Yesterday I was watching Zero Punctuation as I always do on Wednesdays; this week was on the newest Silent Hill game. Like Yahtzee my love of the Silent Hill series has died off in the past years (Silent Hill 4: The Room killed the series for me); watching the review made me want to replay 2 again rather then buy this new one. However it’s what he said in the review that got me thinking about horror games, that there are two main styles of horror. Either the Western “big scary monsters are out to get you” style, or Japans “you have no idea what is out there, but it’s coming for you” style. I’ve must have played more games of the latter style then former, but I agree with Yahztee that Resident Evil 4 was a more Western approach to horror created by a Japanese team. Now here is my argument, as an experience the Japanese style games are better, but as games the Western style games are better.
Until Resident Evil 4, horror titles were stuck in a rut of bad controls, horrible cameras, and window breaking scares (first time was scary, 50th time not so much). Even the Silent Hill series while at a deeper level of horror were compared at the time as a derivative Resident Evil clone. Playing the Silent Hill games is different then watching them, as you don’t have to deal with the obtuse controls. This is the main reason why I’m not going to replay Silent Hill 2; the controls are so bad that they remove any and all desire to play the game. Now I know what people are going to say, that the controls make the experience, but the control system should not get in the way of game play in my opinion. Japanese style games focus less on combat since they’re going for more cerebral scares, but shouldn’t that mean that the controls could be made responsive and that you would still be scared?
The epitome of this combat system was last seen recently in the game Rule of Rose; it had a great story in my opinion and some of the worse game mechanics and controls I’ve seen in a horror title. Imagine for a second if Silent Hill 1 or 2 was remade for modern consoles and given a Resident Evil 4 update (over the shoulder cam, responsive controls, etc), do you think that the game will still be the same pants wetting experience? I believe that a game can still be psychologically terrifying while having the controls of a Ninja Gaiden or post Resident Evil 4 title. That kind of belief is behind my horror ideas, that you can make the player a bad-ass and still scare the living daylights out of them.
Thanks to Resident Evil 4, we have seen an evolution in the horror genre with game play and controls, now I would like to see an evolution in psychological terror in the genre. I need a reason not to play games alone in the dark 🙂 .
As I sit here typing up this blog entry, there are a lot of games coming out between last week and this week that I’ve been dying to play. There is only one thing in the world stopping me from running out to the nearest store and blowing a wad of cash on them, and that is the cash. Now for those that have read this blog you should know by now that I’m not the biggest fan of digital distribution, I’m a retail copy kind of guy. Last night a thought occurred to me about a possible use of DD and an interesting way of selling games from now on. I’ve commented negatively on buying games piece by piece, but what if it could be done in a good way?
In my opinion one of the biggest barriers of buying games is the cost of entry, let’s face it games are not cheap and getting more expensive it seems. How many people wait for a sale instead of going out to buy a $60 game new? Many games these days ship with numerous modes that you may not ever play. I own GTA 4 and haven’t once gone online to play multiplayer, now that doesn’t mean I’m against it, just that it wasn’t a big deal for me. What if you could split a $60 title into several parts allowing the person to buy what they want now and buy the rest later? The game would be finished; shipped and could be bought in store, or you could just have access to all the single player content or multiplayer for less money. I can say from experience that it is hard to put down $60 for a game, but it is easy when it is only $30. The one feature that I cannot stress enough is that you may buy whatever content you past over for the game at any time; that you have the same rights with the copy as you would a retail version. Also this is not about splitting up content within the game systems, the developer can’t split the single player content into multiple content.
With the economy in the shape it is in, the games industry is bound to be hit by it soon (or has already started). Any way to make it easier for gamers to get access to game content should be considered.
Last week the big announcement from Blizzard was that Starcraft 2 will be split up into three different games, one for each side with the terrans coming first. A lot of different thoughts rushed through my mind. The main one being that after this Blizzard is going to be effing rich. The main reason according to them for this decision is that they wanted to tell a deep well thought out story which couldn’t be done with the standard 10 missions per side for most RTS titles. However my main concern is how they are going to develop a great story for a genre that isn’t known for its storytelling.
