Games Developers Play

It’s rare I speak about the electronic entertainment industry since retiring from any sort of online game development or online game, I’ve also given up supporting many companies, such as Microsoft who still cannot get the XBox 360 right. In my tenure working on an amateur development team and rubbing elbows with some well known companies like id Software, Activision, Ravensoft and others I have lost some respect I once held for some of these professional development houses.

Since moving on from Urban Terror I have yet to spend any money on another PC game, nor have I built a new computer to support these high end fandango games that only seem to be getting prettier than anything else. I can’t speak for their game play, but after nearly 10 years of development on Urban Terror it became quite apparent that game play would always trump graphics. As we have seen in the past and will continue to see in the future, graphics will continue to sell games, not game play. Even games that should have never made it to retail will end up being found on retail shelves and not long after in the bargain bin.

Unfortunately many game developers continue to recycle their “franchise” products. This in my opinion is not what development is about. I feel that many companies seem to have lost that creative drive that bought us many unique and enjoyable games back in the day, DICE and their Battlefield series is one of the most popular. Another example is Call of Duty from Grey Matter Interactive/Activision. Both of these developers have been taking their series to the next level, but how is the game play? I believe as a franchise ages it can become chocked full of so many features that it actually detract from game play. I still feel Codename: Eagle was a solid game from DICE. Simple, yet enjoyable on a LAN.

Recently with the release Portal 2 by Valve (alleged) fans seem to do nothing but trash talk the game. This is typical of supporters to whine, “while hundreds of negative summaries complaining about unbelievably inane shit (source). This just goes to show even professional designers can’t get things right and fans continue to shell out their money for games and feel they are deserved something in return.

I do agree with what is stated in this article on Destructoid, “Of course, the people whining would still buy <insert game here> and everything else <insert company here> puts out without a second thought. No wonder they whine so hard — it must be difficult being such spineless, dickless chumps.” This was ALWAYS the case with Urban Terror development and all those chumps didn’t have to pay to play. It’s no wonder I got out of gaming.

Development houses will continue to develop games. While the actual retail market is undergoing a change, with boxed software slowly giving way to downloadable software, the quality of games continue to improve. I believe this is a trend that will continue to rise for years to come. Franchises will continue to spin new iterations and gamers will continue to overpay for under-developed software.

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.

Oswald Rant: Drawing Comparisons

When Counter-Strike went retail, thanks in part to the success of this mod and the interest from Valve, a new precedence was set in the modding community. The development bar was raised. Is this new level unattainable for any other mod? Will Counter-Strike only be topped by the sequel from Barking Dog Studios?

Looking and playing many of the other popular mods, such as FireArms, Day of Defeat, Strike Force, Infiltration and Urban Terror, just to name a few, will any of these ever come close in terms of success and popularity of Counter-Strike?

Many of the popular mods of today are mentioned in the same breath and compared to Counter-Strike. While it is obvious to see these mods share a common thread. They are realism based. But can you fairly compare Counter-Strike, which is now a Version 1.0 and on the retail shelves with that of a mod still developing a beta version of their mod?

When drawing comparisons it is fair to compare features that are similar in nature, such as models or weapons and to some degree game play. To compare a finished version of a mod to one still in beta development and conclude with, “This mod is not as good as Counter-Strike” or “I was a bit letdown with this mod after seeing all the screen shots and hype before its release.” Is this fair? Of course not, but neither is life. So suck is up!

I have read countless forum threads addressing the following topic: ‘CS vs. [insert mod here].’ Instead of drawing upon facts, the threads usually deteriorate into nothing but opinions [you know what they say about opinions] and pointless flamings of community gamers. Mods can coexist, even if they are developed using the same engine. Half-Life is a prime example and has some of the most popular mods, form Counter-Strike to FireArms, to Day of Defeat. To fairly review or compare mods, why not base the findings on a previous version of the mod?

Instead of saying, “This mod has some good weapons, yet the skins are not as detailed and authentic as the ones for Counter-Strike.” Huh? Why even go there?

A comparison of mods does nothing but belittle their effort and hard work of that development team. Comparisons hold little value when reviewing a mod, especially when the focus is directed at pointing out flaws in the mod being reviewed with that of a mod like Counter-Strike.

A good, well read review contains some opinions, but should be based on the mod’s features. “This mod has made great progress, increasing the detail and realism of the current weapons.” Pointing out flaws can be beneficial for both the community and the development team. Even better is discussing the changes, improvement and modifications from a previous beta version.

This topic is somewhat tainted and sensitive issue for Silicon Ice Development, as they continue to draw comparisons to Counter-Strike. Fair? Not really, but that is life. If anything its flattering to be mentioned with Counter-Strike. I will even tend to agree with some of these reviews, as along as the mod is not considered a “CS clone.”

In conclusion, just shoot straight, state the facts, point out the positive and negative aspects, and commend the development team on features that are well implemented. Reviews can be very helpful, not only for the mod, but to build support and confidence for the development team and their respective mod.