Friday, January 7, 2011

Brown and Bloom and Consoles

First off, what is consolization? The idea is simple really, the standards for PC games are somewhat higher than the standards for console games, consolization is when game standards are lowered on the PC platform to accommodate a one size fits all multi-platform release.
But it's just a made up word right? Well yes but it's already becoming recognized which shows that the problem itself is actually common enough to warrant a label.
The first major example I remember is with the Thief series of games. In 1998 Looking Glass Studios released the first game in the series Thief: The Dark Project as a PC exclusive, it was a niche game which had unusual and unique game play elements which primarily only appealed to a narrow group of gamers. But for those gamers who enjoyed the stealth mechanic it was a fantastic game, it had some problems but was a highly enjoyable game that provided an experience you simply couldn't get anywhere else.
Thief II: The Metal age was released in 2000 as another PC exclusive and addressed practically all the fan complaints in the original game, this further improved the game and the fans loved it. I still to this day consider Thief II to be one of my all time favourite games.
Thief: Deadly shadows hit our shelves in 2004, however this time it was built as a multi-platform title for the PC and Xbox360; it's here we see consolization rear its ugly head. The game suffered in many ways, it inherited many technical constraints of the Xbox, for example the game levels were segmented into smaller pieces rather than being large seamless levels, it wasn't even done in a subtle way; it used huge swirling portals of smoke.
The game also suffered many game play tweaks in order to simplify the game for the console crowd; really subtle light grey highlights in the original became hideous bright neon blue, loot had glints added so finding expensive loot was no longer a challenge, the always tricky rope arrows were remove and replaced with climbing gloves and probably most insulting of all a 3rd person view was added.
Even Yahtzee a famously hard to please game reviewer retrospectively reviewed the series because it's one of the few games he has something good to say about. He sings praise of the first 2 but trashes the 3rd.
It didn't take long for this to spread; the same development studio worked on Deus Ex 2, the original was a PC only title which the fans were crazy for (metacritic user score of 9.5), the sequel suffered the same fate as Thief: Deadly shadows (metacritic user score of 6.0)
It wasn't long before it started affecting mainstream games; the Call of Duty series suffered some memorable hits, the once immersive CoD resulted in multiplatform sequels with regenerating health and grenade icons all over the screen.
More recently we've seen even hardcore PC developers like Epic and Valve jump ship for the consoles, UT3 was the first game in a long series of Unreal based games to be multiplatform and was the first one to flop. Valve released TF2 with a lot of the more competitive elements removed, no more grenades, no more concussion jumping. With the release of Left 4 Dead we've suffered the death of proper server browsers, now we have to put up with broken matchmaking. We can't even see our ping in the scoreboard anymore we have to accept a basic red/amber/green set of bars like we're checking our mobile phone signal or something.
Sadly we're now almost used to this trend, the high quality PC games we used to play years ago are now having their quality traded for more simplistic and generic game play which results in sub par PC games. Many of the problems this website addresses such as bad widescreen, mouse acceleration, missing AA and AF controls, are often issues directly caused by multiplatform development.
Have we seen the end of old school PC gaming era? Do you think we will ever see that special PC quality injected back in our games? Let me know what you think in my brand new comments section.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Problem with Today's Game Industry

Look around the store the next time you are at a brick and mortar games shop, what are the predominant categories of games that you see. For me, this can be broken down into three different categories. Firstly you have brown and bloom shooters in the vein of call of duty and gears of war. Secondly, there are terrible, terrible remakes and/or horrible new sequels. Finally, a small minority of these games are either good, innovative sequels or are interesting new IP's. Now, why is this? 

There are two different sides to this argument. The first of these comes from the Developers and Producers. Thier argument lies in the fact that the vast majority of consumers want these rehashes. This, as we can see, is true. The best selling games after all are just those. The Call of Duty series is one of the best selling of all time, and, from the second one on, they may have made minor changes, but the core game remains the same. This is what sells. They also argue that when they turn out an original title, say, psychonauts, one of my favorite games of all time, barely anyone buys it, but it is an amazing and innovative title. The studios argue that when they put the time into turning out a new IP, nobody buys it. This also seems to be true, most new IP's, unless they are artificially boosted, say as in a bundle with the sale of a console, are somewhat poorly selling as compared to other big name titles

The second side of the argument comes from the consumers. Thier argument lies in the fact that the boards of large companies (Kotick I'm looking at you) dont want to take the risk of change, they dont want to risk a failure of a game, something that many companies have before experienced, and as such, they stay with what is safe, they may refine the experience for a sequel, but the core of the game stays the same.

Thus, I believe, the real innovation must come from the indie guys, with the small, somewhat nonexistant budget, they are able to take risks, and if they fail, it is of no consequence to shareholders of whom the large companies are responsible to turn a profit to. The diamond in the rough example of this is of course Markus Persson, or as he is better known, notch. His game, minecraft, as you know, is a multi million dollar runaway success, It is an incredibly innovative game, the likes of which we have never seen in the industry before. Thus, the way forward is looking for the trials and tribulations of indie games, and picking out the gems


Saturday, January 1, 2011

This Blog: What are we doing here?

Hey Everyone,

I'm a pretty opinionated guy. Thinking as such, I need a blog to spout any rants or musings that I believe are of any relevance to the real world. As such, very little pop culture or anything of that sort will appear on this blog. First post coming soon!