Wednesday, 27 August 2008

It's good to be bad

The title is not advice intended for the real world, but I doubt many people come to this little slice of the net to re-adjust their moral outlooks on life. When watching a bond film, have you ever sat their screaming at your television because the master villain is going about his plan all wrong? Probably not for fear of being committed, but you would not be alone if you thought to yourself why that particular bad guy made terrible decisions, and what you would have done to make his diabolical scheme a success.

Enter my current favourite game. I was so excited to get another copy since loosing my original, that I have played it for nearly three days straight. Evil Genius puts you in the boots of exactly that, a devious plotter, focused on world domination. It does it of course in a very over the top and tongue in cheek way, making it one of the most enjoyable games that I can think of, for a very wide audience. Rather than giving you the hands on, bank robbing, mass murdering grunt work, your are more of an overseer of operations. It is your task to build a fiendish base on an abandoned island of an undisclosed location, recruit a minion work force and advance your plan.

My favourite aspect of the game is actually building and running the base. It is so much fun rigging a corridor with traps, just waiting for a hapless, wannabe James Bond to stumble into it and trigger a hellish sequence that ends in their demise. My latest trap involved a wind tunnel that went around a couple of corners, slamming the agents into walls until they ended up on a bed of deadly circular saws. It's all good clean fun. It really got me thinking though. Why is there no other good game like this.

The style of the game reminds me of the good ol' Bullfrog days with Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper. No, you can not pay a handy man to mop up sick, but it is a similar style in that you hire minions to do your bidding where you tell them what to do, but have no direct control over them. It is brilliant fun, and there is plenty of dark humour to keep you writhing around in your chair for hours.

As well as the actual gameplay perspective being enjoyable, I also really like being evil in games. Bad guys really do have more fun. In a gaming world that is populated with grey, anti-heroes, it has nice to actually be 100% evil from time to time. It has to be done in a humorous way mind, as a game called 'Osama Takes On The West', might not do too well unless their head of advertising is actually God.

Evil Genius does well in not taking itself seriously. There is everything that you would expect an over the top and slightly camp villain to have including perilously placed piranha tanks, security cameras hidden inside tribal statues and an endless supply of minions that the good guys seem to be able to take out in one punch.

I suppose what I am really trying to say, is that an Evil Genius 2 or Dungeon Keeper 3 would actually make me incredible happy in places that I probably shouldn't talk about. It is an untapped take on the genre which has been without a revisit for a while now. I could also say bring back Bullfrog and all of the Theme games, probably rallying a group of supporters larger than those wanting to free Tibet. For now however, we'll just have to be contempt with those great past masters that are still fun to play now.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Micropayments

Today I'm going to be looking at micropayments in games and there are a lot of different viewpoints to consider. On one hand, it allows you to customise a game exactly how you want it, meaning that you don't pay a bulk price for everything, but a lower price for specific items. On the other hand, a lot of us see it as the EA or, 'Sims approach' which involves grabbing a game by the goolies, and squeezing as much money and gushing fluid out of it as possible.

Just talking about the Sims briefly makes me feel like I need to wash myself. With the latest expansion in the never ending tide of crap being The Sims 2: Ikea Home Stuff, it really does seem like they are scraping the bottom of the barrel. For just £9.99 you can turn your virtual house house into a tacky Swedish look a like chalet, with all the flat packed furniture love you could ever want. I wish I was present in the meeting when they were debating whether to have The Sims 2: Linda Barker Loose, or DFS Sofa Set, before finally settling on the frustrating to build, affordable furniture shop. This is a perfect example of someone trying to squeeze all the money out of a game, by making the owners of the original continuously fork out for new content. A few expansion packs I could understand, but EA are frankly taking the piss with the latest offering. What happens when The Sims 3 comes out? Rinse and repeat.

Micropayments is kind of an evolution of this idea. Paying small amounts of money here and there in order to get access to new content. The main controversy surrounding this idea is that most people (including myself) feel that they should be able to buy a game, and have all of the content from the start. With micropayments in the picture however, it might feel like you have only bought half a game, as the rest of the stuff you want needs to be purchased separately. This is one thing that I had against the Windows Live service when it needed to be paid for on a subscription basis. To take the game online, I needed to pay more. This meant that I did not get to sample games like Gears of War in their online modes.

One game that in my opinion has the micropayment issue sussed is surprisingly from the money hungry, game bleeding giant, EA. Battlefield Heroes is the next in the series of Battlefield games that have now covered past, present and future conflicts in the form of a mass multiplayer frag fest. The previous games all had a few things in common, especially the fact that they were bought with a one off payment from your favourite retailer. What heroes does differently however, is that it is free to play for everyone. The way that EA plan to make their money is by giving the player the option to buy items for their character through micropayments. These are not game balance killing items either, but they are merely cosmetic in nature. This will be a pioneering project to see if a game can be run off of advertising and micropayments alone, and could well revolutionise the industry.

I am in a split mind about micropayments. If I am forced to pay more money than I have to for a game, just to keep on the edge of competing with other, more financially secure competitors, then I really can not lend it my support. If on the other hand I can not wear a funny hat unless I pay for it, then this is bearable. It will be interesting to see how Battlefield Heroes plays out and how many of us will invest in Hawaiian shirts and pointy shoes.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

One day late - a solid mistake

Whoops, looks like I finally missed a Wednesday without a valid excuse. This was not me being lazy, but instead I was distracted. I had work experience at a press office for the local district council, but this is not what pulled me away from my PC.

Yesterday I pushed through the big 90 minute ending cut scene of Metal Gear Solid 4 and all I can say is that the entire experience was immense, and I needed a cold shower afterwards. The game, in my opinion is a work of art, an amazing ending to a truly great series. I would not want to risk spoiling it for anyone, but at one point, being the hard nosed journalist that I am, I was nearly having to hold back tears.

More to the point though, it is amazing because it ties up all of the loose ends. Every niggling question about the Metal Gear series so far was answered and it had a very satisfying ending. Again, Kojima does wade so deep into a sea of 'WTF!?' that you need scuba diving gear to get through it, but everything does fall into place and is relatively easy to follow. Needless to say though, the nods to previous games and other bits that had me bouncing off the walls do make this game one of the best I have ever played through.

So that is why I missed my own deadline. After Metal Gear Solid 4, my brain simply stopped and fell into awe mode. It is very safe to say though that Solid or 'Old' Snake (as he is known throughout) has had his story come to an end. I still hope that there will be some more tactical espionage action in a few years however. The game mechanics in this series appear in no other games which really makes it unique. No one has done a Metal Gear knock off because it seems that getting it anywhere near that level of genius is a huge feat.

This game series is a truly ground breaking one. A little bit more gameplay would have been good, but I would in no way want that to impact on the length or quality of the cutscenes. I know that a lot of people have criticised the game for having drawn out scripted sequences in them. Some even called it a movie with a very interactive DVD menu. It adds so much more depth to the experience however. I really felt an impact when any of the characters did something, which is not a trait that I can put with many other games out there. This would definitely fall into my short list of 'best games ever'. Then again, I am a die hard fan, and so probably blinded by my unhealthy yearning for an old man wearing a skin tight rubber suit.