Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
Here’s how it goes with the Madden and NCAA Football games:
Every odd year: fix minor bugs with last year’s games while ignoring the major bugs
Every even year: Add new, buggy features no-one asked for
Big bugs basically never get fixed, except by accident. This year, Madden is trying to do better by bringing on some people from Head Coach 09. Here’s a great interview with the guys in charge by the always-excellent Bill Abner. You’ll see some more frankness here than you’d expect from an EA Sports franchaise.
Friday, June 26th, 2009
A new @Play is up – still my favorite column on the net.
Also from Game Set Watch, how about a high-end department store using Street Fighter iconography in their advertising.
Sorry, we’re not a link-farm but both of those came up in the same hour and they were both very good.
Had some really exciting Synapse graphics stuff today, and done some work on our huge NAME-REDACTED contract… very exciteable today. I better go play some tennis to calm myself down.
Thursday, June 25th, 2009
Episode 16 is here, rattling its sabre. This week, Ian and I discuss console controversy, Day of the Tentacle and exploding prostitutes.
Here is a link to the Mark Kermode Transformers review we mentioned.
Here is a link to indie gaming for economic justice.
Check out links from the show on our official Google Reader page.
Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
Manifesto Games was an indie-centric portal which had almost no PR the last two years. I link it here because it was the first “publishing” deal I ever signed – we got an agreement with them to sell Determinance in, I think, fall of 2006. I remember being pretty excited about that. In the end, we sold almost nothing through Manifesto (something like 6 copies – GarageGames.com were our second distributor and much more successful), but I’ll always remember them.
Monday, June 15th, 2009
Oh my goodness. Is it a flightless bird at high altitude? Is it superman with his clothes on upside down? Is it an 80 year old blind man redeeming his birthday gift of a trip paragliding? Whatever it is, it’s plummeting rapidly. Yes, you probably haven’t guessed it: It’s The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated!
If you’re not thinking ‘what is this shit’, you might be thinking ‘whine whine whine, it’s all you do when you illegitimately post on this blog!’, but stop right there. Let it be known, I’m here today with a sunnier outlook. This post will be a charming review of my time with a new video game, and I aim to be positive. That game is Prototype. I got this a day before release in the intention of having a timely review up, but in the traditional ENCOUNTER… style (if you don’t know what that is, you’re probably one of the 6 billion inhabitants of earth), I decided to procrastinate instead of even simply playing a new game, which in itself is an activity that whittles away the practical hours. Sigh. Anyhow, a few days after release and I’ve pretty much binged on it. As such, I’m here with a shovel full of opinion to thrust into the gaping furnace that is your collective mind. (T.E.W.D.I.T Rule number 142: Always open with a poor metaphor. At least things can only get better.)
There is somewhat of an explosion of ‘sandbox’ games this console generation. The continued success of the GTA franchise combined with the large swing of focus in the western RPG genre towards players making their own choices are two contributions I can think of off the top of my head for this. The fact that developers have greater scope to take the gameplay off set rails due to hardware increasing in power this generation is no small contributor, I’m sure. With games like Crackdown, GTA IV, The Hulk, the Spiderman games and more recently Infamous on the market, it’s pretty natural to wonder how another run-about-a-city-and-smash-stuff romp can justify itself to the recession wearied gamers with one or more of these already (i.e. probably anyone with a 360 or ps3).
The simple answer is it can’t. Alright, the sunny outlook is over. Move along, Beatles fans. I can’t even get this far without being negative. But seriously, hear me out here. I’ve had fun with prototype. It’s been a lot of fun, in fact. It’s got its flaws, but it’s a pretty solid game. I’ll get on to that. The main flaw with prototype is a pretty enormous one, and it’s one every review I read overlooked. Playing Prototype shocked me, and it’s a shock I haven’t had since when I first saw ‘Limbo of the Lost’, the notorious point and click adventure game that was built nearly entirely from chunks of other games, with an added dose of fail. Needless to say, it was quickly pulled from shelves by the forces of epic fail. While Limbo of the Lost used parts of other code to make a new experience, Prototype is in some ways worse, using different parts to dish you exactly the same experience. This brings us comfortably to ‘the point’:
The entire game has already happened. What’s more, it was released in the past year. What’s more, when it was released, it was released BY THE SAME PUBLISHER. Why this hasn’t caused more of a fuss, I don’t know. I can only put it down to poor sales on the part of the game I’m about to chat about.
