Arkane Studios Reveals: DISHO... - 7.7
LGS Interview Series 3 - 5.9
An Arkane Manifesto - 4.11
The End of Looking Glass - 3.28
Simulated Skill Part 3 - 3.25
Gambit Interviews Dan Schmidt - 3.22
Irrational Games' other Games - 3.18
Doug Church Joins Valve - 3.17
Simulated Skill Part 2 - 3.11
Awesome new interview series - 3.8
Community Feature: Simulated ... - 3.4
Tim Stellmach Talk - 3.1

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

   Thief 2 and System Shock 2 Updates Found - D'Arcy - 12:12:02 PM EST

We've just had some delightful news today: a new unofficial patch for System Shock 2 and a similar one for Thief 2 have surfaced! This is huge!

The patch was announced by a mysterious user named 'Le Corbeau' on the French forum Ariane4ever. The list of changes introduced by this patch is simply amazing, making both games fully compatible with modern hardware and Windows releases, and opening new horizons for the modding community.

Join the discussions here for Thief 2 and System Shock 2 in our forums.

    Thursday, July 07, 2011

    Arkane Studios Reveals: DISHONORED - Dan - 10:52:18 AM EST

Arkane's secret project has finally been unveiled. GameInformer's cover story for August will feature DISHONORED, the first person scifi/fantasy stealth/action game.

Arkane Studios and founder Raf Colantonio have made memorable games in the past (Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah of Might & Magic) that ultimately suffered from a lack of publisher support. Bethesda Softworks believes in their vision and is giving them all the time, money, and development help (regular meetings with guys like The Elder Scrolls' Todd Howard don't make your game worse) they need. Harvey Smith, one of the main minds behind the first two Deus Ex games and a legendary veteran of game development, shares the vision and is on board as Dishonored's co-creative director along with Colantonio. Viktor Antonov designed Half-Life 2's iconic City 17 and is lending his talents to Dishonored's world. This is a perfect storm for creating a game that shatters the mold that first-person action games have built for themselves in the mainstream.

We've seen the game running, and now we share Colantonio and Smith's vision too. Dishonored is the antithesis of a edge-of-your-seat roller-coaster ride. It's a game about assassination where you don't have to kill anyone. It's a game about infiltration where you can set up traps and slaughter the entire garrison of an aristocrat's mansion rather than sneak in. It's a game about brutal violence where you can slip in and out of a fortified barracks with nobody ever knowing you were there. It's a game about morality and player choice where the world you create is based on your actions, not navigating conversation trees.

The Dishonored forums have opened over at Bethesda's official site. I hope you'll join us there. :)

    Monday, May 09, 2011

    Looking Glass Interview Series Part 3 - Dan - 2:00:09 AM EST

In this Episode of the interview podcast:

Tim Stellmach, lead designer on Thief and Thief II, as well as a designer on Underworld II, System Shock, and Terra Nova.
Laura Baldwin, designer/writer on Thief and System Shock 2.
Sara Verrilli, QA on System Shock and designer on Thief and Thief 2.

If you missed the first two, (or don't like podcasts) transcripts are available here:

Dan Schmidt (Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief, not to mention Guitar Hero and Rock Band)

Austin Grossman (Ultima Underworld 2, System Shock, Deus Ex,)

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    An Arkane Manifesto - Dan - 9:20:43 AM EST

This editorial was original published in Gamesauce Magazine.

Letting Go
On Designing Games with Dynamic, Non-linear Gameplay
by Harvey Smith & Raphael Colantonio of Arkane Studios

   Around 16 years ago, the two of us were drawn into the industry by a love of games that were part first-person-shooter and part role-playing game (for lack of a better descriptor). Games like Ultima Underworld, in other words. Such immersive games are marked by a combination of values and player-experiences: visceral first-person action, exploration, role-playing, player-driven pacing, environmental coherency, physical interaction, non-combat interactions, and AI behavioral simulation.
   These shibboleths join us to a subset of game developers who've made games that are sometimes hard to categorize. In 1980, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord featured a crude first-person view for dungeon encounters, and seven years later FTL created Dungeon Master, which came closer to being real-time and enhanced the visual fidelity of the world, thus taking a strong step toward putting the player more fully into the world of an RPG. The Ultima games made by Richard Garriot and Origin always had an extra layer of depth due to the fidelity of the world, the way items could be consumed or alchemically combined, and the way the characters in the world seemed to exist, living according to the intricate schedules that allowed the player to infer additional meaning in each situation. While not presented from a first-person perspective, the Ultimas (and the original Fallout series) were hugely influential on this family of games.
   But this hard-to-categorize genre of games wasn't fully realized until Doug Church and Looking Glass Technologies made Underworld, System Shock, Terra Nova, and Thief, an unprecedented run in terms of cutting-edge technology and singular creative vision. Arkane's first release, Arx Fatalis, was a direct homage to Underworld itself. In other corners of the industry, over time, the Deus Ex games, STALKER, Arkane's Dark Messiah, the Bioshock game, and a few others trace their lineage directly from Underworld. Games like Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Far Cry 2 all feel like cousins, sharing some of the same core values.
   We love these sorts of games. And we believe the industry could learn a lot from them.

A Proliferation of Genres

   In today's game "industry" there are many types of games being designed and executed, especially once you take into account the variation that exists within the mod scene, the indie movement, and all the experimentation found in academic programs. There are developers now who focus on serious games for professional training, military recruitment, education, social causes, or artistic expression. Increasingly, people are being paid to make advertisement games which support fashion or fast food. Mobile and social games are ubiquitous, having leapt into existence seemingly out of nowhere. Party music and exercise games have flourished over the last few years. This proliferation is great. Some subset of these games will be ground-breaking or inspiring, providing more fuel for the creative fires.
   Among expensive commercial projects aimed at core gamers, there are strategy games, side-scrollers, creativity toys like Little Big Planet, and evolved adventure games like Heavy Rain, with its focus on traditional storytelling segregated from the game-play. Fast-paced, first-person shooters are still super popular, as evidenced by Modern Warfare, Halo and Half-life. Then there are the open world games like Crackdown, Just Cause or Red Dead Redemption. And there are numerous third-person action games with an emphasis on character animations or sticky cover systems. Driving or racing games and flight sims are perennials. MMOs are everywhere, from the mega-WoW to the stunningly community-driven EVE Online. This list is not all-inclusive, of course, but it demonstrates that we're working within a plural medium.
   Some of these games rely on simple timing or control input, requiring the player to jump or turn a vehicle at the right time. Many of them involve traveling along a fairly narrow or linear path, killing an enemy, collecting some resources, and moving to the next mission marker. Some put more emphasis on selling the fantasy than letting the player engage in expression. Others are so expansive that they trade off depth for breadth, allowing the players to explore a land mass, but only at shallow level.

In Search of Mystery and Exploration

   Among all of these games and genres, periodically there are interactive works that provide players with the sense that they have influence over just enough dynamics to exceed their ability to hold it all in mind at once; or enough dynamics to create some sort of unified aesthetic effect; or dynamics that in some way provide a sense of mystery - like something large enough, complex enough, or happening fast enough to feel just beyond comprehension. That sense of mystery and exploration, created through interaction with very analog systems, is somehow vital to games. To use very old examples; Lunar Lander crated that sense through small physics impulses versus gravity, applied at just the right second, and Dragon's Lair by contrast didn't really have it, except as a really coarse sense of exploration in the form of finding out where the next cinematic scene might lead. Lunar Lander, like a good board game, could be played over and over; in contrast, Dragon's Lair- while an entertaining experience - was over once you'd seen all the scenes. Recently, games like Red Dead Redemption provided interesting dynamics like this as the player guided his horse, herded cattle, or attempted to lasso another horse; all of these systems, even when manipulated via clunky interface, feel analog enough to create some sense of play that is absent in many games. When you think about backing up and moving forward in time in Braid - manipulating your avatar's position, the music and the enemy locations - maybe you can remember a sense of fascination with the interplay of all the elements and your influence over them. That sensation is worth chasing at the expense of many other forms of time and effort that routinely go into games.
   In ideal circumstances, the two of us want to make games with some of those qualities, games that allow players to experiment with systems, to make decisions about how to solve problems, and to find their own way - games that involve dynamic, non-linear play between the player and the environment. We don't always succeed, but when we get our way and things come together just right, our games should be presenting the player with worlds where there are clear, interesting consequences for each action.

