General

Why Characters Have More Fingers In Japan

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Interesting.

PC Gaming Part 2 – Frames & time

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Heyho lovely Artsygamer crowd!

As promised in part 1 of my article series about PC gaming, I want to talk about some of the common tech terms, how gaming can be influenced by them and how the PC platform is great for people who care about it.

 

Framerate

When talking about framerate, most of the time it’s a discussion about 30 frames per second and 60 frames per second and which of those two is “enough”. The problem is that through false analogies and bad knowledge some people even thing the human eye is not even capable of perceiving more than 30 frames per second. But let’s take a step back first and see why “Frames per Second” actually tells you less than what you would expect, what people actually mean when talking about frames per second even without being aware of it and what the better metric is.

So, framerate basically is the rate with which your system displays its content on its output. In the case of a game console, this could be what is happening in a game getting displayed on your TV. The framerate is a time dependent metric and seconds are the only time metric that make sense to use so we are talking about frames per second. The reason why this metric is a pretty bad one is because it tells you nothing about the distribution of the frames. If a game has 59 frames rendered in 0.01 seconds each but the next frame takes 0.41s the game clearly runs with 60 frames per seconds but it will be unplayable due to one frame being displayed for over 1/3 of a second every second.

What people automatically asume when talking about frames per second is that those frames are all distributed equally over one second which is not always the case. People have gotten used to using frames per second because framerate as a metric is much older than games. I leave it up to you to read some stuff about movies and filmmaking and frames per second but the conclusion is: framerate is a metric that is actually only sufficient to express a game’s performance in the best case scenario. Since the load of a game on a machine varies and depends a lot on how the player behaves in the game, it’s actually rare for a game to deliver frames with constant timings by itself. Thus the better metric to use is the time that the frames happen to be displayed till the next one (which also expresses the time needed to render the next frame): the frametime.

 

Frametime

So when talking about frametime, we’re getting closer to two topics important for the conversation: the refresh rate of your display and your ability to perceive. We’re going to talk about the refresh rate first because it’s pretty easy: most displays update with 60Hz (this means Hertz and is used in Physics to express frequency). Basically, 1 Hertz is 1 unit per second. So 60 Hertz means 60 units per second. In the case of a 60 Hertz display it means the display will update the displayed image 60 times per second. There are also displays out there which can handle higher frequencies, the more common ones are 144Hz displays.

But can you actually perceive the difference between 30 and 60 frames per second (or, to stay within our newly discovered metric of frametime: 0.0333s per frame and 0.01666s per frame)? Well, yes and no. We need to be more precise here and also shouldn’t generalize too much because there will always be exceptions. If we’re talking about changes in brightness, most humans can’t perceive changes faster than 0.1s per change. This is used in modern lighting where you have very bright light emitted in a high frequency rather than less bright light being emitted constantly all the time. The human eye can’t tell the difference most of the time but it saves power. If we’re talking about movement however, the human eye is incredibly capable. The problem here is that the human brain is equally great in filling in missing information so it’s hard to tell where the limit is but 0.002s should be perceivable for most human beings (that’s 2 milliseconds!).

So if human beings are capable of perceiving 60 frames per second with  0.016666s display time per frame and displays are capable of displaying 60 frames per second (not just capable actually, they do it wheter you want it or not), why do games (at least on consoles) so often focus on hitting a frame time target of 0.03333s resulting in 30 frames per second? Well, the answer here is a mixture of hardware capability and game design focus. Games today often focus on larger areas or “open worlds” and the problem here is that while GPU power in consoles is enough to support those quite easily actually, it’s the CPU power holding those games back and limiting them to 30 frames per second. Of course all objects in the scene are rendered by the GPU, but some instance needs to tell the GPU which objects to render. This instance is the CPU and the whole process of telling the GPU to render something is named a “Draw Call”, because the CPU calls out to the GPU to draw something on the screen. Doubling the framerate then means to at least double the amount of draw calls because that’s required for the GPU to act. And we haven’t even talk about physic calculations, NPC behaviour etc. yet. Many of those calculations are often on the CPU as well. But how does a longer frametime affect your enjoyment of the game?

 

Latency

Latency is basically the amount of time it takes between a cause A and it’s corresponding effect B. When talking about latency in our context I want to emphasise on 2 things: first, the latency between your action as a player and the outcome of this action being presented on the screen. This depends on multiple factors. The first thing is the signal processing of your input device. This is usually quite fast (less than 2 Milliseconds). The next thing is the refresh rate of the code part of the game that processes the input. This of course varies from game to game, but it shouldn’t be complex enough to take up a noticeable amount of processing time. After processing the input, all the code that generates and renders the picture is running. The whole runtime of the code makes up our frametime. After that, the rendered image needs to be displayed by the display. And here another – mostly unknown – topic strikes: enhancement features of TVs. See, most TVs automatically take the images they receive and try to enhance them by applying certain filters and algorithms. This takes up time and although the system is already finished putting out the frame, you will not get to see it. Good TVs offer the option to enable a specific gaming mode in which the enhancements will be disabled. This changes the display lag from otherwise up to 300 Milliseconds (0.3s) to 20 Milliseconds (0.02s). PC monitors in general are between 1 and 8 Milliseconds (0.001s and 0.008s). So in a gaming setup with TV, the latency not caused by code (which we can call constant latency) is roughly 22 Milliseconds (0.022s). If our game now runs at 30 frames per second with a constant frame time of 0.033s, this means we end up at a total latency of 0.055s. If the game runs at 60 frames per second with a constant frame time of 0.016s, we end up at 0.038s. This means lower frametimes will make the game react more timely to your actions.

