Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Modern and Future Games

In the comments section of the last post, Kirtai posted a link to a Cracked article on trends in gaming.

It being Cracked, I was expecting something rather facetious; absurd, perhaps. This was spot-on, though, and echoes several things I've noticed myself.

I'm not thrilled at where gaming is going. Brushing aside for this discussion things like DRM and sales models where you never get an actual, physical product; there's still the matter that most new games suck.

Honestly? I haven't bought a game in months. The last game I bought was either STALKER: Call of Pripyat ($15 on the Target bargain rack) or VtM: Bloodlines ($19.99 on Steam because no one in the free world had it for sale on disc anymore). I don't really have plans to buy any in the near future, either.

The game situation now is so bleak that I'm actually a solid year beyond where I'd normally upgrade my computer to keep up. Why bother?

Let's run down some recent titles, shall we?

Dawn of War II: Have the first game, and its three expansions. I liked one of them -- Dark Crusade. Soulstorm did away with everything that made DC great, and DoWII looked to be more of the same.

Neverwinter Nights 2: Again, own the first one and expansions. Again, liked one out of the pack. Hordes of the Underdark rocked. The rest were ordeals to be survived, not stories to be enjoyed. 2 was said to be more of the same by virtually all; except with considerably worse reliability.

Resident Evil 5: Didn't like the first four. Aren't they out of zombies to be attacked by, yet? Shit, at least in the movies I get to look at Milla Jovovich hurt people. The games don't even do us that courtesy; and instead insist on sticking us with a male protagonist whose ass I really don't want to stare at for forty-nine hours of key-seeking boredom.

HALO 47: Played the first one. Was bored out of my goddamned mind. Generic shooter #11,790. Have largely ignored the series since.

Battlefield Whatever: Lost interest in this series during Battlefield 2 in what? 2001? 2002? EA/DICE are the only folks I'm aware of that can give Bethsoft a run for their money for the title of "most unstable game launch ever". Seriously. You Gamebryo players don't know. DICE's patches had about a one in three chance of corrupting your game install with every new version. Every patch. I think I reinstalled BF2 six times trying to get 1.3 to work. Then DICE announced that "realism would never get in the way of 'fun' in the game" which told me it would always be the bunny-hopping bullshit they had been thus far putting out. When BF2142 turned out to be a massive mess of spyware, I just stopped watching the series at all.

Call of Duty et al: First one was a great game. The others, not so much. They pretend real hard to be realistic, but in the end aren't anywhere close. The Modern Warfare series has convinced an entire generation of neckbearded douchebags that they're worthy of joining "special forces", as well. I'd pay money to watch that assault on a Taliban stronghold.

The Witcher 2: Not sure on this one. The first one was good, but mainly because it was different. Here was a fantasy world that was dark and ugly; full of poverty, racism, and plenty of people motivated by sex. The combat system was also fairly new; combining not just poisons and oils with sword combat, but also adding different styles that were suited to specific situations. The second seems to want to follow that model... and derivative works rarely turn out well. Plus, the ending to the first one (at least the ending I got) seemed kind of... tacked on at the last minute, rather than a real conclusion.

Dragon Age 2: I wanted to like the first one, I really did. I started like eight games, but never finished it. Between reliability problems, clumsy storytelling, clumsier controls, a retarded AI, romance that didn't really serve any purpose, and the just flat out poor story, I was never motivated to slog through it all. Why anyone would want more of the same is beyond me.

Oblivion/Fallout 3/Fallout New Vegas: You'd think that I, being a prolific modder for all three games would start singing their praises here. Gods' own truth? All three are mediocre games, at best. Lame main quests, hit-or-miss side quests, tons of bugs and crashes despite multiple patches each. I mean, New Vegas' GECK has been out for almost eight months now, and they still can't be bothered to enable error reporting in the script editor. They also still haven't fixed the semi-auto refire bug in the engine; despite the fact that it was present from day one in FO3. Really, the friendliness of these games to modding is the only reason they're worth the sticker price.

Crysis: I never played this one. The specs were ridiculous when it was new, and aren't to be scoffed at today. From the synopsis I read when it first hit, I wasn't inclined to upgrade to play it. Time travel suit? Journeyman Project, anyone? This seemed like a remake; without the learning a bit about a history, and with a lot of first-person-shooter tacked on to seem "intense". No doubt the upcoming sequel will be the same thing.