I’m one of the (probably few people) who thoroughly enjoyed ‘Spiderman: Web of Shadows. Web of shadows had its shortcomings, as it was a pretty expansive and ambitious affair. A lot of reviews slated it for a few bugs here and there and repetitive missions (which were a bit annoying), but the swinging mechanic was absolutely gorgeous. The impression of gravity when you ran off the side of a building and the physics to each swing were really marvelous and something I haven’t been as impressed by in any other game. Motion is, of course, a key aspect to the Spider-man character, and Shaba nailed it. It also had an interesting combat mechanic that consisted of fighting in mid-air, on walls and on the ground, and it really worked. You could slam someone into the air, jump up and fight there, and then throw them into the wall, zoom over and fight horizontally there, and it all gelled together nicely.
There’s a simple reason I’ve just got off the beaten track to talk about this, and that is quite simply that I’ve just about listed all the main differences between Spiderman: Web of Shadows and Prototype. The two games are virtually identical. The upgrade system is the same. The absorption of people is the same. A large amount of the powers are the same. The city looks identical. The plot is identical. The narrative structure of the plot is identical. The mission types are identical The enemies are identical. It’s STAGGERINGLY identical.
Both games revolve around you being a super powered person in a city which is victim to an increasing spread of viral infection transforming the inhabitants from normal repeating models walking up and down a pavement to aggressive zombies, and in latter stages to big beasties that jump out of hives. In Spiderman the virus is Venom’s fault, and in Prototype it’s the military’s. The same thing happens to the letter. Both games open with you at the end of the narrative in the middle of the action and plenty of days into the infection. You have a bit of a scrap in a war-torn (and, for some reason, fair lot redder) city covered in zombies, monsters and military people shooting at them. Soon after it cuts back to happier times, and you end up working your way back to that point from the previous days, as the infection gains pace in the city until it’s pretty much 100% infected . In both, you’re already infected, but can control it to your advantage. Both revolve around the choice of siding with humanity or the viral infection.
The missions are dished out exactly the same way: You’re in free roam mode until you go to a character and get them, but between you can go to places on the mini-map to do challenges like kill so many enemies in so long, or get from A to B quickly, etc.
You shape shift between powers in both, so that USP is out the window for it, but the one aspect of Prototype that is a bit unique and fun is the absorbing people and taking their identity. Getting rid of the preconception that you can’t stick your hand into a mans back while no one’s looking, absorb him in a big biological mess and then parade about as him frees up opportunities for some cool gameplay. Sneaking into military bases by stages is the main use: Get one guy, become him, look for the guy with the next level of clearance, etc. That’s pretty much only use the game makes of it really, but it is fun to do it the first few times, and definitely adds to the experience.
What’s not so cool is the writing. It is probably the worst and most unacceptable I’ve seen in a recent video game. It is so, so cheesy. You just can’t build a character around the spurting out of stupid sound-bytes such as ‘You keep coming, I’ll keep killing!’ unless that character is Sylvester Stallone, who, in a cut Rambo moment, punched a man’s head off. He can say it. Similarly lame is the amount of prompts you get to ‘experiment with different combos’. ‘Why not experiment with new combos to see what is most effective’ is a hint you see pretty much every 5 minutes. That just isn’t a hint. People do that anyway in games where you have a linear move set.
One of the points I have to pick up on from the IGN review is the reviewer moaning about texture pop-in. This just was not a problem for me. I don’t know if he put up a review done on a low-end pc in the 360 section, but the critics 10 out of 10, GTA IV, has hugely more noticeable pop-in of details like bins and boxes on the roadside as you’re driving along at even conservative speeds.
