Game Philosopher

The philosophy of games and gaming

Archive for September, 2006

Weekend Discussion: How Important is the Interface?

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 30, 2006

Who’s going to go first?

Since I’m going to be doing other things this weekend, how about I post a discussion topic and you all spend your time discussing it?

How important is the interface to you? Would you still play a great game if it had a bad interface? Would you even be able to call it a great game if it did? Is more feedback from the interface in the form of menus and statistics always a good thing?

Are you always looking for the same kind of things in your menu systems and controls or do you think they vary by game?

To me, the way I interact with the game, the controls, the menus – they’re all very important. I find that the more intuitive the controls are and the more feedback I get from the game, the better. GTA San Andreas’ multitude of statistics about my game so far was a great way to see how well I was playing, and really keep me interested in getting into all sorts of challenges with myself to see if i could beat my high scores.

Posted in Discussion, Principles | 1 Comment »

Gaming Principles: Immersion

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 29, 2006

I was thinking the other day about a game I have played and beaten several times called Dream Web. One of the things that attracts me to this game is the immersion that it creates. What’s even more interesting is that the game isn’t very complex or graphically spectacular, so I wonder why it is that I am reminded of it constantly and feel so drawn to play it again.

I can see already that this article is going to spawn off a few tangential articles…

One of the things that I remember vividly about the game is that, while the graphics were not very great even at release, the environments had enough detail that you spent a good amount of time looking around and absorbing what the scene was offering. I found myself feeling like I was really there because I could relate to the scene.

On a side note, comparing the game to Oblivion, you realize that every house in Oblivion looks largely the same, despite differences in layout. With Dream Web, you can only actually get into 2 or 3 houses, so the feel of immersion that being in a home would bring doesn’t get stale.

I think what I’m discovering is that to get immersion, you don’t actually NEED complexity. I don’t have to be able to interact with every little gadget in the room, but it does need to be destinct and original. Perhaps it’s like those people who inherit a lot of money and buy a big house but don’t have enough money to furnish it — if you make the game-world big, you have to be prepared to fill it with interesting, realistic things and not just variations on a theme.

Moving on, one of the things that I still remember to this day is the sound of the rain storms. The game definately paid attention to what the player was hearing and how it complimented the game. Many games these days have weather effects, but they’re random, so they never intentionally match with the game’s plot. *slight spoiler* In Dream Web, after you’ve killed your first person, you wake up in a dirty alley in the pouring rain.  It just feels right – that it should be thindering and raining and dirty and slightly saddening. You’ve just gone from a guy with bad dreams, to a guy with bad dreams who’s killing people. There are other sounds that I remember from that game. The ambient music in the game has a real airy sort of feel to it – almost like someone exhaling. I found it to be a really immersive touch once I related the music to breathing.

In my opinion, sound is very undervalued in games. There are some very immersive things you can do with sound, and very little is actually done. Probably because people tend to focus on graphics as being the most important part of a video game, and it’s much easier to show a customer how great a game looks rather than how great it sounds.

Thinking of another very immersive game, System Shock, I remember there were actually times in both the original and its sequel where I actually got scared. I would say that you’d have to be pretty immersed in a game in order for it to scare you.

But why does System Shock scare me but Painkiller or some other horror game doesn’t? I think the System Shock series had a different way of scaring you which was a little more immersive – first, it was a little more realistic to think of yourself as a weak, confused hacker lost on a spaceship that has been taken over by a rogue AI than a motorcycle man blasting flying demons with an incendiary shotgun, like in Painkiller.

Part of immersion is the player’s ability to relate to the player-character’s situation. If you make the circumstances incredibly outlandish, the player doesn’t have the ability to think as if they would if they were actually in the situation. Too many “leaps of faith” break immersion.

OPEN FOR COMMENTS: What kind of things break immersion? If the immersion-breaker is necessary for the plot, how can the situation be designed so it has less of a negative impact?

=Linkage to Mobygames for further reading: Dream Web, System Shock 1, System Shock 2=

Posted in Great Games, Principles, websites | 2 Comments »

Games you love anyway – Neocron

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 27, 2006

I was originally going to call this segment “Bad Games you Love Anyway” but I thought that was a bit harsh, not to mention inaccurate. So let’s try the implication that the game isn’t the best, but we love it anyway…

I would say, without a doubt, the game I love but can’t describe why is Neocron. It’s an MMORPG/FPS set in the future after some type of apocolypse, but all of that is really irrelevant, since you have no impact on the plot and the plot rarely changes.