The second thing is your ability to react to stuff happening in the game which also depends on the latency. If we take our figures, a game running with frame times of 0.016s will enable you to react 30% faster to changes in the game. This increases further if your display can handle lower frametimes, with a 144Hz display that can be served with a 0.0069s frametime resulting in a total lag of 29 Milliseconds (48% faster than our 30 frames per second case). Of course this raises the question if you need this fast reaction times which in turn depends on the game and its mechanics. A fast paced competitive shooter would be a scenario which profits from very low frametimes while a tactical turn based RPG doesn’t need low frametimes to ensure perfect playability.

 

Torn frames

So far we focused on the 0.033s and 0.016s frametime examples, but why is that? I mentioned earlier that frametimes are usually variable and wouldn’t it make sense to just let the game run as fast as it can, ending up with more than 30 frames per second in most cases? Well, let’s enter the realm of image quality.

I mentioned that TVs typically update with 60Hz which means it will pull an image from the system every 0.016s. If our game runs with 0.033s frame timing this means the display will pull the same image twice from the system before the next one. But if our game now runs faster, say with a frame time of 0.02s it means the image pulled from the display will not be fully updated. Instead, a fraction of the old image will be displayed with the other fraction being the new image. The frame is torn. The result is a flickering line that will often appear to travel across the screen. This means image quality will only be intact if the frame times stay at a multiple of the display refresh rate (including multiples of 0.5, 0.25, etc). That’s why frame times of 0.33s are used. The technique to make sure the game doesn’t run faster is called V Sync (which stands for vertical synchronisation; vertical because updating the display happens vertically). V Sync essentially will make the game wait to deliver the image so that the frame will not be pulled incompletely from the display.

 

The PC

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the PC has an advantage because of the potential increase in power and the resulting performance delivering shorter frame times. This is just one of the factors in favor of the PC though. The main advantage is the flexibility. The players can tweak every game to their liking, deciding what is more important to them for each game. On a console, this decision is take away from you because developers created an experience targeted specifically towards the hardware at hand. On the PC, you could even decide approve torn frames for better frame timing if your PC can’t quite handle the game at the visual settings you want.

 

End of part 2

So that’s it. I’ll admit the article was more about explaining some technical details than going into PC gaming really. Sorry ;) But if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I hope you’ve learned a thing or two that enables you to understand better why your games behave the way they do. Maybe you even jumped up from your seat to see if your TV has a gaming mode. That’s great! If you have any more questions or want a certain topic to be covered, I am in the process of thinking about part 3 of the series and what it would be about so your input would help me a lot.

 

Until next time and game on!

A recipe for a mediocre RPG ?

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Some interesting commentary. Not all of it I agree with and some is of the typical “ask for higher budget” type, but others are I thought quite insightful.

Uruks, collect and grow them all

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Yep, i’ve been doing a LOT of this, (many hours already at the point of this recording, so sorry for the lack of enough Uruk presentation), and not because i have to… just because it’s fun. First and foremost i’m incredibly INCREEEDIBLY impressed with the tech+artistry in making them. I just can’t believe how unique a lot of them are. Like seriously… I’ve seen a lot of concept art and actual in-game characters that are less memorable than these randomized orcs. So much expression, interesting props and just plain style on some of them… it feels like a lot of them would be fit to be a main character or main antagonist in their own games. And then on top of that you can put them in the arena. Not only is it interesting and surprising to watch betting on the winner or rooting for one, but I’ve created a meta-game for myself picking some favorites which I like based on their visual identity and try to pick “rig” fights based on their strengths and weaknesses to get them to the higher tiers. Not only is it interesting but also it provides for great custom drama as either I succeed or one that I didn’t like, surprisingly underleveled comes in out of nowhere and beats one of my champions. Fascinating!

 

You add to that the fact that some of them may come with a personalized back story and some have their own dialogue lines that they said to you upon first encountering them in the world or a particular memorable moment where they fought you/multiple times/had to work for them/or even saved you surprisingly and you end up with a surprisingly memorable cast, which I then actually felt motivated to sometimes use on them the very rare training or beasts/warrior support to make a particular favorite or another into a fighter with a higher chance of surviving. Oh, and also: the visual interest of their props and expressions is amazingly complemented by the great variety in their specific attributes and traits leading to interesting surprises in their gameplay to complement their looks.

 

I remember for example a character i didn’t think of based on weapon and powers and weaknesses, but then had this very aggressive style of attacking combined with some quick stunning explosions that got him to win a lot of battles though i had considered him weak and replaced one of my champions even though i had given him a much better cursed weapons with flies (or was it fire/poison?). Or the fact that over time i had concluded that the big bulky beasts are way advantaged and archers suck even when of the same level compared to non beasts, and then this particular archer had a funny combination of skills and weaknesses of shooting fast, stunning and acrobatically rolling which made him into a surprising exception.

PS: maaan, some look soooooooo interesting!

PC Gaming Part 1 – Pro & con

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Hey lovely Artsygamer crowd!

