Friday, July 05, 2013

Focusing on Multiplayer : Why It's Bad For Future Games

At E3 2013 there was a lot of focus on online modes and multiplayer for most of the new games coming out on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. The biggest games of the show, Titanfall and Destiny, are largely multiplayer driven, with their core gameplay clearly linked to the ability of your console to go online and connect with other players. Major developers like Vince Zampella of Respawn Entertainment have gone on record to say that it isn't worth spending several years to make a single player experience that players can break down in mere hours. Online functionalities in games are expanding with these new consoles; developers are focusing on multiplayer because it keeps their games relevant, and it keeps from players selling their games back to stores like Gamestop, which is bad for developers (in terms of keeping their games continuously profitable).

I think that this focus on multiplayer is actually a bad thing. This approach isn't something that hasn't been done before. Previous games like Shadowrun for the 360 only had multiplayer and had no single player campaign at all. Of course there are the massively multiplayer role-playing games, which are essentially time-sinks for players and don't really have any real semblance of storyline or anything that remotely resembles a real game campaign.

I don't really agree with just focusing on multiplayer so much. Not everyone has a great internet connection. It seems to me when these developers make games, they make them in a "perfect bubble"; they assume that all the players will have as great a connection as they do back in their office buildings. But that just isn't true. Not everyone has a great connection, and as we've seen with the Xbox One reversal of their DRM policies, there are enough gamers out there who prefer to 'play offline' with their games. It's not something they don't want....everyone wants to try some online multiplayer from time to time but I don't think most people have this in mind when they spend their 60 dollars.

Games are essentially a power fantasy. I believe it was Adam Sessler who said this in one of his videos on Rev3Games at Youtube. When you play a game, it's like you become the focus of every virtual become essentially the center of the universe, the most important person in the virtual world. Think back to every good single player game experience. All of those basically 'work' because it lets you live a fantasy, that you are this really important guy, "the hero" that will save the day. No matter how bleak or how grim the situation is in that virtual world you're entering, you're the guy that's going to fix it and save everyone. It's a power fantasy. It's slightly different from movies but in that sense movies are kind of the same, except you're not in control of the action when it comes to film.

Multiplayer completely kills that fantasy. You become just one soldier, among millions. The guy with the fiber-optic connection with the amazing upload/download speeds is the true 'hero'. The rest of you are just fodder.

No matter how good you are at single player mode, online, you are limited by the technology you have available. And not everyone is going to have that amazing fiber-optic connection that will let their bullets land on target, on time, every time. Time and again I've played multiplayer games and latency is still a huge issue; no matter how many developers claim to have finally solved the latency problem, it just is never perfect. And the experience ends up more bland and more generic because of this. You lose that 'power fantasy', you lose that sense of 'escape', and then gaming just relegates to something so stressful, something no different from going to work from 9 to 5; unfortunately playing a video game doesn't give you back any paychecks, unless you are a pro gamer (which is clearly an exception). The point is, not everyone is going to 'go pro' with gaming. Some people just want to relax, unwind, just escape their real-life problems for a bit and feel important. Even if it's just NPCs or virtual characters that are making you feel that way. If you think about it, that's really the reason that people play games; they do it to feel good about themselves, to escape reality for a bit, just like watching movies, to give themselves an easy goal that they know can be accomplished with a little effort. It's all fake, yes. But that's the point. Sometimes you want fake. Sometimes you want to just get that feeling of success, maybe because in real life it isn't that easy and you just want to get that feeling so you can escape the real life frustration of not getting it in real life (does that make sense?) It's really a fantasy, and that's what these multiplayer focused devs are completely forgetting. They forget why people play video games.

Of course there will be those who prefer to be competitive and to feel that they're better gamers than other players, and there should be a place for them and games for them. But I hope game developers don't forget that not everyone plays for that reason.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

GRID 2 (PC Review) : The true mega-sequel to Daytona, Sega Rally, and Ridge Racer - all in one massive arcade masterpiece.

I really enjoyed the first GRID game on the console. What I liked about that old game is how expressive it was about automobile racing. Instead of going for complete realism, it went for exciting moments. It had AI that weaved and bobbed about like real players. It had active environments that made every race truly exciting.

That philosophy continues with GRID 2. On a decent PC this game is the most beautiful game you've ever seen. It does a lot of stuff that makes each racing sortie all the more interesting and fun, and it does it in very minute details that only make sense when you put them together in a complete package.

The handling model is simpler than sims like Forza or Gran Turismo, but it never goes to the extreme control style of the latest Need for Speed game (Need for Speed Most Wanted). Somehow they found the perfect balance here, allowing you to drift and glide through corners but still requiring you to follow good racing lines to win. You'll be doing a lot of drifting initially, but when you get to later racing seasons you'll be forced to be more careful with your driving because the more powerful cars can become unpredictable when drifting at full speed. Part of the reason why I liked Forza in the past was the controls, and in the same way, it's the controls that make Grid such a blast to play.