Defying the Trend Toward Static Games

   The problem is that as games have embraced polish and opened up to wider audiences, they've also become more static. In order to preclude unsightly physics interactions, the tendency is to lock down all the objects in the world. It's as if you put players in a little cocoon of non-interactivity to protect them from breaking the game. There are counter-examples, as we've said: A game like Red Dead Redemption - thank the stars - favors open movement, player-driven pacing, some simulational wackiness and (often) casual secondary goals made up by the player, despite a few wonky moments and bugs. RDR feels like a game that favors interactivity over the cinematic experience.
   The proliferation of photo realism has also led to more static (albeit prettier) games. If you render the most realistic environment you can, the temptation is to minimize the number of dynamic elements in order to make the game run at an acceptable framerate, but in doing so you rob the game of its most valuable element: dynamism. Again, it's the exceptions that are most interesting. Bioshock will be in our minds for many years, not just because of the impressive setting, art direction and characters, but more poignantly because our own memories of the game are built on decisions we made: times we backtracked to a room because we remembers a specific resource remained there; moments we executed a convoluted plan and defeated enemies in a clever way; or instances in which the environment felt like it belonged more to us than to the enemy because of decisions and investments we'd made earlier.
   As games have embraced the Hollywood fantasy, they've become more static as well. Taking cover and firing over a wall might look like a scene from last year's action movie, but these macro actions feel more like pressing a button and triggering an animation than playing a game. Getting stuck on cover points while trying to smoothly move around in the environment never feels right.

No Perfect Formulas

   Everyone has different tastes of course. For our part, we're chasing something immersive, atmospheric, and expressive - built from lots of atomic actions and player decision that matter. We don't always get a chance to work on games like this, but it's always the goal.
   Too often, the people managing or funding AAA games seem to lack confidence in interactivity or innovation as selling points. This diffidence comes across in the series of expensive me-too games that come and go. Teams are encouraged to use last year's characters and settings and to pound off all the risky, rough edges. As a result, there are about five games a year that are interesting. To be fair, there are multiple ways to succeed; some games are great because they're super polished, while others are great because they enable the player to experience something wondrous, often at the expense of accessibility or smoothness.
   Hollywood figured out a while ago that there's no formula for success - that no one can predict which creative projects are going to be successful. There are just too many variables. So the Hollywood approach is to encourage constraint where possible, but to respect creatives (while trying to get them locked down under contract). Then the five percent of projects that are successful fund all of the others. Which five percent will be successful no one can predict; even the people who invest their money in games haven't figured that out yet.
   Game development is not easy. Especially if you've got a set of aesthetic goals on top of all the other goals related to satisfying players, making the tech work, building tools for your team, hitting the platform specs, meeting the needs of business, et cetera, et cetera. Success relies on a dizzying number of factors, some of which are intangible or simply come down to chemistry.
   We believe that named values and distinct creative targets - shooting or a specific player - experience that allows players to express themselves, make meaningful decisions and explore the environment according to their own whims and strategies - is the best way to make games that inspire people and stay in the minds for many years.

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    For the Archive: The End of Looking Glass - Dan - 7:26:56 AM EST

Most of us have already seen this, but I am posting it here because it ought to be here.

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    Simulated Skill Part 3 - Dan - 7:59:49 AM EST

The third and final installment in our Simulated Skill series deals with the elephant in the room - the inevitable issue of gaming culture. Does there truly exist two different gaming cultures - console and PC? Or is that distinction irrelevant in this age of cross-platform development? And to what extent does the larger, console "culture" affect the development of cross-platform games?

Koki: Consoles are the fast food of gaming. Watching TV and friend on XBox Live invites you for a quick CoD match? Pick up the pad, play a match or two, go back to watching TV. At least playing on the PC forces you to get off the couch, which in itself is a commitment.

Briareos H: About the culture? Well, many games are made to require at least some part of core involvement (last examples which come to mind are Red Dead Redemption and Dead Space) - but there is no denying that console gamers who were not raised on PC approach games differently.

With console gaming, there is that looming atmosphere that you can put the pad down and forget about it altogether. When I think about PC - about my PC - there's a much closer relationship of which games are part on a personal matter. It's nerdy and quite more asocial, it's linked to the proximity of the screen and controls, to the fact that you use the PC for just about everything leading to a sense of entitled freedom. And when this freedom is arbitrarily restrained by forced distance from the game and your control over it, it feels unpleasantly touching and makes you moan over "consolisation" - objectively or not.

Sulphur: But hang on. Most of every gaming generation was raised on console games - consoles were literally the starting point for gaming - except for the select PC nerds and geeks who were completely entranced by the PC and their C64s and Spectrums and Amigas and nothing else.

I don't know about you, but when I played Mario on the NES it wasn't so much about having fun as it was to be single-mindedly driven to the end of the level. Putting down the pad? My pad? Impossible, unless I wanted to fling it at the TV. When I played Descent on the PC, it was about being single-mindedly driven to find the mine reactor and blow it up. Letting go of the mouse and keyboard? My mouse and keyboard? Impossible, unless it was to snap the keyboard on my knee in a fit of rage as I got swallowed up in a great apocalyptic fireball five times in a row.

You're making the mistake of attributing behavior to ownership. There's no doubt there's an impact that a system as isolating as a PC has, but it doesn't change a child's behavior completely. A normal, socially active child does not become a closed-off geek by virtue of his interest in computer games. And vice-versa, if you a nerdy child who suddenly started liking console games it wouldn't make you more socially active either.

As far as 'looming atmospheres' go, I really don't see how the couch vs. chair argument works today. Some people prefer gaming on their couch, some people prefer gaming in front of their PCs on the chair. The couch people could be playing something like, well, Dead Space 2 on their couch. And the PC guys would prefer playing the same game on their PCs. The same goes for Bioshock, or Metro, or any other multiplat game du jour.

I don't see any forced change in atmosphere honestly, unless the game in question was fundamentally gimped to be easier and played in spurts on the consoles.

Briareos H: Basically, I'm one of those people to whom consoles are inherently social and just don't click the same way as the asocial pleasure of computer games. Dark room, alone with your game - the kind of experience you had with Super Mario when you were a child. For sure, the line between social and asocial gaming is getting blurred by the ability to play anywhere with whatever platform - still - through everything that's been said before about the interface and design, consoles and console games seem to encourage a lot more that open and lean behavior which I find so less immersive.

Sulphur: I'd buy the 'console gaming isn't as deeply engaging as PC gaming' thing if console games were a completely different and more casual beast than PC games, but they share far too many games, game types, and experiences in common for that to be true.

Wormrat: What's next, the claim that you have to watch movies on your PC for a truly intimate experience? Don't blame the couch for people's lazy habits. You might be able to blame couch-TV distance for low FOV settings, though.

Subjective Effect: I absolutely think that defining skills as Player and Simulated is important, and it is a spectrum even though there are no games that use pure Player Skill, though there are some that pure Simulated Skill (those that present no challenge). Until now the nature of controllers has meant that the mapping of actions across different platforms has been quite varied. The keyboard and mouse combination offered so much that the early D-pad controllers, like the NES ones, just couldn't.

For this reason console games never even tried to be like PC games, for the most part anyway. The gaming ethos was quite different. But with the current console controllers (all the way up to Move) being so close to being K&M equivalents we shouldn't see such a difference anymore.

The ability to action Simulated Skills was much rougher, more raw, before this generation of controllers and, I believe, led to the "I win" buttons. And this is why I think dumbing down was/is the fault of consoles - hence "consolitis". This isn't a platform "war" this is a discussion about the fine differences in gaming that are generated by platform differences.

