Thursday, 22 October 2009

Console games on PC

I have been a PC gamer for far longer than I have owned consoles. I still remember starting out playing Mario is Missing on MS-DOS, an edutainment game where you play the lanky plumber instead of the fat one. Later on I moved to slightly more adult games with Earthworm Jim and the brilliant Lion King game, both still booted up from DOS.

It all started to snow ball from here with the arm chair generalling of Command & Conquer, the anti social crime sprees of Grand Theft Auto and the murderous historical romps through the Medal of Honour series. All of the above have worked brilliant on PC and have had a fair life on consoles too, but not necessarily living in equality.

Medal of Honour indeed started life on a console, and GTA has migrated to being more of a console game, but Command & Conquer has always been a stickler when it comes to importing it to consoles. The mouse and keyboard control scheme just seem able to hug it a bit more satisfyingly than the malice grip of two joysticks on a pad, bickering with each other on how to tell tank A to strike down man B.

It used to be the case that the PC was generally quite dominant of the strategy and shooter market, but as consoles are now starting to become more mainstream, the delicate balance that has been in place for years is suddenly starting to fade faster than Garry Glitter’s popularity after 1997.

Instead of the PC passing down the nicer franchises it seems to be getting stuck with multi-platform release titles that have clearly been designed for consoles. On one hand it might seem great that the PC gets a share of the action that it might have missed out on, but at the same time, controls that work perfectly on a game pad often transfer quite clunkily over to the mouse and keyboard. At times it can feel like it would actually be easier to poke and prod a console controller with chopsticks rather than using the mouse and keys.

Having recently played the highly acclaimed Dead Space for the first time I have decided that I don’t like it, not because it is necessarily a bad game, but the PC controls feel completely off. The sluggish aim of the bronze suited protagonist just doesn’t fit well with the mouse at all, and seems to be designed for a not so responsive thumb nub joystick to ensure a steadier aim. The inventory screen is a devil to navigate too as you can’t use the mouse to do it because it is still locked in to controlling where your eyes point.

The whole thing just feels like it is designed to be amazing on consoles, but was just shoe horned on to the PC just because it exists. If you ask me it just feels like a wasted opportunity, and instead of a nice refined game that is optimised to most people’s PCs (without game pads), it is a clunky disaster which is as responsive as directing a herd of sheep with a Yorkshire Terrier.

Having recently played Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising on PS3, I can say that it worked very well on the console, but I could see some very frustrating elements if it were the PC version. The radial command menu worked brilliantly with analogue nubs, but on a mouse and keyboard, again, I can see the system being rather clunky and not as fluent as it was clearly designed to be.

Clunky is the word coming across the most here when describing how a lot of PC ports come over, which doesn’t seem right seeing as a mouse is more accurate and responsive than a joystick. I’m a man from the school of thought that if it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

I just feel that the PC is having games shovelled on to it just because it holds a portion of the market that might not have a console to play on yet. With the multimedia age of consoles that are also DVD and Blu-ray players, a lot of people must have one in their living room, which might just start to be putting them ahead of PCs when it comes to gaming platforms.

I just hope that things start levelling out soon and that more thought and support will get put into PC ports as there really are some great games out there being criminally underdone by shoddy platform transfers.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Nostalgia's an indecisive bitch

I am scared of playing what I think might be my favourite game. I think it’s a great game, and I remember playing through it many times in my childhood and having tremendous fun each time. Then again, I also thought that snorting sherbert at that age was a good idea, and you can imagine how that turned out.

In this instance I am talking about Final Fantasy VII which I remember very fondly, but I have to ask myself, am I only remembering the good bits? Picking my apparently biased memory I can not think of that many flaws with the game which has already set the alarm bells ringing as I know that it is fairly easy to criticise at least something in any game.

The only frustrating bit I can remember is a boss encounter in two lifts moving in parallel on the outside of the Shinra building where only ranged attacks are useful. This is hardly a criticism though, as if games didn’t have frustratingly difficult bits sometimes then it would be a world that is about as entertaining as Gordon Brown giving an after dinner speech on sand.

I just can’t help shake the feeling that I would be disappointed if I were to pick up and play it today though. Too many times have I gone back to a game optimistically thinking it would be as awesome as it was five years ago only to be disappointed.

