Milking the Franchise

Sitting on the thinking man’s throne this morning, thumbing through another bad review magazine called Games for Windows I came across the cover story, The Next Battlefield. I am…well, was a supporter of DICE, developers behind Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 2 and a lesser known, but enjoyable title, Codename Eagle, released in 1999.

DICE was able to take MMOFPS to a new level with Battlefield 1942, large, sprawling levels, vehicles and a wide range of weapons. It was a turning point in realism gaming genre. Game play, while not uber strong was on the higher side of good, not great, but with a few buddies, it made for a kick ass time.

Since then the game play value has really gone downhill compared to the graphical value of the Battlefield franchise. Add-ons and special weapons rewarded to those who level up by spending a bazillion hours playing. I lost all interest when DICE/EA started to roll out the addons, like BF: Vietnam and Secret Weapons.

Last year I picked up The Orange Box for the XBox 360. If you have read T6F before, you know I am not a big fan of the console, since many games leave a lot to be desired and cost a pretty penny to buy. TF2 was different. Now I remember back to the late 90s when Valve announced TF2, which (or the era) had some great looking graphics, but it turned out to *poof* vanish, much like vaporware does.

But Valve redeemed themselves with The Orange Box that included an all new version of TF2. While not the strongest game in collection, it did turn my head and I found the styling and game play above many other games that were highly touted. The cartoonish models, each with their own set of weapons and characteristics brought an entirely new look and feel to the FPS genre.

Now DICE…err…EA, whom I am sure pulls many of the strings is looking to continue milk the BF franchise with the announcement of a FREE…yes, a free game called Battlefield Heroes. Of course DICE defends their position saying it was evolutionary development, something they had on the drawing board years ago, but interestingly enough is announced months after a highly success Orange Box release that included a similar styled TF2.

Gamers, even hardcore gamers are not into upgrading their rigs with the impending release of the “next big release” such as Crysis or Unreal Tournament 3. Personally, I am not going to upgrade because neither of those titles really do much for me.

TF2, while not relying heavily on detailed and fancy graphics did do a wonderful job on game play. Unfortunate, as I have said before game play does not sell units, good, highly detailed and fancy looking art assets do. And sorry, demos don’t do shit, expect get you excited for a potential game, only to be let down after the developer and publisher get your $50-$60 bucks in their pocket.

So BF: Heroes, until TF2 will be free. Will the hardcore BF gamer actually loosen up and find interest in this sort of cartoon warfare? Dunno. All I can do is base it off the game play I have experienced with TF2. The article says game play will not be as “realistic” or hardcore for the n00bs. Because it was no fun to drop into a BF game, take two rounds and wait 15 seconds to respawn.

I do think DICE has looked at the success that Valve had with TF2 and is attempting to capitalize on it, regardless of their, “it’s been on the table” comment. Will they be successful? Sure, I think there will be a strong contingent that rally around this cartoon FPS to launch a new sort of genre. I do think others will follow in the footsteps of Valve and DICE.

Working as a mod team, as FrozenSand (formerly Silicon Ice Development) has for 9 years, we were always limited by hardware restrictions. Using the Quake III engine, gamers did not want to upgrade their systems in order to play a mod. Thankfully at the heart of our development has been a very strong game play component, with art assets as secondary.

While neither of these games will have any effect on Urban Terror, I do think we see a new movement in the realism-based FPS. Gone will be the hardcore, highly detailed shooters, to be replaced by a nice, easier version of a similar game. I do think the hardcore gamer won’t be pleased, but when you develop games you must do so with a common denominator in mind. I’ll be curious to see how this new type of shooter fairs.

Where’s the Creativity?

For those that know me, you know I am not too excited about the PC games that have been released during the 2005. That is not to say there were not some good titles depending on what gaming web site you read. For example, GameSpy’s 2005 Top Ten has some rather obscure titles on there, but also includes title you would expect to see.

In a Variety piece by Peter Bart titled, Creative engines turn creaky in ’05 states the media has been “upbeat for the media world” but end of the year statistics tell a different story.

Now I have been saying this for at least a year that the creativity in the electronic entertainment industry has been lost. I sit here and ponder what the last truly unique and creative game I played. Nothing comes to mind. Sure, there have been some great and enjoyable games I have played recently. I can cite Dice’s Battlefield 1942 as one of the games. I do think it leans toward being “revolutionary” in terms of being a MMOFPS (Is that an acronym?). Going back to 1999-2000, I think Counter-Strike changed the way gamers played online games, that game was a phenomenal success in the mod community for Valve’s Half-Life.

I guess there many other examples, bits and pieces of “technologica” that were features in games, not necessarily top titles. But these days, where has that creativity gone? From Variety, “Video game sales are sagging badly despite the heralded introduction of the Xbox 360.” Stating it’s a Microsoft product says enough, doesn’t. Especially those Windows users who have not made the shift to Linux. I don’t think you can slough off PC sales on all gamers waiting for the heralded release of Xbox 360. That might weigh in to some degree.”…only three of the top 10 games were actually released during 2005 — the rest were holdovers.” Now, I don’t know who’s top ten list they are using but all the games listed in the GameSpy article were released in 2005, beginning in March. I have sent an e-mail to Mr. Bart to inquire about his facts (I’ll report on that soon). But it is safe to say that video game sales are down and the numbers are there to support it.

In 2004 retail sales of video games, which includes portable and console hardware, software and accessories, reached more than $9.9 billion – a decline of less than one percent when compared to $10 billion in the previous year. “Compared to the same time last year, this November showed an 18 percent dip in retail sales to $696 million. Hardware sales dipped even lower, falling 21 percent from last year’s figures to $456 million,” from the latest NPD Group data released (12/15/05).

It comes full circle with gamers wanting more out of their game when they plunk down $50 (and more) on a game these days. In my opinion the quality, along with creativity for their titles has been rather non-existent. These days it’s “all about the franchise.” You know those titles, Quake, Madden, Grand Theft Auto and The Sims, just to name a few. I rant and rave about the bottom line with developers and publishers being all about making money. I guess some don’t give a shit when it comes their final product.

Gamers will be gamers, or lemmings, buying what is hot and avoiding what it not, based off reviews and conversations with other gamers. Hopefully some of these developers, like a Splash Damage, can actually introduce something unique and revolutionary when it comes to their first retail title. Why? They come from humble beginnings in the mod community of Quake, so seeing them progress and work to achieve their position today is something rarely seen.

As for me, I will continue to be stingy with what discretionary income I have to spend on upcoming to so called “hot titles.” But for now, I don’t see anything that really needs to find a home on my hard drive.