Briareos H: I still think it all boils down to two things: the targeted audience and the interface. I want to highlight that there are multiple examples of 'recent' console games which generally contradict my argument about being targeted at more social audience - for the best - and as many examples of PC-only games which do the opposite. That's where I think the line has blurred along with the general tendency to socialize gaming (rather than consolise) on all platforms.

Still, the interface is everything but a non-issue because it impacts how the same information is provided to a player which can both be sitting 3 metres from the TV with a gamepad or 50cm from the screen with keyboard & mouse.

Consolisation is not an excuse however for the trend of making everything explicit (and more generally tailoring the experience and contents to an 'ideal' player response rather than making a knowingly flawed game based solely on your vision and expecting the player to bend it somehow). Maturity in the videogaming economy is more to blame here.

Bakerman: It's not really consoles' fault that we don't have deep, meaningful, heart-wrenching moral dilemmas in games; heck, I've never experienced that on any platform. (Caveat: I'm a relatively young gamer, so I wasn't really around in the halcyon days of the 80s and 90s... maybe PC games were way better back then. I've played Deus Ex and Thief though, they're two of my favourites.)

Anyway. I do agree with you; the skill spectrum isn't all-inclusive. But to me it's an important part of the trend away from the kinds of games we like. What I'm going to take away from this thread is another useful way of looking at the interactions in games. Not the be-all and end-all but something relevant.

Sulphur: I'm not really asking for real heart-wrenching moral dilemmas in Bioshock and its ilk - though I'd love to have had them - but I'm saying that choices you had to make in SS2 locked you down to a character path and gameplay type because cyber modules actually weren't in plentiful supply, whereas in Bioshock the choice you made had ultimately little to no consequence to your gameplay path because Adam was plentiful anyway.

Eldron: I don't think these bad choices were so much related to "consolitis" as it was to bad design choices, much more consequence-filled and harder games exist on the consoles. I mean, I'm one of the people that think it was the biggest mistake ever to leave out any consequence to the way that you could just pick every power available and buy everything in bioshock, but I'm just not seeing any point to blaming it on consoles.

Sulphur: But consolitis is exactly that at the end of the day for PC users, isn't it? 'Bad design choices'? I guess part of it's attributable to SS2's poor sales and Levine & Co. addressing its perceived faults of complexity, like giving the player the freedom to completely screw themselves over, to reach a broader audience with Bioshock.

It's bad design choice, but why were these choices made? Especially when Levine knew that SS2 garnered critical acclaim and a cult following and therefore knew that most of it wasn't broken? Why was it simplified in so many ways, from glowing quest items to map markers to no inventory to lack of consequences to choices?

Answer: to be immediately accessible and to appeal to everyone it targeted right from the get-go, teenagers to adults alike. PC game devs tended to do their own thing and end up appealing either to the masses or to a niche back in the day depending on how complex and different their games were; but when you develop for consoles as well, your audience's age range expands significantly because younger demographics are built in, and patience for something as slow-burn or complicated as Thief and SS2 with younger audiences is limited.

Yakoob: Looking glass died because it couldn't survive on the critical acclaim achieved via those "not broken" design choices.

2K made millions while winning the hearts of thousands of fans thanks to the critical acclaim of the "broken" design choices.

Papy: I qualify BioShock's gameplay as average. Yet, I rate it as one of the best game I ever played. The reason was there was consequences to my actions. There was, for example, Tenenbaum thanking me several times, as well as what I perceived as a change of attitude toward me, but more importantly there was the safehouse. Seeing those little girls was one of the greatest reward I ever got in a video game. And that's what made my choices to save them meaningful. In my opinion, SS2 had a much better gameplay than BioShock, but BioShock was overall a better "experience".

Briareos H: Let's not forget that the way the game teaches you its mechanics is also very important, and was quite different between both games. It contributes a lot to the difference in feel and what people have attributed to consolisation while it's basically just devs being stupid/driven by their publisher.

A little example: If all I knew by the first fourth of Bioshock was that I could harvest gruesomely the Little Sisters or not at all (much more interesting choice), if I only discovered by myself through scattered audio logs that there was a way to rescue them, virtually launching an enormous optional sidequest to gather the tools and plasmids needed to rescue the sisters - quest that relied solely on player initiative (no update in the game log) - the end result and my drive to find that way to save them while thinking "wow this was not advertised by the game at all this is awesome" would have been delicious.

No, here you have that artificial choice from the start. Okay whatever, I'll save them because in the end I'm sure you wouldn't make harvesting them the most interesting option, Ken.

Games where every player is expected to "experience" all the narrative has to offer or hell, even the true ending, is a trend which has been rising parallel to the last generations of consoles. Hence the understandable confusion and terms like "consolisation" when it is not.

When you look at Dead Space 2 credits, the list for QA testers is longer than the list for developers. Well I say fuck them. Developers should abide by a rule: if more than 80% of all QA testers see everything the game has to offer on their first run, something is wrong with the game.

Sulphur: That's the Warren Spector argument of forced linearity down a prescribed path being worse than open gameworlds with multiple paths and options, isn't it? I think there's space for both in the market, what with Half Life 2 and the like not suffering so much for all their forced linearity.

I think it's fair to say that the dumbing down aspect of consolitis here at TTLG is tied to very specific games built as multiplat titles -- namely Deadly Shadows, Invisible War, and latterly, Bioshock. These games changed quite a bit in comparison the their PC-only predecessors to suit the platforms and audiences they were going to be on, and people have been raging on about these changes for years - nerfed gameplay like unified ammo, climbing gloves, merged skills and augs, etc.

That's an intellectual dumbing down that wasn't seen in the original games, but it did come about with the advent of the multiplatform sequel. Was that coincidence three times in a row, or was it planned because of something else? I'm going with planned, because I think they wanted to appeal to a lower baseline (the built-in demographics guaranteed to be on the consoles) than the PC exclusive titles did.

Papy: To me "consolitis" is more about all games following the same current models rather than any particular characteristics. With computers, we always had a broad range of games, from the very dumb almost press forward kind of games, to games demanding a lot of learning and a lot of thinking to play them. Consoles, on the other hand, were more or less always on following the formulas that were the most popular at the moment. Of course, there is a general trend because of limitations and general attitude, but I think those are relatively minor points.

Bakerman: Some games rely on maturity rather than (or in addition to) intelligence, which is where I think the typical 13-15 year old fails. It takes a certain level of maturity to enjoy a measured, slow-paced experience that requires thinking and initiative. While I do agree that many a 15 year old is capable of understanding a game like that, I just don't think many would enjoy it. It's kind of like wine... kids hate it (and I still do!), but as you age your taste changes, and though you haven't become more able to taste the wine, you just enjoy that flavour more.

Papy: People don't play video games for the same reasons. For some it's because they want to relax, for others it's because they want to feel good about themselves, or to have a tool for their imagination, etc... I believe the demographic of consoles and computer are different in big part because of the general environment. Playing comfortably lay down on a sofa, 15 feet away from a 50" TV (meaning a much smaller part of your field of view compared to a 22" monitor seen 18 inches away), in a room where you are not necessarily alone, is generally a very different experience than playing on a computer. A console environment is great when you want to relax without thinking too much, it's not so great for something competitive or difficult and requiring all your attention. So people will more or less choose their gaming system based on their own need.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Gambit Interviews Dan Schmidt - Dan - 7:11:32 AM EST

Gambit returns with their second podcast! Looking Glass Studios Interview Series - Audio Podcast 2 - Dan Schmidt

Part 2 of a continuing series, where I interview members of the now-defunct but highly influential Looking Glass Studios (1990-2000), which wrote the book on 3D first-person narrative game design throughout the 90s, in such games as Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief.

In this episode I talk with Dan Schmidt, who was with the company from its very early days (back when it was called Blue Sky Productions). A programmer by vocation, but filling a variety of roles from project management to design to music composition, Dan helped set the tone for the company's subsequent creative output in early projects like Ultima Underworld and Ultima Underworld II.

