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[livejournal.com profile] cavalorn rants about game design. He's aiming at MMORPGs in particular, but I want to focus on one bit, which applies to many, many games:

Here is your second cardinal sin. Not explicating your game stats in the bloody game itself. [...] if I get an item that boosts a stat by X amount, kindly explain to me in very basic terms what that entails in practice. What the hell is 'Heroic Defence'? What's the benefit of 'Intelligence'? How does 'Magical Attack' work? Don't make me go and look it up on a third-party website. Let me find out by mousing over, or at the very least, by clicking on a Help button.

This goes way beyond MMOs (of which I have little experience, but since we're piling on...)

I really quite enjoyed SW:KOTOR, despite it being totally not my preferred game genre.

But. Not being a tabletop RPG-er, I didn't have the faintest clue about how the D20 system works[1]. The closest I ever got was playing AD&D about 20 years ago, with a GM who did a good job of shielding the nuts-and-bolts of the mechanics from the players[2]. As a result, I basically had to go around and re-do the first third of the game, when it became clear that most of my early level-up decisions were complete garbage, and I discovered I now had a character who was completely, radically, unsuitable for my playstyle, and I was getting twatted in the most trivial combat encounters, even after turning the difficulty way down. Second time around, I still wasn't great at figuring out how these numbers fitted together, but I stood a chance, at least.

Elsewhere, I basically abandoned a promising (if very, very, nerdy-looking) hex-based computer wargame unplayed when it became clear that my only chance of playing it in a meaningful way was to inhale a copy of "Jane's Armoured Fighting Vehicles Of WW2"[3] first. Then, at least, I'd know which tanks to use against infantry, which against non-armoured vehicles, and which against other tanks, which might let me live long enough to figure out what all the different infantry units do. As it was, I tried to repeat the whole "Germany invades Poland with a bajillion tanks in 1939" thang and got my ass handed to me on a plate by three guys armed with pointy sticks, some of them on horses, because those tanks just bounce off entrenched infantry, and these are useless against any vehicle with more combat capability than a bicycle.

This is why I always preferred SF-based wargames (even in the tabletop arena) over historical - the SF ones *know* that they've got to explain to the players which units are good for what, but most historical ones assume that the player already knows the difference between Panzer II/III/IVs.

[1] Still Don't.

[2] Within reason, I regard this as a Good Thing with an RP group who were far more interested in the "group storytelling dungeon mosh" angle than Rules Lawyering or Meticulous Table-Studying.

[3] If it were planes, it would have been a slightly different story - I have enough of a clue there to survive long enough to figure the rest out - but tanks/half-tracks/etc? No chance.

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Visuals

Superficially pretty, with the high detail models, subtle distance haze, lighting effects, and so on. But to my eye, once you get beyond extreme close-up at high resolution, all those details seem to smoosh together into a sort of grey blurry mess. This looked horrible at the 800x600 resolution the game defaulted to; it's better, but still an issue, at 1280x1024. There's lots of fine detail, but when that disappears (i.e. more than ten yards away) there's no intermediate-level detail to replace it.

Gameplay

Deathmatch, Team deathmatch, yawn. Been there, done that, having waaay too much fun with TF2 to care any more. My tastes in online shooty-goodness aside, it seems generally well done. Movement is slick, map design seems good (the two in the demo are a bit less claustrophobic than many UT2k4 maps, which is a plus for me) nice range of weapons, with a mix of old favourites from past Unreal games.

I'd be far more interested in the "warfare" mode (which is sorta "onslaught-with-knobs-on", I believe; Onslaught was my main reason for playing UT2k4) but I can't seem to find it in the demo.

Vehicles

I never played Vehicle CTF in UT2k4, but I fired it up to have a play with the vehicles, in the absence of Onslaught/Warfare. They all seem kinda slow compared to the old ones, which is unfortunate - some of the best fun to be had in UT2k4 was blasting around the landscape in a fast car, squishing enemies and performing ludicrous stunts.

The scorpion's new gun is more conventional, possibly more effective in many circumstances, but also more BORING than the old energy-ribbon-thing.

I'm not sure that turning the Hellbender into a two-seater and giving the driver control of the skymine is a good idea (the old way encouraged teamwork, as a 1-man HB was vulnerable, but a fully-manned one was downright dangerous to lighter vehicles and infantry). The new visuals of the skymine projectiles, while very pretty, make it damn difficult to see what you're shooting at, particularly when you combo (which is pretty much compulsory if you want to kill anything).

The raptor doesn't feel as fast and maneuverable as before, and I miss the roar of the old secondary-fire missile as it arcs away on a smoke trail - the new one is downright dull by comparison.

General Design Stuff

I've got lots of little niggles here.

