Friday, June 22, 2012

What About Tornados and Sharks?

         It seems as if games are always coming up with new ways to wow us. Whether it's new action set pieces in Modern Warfare, an avalanche in SSX or an alien invasion in Mass Effect 3....the limits of what is possible visually are virtually nonexistent at this point. Nothing is too big. Nothing is too ambitious.

         It is because of this creative freedom that I want to take a look at some things I feel have been underutilized in games, or not even utilized at all. A couple of these things are natural disasters that have unfortunately been part of the real world in recent years. But with things like WW II being fair game for game devs, I don't think that political correctness is what's causing these omissions.

  TORNADOES- As long as I can remember, nothing in nature has fascinated me more than tornadoes. Why hasn't there been a modern representation of them in a game? The only game that I can think of that had one in it during real time gameplay was Tornado Outbreak; a fun little game on the Wii a few years back. But by no means a serious or accurate representation.

            I want to see a monstrous and terrifying tornado in a videogame. One that affects what is going on around me. In Red Dead Redemption's inevitable sequel, who wouldn't want to lead a group to shelter as you watch a twister bear down on you? Or to be wondering the landscape in Skyrim only to look up and see the clouds start to rotate? You could take shelter and watch as the storm lifts giants and mammoths up into the sky. Or be careless and get swept up into it yourself. It seems too obvious for this not to have been used yet in this way.

TSUNAMIS- While there have been a few games like God of War III that have made good use of this in a non playable cutscene...
...there has never been a real time tsunami in a videogame. I've always imagined this being my dream ending for a Grand Theft Auto game. Your final mission being simply getting to high enough ground to watch the big wave come in and destroy everything. Or even as a killstreak perk in Modern Warfare, Halo etc.

SHARKS/SEA MONSTERS- You're out in a body of water in your favorite open world game. Just looking for items and kicking back. Suddenly you get bumped by something, but there are no enemies visible above the water. You casually look down under the surface to see a HUGE great white shark darting at you with mouth open. TERRIFYING!!! Am I wrong?!? Again...this is too obvious to not be a regular thing in videogames.

             The only representations I can think of are both bad(Jaws Unleashed on the PS2) and good (Tomb Raider 2 on the PS1). But both games used the shark in an action context, and did not even begin to make use of the terror of being caught in the open water with something huge and mysterious under you and ready to strike. There have always been rumors of a secret sea monster in GTA, yet no truth to it unfortunately.

        Mentioning Skyrim once more,  there are vast areas of open water in that game. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for DLC with will put a 500 foot long horrible beast in my face when I am looking for a treasure chest in deep water. To see that thing slowly come into focus and towards me underwater is too awesomely scary to not be a reality in this day and age.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Has Music Come Along as Far as Graphics?

       Obviously what pops out to many (including the most hardcore player whether they admit it or not) is the visual aspect of a game. The graphics. It's what defines a generation of hardware....and makes people feel satisfied for buying that expensive new machine.

       But what about what we listen to while playing? Putting pure sound effects aside as possibly a future article, the music in interactive entertainment has grown exponentially right along with it's flashy and more popular graphics brother.

       Nintendo was not the innovator of game music, but I don't think anyone can argue that they weren't the first to have memorable game music. No one will ever forget the first time they heard the simplistic but magical themes to Super Mario Bros or The Legend of Zelda. Many people who don't even play videogames know them.

       After the move to disc format in the early-mid the cap was taken off what was possible before on cartridges. So of course most/all games since then have taken advantage of things such as spoken lyrics and full instrumental.

       Speaking of full instrumental...I was fortunate enough to attend Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds in Pittsburgh in February. A traveling symphonic orchestra that plays memorable pieces from every Final Fantasy game. Including ones that were made in the early Nintendo days. Here are two of my favs from the night...the first one being adapted beautifully from SNES midi format. And the second being well, just watch.

      In these videos not an empty seat in the house and at my concert. A venue of about 5000 where I attended. Final Fantasy and other Square Enix games such as Chrono Trigger are the only ones to even garner this kind of representation culturally.

       But back on subjest, have developers REALLY done all that they can do as far as truly modernizing game music? Of course the music in games such as Mass Effect 3, Skyrim and others is impressive in the instrumental sense. When will game soundtracks be on par with movies when it comes to real world artist representaion?

      When will we see Metallica maybe write and perform an entire score for a game? Or Bruce Springsteen to do an original song for a game? Right now, those people might scoff at the idea..because the status quo is still to think that games are "beneath" the kind of music they do. But how long until that isn't the status quo anymore?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Playing Fair

      Anyone who has played friends in person or online in a competitive game has had the argument. One person will accuse the other of cheating/glitching/numerous other slang words that the kids use. Sometimes it is warranted, sometimes it is not...and sometimes it falls into the gigantic grey area of personal preference.

      Take Madden NFL for example. A perennial best easy seller considering it is A) based on the most popular sport by far in this country and B) EA Sports long ago bought its way into being the sole company allowed to make an NFL game. Another story entirely which I will like to talk about in the near future.

       So many people play this competitively. And it along with other sports simulations create the most heated arguments as to what is fair or not fair. "Sim(ulation)" or "Freestyle." This is because there is a direct point of reference to look and point out flaws in the video game simulation..that of course being the real life sport being simulated.

