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.
Valve have come up with a great promo for XCOM fans – ALL the games (including Interceptor and Enforcer) for £2.99 ! This is an incredible bargain as all five games separately are £2.99, not to mention that Valve have done some tinkering so you avoid all the DOSBox / 16bit emulation woes.
Unfortunately I already own all the originals (apart from Interceptor and Enforcer – but these are not true XCOM strategy games as far as I am concerned) – however if you missed one or two of them then now you have absolutely no excuse. :)
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. :)
Just a quick post to spread the word about Steam’s weekend Bioshock offer. This could not have come at a better time for me, I have just built a brand new awesome gaming rig (details later) and just finished the Bioshock demo! So, at ~$32 it is a bargain, if you like first person action games with a lot of atmosphere (no pun intended) I highly recommend you take advantage of this offer.
Update, just took a look and it almost a 8Gb download, users on capped monthly bandwidths beware. :)
Despite my rather tepid review, I was still tempted to buy DoD: Source, $4.99 was a very good deal but I didn’t in the end, but I am sure many did and this just reinforces how successful such events can be.
UPDATE: The offer was extended until Thursday so I went ahead and bought it. Who knows, I may get a few hours of fun from it :)
This weekend you can play Day of Defeat Source for free via Steam, it corresponds to the launch of the Palermo services across steam which greatly adds to the platform by adding unlock-able achievements for each game. So what is Day of Defeat I hear you ask? It started out as a FPS mod using the original half life engine and was set in the second world war era. What initially distinguished this game from other stand-alone games and mods of the same and similar genres at the time was how thought out it was. Rather then blindly killing the enemy, to win the round you had to capture (or destroy) strategic points as well as blindly killing the enemy. In essence, it was a slower paced Counter Strike with a lot more emphasis on teamwork and strategy.
I have not played DoD for a number of years which is surprising given the fact I have been playing it since Beta 2 and had a waypointing site dedicated to the mod. Back then it was a damn good ‘rough round the edges’ community mod with a lots of promise and bags of potential.
Beta 3.0 was released and everyone celebrated. It built on the strengths of the first betas- tweaking and balancing them as well as adding new features. For a while nothing happened, we all were content playing beta 3.0 and listening to rumours of the ever elusive beta 4.0. Then, in my opinion, it all started going wrong. The mod team struck a deal with Valve and the mod became a commercial game. Beta 4.0 was actually released as version 1.0. It was highly polished and improved, as one would expect from Valve’s backing. Unfortunately it also had a boat load of issues in particular 56k dial-up gamers (yes there still were a fair few back in 2002/2003) were hit hard with very poor gaming experiences for no tangible reason.
At this point I walked away from Day of Defeat, life was complicated at the time and I was about to start Uni so I didn’t have much time for gaming. So, today I eagerly launched DoD:Source which I had preloaded a few days earlier… and was sadly disappointed.
The game itself is largely unchanged apart from being Source-ified which is both good and bad. It was nice to know most of the maps already, despite their new and frighteningly stunning clarity, as well as the basic classes and the useful routes / camping spots etc. What irked me is that the game itself had been dumbed down somewhat. Features which, at the time, differentiated DoD from other Mods such as bleeding, slow paced objective based gameplay and side weapon differentiation were either dropped or drastically tweaked.
What I find inexcusable however is that many of the old problems still linger. Despite the servers I have played on today having between 4 and 16 players the game frequently juddered and lagged particularly during explosions. The hitbox issue, allegedly solved in Day of Defeat, also reappears with some rather odd damage and hit patterns which can be very frustrating. What is even more peculiar, the game designers have appeared to have focused on beautifying the graphical side of the game considerably, adding odd looking ‘film grain’ effects as well as a kill cam with ‘Press F5 for snapshot’ and other useless ‘features’. Some of these additions are almost pretentious in the flashy way they are implemented especially given how inconsistent the effort appears to have been across other aspects of the game.
This is not to say the game is not fun to play and you can currently buy it for $4.99 (half price until the free play period expires) which is an absolute bargain, but I still think beta Day of Defeat 3.0 was the best version to date. I may have to fire it up with some sturmbots at some stage.
Graphics : 6.5/10 – Good but mostly thanks to the engine and sloppy in places.
Sound : 6 / 10 - Reasonable, but not earth-shattering – somehow feels less meaty than before.
Gameplay : 7 / 10 – Same classic DoD, but a little dumbed down and sadly nothing to distinguish it from other modern games.
Difficulty : 7 / 10 – Shallow learning curve and a wide range of players out there.
Overall : 66/100
Worth playing, but won’t keep you occupied for long.
VALVe released Half life 2 to a salavating world back in 2004. Gamers jumped on the game and its new engine called Source, a fork from GoldSrc which powered the original Half Life and was itself based on the original Quake. Unusually, I am going to get to the point very early in a post – I thought Half Life 2 was great. It was slick, beautifully polished and combined action, horror and character development with VALVe’s unique humour.
I do not wish to say much more about the original game, instead I want to talk about the episodic spin offs that were ment to continue the story line. Half Life 2 left us on a bit of a cliff hanger which was both exciting and disappointing. Luckily, VALVe made good their promises of a continuation which would be “worth the wait.” This was the rather obviously named Half Life 2: Episode 1 which I reviewed on my old site. Again, cutting to the point – I loved the first episode with the usual spectacular visuals and wonderfully choreographed character development we have come to expect. Apart from a little bit of “backwards and forwards”-ing and the fact the game was brutally short (I completed it in a 4 hour sitting on hard) it was an orgy of explosive action mixed with a deep undercurrent of forboding.
What the hell happened next?! Episode two has been out since late 2007 and despite promising a lot of new and exciting features such as massively destructable structures and ‘non-linear’ gameplay, I am yet to play it. Today again I watched the preview videos and felt excited by what was on offer, so why is it I have yet to play or am undecided on whether I want to play episode two? It is 2008 now, four years since the original game was released. Whilst technologically the engine (and therefore the games) have improved in many aspects, it still borrows from the tired wardrobe of the original games. We have the same MP7 and combine rifles, still we have the same equipment and still we have almost the same textures. VALVe seem to have missed the point of episodic gaming:
1) More installments with a greater, developing story line
2) Reduced cost of each installment
3) Reduced time between releases (6 to 9 months at most)
4) Something new and exciting in each new installment.
Whilst they have succeeded in point one and two, they are by no means successful at points 3 and 4. Episode two (and likely the final installment when it is released) feel a bit like a poor theatre company who are stuck with the same actors and same (now) limp faded props and dresses from show to show – trying to recreate a medieval scene one week and a futuristic dystopia the next – all from the same props!
I don’t like ranting like this about a company who has given me so many hours of enjoyment, but by the same token I (and everyone else) had the right to expect more. How hard would it have been to replace the MP7 with a G36 carried by shock Combine forces just outside the city to add little bit of spice? Adding new aliens and expanding story lines are welcome additions, but if the player has the same old tool set, it detracts from the larger changes. Had this game been released a year earlier it would have been a different story, but now I have little enthusiasm for it.
I will try and play it at some point, if I am wrong I will happily put it in writing :)
… I wonder if the Combine have an eshop?
I previously wrote about toys that VALVe were producing for the holidays based on Half Life 2. Unfortunately it does not look like we will be seeing any headcrabs as that particular product’s page (which has been ‘out of stock’ for a while) has just been removed. However, for those interested, Vortigaunts are still available :)