Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Power to the people

Whilst recently writing a feature piece about the future of gaming, I was expecting to be writing about realistic graphics that would blow your mind out the back of your skull, but when approaching industry professionals, I was very surprised. None of them said that amazing graphics would be the thing of the future! One of the answers I was given was especially helpful to me, as it really did nudge my mind in a brand new direction. The focus is not necessarily on the games now, it's all about the communities!

The obvious games in this case are massively multiplayer online grind games. I make it no secret that I am addicted to one of these uphill treadmills, where everything needs some form of one main commodity, your time (and so therefore life). I play EVE online, but like other online games, it is the community that makes it for me. If it were a single player offline game, I would have got bored and left years ago. The fact that almost every spaceship flying around out there has a (possibly sweaty) person sitting at his/her keyboard is quite immense, considering that there are 200 vs 200 fleet battles in some places. The people I play with are from all over the world. Australia, the USA, the Netherlands, and probably more places that I can only dream of pronouncing the names of correctly. Even though I have never met any of them, I feel as if I know them like my friends, when basically, I have met them whilst playing internet spaceships.

The developers of EVE and probably other MMORPGs listen to the players, the community and pander to what they want (if the idea is sane and has enough people wanting it). This sense of a player driven game is literally 'give the fans what they want' mentality and on the whole, it works. Other games that don't depend on subscriptions, such as Splinter Cell: Double Agent don't pander to fans so much. I mentioned this game specifically, as on just about any PC I have tried it on, it is unplayable due to horrible bugs which make the game unplayable. It's like Ubisoft decided to knee cap it on purpose, and tied up any beta testers that complained because I really have no idea how it got through quality control. I was a fan, along with the legions of other people asking the developers for a patch or something that would fix the game. Since they already had our money, it became apparent that Ubisoft decided it could abandon the game and concentrate on the next money making idea.

Another angle to look at this idea of the gaming community, is the desire to expand it to other people, trying to appeal to all. The Nintendo Wii for example is marketed as a console for everyone to try. It isn't all about complexes button combinations or perfect timing. Its about waggling a stick and having a good time. This idea of having very easy to control and fun games so that it appeals to people who don't even know what a Microsoft Playstation 360 is, means that the gaming community can grow to involve more casual players.

Also on the topic of casual gaming is the sheer amount of little internet browser based games that there are now. Companies like Popcap games make little time wasting, but addictive games means that people who don't want to pick up a control pad, but are too young for sudoku can easily pick up and play. Even my mum, who is fairly technological illiterate, likes nothing better than to sit down at a computer and play simple games like Tetris and Freecell.

Basically, the games industry is becoming more accessible for a new generation of players. There are the hardcore gamers who enjoy getting involved in a universe of complex controls and a constantly changing storyline that gets more epic by the second, and then there are casual players who just want to lark about on the computer.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

What waits in 2008

Now that we are in a new year, it means that game deadlines are starting to seem not so distant and could quite possibly be within our grasp. I'm a bit biased on the matter of what to look forward to as I own a Wii and a PC, so I may tend to lean towards these two platforms a bit more than others. I think that's enough for the formalities of an introduction, lets dive straight in shall we?

One game that I really am looking forward to is Super Smash Bros Brawl. I was hoping to get it for my birthday, as it comes out at the end of January, or it did, but then Nintendo thought it would be fun to annoy the planet and delay it until March in the US (according to IGN) and no UK date has been announced (but its listed as June according to the 'very reliable' sources at play.com). Despite the stalling for time on Nintendo's part however, this game looks really great. I never played Super Smash Bros Melee, but I did occupy far too much time on the original game on the N64. Brawl looks to be much the same, only sexed up with new characters, nicer graphics, new special moves and an overall super upgrade.

