29 October 2009

Crysis Warhead....

Again, i know i'm late to the party but it seemed like a good idea to follow on from Crysis with its "offshoot"/expansion, Warhead. While i enjoyed Crysis overall (including the zero-G sections) i found that the disparity between what was shown in cutscenes and the actual powers of the nanosuits really bothered me. I also felt that the balance between the power of the normal Korean footsoldiers and the player was leaning towards the wrong side, however, after playing through the rest of the game i realised that the nanosuit and weapons seemed to mainly be balanced against the aliens.... which is great for the last third of the game but not ideal for the first two thirds.

Warhead continues on with this trend. The opening cutscenes vastly overstate the power of the nanosuit which is still very annoying and completely breaks the immersion for me. It seems that the balance between the Koreans and the player has been changed - it now takes significantly fewer shots to down a Korean soldier which is what i was annoyed about in the original game, however your "armour mode" has also been significantly reduced in power meaning that a few stray shots from 100 metres or more away can pretty much kill you. (This is as of patch 1.1) It's a shame because the suit powers still lack any real "punch", each draining in under a few seconds, which combined with the pause between switching modes leaves the dream of being able to run, jump and punch people to a pulp a remote possibility (or fluke).

Again, not far into the game the cutscenes belie the actual game mechanics, with "Psycho" jumping down a cliff after engaging the strength mode, which results in a direct loss of health "in game" as compared to armour mode which drains armour first. The cutscene is a logical extention of real-world physics which unfortunately does not translate to the game world.

I'm not particularly far into the game as yet but it appears to be as enjoyable as the original which is no bad thing. Shame about the DRM and limited activations though and i certainly would never have bought this game if they had been known about before the release date.


Seriously, this is a good game. At its most basic, the game is WoW crossed with Dungeon Siege and it works very well and i say that because it doesn't feel like Diablo or TitanQuest, it feels more "action-y".

I like the limited spells your characters can utilise as well as their own skills, i like the weapons and the pet... i like the interface and the characters (though i wish they had included a male and female option for each class but that's just personal prefernce).

What don't i like? Well, i've only played the demo but i won't be buying the full game. "Why not?", you may ask, "After all this praise...". The reality is that this game requires authentication and (although it's not clear if it applies to every download service) it also has activation/install limits.

I'm sorry but that just isn't what i'm willing to sacrifice in order to buy your product. Please try again.

27 October 2009

The importance of passion...

I went to see The Vampire's Assistant yesterday (it was actually quite good) but it got me thinking about emotions, and the lack thereof, in games. One thing in particular that seems to get left out is passion - and i mean the word in every sense.

Part of this is down to the voice acting, where it's particularly grating when a character sounds dull and lifeless, but another part is the story within the game. How many games have a theme of passion? Passion for a lover, passion for a friend, the passion of a parent/carer. We constantly have the old and terribly simple "passion for revenge" which is so well-worn that it seems every game with violence in it relies on this premise to drive the narrative.

Where is the oedipus conflict? Where is the conflict of taking someone under our wings and protecting and nurturing them? Where is the conflict of being friends with someone that you should hate/be at war with?

I think a really interesting game design would be for the player, who is a powerful entity within the game world, finding and then protecting/raising a youngster where you get to see the growth and development of the youngster as your character becomes older and frailer. Sure, it runs the risk of being one, game-long escort quest but if it's managed carefully then it wouldn't be so bad. You could start off with the child being pretty helpless and they'd stick to you like an AI buddy in any other game (you could give rudimentary orders like fight, run and defend etc) but as they grow and become more powerful they observe you and your actions: They learn from you, the learn to fight and you see that they protect you as much as you protect them.

As the game progresses, the enemies will become more powerful/plenty and as the child grows up and draws close to your character in abilities and power then it becomes an AI co-op game. Then at some point during the game the tables will turn between the character and his charge. The child will become more powerful than your character and the game would begin to change to a ability management system whereby you survive by ordering around your protector.

I think this is an interesting example of where the player starts off strong but becomes weak - without neutering the player's agency in the world. It evolves from being an escort mission (a la Ico) to a co-op game (parts of Fable 2 and other action games?) to being a squad management game (like many of the recent console FPS games). I think this has a lot of potential and hopefully we'll see a game like this at some point.

22 October 2009

Thoughts on Crysis...

Yes, i'm late to the party..... Yes, this will probably never be read by anyone but i'm going to write about my experience with the game so far.

The main problem i've got with the game is that your "super suit" really doesn't differentiate you from the enemies that much. It's just not that super.

What i mean by that is the number of bullets you can absorb when you're in "armour" mode is pathetically close to what any ordinary armoured-jacket wearing Korean soldier does. Why is this the case? I can take the submachine gun or the AK47 variant and unload half a clip into a guy's chest a close range and he's still standing but what feels like the equivalent from one of the enemies has me in the same state - severely wounded and almost dead. If two enemies are around, one with a shotgun then i'm lucky if i'm not dead. So basically, the super-armoured capacity of my suit is around the same level as a standard kevlar jacket. Why not just wear a kevlar jacket underneath my super suit and instead use the "strength" mode instead? It beats me.