Somebody tell me: why in the hell should I lay out six or seven hundred bucks on computer upgrades or a new system? Gaming seems to be formulaic, these days. You either grind online (and pay a monthly fee for the rest of your natural life) or get railroaded through some hack writer's ham-handed attempt at an action story.

I don't think I'm getting jaded. I still like my old games... it's just that these new ones suck. Much like new movies, they're virtually all derivative works; slapped together as fast as possible for budget reasons.

Now, I will confess: Skyrim has me... mildly hopeful. It'll suck at release, we all know this. But hopefully, Bethsoft has paid attention since 2006, and knows that mod-ability is the key to their games selling worth a damn. As long as it has a robust toolset similar to the one we know (and hopefully uses a similar scripting language...) it should have serious potential. Will it be worth buying a new PC for? Probably not... but by November, this system will be four years old, and on its last leg if not outright dead. They just don't build 'em to last, anymore. Not that Gateway ever built them to last, but that's a separate rant on its own.

What say you, readers? Am I off-base, and just being a codger? Or have we all really lived through the glory days of gaming, and now only get to look forward to getting reamed by DRM over and over in the pursuit of whatever the flavor of the week is, once it's been dumbed down to console-gamer level?

And just to be even more depressing: realize that we will likely never again see a proper simulator -- be it Battletech/Mechwarrior or Spacefighter. Even flight sims are getting pretty thin. No, we're moving square into a gaming future made up of Wii-bowling, drunken fratboys teabagging each other in Halo, and WoW's fifteenth expansion that ups the level cap by ten yet again, and adds a new dungeon raid that requires six hundred and twelve players to work in perfect unison for seven hours to complete...

Almost enough to make you want to go buy some printed-on-paper books to read, innit?


  1. In a nutshell, I totally agree with you here. You already know how I feel about certain older games so I won't go into a rant here. Suffice it to say that it's been my observation that today's games seem focused almost entirely upon attempting to dazzle us with system-spec-crushing eye-candy with very little attention to storytelling or enjoyable or challenging gameplay. Sadly, it seems that many of today's gamers are quite satisfied with this. I've attempted to have debates about this elsewhere but it always ends the same with me being the sole supporter of gameplay over graphics while everyone else is worried about what the next game is going to look like. If you ask me, screw what it's going to look like. I would've been quite happy if Oblivion looked just like Morrowind instead of having to buy a new rig in an attempt to get the game to run smoothly. I'll admit that I'd prefer 3D models over sprites, but still they don't have to be all OMG!-that-looks-so-real to satisfy me. The 3D renderings in Morrowind and the original Neverwinter Nights were sufficient in my opinion. But they really don't ask me, do they? But I said I wasn't going to go into a rant, so I'm going to shut up and play some classic Doom...

  2. I seem to enjoy playing the older games more than the newer ones. As a big fan of D&D, I have the original Icewind Dale games (from Black Isle Studios/Interplay), and both Neverwinter Nights and all expansions. NWN2 drives me nuts at times with its glichiness. The Doom games as still favourites of mine, especially Classic Doom, thanks to Herculine :) Of all the games I do have, the newest one I am playing is Fallout 3. I have Gears of War, but rarely play it: I just don't like the fact that you have to be logged into Windows Live to be able to save your progress. I'm not always someplace that has internet access, and why the hell do I need to be on Windows Live for a singel player game? Sort of like Steam...

    I've been thinking on getting the Mass Effect games, but the limited number of installs you have with it is putting me off. Its nice that what you do in one game does affect what happens in the next, but still, not liking the install limit.

    Life-like graphics are nice, but I think I would rather have reliability, accessability and a good/great storyline. Failing that, I will stick with my table-top/PnP Roleplaying games. At least then I can hang out with my friends.

  3. I dunno, I'm playing Alice: Madness Returns and having a hell of a good time. But then that story is in my top 5 ever, and to turn dear Alice into a gothy killing machine of ubercutegoodness pushes all my buttons the right way. Even the ones that make more "normal" people look at you oddly and back away. ^____^

  4. @Darksong: That's an older one, isn't it? Or am I thinking of American McGee's Alice? Either way, Wonderland was always a little trippy for my taste. Maybe I need to try some LSD first?