Actually that isn’t such a bad thing. Most people’s top 10 games of all time include games with no plot like Doom, Wolfenstein and Alternate Reality: The City, but we don’t complain about them, do we?

To be fair, the game has a mini-novel’s worth of history to set up the game world and there is stuff going on, it’s just not very engrossing, and definately not the reason why you would play the game or even stick around after the free trial. Games like Morrowind or World of Warcraft have hundreds if not thousands of unique quests. The most you could get away with in Neocron is about 10 or so.

This game also has bugs. Loads of them. Everywhere. Features don’t work or don’t work properly, descriptions for items are missing, instructions are scattered all over the place and largely suplemented by fans. Oh yeah and patches are as scarce as the populations.

So what’s good about the game? We’ll that’s a little harder to pinpoint. For one, the post-apocolyptic thing has been overdone in many mediums, but not in MMOs. While many people focus on swords and sorcery for their RPGs, this game is futuristic, more like Deux Ex than Neverwinter Nights. It definately has originality going for it.

Similarly, the Cyberpunk genre in computer games, even single player ones, is sorely lacking recently. We’ve had great games like Blade Runner, System Shock, and even oldies like Neuromancer, but, if memory serves, there hasn’t been anything out recently to quench the thirst for those of us with a cyberpunk fetish. Neocron deviates from the overcrowded, heavily asian influenced view of the future that most cyberpunk attaches to, but it still manages to deliver on that feeling that the world took a wrong turn and now we’re stuck in some sort of high-tech stone age.

It also focuses on Player vs Player (PvP). This game leans more towards hard-core, so if you’re going to play the game for an extended period of time, you’re going to be fighting over the outposts scattered in the wastelands outside of the cities, which mean you’ll be fighting other players. This is definately the most alluring part of the game because it’s far more interesting to be attacking other smart opponents than the usual stupid enemy AI.

One of the things that sucks me in about RPGs and Neocron especially is the stat management. When you really get down to it, Neocron is focused a lot on stats. I think it was through bad design, but there really aren’t a lot of options if you’re interested in PvP for the endgame. What that leads to is an almost fanatical focus on the minutiae of every stat down to the single point. If you want to use a specific gun, while still be able to do a non-combat skill you have to set your character up just right. Otherwise, you’ll be too slow, or really vulnerable to a certain type of attack.

The last thing I’ll touch on is the community. This game has a small but tight community that is best evidenced by the activity on the official forums. Some of the top players gather there to trade opionions and strategies. I’m not sure if its the fact that the game is rather small in scope or what, but the players and the mods on the forums work a lot better together than the communities I’ve seen for the Star Wars MMO, WoW, and EQ.

And that’s what its really all about in the end, isn’t it? Community? If you want to shoot stuff, you could easily play Unreal Tournament or Far Cry, but if you want to interact with REAL people inside a FPS, then Neocron may be the thing to check out.

In fact, check it out regardless.

Posted in Game Reviews, mmofps, Neocron, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Games you love anyway – Neocron

The case for abandonware

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 25, 2006

First off, let me say that I am 100% against piracy for all formats: DVD, Games, TV Shows, etc. If the content is economically profitable for its owners, duplicating or freely distributing it should be illegal.

So where does my definition of piracy stray from your average copyright holder’s? That would be around the point where the need for the game to be in the public’s hands outweighs the revenue gained from selling said game.

Let me explain. Putting a game on a shelf is very expensive. At a certain point, the publisher realizes that they’d rather focus their effort and money on a more profitable game, and so they stop selling an older game. At this point, the amount of buyers is so low that spending time and money to publish the software just isn’t worth it.

Sometimes the games get compiled into a collection and re-released years later, but its usually saved for the really great series, like TSR’s old Dungeons and Drangons games, or Sierra’s King’s Quest.

For the rest of the games, you have to rely on Abandonware. The term is used to refer to the games that have been abandoned by the publisher to never see the light of day again and therefore are released freely on a website for download. This is, of course, illegal but there are many websites that get away with it. These abandonware sites allow us to play games that are never, EVER going to be on any shelf at Circuit City again, and give us gamers and opportunity to relive our childhoods. Here, the demand for the game outweighs the game’s profitability, and while I understand it is illegal, I support the concept.

Please note that just because a game is old, does not mean it is not profitable. Starcraft, released by Blizzard in ’98 is still, to this day being played by hard core fans. Despite its age, Starcraft would never be construed as abandoned because Blizzard is selling the product and making money from it.

