Archive for category Video Games

Tumblr Tuesday – 03/04/14

Tumblr Tuesday is tiny again!

— I wrote about Twitch Plays Pokemon – and updated the writeup with a few more thoughts on the victory:

— And some clarifications on various Asian clothing:



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Tumblr Tuesday – 02/25/14

Tumblr Tuesday Time! Tiny one today!

— Pets represent video game consoles, and it’s pretty accurate:

— And three pictures that represents CatDog in a nutshell:


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What Happened to the Dynamic FPS?

In No One Lives Forever 2, the second in the NOLF trilogy that seemed to have evaporated from the public conscious, there’s a level where you, as super secret spy Cate Archer, follow a lead to a remote station in the middle of Antarctica. You begin the level exploring the base, gun in hand, ready to take on oncoming enemies. But the base is quiet. Eerily (and obviously) reminiscent of The Thing, you work your way through the disheveled locale, with massive holes in the wall and scientists dying in front of you, not before pleading out that “he needs to be stopped.” For five to ten minutes, you encounter nothing but an ominous foreboding.

You soon find some paperwork in an office way in the back of the facility, indicating that the base is being used to breed super soldiers – and surprise, surprise, one of them went haywire. Sure enough, that very monstrous beast crashes through the wall, and you have to sneak back out the base, avoiding this lumbering creature and his powerful laser beam blaster. You have to quickly decode electronic panels to open gates, rewire circuitry to open other doorways, sneak over the creature on a thin set of pipes, and even blow a hole in the floor to regain entry into another section of the base. You spend the whole level exploring and then hauling ass, and you don’t even have to fire a single shot (since the monster is indestructible).

No One Lives Forever 2 offered quite a dynamic set of gameplay scenarios within levels that required a lot more than shooting. One level has you sneaking inside the Indian branch office of the villainous group, H.A.R.M. Another has you participating in some spy games of your own, meeting with assets and bugging phones, while avoiding the police. One has you running for you life as ninja assassins chase you down in Akron, Ohio, of all places. Of course there are the levels where you shoot a lot of badguys. But there are plenty of areas where you have to be stealthy, clever, lucky, and smart. You have to pay close attention to the specificity of your objectives and the details of your surroundings. No One Lives Forever 2 is somewhat more dynamic than its predecessor, No One Lives Forever, but even that had its versatile level objectives, among which includes: sneaking around an office while not getting caught, exploring an destroyed underwater base in scuba gear, and simply participating in a Q&A with an idiot masquerading as a leader of an evil organization.

So whatever happened to the dynamic FPS?

Int the late 90s, the complaints about FPS’s being mindless shooters were heard loud and clear; as a result, brilliant, tactical first-person shooters pushed past the “shoot everything that moves” mentality and opened up the objective pool. 1997’s Goldeneye was one of the first games to expand in such a way, involving levels where you had to escape prisons, sneak into damns, and drive a goddamn tank. Rare’s followup, Perfect Dark, opened up things even more. PC games such as System Shock 2 and Deus Ex completely changed the FPS genre into a thinking man’s game of choices and decisions, pushing the possibilities of the genre into the stratosphere. Then there were The Chronicles of Riddick games, which turned FP stealth into an artform, years before Dishonored’s tightly-controlled schematics hit the shelves. Half-Life retooled the FPS into an epic, cross-base adventure, a one-man-against-the-world saga that kept players on their toes. Even Nintendo got into the genre with Metroid; millions were surprised to find the Metroid Prime series a enjoyable, challenging, and varied version of Metroid that was retooled perfectly for the FPS genre. And Red Faction, this writer’s favorite FPS and one of his favorite games of all time, upped the ante of Half-Life by weaving a wild tale of a rebellion on Mars turned disastrous as monsters are exposed and mercenaries turn reckless. Red Faction’s brilliance was very rarely telling you what to do; figuring out how to progress made every successful moment feel earned.

Creeping along in the background during all this was Hitler. Well, not quite. But among these dynamic FPS’s were a swath of World War II shooters, comically marketed as “historic, reverent, and significant,” in that they truly thought they were honoring soldiers by making you a nameless, Nazi killing machine (at least the underrated Return to Castle Wolfenstein reveled in its campy ridiculousness – which, I may add, was also wonderfully dynamic with its objectives). It’s no wonder that these games fell by the wayside rather fast. Even though they were enjoyable for the FPS genre, they were really just generic shooters wrapped in historical dressing. There’s only so many things you could do with WWII.

Yet instead of returning to broad, fun-themed games like ’70 spy games or Mars, things that might be new or clever or versatile, game creators did was they’re always wont to do: copy, copy, copy. Disappointingly, Insomniac Games piggybacked on Half-Life design with its Resistance series, which had its own moments but ultimately was a graphically rich game where you killed a bunch of aliens (predictably, Insomniac ended the series after the third ones). Then there’s Halo, which straight-up removed any kind of dynamic level design, hyping up the admittedly-well-done multiplayer and forgoing anything like, say, Master Chief taking out someone non-lethally. EA and Activision, meanwhile, cozied in on the patriotic surge in the post-9/11 era, “honoring” modern soldiers in their games where they kill nameless brown people. People loved them, and so they went buddy-buddy with actual weapon contractors, turning straight-forward military shooters into super-powered killing squads in magic-technology landscapes, of explosions galore within their Call of Duty/Battlefield franchises. In the end, FPS’s became one of two things: hyper-realistic battles in the near future or intergalactic space shooters, where you may have to hit a switch here or there, or maybe plant a bomb in this one spot. Gone are the silly side conversations or investigative elements, the plotting around unkillable enemies or inventing a way to escape confinement. Stealth may be the sole survivor of the dynamic FPS, but you know it’ll take an immediate back seat once you grab that assault rifle.

