Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Release Dates

Play.com recently announced some UK release dates, most significantly, for Fable 2. Play.com slated the release date as May 30th. This sounds great to me, perhaps a little too near Brawl, but none the less, sounds good. Unfortunately, Lionhead Studios have denied this release date, saying it "is pure speculation". This is obviously disappointing, as the website implied the game would come out when leaves turn brown, ie. autumn. Still, at least it puts a bit of space between Fable and Brawl.

Or does it, a highly reputable source, has released he first realistic release date for Brawl. Tesco have said the release date will be the 1st of January 2020. So, I will be programming the countdown tonight!

On a side note, you may start noticing references to something called Frozen Kangaroo. This is a game that I am designing/developing (still very much in the designing stage). As a result, you will start to see more posts about game design, and references to Frozen Kangaroo will appear, you can use these to piece together the game, as I will not be releasing any official information till further down the line. You can see the first piece of concept art here. If you've got time, check the rest of his DeviantArt, it's good stuff and he will be the lead artist in FROZEN KANGAROO.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart Wii is coming out this Aprile exclusive to, as the name suggests, is exclusive to the Wii. I very much enjoyed Mario Kart Double Dash for the Gamecube as it was great fun in multiplayer and was very accessible to all markets. Surly this would make a perfect game for the Wii, as the whole point about Wii is the accessibility to different markets. I didn't think Mario Kart was perfect however, so here is a wish list of what I want to see improved upon in Mario Kart Wii

Non-Scripted Physics Engine
What made MK so much fun, was the fact that the game would get crazy. Karts would be flying every which way, slipping on bananas, going up jumps, speeding on boost-pads and chucking objects at each other. However, what detracted from the craziness was the linearity of the spinning and crashing. For those who have played the game, picture, when you get hit by a shell, instead of using the pre-animated spin, how you span depended on the incline of the track, the angle at which you were hit etc. Furthermore, with the inclusion of a true physics engine, when you crash in to other cars, there could be huge pile ups. One of the best things about Forza is, when you are racing at 200MPH, you slip and there is a huge pile up. However, in Forza, this is cool, but then, it is basically the end of the race and you have to restart because it is "realistic". In MK, however, there could be massive pile ups and then everyone just drives on.

Increase in Speed
Once again, this comes down to the crazy factor. It is a racing game, so make it possible to go really fast. Obviously, this makes it harder, so make it possible to tone up/down the speed depending on requirements. Sucessfully dodging shells in Double Dash was one of the personal highlights for me. It was a really nice feeling when you see a red shell coming towards you and then you drift just before it hits you and it crashes in to the opponent in front of you. That situation would be so much cooler if it were all taking place at 200MPH and when it hit the opponent in front of you, you would see him shoot behind you (as well as you being forced to doge him thanks to the aforementioned physics engine)

Online Multiplayer
This feature has been pretty much confirmed anyway, but, lets face it, as good as Double Dash Single player was, the multiplayer was where it's at. So, in line with the craziness, lets have lots of people online. For once, I am not at all fussed about lack of communication options or having to have friend codes. It really doesn't matter, maybe let us save fastest times, so people can try and beat them and ranks so non-gamers aren't playing gamers. However, aside from that, you don't need to talk to people while racing, you don't need to add them as a friend because races don't really allow you to pick out favourite opponents. Once again, this is an element that would be enhanced by increased speed and physics.

These features I believe are realistic. Obviously, this title is one Nintendo is going to make non-gamer friendly, but I don't think these features make it and less or more accessible, they just make it better. Obviously, I could ask for the ability to customise cars, or paint them, or have tournaments and leader boards and damage models. But all that isn't going to happen in a non-gamer friendly game. If you want that, play Forza. I will, assuming the reviews aren't terrible, be getting Mario Kart to quench my thirst till Brawl. For anyone who is confused about Brawl's release date, you are not alone. IGN says May 1st, as does Game. Gamespot on the other hand, says June 6th and Nintendo, the publisher and distributor, has not confirmed any release date. So, ignore anyone who says "They KNOW when it is coming out," just ignore them, because unless they occupy a high position at Nintendo, they don't

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Super Smash Brothers Brawl Released in the US

Brawl has been released in America. Now just Europe and the rest of the world to go. While sales reports are yet to come in, both Gamespots and IGNs review of Nintendo's hotly anticipated fighter are up. They both give the game a 9.5, the highest score (bar perfect) While the reviews are not identical, they both have similar criticisms, mainly of the Subspace Emissary.