        This is as opposed to an unrealistic fighting game like Mortal Kombat..which has no real life activity it is trying to mirror.

        In Madden there may be an over effective animation that allows the WR to catch passes in traffic over and over again. But in real life the infinite variables that Madden's animation system can't duplicate will make that pass much harder to complete.

       Is triggering the overeffective catch animation in the game "cheating?" Or is it simply accepting the videogame as a videogame and playing it as such. There's that grey area again.

       Is going for it on 4th down "cheating" in a football videogame? The defense still has a chance to stop you. There is not a digital offensive coordinator who's job will be on the line if the offense fails in key situations. Even in real life now some teams go for it once a game on average. Not often but sometimes even in seemingly illogical situations. It's just all a matter of seeing something in the defense that you have confidence in exploiting.

        But at the same time...what if that same catch animation breaks the VIDEOGAME? What if that catch animation is used to convert the 4th down?  Every year things like this arise in sports videogames...and every year they create these same old arguments.

        The logical solution to unite and make everyone happy is a perfect real life simulation where nothing is deemed "over effective" or "unrealistic". But until that is possible.....I guess the Red Sea will stay parted.




Monday, January 23, 2012

What Will Warrant a New Console Generation?

       As we approach the 7th anniversary of the X-Box 360 release and the 5th for the PS3 and Wii, one has to wonder when we will hear another round of legit 100% non rumor news on the next consoles. The only thing we have seen so far is the intro of the Wii-U last year. But all that will be basically is an update to put it on par hardware wise with the 360 and PS3. Besides the I Pad like controllers ( the system is not a significant step up in processing power by any stretch.

       Motion controls have already been added to both consoles that didn't have it from that takes away another innovation that Sony or Microsoft could use to push a new machine. Besides that though...motion controls were not a good thing to use for that, and both companies were right to add it on to their current systems.

        Console cycles typically have lasted about 5 years before it's replacement was officially announced or even put out to sell. But these current systems seem positioned to break that trend. Sony has preached consistently about a "10 year lifecycle" for the PS3. Many took that as corporate spin at the time, but it may turn out to actually be true.

         While both consoles have been eclipsed by top of the line PC graphics....the gap is still not NEARLY enough to make a new console seem attractive to a consumer based on saying "it has better graphics. Put a game life Battlefield 3 side by side(PC and console version)...and of course the PC version looks better. But not a leap like from a PS2 to PC games put out in 2004. The gap was far larger then.

       It used to be that the the gap was large(between PC and console) every generation. But the current one is different. These current systems were designed to be more cutting edge that any before it. Maybe they're not cutting edge anymore, but they're still close enough to make people forget that.

        So what will be the innovation be that makes a new $500-700 machine make sense financially to be put out? Will it be a service like Onlive?    A cloud gaming service that basically sends a game to your TV or PC from an outside server as you play it. Making (in theory) hardware specs on a PC useless...since YOUR PC is not the PC running the game. The technology is not perfect yet though. Games are laggy on OnLive...and players have also experience downgrades in graphics and video compression.

        The tech may not be quite where it needs to be yet...this idea will one day make what we've knows as home gaming machines totally obsolete.  Another form of entertainment which moves away from physical media and into the digital world. Just as music and movies have.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

When Videogames Become Interactive Entertainment

     As a kid in the heyday of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, I remember being amazed by the simple feat of my controller inputs being reflected on a TV screen in such a precise way. That the second I hit that button Mario would jump over the pit. Link would slay another skeleton guard. Bo Jackson would zig zag his way to another Tecmo Bowl get the point.

    Videogames were truly GAMES back in these days. While fun...they didn't challenge other forms of entertainment like cinema and television in terms of pure scale and wow factor from a visual standpoint. Even the next generation of consoles(the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis) did not begin to change this either. Despite obviously taking a step forward with production and visual flair these videogames were still GAMES.

    That all began to change in the mid-late 90s when the original Playstation and Nintendo 64 took center stage. Suddenly everything was rendered in 3D(in the game not in the eyes of the player like the new 3D trend nowadays). Instead of two dimensional flat "sprites" as they were called...characters were now made of geometrical polygons with realistic(for the time) "texture maps" over them to create lifelike characters and environments thought to be a fantasy as little as 5 years before that.

     Ironically "Fantasy" was a flag bearer for innovation during this time. Final Fantasy VII that is. This is the game that really raised the bar for cinematic gameplay on home consoles. When it was released in September 1997 no game in history had caused such a buzz in mainstream adult media. It was truly groudbreaking. What were inhumanly short 2D sprites on older systems suddenly became fully fleshed out 3D characters with dynamic emotions and reactions on screen. While it may seem dated now...this scene when I first saw it contributed to be staying up until 8 AM on a school "night"....faking sick...and playing it the entire next day while faking sick.

     My point of speaking on this in my first post is to explain why I do not consider videogames to be GAMES anymore. Yes...more simplistic true GAMES are still released. They always will be and always should be. But the more in depth contemporary "games" are NOT games. They are interactive entertainment.

 I debated for a few minutes in my head when writing the description for this blog whether to say "videogames" or not...because I fully realize that that word is much more recognizable to the casual fan. But I want to help change that. Because the video below goes way beyond what anyone had in mind when they coined the term "videogames". If I were still in school I would have skipped after seeing this too.