The podcast covers these projects, as well as Dan's work on Terra Nova, the ambitious squad-based robot sim, and his work in the early stages of Thief before moving on to work at Harmonix Music Systems in its early, pre-Guitar Hero days.

If you want to know what NHL '92 has to do with both Ultima Underworld and Rock Band (and who doesn't?) give it a listen.

Did you know that Dan Schmidt also keeps a blog, where he posts things like this little gem?

One of the levels (5, I think?) was largely populated by ghouls, with standard flesh-eating names like Eyesnack and Kneenibble. Naturally you could talk to them instead of just fighting them. Jon Maiara (the same guy responsible for the Pac-Man homage) was writing the conversations for them, and included all sorts of things like the opportunity for you to make fun of Eyesnack's name, to which he would respond by making fun of your name in return. You see the edge case, of course, right?

That's right, part of our precious 640K was devoted to checking for whether the player's name is also Eyesnack, in which case, in response to your mockery, the ghoul proclaims indignantly, "But your name same as mine!"

Maybe that will make you feel better about Judy falling into the lava.

Come discuss it with us!

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Irrational Games' other Games - Dan - 3:59:19 AM EST

This is actually rather old, and was mentioned on our forums some time ago as well. I thought it deserved a place here on the front page though, as well as a few additional words.

I think this is an opportune moment to mention that last year, I decided to give Irrational's back catalog a spin. Here's what I discovered.

Freedom Force

To sum this game up quickly, it began as gleeful fun which descended into frustrating keyboard-pounding after about five or six hours. It's an extraordinarily deep tactical RPG that starts off very slow an easy, with your small team of superheros beating up the bad guys and causing a ton of property damage along the way. The first couple of hours flew by, using telephone poles to knock buildings to their foundations to thwart evildoers raining bullets from rooftops. But as the game progressed, the learning curve went steep, and the difficulty curve skyrocketed. Missions began taking dozens of replays in order to complete, even with a liberal use of quicksave/load. Maybe I just didn't understand how to play the game or the game isn't for me, but I was legitimately enjoying myself up until the "nuclear winter" map and subsequent story about giant ants, at which point I put the game down, never to return. It's a shame too, because I really did like the game, and was excited at the prospect that there was so much game ahead of me. It's considerably long, doubled when you include the sequel. I suppose I could have tried it again setting the difficulty down to baby-style (I was playing on normal. Normal! Not hard.) but I had bigger fish to fry.

Tribes: Vengeance

This game is my best experience of the three. Were it made today, with the current attitude towards writing in games, it would sweep every award venue and leave Bioware and Rockstar's writing in the dust. Taking a cue from literature or cinema, unlike most games this one does not follow the part of a single protagonist on his or her journey. In fact, one could argue that there is no protagonist (nor antagonist), merely a character whom you happen to be playing at the moment. (For the record, I've always wanted to write a game like this.) The plot is told non-chronologically, jumping back and forth over the course of around twenty years, and from the point of view of five characters (two women, three men), one of whom you play at various stages of childhood and adulthood. The characters are all dramatically linked; you play mother and daughter, lovers, brothers, and a betrayer. Whole the storyline may be a bit melodramatic for some (it's a space opera, but with the scent of soap) but it's so different from the usual action game / rpg plot that I really didn't mind. Like the history video said, as complex as the plot is, it's not that difficult to follow, and provides a fascinating romp throughout. This was a game I was playing to find out what happened next.

But what about the game? For those unfamiliar with Tribes, it's a bit of Terra Nova (not just because of the melodramatic space opera plot) and a bit of Unreal Tournament 2004. There's a ton of variety in the mission offerings, though some felt genuinely like fillers to pad the game's length, or as tutorials for multi-player modes. With that in mind, the gameplay and level design ranged from completely awesome to frankly terrible. You have corridor-shooter maps, open ended exploration/quest maps (clearly the best parts of the game, and thankfully plentiful), sporting arena maps (the worst parts of the gamer, and sadly plentiful as well), and some rail-shooter/vehicle maps. If the training maps were skippable (they appear constantly throughout the game, even up into the last chapter) I would have enjoyed the title a great deal more. The difficulty is also very inconsistent, from cake-walks to replay-me-twenty-times tough. (Yes, even with quicksave.) Still, the parts that were fun were very fun (I especially enjoyed playing the assassin character) and kept me playing in spite of the awful parts, and in spite of the excellent plot.

Swat 4

In many ways Swat 4 is the polar opposite of Tribes Vengeance. There's no plot to speak of, and while both offer quite deep gameplay, Swat 4 is excruciatingly slow-paced (as a Thief fan, consider that deliciously slow-paced) tactical shooter with emphasis on re-playability in a handful of extremely small and detailed maps. You command a team of four swat officers which you can either micromanage meticulously (hint: on anything other than easy, you must micromanage them meticulously) or take point and allow them to merely follow your lead. There's a dizzying array of pre-mission customization options for your team as well. As I said before, the maps are very small, but the locations of the enemies and hostages (both mission-critical and otherwise) are randomized. You can't save during the missions, and often one little slip-up means the entire mission is bust. (Unless you're playing on easy, and then it's okay to fudge a little.) Swat 4 is an anti-shooter. If you play correctly and complete a mission perfectly, none of your team will have fired a single shot. Your goal is to safely restrain everyone in the area without hurting them (permanently anyway; pepper spray, tazers, or rubber bullets are allowed) and confiscate all weapons. The enemies (and sometimes innocents) rarely want to go quietly, so you'll usually need to resort to one of the above methods of subjugation, or if that fails, shoot to kill. Oh, and there's yelling. Alot of yelling. This is probably the only game made where your first course of action when confronting enemy is to always shout at them at the top of your lungs.

Like Freedom Force, this game starts off fairly simple and easy, but by about halfway through it becomes extremely difficult. Again, I was too stubborn to set the difficulty down to easy, but eventually succumbed to frustration-boredom and put the game down, never to return. I believe I completed about 75% of the game, not including the expansion. The map design is very realistic, portraying a wide variety of indoor locations in extreme detail. There's also definitely a touch of Irrational's twisted nature present, with two missions taking place in some genuinely creepy locations. (Like the lair of a sociopath, and the headquarters of a suicide cult.) If you like serious, realistic games, stealth and non-violent gameplay, to micromanage like crazy, and supreme challenges, I do highly recommend it.

Want to comment on my reviews? Join us here!

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

   Doug Church Joins Valve - Dan - 4:26:39 AM EST

Just a quick note: I just saw a report that confirms Looking Glass visionary programmer/designer Dough Church has joined Valve Software. This makes me extra anxious to discover what promised surprises Valve has in store for us this year.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Simulated Skill Part 2 - Dan - 2:33:54 AM EST

Our second installment focuses on hardware limitations - mostly interface devices - and their effect on the Simulated vs. Player skill spectrum. Again, these comments are culled from TTLG's General Gaming Forum. You can read the original discussion here.

Console games are easier (or rather simpler) because you can't have the same control complexity and precision with a gamepad as with a keyboard and mouse. Gamepads were fine for platformers and action/adventure games but now they're trying to fit complex games like Deus EX, Thief or even fucking Oblivion on them. It's like trying to navigate the operating system of your PC with the remote control of your TV. It's just impossible. So they have to simplify everything for it to work. It's as simple as that. They don't purposefully dumb down their games just to annoy players, they are simply restricted by the controllers. Look at Deus Ex and the number of keys required to play it. Now look at the number of buttons on a gamepad. Without streamlining, you can't have the same depth on a console (unless you want to end up with an unplayable mess of a game, ie, any of the early PC FPS ports). Imagine trying to type keypad numbers with your gamepad in DX1. It would be a fucking nightmare. They have to make it automatic because there's no other way to do it.

