Tag Archives: fps games

Putting a Price Tag on Nostalgia

While discussing the future fate of the Fallout franchise with a colleague, we came across a topic that became more interesting to me the more I thought about it: Bethesda purchasing the Fallout license. Licenses for old games are sold quite often these days, usually being thought of as an easy way to cash in without having to roll the dice with a new intellectual property and (gasp) being forced to apply creativity. Sadly (as far as the advancement of creative thought goes), most of the time the “cash in” aspect holds true and they do end up being at least marginally successful. Fallout was no exception here as Bethesda experienced great sales and brought the franchise into the digital age with it’s own slew of downloadable content (DLC).

While this never really surprised me – Fallout experiencing success in the distant past, now being ripe for picking up as a new-generation game – after pondering it more, I have to ask… was purchasing the license really necessary?

Of course, as said, the Fallout series had a very successful past, and there are still quite a lot of fans around dedicated to these old games and who even still play them today. The game distributor Good Old Games (established to re-package and sell older games that typically had trouble working on newer hard/software) arguably owes it’s explosive launch solely to having the Fallout series in their catalog.

So, the original games definitely had some sort of fan-base. However, we are talking about a vastly different age here: an age where the computer was seen as a primary vessel for playing games, and CRPG’s (when such an acronym even existed) were adored for their complexity and challenge. What would become of this franchise coming out of a coma, awakening in the day of the console dominating the gaming market and casual-friendly design being considered more important than brutal learning curves and endless depth?

Fallout 3 was changed considerably from the past games to the future incarnation. Going from a very strategy heavy turn-based role-playing game to an action packed first person shooter, Bethesda arguably didn’t even really attempt to please said existing Fallout fan-base (and really, they couldn’t have even if they wanted to). Sure, the fans may have bought the game anyway – being starved of the franchise name for so long, and it did have little nods to the past – but it had to of resulted in at least some percentage of potential sales lost. However, the sum of these potential sales doesn’t even come close to comparing to the amount of sales from people who have probably never heard of the name Fallout before. Given this fact, it is curious to think of what the sum total reaction would have been had it been Fallout 3 by any other name.

While the old games do certainly have a considerable fanbase, the genre that Fallout finds itself in is anything but unique. You can only spin the apocalypse so many ways. Compare Fallout 3′s setting and theme to that of STALKER‘s and you will find a great number of major similarities (of course, I am not talking about overall quality here):

  1. Post-apocalyptic landscape – check
  2. Mutants, both human and animal – check
  3. Superpowers granted via radiation – check
  4. Dark, abandoned subterranean locations – check
  5. Main character emerging into a world unknown to them – check
  6. Semi-nonlinear gameplay – check
  7. Quasi RPG character and plot advancement – check

About the only thing I can really think of that is truly special or solely unique to the Fallout universe is the Pip Boy and the 1950′s theme in general. This isn’t a slight to Bethesda or claiming that they ripped off STALKER, it’s just a testament to how generic the post-apocalyptic genre is – it’s basically self-descriptive.

So, what stopped Bethesda from just… making STALKER? Or furthermore, just creating Fallout with a different name? Would publishers not been as pleasant, ever-unwilling to invest in new intellectual properties? Perhaps (and this may be giving the industry more credit than it’s due) it’s simply a case of… shame?

Let’s take a look at a similar scenario involving the System Shock games and Bioshock. Presumably, 2K Games either didn’t want to or couldn’t develop a new System Shock game (the original games being made by Through The Looking Glass). In either case, they instead take to the blackboard and come up with Bioshock, a very similar game mechanically to System Shock 2 (much more so than Fallout 2 to Fallout 3) but with it’s own completely unique and independent style, setting, plot and characters; not to mention they are set over a century apart from one another. In a nutshell, there is nothing aside from raw gameplay that ties System Shock 2 to Bioshock, and thus Bioshock is considered a “spiritual successor” of it – a term often used to describe a game that does more than just pay homage to a past title, but seeks to replicate the feeling of playing the original.

