Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How to make video games better - Co-op FTW !!!


That's the only word I can use to describe the latest slew of games to come out of the big developers. I always get bored with them after a while, no matter what fancy gimmicks they put in.

For me, it should always be about a great multi-player experience, specifically co-op / team based games. The latest game I played that almost came close was Red Dead Redemption. After completing all the standard co-op missions, we just lost interest. And there's no way in hell casual gamers can complete the advanced co-op missions. What's wrong with putting in an option for setting the difficulty - a couple of simple sliders would have done it - one for setting the damage the enemies inflict on the players, and maybe one for the overall number of enemies. Ok the second one would require a little more coding, but come on... for the amount of replayability. even if you had 3 or 4 levels of co-op instead of easy and schwarzenegger hard....

Also, the team-based games are the same old boring team deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill crap... we've seen it all before. Create a game type that allows for actual changes in tactics. It's a big open world, why not let the players set the 2 flag capture points even? Yes it would be more tough programming to make sure they don't drop it on a dodgy part of a hill or on a roof or whatever, but far from impossible. I think with games like these, replayability is very important, yes you'll sell another game soon and the buzz from the first one will wear off, but not everybody can afford new games, and even the people who can are getting bored with moving from COD4 to COD5 to COD6 to Red Dead etc etc.

There's nothing new about the 'newer' versions of the games, new graphics, new guns, new maps. What about the new gameplay?? Where's that? Stop tacking on gametypes and do it right!!!

But to get back to the gametype thing, I remember when GTA IV came out, all the gametypes that came with it, I nearly wet myself - "They've finally done it", I thought to myself. But alas, there was quite a lot of overlap in the gametypes and the one gametype that could have been the replayability holy grail - "Hangman's Noose" - just lacked one little thing - the ability to set the start and end points. Even if they gave us 5 or 6 pairs of start and endpoints - like in the "Cops and Crooks" gametype, it could have been replayed a tonne of times. 2 or 3 difficulty settings would be nice 2. Now I know what most gamers and game companies are thinking - "Co-op missions are more immersive if you create a custom mission for it" - this is total horse-poop if you ask me. Give players freedom, and control, and they'll love you for it. Sure, there should always be a "quick game" with defaults, but people love being able to control what happens in their game. Take the low gravity option in Halo for example, completely useless in my opinion, but a nice idea because of the extra freedom given to the player to control their experience. By the way, allowing us to pick and choose the paths in "Cops and Crooks" instead of them being random would be nice too.

Now I'd like to point out that I'm not singling out Rockstar, it's just that sometimes companies are so close to making the 'perfect' game, I think I want to help them out a bit. GTA IV isn't for everyone, but it did suit a lot of people (until it got boring that is).

Also I know that I'm different from a lot of gamers, many of them just play the game non stop in hardcore team deathmatch and just obliterate everything that moves. That's fine... it's just not for me...

There's a distinct lack of fun there. Maybe those people don't like co-op and don't want it. That's fair enough... and maybe there are sales figures to prove that they're the core market.. in which case the gamers looking for fun are screwed because we'll never get that game that makes us want to play it for years and years.

And by the way, I'm not just a console gamer, I'm actually happier with a keyboard and mouse. But it seems that a lof of XBOX games nowadays are trying to get co-op play into the foreground, whereas PC games are severely lacking in it and probably the last good co-op experience I had in a PC game was in "Joint Operations" - a terribly glitchy game, but it didn't matter because more than 4 of us could play it at a LAN. I haven't mentioned Left 4 Dead or other co-op games like that because this new 4 player limit thing that everyone seems to be adopting is absolutely ridiculous. Just randomly spawn more enemies or make them tougher if there's a fifth or sixth player, you lazy programmer you!!!

Anyway here's what I'm getting at - I know a lot of gamers (the ones in their 20s/30s anyway) are like me. In a shooter, they want to be the A-team (just an example) - Teamwork and Camaraderie can be crucial to having fun playing videogames. Friends want to be able to shout orders and warnings at each other, while always fighting the enemy. I remember driving motorbikes into a chinook helicopter in Joint Operations, only to drive them out before we even hit the ground when we got to our destination. That just felt cool. It doesn't matter how old the game is, or how terrible the graphics are - I'm still playing PC games with solid gameplay such as - Age of Mythology, Call of Duty 2, Unreal Tournament (yes the first one), and many more like them - these games are timeless because of their great gameplay mechanics. Easily the best games I've played in the last few years have been Oblivion and Fallout 3 - they really push the freedom and immersion aspects of gaming. I'm going to do another post soon on my 5 to 10 rules of gaming (not sure how many yet) but freedom and immersion are key I think. These two games allow you to wander freely, discover things your own way, play the game your own way, no painful scripted events as such. They also immerse you in the world by having a great library of in-game information and a detailed history, as well as the AI being so well programmed they randomly talk to each other and have 24-7 schedules!!! And yes these are single-player games but oh how I wish we could program co-op versions of these games - I know there are hundreds of issues to get past from programming, balance and logistical points of view, but it's not impossible. I remember when programmers and artists pushed the boundaries in gaming. Mayhem in Monsterland on the Commodore 64 was a great example, pushing extra colours with the way they used alternating lines I think and even having extra performance by doing some mad trickery with the VIC-II chip. Now it's all Direct3d APIs and Marketing Execs pushing release dates etc. Bethesda are one of the true pioneers of gaming at the moment I think.

I haven't even mentioned the big one yet - Blizzard - hardcore gamers the world over are in love with this company, and I can see why. They've done their best to balance a fantasy MMO (World of Warcraft) and actually, truth be told, haven't done a bad job. You know when people have to go to addiction counselling for something it must be doing something right. My only issue with the game is it didn't always suit my gamer "type". I tended to play solo throughout the game because the people I knew in the game where too good for my level and I don't play well with random strangers. Needless to say I got to level 18 and gave up. However Blizzard also created one of the best single-player / co-op RPGs of all time as well (Diablo) - and where this game gets its freedom from is randomly generated levels and items. I was amazed by this concept when I first heard it, having already played through Diablo II co-op with a friend. I was told that it's all more or less random, just following a general idea and end point for each level - I I really was very impressed at this. I heard portions of Hellgate London were going to be randomised (in a 3d-Game, surely not!!) but it turned out that the demo was pure crap so I never really found out. I know a lot of people disagree with me here, but I just never bothered finding out if it was any better when finished. To cut a long story short, Blizzard are not to be counted out just yet.

This post has been all over the place I know, I don't usually ever write long essay type things, but I forgot to mention a couple of things:
1. Anybody remember System Shock 2? now that was co-op, when it worked. I loved the fact that, however useless, I could keep putting plants and other silly things into my friends inventory when we were running around. Giving the player the freedom to do stupid things (if they want) is so priceless.
2. Aliens Vs Predator (the first one on PC) - levels were crap, but running around as a group scared off your faces was just amazing.
3. When is Sven Co-Op 2 coming out for half life 2? I've been waiting AAAAAAAAGGGES..... aw no I've just checked and the mod has been dead for years now. CRAP

If anybody agrees or disagrees with me on anything here, please leave a comment. I want to get a feel for what people really expect in a game (Console or PC). And I know I'm not the only one who would love a good co-op gametype or two in games from now on.

Anyhow Thanks for reading my uber-long rant. Please comment


Phonchoman said...

class stuff. ill post properly later. but very nice work. i enjoyed the rant element

Gary said...

As a short, fat bloke once said "I'ts good to talk".