Strangely enough, some of the most notable FPSs of today have focused on one powerful game mechanic and executed it in perfect fashion. Dishonored, as mentioned above, made stealth into an excellently workable strategy; stealth in FPS was always awkwardly handled up until that point (NOLF and Riddick did well-enough, but even they had their flaws). Portal, a brilliant game in its own right, nailed the visual puzzle genre with an incredible narrative experience. Mirror’s Edge utilized parkour as a gaming mechanism, which, while flawed, sought to create its own worldview and novel approach to movement. And Bioshock/Bioshock Infinite uses the FPS genre to explore a big-picture topic and interactive theme, forcing gamers to recontextualize their adventures in a new, thoughtful light.

Yet, as great as these games are, I wouldn’t call them “dynamic”. Their gaming aesthetic changes little over the course of the game. You rarely readjust your style of play or thinking to re-orient yourself to newer, different objectives. Levels aren’t what you could call varied. These games do one thing and they do that one thing well, but rarely are you or your character pushed in a new direction. Portal is entirely about utilizing portals to progress. Half-Life 2 is expansive but lacks the sense of urgency and chaos of its predecessor. Mirror’s Edge only has its parkour, which many people felt needed refining. The Bioshock games are graphical fetch-quests. And we all know how wildly limited Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield are.

I must emphasize that these games are not bad. In fact, they are quite excellent. But they all focus on a singular gimmick or approach, using a singular mechanical concept throug-out the whole game. You approach areas specifically know that, in some way, you have to either use the portal gun, or make a jump, find some items, or shoot some bad guys. Rarely are there alternate paths, or tricky areas, or significant changes in the story that demand a significant change in how to progress through an area. There may be a vehicle you have to use, but beyond that, there’s no real change-up of the gaming style. There’s no dynamism.

We can continue this observation through other games as well. Crysis gives you a super-powered, multi-capable suit of armor, but you won’t have to ever sneak into a civic building or, negotiate out of dangerous situation. The completely ignored Singularity gave you an item that allowed you to change the temporal properties of items and enemies, but you were still killing them, instead of using it to solve any wild or clever time puzzles. Not all games are like this, though. Spec Ops: The Line sought to put the mindless killing into a moral perspective, letting your more vicious decisions mean something. And the newest Deus Ex: Human Revolution, was built up the very foundation of approaching every level with a choice (somewhat undermined by its experience points system).

Maybe the problems are the stories – or rather, the approach to the stories. Spy stories are ripe with various objectives, allowing Goldeneye and NOLF to inject them in their missions. Chronicles of Riddick just could have been about a tough guy killing everyone in a space prison, but the game makers figured out a way to utilize Riddick’s abilities while at the same time, create an environment of interaction and reaction. Games like Metroid Prime, Half-Life, and Red Faction instilled a self-contained world barely holding itself together, leaving you to use your wits and skills to survive it. You travel through the world as the story happens around you (and in the background – one of my favorite parts of the first Metroid Prime game is when you arrive at the Space Pirates stronghold and discover all their writings denouncing and utterly hating your arrival). Everyone knows how brilliant and diverse Deus Ex and System Shock are.

Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield approach their gameplay on stopping nameless terrorists and onslaughts of aliens (their emphasis on multiplayer doesn’t help). Half-Life 2 seemed a lot more structured than the free-world spirit of the first one (remember that part when your warp like three weeks into the future and suddenly have to go around blowing up those giant Combine war machines? Talk about a sudden tonal shift). Portal and Portal 2 focus on puzzles and hilarious dialogue unfortunately doesn’t allow much room for any other gameplay types – we don’t even get a solid chase sequence. Many words have been written about the disappointing elements of Mirror’s Edge and Crysis (we don’t even talk about the latter series anymore after all the hype of the first one), and the Bioshock series is discussed more about what it represents than the actual game itself.

Captain Jack, the third game in the NOLF trilogy, was a horrendous disappointment, which seemed more like a temporary placeholder for the real third NOLF game. Yet it represents the fall of the dynamic FPS, where your character indeed blasts an endless number of H.A.R.M. agents, forgoing any spy-type activities. Perhaps Monolith Productions saw the writing on the wall, attempting to give the public what they ultimately wanted before they went under. I miss those games, the kind that kept you on your toes, that expected you to shoot in one level and be sneaky in another; to chase down a villain in one area and to be chased by a villain in another; to walk freely in a populated spot in one section and to tread carefully in a scary spot in another one. Here’s to the return of the dynamic FPS in the future generation. Lord knows they have the computing capacity to make it happen.



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