Bioshock was another game that met critical success. This time to all parties involved – past fans were (more or less) happy that the game resembled their beloved System Shock 2, and the much bigger portion of the gaming populace who had of course never heard of the past games greeted the fresh artistic style and setting with open arms. 2K had managed to successfully bring up the past and pay tribute to it while simultaneously creating a brand new intellectual property that has no thematic similarities to the game it pays homage to.

After all that is said and done, what is the true value of a license that is doomed to be unknown by the vast, vast majority of gamers; and to be considered sullied by the few remaining who actually remember what the old games the licenses were ripped from were like? Obviously, if the license is big enough, there’s no question here. If the license to the old Ultima series were to go up for sale, there is no doubt that it would be quickly snatched up and used to carry a great amount of weight behind a new title.

However, those old games that fell into obscurity but still have that ever-persistent base of hardcore fans, who only grow stronger (but generally not larger) in their fandom as time passes and their nostalgia grows; is it really necessary or even worth it to use these licenses to promote a new game? Which of course, any new game using an old license – even one being booked as a “sequel” – is going to be just that, a new game. You cannot resurrect a decades-old title and hope to replicate the same exact gameplay, and once you realize that, you put the very license you bought in jeopardy and risk losing the fans who are the sole reason the license even had any value in the first place.

As well, how will this apply to the future? Will the number of gamers eventually stagnate to the point where the amount of older gamers reminiscent about a past title is of significant size to make a sequel or re-licensing of a game marketed specifically to them? Or when Halo eventually turns into a “timeless classic”, Master Chief becoming comparable to an 8-bit Mario, will it be difficult to pay homage to it due to the ever-changing climate of game design? Only time can answer this one, but I think one thing is clear: licenses to classic games will always have a hefty value, because all gamers are fans of something; and as time goes on, so does our nostalgia grow – getting to a point where we can fool ourselves into wanting something that can never exist – to re-experience the past.

Time Investment as a Resource

Time spent in relation to how well you play a game is an interesting concept. There are always people all across the spectrum – some become proficient fast, some slow. Even chess has young prodigies that can challenge older “hard-earned” grandmasters. And yet, experience itself is a huge boon even in a game where younger players can quickly catch up to older ones.

As a proponent of skill-based gaming, my stance has always been that your skill should simply be your skill, and time spent shouldn’t affect anything. Granted, time spent will always affect at least the meta-game (the aspects in a gaming environment not under your control, such as your opponents play styles and tendencies), but I’ve mostly only meant the extreme cases where games actually increase your ability to perform better through time-based activities. In an acronym: MMO’s, or massively multiplayer online games.

Although not all MMO’s have this feature, most do and it has become a cliché of the genre. You start out with a skill level of 0 in fighting, you attack and kill a rat, and you gain 1 fighting skill throughout the duration of the fight. Or 10 experience towards your next level (increasing your attributes and combat ability), or perhaps the rat drops an item that you can equip which makes you do more damage to the next rat you face. There are many methods that could be employed, but they all share the same time requirement trait. This is in direct contrast to traditional tournament games such as first person shooters, real-time strategy, or fighting games where you simply enter the match, play the match, and then leave the match with nothing of permanence affecting you in the next match (again, aside from possible meta-game aspects such as your mental state). Given this, these games are usually considered to be much fairer and thus much better competitive games as the only resources are raw knowledge and “skill” (knowing how to play the game and having the ability to do so). Of course, you have to expend a third resource to gain knowledge and skill, and that’s time.

After thinking about how many hours a lot of top tournament players will spend practicing a day in their chosen game, it seems a bit strange to keep my prejudice against the MMO system of skill gain. At the end of the day, what is the difference between a Starcraft player spending 12 hours a day practicing a match-up, versus an MMO player spending 12 hours a day to advance his character? If your character still requires out-of-game skill and knowledge to be played better in the latter system after he is “capped” (you are no longer able to expend time to advance his in-game skills), how is it any different to the former game?

Starcraft: Brood WarStarcraft: Brood War is the most popular e-sport game currently.