    @Druuler: I skipped Mass Effect mostly because it's Dragon Age in Sci-Fi instead of fantasy. The games are reportedly very similar, down to the moronic combat AI and tacked-on romance options. I never got as far as worrying about install numbers. Friends to game with would be nice, if I had any. Alas, the peopleses I knows "IRL" don't game. Well, not DnD type gaming. I know a few people who are into IDPA and 3-gun, but that's a little more intense than gathering 'round the card table for a trip into Forgotten Realms...

    @Herculine: I have to confess I didn't much like Morrowind's graphics. Oblivion is about ideal for me. With some better textures it can look damn good but still be ramped up even on my modest system. But yeah, packaging over content is getting old fast. I've seen prettier than Oblivion... but the system load to pretty increase ratio isn't good. That said, I enjoyed the hell out of more than a few games that had graphics that were crappy even for the day.

  5. no, it's the sequel to the older Alice game, and it came out yesterday. and I dunno, I don't need the acid to enjoy it, myself. :D

  6. The state of modern gaming depresses me. Most of my recent purchases have been from places like GoG (which I check every day). So many modern games are Generic Shooter 10 or Generic Fantasy Hack and Slash 7.

    @Herculine: I want games with good stories, good gameplay *and* good graphics. Sad to say the best source of those are old games with updated engines and graphics, though I don't need to tell you that :). It helps I prefer stylised graphics instead of ultrareal ones.

    @Druuler: I had the full set of NWN, IWD and Baldurs Gate, which were fun. I also have an original copy of Planescape: Torment which was *awesome*.

    @Darksong: My favourite type of character is the ubercute killing machine, gothy being a bonus so you're not alone in liking them. I'll have to check out that game. And make a gothy lop-ear elf mini for Oblivion.

    BTW, here's another bad thing about modern games: really sloppy console ports. I got a friend a steering controller for her birthday and you would not believe how many modern driving games for the PC only work with keyboard or Xbox controller due to this. I repeat, modern driving games that don't work with a driving controller. Got to wonder how my new joystick would fare, I'm glad I got it for old games.

    Hmm, this turned into a rant, sorry :)

    Now to try out Descent, FreeSpace 2 and yell at youngsters to get off my lawn ;)

    P.S. Books on paper? Now that's crazy talk!

  7. @Kirtai: I never got to finish "Torment", sadly, but I agree, it was awesome :) "Crazy talk" around here is the norm, in case you hadn't noticed XD

  8. Hey, I won't deny my crazitude (...wait, is that a word? Oh, well...) but I do have my reasons for not trusting E-books. For one, it's much more difficult for someone to arbitrarily delete a hardcopy from my shelf because no one thought to check on whether they actually had the rights to sell it or not (way to build confidence in your new business model, Amazon). Plus, I like that whole "doesn't require batteries" part.

    Also: Freespace 1 was better than 2. Totally.

  9. I have a Sony ereader along with a bunch of tools that let me back them up without problems. None of this Amazon-we-own-your-books stuff.

    Hmm, I just noticed the FreeSpace 2 source port also has some support for FreeSpace 1. Damn GoG for making them so easy to buy :P

    (Now wondering if mentioning another source port will summon Herculine ;)

  10. Ssh! Don't use the s-word, you fool! Her understanding expands with each new exposure to such things. Eventually, she will obtain omniscience and we'll all be subjugated by the Neko-empress!

    And if that happens, my stacked-redhead-cyborg-soldiers won't get to take over the world. Stop screwing up my plans! Sheesh.

  11. Oops. Do reverse engineered engines like the ones for Daggerfall or BG/IWD/PS:T count too? :O

  12. There's a sourceport for Daggerfall? I'm using the widescreen mod for all the Infinity Engine games, but I was unaware of anything for Daggerfall...

    ...must Google...

    ...oh, and Nos... the Neko do not wish to subjugate anyone; we merely want everyone to be purrrrrrrrrfect, like us...

  13. It's not finished yet but XLEngine is a reverse engineered engine for Daggerfall and Star Wars: Dark Forces. Blood and Desperadoes will be added later. (Used to be separate projects called DaggerXL and DarkXL)

    GemRB is a similar replacement for the Infinity Engine (same people as do the widescreen patch). Again, it's still in progress)

  14. "the Neko do not wish to subjugate anyone; we merely want everyone to be purrrrrrrrrfect, like us..."

    Yes, but some of us are allergic to cats, and thus must resist the nyew world order.

  15. Resistance is *achoo! sniffle* futile. The New World Order is here! Damned black hats and mirror shades...