Categories
Video games

The waiting game

Gamers are patient. The nature of our pastime ties us into the action of waiting, as we sit through months or years in anticipation for our next desired title. Gamers frequently face long waits and have even longer memories. A bad release will continue to mar a game far into its maturity.

Release a game with any sort of major problem and and millions of gamers wait in the wings to tear the release apart. Neither party wants that. So, why do mistakes and delays still happen?

Starting a game off on the right foot

It’s really hard to remain composed about a subject like this. The temptation to name names over the particular gaming misdemeanor which has led to me writing this post is incredible. As such it’s hard for those last few months’ before a game arrives – those moments of tension, disappointment and anger to leave my mind, it has negatively affected the undeniable quality of the game in question, and that’s a genuine shame.

This particular delay is made even more infuriating by the developer and manufacturer’s joint inability to properly discuss the problem. It leads to impassioned and normally quite proud fans (such as myself) partaking in a pastime that I do not enjoy (moaning). This ultimately has a detrimental effect on both the individual game’s community and the wider one.

I can’t help but feel that the majority of game release problems could be fixed by developers simply being more honest and open, about lots of things – but primarily the features of a game. Being more transparent about a game’s limitations early on could nip most grievances in the bud. A games features are all too frequently embellished or made out to be far grander or important than they actually are, and almost every developer is guilty of this in the lead-up to a big release.

Also having to wait above and beyond what is reasonable can lead to you start to resent the game in question for being the only thing you want to play – while still finding yourself unable to play it. It crushes your desire to play anything else. It causes a desperate all or nothing situation. We need that next big gaming hit and everyone – including the people making the games – know it.

Avoiding disaster

The simplest way to avoid this sort of heartache is for developers and publishers to simply talk to us more. Opening up the lines of communication involves the intended audience for the game in the release process, and has the added benefit of making the wait more tolerable. Waiting is a natural part of gaming, and there’s no reason at all why the wait cannot be as exciting as those first few moments with a newly arrived gaming pleasure.

As is often the case with a game, the sense of anticipation leading up to release can sometimes be greater than the game itself. Our ambition for a title almost always surpasses that of the developers, and it would be wonderful if more development teams could respond to this positive influence by simply managing our expectations better. Actively restraining their PR people just a little and letting the quality of the game speak for itself.

Hype is a natural part of a new game, and controlling the flow of information is appreciated by all of us up to a point. Leaving a community to ponder alone for months with no information at all is a bad idea and generally leads to people drawing their own very blunt and negative conclusions. The very best type of hype is the sort created in the hearts and minds of community, it is sort of publicity that cannot be created, marketed or bought. What distinguishes the good releases from the bad ones are the ones which involves us, to the point where we feel we’ve had a hand in the game’s development and growth.

In the spirit of naming no names, there are also those rare diamonds in the rough that always manage (even the most trying) release schedule well. The numerous developers that are already doing this certainly deserve praise and any additional sales from being respectful ro the massive responsibility of managing and maintaining our passion and the emotional impact that occurs in those long and tiresome waits.

Managing expectations

Above all else game developers should be comfortable with letting the consumers of their games discuss the problems with it – at length – and at all stages, and where possible doing their utmost to occasionally respond.

If any problems do arise, it would be nice if more developers and publishers actively engaged in fan discussion by providing regular updates for us to pore over. Doing so in the channels and mediums that suits their audience, such as social media, forums and gaming communities. How nice would it be for companies to be more proactive about these things – to venture onto our preferred method of communication and explain why problem has happened, or why there is a particular delay and when things are likely to be rectified. Developers should listen to feedback whilst always ensuring that any frequent points raised (often in the hundreds of thousands) are at least rectified in the sequel. We all collectively understand the limitations of game development, but often resent being fooled a second or third time.

As is normally the case it is the mystery of the problem that we gamers find difficult in those hard, initial months of waiting. Shedding some light on a game’s shortfalls – and quickly – could so often ease the frequent tension that exists in our community. Which in complete fairness to us, is almost always due to a lack of information.

Gamers after all are extremely patient, but only up to a point.

Categories
Video games

A change in development

The process of redesigning or “re-imagining” a game makes me nervous. For me this is a far bigger problem than mere characters being tinkered with. When games that I love are handed from one developer to another – it’s a scary moment – almost as if the process of trust between the player and new developer has to be built all over again.

They may be the most established and professional of developers; the oldest of hands or the newest of recruits. Our collective reaction is usually the same.

Why does this happen?

When we consider the details, freaking out over a games possible change in direction is a reasonable reaction, after all we’ve been burned many times in the past. A truly great game is something that we have spent years anticipating and then we spend even longer enjoying and replaying. Our favourite games are a known quantity, developed and explained to us over many months in precise detail, with gamers getting just as long to get our heads around the concepts behind them. From this learning and waiting process we develop a solid idea of the personality of the game and how likely we are to enjoy future games from that series.

