Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Byte: Clueless BBC Videogames Coverage

Now, I understand that it's not exactly what we all pay the licence fee for, but something has to be said about the way BBC Online covers videogames. Principally, it's RUBBISH.

Take this singularly inept piece of opinion presented as journalism. You've got to wonder whether he played the games in question at all, or whether he's just frequented a few videogames forums and made a compendium of the most cretinous comments to form the basis of the article.

No innovation in Half-Life 2? Is this man on crack candles?

Prior to HL2, physics in games was just there as a gimmick (see Trespasser, or the playful rag-doll physics of Unreal Tournament 2004), and even Deus Ex: Invisible War didn't do much with it, other than allow you to knock things off desks and stack crates. HL2, on the other hand, fully integrates the physics engine into the game mechanics, with the gravity gun allowing you to use objects within the game environment as shields or weapons, with a degree of subtlety strides ahead of anything seen before. The facial animation and lip-synching is also nothing less than astounding - allowing the characters to express themselves realitically and allow the player to form genuine emotional attachments. Sure, HL2 is still a linear, scripted game, but it wouldn't be half as much fun if it wasn't - just how much innovation does this guy want? Far Cry demonstrated the limitations of a freeform shooter - it just doesn't generate the thrill power of a linear FPS, regardless of how adaptive the AI is or how pretty the graphics engine is, and pretty much fell apart as soon as it moved indoors.

He seems to imply that the only way to innovate is to use new control methods - this is patently bullshit. Freelancer isn't a better space sim than Freespace 2, just because you don't have to use a joystick. Freelancer, in fact, can't hold a candle to Freespace 2 at all - innovation isn't about whether you use a touch-screen or a mouse instead of a joystick - it's about game design, pure and simple. Even pure arcade games can innovate. 1942 is an Old School vertical scrolling shoot-'em-up, and so is Psyvaria 2 - yet Psyvaria 2 adds something unique to the genre - you don't have to shoot. Instead, by using "buzz" (flying sufficiently close to incoming bullets to syphon away energy to recharge your shields), you can defeat your enemies simply by avoiding their fire for long enough. It's also a very aesthetic shooter (much like Rez) in that a large proportion of your enjoyment is derived from the sights and the sounds of play than your victories. Innovation is not just finding new ways to interact with games, but finding different ways to derive enjoyment from that interaction. This is typically (but not universally) achieved through making games as simple to play as possible - and this goal has been achieved by practically all the games I list below.

Even concentrating on the PC alone, 2004 has been an absolute vintage year for videogames - Far Cry, UT2004, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Rome: Total War, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War, Evil Genius, The Sims 2, Vampire - The Masquerade: Bloodlines, Half-Life 2 - the list goes on and on - exceptional titles all. Innovation is not the be-all and end-all of videogaming - the refinement, purification and perfection of ideas is similarly important, if not more so - there is no better demonstration of this than Half-Life 2.

But I shouldn't get so worked up by what some idiot says on the internet... after all, opinions are like assholes. Everyone's got one - except some aren't quite so full of shit than others - and this chap's definitely anal retentive...
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