Thursday, 26 March 2009

Persistent Timescale

I'm going to explore a concept I will call Persistent Timescale. This is not for any particular game design but more just a design concept in general. I'm really just looking to bounce ideas of people, get a bit of a discussion going and see what people think about this topic.

I was watching some videos of a play-through of Resident Evil 2 and began thinking of the idea of time scale in games, that is to say whether or not the game events occur entirely in real-time or whether they include cuts ahead (or even back). Here are some FPS examples: you can play through Half-Life from start to finish and will never miss a thing that Gordon Freeman personally witnessed. You are present in every single moment of his life (save for a few instances where he loses consciousness for a while). Compare this to a Call of Duty game in which, between levels, the player is taken out of their character's shoes and returned in a new situation, probably on a different day, in a different place. This is the difference between a game with Persistent Timescale (HL) and one without (COD).

My main interest here is how it can affect the player's perception of the game world. As I watched the events unfold in Resident Evil 2 I felt as if I was observing someone in real time on CCTV, following their every move in a constant, real situation. Of course, this might have been a fairly different response if I had actually been playing the game but I think the idea still remains.

I think the whole issue relates to the player's concept of space and location as they are able to see the transitions between different places, rather than just jumping to somewhere else. I often find that when that new level loads on Call of Duty I have to spend a moment getting my bearings before I can press on. Is that one moment crucial for the extent to which the player remains immersed in the game world?

Not only this, but I think Persistent Timescale allows the player to experience a greater sense of achievement as they progress through the game. Every yard they advance is directly linked to the next, allowing them to constantly be touching new ground and making progress. When I look back over the journey I have taken in Half-Life I can remember that I have walked 10km (for example) and I can see exactly where it has got me and what I faced along the way. In Call of Duty, well, I walked about 2km and then there was that bit where apparently I was in a helicopter for a while, but I didn't see any of that. Then I walked a bit more, and then I was controlling someone else in Russia!

I find it very jarring and for a short while it really takes me out of the game. Thankfully it is only a short while, but I wonder how damaging it can sometimes be for the player's experience. How do you feel?

I am also posting this on forums.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

OnLive: the future of gaming?

Just announced at GDC '09 is OnLive, a brand new technology used for gaming which basically allows you to play high-quality games through any PC or even a TV. As far as the user is concerned, it works in a similar way to television streaming systems like 4OD and BBC iPlayer. What actually goes on behind the scenes is that your input is sent to a central bank of high-spec PCs which will essentially process and run the game for you, then stream back to you a video output of your game session. The quality and resolution of the visuals is directly proportionate to the speed of your internet connection.

Of course this technology is very new and I'm sure it will be riddled with bugs and latency issues to begin with, but after a little while I can see this seriously catching on and becoming the 'next big thing' as far as gaming platforms are concerned. The next Steam? It could be! They've already got 9 major companies signed up and it looks like games such as Crysis and Mirror's Edge could be part of the initial library available.

But what does this mean for indie game developers and modders? Obviously existing methods of gaming will still remain and OnLive Inc have fully acknowledged this, but will mods be available on this system? If so, can we play any old mod or only the ones they give the green light to? Also, with this technology there may be a significant drop in sales of high end PCs as people will no longer need them to play their games on top settings. That means that hardware prices are likely to go up and this will have a knock-on effect for people like me who need those powerful systems to make maps and 3D models. But then what if OnLive is extended to incorporate game development as well? What if we eventually just have the most basic systems in our homes and everything is handled in vast processor farms in some big factory?

This could be big news, so I'll be keeping an eye on it. Meanwhile you can watch GameTrailers' interview with Steve Perlman (head of OnLive Inc) right here.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Killzone 2 impressions

Killzone 2 is a game I've been highly anticipating since that early 'target render' trailer and is even a game that I considered buying a PlayStation 3 for. It seems to have subscribed to the ever-increasing list of games that will finally elevate the PS3 into the #1 spot in the console wars.

Well anyway, I finally got the chance to play it with my girlfriend at the weekend. Please take this with a pinch of salt as admittedly we only played a couple of levels, but it seemed enough to form a fairly valid opinion. That opinion is that Killzone 2 follows firmly in the footsteps of its predecessor in being thoroughly mediocre. Yes, the visuals are jaw-dropping, blah blah blah. We all know that's not enough for a game to stand the test of time as visuals will inevitably become outdated. What doesn't deteriorate with age is a memorable experience and that's something that Killzone 2 failed to provide for me. The backdrop of the epic battle of Helghan seemed perfect for an intense rollercoaster ride through war-torn streets and bombed out buildings, but it almost feels as it the game was shipped before they finished scripting the events. We played the game on a 32" HD TV and yet every experience felt sub-par, like Call of Duty 4 had already done it better with bigger fireworks and more emotional engagement. I've heard many others say the same thing, but Killzone 2's characters appear to be little more than your typical meat-head US marine type. CoD4 had those characters, but it also had characters you genuinely cared about (who, incidentally, were all British!).

Moving more on to the gameplay side of things, Killzone 2 lacks substance in its combat. Sure you have the odd 'down the helicopter' scenario, the regular 'turn the crank', you even get to drive a tank around, but these are all things we have seen countless times before in a FPS. For me the game failed to provide either fresh new mechanics or interesting twists on old ones, so it all felt somewhat redundant. On top of this the weapons felt a little weak which was partly due to the sound effects and partly the often unclear visual responses given when hitting enemies.

All in all I felt that Killzone 2 brought very little new material to the table that is first-person shooters, and certainly not much more than the first game in the series did. I would definitely play it again to form a more fair opinion, and it's a solid game which is worth a try but don't go expecting the killer app Sony was hoping for as you may be disappointed.