Today I am starting an article series that I have been thinking about for a while now. Actually, the idea for this was born last year when I decided not to get an XBox One X but instead invest my money in a high end graphics card. Things changed a bit in March when the ongoing problems with Nier: Automata for the PC changed my mind in the other direction again but right now I am enjoying my PC again.

DISCLAIMER: I will not tell you “Play on a PC!” or “Play on a console!”. This series should be about how PC gaming is today, what the benefits are and how you can make an informed decision about whether or not this could be something you want to invest time and money in. And although the title of this first part is “Pro & con”, I will not run a list of pros and cons. Many differences between consoles and PCs can have pros and cons to both platforms, often depending on your point of view.

The next parts will be about more in depth details and background knowledge and maybe I will also try to give you some general advice what you need to keep in mind when compiling your own conceptual PC.

 

Individualism

Consoles follow a “one size fits all” approach (or at least “two sizes fit all” nowadays) where PCs are all over the place in terms of quality, performance and price. If you build your own PC, the machine you will come up with is a very deeply customized piece of hardware. What does this mean? Games for consoles are built to run on one or two hardware configurations and QA can do deeper tests ensuring the games will run as intended. On PCs, the range of possible hardware configurations is to large so QA will most likely only test the more common setups. If you’re with a more exotic configuration the games you buy might not behave as planned or you could encounter problems QA didn’t come across when testing. This is also true for different driver versions. AMD and NVidia both update their drivers regularly to bosst performance in the latest titles. However, sometimes this can unexpectedly lead to problems with other titles. That was what made Nier: Automata unplayable for me: I am running an RX 480 and some time before the game was released, AMD completely overhauled their drivers. The new drivers were more stable, performed much better in most games… and were not part of Nier: Automata’s QA testing. This resulted in a render crash whenever a certain amount of alpha blending would occur in the game so it was basically impossible to finish even the tutorial. The problem has been fixed after 3 months but it was very frustrating because the only way to get the game playable again was to downgrade the drivers, sacrificing performance in every other game. Still, such problems are the exceptions these days and all those custom options lead to systems that can be tailored towards individual needs and budgets.

 

Performance

I think it’s common knowledge that a high end PC will trash any console available on the market. But high end PCs are expensive and the real question is if you can also get into and enjoy PC gaming without spending $1000 and more. After all, throwing money at a “problem” is not a good solution most of the time (that being said I am a fan of buying quality parts and quality hardware even if it does cost you a bit more). I recently came across the YouTube channel of JERMgaming who started an interesting experiment over two years ago: building a sub $400 PC and see how well it will compare against consoles in the years to follow. The “Potato Masher” (as he calls the PC) series has since become very popular on YouTube and in its third year it’s still going strong:

The series also shows that from a technical standpoint, console versions of games (at least standard XBox One and PS4) are on the lower end of audiovisual fidelity even if they continue to impress us with games like Assassins Creed: Origins. The series also shows one benefit of the “individualism” I was talking about before: a balanced system. If we take a closer look at the past generation and the current generation it becomes obvious that the machines were constructed with some very precise goals in mind and thus weren’t balanced out very well: the XBox 360 and PS3 wanted to enable clever AI and more complex physics while targeting HD displays. This led to comparatively weak GPUs while the CPUs really pushed for parallelism and number crunching. Some may remember that the PC version of GTA 4 ran poorly on Dual Core systems because the engine was optimized for many cores. XBox One and PS4 had more visual fidelity in mind which led to systems with pretty ok GPU power but a lack in CPU power. This is also the reason why the Potato Masher is able to provide 60 FPS in many games where the consoles can only hold 30 FPS: it’s due to the lack in CPU power in an imbalanced system. On a side note, both the XBox 360 and XBox One are a bit better balanced than their SONY counterparts (in theory; the XBox One’s memory architecture is crippled though, something they improved with the XBox One X).

 

Cost

Now when it comes to cost, consoles are very beginner friendly. You go to the store or order them online and you’re set. And while you could do the same with a PC, the moment we enter the realm of custom built machines and OS setup PCs can get a lot more complicated than consoles very fast and this includes the cost because there are no set in stone prices for hardware parts and there are so many that the process of cost management vs. availablility vs. system configuration can get very tiresome. Add the cost for an Operating System and peripherals into the mix and it becomes clear why consoles are so popular.

However, there are long term benefits to the PC that shouldn’t go unmentioned. First of all we’re going to talk about the online fees on consoles. PS Plus and XBox Live Gold are between $50-60 per year. If we’re looking at a 5 year console lifecycle, then that’s the cost of a mid range PC graphics card. The second factor is the price of the games themselves: PC gaming means going digital. There is no way around Steam, Good old Games, Origin and Battle.Net. This prevents selling or gifting used games as well as lending your games to friends. However, games are a lot cheaper to begin with. Using sites like isthereanydeal.com you can quickly find the lowest price for a game you want and where to buy it (isthereanydeal only searches across official resellers which is why I mention it here; there are other sites which offer the games at lower prices but I would stay away from them) and there are other large official resellers like greenmangaming which regularly offer games at good prices way ahead of their release.

Prices are also going down faster for PC versions of games and the seasonal Steam sales are infamous for their discounts. To be fair though, digital sales on consoles have gotten better over the past years and often offer good discounts on older games.

