Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Importance of Story

Stories are not required to make video games good; many games have no story at all (mostly arcade games) and others have only simple stories, showing their faces only at the beginning and end of the game. Obviously stories are not crucial to a games success, but there is no substitute for a good story.

The story not only helps to create the right environment, a good story will also make the player feel like the have an obligation to complete their quest and rescue the planet Polychron from the evil dictator. It brings the player in, makes him feel like he's needed, like he's a part of the action.

However, stories suffer from one major illness; for the most part, they are extremely linear. The player often has no choice as to what course of action he will take. The story doesn't say he can tail the limo with the bad dude in it, it says he will tail the limo containing the bad dude. What if he wants to shoot up the limo instead, or make a deal and join forces with the bad dude, only turning on him at the last minute? Too bad. Gotta stick to the story line.

This removes a major element of interactivity from the game. Obviously it is impossible to know what all the possible decisions are that the player could make at any one time, but even with only a few options available, the game takes on a whole new light every time it is played. Some major games, such as True Crime: Streets of LA and Star Wars Battlefronts 2 have incorporated obvious decision-affected shifts in storyline. Even some arcade games (meaning games featured in arcades), such as Behind Enemy Lines, use decision making processes that make the game new and different every time you play.

Sadly, the vast majority of video games do not include any sort of multiple-ending story systems, and therefore they lack the interactivity of the few titles that do allow the player to affect the story. When more game designers begin to make their stories non-linear and incorporate storylines that can change as a result of player actions, the face of video gaming will change forever.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Importance of Sound

One of the essential elements of a game environment is sound effects. Bleeps, boops, crunch, bang, boom, they're all required to create the ultimate gaming experience. Obviously other things are more important, but a game without sound effects is like a banana split without the strawberry ice cream.

Menu sounds are just one group of sounds sed in a video game. Usually they are sounds used during gameplay as well (don't you love hearing that shotgun loading when you are selecting a menu option? And when you activate it, you hear a satisfying explosion!) but sometimes they're clicks or beeps designed specifically for the menu.

But the most important sounds have got to be the gunshots, explosions, etc. the player encounters during gameplay. Sound can not only aid in creating the correct feel and environment in the game, they can also provide valuable feedback to the player, kinda like hearing an alien loading his gun behind you signals you to run for cover. Sounds can also be used to create confusion and chaos, with soldiers yelling "I'm hit" or "cover me" all around while bullets fly and grenades explode in the distance (not to mention those annoying helicopters firing rockets into the ranks.)

At first impulse, sound effects might not seem like important features of games. But when you consider just how far a game today would get with few or no sounds, you realise just how vital they are to the success of video games. Sounds are not as crucial as lungs or a heart, but they are definitely as critical as, say, a kidney. So next time you are having a good time wiping out alien hoards or powersliding off a jump, remember the sound designers that worked hard to bring that unique gaming experience to you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Importance of Music

Few things are as important for creating the correct environment in a game than the music that is played in the background. Can you imagine Final Fantasy without the incredible music that is played in the background?

Unless you have ever tried to make your own Midi music, you really have no idea how difficult it is to create harmony and get the right effectin the music. Personally I have created over a dozen tracks using a Midi authoring program and I can speak from personal experience when I say that it is nearly impossible to get what's in your head onto the computer exactly the way you originally envision it.

Creating music that sounds good in the first place is one feat; making music for a specific game is quite another. Even if a computer "musician" can get his ideas into computer form without muddling it up too much, he still has to fit the game with the track being designed, and this can be a daunting task. Nothing is more frustrating than making a total track-wide change and finding it sounds worse than it did before.

Some of the best music in video games is featured in the Final Fantasy series, as well as the Mario series of games from Nintendo. But how many countless music tracks have been rejected for not fitting the game they were designed for, only to be completely forgotten and lost in the chaos of a gaqme development studio?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

For Every Action an Even Greater Reaction

25 to Life is a game that has sparked a sudden outburst of controversy. Parents concerned that video games will make their kids violent, lawmakers worried about public appearance, etc. Most people are over-reacting. I, for one, am not.

On the one hand, parents and people concerned over violent games encouraging cop-killing still haven't realized that games like this have been around for years. How about the incredibly successful series Grand Theft Auto? It's been so successful, Rockstar Games is on the sixth version! Stores would be crazy not to put it on their shelves.

Grand Theft Auto encourages cop-killing, drug dealing, hooker pimping, and other low-down and degrading behaviour. Kids love it. Why? It lets them do things they can't do in the real world. Take me for instance. I've always wanted to be a spy, someone being hunted down. I'd have to kill people just to survive. Fortunately, I am not able to do this in real life. So I play games. I would have to be insane to think that playing these games had given me new powers, and that now I could do it for real.

