Monday, July 21

Day 7

Whilst looking for reference materials I came across DAWGs [Deviant Art's Wild Dogs]. It's a collaborative comic that is the product of a design competition on Deviant Art. There is a wealth of conceptual art available there so I'm going to rummage around. Although at this point my characters are relatively well defined, it takes a lot of people to make a populous. One thing that always irks me about video games is how empty and lifeless many worlds seem. There are hardly any people and the ones there are seem to have nothing better to do than stand around repeating the same line of dialog all day. Furthermore, if they aren't characters of interest then they are overly bland. There seems to be a huge gap between the ostentatious main characters and their dull environments. Either the background must be as vivid or the leads must be as demure (as mine are). A game that really addressed these issues in a serious attempt (for what I would consider the first time) was the much-hyped free roaming adventure Assassin's Creed. Flaws aside it offered sprawling cities replete with citizens who were going places*, having conversations and running into their own trouble. You were also free to travel wherever you wanted from the outset limited only by your skill and creativity. No invisible walls, no flimsy yet impenetrable wooden doors and no inconsistency between objects (ie. you can climb a ladder but you can't climb a fence).

Today I've also been looking at a game preview site for "FORCE Unleashed" which is yet another ho hum Star Wars game. The site interests me though as it features many of the elements I wish to develop; Overview, Features, Story, Characters, Locations, Game Innovations, Concept Art, Screenshots, Trailer (maybe) and Video. I like the way they create hype using certain language and over-explaining features (the wood breaks like wood! the game must be great!). But there is a distinct lack of atmosphere and feeling here. I would have thought they would have played up the fear and evil of the dark side and how good it feels to play the villain. Even the B grade Star Wars heroes are underexploited (my bet is on a very uninvolved Vader with a very unconvincing voice actor) and the new characters seem extremely bland; you have a female pilot who will no doubt be whining incessantly in your ear, an arbitrary droid that can fill any plot hole yet can't help you with your missions in any useful way, a quirky alien/hermit (completely breaking any mood with it's cartoon nature) who will be reluctant to help you and then immediately flip to your unquestioning ally... Maris Brood does seem genuinely intriguing so it will be interesting to see if she's under-used a'la Darth Maul.

I am constantly surprised how the hard work of game design and programming is often done so well whilst narrative and art-direction take a back seat. Game plot and dialog is so often left to the last minute when it is truly what makes or breaks a game. I've glossed over awkward action, boring repetitive gameplay (Final Fantasy I'm looking at you) and glitchy programming time and again because I'm captivated by the art of story telling. I even go back to old consoles; simple games with simple graphics that suspend reality and emote well because that's where the joy in gaming lies. Shadow of the Colossus, perhaps my favorite game, has minimal plot delivered in a grand total of 4 cut scenes, very little in the way of game structure and fairly unforgiving gameplay. Yet each moment is a subtle work of art, each location, score and encounter solicits strong emotional responses that stimulate the feelings that we miss in a modern life; awe, fear, hope, serenity and peace. A common complaint of the phenomenal Metal Gear Solid series is that it's like watching a movie with intermittent gameplay. But when did films become a bad thing? Sure you want to play a game, but this game/film hybrid has allowed for some of the best narrative ever.

Of course there are great games that are made so by their game play alone (such as sports games). Playing the new Smash Bros. game I was not nearly as excited as I thought I would be. Despite new characters, levels and items (and a pathetic attempt at a storyline is easily ignored) the fundamentals of the game remained unchanged and so the experience seemed old and honestly boring. Whilst I'll always enjoy playing it from time to time it offers little new in terms of gameplay which for a game like this is the only place innovation matters. It reminds me of another game I played recently; Tony Hawk's Proving Ground. The game is no more fun to play than it's predecessors and if anything it's less fun. Like most sports games where the gameplay cannot evolve because the sport has not, we are left with a graphics improvement and harder, more convoluted ways of performing the same moves in the same environment. My friend disagrees, claiming that you can now 'Natta Spin' but that really hasn't added anything to the game as far as I'm concerned. Ultimately you can update a game and (when it comes to sports) there will always be a market for it but the pressure to 'innovate' is ruining new iterations of favorite games. I'm still playing Burnout 3, the apex where graphics meets gameplay, in favor of Burnout 4 and now 5.

*sure, that place was around two blocks and back again but it was enough to create a convincing illusion.

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