"...there are some[levels]--in particular the automatically scrolling ones--that the game could have done without"
"...as it is simply not as balanced or entertaining as the stages designed for multiple human opponents"
Despite this, the Subspace Emissary is just a bonus feature, and when it comes to the actual multiplayer, they do not have a bad word to say. They even declare all four controller options to be completely viable. Also, they say the online plays lag free, and, while you cannot play your own maps online, it doesn't really matter. You can also share photos, videos and stages online. I won't bore you will all the features, as thy are all listed on the Smash Bro's Dojo. It is suffice to say, this is my no. 1 anticipated game for 2008 and I physically don't know if I can wait. Maybe I should just buy an American Wii and play Brawl today. If you want to be excited about Brawl, read the two reviews, check the Dojo for photos from the American users and play Melee.

On a side note, I have set up my real Xbox Live account, what a load of fuss that was, and they expect you to pay for it! My ID: theTHK123, if you send a message saying you read my blog, I will accept you instantly! Current games: Halo and Forza but should be getting Fable and Merc 2 when they come out this year.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Terrible Graphics Crysis

In this months Op-Ed, I will be looking at the effects of "Next Generation Graphics" and if we actually need them.

Many thanks to "my friend" whose, up till now, only use was owning a 360. Fortunately, after coming up with the frankly genius title, he will not be the first redundancy here at Veteran Gamer

Last month, I looked at online gaming. I suggested that online may detract from a game because the developers were focusing online. While I still feel this is true, in comparison to the damage the HD graphics can do, it is negligible and online comes with tangibly good benefits. With the exception of the Wii, all current generation consoles, PC included, are pushing the so called High Definition era. Titles built with the sole intention of wowing the user, such as Crysis and games that have physics engines that put real life to shame, such as the one in Burnout: Paradise. But can a thick layer of beauty really cover up for poor gameplay. Or is it even the cause, suffocating originality?

With an introduction like that, you might think I was just going to rant about graphics. I am, after all, a Wii owner. However, graphics, and I mean this term very generally as I include stunning physics engines (as it has similar pros and cons), are, when used to complement rather than dominate, a very powerful tool. For example, one of my criticisms of Mario Kart was, while the action is often crazy, the fact that all the spinning is pre-animated ruins the chaos and makes it feel scripted. On the flip side, when racing in Forza Motor Sport at 200MPH and you slightly slip, you swerve, knocking the other contestants and causing a huge, entirely spontaneous crash. The fact that you know this can happen adds to the tension of the game. Likewise, part of the reason Halo: Combat Evolved became so popular was the Warthog. The Warthog was fun because, when a grenade exploded next to you, you flew backwards. Which leads me on to my next point.

Good graphics can make a truly immersive game. It is difficult to feel like you are inside a game if you are constantly reminded of it's fictiousness by, say, huge artefacts where your allies head should be. Would the world of Talon IV been as interesting to explore if it had just used dull colours and repetitive corridors? Would Gears of War have won game of the year if the chainsaw animation wasn't quite so belivable? The reason is, most people play games to escape their own world, if they can trick themselves this new, improved world is real, they will enjoy it more and stay in it more. Furthermore, another key feature of modern games is exploration. There is no fun in exploration if there is nothing to find but bland, blurred textures. For example, in Assassins Creed, the first time you arrive at a city, it takes your breath away and makes your long journey worthwhile. This wouldn't be quite the same experience if all you could see was the city walls and a blurry tower behind it and then nothing but the horizon.