Stores like Best Buy have been receiving batch emails in employee inboxes calling for cancelling the sale of 25 to Life on their shelves. I say, phooey! If you don't like these games, don't buy 'em. But leave them up there for us. Best Buy, keep it up! We're rooting for ya!

On the other hand, violence in games needs to stop, or at least slow down and let off the accelerator. The real problem with violence in video games is not that it makes kids violent; it doesn't. We've already proven that in previous articles. The problem is that there is simply too much. It clogs the medium. It forces good, family-values-oriented games off of shelves so stores can cater to a select few gamers. This aren't just bad ideas, they're bad business practices.

Sure, I enjoy a good GTA game now and then. And yes, I really wish I owned Star Wars BattleFronts 2. But I usually devote the majority of my gaming to good healthy clean fun like Paper Mario, Legend of Zelda, and Metroid Prime 2. I enjoy racing games like Mario Kart, Need 4 Speed Underground 2, and London Racer. When games like these are forced off store shelves to make way for the newest Halo copycat, it makes me mad. Gamers who play only violent games are the exception, not the rule. Stores (and designers) need to figure this out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Whoops!

I've often started off an article picking bones with PC World magazine by saying that I greatly encourage subscribing to this magazine. I'm tired of doing that, so let's just get started.

It looks like PC World slipped up in this month's issue: they not only mentioned the Nintendo DS twice (they referred to it as "white hot", definitely a mistake), they also actually printed a photo of the disgraceful child's toy (in an advertisement, but still, they need to be more careful)!

Now if you've been around Gaming Avenue before, you know I'm only kidding. I love the DS. But it astounds me how often the magazine in question has boasted of the PSP's amazing capabilities without ever having an article or even a picture of the revolutionary DS (until this month). I'm sure they will print a full retraction in next month's issue:

In last month's issue our layout department mistakenly placed the words "white hot" before the name of the despicable Nintendo DS. What we intended to print was quite different, specifically "piece-of-crap no-good kid's-toy trashy cheap lame stupid ultra-loser Nintendo DS."

We also allowed an obscene photo of the obviously disgraceful object into an advertisement. We have promptly cancelled our contracts with the company who's ad included the photo of the distasteful toy.

PC World regrets the errors.


Want to make me happy, PC World? Print a full article on the Nintendo DS. And by full I mean at least a page long. You've done so several times with the PSP; be balanced. I'm sick and tired of seeing articles about how amazing and fantastic the PSP is and how it can play videos and mp3s. Show off some of the innovative qualities of the DS for once. You know I'm usually a pretty calm guy, but you are anti-Nintendo bigots and I am not planning on renewing my subscription next year.

The "M" and next gen games

First, special thanks to "Ariwolf" on the Nintendo Forums for writing this
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Mature games, more like immature games. To understand what this has to do with the revolution keep reading. In the first place what does mature have to do with games? I looked up the definition of “mature”. I found that it meant the age that when a species obtains the ability to reproduce. This doesn't seem to relate to video games at all. Apparently the term in game lingo means a game with situation not recommended for younger age groups. The game having more serious elements to it. For example blood, violence, and sexual themes (I guess this last one fits the definition mature.). Now why would a game need these elements? I guess that developers think these things appeal to older hardcore gamers. Wait! Old people hardcore? Older as in time, as in have gained experience in gaming by playing lots before. This age group basically the generation who stared playing first. They are hardcore because they played a lot and are good, supposedly. This current age group 20 to 30. Being hardcore as if they are, they would want games that are more complex, challenging, not recommended for new players. Now wait! This has nothing to do with “Mature content”. These “M” games are for people who want blood splatter, violence, and sexual themes, right? But, aren't games for playing not to watching? Which these listed elements applies to. So wounded these elements be for people who want to watch a bit more then play? For those who do not want more complex and challenging game controls and elements; not hardcores. So “M” games seem to be for younger player. As in the age group that is into cool and popular things( currently blood, violence, and sexual themes.); being between 14 to 18. And aren't these people not mature yet/maturing, and are not the most experienced players. So I can say “M” games seem to be more for the immature/maturing players. Now back to complex and challenging games for the “Hardcores”. If “M” seems to be miss directed. Then what about those older more hardcore players into the more complex, and challenging game play experience. This pointing to the whole point of this post. Just to say how this up coming point came to me. Using my brother . He to me is an example of a hard core player. (Side Note: Hardcore player doesn't have to be older players, but well experienced players. My last point used age pacific was to refer to the miss point of the use of mature.). He played tons of games and finished them in a most skilled manner. He played all the time, owning all digital obstacles in is wake. Watching him own everything was a marvel to me and our friends. Then, the other day I asked him which of the next three systems would he prefer to get. His answer shocked me, “none”. I asked why. He replied “I am not going to game anymore.” Then I asked why. He answered “ There all too easy.” All too easy? This reply startled me. I got him to specify. He simply said that all the games are too easy. He played RE series, Halo 1+2, 007 series, countless RPG's, pokemon, POP 1 to 3, Mario, Zelda, Soul Caliber, bunches of strategy real time and turned based, exec. All to easy so he quite playing. Then I realized he was right. All the games had basically two game play difficulties. Those for little kids( under 8) and for everyone else regardless of themes. The game difficulties simply didn't raise. Games where originally destined to entertain the mind. Sports my appear to physical, but in every sport there is strategy. Board games, puzzles now brought to the new level through computers are meant for the mind. So if they are too easy then they failed us, the developers failed us hardcore gamers. Now isn't this an important point to consider for the next gen? The rating “M” a curse in disguise appealing to pop culture; not hard core gamers. And shouldn't there be a second rating mark for difficulty?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Violence Doesnt Solve Anything