In UT3's team deathmatch mode, player avatars are tinted their team colour. I think this has been done because it's the only way to get any sort of sane IFF, given the incredibly detailed/varied models flying around (and the "grey blurry thing" effect). Problem is, in amongst all the highly-detailed, realistically-lit models, it looks kinda silly. Part of what bugs me here is that UT2K4 did a pretty good job of this. As soon as you went team-based (rather than free-for-all) all the models gained huge slabs of primary team colour, and little coloured icons over their heads.

The game menus seem strangely unresponsive. There's an appreciable pause between mouse click and something happening. The menu items themselves are teeny-weeny things, in the middle of acres of space (OK, there's a fisheye zoom on the menu, so that items get bigger as you mouse-over, but that just makes them moving targets). This is a minor niggle, I know, but it's just amateur to have the first screens the user interacts with be such a pain to use. Again, UT2k4 did it better, if less prettily.

As for the very first welcome screen being "username and password, please" (which still often pesters me even after I've ticked the "remember password" and "login automatically" boxes, and frequently fails to login altogether)... Grrr.

OK, this is a pre-release demo, and some things may well be fixed before the final release, but I doubt it's all going to magically get better.

Conclusions:

  • The engine is an amazing technical acheivement, in terms of the amount of detail it can throw around, at high resolution, with decent framerates.
  • From an artistic standpoint, the models and textures are fabulous - up close. Unfortunately, at anything beyond in-yer-face-claustrophobic-deathmatch range (and the DM maps are more open than before) it's all very same-y.
  • The game they've built on all this? Not so much. I'm not finding any positive changes to the gameplay compared to previous versions; I'm not impressed by the new vehicles, and from a servicing-the-gameplay standpoint, the visuals are actually a step backwards. It feels like the "fun" element has been lost in the quest for stunning high-res screenshots and a high-powered engine.
  • I've been spoiled by TF2, in multiple senses. Not only have Valve provided such a high level of game design that other games seem boring by comparison, but the commentaries and interviews allow me to analyse and articulate the reasons WHY the other games feel dull. Scary.

TF2 has reminded me just how much FUN games can be, and the UT3 demo just doesn't hit the spot. Which is a shame, as I was really looking forward to it. I'm still interested in "Warfare" mode, but I'm not really going to buy the whole game knowing that all the game modes I have played are not of interest, just to check out one I haven't.

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So, it's time for Gav's Fortress Forever (FF) versus Team Fortress 2 (TF2) showdown post.

First, a bit of background. Before Counter-Strike became the most popular PC team-based online shooter on the planet, that crown was held by Team Fortress Classic, a Half-Life mod which was itself a remake of an old Quake Mod named Team Fortress. TF/TFC is class-based, each class having strengths and weaknesses (the Heavy Weapons Guy is slow but well armoured with a big gun; the Scout is fast, but lacks armour and firepower). The pace of TFC is slower than deathmatch games, and therefore less "twitch"-reflex based, with a bit more emphasis on being cunning.

Back in the day, I played TFC a lot, and only gave up when the online community withered to the point where it was almost impossible to find a fun game. So I'm definitely in the market for a follow-up (well, I was, because I've now bought/downloaded both of the main contenders).

cut for the sanity of those not interested in online multiplayer shooter games )

To summarise the two games: FF is effectively TFC with the annoyances fixed. TF2 is a much more radical overhaul of the whole Team Fortress concept.

If you're an old TFC hand, appalled at what Valve have done with TF2 (no grenades!? teleporters?! minimal CTF!?) then go check out FF. Ditto if you're an old-school FPS player who finds TF2 too slow-paced.

If you're generally intimidated by online multiplayer shooters because the twitch-reflex gamers hand you your ass on a plate 2 seconds after you spawn, try TF2. It's a slower pace, and most classes reward tactical cunning more than twitch reflexes

If you're new to this whole Team Fortress lark, then I recommend you try both. While there are many similarities, they're rather different games, and different people will prefer different flavours.

My preference is for TF2. This is mostly due to the "fun" factor, but I think it's also down to the TF2 developers evolving the game in pretty much the direction I wanted it to go.

I really feel for the FF developers. They've worked hard for the last couple of years producing a really high quality multiplayer mod, which makes numerous improvements to the TFC game style yet keeps the overall feel, only to release it right in front of the oncoming TF2 juggernaut. I hope they don't get squished, it's a damn good mod.

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So, having waffled about Fortress Forever last week, now it's the turn of Team Fortress 2. Again, first impressions are very good.

  • It looks and sounds fantastic. Think crazy-60s-spy-movie-with-mad-scientists-kitsch, via The Incredibles[1].
  • Gameplay has been streamlined considerably; no grenades (apart from the demoman's grenade launcher) and most classes are down to one each of main, backup and melee weapons.
  • In the process, that means conc-jumping and bunny hopping are out (I regard this as a good thing)
  • The pace is, if anything, a little SLOWER than TFC.
  • much less Capture-The-Flag. Out of the 6 maps in the release, only one is CTF - a remake of the venerable 2fort. In its place is Warpath-style control-point action (including a radical reworking of Well[2]) and Dustbowl-style attack/defend (including an update of Dustbowl).
  • The most-changed class is almost certainly the medic, who is now actually likely to run around healing team-mates, rather than acting as a lone-wolf, leet-skillz-powered, conc-jumping offensive class.