I think one major problem is as certain game genres evolve, staple features that get introduced, such as cover systems or magical recovering health become so mainstream that not having them feels like you are missing a leg or child. Going back to older games that don’t feature these can be a bit of a pain as you frantically mash the controls assuming that a function you are used to is there but instead end up horrifically dying in the confusion.

It’s a bit like Metal Gear Solid. I honestly do not think that I could go back to the PS1 game and cope as that lack of the ability to aim in first person would not so much leave me feeling like a fish out of water, but more like a bear in a volcano. How are you supposed to take someone out with a headshot when your rifle’s plane of vision is securely bolted at chest level?

I can see FF7 on the PSN store and as my fingers slowly twitch towards the purchase button I keep getting the nagging feeling that it will be nowhere near as good as I remember it.

I keep looking at trailers for FF13 and hope that it might play similar to seven, but I hear that the combat system has been tweaked. In a series gap of about six games that I haven’t played the result is probably some sort of disfigured Frankenstein monster that I will barely recognise, but I will be delightfully happy to be proven wrong.

Maybe it is best leaving games from the past in the past. At least that way it guarantees you won’t be disappointed. Unfortunately applying that logic to the rest of life probably means that you will end up as a very unexciting person who will one day own far too many cats.

Then again, Banjo Kazooie is fairly awesome even by today’s standards so maybe FF7 will follow suit. I suppose there’s only one way to find out. Don’t fail me now childhood memories!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Collateral damage

We all know of the brilliant film cliché, where the hero has blown up half of a city to get back an item that was hopefully more valuable than the damage caused, but what can be said about the gaming equivalent?

If anything, gaming protagonists tend to be even bigger tosspots than the movie action stars that treat other people's cars like stepping stones and explosion magnets. Where as the seemingly random destruction from a movie hero is usually part of some worthwhile goal, gamers tend to destroy things for the sheer hell of it.

Case in point, Resident Evil 4 and 5. You spot a mysterious looking box in the corner of someone else’s house and so naturally, being the good guy and all, you decide that there might be something inside worth taking. Opening the box is far too complex however, so therefore it must be smashed to bits with a knife or gunshot. So, you are not only stealing from the property that doesn’t belong to you, but you are also vandalising it somewhat too.

Was this really necessary? Admittedly the houses you come across in these games tend to be abandoned, and that subtlety and polite manners in apocalyptic zombie situations go out of the window a tiny bit. Having said this though, is smashing open a box which would require a fair bit of arm strength or a 9mm slug really easier than utilising the universal hinge method?

There is also the case of the random explosive barrels left over after a gun fight. No matter what game, what level, how practical, or the amount of ammo you have left, it is gamers’ instinct to shoot anything left over that would create a nice bang. Why is this? Do you not know how valuable something that explodes when nudged probably is? In the times when the planet is running out of oil, our natural resources are dying and we need every drop of fuel we can get, why do you think it is a just cause to blow it up? You bastard (or bitch, I’m not sexist). Think of how many virtual tanks and helicopters could be run from the many virtual barrels you have used to scorch the virtual sky.

Of course it would probably help if virtual oil could be used to power things other than virtual vehicles but it is still setting a bad example. Seeing how the mainstream media likes to portray gaming, it amazes me that they have not thought that gamers destroying virtual fuel resources probably means they definitely will blow up a petrol station at some point.

Something that animal lovers might like to think about is how many virtual animals are killed just because they make a funny noise and fall over quite comically when they die. I still remember scaring a running zebra into a parked car in Far Cry 2, and how it kind of ragdolled like a bag of soft oranges being thrown at a wall. Also chasing the chickens in Zelda until they get angry and attack you is surely inspiration for the next level of cock fighting. Man versus chicken, fight!

All kidding aside though, what is it that makes us destroy random things in games? If it is coded to fall apart or explode it is probably music to a game developer’s ears to hear that we all like to trigger exploding animations just because they look cool. I suppose it is quite fun to be able to sort of summon explosions in the distance, or make things fall down even if it does make the heroic protagonist look like he has a dangerous mental disorder. All I know is, I probably won’t stop blowing things up just because I can. I’d like to see more of it in fact. Make more things fall apart and explode for no apparent reason great gaming world! No more static scenery!