has shown how a small game with a simple concept can be a lot of fun, but not many people realise that the actual concept is not new. In fact, there was a degree project by a Jeep Barnett at DigiPen called Narbacular Drop in which the concept of jumping through dynamic portals to bypass obstacles was first developed. This was back in 2004, the game went on to win a variety of awards at the time and still has a fan following.
So… why didn’t Valve get sued by the original creators? Simple, they employed them. Valve were so impressed by Jeep Barnett and his project that they employed his and some of the original team. Later on, they became the team leaders of the Portal project, developing the idea they came up and crafting it from the fairly crude “Princess no-knees” to the highly polished product most of us played last year.
A bit of trivia for those interested. :)
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.
It seems the last couple of days have been filled with exciting game news. EA have officially announced their intention to release a Command and Conquer Red Alert 3 game. Almost seven years on from Red Alert 2, this game has been on the drawing boards over at the Allied Tech Center for a number of years.
Firstly, I can’t think of a reason not to welcome this news. The Command and Conquer series is a popular RTS-for-the-masses type of game which broad appeal. If EA manage to pull of a good sequel then I will be the first one quing up on the release day. However, from the early indications, it sounds as though EA might fall into the trap of making the same mistakes they made with C&C 3.I personally am a huge fan of both the GDI/NOD C&C universe and the ‘Timeline gone wrong’ Soviets vs Allies of Red Alert. When I got hold of C&C 3 I was initially impressed by the visceral graphics and the big names in the FMV cut scenes… but this quickly cooled when I got into the single player missions and found them dull, uninspired and really lacking in any strategic depth. The inclusion of a third race made for an interesting and exciting game play change particularly as their tech tree was completely different (exactly as one should expect.) However EA made the mistake of making them ‘War of the Worlds’-esque which made player hanker for larger, towering, practically indestructible creatures. Instead, the Scrin were given watered down units which had just enough resemblance to make players think ‘War of the Worlds’ but neither looked, sounded or acted menacing enough. C&C 3, for me was a big disappointment with tedious micro management and a complete lack of sophistication making the single player experience dull.
Now lets look back to September, 2000 when Red Alert 2 was released. In many ways it was a great step forward from Red Alert 1. Graphically it was wonderfully polished, the introduction of better and more exciting super weapons and an array of imaginative unit types and tech buildings really shook things up and made for a highly enjoyable experience. The Yuri’s Revenge expansion pack did a great job at introducing a completely new type of playable faction as well as a variety of tweaks whist keeping the much loved ‘tank vs tesla coil’ approach intact. The biggest downside to Red Alert 2 is that it looked far too much like a cartoon and although there was a greater scope for strategy, it was largely overlooked due to poorly balanced units like the Prism tank or Kirov Airship.
There is a lot of talk about how EA are going to introduce a third side to spice up Red Alert 3 etc etc. I think this is primarily what will be their down fall if they are not careful. In the beginning when the first C&C and Red Alert were released, there was a clear divide between them. C&C was set slightly in the future with a completely fictional universe, units and resource. Red Alert was completed different in that it took the same RTS elements, but brought in a realistic (i.e. factually accurate-ish) universe. That differentiation was good but now it seems, especially with what EA did with Red Alert 2, that they prefer the to set their games in a far more fictional universe. I have nothing against this concept (Terror Drone FTW but units like the Squid/Dolphin take it too far) I hope they do not ruin RA 3 like C&C 3.
The biggest criticism that has always been brought against the C&C franchises is that they are prone to tank rushes. Command and Conquer Generals knocked that on the head by beautifully tweaking damage levels by unit type. No longer could a single rifle soldier take down a heavy tank or a building (given enough time) nor could an aircraft unload several bomb loads at an Infantry unit only to have them get up and look around as if they had been taking a nap. If I was in charge of making Red Alert 3, I would make it a mixture of a Red Alert 1/2 technology universe (minus Yuri’s faction) with the Generals damage engine focusing primarily to game-play rather than making it look pretty. To quote Abe Simpson “Just don’t screw it up.” :)
America’s Army, a free game based on the unreal engine (v2.0, later 2.5 hopefully v3.0 soon), designed and developed by the US Army as a rather (unapologetic) recruiting tool. This statement to one side, I have to admit to being a huge fan of the game and used to play it religiously a couple of years back. Its ‘accurate’ simulation of military situations and tactics was a far cry from FPS games at the time and provided a nice grittier version of war / small unit combat than counter strike and similar games and as a result it sucked me in.
Later patches added specialist units such as medics. Before a player could select this class however, he/she was required to complete a short tutorial which aimed to provide real (if brief) information as to how to provide battlefield aid to wounded soldiers. This was supposedly followed up by a test that the player was required to pass, however rather than question any of the (superfluous) information given to the player, all that was required was for the medic trainee to run to three fallen soldiers and deal with them based on the severity of their condition. This is displayed prominently as a health bar.
Nether-the-less Wired has a story about one Paxton Galvanek, a America’s Army player who used the basic training received in the game to provide emergency aid to a pair of car crash victims.
Galvanek said he learned about controlling bleeding from playing section two of the “medic” class training in America’s Army, a game developed by the Army as a recruitment tool.
“I have received no prior medical training and can honestly say that because of the training and presentations within America’s Army, I was able to help and possibly save the injured men,” Galvanek said.
For years since it’s inception, AA has been plagued by stories / parental and public concerns chiefly surrounding the game making kids ‘better criminals/murders.’ The game developers and community have come out to counter these claims (just read the long FAQs) claiming that a computer game is in-fact, a far cry from reality. Ironic this then is it not :)