The problem would be to have a leaning system like in Deus Ex, with one button assigned to leaning left and another one assigned to leaning right, and having to approach enemies stealthily, stand up, equip the right weapon and aim at their heads to knock them out. That would be totally unplayable on a gamepad. Whether it's a problem when played with a keyboard and mouse doesn't factor in their reasoning. It's an afterthought. It doesn't matter. Just think about those early PC FPS ports on consoles like Rainbow Six on ps1 or whatever. Nobody gave a shit whether they were playable on a gamepad cause nobody played them. They were just quick shitty ports to grab some money. Nowadays the trend is simply reversed, the main platform is the console and the PC gets the shitty ports. It's like those old FPSs on dreamcast (Quake 3 arena, Soldier of fortune, etc...). They were straight ports from the PC that were almost unplayable with a gamepad. You had to use the mouse and keyboard to enjoy them fully. Well, again nowadays the trend is reversed; if you want to enjoy a game on PC you have to use a gamepad.

Games in general are becoming easier, but I wouldn't necessarily correlate that with consolisation or whatever. Hard games weren't exclusive to the PC. Console games used to be challenging too. But now it's become this huge industry and I guess it's more profitable to make easier games. Just like books that are easy to read or movies that are easy to understand will sell more.

a) The input mechanisms (pads) may be lacking in simulating relatively granular levels of physical movement and interaction because there simply aren't enough buttons (imagine playing ArmA 2 or Stalker: SoC on a console), hence you have wonderful issues like the run and use actions being mapped to the same button/key in ME2 b) Intellectual concessions like waypoint arrows, bread-crumb trails, and glowing frobbables/mission items/markers c) Heavy focus on QTEs that translate directly into 'doing cool stuff you'd otherwise only see in a non-interactive cinematic' by mashing buttons because the interface doesn't allow for fine manual control to pull off those actions by yourself or, as you call it, the 'I win' button.

But I think this is all besides the point. You have the three biggest competitors in the console space all throwing down for motion controls and making wads of money out of them. If it turns out that people will buy this stuff because of the 'cool' factor and sales are a) sustainable and b) profitable, they're going to run with motion controls into the next generation. Maybe not as a replacement for a standard controller, but definitely as part of the package in the box when you buy one of their next-gen consoles.

The real problem with consoles is the analog stick, the TV and a different gaming culture. Analog stick sucks balls for precise movement forcing developers to use shitty menus and the TV's pitiful resolution forces them to make everything huge.

I have to agree with [Koki] on one point. The analog sticks do suck for precise 3D movement. People can make a billion and one compromises to try and make it work, but no matter what they do, it'll never be as smooth and natural aiming with the right thumb stick as it is the mouse.

One aspect of this debate that has always puzzled me is the supposed desirability of a precise control scheme. I doubt that the ability to master dumb strategies like "aim better" makes the game more intelligent.

No, but it allows for greater complexity, because you can expect the player to react to more things more quickly. It may seem like a "dumb" twitch skill, but complex tactics can arise from the intelligent application of that skill in tricky situations.

Besides, if an FPS doesn't seem intelligent enough for you, just think about a strategy game. You can reasonably throw more menus, options, and commands at the player when the controls are fast and precise.

fett So what about motion controls, like the Wiimote, Move, or Kinnect? Do these new interface concepts move us toward one end of the Skill spectrum or the other?

The Wiimote was horribly underutilized by companies just wanting to make a quick buck. But then you have the games that were designed to take advantage of the Wiimote. Like Metroid Prime 3. After playing it, I came to think of the thing as a great analogue to the keyboard and mouse for 3D movement. Then you have Zack and Wiki, which showed me gesture based controls could actually make a game more fun, provided they're done properly. Resident Evil 4? Night and day difference with the Wiimote. I no longer had to do that "move left, move up, move left a little more, slightly adjust just a tad...almost...almost...there we go, head shot" thing I do with analog sticks. All it took was a flick of the wrist, and PERFECTLY AIMED KILL SHOT. Just like playing with a mouse.

So just because most companies half-assed the Wiimote, doesn't mean the potential isn't there. I was actually glad when I saw Sony ape the design almost down to the fine details, because it means consoles are moving away from the dual analog scheme. All it needs is a little more fidelity, and a nice, ergonomical design, and I'd just about be willing to forget the keyboard and mouse.

The fact that the Wii has been shunned as a traditional games console by it's audience and most importantly, third party developers does not help matters in pushing for improved control across consoles for fps style games. Nintendo hasn't really helped with that either, but they did put out some traditional games that utilized it well. It's just sad how it went, but even on the N64, 3rd party support wasn't so good, and then on the Gamecube it was even worse - really awful, and not due to hardware reasons either - the console was far better than PS2 yet a load of games were only PS2 and Xbox released. Why is this?

Zylon Bane
Because the arm-flailing body-tracking input method works best for primarily casual games. There's certainly a market for that, but it simply doesn't work for everything. It's inherently imprecise, physically tiring, logistically demanding (gotta clear out that space in front of the couch!), and severely limits the number of "verbs" that can be expressed to the game.

But I think this is all besides the point. You have the three biggest competitors in the console space all throwing down for motion controls and making wads of money out of them. If it turns out that people will buy this stuff because of the 'cool' factor and sales are a) sustainable and b) profitable, they're going to run with motion controls into the next generation. Maybe not as a replacement for a standard controller, but definitely as part of the package in the box when you buy one of their next-gen consoles.

So how important, really, is precise input in terms of closing the gap between Simulated & Player skill?

More precise input doesn't necessarily make for a more intelligent game. A pure reflex test isn't going become "smarter" no matter what controller you're using. But since most games, even supposedly "braindead" shooters, involve a mix of action and strategy, I don't see why the idea is controversial. Useful strategies are shaped by the actions available; changing one affects the other.

And really, if I want to nitpick the terminology, the opposite of "precision" is randomness, from the player's perspective. And random success is certainly the opposite of intelligent victory.

Yes, you can cram more options into a shorter amount of time. But are these options likely to make the game more intelligent if I am expected to spend less time considering each one? If I am playing a game which requires thought, the bottleneck for actions per minute is generally my brain, not my hand.

Usually, if I require a precise control scheme to do something smart in a fast paced part of a game, the genesis of the idea will have occurred during an earlier lull when I had time to sit back and brainstorm new ways of interacting with the world.

As a general rule of thumb, if a game gives me a continuous range of options, these options will generally only vary over a few dimensions. The enormous number of options just means that some skill will be required to get the exact force/distance/angle/whatever that I want. But if I am off a bit, it will not mean that I have chosen some completely different option in a bewildering sea of complexity. It will just mean that I do 5% less damage, or miss instead of hit. Or maybe I will summon an Orc instead of the Ogre.

If my options vary from flying away into the sunset vs dancing the conga, I will likely be presented with a smaller set to choose from. I will probably not be presented with 500 options all as different as that! It would take me too long to consider each one. If I am presented with 500 options, there will be some regularity to them, so that if option X is too expensive, then Y and Z are automatically excluded too.

Player/Simulated skill is a nice thought, but consolitis isn't around just because of control/controller limitations relegating complex actions to a single button press. That doesn't allow for the stuff staring you in the face, like the fact that console/PC devs make things simpler for their demographics by lowering the overall intelligence curve of the game and make everything hugely obvious to players.

Subjective Effect
I absolutely think that defining skills as Player and Simulated is important, and it is a spectrum even though there are no games that use pure Player Skill, though there are some that pure Simulated Skill (those that present no challenge). Until now the nature of controllers has meant that the mapping of actions across different platforms has been quite varied. The keyboard and mouse combination offered so much that the early D-pad controllers, like the NES ones, just couldn't.

For this reason console games never even tried to be like PC games, for the most part anyway. The gaming ethos was quite different. But with the current console controllers (all the way up to Move) being so close to being K&M equivalents we shouldn't see such a difference anymore.

The ability to action Simulated Skills was much rougher, more raw, before this generation of controllers and, I believe, led to the "I win" buttons. And this is why I think dumbing down was/is the fault of consoles - hence "consolitis". This isn't a platform "war" this is a discussion about the fine differences in gaming that are generated by platform differences.