I support abandonware because I’ve been a gamer since 1986, back when some games didn’t have graphics at all, and some of the best ones only used 4. Yes, thats right, FOUR colors. Here’s the first game I ever bought: Ninja by Mastertronic. It’s also important to realize that old books have libraries and used book stores, but a similar mechanism for getting used games does not exist.

I respect gaming as a legitimate form of entertainment and don’t believe that because something is not profitable to the publisher, it should never be played again. Books get reprinted by other publishers whose sole purpose is to release classics. Movies get repackaged and copied on to the new media of the decade and released, but Ninja will never be put on a DVD collection and released again.

I understand that it is illegal, and many websites do too, often removing download links when oldies become available on the market, or even pointing you to where you can find and old classic for sale by a collector.

This is true love of a game. At a certain point, the publishers should step back and realize that they put out such a great game that 10, 15, 20 years down the road people still want to play it.

I would have no problem with paying the publisher $5 to get an oldie from ’86 because I believe in copyrights, but until that day comes, I’ll take my abandonware.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Games that weren’t

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 13, 2006

I’d like to kick off this article with a mention of a website i found recently, its called PC Games that Weren’t, which is a site about games that were in some stage of development and then cancelled. Articles, while a little thin right now, tell of the story behind the game and the reasons surrounding its cancellation. Very interesting reading.

I had a segment planned to talk about games that never made it, and conveniently, i have a supporting link now too! So check that site out after you read mine 🙂

Imagine a game, a roleplaying game, where your reputation is affected by the quality and type of clothes that you wear, or the way you interact with people you encounter, from beggars, to arena champions to guards. Imagine a game with not only great music, but lyrics that went along with them. Imagine various guilds that could teach you spells but would only allow you in depending on if your stats matched their requirements to join. It has taverns, inns, healers, banks, and even places to work. It had several songs, including a theme song, complete with words that displayed on the screen so you could sing along. It used sounds to clue you in on if the NPC you were encountering was good or evil, and even to let you know you were walking near a secret passage. (you would hear wind blowing) It had a full day and night cycle and you could watch the sun rise and set — it would even make things pinkish at dusk, like in real life.
Sounds like a game from Troika, Bethesda or Bioware, doesn’t it?

Well it’s not. Its a game called Alternate Realty The City, originally created by Paradise Programming in 1985. It was picked up by Datasoft and released on the Atari 8Bit and later ported to the Atari ST, Amiga, PC, Apple II and C64.

The orignal idea was to make a game with a City and a sewer underneath. The city would be where you bought weapons and healed yourself up for the dangers that would be presented in the sewer. Unfortunately, Datasoft got nervous that the product wasn’t going to make it out for the holiday season, so they made the developer split the game into two parts, the City and now, the Dungeon.

Now the City is released as a stand-alone product, but without the sewers below the city, THE GAME HAS NO PLOT. It’s like making Final Fantasy 1 with all the towns and Final Fantasy 2 with all the wilderness and dungeons.

Fortunately, they released The Dungeon for the Atari 2 years later and you could import your character from the City to the Dungeon.

Datasoft, like any publisher, wanted to capitalize on the project, so they hired programmers to port The City to several other platforms. Back in the 80’s differring computer systems were like apples and oranges, so we ended up with several very different versions of The City. The Amiga version had 16 bit colors, but the PC version had 16 colors total. Both the Amiga and PC versions had new features that the original Apple version didnt have. Oh yeah, and the PC version had about 25% of the music/sound, which is a crucial part of the game.

The Dungeon was only released for the Atari, C64 and Apple, leaving the rest of The City ports to hang out in the wind with no follow-up. I had the PC version. I remember getting it way back when at Egghead Software. My sister got Boulder Dash. It was a pretty good day for gaming. We both unknowlingly bought classics. 🙂

The City, with its sewers was originally going to be part of 6 games that were released as expansions that were to be added to the main game to create a larger game. These subsequent games were gonig to unfold the plot and give you new places to explore and new things to do. These installments never made it, but have hints of their presence are in the city in the form of a Casino, Arena, Palace and House of Ill Repute that are all permanently closed.

I love The City and I still play it. I love the game for the game it could have been, and I often wonder what the next few installments were going to be like. We’ll never know, because Phillip Price, the guy who made the games is not around very much anymore. He does own the rights to the games, however, and has put them in the public domain, so you can download them for free. I love this game because it was so far ahead of its time compared to anything out there at the time. (I remember Kings Quest 4 boasting its day/night cycle in the late 80s.)