 

Adaptability

Charles Darwin formulated survival of the fittest and what is often misinterpreted as survival of the strongest actually mean survival of the most adaptable. And while consoles are more adaptable than ever before with games sometimes even offering “performance modes” and “quality modes” to give users some choice to adapt the experience it’s in the PC’s very DNA to not only encourage users but even force them to adapt settings and software to their liking. To give you an example: I am running a Radeon RX 480 from MSI which has a cooler that is very decent until it reaches a certain amount of RPMs. I didn’t want to limit the RPMs (for obvious reasons, I don’t want my PC to get too hot and die) but I am also someone who can’t stand fan noise. It’s already driving me crazy with the PS4 Pro and I am glad that the XBox One X seems to be as quiet as the regular XBox One. So what I did on the the PC was to adapt the clock rates at which my GPU performs and now my graphics card runs at 95% of its base performance level but only needs 85% of the power it originally needed resulting in a cheaper, cooler and quieter gaming machine that still runs my games at roughly the same performance level.

 

Freedom

So this one is a larger topic for this part of  the series and I will start it with two topics that you will probably not expect at this point. The first one of these is regional restriction. Back in the old days, consoles were region locked and because of the lack of internet and customs freedom (which is going away again in terms of the UK market :-() it was very hard buying and playing games from a different region on your console. Of course the topic of procurement wasn’t any different for the PC but once you had the game, running it was no problem. My family used to spent holidays in Ireland, Denmark or England and that was always what I saved a chunk of money up for in order to get games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. But with the advent of internet, Steam and the latest consoles, this situation has changed completely. Now you can order uncut versions of games for PS4, XBox One and Nintendo Switch easily from the internet and they will run just fine on your console. On the PC, Steam will look at your region based on IP and won’t even allow to unlock certain games. Want to play the uncut versions of Wolfenstein II or Call of Duty WWII? What a pity, you will have to use a VPN to unlock them (even if you got the Steam key so you can’t even buy a retail copy of the games!) and then either use a VPN every time you play those games or use Steam in offline mode to prevent it from looking up you region. That’s not true for all games that are not available in your region though but still: it’s annoying.

The second topic is the operating system. Although some games on Steam are available on Linux and even more are also available on OSX, PC gaming pretty much equals Microsoft Windows (and Windows 10 as the current main OS product of the company). I don’t want to go into detail how Windows 10 has been the best OS experience I ever had with any OS or that you can (and should) take a good look at all the connected features of the OS and disable them if you don’t want them. I understand that many users don’t like Microsoft. I don’t share their views, but I understand (having grown up in the 90s). There is pretty much no way around Windows 10 though unless you want to do without DirectX 12 and the game mode enhancements of Windows 10. There are a lot more features in Windows 10 for gaming if you have a Microsoft/XBox account like complete XBox Live integration with the ability to voice chat and interact with your friends (at no cost on the PC), cloud saving, XBox Live Play Anywhere (which means games in that program that you buy digitally you will get the XBox One and Windows 10 version for the price of one game), etc.

On all other fronts though, there is no plattform that offers more freedom than the PC. Use the input devices of your choice (if the game supports it), regardless if mouse and keyboard, XBox 360 gamepad, XBox One gamepad, DualShock 4 or some other gamepad from a manufacturer like Logitech. Configure the hardware and software as you want, connect to your friends how you want and even chose from different providers for many games. In contrary to consoles PCs are not meant to be just for consumption of media, they are machines of creations – a bicycle for the mind like Steve Jobs once said.

 

Games

How could I end this article without going into the topic of games themselves. Now the first thing to consider is that the PC will not get exclusive games from SONY and Nintendo. Likewise, there are games which you will not find on PS4 or Switch. With Microsoft, things are a bit different. For over a year now, Microsoft is pushing the idea of an XBox plattform that includes Windows 10 PCs and this idea involves games coming out on XBox One and PC like Gears of War 4 or Forza 7, often with multiplayer features that are plattform independent so XBox One and PC players can play together which works really well from what I can tell (experience is mostly based on Gears of War 4’s horde mode). Where the PC shines though is games preservation or the ability to go back to old games. This might not be easy or even possible for all games (especially when they were using some fancy graphics API that doesn’t exist anymore or some copy protection) but for most games it is very much possible to just put the disc in your drive and get them running (that is if your machine has a disc drive). There is even a game provider service called Good old Games (by the same company that created the Witcher games) that became big by patching old games and selling them as a highly compatible package for modern systems (they are still doing that but Good old Games is now also offering current game releases). In that regard PC will always have the largest library of games of any plattform because there are no generational shift. I don’t want to forget to mention Microsoft’s backwards compatibility features on the XBox One though. They are always working on improving it and extending the list of compatible XBox and XBox 360 games which is really nice.

 

The End

So that’s it for this part of the series. I hope you gained some insights and know now better if PC gaming is something for you or not. Of course I’d like to see people jumping on board of PC gaming more because it kind of enforces you to get a bit more tech savvy which I think is always a good thing but if not, that’s also fine. In the end enjoying games should be our priority and you can do that with all plattforms. In the next part I want to dive a bit more deeper into the tech side of gaming, explaining why the PC has an edge here over consoles on many levels.

 

Enjoy your games, love & respect!