While this conversation inevitably headed for familiar "console vs. PC" territory, there's two important discussions I'd like to pull from this conversation as that argument relates to skill sets: Gaming Culture, and Design (a.k.a. "broken" vs. Popular design choices).

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011

    Awesome new interview series - Dan - 2:28:04 AM EST

Looks like we're not the only LGS loving group that's getting into the action. Check this out: Looking Glass Studios Interview Series - Audio Podcast 1 - Austin Grossman

GAMBIT is proud to present the Looking Glass Studios Interview Series, an audio podcast series in which we chat with various people who worked for the legendary developer (famous for groundbreaking franchises like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief) before it tragically closed its doors in 2000.

Up first: Austin Grossman. Grossman is a writer, game designer, and novelist who worked at Looking Glass in its early years. In this podcast he discusses his work on Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds and System Shock, the latter of which was highly influential in laying the foundations for modern environmental narrative design. Grossman also discusses his post-Looking Glass work, on such projects as Jurassic Park: Tresspasser and Deus Ex, and the tricky challenge of being a writer in today's commercial games industry.

Joining Austin on the podcast are two other Looking Glass alums: Andrew Grant, who also worked with Austin on Trespasser (for Dreamworks Interactive), and Sara Verrilli, who worked on System Shock. Andrew and Sara currently work for GAMBIT, and reminisce with Austin on how they grappled with the experimental nature of these games.

On a related topic, Austin Grossman has also been interviewed by Gawker Media scifi site, io9.

Tell us about your next two novels. One is about the videogame industry?

I'm still writing it, and right now it's called You, as a reference to those Infocom games that would say "You are likely to be eaten by a grue" or "You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door." I grew up liking the subgenre of books with games in them like Ender's Game, [Iain M. Banks'] Player of Games, and Larry Niven's Dreampark. I read Dreampark millions of times - it was written in the 1980s and it's about a futuristic amusement park. Also, I worked in videogame development for a while, so I decided to do a novel set in a videogame company.

In a way, the template is the first season of Mad Men - what if Don Draper were a game developer? The main character is a mysterious guy and something about his mysterious past makes him good at his job. Don Draper would be an awesome videogame designer, so what if we moved him into 1998 in a videogame company?

Come discuss it with us!

    Friday, March 04, 2011

    Simulated Skill a.k.a. The "I Win" Button - Dan - 3:00:32 AM EST

Today we kick off a series of features put together by fett. He will be putting together a series based on some of the thoughtful discussions taking place on our forums, editing them into articles for easy consumption of the main ideas. Naturally, the original thread can be read in full, here: What is "consolisation" and why does it exist? Or Simulated Skill v Player Skill

One of the more interesting discussions in the TTLG forums lately was sparked by Subjective Effect's assertion that most modern games "get the Simulated Skill/Player Skill divide wrong." Of course we're talking about the "consolisation" of certain beloved franchises, but this is an issue that affects games across the platform spectrum. A parallel discussion in the Thief Gen forum compares the Simulated parkour elements of Assassin's Creed with the Player Skilled movements of Thief 1 & 2. The General Gaming topic spawned eight pages of discussion. It's a subtle, yet important issue that bears fretting over, as gaming becomes more popular. New gamers may enter a world in which Simulated Skill has replaced Player Skill altogether, and never know what they've missed.

"An 'I win' button is one that you press to carry out a Simulated Skill rather than needing to do a number of things in order to carry out the same action," says Subjective Effect. "Using a rope arrow in Thief 1 vs using the grappling hook in Batman Arkham Asylum for example. One requires considerable Player Skill, the other requires almost none.

"I get no reward for pressing an 'I win' button because it requires no Player Skill and so I get no sense of achievement from it. To give another example; 3rd person corner peeking in Thief DS. It feels like cheating because for a Thief 1 and 2 player, who had developed the Player Skill to deploy lean in the right situation, it was. Unified ammunition is another example; I don't have to concern myself with ammo management as much and this was a (admittedly more abstract) Player Skill you learned in the first game."

Possibly many gamers don't notice or care about the balance between Simulated and Player Skill. But anything that diminishes the consumer's satisfaction - whether it be a cop-out movie ending, a tie ballgame, or a loss of power over your game avatar (the Agent, as Subjective Effect calls it), means diminishing sales in the long run. Maybe the majority of consumers are too lazy to care if the game does all the work for them, but from an artistic standpoint, something substantial is being amputated from gaming, inch by painful inch.

"Consolisation" is really just moving the skill divide in favour of the Agent and away from us." says Subjective Effect. " It's designing a game more around "I win" buttons and less around Player Skill. It's not true of all console games, far from it (just look at Dead Space!), but it's the cancer that is destroying games because with cross platform development we'll get this skill leech on PCs."

These concerns among TTLGers were highlighted by some recent news on the Deus Ex:Human Revolution front:

"DE:HR's cover system is an interesting case in that it automates switching from one cover point to another with a key press (possibly with you being able to choose the cover surface you want to get to by highlighting it in your crosshairs), and it's something the latest Splinter Cell did," says Sulpher. "I can't really tell if I like or hate the system, because it works seamlessly and fluidly enough that you can concentrate on tactics instead of lumbering from pillar to post, but it's automated the 'crouch and run/roll/dodge/slide to next piece of cover' bit completely."

Manwe says this has largely to do with the constraints of console controllers: "Console games are simpler because you can't have the same control complexity and precision with a gamepad as with a keyboard and mouse. Gamepads were fine for platformers and action/adventure games but now they're trying to fit complex games like Deus EX, Thief or even fucking Oblivion on them. It's like trying to navigate the operating system of your PC with the remote control of your TV. It's just impossible. They don't purposefully dumb down their games just to annoy players, they are simply restricted by the controlers. Look at Deus Ex and the number of keys required to play it. Now look at the number of buttons on a gamepad. Without streamlining, you can't have the same depth on a console."

"It's a bit of a red herring anyway," says Wormrat, "because even an action that seems like Simulated Skill won't be an "I win" button as long as the game is sufficiently complex in other ways. Auto-aim, for example, is usually derided as simplification, but you could design some crazy fast and complex FPS that requires you to use your auto-aim powers skillfully, with the game practically impossible to play otherwise."

EvaUnit02 makes a good point: "One thing that's important is that you do not confuse consolisation with mainstreaming. Consolisation would be having to make compromises for hardware and control limitations of the lesser platforms. Eg you have a mainly first person game, but you implement a cover system that pops out into 3rd person... you're compromising for the lack of keys necessary for leaning above all else. Rainbow Six: Vegas is the epitome of this example. You need leaning in a tactical FPS like R6, but you don't have enough buttons.

Mainstreaming is essentially the "dumbing down" that Angry Internet Men get all huffy about, which they often confuse with the former. Examples of "mainstreaming" include hand-holding, Bioshock's navigation arrows, the "bread crumb trail" featured in Fable 2 and Dead Space, forced tutorials, non-existent difficulty, the platformers with unmissable jumps (which maybe automatic), etc. Prince of Persia 2008 immediately comes to mind."

"The real problem with consoles is the analog stick, the TV and a different gaming culture," says Koki. " Analog stick sucks balls for precise movement forcing developers to use shitty menus and the TV's pitiful resolution forces them to make everything huge."

Renzatic agrees. "People can make a billion and one compromises to try and make it work, but no matter what they do, it'll never be as smooth and natural aiming with the right thumb stick as it is the mouse.

"The good news is that this is probably going to be the last generation that uses dual analog. With the Wiimote, the PS Move, and the Kinect, we're already seeing the future of console controllers. With something like the Razor Sixense, which is basically a dual analog wiimote/nunchuck mix with 6 buttons within easy grasp of your thumb and index fingers, you wouldn't need an oldschool gamepad. Not even for platformers. It's the best of all worlds."

But will controller evolution alone help balanced Simulated and Player skill? Sulpher doesn't think so:

"The simple fact is that simpler games always found more of an audience than anything complex. Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake -- compare their sales to Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Descent. While we pride ourselves on the PC being the platform for more discerning and intelligent gamers, the fact is that those intelligent, complex games are more the exception than the rule even on the PC."

