So I took a gaming sabbatical. Around September I realised I hadn’t played games for a few months, spending most of my spare time working on the blog. To remedy this situation I self-prescribed a bit of time spent playing games. This was conveniently combined with another realisation, I still hadn’t finished the main quest in Skyrim.
We all know the partially unspoken rule of sequels in computer games, movies etc. Its basically the law of diminishing marginal returns. I’ll throw this accusatory pint glass directly at the Call of Duty franchise as a first point of call (I’d mention Mario but you know what, I regard that franchise more as a sick corporate experiment than anything else) but there’s plenty of examples out there. But I’ve realised that I’ve been somewhat hypocritical in my extroverted loathing of sequels. I’m actually looking forward to a few of them right now. So like all good hypocrites, I come before you to justify my position rather than to abandon it. Allow me to begin my justification by stating that these game series are either unique, constituting a genre in and of themselves, or games which began their own genre and are still the exemplar of quality in that genre. So without further ado let me start with the first game on my list, Arma3.
Nostalgia in the PC gaming world is a dangerous vice. When games die they’re rarely left to rest in peace, more often buried in that weird Pet Semetary graveyard the game industry owns. Often they come back and some come back ‘wrong’, resulting in some hideous abominations in recent memory. It fails to alter the fact that nostalgia is still a very powerful force in marketing games. Much of the time that feeling of nostalgia is short lived or bitter tinged but just once in a while something comes along that delivers. DOTA2 might be just that something.
The original DOTA (Defence Of The Ancients if you don’t know) was an extremely popular mod for Warcraft3. It was basically a 10 person PvP RPG combined with tower defence with a bewildering array of playable heroes and usable items (which can combine to make better items). The basic goal is to kill enemy heroes and enemy ‘creeps’ which are spawned by both bases and run along three paths towards one another. Level up your character’s abilities to make them and your team more lethal. Ultimately the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s towers and base but this can only be accomplished by good teamwork.
We approached at night, the darkness cloaking our movements from any observer as we broke out of the tree line. The zombies wandered aimlessly, growling through bloodstained mouths as they stumbled across the fields in front of us. Further down the hill the city beckons, a mass of zombie lined streets and houses hopefully filled with loot for the taking…
There’s been no shortage of media attention on DayZ and it’s creator Dean ‘rocket’ Hall, since the alpha release broke cover some months ago. In this case it feels like the amount of coverage is justified. If you haven’t heard of DayZ, its a game mod which is best summed up as a persistent zombie apocalyptic shooter. No teams, no rules, just 50 human survivors thrown into a vast game world filled with zombies to co-operate or kill each other, survive or perish. It is brutally difficult, incredibly immersive and at times truly nerve-wracking in a way that no other game I’ve played has ever been. It’s been a long time since something this exciting and innovative happened in gaming.
Realism in computer gaming can be a touchy subject. I happen to prefer realism in my computer games. I’ll be the first to admit that not all the gaming community is with me on this one. One friend went so far as to tell me during a spirited debate on gaming that I don’t like games, I like simulations (it may have been swearier in real life). This isn’t really the case, I don’t play any true simulations and I like realism in a game but that doesn’t encompass all I look for. What I look for most is a gaming experience I can get immersed in without being pulled back to reality by the game itself. It’s de rigeur for games to promise immersive experience but most seem to fall short of that ultimate goal. Often the reason for this isn’t as shallow as graphics or as complex as physics but about the mechanics of the game defining how involved and immersed you feel. Why does this happen when so much effort is put into game design? To answer this you have to go to the dawn of gaming history.
As an entertainment medium games have changed significantly since their inception back in the days of Pong. Early game designers worked with mere kilobytes of ram and storage as well as limited processing capacity. They had to make tradeoffs in the graphics and gameplay but produced spectacular games for their time which laid the foundations for the games we have today. Any medium that changes over time has certain evolutionary hangovers left from previous eras. Currently game graphics (on the PC at least) are within a hairs breath of being photorealistic. Complex physics simulation is the norm and lighting engines are able to paint a world so realistically they can make a sunset to make any ancient greek poet mildly aroused. But there are still some remnants of game history left like a vestigial tail on modern gaming that make me realise I’m playing a game not staring at another world through my screen. I will admit to being a whore for good graphics. I do like games that look fantastic, but I’m not so shallow that this defines my level of interest. Even more than graphics its about the feeling of immersion in the game world, graphics help produce this but ultimately it takes more. You have to have gameplay that draws the player into their character and the feeling of being there in the game. The physicality of a game, if you will. In previous generations of gaming hardware limited the ability of game designers to implement this but today nothing stands in the way apart from convention and tradition.