When we buy a game, it’s almost as if we we are entering an agreement with the developer. We vote for both the creative and technical prowess that has been put on display, and it’s partly a recognition of support for their ideas and ambition. It’s harder to guarantee support for a title when it’s format and personality have potential to change with under someone else’s stewardship. A new developer hasn’t struggled to perfect the game’s ideas (be they good or otherwise). The developer taking over the project has almost the same view of the game as us – a “finished” one – almost always minus the creative process that led to it.

Everything I like about that game now has potential to change. I could now be voting for an entire new set of ideas. Hence the nervousness.

Lots of alien craft surround me, except I have a rocket launcher.Attack of the many giant spiders.

A recent example

I’m a huge fan of Earth Defence Force 2017. That game is the epitome of fun; giant bugs to destroy, a multitude of weapons to choose from, simple controls. Above all EDF has a set tone that every single one of it’s fans are aware of: it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, and it has a real B-movie vibe to it.

When a sequel (Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon) was announced I was ecstatic, and to be perfectly frank I would have been happy with the exact same game with new levels and enemies.

I personally wouldn’t change a thing about EDF. I like the oddball vehicle controls, the wooden voice acting, the ridiculously sized levels and enormous sets, and the level of destruction the game affords you. Most of all I love the crazy physics it employs; the way that defeated enemies simply flip over in hilarious polystyrene style rigor-mortis, it never gets old. I love how an empty screen quickly fills with hordes of terrifying yet hilarious danger.

A stream of giant ants tumble out of two massive UFOs.Another robot falls over in defeat.

So I worry that someone else taking this marvellous game on could tinker with each of those careful (and perhaps on occasion unintentional) dynamics. EDF isn’t a hard game to get right, but in attempting to improve, Vicious Cycle could tamper with what makes the series so special.

I do however appreciate that there are however a lot of things about EDF that lots of fans would change; the ability to play co-operatively online for example is often the largest complaint. In fairness to Vicious Cycle this does offer a remarkable opportunity to address EDFs faults and ultimately encourage more people to pick up this remarkable (but often forgotten about) gem.

Perhaps the fact that Sandlot is working with them in an advisory role will result in a game that has all the magical elements of EDF, but with new (and enjoyable) twists. There are bigger, and scarier examples of developmental changes out there – but Earth Defence Force is a prime example of a game with phenomenal character, whose tone could be changed entirely by the tiniest ill-decision.

I await spring 2011 – like many others – with an anxious feeling.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.

Other takes on this topic:

Silvercube: Perfect Dark Missing Perfection

Sniping Mizzy: Man, You Got Reaaaaaal Ugly

Oxcgn: New Look Character Redesigns A Good Idea – Or Bad?

The Average Gamer: Hampered by Hollywood

Zath: Has A Redesign Changed Your Attitude To A Beloved Video Game Character?

Categories
Video games

Stuck

We all get stuck in video games from time to time. It’s a part of what makes the experience of playing games so rewarding. This is something that most games manage superbly – one of the main reasons that we continue to return for our daily quota of risk, challenge and reward.

All games aim to place us in a difficult position regularly, testing our own very different and very personal ways of coping with challenge.

Nothing will ever be as bad as that…

There are some moments in games that hold you back for a few hours, or for a few days. Then there are the biggest and most horrible of challenges, the experiences that become the yardstick by which all other gaming difficulties are measured.

I have known about one such challenge for a year, when I started this particular game I knew it was something that I would have to overcome, and the dread of it moving ever closer with each day built up a deep sense of dread inside me. The enemy I would have to face is brutal, fast and deadly and the build-up to my most difficult battle was a palpable one.

It started with the enemy being made obvious to me very early on in the game – within a few starting hours when I was at my most vulnerable and least confident. It was placed deliberately in the newbie area of the game and forced me to confront something I was not intended to even attempt to defeat until several weeks later. It felt cruel, and the spiral of dread continued.

Tigrex lifts up his head and roars deeply.A close up view of Tigrex's head and beady eye.

When the time finally came to defeat this creature I was stronger, but still clearly aware of the danger involved in trying to kill him. It took many attempts to even survive long enough to realise the weakness of an AI that seemed infallable. It was no longer just a creature in a game, but a infuriating wall of code with a devious personality that seemed hell-bent on ruining my perception of this game. The entire experience broke me out of the spellbinding love I had felt for this game so far. Now when I thought of it I was just reminded of failure, anger and resentment.

So even then it took at least a hundred attempts more until I was confident enough to best the monster that had constantly kept me on the back foot, and repeatably locked in death’s embrace. So as great as finally destroying him was, I knew it wasn’t over.

Something bigger and badder

Thankfully by the time I beat him I wasn’t alone, I had a close friend to share the victory with, and we shared at least a hundred wonderful hours of relaxed play before the dread kicked in again.