Activision’s Microtransaction Patent

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It’s quite interesting to see the player outrage over this one piling up on the recent outrage on the whole turning stuff into “games as service” such as EA shutting down Viscereal Games, the makers of Dead Space, after there too also slowly transforming the IP from a cool experience into a micro-transaction shop. Here’s an even more upset commentator on the subject

What i find ironically funny and a little tragic about it is that we see here both motivated improvements of experiences for the players as well as the less desirable shifting of incentives and even a touch of the kinds of behaviors usually reserved to states in finding new and inventive ways of milking their tax people. And like with them I’d predict they’ll get through with it despite the outrage, but like with them I expect they’ll discover a lot of the unintended side effects of central planning, ways it will backfire and like there there’s gonna be a lot of “patching of loopholes” which might fix some things but might break even more things, or more likely not break but rather tie everything down in a net of hard to follow twisted cause and effects.

In the meanwhile i’ll try to further hide behind my singleplayer hat. Will there still be space in this brave new world for singleplayer stories without catches? The Visceral Games experience with the killing of a singleplayer star wars story game suggests less. But maybe new studios will spring up to fill this desire of the audience as the old ones shift towards the bigger money… because as long as people will be willing to pay for these micro-transactions, well… they’ll be around. What that patent does (as far as I understand it) would indeed increase the pleasure of the experience of the purchasers. Which again makes me think that this whole thing is simply a way to raise the prices, because to those willing to pay more (pre-orders, micro-transactions, late buyers of bundles) the overall experience might actually get improved in the manipulative way in which games have always done, by design aiming to create artificial worlds to give a feeling of achievement by buying the products. And I don’t mean this part as a bad thing… that’s why we buy/enjoy them. Then maybe the question is just one of price… and here, with some knowledge about economics and world history, I have to wonder how much of this increase in price is the normal and expected desire of the game makers to make more, and how much is their attempt to get the same even as the different governments burden them with new taxes and regulations and possibly in the meanwhile dilute the value of “the same amount of money”. In this second case this could mean they’re simply trying to preserve a similar purchasing power as they used to have, but they’re indirectly forced by those in power to do it in such sneaky ways. This would fit very well with inflationary universal experiences across countries and history of the general bad-will of everybody condemning everybody else and hating/being suspicious of the others as the binding trust of societies is slowly eroded with the erosion of the value of their currencies/freedoms.  In this case it would be no different with micro-transactions than the classic “bag of chips got shrunk with price staying the same, or bag of chips stayed the same time, but customers realize that a) it’s got more air to product b) it’s using lower quality ingredients”, like the shift from steak to hamburger meat inflation measurers have been switching to.  Should this be the case i’d expect more and more of such stories, more and more popular outrage even as this shift keeps going on due to bigger forces.

How Video Games are Turning into Movies

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Funny video with (to me) a more serious discussion behind it.

While I disagree on the use of the term “graphics” I fundamentally agree with the implicit point, which is also the reason behind Artsygamer.com’s starting out. I don’t think it’s about graphics though, but I do think it’s about “content”. Sure, gameplay can be viewed as content too, but I’m talking more about the more traditional forms of content like story/music/mood/architecture/environments/set design…

It is interesting and exciting though to see modern games presenting things in such an easy way that everybody can get it at a glance, but even if one went back to old games, say you went back to text mode games, so there’s no “graphics” at all, I think even back then one could make this separation: I’ve played text adventure games written by the great funny scifi writer Douglas Adams himself… and I’d call that content that can move people in a deep way, and content that somebody coming from a traditional “reading books” world can get, as opposed to games of that same era that were about reflexes, bouncing dots, moving/fitting shapes and reacting which I don’t see as being able to play in the same field. Not saying they’re not fun, or can’t also trigger attachment, I just see a fundamental difference between these two and by far value one over the other even on a theoretical level.

“Finishing games” – getting obsolete?

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   His comments about finishing games made me wonder yet again if that concept isn’t somehow getting obsolete. Of course I love doing that and am tempted, and it’s great that for those who do there’s a LOT to do in modern games, however I’m wondering more and more over the past years if that isn’t a kind of thinking that is a relic of olden times, when good games were a scarcity, not an overflowing abundance. In these modern times isn’t it more logical to for example consider an open world more “finished’ when you explore all it’s open map, than when you completed all the quests, stories, things to gather/secrets to find. For many modern games that last last part of the game could take 90% of the time while you could get >80% of the satisfaction by ignoring the exponentially rising difficulty padding that modern games do at the end? Main stories are blessedly not always so (though MGS5 disappointed there) but still… this is a line of thinking i’m having more and more often as I think a better use of my time to go onto new game worlds than to squeeze every last drop of the often wasteful tricks of modern devs. That with a few exceptions of gems worth digging into deeper.

How do you see this brave new world when there’s so many games, so little time?

PS+ October 2017

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I sometimes grumble about the PS+ lineup, but then every couple of months they drop a high budget AAA bomb like this one and I’m humbled into silence yet again. It’s definitely is a spectacular high budget work and brings to life a very memorable world, with a stealth+ai reaction simulation I found one of a kind and revolutionary. Played it on disk at launch but having sold it it was so good that on a sale I bought it again digitally just to be able to walk those desert landscapes again, so great that now it’s free for ps+ members. Amnesia Dark Descent was also my favorite in the series and a good Lovecraftian story game even if lower budget. A great month for PS+ !!!