The premise looks to be the same. One day, for no reason whatsoever, game characters from different universes meet up and decide to beat seven shades of claret out of each other all in the name of good clean fun. To a Playstation 3 owner, the thought of Solid Snake playing fisty cuffs with Sonic the Hedgehog and a mildly obese Italian plumber would be a bit bewildering, after all, games are serious business! Not so much on the Wii. As random as the idea is, it actually looks like a lot of fun, even though it makes no sense at all. There is also the presence of something I have never seen in a game before, a twin character. Two characters move around together as one and pull off attacks as a team with one move set between them. It is a process that I would like to see.

Another game that I am looking forward too, but don't know much about is Starcraft II. The original Starcraft kept me entertained for weeks. I'm quite a sucker for a good RTS, and Starcraft was the first RTS game that I liked after playing Command and Conquer. The basic plot is that three races hate each other for various reasons and so go to war using a variety of means. The three races are the animalistic, slimy alien Zerg, the high tech super race called the Protoss, and your space marine human team, the Terrans. At first it would seem that alien claw against orbital nuclear strike would seem a bit unfair, but it was actually an incredibly well balanced game. I can only hope as much for the second installment. Here's the awesome looking trailer for it.

There is a contender for my RTS heart this year though. I really do love the Dawn of War series. For those that don't know, it is based on the table top game: Warhammer 40,000, except it is full on real time strategy and not turn based. I used to play the table top version in my youth, and so this brings back nostalgic memories, but it is also very good fun. The new expansion for the game, Soulstorm, brings two new races to the existing seven, making a grand total of nine playable races, each one unique. The new comers are the Dark Eldar, fast and sneaky with a fetish for soul collecting, and the Sisters of Battle, a race of women who use faith as a resource. It will add more to an already bustling game series. All I want to know is, when will Dawn of War II come out? I might have just wished this game into existence, but an updated engine with new graphics and physics would be very nice indeed.

Moving away from the RTS scene a little bit, I find myself waiting for Spore to come out. A bit like waiting for the bus, I have no idea what condition it will be in when it gets here. The idea is massive, and sounds far too ambitious to work properly. You start life in spore as a single cell organism. From here you have to grow and survive quite simply. Eventually you can evolve your group of cells into some sort of creature. You go around collecting things so that you can evolve a bit more, like grow claws and more feet. After you are happy with your creature and have been wondering around for a while, you start to colonise your planet. Eventually this leads to space travel technology where you can then go and destroy/colonise other planets. Also with the internet turned on, I believe it is possible for other people's creatures to come and visit you somehow, but I am not sure how this mechanic will work. In my opinion, Spore sounds like an epic paradise made of match sticks. It looks and sounds amazing, but it only needs one thing to snap to bring it all tumbling to the ground to a horrible fiery death by fans and critics. This game has been hyped for ages.

Speaking of hype, Duke Nukem Forever (and ever and ever and ever) which has been waiting for a release for ten years now, might actually see the light of day. We all thought it was dead, and then just before Christmas, 3D Realms released a new trailer, with yet another incarnation of the game. Yes the man who kills police pig things, and brought us such merry one liners such as "I want to rip off your head and s*** down your neck" might actually be seeing release this year. I never really played the series as it was really before I got in to first person shooters, but it has been in development so long, it must be great. There has probably been thousands of man hours forced in to this thing, so it might be amazing. Then again, it might just sit on the limbo ledge for another ten years.

One more game that I can think of in which there is not a great deal of information about, would be Mario Kart Wii. With a new(ish) Nintendo console, it was only a matter of time before a new Mario Kart title was released. This version of the game utilises the Wii-motes sensitivity to tilting. The idea is that the game will be released with a steering wheel, in which you can fit the Wii remote inside and tilt it left and right using the wheel, controlling the kart like that. It remains to be seen how successful this will be, or whether it will just be another gimmick. The game might be released in the US in the second quarter of this year, but delays can always strike. I still have not seen when it will hit UK shores.

There are likely to be many great games in 2008, but will it be enough to beat 2007, which brought some amazing titles with it? I'll keep a close eye on it...