To open a whole 'nother can of worms, I'll leave you with Sulpher's comment:

"Player/Simulated skill is a nice thought, but consolitis isn't around just because of control/controller limitations relegating complex actions to a single button press. That doesn't allow for the stuff staring you in the face, like the fact that console/PC devs make things simpler for their demographics by lowering the overall intelligence curve of the game and make everything hugely obvious to players."

While there's more to the issue than the tired Console vs. PC debate, it does play a fundamental role in the balance between Simulated and Player Skill. But we'll cover that in the next article.

    Tuesday, March 01, 2011

   Tim Stellmach Talk - Dan - 2:28:53 AM EST

Dominus reports:

Conference opening by Game Developersí Association of Australia President, Tom Crago, followed by international keynote speaker, Tim Stellmach. Tim Stellmach is now Design Director at Vicarious Visions, the New York-based developers of the new action-RPG Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. He is an 18-year veteran of the games industry, and a principal designer of such acclaimed titles as Thief and System Shock. Tim has also worked on games as diverse as Ultima Underworld, Deus Ex and Guitar Hero.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    TTLG Opinion Roundup - Dan - 7:34:18 PM EST

As promised, some members of the TTLG community stepped forward to offer some thoughts on the titles I mentioned last week, plus a few others. I'd like to thank fett for editing their comments together into this post!

"I expect this to be in the same vein as TDS, but at least avoiding some of its foibles like the awkward movement, lack of swim-able water and rope arrows, and ghastly HUD, but I definitely suspect they're thinking about it as a step "forward" in the series and not "back". Biggest implications for TTLG: I don't think it will be moddable, so no FMs, which will practically shift momentum to Dark Mod for the FM scene." - demagogue

"While I have very little optimism that this title won't be completely linear, be way over simplified for consoles, and have have almost nothing in common gameplay-wise with the original Thief games, I'm way too devoted to the series to not shell out my cash immediately and check it out for myself. Still, I have a bad feeling that T4 will make TDS look good." - Brethren

"We know almost nothing meaningful about this project, and as long as it remains that way, I will stay a pessimist. Game development today is not nearly as permissive an environment as it used to be, and Thief as we like it is too niche, too hard to be a genuine commercial success. If the creators can work with these limitations, I will take a more careful look, but until then, I have written it off." - Melan

"Embarrassing working title, a few disappointing rumors. The Deus Ex release will tell us exactly what EM are willing to sacrifice to the new target audience. It will also show what common gameplay elements from other games they are going to add without thinking it through. Third person cover, cool show-off moves and no qualm at taking the view from first person every now and then is a significant cue that Thief 4 may feature mostly third person gameplay, parkour and stealth kills. 4/20." - Briareos

"I don't get the sense that Eidos Montreal grasps the enormity of difference between Thief, Assassin's Creed, and Splinter Cell (the latter two which they have referenced a few times in early interviews). Ironically, Thief 4 will by necessity have to adopt many aspects of the very games it influenced to be commercially viable in the current console focused market. Yet, I suspect many fans will buy it despite their worst fears because they are simply devoted to Garrett and The City, and I count myself among those." - fett

"I have no idea what game this is going to be. I'm hugely pessimistic by default. Deus Ex HR will show, I guess, what I have to expect." - d'Spair

"If their past and canceled/on hold projects are anything to go by, they're clearly worth keeping an eye on. In absence of news, there is nothing hinting that they've lost their PC-centric attitude. Personally, I just hope that their next game won't feature a core multi-player component like The Crossing was supposed to have. 15/20." - Briareos

"Recently played thru Arx Fatalis for the first time, and was incredibly impressed. That game alone got me psyched for whatever their new project is. Just the fact that it's a first person RPG is enough for me anyway."- Brethren

"Looking forward to their new game. Somehow I feel this is going to be Arx 2, but anyway. An extremely strong team is working there, that definitely knows what emergent gameplay is, immersive sim is, and I'm more than confident the next Arkane game will be the bomb. All the best luck, guys." -d'Spair

"If Bioshock was the failed utopia of immersive sim design, Infinite is shaping up to be the tired commercial recipe that makes people forget the series ever tried to be something genuinely great - beneath the creative world design and carefully constructed set-pieces. Infinite looks like another 'cinematic' experience with oodles of hand-holding, carefully limited interactivity, and maybe a few extra branches off the main railroad counting as 'non-linear design' and 'emergence'. Can't argue with success, but this leaves me cold." - Melan

"Like most, I was lukewarm at best on Bioshock, but I had some fun with it. Bioshock in the sky sounds somewhat interesting, but I don't imagine it's going to surprise me too much and be much different than the original. Why would it? They made a pile of cash the first time around."- Brethren

"Looks the next big game to me since the original BioShock. Ken Levine is one rare guy in the industry nowadays who has the privilege of doing what he wants. And he does great things. No matter what TTLG moaners say, BioShock is for the people who liked System Shock and Thief, and Infinite is going to be the same, but more complex gameplay-wise. And in design and setting BSI looks totally mind-blowing." - d'Spair

"I've been pretty hard on Ken in the past, but I'm still up for anything he throws at us. Enjoyed the hell out of Bioshock, though at times I longed for the complexity of System Shock 2. Given the limitations of the demographic he's working with, I think Ken is one of the few vets of the PC Gaming industry that still strikes a reasonable balance between story driven gaming and console crowd-pleasing action sets. I enjoy his stuff if I can just put System Shock 2 out of mind while playing." - fett

"Fact: the first trailer was a horrible scriptfest. It doesn't mean that the game won't be an interesting linear FPS, but it will have to include more than gimmick telekinesis, different kinds of splicers and renaming the big daddy/little sister relationship. And I'm not trusting Levine to do anything interesting with the story. They could just get rid of all their literary pretenses for what it's worth. 6/20."- Briareos

"The thing I'm interested in from what I've heard about this game (and building on BS1 & 2) is the increasing focus on AI and "active" NPCs as part of the gaming mechanics. They still have a way to go, but as far as I know, this is the one game series really experimenting with this and pushing the envelope. The "puzzle" edge to its fighting mechanics can be fun, and the story-telling is at least a cut above nominal. Those are good things, but not what makes it that special." - demagogue

"Seems to be a significant departure from the original Deus Ex, but so far, it looks appealing in its own right, even interesting as a Deus Ex game - not necessarily one set in the same continuity (something that does not bother me), but one that examines similar themes and has similar ambitions. This may actually be good, as long as you are okay with lemon lime instead of your usual orange. - Melan

"Yeah, take out the 3P cut-aways and I like what I've seen in the trailers. My general feeling is the same I had for Thi4f, on a similar track as DX:IW minus the foibles, more polished, better pacing. But it's still being thought of as a step "forward" not "back."- demagogue

"DX:IW crowns my 'Most Disappointing Sequels' list, and it's difficult at this point to tell if DX3 is taking cues from the brilliant original or the yawn-inducing train-wreck of a sequel. I'm actually more anxious to play DX3 because of the implications for Thief 4 than for DX3 itself, and I'm not expecting much in either case. That said, I think the studio has the brains to pull them both off (at least artistically) if they'll listen to the fan base instead of the stock holders. But we all know how that goes..." - fett

"'Looks cool' pretty much defines it. Visual design is shamelessly pillaging Japanese cyberpunk and the rest from Blade Runner. Aesthetically and story-wise, it couldn't be any more remote from the original games. Gameplay-wise, some core concepts seem to be interesting if done right (multiple approach scenarios and stealth) but TTLG regulars will have to accept it as a mainstream, multi-platform game at its core. My biggest hope is that they keep hidden storyline elements for players who have a certain, uncommon approach (not killing bosses, finding certain readables, etc.) which change radically the way later encounters unfold. 9/20."- Briareos

"I want to like it, I want to believe the hype that it's similar to the original, I want to believe all the previews that say there are choices and multiple paths, etc. But I don't." - Brethren