Another dynamic in MMO’s that I believe I touched upon in another article is community status. Much more so than one-match-at-a-time genres, your role in an MMO community plays a huge part, as social aspects are a huge part of persistent world gameplay. One recent example of this is in EVE Online, where the group of players in Goonsquad managed to use their social presence to influence a key member in a huge rival alliance, which ended up with the total collapse of that alliance. Even though Goonsquad was enormously outnumbered, their community and social placement in the game allowed them to overcome a very large threat they may not have been able to deal with on the terms of the normal game rules (i.e. combat). In this example, the time investment leading up to this gain for the players would have been purely meta-gaming related. It had nothing to do with the players’ character skills, they all could have been freshly made and still have carried out this operation. It’s also worth mentioning that “the Goons” as they are known play many games, and have earned such a reputation that merely hearing about them coming to play your game, or on your MMO server, is enough to make some people quit or stay away from that game on that basis alone. Even when they choose to play a game that is based on time-based skill gain, their long-term gained social presence gives them an advantage in the meta-game. Ironically, EVE Online is the prime example in this regard as well: the method in which you train your character is by selecting a skill, and then the game tells you an amount of time until you get better at that skill – this time passes regardless of whether you are online or offline, thus your overall skill is directly related to your character’s age.

EVE OnlineCCP’s EVE Online places more emphasis on community interaction than most games.

“Macroing” is yet another interesting concept the MMO genre brings to the table. This is the act of gaining character advancement in a game without necessarily having to pay attention to the game itself – basically, advancing your character “for free”. The time investment is either much slimmer (i.e. a “semi-attended” macro, where you can do something else and simply check back from time to time), to not having to invest at all (unattended macroing: your character “plays itself”, gaining skill in the process). Macros can come in many forms: from sticking a penny in your keyboard to hold down a key, all the way to a custom program made specifically to play your character with specific settings (also called a bot or script). Whether be it a macro, bot or script there is usually a fairly big time investment for the author to actually create the method employed. After he distributes it, there can still be a time requirement for the people who acquire it to learn how to use it, but it is much less given that they don’t have to actually come up with the concept and create the method by hand. In either case, there is time spent in the process of setting up your character to work on its own (saving you time in the end – spending time to make time). What’s interesting here is that while macroing is often called a form of cheating or exploiting, one cannot deny the fact that the player is using this to his advantage. Essentially, the player is becoming a prodigy – advancing in the game faster than other users. Remember also, even if the macro goes at the same pace (or less) than another user playing “legit”, the player using the macro can spend his time to strengthen his community role which, as discussed above, is certainly one way of becoming more powerful at a game.

Glider, a World of Warcraft bot programGlider is one of the leading World of Warcraft bots used to advance characters and farm gold – the game’s currency. The program has become so controversial as to inspire lawsuits from WoW’s creators, Blizzard.

This is all relative, since in actual tournaments these things almost certainly wouldn’t be allowed. Of course, in most tournaments we do not have to worry about this – but now that the World of Warcraft Arena has become a tournament game in and of itself, it could be cause for concern that players may used some ill-gotten advantage to strengthen their avatars. Fortunately for that game, however, it’s not a very big deal to “max out” your character to a point in which he would be equal to others in tournament play, so it’s not an issue in the big picture. If a game does come along where the time investment is much higher, and it becomes competition worthy, it will be interesting to see how these cases could be handled. On the other side of the coin, the standardized “match-at-a-time” games are also starting to bring in some time-based concepts to the table: we are starting to see first person shooters where you gain experience, ranks, and access to more varied equipment based on your avatar’s skill or experience.

In the end, I think the bigger question aside from which version of time investment is superior, is what goal is the person asking the question trying to pursue. Even monetary gain can be had via both systems – tournament earnings versus playing letting bots run their characters, earning them items or money that they can sell for real world currency. It’s all relative to each person’s particular goals at the time of asking said question.

Dystopia released on Steam

Well, I was going to post this a couple of nights ago but it kind of got swept up in the excitement. What excitement you ask? Well…

Click the image to go to the Dystopia Steam page.

