Sunday, 22 November 2009

Game Design: The key to Game Play

In the dark ages of video games, where game play was a relatively new concept to the programmers who had control of the game play and had very little creativity of their own and never really thought that the same challenges and puzzles would get boring. This lack of creativity quickly spawned a job for someone who actually knew how to interact with people (sort of) and give them something enjoyable about a game. As the word GAME suggests it’s something to do for fun and being killed by the same flashing monster because the difficulty curve suddenly shoots higher than Hubble space telescope would often lead to gamers being disgruntled and moving on to the next headache inducing game that came along and never return to it.

Game play is vital in making a successful game that will sell and not be slated in every review article under the sun. Also players have become more sophisticated and want more for their money. If the game designers trap a player at a point in the game and make it impossible to get past and causes the gamer to want to throw their controller and punch a hole in the wall it ruins the fun element of a game and they have failed. Of course you don’t want to go to far the other way and hold the players hand through a game to the point where they can press the win button on the controller to complete the game such as the recent game WET where the boss is just a couple of quick time events and slow repetitive button pressing until you see a small cut scene where dies in a sort of disatisfying pathetic way.

Ultimately what I’m getting at is that good game design is all about balance. Most early games went for the steady climb in difficulty through levels, but today the advancements in games has lead to a more progressive up and down difficulty throughout each level, unless of course we mention the lovely Psychonauts where the difficulty goes up and down all over the place and matches its wacky psychedelic look. There is no perfect formula for creating a goldilocks game where its not too hard or too difficult as some players are smarter or quicker than others making the experience completely different for everyone.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Games Writing Today

Games writing and reviews are just as common as the Film and TV reviews that have been around so long. On the shelves today there is a magazine devoted to every console, handheld and PC gamer and in some cases more than one magazine. Some are obviously more biased than others due to the funding of a specific platform creating ‘The Official’ titled magazines. Reviewers today are hard pushed to make the deadlines for their demanding 19-day schedule in which they have to fill nearly 150 pages of game related material. Not only the writing has to take place in this time but they also have to play the games they are reviewing and keep their ears pinned to the ground to try and give us the readers something new to keep us wanting to buy the magazine and read more news about the games.

What makes writing for games so interesting is that its usually quite subjective having the term “New Games Journalism” coined for this style. The opinion of one person can make the difference between a game selling or ending up like the E.T game produced by Atari, where most of the copies are said to be hidden deep underground somewhere in the Nevada desert. Kieron Gillan possibly the most renowned games writer leading the way with his manifesto has seen this in motion many a time and when the scores for a game are written and developers are keen to get a sneak peek at them to try and bump the score up by a few points by flying a developer down to play the game in front of them for half a day to show them how good it is. This being said it clearly shows how influential this type of subjective reviewing has become, with developers trying to sweet talk the reviewers into swaying the opinion in their favour.

Game reviews can be sugar coated with lovely words and phrases and make you want to rush out and buy it, but I have found more often than not the writers are stuck in one mind and like one particular style of game which is a shame. You get the same excited can’t wait for it attitude even to the point where the reviewers have written (and if I remember correctly) were actually sad enough to weld a copy of ‘GTA: San Andreas’ inside their PS2 because they thought it was that good.

I get easily bored and frustrated with the same subjective attitudes towards games that get totally the wrong scores because of the corrupt nature of money grabbing games publishers, whilst other great games are just over shadowed by the 72 page long waffle of how good a game is going to be. I would much prefer to see a games reviewer demonstrate a balance where they can review a smash hit blockbusting game and rate it with a 9 and then have a smaller game get an equally good score for its originality or play again factor. I mean isn’t there only so many times they can write like this before the writers get boring and jaded?

Monday, 2 November 2009

Video Games: Where to Next?

The “Next Generation” of consoles has brought us further than we thought in terms of what we can now create for video games. Explorations into player interactivity led by the Nintendo Wii and titles like Guitar Hero, Rockband and the recent DJ Hero. Online play has transformed the way we can interact and play games with and against each other. The main benefit is the expansion games can have through the ease of downloadable extras either being in the form of maps, costumes, bug fixes and in the case of the recent GTA, expansions of storyline that occur during the game world that feature groups seen and heard of in numerous missions throughout the main story and in some cases even tie bits up.

This is all great for the consumer, but what of the poor developers? They are forced to produce games of this great high definition quality in very tight deadlines and budget costs. This has slowed the real innovation of the games industry as where a small amount of profit for developers used to be good and creating the best looking and original title was the main goal this has almost disappeared. Publishes have become more demanding, wanting to focus more on large profits, film tie-ins and big title releases that can be roll over and over again into sequels that will usually generate what they want. This means the same sorts of games could eventually end up saturating the market, making gaming very dull.

The outlook for up and coming game developers and the like looks somewhat bleak, though there is hope. The battle between the Next Gen consoles has kept developers on their toes especially on the side of the PS3, who have stepped up their exclusive titles with games such as Infamous and Uncharted 2 with amazing graphics; the slickest movement and game play seen for a long time. Developments will keep coming from people like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo as long as demanding gamers are present. Personally I would like to see a bit more customisation in games to make it feel more personal and also have an interactive story so the you can decide what should happen, which has been seen in games such as Fable1/2 and the stunning Mass Effect where your decisions from the first game will carry over into the sequel. I would like Call of Duty to either stop creating the same game with different weapons and maps and come up with something a bit more original or at least drop the price! More innovative games are a definite must to keep the progression going especially to stop the industry becoming stale and corporate and allow real creativity be rewarded.