The second time we faced him the stakes were raised, this time there were two of the creatures to face. They were locked at the hip and barely gave us time to breathe or think, so death came even faster than before. All the progress we’d made was washed away week after week in repeated, soul-crushing defeat.

Weeks of attempts pass. By this time describing this experience as merely being “stuck” doesn’t quite cut it. Two months of throwing everything we had at the problem, taking breaks, reading strategies, trying different items, going faster, going slower. Nothing seemed to work.

I started to dream about a world where I would no longer have to do this. Here was my perfect game – save for one thing I couldn’t do, the irony of the situation taunted me every day we tried. Any other person would have moved on to another game by now. But my friend and I have a friendship spanning 23 years, and we dug deep.

If we can do that, we can do anything

Slowly things started to click, one week we’d make a tiny bit of progress, and the next we’d be back at square one. Another week we’d spot a something we hadn’t discovered before, tweak our tactics and try again, it became our weekly focus, each failure became less painful until we reached the point where we’d fail, dust ourselves off and immediately start again.

One and a half months in we could consistently defeat one before being bested by the other. After two months of trying we’d refined our tactics sufficiently through trial, error, and knowledge to the point where we knew we could complete it – and when we knew we could do it, that’s when we did.

I’m not sure I need to describe that massive feeling of relief and pride to you. It’s something we feel every day. As gamers it’s something we strive for, that feeling of finally overcoming something that seemed all too impossible. It’s that sort of moment that makes our pasttime worthwhile. It’s the frequency of that feeling is something you seldom get in any other hobby.

I play games because I like to be challenged, and the frequency and extent of those challenges are made poignant by the very best games having a clear and satisfying sense of progression. This sense of triumph over all odds more than makes up for the walls we inevitably hit.

Tigrex pauses a moment.Tigrex roars at the camera.

Finally jumping that that massive wall in difficulty is something that will stay with me for a very long time. I now have my yardstick moment – nothing in gaming will ever be as hard, yet triumphant for me as that two month struggle that process of a beloved game both testing me and affirming my friendship; a more perfect example of co-operation will be hard to find.

But I believe the three stages of our challenge may resonate with many of you, I’ve experienced them many times before (although not as drastically), so I’m hoping that thinking of your greatest and most difficult gaming resolution will be as big of a comfort to you as the 19th September 2010 was for me.

Another dedication

To my superb best friend and Monster Hunter teammate Timcanpy who never lost hope that we’d beat two Tigrex’s (at the same time!) and consistently kept us both going. The real victory is yours my dear.

Categories
Video games

Making the best of a bad situation

Gauntlet Dark Legacy isn’t the worst game I’ve ever played by a long shot. It’s actually a favourite of mine. But it’s a brilliant example of how bad elements of a game often take a backseat to the fun it provides. It’s aged a great deal since it’s release in 2000, and there are many elements of it’s gameplay that are broken and frustrating.

And yet somehow Gauntlet Dark Legacy is still easily fun, proving there are tons of things that can be learnt from any game’s worst moments.

The middle ground

We often forget that a game that isn’t entirely perfect to us individually can still be salvaged. This can happen if in the process of development someone has the presence of mind to develop a games “character” rather than it’s “pedigree” or if a game specifically allows the weaker aspects of it’s design to be skipped or avoided. While Gauntlet Dark Legacy is not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, it largely succeeds because of how flexible it is. Looking past the aging graphics and dated sound, other (terrible) games could learn a lot from it’s model. It has fun “tongue in cheek” feel that almost excuses it’s usability flaws.

Waiting at the first area gate.Buying a cherry and potion from the item inventory screen.

Learning to be constructive about gaming’s bad elements

Gauntlet is definitely one of those games you “get” or you don’t. It doesn’t always take itself completely seriously, and as such I find it remarkably easy to be constructive about it’s poorer moments. While I enjoy it a great deal, it doesn’t stand up to scuntiny as well as some of the other games I’ve written about. It feels like a retro game made new, but with this idea comes several of the frustrating aspects of the older games that inspired it.

The camera for example is one of the worst I have ever seen; not giving the multiple players on the screen appropriate warning about the enemies to come or off the screen. Everything but the immediate area is completely out of sight or hidden by a partially overhead angle. The voice acting and noises are hilarious and of dubious quality in places, they seem to crackle and struggle throughout the duration of the game, not helped by the aging visuals, which were slightly awkward at the time and have not aged as well as games from a similar era.

However Gauntet’s biggest barrier is it’s repetitive style of gameplay which means that once you’ve mastered the first level there is little variation in either enemy style, combat or simple look and feel.

