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.
A previously unknown company called Valve, released ten years ago, a game called Half Life. Heard of it? Thought you might have- although believe it or not, Gordon Freeman’s debut on our gaming systems was initially more of a ‘quickie’ technology showcase, designed to make the industry take note of this up-and-coming game developer. According to Ars technica:
Initially, Half-Life was supposed to be this quickie FPS that would give the company a resume and get us on our feet to do whatever the real thing was that we were going to do. We could learn some stuff doing this, then we’d do some other thing.”
I remember borrowing a friend’s copy of the game and playing it on my first self-built pc, a relic with a 333Mhz AMD K6-2 processor and 128Mb of RAM, gosh 1998 seems such a long time ago… Despite being a phenomenal game in it’s own right, redefining the baseline for game narrative and story telling, the mod community is what really developed Half Life’s appeal. Mods like Day of Defeat, Counter Strike, Natural Selection as well as literally countless others all attracted their own fan-bases and showed what a small group of fans could accomplish. To this day, the degree of flexibility and mod-ibility of the Half Life engines present a target for other game development houses to aspire to.
Well, ten years later and Half Life has been a remarkable success proving to the world that a guy in a lab coat with an unhealthy penchant for physics problems can have the most amazing adventures and get the girl. To celebrate, Valve are offering this classic for $1 over at their online store Steam.
Below is a youtube video of an experimental robot called ‘BigDog’.
Its balance is best demonstrated about half way through when a researcher tries to knock it over, very impressive stuff from DARPA, the people who gave us the Internet. :)
EDIT: Is it me, or does it have a worrying similarity to this creature from Half Life 2?
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 :)
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 :)
On the 3rd of December, a talented team of Russian modders released their single player Mod “Paranoia” on the unsuspecting Internet. Despite the fact that it has been in work for 3ish years and based on the Half Life 1 engine I was sufficiently intrigued to download the installer and give it a go.
From a technical standpoint it is, as expected, rather disappointing and it does take a while to readjust to the graphics of the original half life engine. Determined, however, to give the game a fair try I concentrated more on the other aspects of the mod.
You are a Russian Spetnaz soldier, and ‘wake up’ in your room (how cliché.) The level designers have done a good job in capturing post-soviet architecture and it provides an interesting insight into this world in much the same way as STALKER. This is where the similarities end, with uninspired texturing and poor initial map layouts and terrible lighting. The first level is always designed to familiarise the player with the environment he/she has just entered. Good games (and mods) give you a brief overview of how to control your character and a brief overview as to the environments you might face. Paranoia does do this, but in a horribly protracted way, leaving the player seemingly wandering in circles listening to subtitled Russian which gets boring fairly quickly.
The scripting is used fairly well but is let down by its complete lack of polish. Interactions with NPCs feel forced and judder-y which immediately starts to separate players from the game environment.
Combat is pretty painful. Its hard to go into a game without some expectations based on games that have “got it right first time.” The last FPS game I played prior to Paranoia was Call of Duty 4 and the difference could not be more stark, not just in terms of visual aspects (which of course cant be compared) but also in terms of fluidity and mechanics. With hit boxes which are laughably poor at times to terrible enemy model animation and AI this game started to annoy me at the first contact with the enemy (20-35 minutes in.) This is not simply due to the age of the engine, I still play Counter Strike (1.6) occasionally which is based on the same engine and there is no comparison, Counterstrike is silky smooth and actually has not aged badly graphically.
This is not to say, as the mod team has clearly put a lot of effort in, there are a number of interesting additions to the engine, like notes which can be read, a (very basic) mission manager and a point and click interface similar to the Doom 3/Quake 4 engine, however it is not enough.
I must admit I did not play too far past the first real ‘mission’ because all the annoyances were starting to mount up. The only thing that could save this mod would be a solid, immersing story line. Given the poor scripting, amateurish voiceclips and overall poor presentation I doubt it does and wont be playing it to find out.
Overall : 2/10
A lot of effort has clearly been put into some aspects of this mod and I am hesitant to put it down because of this, unfortunately a lot more is still needed and given the age of the engine, the team has likely run out of time.
UPDATE: I decided the give it another try and played through. It was not worth it, whilst the game did get better later on, the story line must have been conceived by a madman. (spoiler) After the initial encounter with the ‘terrorists’ you chase them into an underground base where you learn your Government had been conducting secret experiements in order to genetically engineer the perfect Spetznaz soldier. But it all turns nasty when you have to wade through a lab with zombies to another lab with genetic uber monsters, back to the first lab to find whats controlling the monsters…. you get the picture. Its disjointed and the story ‘borrows’ from games like They Hunger and the trigent parts of Far Cry, hanging together by a thread. All in all a revised rating would be 3/10 but only because the latter parts are slightly more polished than the start.