Well, xmas came and went with it’s usual rapidity, but I’ve been taking a few days away from OGRE to perform the traditional xmas rituals - eating too much, visiting relatives, and playing with new toys. Here’s my thoughts on a few of the latter.
Call of Duty 2
Now that I’ve resolved the problem with that ‘genuine-customer-enjoyment-protection’ software SafeDisc, Call of Duty 2 is working great (many thanks for the link zeroskill, it saved me some time) so I’ve spent a little time playing that. I made the mistake of tweaking the video settings to begin with and found it very choppy, but using the recommended defaults results in very smooth gameplay and better quality than I expected - the defaults for my card are 800×600 (I know) but with 4xFSAA, which makes all the difference. For some reason 1024×768 with no FSAA is a hell of a lot choppier, I’m somewhat puzzled as to why that is (since true 4xAA means rendering at 4x the resolution). It could be that the LOD technique they’re using becomes more costly the higher the final resolution perhaps.
The game itself is certainly good fun, the mechanics a little different to other FPS’s I’ve played and I think it’s for the better. The game auto-saves at very sensible points (when an objective is achieved, or if you progress beyond certain waypoints), to the extent that I haven’t felt the need to save manually. This is a good thing since it helps in the immersion - there’s nothing worse than having to pull up a save screen to brush away the suspension of disbelief. The second thing is that there is no health bar. There are no health packs or similar things to regain your health; instead, you only die if you take either major damage in one go (e.g. a grenade going off in your trousers), or you sustain a number of bullet wounds in a short period of time (e.g. running across the path of a heavy machine gun for a dare).
Now, many people don’t like this. They say it’s unrealistic that you can essentially sustain an infinite number of gunshot wounds provided you only take one or two at any one time, and rest behind some cover between times. And of course they’d be right. But that doesn’t matter one jot, for the simple reason that this is entertainment, not a war simulation. A real war simulation would be terrifying, uncomfortable, and a lot of the time, really dull. To really experience it you’d have to play the same level largly motionless, whilst sitting in a cold muddy ditch, knee deep in water, malnourished, exhausted, and deprived of sleep. And at the end your death might be some random event of misfortune rather than anything you did wrong or badly. Plus, you’d have to complete it in one go with no mistakes because dying is kind of permanent in the real world. Real war is absolutely no fun at all, so judging a piece of entertainment software by how realistically it recreates it is a little silly.
Instead, it makes you careful, but not too careful to enjoy the experience. You can take the odd chance, provided you don’t expose yourself too badly and have some cover to dive to should things go wrong. Plus, you don’t have to tediously search for health packs afterward, or have to worry about whether you can take the next section because you’ve been worn down by the lead-up. This, in my opinion, makes the game experience a lot better, making each individual moment feel like a war hero movie - utterly unrealistic but very entertaining. Which is, let’s face it, the point. I think they made some very sound, calculated design decisions here.
Overall underneath all the presentation it’s still (so far) a fairly basic, formulaic kind of game - run to this waypoint, destroy this target etc - but since I haven’t played a FPS for a while it’s good to play one which is well put together, and by that I mean more in terms of the mechanics than the aesthetics (although they’re certainly not shabby).
Kirby Power Paintbrush
I’m immensely enjoying this one on my DS - otherwise known as Canvas Curse in other regions. The premise of this game is that you guide a little bouncy pink ball (Kirby) through a level by drawing lines on the screen - you can’t directly control the ball outside of giving it a little burst of speed or using the line guides, but the ball behaves very predictably - rebounding, rolling, getting stuck in sticky things, floating on water, etc. The gameplay is extremely easy to pick up simply because the motion is so intuitive, but mastering trajectory and speed, all the while conserving your resevoir of ‘ink’ with which to draw lines has a surprising amount of subtlety to it. Add the fact that Kirby can absorb the powers of some creatures (e.g. turn into a stone to sink through water, become a super-fast wheel etc) and a fair number of optional secrets making use of these powers and more dextrous line drawing and you have a game that keeps you coming back for more. It’s easily played in short bursts (like any good portable game). The only downside to it is that - how shall I put this - it doesn’t come across in the public eye as a very manly game to play. I mean - pink balls with cute faces on them, multicoloured rainbow lines, none of this screams ‘raging heterosexual’ - something that might put off male players in their teens or even early 20s if they are sensitive about that kind of thing (it’s quite a jump from bashing ho’s in GTA or popping caps in peoples asses in fiddys new game I would imagine). If so, they’d be missing a seriously good game - another example from Nintendo that 2D games are alive and kicking.
Chris Crawford on Game Design
I was glad to see this one appear in my xmas stocking and I’m working through it at the moment. So far it’s a really good read. I find it both reinforces many of my own gut feelings on game design whilst at the same time challenging me to think more objectively about the subject and quantify what exactly it is that I feel is done well and less well in games. I particularly like the way he recommends all game designers should go and study some seminal non-video games first (such as board games, war games, card games, pen and paper roleplaying games) in order to learn more about underlying play mechanics outside of the glitzy world that is the game scene at the moment - good advice I think. There are some things I disagree with too, but that’s what debate is about. Recommended.