Then there's the problem of the suit's power, or rather the lack of it. The suit just doesn't have much of a charge and so any ability you're using runs out in less than 3 seconds. 3 jumps for the strength mode, ~3 seconds for the speed mode and a few shots for the armour mode. The stealth is actually a little better and lasts longer but again it just isn't effective. Not to mention that it's completely out of kilter with how the game presents the supersuit's abilities. During several cut-scenes you and other suit-wearing characters wander around in the cloaked stealth mode without a care in the world and there's instant recharging after moving objects (which would otherwise deplete your energy in gameplay) and no worries about moving around. It's really annoying.

The AI is mostly poor. While it tends to retain the eagle-eyed and sharpshooting abilities often seen in Crytek's predecessor, FarCry, they have managed to make the enemies act confused from time to time, whereby you may fire at one of their number and they won't all immediately know where you are and make a beeline for your location. It doesn't take long, however, and even if you use a silencer they always seem to know where you're shooting from if one of the people you're killing sees your location before he dies - despite the fact that he would be unable to relay your location in a similar situation in real life. That really kills the point of stealth in this game.

The only redeeming feature of the game is the weapon mod system which i actually really quite like. Being able to kit out each weapon with an increasing number of modifications such as sniper scopes etc is really nice and makes each weapon far more versatile than it would initially appear.

So far i think i'm about a third to half-way through the game and it's not a bad romp.... but i think it lacks the character that made FarCry enjoyable and doesn't quite match up to its own aspirations enough for your character to really shine as a multi-million dollar weapon of war.

18 October 2009

Economies of scale in games....

Shamus Young, over at the Escapist, has written about the general failings of game economies. It's a short and slightly tongue-in-cheek look at why economies fail: i.e. it's the loot generated through a player's actions. Reading over at his blog and through the comments on the article there are a few camps:


These people want to include aspects of reality such as stricter carry limits and smaller, less frequent combats. They also want to devalue products which are more numerous - which would lead them to become ridiculously cheap and would thus mean that blacksmiths etc are run out of business by the player.


These people want to reduce the impact of selling loot by reducing the amount that vendors are willing to pay and/or increasing the cost of new items sold by vendors.

My opinion lies with a (seemingly small) third camp who are technically ultra-realists in the economic sense. i.e. The games would work as they do currently, with unrealistically large encumbrance levels and item storage etc. However, what would happen is that the world would act in a realistic way. This is also something i've thought about before, specifically regarding to MMO gameplay.

First off, there's a limited number of people but new people can be born and thus grow into adults and populate areas. These people will be free to join whatever faction they wish, whether they be bandits, bad guy minions, traders, townspeople or guards etc. Though this would have to come with some limits such as "tendencies" to go into a particular profession/lifestyle (e.g. gentry would be more likely to remain gentry or become knights in a medieval setting). To compensate for unlimited population grow you could, upon birth assign a person fertility % (i.e. their chance to be able to procreate) and, on top of this, you would have a population vs food check with each area having an upper limit of food production. If the population rose above this limit food would have to either be bought in from another area (trade) or people would starve and die (you could choose whether children or old adults would be more likely to die first with people in their teens and twenties the least likely to suffer from starvation).
Fewer farmers/hunters in the area would mean less food and thus a smaller population and if the player or bandits rode into down and killed all the food-makers then the rest of the population would suffer unless some people switched roles to start producing food.

This style of thinking would also be reflected in the items of the world. Each item would require the base materials, the right profession (or professions) to be present and time to produce. A sword, for example, might require 8kg iron ore, 5kg ashes, 1kg leather, a blacksmith, a tanner and two days to make. A better sword might require multiple blacksmiths or more of one material or additional materials. This allows the player to be more involved in the game world because they can commission, bring materials or products to different places to enable the creation of items and help with the local economy. Of course, the initial number of each item in the world would be limited and, to stop items becoming limitless and thus devalued, they would degrade with use and time, depending on the item.
For example, a cloth tunic might cost 13 coins, would take 2 weeks to produce and degrade within a year of use. If it was not in use then it would last 5 years (damn those moths!) and to account for use and disuse some simple formula could be implemented to say 1 day use = x% of 1 day non-use (and then divide that by the item's total "lifespan"). This mechanic would also allow a repair trade/economy to flourish though you'd also have to limit the effectiveness of each time the item is repaired, depending on the item type. e.g. Repair 1 would refresh 50% of the item's lifespan, repair 2 would refresh 30% etc. Until the cost to benefit ratio decreased to the point where it would be more cost effective to buy a new item. Item effectiveness could also be tied into it's repair/lifespan stats so that an old rusty/heavily used sword would be less likely to do heavy cutting damage than a brand new shiny sword.

The end result of these mechanics is that the player is unlikely to completely destroy any economy because any influx of items into the market would require them to be removed from the market elsewhere first. Plus, no vendor would be likely to have that much money to buy them - or want to buy them. Why would a blacksmith want to buy a sword for very much money when they've already got 20 in the shop? He might pay for the raw materials but that's not likely to be a large sum.

Of course, i've got my own ideas for magic items and telling that here would just be giving all of my secrets away :p