Doom 2016 – did you know… ?

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Interesting trivia.

7 games in 7 years

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This article is not so much for gamers, as for people who enjoy artwork in all it’s forms. The kind of people who pick up a good book and look forward to the magic how with every page they sink deeper into the wonderful world it describes. To people who like to see amazing paintings that fire up the imagination, and marvel at the beauty of sculptures or wonder in awe at amazing architectural monuments that come to us through time and across the centuries, telling stories of ages past. To people who enjoy listening to immersive music, weather classical or modern, quiet ambiental or engaging, music that moves and creates a great atmosphere. And to people that enjoy movies, with great characters and fantastic adventures, and interesting story twists.

To all these people I write, as I am sad to know that some of them still avoid games even today. Maybe it’s because they have never seen how all those things are present in (some) games of our times, made by possibly the best artists & creators of our generation. Or maybe because they say they don’t know of such games, and all they’ve seen are time wasters where people test only their reflexes or are only worth experiencing when having fun with friends. Or maybe they feel like they don’t have time for the many games, even just to pick the good ones out of the sea of mediocrity and wouldn’t know where to begin this huge field. My attempt to help is to create a list of one game to play per year. Since we are in 2017 I’ll try to thus name 7 years, from 2010 to 2016, with the current year still incomplete. If in each of these years you had experienced just this one game, I believe you would’ve already tasted something fantastic from this great new world we live in and I for one would already consider you cultured in this field where so many are sadly still illiterate. Also I am hoping that going back in time over many years, besides the fun of the journey, there will be games that anybody can play, even people with older computers, access to older consoles only, or simply people who only have a less then powerhouse laptop around to play with. I will also try to name for each year a second-best, in case the main proposed game isn’t found, doesn’t work for you or you simply would like something different… or maybe you feel you could play more than one game per year ?!?

Obviously the list is subjective and is just my best attempt and there are many other great ones, but one’s gotta start somewhere. Each of the titles I picked I think realizes something extraordinary, spectacular for that year and enduring for many years later, a unique experience that you shouldn’t miss if you are lucky enough to live in this wonderful 21st century, where magical worlds exist just for you to explore, worlds more fantastic and more real, more beautiful and more complex than the best best novels of centuries past, painted down to every detail, just inviting you to experience them.

 

This game is a great bringing to life of an old wild west type movie, managing to have a lot of interesting characters, some wonderful story twists, and to tell a moving story from the age when the American wild west was slowly beginning to be swallowed by modernity, but the old world still continued, thus having also that kind of book’s conflict between worlds and ages story.

Backup: Fallout New Vegas. It tells a retro-futuristic post apocalyptic story, the story of a messenger who unwittingly gets involved into a series of events much bigger than himself, and through his eyes you get to discover a whole world, destroyed yet abundant in opportunities, full of choices, including some quite difficult morality questions.

 

Though part of a bigger series, worry not, it’s it’s own encapsulated story and world. And yes, it’s enough to last you a whole year should this be the only game you manage to pack with yourself before you get yourself stranded on an island. The story here manages to be modular enough to allow you to go in any direction and explore anything you want in this original high fantasy world. There’s everything from major story arcs to minor series of stories, to tiny narrations told through journals of text found in lost caves you might wonder into in your curiosity imbued exploration

Backup: if you feel like travelling to the beautiful 16th century Constantinople, at the edge between the western and the Arab world, I’d invite you to try out Assassin’s Creed: Revelations while if you feel like exploring a much darker purgatory-like world and are willing to experience even atmospheric frustration Dark Souls was a gem that appeared in this year, a world in which your own struggles while playing mirror the struggles of the character in this world, all bathing in implied deep philosophical themes.

 

Creating a memorable original universe, happening in a mixture between an artistic vision of a distorted victorian industrial revolution mixing with supernatural elements, this game is remarkable in many ways. The stylized visuals with impossibly high proportions makes one feel like he’s moving through a painting at times, while the fiction creates a wholly original mythos.

Backup: Farcry 3. Essentially a brutal “growing-up” story, the game tells the experience of a group of rich spoiled young people who in their partying travels to a beautiful exotic island find themselves hostages and forced to be either victims or to fight back forgetting their civilized education. The beautiful island, complete with amazing locations and plant and wild life is just as much a character as the friends and their charismatic antagonist.

 

Yes, you’ve probably heard of these games, and if all you know of them is that lame friend who’s just enjoying driving cars and blowing up things I can understand your scepticism to see this game on a list of artistic games. But the reason despite the prejudice that I’d still put this game here as the one special game to play if through some horrible time travel accident you found yourself in 2013 (or hardware of that time) is that on top of all that simulation is built a truly memorable story, with 3 characters which each stand out in his own way. From the old movie loving, problem husband and father, middle age crisis Michael to the more than disturbing chaotic personality of Trevor each of the 3 characters has his own view of the world, and together they go through an adventure worthy of the best action movies, while still managing to have many insightful social and political commentary at modern life.

Backup: Bioshock Infinite. No longer the underwater dystopia of the original Bioshock, this new game manages to tell the story of another man made paradise went mad.