Go to Eobet’s website or the Wikipedia article and download this gem. I’m putting this one on my desert island games too 🙂

Posted in Desert Island Games, Great Games | 1 Comment »

Finally played WoW

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 12, 2006

Oh yeah, after writing that article on Rob Pardo, I decided that I really needed to give World of Warcraft a shot. I did. It’s good. Real good. We’ll talk about it later.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Do you really want realism?

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 12, 2006

Every time a Role Playing Game comes out, someone is screaming about realism and how it’s not realistic when this happens and it would be more realistic if that happened. Well let me ask you something. Do you really want realism? Let’s talk about a few things.

Above all, you want the game to be fun, right? Well the problem is that real life isn’t fun in the same way that a game is fun.

Think for a second if you were playing a game based on The Fellowship of the Ring book and it was very realistic. Would you want to spend the day walking? No spiders attacking or magical caves to explore, just walking. That would be realistic, but extremely boring. Part of what made the book exciting was that the plot was being revealed to you word by word, and you feared for the lives of the party members. Think about the beginning of Frodo’s adventure when the 4 hobbits have just left the Shire.

While reading the book, you were excited because you were rooting for the hobbits.

If you were Frodo in real life, you’d be scared to death of the prospect of being found.

If you were playing the game, you would be bored by the prospect of being found.

What I’m trying to illustrate is that there’s a big disconnect between what you may find fun or exciting in real life and what you find to be fun while playing a game.

I’m sorry if I sound a little obtuse – I understand that the lack of mounted combat in Oblivion was nothing short of a tragedy; there definately are exceptions.

The last time I complained to myself about lack of realism in a game I got what is known as a “Fed-ex quest” which is where you are given an item and asked to deliver it to some other person in a different town. All you have to do is take the item and walk over to the other person and give it to them. For that you get some money, experience, or a reward of some kind.

Now that’s not really that realistic, is it? I don’t even know this guy and he’s giving me his sacred vial of angel semen to deliver to the Shaman by the lake, and on top of all that, the Shaman is going to know about this arrangement and have money and/or a reward waiting? Come on people, lets be more realistic.

Ok, let’s talk about how we could inject some realism into the situation.

We could get to know the guy before he trusts us with handling his sacred artifacts!?! In real life, how do you get to know someone? Have a beer with them? Get them hired on at your job so you hang out more? Go bowling? Where does the line get drawn where you stop playing a game and start playing a real life simulator? Would you really want to listen to his blabbering about his wife and kids, lawn, house, dog, whatever or would you just end up clicking right past it?
How about having to go back to the quest-giver for your reward instead of expecting it at your destination? This is actually not a bad idea, but it forces you to travel all the way back to the beginning of your quest to complete it – something some people may find tedious and therefore not fun.

I think the actual solution is to not HAVE Fed-Ex quests at all, but then we lose out on a lot of oppotunities for quests and this makes game designers unhappy.

Also remember that quests in the beginning of a game are designed to be easy and quick so you can finish them in such a way that you are constantly gratified so you continue playing and don’t stop playing.

I’m rambling here, so I’ll sum up. Remember next time you complain about the lack of reality in your game that you may just be asking for something you’re really not willing to play, and that someone probably has thought about this thoroughly before you and hasn’t come up with anything better.

Posted in Principles | Comments Off on Do you really want realism?

Blizzard’s Design Philosophy for WoW

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 8, 2006

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, maybe I will some day, but I did read a great article yesterday that I thought would be a great read for you people.

http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/09/06/agc-rob-pardos-keynote/

Its a keynote speech from WoW’s Lead Designer Rob Pardo and it has some really good details about what choices Blizzard made when designing the game. Here are some highlights.

 “Another thing we talked about very early on was the game being soloable to [level] 60.”

In designing a game so that it’s accessible to a wide array of people, Blizzard wanted to capture the casual and the hardcore gamers. The way I see it is that casual gamers are less likely to band together into groups because they’re not online for 8 hours a day cultivating relationships with other players. Therefore, they can’t be made to rely on groups to complete the game or they’ll lose interest. On the other side of the coin, the hardcore players have the ability to go solo or run around with their mates. Both are viable options.

““Killing with a purpose” is the quest philosophy for WoW. With other MMOs, quests were just go out and see that experience bar move.”