The new version of Dystopia is out! Although 1.2 might seem like a meager decimal increase from 1.1, it actually marks a huge improvement to the game and even more importantly, the first release that I can really say I had a huge part of. My latest work on the game was creating the trailer along with the help of the team’s musician, bioxeed. Bioxeed has also recently put up a mix of all of his Dystopia music, so if you like this music style be sure to check it out.

High quality x264 download link for the trailer available here.

It’s really been a great ride. I never thought I would become a game developer but it is something I really enjoy. Even moreso, I never thought that the old Doom maps that I’d toy around with in DoomED would be the precursor to year-long projects that push every limit of a next-gen engine. Having finished two maps from scratch, picking up and finishing a partially-completed third one, and collaboratively working on a fourth with other members of the team (termi, Venciera, charlestheoaf, Spire), and creating a few dozen model props and textures, I’ve been working on the mod for over two years now. And even though Dystopia is getting to a point where I can see myself being done working on it, there is plenty more exciting things in the future in the world of game development. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to pursue an actual job in the industry (I don’t know if I could be as passionate about something that isn’t my brainchild), but I’ll certainly be continuing it as a hobby.

I’ll try and get a Game Development page up soon highlighting the work I’ve done so far with Dystopia, now that it’s all public. If you’ve got a Steam account and any source game that includes the Source SDK Base, be sure to check out Dystopia and let us know what you think on the forums.

What makes a good esports title?

The struggling hobby that is e-Sports has gone through a lot of ups and downs recently, so this is certainly an interesting question to pose: what does make a good e-sports game?

The first thing that will come to many gamers minds will be the type of game it is. First-person shooter fans will be quick to defend the FPS genre, along with real-time strategy fans for RTS (and of course, the sub-genres within these genres for one-versus-one or teamplay, different rule-sets and such). However, I believe this division is what is holding e-sports back from becoming truly mainstream.

There have been some leagues – albeit none taken very seriously – that have tried to cater to this division in utilizing a multi-game format approach; however these have mostly been for fun or very small cash prizes and thus not gotten a lot of coverage or interest.

The most successful e-sport currently is StarCraft, and that is largely because the playerbase has refused to deviate from this title; thus allowing spectators ample time to learn and understand the game – and for the players to become extremely skilled at a single title rather than spread their skill thin as other e-sports players have to do quite often. It will be interesting to see what StarCraft 2 does to this e-sport scene, as real sports don’t have to deal with sequels, however I think the impact will be minimal as it has grown so large as to be a part of the culture itself in the main StarCraft hub, Korea. It is in every way, shape and form an “electronic sport”.

Overall, I think the biggest thing that a good e-sport title needs is consistency, which is mostly up to the players to determine. Everyone has their favorite games, but a decision needs to be made on a lone title to use as the platform for that specific e-sport genre. As we saw with the CPL, CGS, the old cyber games and other leagues rise and fall, the reason mostly seems to be due to the inconsistency with games being played and the lack of staying power. As with any sport, it is up to e-sports to have a good fan base to generate the revenue necessary to run them. With most leagues constantly bouncing from game to game, fan interest is very hard to hold and they seem to inevitably fail. The game needs to be simple to understand, yet have a large amount of skill and depth involved. It needs to have a good level of showmanship for the all-important spectators, and there needs to be a pre-existing level of fandom for the game itself – you cannot simply make a game specifically for e-sports and expect players to embrace it.

Given all of the aforementioned attributes, and the fact that game developers rarely seem interested in e-sports, I’ll have to chalk the answer to this question up to luck. As Korea became infatuated with StarCraft (due to it being one of the first titles released internationally there), it become more and more a part of the culture to the point of where it wouldn’t be considered strange to hear two people talking about it on the street. Although it is not strange to hear people talking about videogames in other countries, they are often talking about the topic as a whole, and not a specific game. Indeed, it is rare to even find someone with the same preference in games as you in most of America and Europe. If a game becomes truly explosive in popularity in these regions, and boasts the necessary traits to become an e-sports title, we may see resurgence in this hobby in these regions. Until that day comes, whether or not you can make a living off of professional gaming, I think e-sports will still largely be considered a hobby.

Originally posted at ugame blog