Let's take Forza Motor Sport as an example. While Forza Motor Sport 2 is not quite Burnout Paradise when it comes to dynamic damage models, when Forza first came out for the Xbox, it was leading the way in realistic damage models. If it just showed you in a little diagram that the front of your car had been ripped off, it wouldn't have been very satisfying. However, because you see your bumper fly off it makes you appreciate the crash. Once again, it immerses you in the gameplay. By making your car more real, you realise that your shocking driving has real consequences. Also, the detailed enviroments serve to place you inside the car. Finally, by, and you may start noticing recurring themes here, making the maps look real, the player wants to explore new tracks to see what there like and makes the world more real.

However, as the gaming industry has recently out-sized the movie industry, there is now a lot 0f money in this once frowned upon market. At first this sounds good, but as many Hollywood films conform to the same clich├ęs and do not try to be inventive, the same is happening to the video game market. So, the big investors who can't really tell a Wii Remote from a PS3 controller and think the Xbox 360 is Microsofts first games console, come in and see that consoles are pushing good graphics. They demand graphics to be this good, and the developer tells them that it will cost X million amount of money. This means that, as investors do not want to risk such large quantities of money, they go with safe bets. Ie. tried and tested game types, like first person shooters. The effect of this is, when an original idea is dreampt up, it sounds too risky for the investors and they turn the game down. To summarize, because graphics are now a must for current gen gaming, games are expensive to produce, meaning high risk, innovative, games are turned down. All is not lost however, thanks to services like the Xbox Live Arcade, that is what next months article will be on.

Also, similar to the last point, decent graphics take a long time to produce. Because of the aforementioned money constraints, developers will be pushed to release the game as quickly as they can. This means, that other elements, such as gameplay, get rushed towards the end, almost as an afterthought. Once again, this is down to pressures of the developers to make HD graphics in a short period of time. Once again, XBLA can take away the need for fancy graphics and let the focus remain on core gameplay.

A point about PC's as well. By increasing the technical prowess for the game, you shrink your market. Take Crysis, you can buy a top of the range computer now, and you still will not be able to play Cryis the way it is meant to played. While people might say that they are prepared to make compromises, the whole point to Crysis, the reason it wasn't released on consoles, the reasons why the system specs are so high, is because the main selling point is to show the world "This is what our games can do". The side effect of this is, gamers such as myself, get turned off modern computer gaming sticking to the classics and turn to consoles for their HD fill.

When I was thinking of a game for this point, I actually found it very tricky. Not because there is a shortage of games that are entirly focused on graphics, but because I do not buy games that are like this. Instead of blabbing on about a game which my entire opinion is based on a single Gamespot review, I will instead comment on the market in general. Many people will be aware that games are much shorter than they used to be. Gears of War, as great as it is, comes in at under ten hours. Likewise, Call of Duty can be done in less than ten hours. Fortunately, these game's gameplay aren't suffering. However, you could argue that the reason why Assassin's Creed has such repetitive mission objectives is because they spent so long making the draw distance breath taking. The problem with all these examples in showing my point is, overall, I believe that they have benefited from the fancy graphics. If anyone has any examples of games that have genuinely suffered because the focus is entirely on the graphics, please leave a comment.

In conclusion, I think we are reaching a split in gaming. I think the games that appear to be being damaged by graphics, the truth is that the developers couldn't improve the gameplay and decided to spend the time making technically amazing graphics so they can still justify charging money f0r it. I also want to point out that I do still believe the reason why the market is flooded with traditional games rather than different games is down to, almost entirely, the huge cost associated with making a game for the HD Era. I do not think it is because humanity has finally ran out of innovative ideas. Furthermore, because graphics need to be so intricate, game length is suffering and I think that developers now need to find a happy balance. Finally, I think that realistic graphics are going to become less prominent because, lets face it, as realistic as Forza looks, it can't compete with the likes of Paradise which just look cool. It all comes down to why you play games, and because it is for entertainment, realism just doesn't have the same wow factor as it used to.

I hope you enjoyed this post and I really appreciate all comments (which I will read out if I do the Podcast) Also if you have any tips on refining my style of writing or have a suggestion for a topic I can do, please post a remark.

"All your base are belong to us"