In short, it's a big change from TFC. Fortunately, it has the gameplay to back up the looks - it's just buckets of fun, with a serious side order of "just one more round".

[1]It's also funny. Voice acting and scripting is superb. It's the little touches that make it - when a HWG really lets rip with his assault cannon, he'll start laughing maniacally (with matching visuals); everything the Pyro says is muffled to "mmmph!" by his gasmask, and so on.

[2]Seriously, it's almost completely unrecognisable. After playing it a couple of times, I finally started to notice the similarities, and I knew the old one inside-out and backwards.

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As some of you may remember, I was a big fan of Team Fortress Classic, back in the day, but gave up playing a few years ago. Well, us Team Fortress fans are being spoiled rotten this week. The official Team Fortress 2 goes into public beta in a few days, but just beating that out of the gate last Thursday was the first release of Fortress Forever (if you don't want to wrestle with the horrors of game site download arrangements like FilePlanet, there are official torrent links here[1])

I've not had time to form a detailed opinion yet (I only found out about the release yesterday afternoon, due to heavy-weapons-lurgy leaving me completely incapable for most of Thursday) but here are some first impressions:

  • As mods go, it's pretty slickly put together; masses of generally high-quality new models, textures and sounds, even a proper windows installer, to avoid all that yucky messing about with zip files
  • They've made a solid effort to put hints and tips in place, to help newbies figure out the complexities of TF
  • Based on a quick runaround, where they've remade TFC maps, most of the changes from the original seem to fix annoyances (for example, the centre bridge area of Crossover2, always a horrendous choke point, has been completely redesigned to avoid it being a total grenade-filled traffic jam like it used to be). In some cases, they've made apparently-subtle geometry changes that I suspect will actually have a radical effect on the gameplay dynamics of the map; I won't know for certain until I've played more of them.
  • They fixed the Pyro flamethrower to the point where it's actually useful again. hehe.
  • They appear to have crippled the Heavy, with an overly-onerous "overheating gun-barrels" thing[2], but there's stuff in the forums from the developers saying that's going to get changed pretty drastically in the near future.
  • The pace is generally a little faster than TFC
  • They've added a primary scoring system, always visible in the HUD, which includes lots of points for non-frag-related activities - so medics get points for healing team-mates, engies get points for fixing SGs that aren't theirs, and such things. Not sure of all the details yet, but it seems good.
  • initial gameplay impressions are really good - my first game was on "hunted", an old favourite of mine that became pretty unplayable in the latter days of TFC due to lack of players; it played really well.

I'm still a little worried that it may have suffered from some degree of Grognard Capture (Excessive nerfing of the HWG; I think the speed increase will favour the leet-of-reflex more than the sharp-of-mind; TFC's reversing of that balance, compared to most FPS games, was a large part of the appeal, for me at least) but only time and gameplay will tell on that front, and first impressions are good.

Overall, it looks pretty good. Much kudos to the FF team on a very solid first release.

[1] It boggles me that more games, both amateur and pro, don't make torrents available; this goes double for demos of pro games; the demo of a highly anticipated game will have masses of people wanting to download it in a short space of time, and probably be pretty big (1GB+ is not that unusual). So why do they persist in restricting distribution to blecherous download "services" like FilePlanet, rather than using torrents, which are designed to handle this precise situation?

[2] Rough timing: 2 seconds of continuous fire (a large chunk of which is restricted by the wind-up time) followed by 1 second of forced cool-down; combined with the slightly increased rate-of-fire of the soldier's RPG, this seriously re-jigs things against the HWG. I agreed with the veteran's consensus towards the end of the TFC era that the HWG needed to be weakened a little, but this is way too much. Have to wait and see what the developers' promised revamp does...

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[livejournal.com profile] cavalorn sez:
If you're even slightly interested in computer games and you haven't yet seen the video of Will Wright's SPORE, then go see it.

You may wish to tie your jaw in place, because it's going to drop.
To repeat one of the comments: whoa.

It starts as SimAmoeba. Before long, you're up to SimEcosystem. By the twelve-minute mark, you're up to SimTribe. At this point, I was already blown away. There's another 25 minutes after that...

(Also: best use of cheezy porn music evah!)

This video is from the 2005 E3 - making it nine/ten months old. This is the next game from Will [SimCity, The Sims] Wright. Why on earth haven't I heard of it before?

For those who can't face a 35-minute video, the official game site has a much shorter flash intro animation which appears to summarise the basics of the first half of the video.

[edited to add: BoingBoing provides a link to an unabridged, 1 hour version of the talk]

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