I know this from personal experience. I’m currently playing an MMO that doesn’t even HAVE a plot, and about 5 hours worth of missions. The result is going around killing stuff, and then going somewhere else and killing stuff, ad nauseum. People lose interest within weeks because you eventually run out of things to do. In a subscription based game, this is the worst thing that can happen, especially if you can figure out the game sucks within the free trial…

“An example of Tradeoffs: system requirements of Wow versus Crysis, for example. Crysis looks awesome. But we would rather have the broader market. So that forced us to the stylized art style that is resistant to looking dated. ”

I never really thought about this, but since opinions of what graphics are cutting edge changes by the day, it would be very tough for an MMO to last for several years without looking dated. Stylized art sidesteps the age factor so the developers can concentrate on patching flaws and coming up with new content rather than keeping up with the graphical jonses.

Overall, a great article, even if you’re not into WoW. I didn’t forsee me ever trying it out, but after reading this article, I just may…

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Blizzard’s Design Philosophy for WoW

Left brain vs. right brain gaming

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 5, 2006

Friday afternoon I bought two very different games, Indigo Prophecy and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. These two games use very different styles of control.

Indigo uses the arrow keys to move the character and the control key to do actions. Other parts of the game require you to play Simon with colors and positions which correspond to keys on your keyboard.

Prince, on the other hand is a straight action game. Press space to jump, left-click to swing your sword and WASD to control your character.

Realizing that the two games had very different styles, I wondered if I should plug in my XBOX 360 controller to play either. Then an idea hit me.

Console games always use a controller where movement is controlled with your left hand and actions are controlled with your right. PC games, before mouse-look used your right hand on the arrow keys to move and your left hand to control actions. Now, spacial movement, like camera control or “looking” is controlled by the right hand on the mouse and actions are controlled by the left hand.

Why am I making a point of this? Because your right hand and eye are primarily controlled by the left side of your brain, and the left side of your brain is more adept at processing certain kinds of information than your right side. (and vice versa).

Check out this chart from http://www.viewzone.com/bicam.html

LEFT BRAIN FUNCTIONS

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe

RIGHT BRAIN FUNCTIONS

uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking

Notice that spacial perception is right-brained, which i believe means that its better manipulated by the left hand. Could this be why moving your character has changed from a right handed action (on the arrow keys) to a left handed action on WASD in recent time? Do you think a left handed person who has their mouse on the left of the keyboard has a harder time controlling their character because they do it with their right?

Another thing occurred to me. Many games have information displayed on the screen while you play, whether that be health, ammo, inventory, etc. Some games put that information on the right and some do it on the left.

Take Deus Ex as an example, http://tinyurl.com/zv5t8 (hosted on PlanetDeuxEx.com)

The game has your health in the top left and your skills in the top right. Since they’re on the extreme of each side, only one eye is picking up that information. Is the correct eye processing the information best suited for the side of the brain it is directly connected to?

A quick look through google images shows Doom 3 health and armour are presented on the bottom left, whereas the Grand Theft Auto series always has that info in the top right.

Perhaps this is why i find myself with my face pressed up to the screen – so my more appropriate eye is able to catch the information presented on the opposite side of the screen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Left brain vs. right brain gaming

Gaming Principles: Progression

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 1, 2006

Think of every game you’ve ever played and I think you’ll realize that a basic theme is present in all of them. Progression, or progress (however you want to think of it) has a part in every game we play. A game will always present you with something new, whether you’re on a soccer field, playing chutes and ladders or Grand Theft Auto.

Now that we have the basic idea down, let’s think a little about what that effect progression, or perhaps the player’s need for progression affects how a game plays.

The first thing I think of is skill levels. Just about every first person shooter has a level of difficulty which determines how many enemies there are, how prevalent power-ups are, time limits, amounts or difficulty of puzzles and many others. Adjusting this property affects how quickly and easily a player progresses.

Often times, the resistance to progression is the same. You either battle the computer, or since the advent of multiplayer, battle another human. The man vs. man or man vs. nature themes in literature sound very similar.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if you had a game that focused on Man vs Himself? You would have to do something once, then do it over again, but this time, the computer employed the skils, strategies, tactics that you used the first time. This would force you to adapt, to improve on your skills because each subsequent try would require your improvement.

Discuss and don’t be afraid to dig this topic up even if it’s old.

Posted in Principles | Comments Off on Gaming Principles: Progression