First and foremost, i need to give credit to AE_EWIC_N. on the nintendo forums, for typing this up, and allowing me to use it here. THANKS!
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People rate games MUCH lighter these days, than they did, say... 10-20 years ago.
Back then, the commercials on TV and the public "advertised" very provocatively.
Now a days, if you flick on the old tube, you'll see commercials where people say "dam"
and dress with hardly any clothes at all. (Take a look at the music channels, and I guarantee
that you'd concur with me.) Even modern-day celebrities wear "skin-showing" attire. Not to
mention just, the general public... Low-cut jeans 20 years ago, are now "old-women" jeans.
(if you know what I mean.)

So where am I going with this, you ask? Well, keep reading and find out.

If you’ve taken a look at the strategy that Nintendo’s doing… You’re probably thinking either:

1) WOW, Microsoft and Sony are going to die.
2) Nintendo’s going to die very soon.
3) I can’t wait to see the change in gaming
4) I am so excited… Who’s going to win this next-gen war?

Personally, I’m going with #1. I’m going with number one for these following reasons:

Have you ever “really” looked inside of an elder? (20-30 years older) Whether it’s your mom, dad or even Grandpa, you’ll find ONE common personality trait located in ALL of them.
-THEY THINK VIDEO GAME ARE TOO VIOLENT-
Think about it… Have you ever heard your Grandpa say: “Hey guy, let’s play Halo. I hear it has GREAT graphics and awesome realism, especially with the gore part.” Be honest… I know you’ve never heard an elder person say something to the likes of this. And, ever noticed how (most) parents these days, are very protective of you? Not wanting for you to “Get bad ideas” into your heads? Well, notice that the Grandpa subject and the parent subject are VERY similar in understanding each other’s ways. Do you want to know these “ways” of your ‘older’ family?
-OLDER PEOPLE HAVE HAD EXPERIENCES THAT YOU HAVE YET TO EXPERIENCE-
You’d normally think “No duh, they’re older”… Yeah, and you’re right! ‘Older’ people have already fought in wars, had divorces and seen murders, right before their eyes. YOU most likely haven’t. Maybe the reason why ‘older’ people pound these lessons into your head, is because… They don’t want you to have to go through what they already have.
Technology these days is getting better and better with ‘realistic’ graphics and sounds. Enabling to have you par-take in a ‘realistic’ WORLD. Face it… Video games ARE addicting. Most people you see (even jocks) own at least ONE video game console. The video game business is growing, and with that, comes the MAJOR COMPANIES (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft) of video games. It all started when Sony came out with the PS1, hoping that it would over-throw the N64. Which it did. (Even though I, personally think that the N64 is better…) Then, Microsoft joined the ‘party’ and showed up with something called an XBOX… Nintendo and Sony,
(the hosts of the ‘party’) came up with the GCN and the PS2. XBOX had a slight advantage over the other two companies (Nintendo/Sony). Since the XBOX was made from a company that makes most of people’s software on computers to date. Microsoft. (Not to mention that Microsoft is owned by the richest North American, Bill Gates.) I guess people thought it was cool to own something from Microsoft. Plus, this system had slightly better graphics than the GCN/PS2. Not only was it also a fairly good system. (Power-wise) But, it had the most ‘mature’ games on it. When Microsoft and Bungee Games came out with Halo, XBOX was a hit. (Still, it came in 3rd place, behind the GCN and the PS2.) But, considering that this was Microsoft’s first system, they did pretty well. But, take a look back, at what I’ve already said… Does the word ‘mature’ pop-up into your head, when you think XBOX? I’m sure it does. Microsoft was mainly marketing towards the 15-30 year old, males…
Now, I’ll bet that some of you are thinking: “I’m 11, and I have an XBOX.” Well, it’s the horrible truth, but most kids lie to their parents… Telling them that the “M” rating stands for “Most ages”… You’re parents then buy you one… With games like DOOM 3 and Halo. Once you start playing it, you’re parents are probably out at work, not knowing that you’re looking at alien intestines and demon hearts… Can you REALLY see your mom (or dad) saying: “Let’s go kill things!” No… You can’t… The fact is, (what I’ve already pointed out), you’re parents are protecting you from ‘bad’ thoughts and ideas, not wanting you to become the next biggest murderer.