I’m afraid prototype is getting two out of five Kim Coates heads. It would be a good game had it not been for the fact it is identical to Web of Shadows. If you haven’t played either, go for web of shadows. The bugs and gripes about web of shadows are just as prevalent in prototype, but it’s a better game if you’re going to look past them in either. Prototype for me has been enjoyable as more of the same at a slightly lower quality.
You might notice this has been a pretty straight laced one for TEWDIT, but to be honest, I found the experience pretty sobering. It’s certainly ruffled my feathers to find out that a big player like Activision is willing to publish two nearly identical games, and more importantly, no one seems to notice or care. I sincerely hope this is something we won’t be seeing more and more of, because seriously, if Prototype was DLC for Web of Shadows I doubt it would have been out the scope of a decent expansion, it’s that similar. Shape shifting into someone else’s game entirely is probably the greatest power Prototype has to offer.
Saturday, June 13th, 2009
According to this Gamasutra interview with John Carmack, Doom Resurection uses
“a new aiming mechanic based around the iPhone’s accelerometer”
Later on, he says:
“…tilting around the reticule has the same feeling as when you first picked up a mouse and keyboard or a controller, when you could tell there was some skill involved in getting it right, in how to line up your shot,”
The implication here is that we have to tilt the iPhone to aim… I can maybe see how this could be an interesting mechanic (10 degrees tilt left always aims at 50% left on the screen or something) but I really hate tilt controls on the iPhone. A big name fps going for such an unusual system is a bit of a surprise.
Thursday, June 11th, 2009
Synapse is basically a working system now, so we’re trying out different game modes for the single player and really trying to establish what the most fun core gameplay is.
Here are some of the basic modes we tested quickly today…
Type A: Attack
In this game mode enemies are spread out in tactical positions around the level. The player must take his units and intelligently take out the enemy. At the beginning it may be a bit of a puzzle to work out how to get the first enemy without dying.
Type B: Stealth
In this mode you must get from one side of a mission to the other without being seen. The enemies will be patrolling the area.
Type C: Defense
In this mode you must defend a room or area from an attack. The attack will usually be much stronger than you, and you must find the right defensive places to succeed.
Type D: Assassination
In this mode, you must enter a heavily fortified area and kill one civilian in the middle of the map. These must be designed to be real puzzles – there is basically just one way of getting to the enemy.
Type E: Escape
In this mode you start off in a pretty hairy predicament, and must get out of the level safely! It should be a bit of a puzzle to even survive the first turn.
Type F: Destruction
You have a rocket launcher and there are loads of machine gunners running away – you have to kill as many as you can before they reach the edge of the screen and escape.
We worked with quite heavily scripted enemy plans today. This was interesting but turned mostly into a guessing game about what those plans were, which is inherently boring. In my opinion, the game modes which worked best were those where you weren’t compelled to take out every enemy on the map – having to get from A to B or defend an area was more entertaining and felt less like work.
Tomorrow, we’re trying similar game types but giving the AI more free reign to make decisions on its own. We’re hoping this will add a bit more dynamism to the game and bring it back into line with the “outsmarting” fun that happens in multiplayer.
As we’re going for a story-based narrative progression in single player, we’re going to need a really compelling mix of missions. Doing these micro gameplay tests is great and should definitely lead us down the right path.
On another note, I started exploring dialogue trees using a simple graphing tool by the name of YeD. This proved pretty interesting and I’m trying to badger Ian into writing a utility which can interpret one of YeD’s output formats so I can actually write the dialogue in it. I’m UTTERLY bemused that there are no freeware dialogue tree testing or creation utilities out there, but Ian has already knocked up one that I can use.
Currently, we’re planning short, punchy dialogue sections after certain levels to get the player a bit more into the game world and do plot stuff. This coupled with some sparing in-mission events and comments by your opponent should be all we need to do a lot of interesting immerisve stuff.
I so badly want to get the artists moving on the bespoke SP art but that will definitely have to be put on hold until we have a very clear idea of the SP gameplay and progression.