Another amazing thing about Grid 2 is that it never seems to get boring. It pulls that off by giving you beautiful tracks to ogle at, amazing AI to race against, and overall a feeling that the racing world you're playing in is a living, breathing place. That's the one problem that Forza and Gran Turismo have sometimes; their racing worlds can be very sanitized that they lose that visceral thrill that racing games should have. You're going over 180KPH; it has to be exciting. The problem with racing games is that you can never get that sense of movement no matter how fast the graphics scroll on your screen. So games like this have to do a lot more to get you completely immersed in the game.

GRID 2 pulls this off perfectly and beautifully in the way it renders its locations. When you race at night, fireworks continuously go off; crowds are watching you drive and they all have cameras, so strobe lights are everywhere. When you drive in a forest setting you'll see the occasional flock of birds flying by, or an airplane or helicopter swooping in. Mega-screens light up each major corner of the track with the initials 'WSR' flashing repeatedly, just giving you this sense that you are participating in a major race being watched around the world. GRID 2 gives you a feeling that you're racing, yes; but more importantly, it makes you feel like you're in a party, a really fun, crazy party, every time you drive.

It's so subtle but it really does work. It kills the 'boredom' of 'left, right, left' that racing games can usually have. There's just something to look at at every wild corner.

And it really, REALLY helps that all your opponent cars have liveries. In Forza/Gran Turismo you'd usually be the driver with the decked out car, with the nice alloy wheels, the decals, the paint job. All the other poor AI drivers look exactly like that....AI drones. Their cars just have the standard paint job and that's about it. You always get the impression that you're racing against faceless drones in those other games. In GRID 2, your opponents are part of major racing teams, with their own logos and colors. They feel interesting to race against and they feel fun to drive past. Your screen will never be devoid of color when you drive a race in GRID 2. If you're sick of brown in first person shooters, GRID 2 should fix that; especially on PC, with all the ridiculous lighting effects everywhere.

I can't help but think that this game is the true, the real successor to every arcade racing game that has died horribly in the past few decades. Daytona USA. Ridge Racer. Sega Rally. If you are familiar with those games, and you miss the experience of playing them, this is really as close as it gets. While the physics here is a lot more sophisticated than those, when you start drifting by at over 100KPH, you'll get that nice nostalgic feeling of arcade racers gone by. This game just gets the simplicity that's needed, without completely dumbing everything down like what EA did with Need for Speed Most Wanted.

This is the type of game that makes me ponder on buying a racing wheel. Maybe even a cabinet. I just enjoyed playing it way, way too much.

Bought a Gaming Laptop from Los Angeles....Best. Purchase. Ever.

After the festivities of E3 I bought my wife a laptop. Originally we were debating if she should get a Macbook Pro or a super powerful gaming laptop; in the end....

The gaming laptop won.

More info: Asus G46VW

I've been spending a bit of time playing Grid 2 on this machine and I am unbelievably, madly in love with it. I want to take it away from my wife already. The PS3/Xbox 360 haven't been seeing any action thanks to this guy.

In the United States this laptop is seen as a mid-range gaming laptop. When you bring it over here to the good old third world, this thing is a monster. It plays Grid 2 on High settings at over 60 FPS (or more, if you turn off V-sync). The image quality is insane especially if you turn up the anti-aliasing. I'm just floored by what gaming PCs are capable of now...even more floored that more PCs like this aren't available here locally. In the US this thing is about 38k; it's really hard to find here in Manila and if you do find anything like a gaming laptop here it will cost nearly 100k.

It's crazy, really. When I was in LA I noticed most PC peripherals like hard drives, etc. seem similiar in price to their counterparts here. It's only when you look at their PC section that you'll be amazed at the selection. One thing that I wish local shops would have is a better range of PCs to choose from. In the Philippines most PCs for gaming are at the extremes---extremely low end computers for general office work, and extremely high end gaming rigs that only Jaime Zobel De Ayala's grandkids can afford. In the US they actually have laptops (like the one I bought) which I think any decent middle-class person can buy.

And 'gaming' is really its own category in the USA. Here in the Philippines everything is just 'computers' and this is probably why there's no real set of options to choose from if you want to go with PC gaming. Your only option is to bet the farm, sell your arm and leg...which really sucks, but I guess that's just the way it is.

So next time you go to the United States and have a bit of money to a gaming laptop. You'll never find an affordable one here in Manila that's powerful enough to play major PC releases.

Will post my Grid 2 review shortly.