"During the whole period of production I've been very pessimistic, and I still think there are a lot of very wrong steps taken by Eidos Montreal (Third person cover system? No shadow stealth? My ass). But somehow I ended up pre-ordering Augmented Edition with all the bonus content, and am anxiously waiting for it. Go figure." - d'Spair

"It's the latest Elder Scrolls game, and it'll be amazing (or at least way better than anything else out there). Bethesda has never disappointed me." - Brethren

"Bethesda keeps moving in the right direction with the ES games, and I doubt Skyrim will be the exception. As many problems as Oblivion had, their effort to implement stealth and beef up the Thief character was admirable. They need to take a few cues from the original Thief games, or at least Dark Messiah of Might & Magic's assassin path to really nail this in Skyrim. The auto-leveling has already been discussed to death, but suffice to say, this thing needs to hit the shelves without inspiring thousands of mods to balance gameplay the following week." - fett

"No surprises indeed. Looks dated due to it not being made for PC anymore. First interface shots/interview look horrible. The world itself looks tentatively interesting, but it can't be worse than Oblivion IMO. Quests and interaction with the world will tell. 8/20" - Briareos

"Hard to believe this wouldn't be good enough to grab. The atmosphere in these games is the best there is.- Brethren

"The best addition to TTLG in the recent years. For the time being, I'm trusting GSC to stick with the core formula. Nothing much to say until we have more info on STALKER 2. Discussions about mods however make the dedicated forums here pretty valuable. 19/20." - Briareos

Call of Pripyat Complete "Which will, hopefully, push the game up to 11. SoC Complete made the game more bearable but you still needed a few fixes to enjoy it (specifically the spawn fix and something that makes firearms behave more like firearms) and CS Complete was just like CS itself, but CoP was almost fucking perfect right off the box, and the biggest complaint was the dated graphics and/or sounds. Well guess what, that's what Complete is mostly about. Of course it will as usual also include the latest bugfixes. Best of all, it should be released in the matter of days."- Koki

Lost Alpha "The incredibly ambitious project to restore Shadow of Chernobyl to its former glory you could see in the trailers. Mostly based on Build 1935, it puts back the cut four locations as well as brings back the original versions of locations which made its way into SoC. Now my stance on unreleased megamods is pretty sour, but the guys who are doing it already did one total conversion(Priboi Story) and last word I heard about LA was they finished with all the levels and now are doing the a-life, scripting and story. Plus they released three trailers showing off their work and it really does look good, and the current release estimate is late 2011." - Koki

"I'm a big fan of Interactive Fiction developing in the first person genre, but I wasn't the biggest fan of DE being crowned the archetype just because there isn't near enough interactivity, gameplay, and experimentation as you see in really good IF. DE is important for being the model or prototype of how IF can be done in FPS, but I'll be happy when some real groundbreaking FP-IF starts getting developed, taking the kinds of leaps traditional IF has taken, to show the real potential." - demagogue

"The remake of this one shot experience looks fantastic. It was built with a honest desire to make it the "reference art game" and I dig honesty. I hope they took the time to conquer the shortcomings of the writing and even if they didn't, it should be a beautiful and atmospheric semi-interactive experience. 17,5/20." - Briareos

"Not that I'm a fan of horror games, let alone third-person Resident Evil - like third-person horror games, but the fact that Dead Space started as System Shock 3 back in the days makes me follow the games and even buy them. I'm currently waiting for my DS2 Collectors Edition to arrive." -d'Spair

"Both Dead Space games were fun and polished examples of modern console gaming working well on all platforms, although many elements of the game were terrible (notably writing and video gaming tropes). Visual design shows surprising consistency and good eye for aesthetics. 14/20."- Briareos

"Loved the first one, and since it was a success, I'm hoping they don't change anything too drastically. I actually didn't mind the combat in the first version. The only thing that worries me is that they seemed to have changed the appearance and voice of Geralt (maybe that's changed, I haven't read a preview in a while)" - Brethren

"I love The Witcher. It may be adolescent in its quality of writing and some kind of a half-mainstream beast when it comes to gameplay but it really clicked with me. I like such a universe giving us a somewhat raw take on fantasy kingdom, simplified and lovable characters (allowing to fake psychological depth quite easily), dark humor and unusual quests. CD Projekt nailed the 'humanity' needed for a RPG to work, and I'm looking forward to the sequel - QTEs and consolisation (yes!) aside. 16/20." - Briareos

"The best horror game in these recent years requires more than often the ability to roleplay the main character and suspend disbelief but gives back in spades when you do. I haven't been that tense playing a game since System Shock 2, and that is a great feeling. It's too bad the demo gave away those invisible monsters, they would have had an even greater impact if I hadn't known about them. I'm blindly buying Frictional's next game. 18/20."- Briareos

"My kind of game, scary, first person, atmospheric, hard to go wrong here. I'll be excited by whatever Frictional does in the future based on this and the Penumbras." - Brethren

"After the initial shock of their "take" on the X-Com of my youth, I'm prudently optimistic about this. After being hugely disappointed by Bioshock, I had great fun with Bioshock 2 which showed a lot more mastery in nailing the basic FPS principles. I'm trusting 2K Marin to make a fun FPS, I just hope it won't be a CoD clone set during the fifties. 12/20." - Briareos

"A lot of things in E.Y.E look interesting: multiple branching paths, tight shooting, RPG stats, dystopian universe. I'm pretty worried about the writing and story however. I'm afraid it will be a fun game but not taking its own cohesiveness seriously enough for me to like it from start to finish. It's French. 10/20.- Briareos

"Duke was great because it had amazing, interactive map design and amazing, creative weapons, not because Duke was such a great guy or because there were tits. DNF, so far, shows too much of the latter and not enough of the former. I will be happy to be proven wrong."-Melan

"I doubt that Duke Nukem Forever'll be the same game as Duke 3D only in glorious Unreal 2 Engine on steroids, but in the end does that really matter? It's Duke Nukem freaking Forever! I think at this point I don't care what the game is like, I just want to own it, and play it, and be part of history in the making, the end of an era. Maybe, just maybe, we can then put the old days to rest for good." - dethtoll

Grimoire "Speaking of ages-old vaporware, this self-described Wizardry-killer (from back when this meant anything to anyone) is apparently very close to release this time, a bit like in 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2006. Will noted fallout shelter owner Cleve Blakemore really finish it before the bombs begin to fall? Will it really be the ultimate mid-90s CRPG that unseats Crusaders of the Dark Savant from its throne? And will we still care now that most of us who still know about it are bitter, jaded old men? Stay tuned." -Melan

Very promising and already in a state where good missions can be made. Not enough people getting into it. Would love to know why. 15/20. - Briareos

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Bioshock movie canceled? Good. - Dan - 9:46:10 PM EST

The ironically titled Coming Soon movie news website (you'll see why it's ironic at the end of this sentence) has reported that the Bioshock movie is dead. All ten people who were looking forward to it are now unhappy. The article goes on to explain why, but it's mostly irrelevant blah blah budget blah blah ratings stuff that we usually see attached to why someone's brilliant idea isn't going to be made: it's clearly too brilliant for the penny pincher and the MPAA!

There's two takeaways here. One is that some directors out there still think that they're somehow immune to the video game movie curse, that they're going to be the one who makes the first video game movie that isn't horrible. The second is that hollywood in general still seems to think that it's the ultimate in media expression. Some other creative work, be it a book, a TV show, or a game, hasn't "made it" to "the big time" until it's become a movie. Certain things "deserve" to be movies and certain things do not. I suspect that some feel that the problem with video game movies are the games themselves. They're not yet good enough to deserve to be a good movie, thus it's just a matter of finding that game that is good enough, and then they'll have a hit on their hands. I am pretty sure everyone reading this realizes how silly a thought that is.

I'm rather thankful that the Deus Ex and Thief movies died with ION Storm, and pray that Square Enix (or some strapping young director) doesn't get any bright ideas with the reboots of these properties.