In the past Blizzard’s RTS titles have had great stories compared to other RTS games; however that isn’t saying much for stories in general. The main problem in my opinion about story telling in RTS titles is that it’s very hard to personify the player into the game world. There are two ways the player is place into the world, first being through the main character. In the Warcraft series the player takes on the role as the main character (or hero unit) and sees the story through their eyes. The problem is that then the player is more or less a tourist in the world with no interaction. The other way which is more popular is the nameless faceless commander of the army. There are too many examples to go into detail with, I’ll go with the Command and Conquer series as it was great having Billy Dee Williams ordering me to fight aliens. The problems with this are that once again the player has little or no interaction with the plot. For being a commander you can’t dictate where the next battle is going to take place. More importantly, one lost even if it’s in a supposedly impossible fight means that you lose the war. Haven’t these game designers heard the phrase “you might have won the battle, but not the war”? So what can we do to get around these two issues?
First we need more open ended RTS titles, similar to Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War and its various expansions, hopefully we’ve reached a point technology wise to allow us to create random maps which have all the detail and such of a premade map. Most missions in a RTS campaign are either more puzzle like (complete the map with a limited amount of units) or a skirmish against the AI, both dealing with a conflict with the AI. Either way failing one mission should not mean game over, perhaps going the way of territories and capitals. The enemy is not considered “defeated” until you take out their capital, and this works both ways for you and the AI. The other idea which is going to piss off a lot of strategy fans is to have a RTS title with no multi player component.
Before the Starcraft fans come after me, hear me out. The concept of “balance” is different when we’re talking about a single player experience vs a multi player one. In a multi player game sides must be either equal in the way that everyone has access to the same units and abilities. Or that they are asymmetrical (for ex: look at Starcraft). The problem with these two concepts for balance is that it makes it very hard to create interesting sides. Imagine playing as a side that does not need any resources; units are created over time, in a multi player setting that would be hard to balance, but in a single player not so much. If we remove multi player balance from the design, then we could create true “rebel vs empire” fights between two different forces. In my story based RTS idea, each conflict deals with completely different sides, which would never be possible if we were balancing sides for a multi player experience.
Some of the best story telling in games takes place in a single player experience, whether it’s a story from a designer or a well thought out AAR. I believe to have a developed story line a RTS title we’ll need to have a title that is single player only.
In the recent issue of EGM, the main story is on the revival of the co-op mode in games. Developers have learned a simple truth; co-op makes things infinitely more awesome/chaotic.
Arcade games had some of the best co-op moments, from TMNT, to the excellent X-Men game and let’s not forget Gauntlet, it was great teaming up to kick ass. There was also this amazing arcade shooter called Lucky and Wild, in which one person drives a car while the other mans the light gun. The first modern use of co-op if I remember right was Halo. I had a great time with my friend as we blasted the covenant while going on suicide runs on the hardest difficulty. Since then there has been a steady re surge of co-op, from Gears of War to the upcoming House of the Dead Wii title and more. However reading the preview of Resistance 2’s co-op mode, gives me hope for the future of the mode.
First it is being designed from the ground up as its own unique story; it will not piggyback off of the regular single player mode. The game will allow you to select different classes and of course combine forces with your friends. According to the article the development team looked at the class based team work of Team Fortress 2 and the teamwork of taking down a larger force ala the World of Warcraft raids, and that just makes me start to drool. There are two ways I would love to see co-op games developed. One being the above mentioned, as in a team based combined arms method of one for all and all for one approach. The other I believed I mentioned in this blog some time ago. Being an open world approach as two or more players can explore a huge area teaming up or splitting up as needed to work on global objectives.
Resident Evil 5’s announced co-op mode is going to be interesting. The last time we saw co-op meets survival horror, was in the ill fated Resident Evil spin off. However co-op meets Resident Evil 4’s combat system has me very excited. Then there is Left 4 Dead, which looks to be a blast to play. RTS titles are even getting a shot at it with co-op mode in Red Alert 3. Fable 2 is also having a co-op mode which hopefully will be available right after launch. In this paragraph I just mentioned survival horror, RTS, and RPG with co-op modes proving that there is no genre that cannot be liven up by a co-op mode (maybe co-op crossword puzzles, I’m not sure).
Co-op games are one of the best forms of multiplayer; I think the reason why we don’t see as many of them is due to the complexity of having multiple players in the game space at the same time. I think as there are games that are multiplayer only, we should have games that are designed from the ground up as co-op experiences (you could argue that is how team based FPS titles are, but I’m talking about on a bigger scope). With online access now for consoles as well as PCs, co-op games should really take off. I like this quote from Peter Molyneux in the latest EGM the best about the future of co-op games: “I think we could be looking at something where, if you reviewed a game five years from now that doesn’t have co-op, it would be like a first-person shooter not having deathmatch”. At this point I was going to end this entry with a lyric from “Get Together” but I couldn’t think of a way of doing it without it being too weird :).