Progress in Games

Michał ‘mina86’ Nazarewicz | 25 listopada 2013

“…and this pun with savegames in GTA.” my friend laughed.

“What pun? What savegames?” I asked with a blank stare.

“You know, ‘Jesus saves’.” he explained looking at me like I’m crazy.

“Wait, you could save game in GTA?” I raised my brow in disbelief.

That’s how I found out about savegames in GTA. This was years after I finished the game, twice, completing each city in one go. But as fun as GTA was, it wasn’t the game I spent most time playing. That title goes to Doom 2. To this day, I put it at the top of all FPS games ever.

Why do I mention those old, long forgotten titles? Let’s fast forward a little.

Apocalypse

I don’t usually buy games on a tangible medium. Doom 3, however, is one of the few that sits on my shelve. When I played it though, I had this uneasy feeling… Something wasn’t right. Almost as if I didn’t get what I had hoped for. The game was dark, and slow. Encounters with monsters jumping out from the darkness, were separated by journeys through dark corridors. Dim lights showed you the way in the darkness as you slowly progressed in each level, but did not reveal the danger, as that was hidden in dark corners.

I’m not a great writer, so that’s probably why I overused “dark” in the above paragraph. To my defence, so did id Software. In some respects, Doom 3 felt like a technical demo of their shiny rendering engine. The team went overboard with all the new features, and instead of creating a successor of a game I love so much, they’ve created a poor attempt at duplicating System Shock 2 (a game which even with its “outdated” graphics is much more enjoyable and immersive then Doom 3)… or something… I don’t know what exactly to be honest.

Fortunately, there’s also Classic Doom 3. A mod created by Flaming Sheep Software. It is a remake of shareware levels of the original Doom, and it is wonderful. It’s fast paced, with energetic music, no unneeded interruptions, no cut-scenes, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the game I wanted id Software to make. It’s a pity they didn’t.

Anger

Still, I cannot say it was a bad game, and I did not, at that time, loose confidence in id Software’s ability to create a great shooter. That’s why, when I craved some good FPS, I got my hands on Rage, id’s latest product.

I’m starting the game. Standing by the exit of the Ark I check my grip on a mouse — I’m ready for my first encounter. Crouching, I enter the wilderness, watching my each step, I’m prepared to face the —

“Wait, what just happened?” I look at the screen baffled. “Oh, it’s just a cut-scene, an extended intro I guess…” I take a sip of my tea while the protagonist sits in a car-thingy to escape danger with a newly found friend. A friend, who later leads to a realisation dialogues are not skippable — NPCs just keep talking, and one has to wait till they’re finished to get a quest. Walking away looks like a valid work-around though.

More playing revealed that Rage is some kind of hybrid between Borderlands and Death Race, both of which are worth recommending, but when id made them, they felt like another technical demo. As if they wanted to show how one can do both a shooter and a racing game using their engine. Pity they themselves couldn’t. Riding the vehicles only inflated gameplay time without adding anything to the plot or actual shooter experience. The “technical demo” impression was reinforced by the fact that Rage took two short evenings to finish.

487A

In the end I did finish Rage (even with all the boring time sinks) and this is more than I can say about GTA 4. Recalling all the fun I had playing GTA, I decided to take a look at it’s latest version.

Admittedly, the intro was nicely done, and I really enjoyed it. It was not as good as Witcher’s, but still, a calm pace and “cast” information nicely intermingled into the video, set a mood for a hopefully interesting game. Then, the developers decided to treat me like an idiot. I got used to games assuming I have no idea how to move, so with a slight sigh I got through this part. I still had hope.

Unfortunately, the more I played, the more I disliked GTA 4. Instead of having mission after mission, where I steal cars, run away from police, and run over innocent pedestrians, I was greeted with a ton of boring cut-scenes, a bowling simulator, a dating simulator, and other random content (none of which was particularly good). The things I loved GTA for so much were, however, hard to find.

Call of Doom

Are we really entering an age where games are all about slick graphics, heavily scripted locations and long cut-scenes? Playing various triple A titles I certainly feel that way and that it progresses rapidly — for instance with Mass Effect that amount of cut-scenes increased and complexity of dialogues seemed to decrease with each sequel, and even though the last one reportedly had more dialogue lines than any previous, it was likely because the dialogues were longer, not because player had more choices.

But my opinion is, of course, not the only one. Some say scripted FPS games make for a more immersive experience. That such games can be viewed as “interactive books”. I gave this idea a try, and played through single player campaign of Battlefield 3.

Immersed was definitely not what I felt. More like annoyed.

For starters, each scripted encounter had its own one-time mechanics. On top of which developers could not even write a proper key binding configuration system. The end result was that I had to reply some of the scenes multiple times

Furthermore, characters in books can travel great distances in an instant. On one page they are here, on the next one, they are across the city. No problem. But in B3 it felt like the second most time consuming part of the game (after replying scripted encounters) was running mindlessly following some other character — if I really wanted to play Desert Bus, I would have done so…

Hope must lay with the proles

I sometimes feel we’d be better off without all the fancy graphics cards able to render nearly movie-like quality scenes. In a world where developers have to think of ways to interest player other than just adding more non-interactive content. This is of course exaggeration, and I’ll be the first to admit that games like VVVVVV should have never been created, Notch manifested how lazy and/or incompetent he is by using graphics from 1980s, and that Another World 20th Anniversary Edition is even more enjoyable then it’s original, but the point is that the game was fun to play even without those graphics.

There seems to be something about having limited resources to develop a “next generation” graphical engine, that forces game developers to think of different ways to engage the player.

I’ve also had a pleasure of trying out Civilisation V and I’m saying “pleasure” despite me not being a huge fan of the franchise (probably because sadly I’m not that good at strategies). Even though the graphics and various screens were updated and some introduced a 3D animated figures, there were no intrusive, overly-long cut-scenes. No time sinks adding nothing to the gameplay. There was no overuse of the engine. The studio kept to the roots. They kept what made the game great only updating it wherever it made sense.

In the past I would make fun of games like FIFA or Need for Speed (admittedly I’ve never played the former and only a little of the latter) where it would seem that each new version is just updated graphics and new players/cars to choose from. But maybe FPS and RPG developers should look closely at such franchises and try not introducing more stuff whose only purpose is to look good? Like the meme goes, “try not adding another cut-scene on your way to the car.”

Conclusion

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