 

You know I was almost about to write down 2014 as a year where nothing truly remarkable came out. I couldn’t find it by year because this game didn’t get the best reviews due to it’s buggy launch, but now if you go back to it, and even then if, like myself, you cared more for the spirit of this almost too ambitious an attempt, I think you may find this is a truly worthy title for the year. Where else do you get to travel back in time and get to see 1789 Paris during the French revolution, complete with buildings that don’t even stand today. The story is good, but it almost pales in contrast to THE CITY, the time, the people on the streets, their clothes, the great monuments, the shouts on the street (IMHO best experienced in French should you know it). And it’s a world that keeps on giving, even past the main game and the great locations, even down to the intriguing little detective stories with subtle hints that you can solve as a total side project. But above all, the city, oh, what a city, what a time… every once in a while I jump back into this world just to wander the streets and to marvel at the beautiful churches and the dynamics of the crowd.

Backup: A split between Shadow of Mordor where you get to experience a personal nemesis simulation in the setting of the Tolkien created Lord of the Rings universe and Alien Isolation, a bringing to life of the kind of story/world that the 1979 invented in the eponymous Ridley Scott movie.

 

A world deeply rooted in the novels of the polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, worth experiencing and exploring due to the the many rich stories and multi-faceted characters. The main story arc, the many secondary and incidental stories, and even the many tens of pages in writing found in little notes and books and writings found across the world, are all worthy of literary greatness. All through one can sense the refreshment of the medieval fantasy through what to me felt like a sense of east-european scepticism and moral choices which are not of the super simplistic black and white variety, but rather often present difficult tradeoffs. Countless stories prove to be deep, for example I particularly remember that of the baron, which manages to touch on difficult themes from familial violence to alcoholism mixed with familial love, and even impossible subjects like abortion, all while keeping it’s medieval atmosphere. And should you find the game too “autumn rainy” it later (2016) even blooms in some wonderful expansions of which “Blood And Wine” particularly impressed by managing to maintain serious stories even while going to brightly coloured lands. But even without that this should be enough for the year.

Backup: Bloodborne. Here we have what may be to date the best materialization of the spirit and mythos inspired by the many wonderful books by H.P. Lovecraft, weather you take movies or games, as even cinefiles have jealously complained. The narrative is told more through experience and mystery than words, but yet one can feel the well developed mysterious lore backdrop that feels consistent even if it took a large online community to dig up the less obvious secrets.

 

For this year we have a split between these two sequels. Neither revolutionizing, or innovating enough to deserve the title alone but both polishing the ingenuity of the predecessors. Dishonored 2 continues in developing it’s universe mixing dystopian industry and magic, whie Dark Souls 3 reunites the existential themes of civilizational and philosophical cycles of it’s predecessors, in some ways polishing, while in others simply returning to roots. Should you in 2016 have had only time for one game, I’d suggest tossing a coin over which, or better choosing based on weather or not you got to experienced/enjoyed their predecessors.

Backup: Hitman. Again just a a return to old form of this Hitman’s story, but a pretty decently done one with good variety of locations and social situations.

2017 … ?

As for the year in course, 2017, we’ve already had big titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, the story of a tribal young girl in a post-apocalyptic nature overrun world set on a path to discover what happened to earth before her birth, or Prey, a story that takes you onto a satellite research station in space in typical classic sci-fi fashion, only to discover what went wrong, imbued with themes of questioning self identity and the nature of one’s change of self through learning, in this case machine/alien enhanced sudden flash learning. But the year is young, and traditionally the best games come to us towards the end of the year often just in the holiday season, so I have greater expectations for the year to come.

Conclusion

So, this would be the list of games I would personally suggest if you had but the opportunity to play just one game per year for the past seven years. Surely others might pick others, maybe for different story themes, better gameplay, or more social involvement, and luckily we have a lot of choice, but these are my picks for creating fantastic worlds, for excelling in multiple forms of artwork, from storytelling to visuals, be it painterly or sculptural/architectural, all on the backdrop of memorable soundtracks and giving one of a kind experiences. Given this special one game per year limitation I have also chosen meatier games, games that you can sink your teeth into and chew on for a while, with worlds that you can can go into again and again, for weeks, nay months, in the knowledge that each time you go in you will be rewarded by fresh new stories to read or live, places to see and unique emotional experiences to experience.

Did you already play these games in the past years? Then I salute you with respect and look forward to many interesting conversations. If not, may I invite you into these wonderful worlds? Even if you don’t normally play games, and even should you just play one of these games per year… I believe if you give them a chance, you have 7 great years of incredible amazing experiences to look forward to! What a privilege to be living in the wonderful year of 2017!

Humble Dark Souls 2

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Wow, what a fantastic deal for this legendary game.

E3 2017 wrap-up

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At some point, as I realized that this E3 is less exciting than what I remembered from some of the past years, I decided to keep track of the highlights in each conference (very subjective, mind you, so I skipped games that I personally found irrelevant). Thing is, some of the conferences were packed with games, yet they lacked a good presentation, while others were the opposite. And I wanted to have a more clear view of the entire picture.