I can read your mind… You’re thinking: “Video games don’t make us kill people!”, and you’re absolutely right… Most parents don’t realize that, and they only let you play games like “Telletubbies’ Great adventure”. BUT, hold-on! Have you ever come across some, little grade 3’r and, they tell you to “F” off? Or, kick you in some deranged way? I’m sure you have, some time or another… And, they are most likely getting those words and ideas from video games. So, video games won’t make you a killer, but, it will influence little dudes to go around, being rude to others.
Microsoft is a big problem of this, and just think about it… Once this grade 3’r becomes a father, what will his son be? What’s to come, for this next-generation of kids?
The sad thing is, we can’t stop it… Even if Microsoft changed their ways, there’d still be TONS of other companies out there, teaching little kids ‘bad’ things… Oh, and don’t forget about Sony… They have also come out with their share of ‘bad influence’ games, themselves.
Now, Nintendo is a company to behold… They’ve always been original and CLEAN! You see, Nintendo’s approach has almost always been “protect the kids, while still giving the parents a good time”. Ever since the NES, they have come out with ‘family-friendly’ games. Mario, F-Zero and Kirby are just a few of Nintendo’s great franchises that are ‘family-friendly’. Now, take a look at Nintendo’s DS… It doesn’t have as good graphics as the PSP, but they out-sold them by A LOT. And, Nintendo has been testing, if people enjoy having a touch-screen on their games, or if the consumers enjoy playing games like “Nintendogs”. And, people really have! Nintendo now has the ‘forgotten’ bunch of people in their hands. People LIKE moms or dads, Grandmas or Grandpas. Nintendo has spoken, but isn’t going to finish with just the DS… But, now the Revolution comes, and it creates an even GREATER amount of people they can sell to… Since the interactivity and the game play is what Nintendo is known for. Nintendo knows that violence doesn’t solve anything, but sheer originality and interactivity does. I salute Nintendo for this bold approach. They’re creating a better future, not just for games, but for civilization itself! Kids won’t be as influenced by gory games, since Nintendo is being careful not to create games like that. Nintendo is king, as far as I’m concerned… So, for those people who say: “Grand Theft Auto is a great game”… Just relax… Don’t buy those kinds of genres, because you’re the people who’s ruining the future, as we know it.
This isn’t just about videogames, it’s about man-kind.

VIOLENCE DOESN’T SOLVE ANYTHING

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Everything's Under Control

One of the most annoying problems a video game can have is poor controlability. Game designers often have a difficult time using the limited control options in their best combination for the game being designed.

Here's where Nintendo comes in. Nintendo is the only video game console manufacturer that is blazing trails when it comes to controls. The DS has two never before seen controls: a microphone and a touch screen. These have been a boon to DS owners everywhere. The Revolution also has a groundbreaking control feature, a motion-detection capability that enables amazing features such as swinging a sword, pointing a gun, or firing lasers. Gaming will never be the same.

However, it's one thing to design a great controlability feature and something completely different to make good use of it. This is where (unfortunately) Nintendo has fallen a bit short in its requirements for games. Most games designed for the DS don't use the microphone at all. Few of them use the Wi-Fi capabilities for multiplayer games. Some of them don't make good use of the touch screen (reserving it for menus, etc.), and still more don't use it at all.

Hopefully when the Revolution and the first games designed for it are released, we will see the Nintendo has enacted some strict standards for the use of its new control features, requiring the games released by outside studios to make use of it extensively. Otherwise, many games won't use it at all, or, like the DS games, they will use it sparingly, and not using it at all ingame.

All I gotta say is, there had better be some dang good 3D shooters that use the point-and-click capabilities :D.