So functionally at least Gauntlet Dark Legacy is a mess, any quite buggy in places. Somehow I still gain enjoyment and massive amounts of pleasure from it. It’s a textbook example of how gameplay problems can take a backseat with so much humour, personality and fun in abundance, and Gauntlet has all three.

A two player character management screen.Standing around next to poisoned food.

Finding the fun in an average or bad game

The thing that Gauntlet does best is it’s slick four player mode. The camera is restrictive, but it largely works. There are so few games of this generation that attempt to do this, particularly with the level of individual character micromanagement that Gauntlet allows; enabling everyone to manage their items independently and manage save states without intruding on the other players. Few things in this world are as pleasurable as a game that you can play with others in the same room, it’s a lost art and one that is thankfully making a small but obvious comeback.

It is also one of the best examples of pick up and play action that I can think of, very little information is needed to explain to anyone new to the series. Despite it’s massive flaws it is remarkably accessible to everyone as most gameplay is done with just three buttons and the more complex elements such as item collection, powerups and combos are all optional. Simplicity is something that most games often strive for and fall so far short of. I admire this game greatly for doing exactly what is required and no more. So many games try to take on big complex ideas or messages and limit themselves to a particular market by doing so. In it’s simplicity Gauntlet is a game for everyone.

Somewhere along the way we lost interest in finding our fun in average games. We’ve lost our way by striving for gaming perfection at every turn when there is plenty of fun to be had in the humble middle ground or worse. Gauntlet Dark Legacy is a great example of this, plenty to moan about, plenty to be happy about too. A happy medium – and a middle ground we should embrace more.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.

Other takes:

Game Couch: The Worst Game Ever

Silvercublogger: It’s all about integrity

Yuki-Pedia: Love, thy name is rage quit

Master Kitty’s World: What were they thinking???

Zath: What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?

SnipingMizzy: What is there to love?

The Game Fanatics: What is the worst game you’ve ever played?

gunthera1_gamer: The game I could have loved!

The Average Gamer: Gamer Banter: Worst Game EVAR!

Extra Guy: Battle Blaze – 700 pounds of ‘don’t do it’

Categories
Video games

The game box’s big moment

There are few things that excite me more than a stack of humble game boxes; because of the promise they bring. The look and feel of the box is largely unimportant.

For me the game box represents more than just the pretty casing of the game I desire, they summarize the range of feelings in those exciting first moments just before playing a new game.

The moment of anticipation

Personally game boxes have only ever served one important purpose; to quell the need to play a new game just long enough until I can do. The period of time between buying the game and finally getting it home to play is usually a minute amount of time, and yet it can be some of the most difficult and agonising moments of a game’s release.

It’s time that I spend that time digesting everything possible about the games controls, concept art, mechanics; basically anything readily available from the back of the box or inside it. Until the time finally comes that I can put the game in the console. It’s childish; but it’s still something I can’t help but do, as it’s one of the few gaming behaviours of mine that have changed little from my first tentative attempts with a video game.

Stupidly it’s one of those secret little pleasures that make that extra moment of anticipation before playing a new game so enjoyable, and as such it’s a little gaming ritual I still can’t help but observe – mainly due to a lack of time to play immediately as I’d like to. This is something that happens almost every other release day as the elation of getting a game I have waited months (or years) for is postponed by the fact that I need to work or observe other commitments.

Ironically, once this initial adoration of the box is over I don’t tend to look at the box again, save to rescue the game I want to play from it. So in some ways game covers and boxes are a metaphor for the time we spend as gamers, patiently waiting for our next big game. For me they’re simply about representing that moment of anticipation as the the contents of the box or art on top of it is muted by the arrival of another, bigger game or surpassed by the desire to know a more about the game than the marketing on the back of the box can handle.

When cover art works

The reason game boxes will never be too important to me is because cover art, descriptions or screenshots will never match the workings of my own imagination. The very best examples of cover art use this to their advantage, encouraging the player to try and pick apart what might be in store for them. Simple designs work best; such as the Rez art above.

I had heard only minor details about the content and design of Rez, and yet the minimalist nature of the European box seemed to challenge me to make sense of what the game might contain. It was an exciting risk but one that ultimately inspired one of my greatest gaming experiences.

I enjoy the process of looking forward to a new game; that whole moment is represented by having something physical in my hands that I cannot wait to open. I suspect this is why downloadable content doesn’t ignite the same feelings of excitement within me.

The hundreds of game boxes stacked in my collection are a proud shrine to the games that have evoked those past moments of anticipation. Every so often I’ll pick up one of those old boxes, marvel at the cover art and develop those same feelings all over again.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.

Other takes:

Silvercublogger: Don’t Cover The Art, Unless…

The Average Gamer: Cover Art

Aim for the Head: Browsing the Aisles

SnipingMizzy: In the eye of the beholder

Extra Guy: On Books and Covers

Zath: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?

carocat.co.uk: Cover art? No, thanks!

Man Fat: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?