A quick overview:

  • Microsoft, Ubisoft and Sony are in the end the top scoring conferences.
  • Microsoft was for me the hardest to rate and even the reason why I made this list: it had so many games presented without hype, that by the end of the presentation I forgot 90% of them. But when looking back, they really did have quite few cool games like Metro and Shadow of Mordor, etc. At least when compared to the other conferences…..
  • Compared to Microsoft, Ubisoft presented fewer games, but man, was their conference just so much more fun! I decided to give them points for that because I think a good conference should get us enthusiastic even about games that we’re not that much into. Otherwise, I’d just follow those 5 games that I truly love and watch their youtube trailers.
  • Sony’s presentation style I found again somewhat mediocre. A bunch of games which we’ve known about before, like Detroit and God of War. I mention these two because seeing more game footage was a bit of a disappointment in both cases.
    • Detroit gave me the impression of more of a psychological game in the first trailer, while now it seemed like you’re playing with militants for a specific cause, meaning that you’ll be revolting in the street and doing big actions for a cause that you might or might not relate to (and yes, I know some of you will say that it’s a game where you take decisions – but I somehow doubt it won’t be like most games: lady character: “Here, want to burn out and destroy this plaza, violence is the only thing they understand?” me: “No, I believe in peaceful reasoning”, lady character “Ok, then I’ll smash everything either way, this needs to be done”, me: “….”).
    • As for God of War, there’s a reason why I like it: it has, like almost no other game, these incredible huge scale environments, totally unrealistic as such, but a wonderful representation of ancient Greek mythology. There is never anything plain in that game, it’s all over the top (and yet well made). And the character is ruthless. This trailer did have some cool monsters, but it lacked the scale and felt like they went for more realistic and for humanizing Kratos. Which is a shame imho…
  • EA and Bethesda: both decent, but not extraordinary. Ea actually had one game that I am interested in: A Way Out. I’m surprised to see a well made split screen game with a captivating story! As for Bethesda, Wolfenstein and Evil Within were the highlights. It’s more of the same, but I liked the two games so I’m happy to see the continuation. By why was the Bethesda conference so ..silly? Whyyyyy? I have very little patience with my precious time and if I was there I even imagined I would have walked out, just so that they feel my reaction. To be honest I’m tired of having all this silliness around grown-up platforms and games. It’s a bad idea to start with to call these “games”, but rubbing it in makes it just annoying.
  • And then there’s Nintendo. To be honest, the only reason why I was interested is because I now have a Switch and I was hoping to see some bigger games coming in the future. Well, I don’t think I got much of that, but I can’t tell for sure since I was hypnotized by whatever crazy colors for ADD kids they were showing on screen :D

 

Yakuza 6 Trailer

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I was hoping to see this advertised at Nintendo’s conference for the Switch…

Ubisoft E3 2017 Press Conference

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+ I was impressed with the showmanship from beginning to end, pretty much all the presenters looked like interesting often impressive serious people. And the kick off the conference with a french guy and a japanese guy talking funny english, that in itself was brilliant, not to mention… wow Myamoto!!!

+, – Mario + Rabbids, quite funny stuff, made me think maybe Ubisoft will be for me that company which makes the games for Switch that I don’t trust Nintendo to do good enough, cool minions type of humor. On the downside the game itself might be a high budget Ios/Android game with branding… what it did get me thinking is how cool an Xcom game would be for the switch instead, as the gameplay seemed straight out of there

+, +, – AC origins, can’t wait to play it, nice trailer, but unlike MS conference no gameplay to speak of and more importantly I was again struck at how low-detail (animations/textures) the pedestrians in the crowds seem.

+ The Crew 2 trailer, man, so much kewl, it reminded me again why i think only Ubisoft and Blizzard have the knowhow to make such CG trailers, so professional, pacing, video, music, they make some really good trailers. Add to that the showcasing of planes and boats and and a pretty world witch I now trust them to make… lots of respect. i’m not a car guy, but to me this was sooo above all other car games at the show, to be precise the order of how much i was impressed with : The Crew >  Need for Speed > Forza in terms of what was shown at E3

+, – Skull & Bones again, maaan, they sure know how to make a cg animation. Almost movie quality. Unfortunately seems not only distant but also the kind of game i don’t care for, multiplayer-ish. Seems to me like they’ve taken the naval warfare from AC games and are applying multiplayer styles from For Honor. Great artwork but I’m not tempted to keep grinding online in clans

– Just Dance, not interested, but not as lame as last year’s push or when that was with the annoying black lady

– Starlink don’t really know what to make of it and it’s distant, but looks good

– Steep, sports stuff… whatver

-, +, + Farcry 5 I find nasty the politically correct propaganda attack on religious people and on independent minded groups but I’m sure i’ll have tons of fun in that game and looks fantastic. I don’t expect nearly as much as the awesome africa of 2 or places of 3, but still, it’ll probably be good.

+ Beyond Good and Evil 2 i gotta say i wasn’t that huge a fan of the original, unlike everybody in the world it seems, played it on the ps2, but never loved it, so I’m surprised just how much i liked this trailer. The production values, the subtleties, the character… this is truly cinema material, better maybe than the last high budget animation movies I’ve seen. They managed to drop the old characters I wasn’t super looking forward to but instead invent these new and fun ones, and all wrapped in so much “cool factor”. I’m surprised myself because I know they should qualify as “silly to me, yet i found it cool/entertaining.

Overall I’d give this conference a +3 on a -5 to 5 scale, not because I found so many great games I’m excited about, but simply because I thought they had great showmanship, pacing and all that kind of stuff. It was simply entertaining from beginning to end for me.

 

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