What System Shock 3 Needs to be About

OtherSide Entertainment has revealed that one of my all-time favorite villain, SHODAN will be returning with System Shock 3. This is not a big surprise, although this made me wonder if SHODAN is really that essential to System Shock, or are there much more important elements in the series that we need to see?

Don’t get me wrong: SHODAN is the trademark of the series (especially if Terri Brosius is involved). If the story justifies her presence, if the developers can make her new and terrifying again, if she’s not just a recycled icon repeating her catchphrases… she might be the star again.

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But System Shock is fundamentally a game about the clash of philosophical ideas, and SHODAN is merely an impersonation of one side. System Shock was always about humanity. How the human race fares in extreme situations. It was about the importance of the individual versus the needs of the many. It was about flesh versus technology. About the corruption of certitudes. About the culture shock in reaction to a higher system (artificial intelligence, space exploration, augmentation of humans, etc.).

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What Heavy Rain Can Teach You About Bad Narrative Design

David Cage’s Heavy Rain presents itself as an “Interactive Drama”, and mostly succeeds in being just that. It tells a compelling murder mystery thriller, the choices the player makes impact the outcome of events, and the story is told through the viewpoints of well written characters with voice actors who make them come alive. But the game’s dramatic structure and environmental design is not on par with its story, and I’m going to try to analyse these weaknesses.

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First of all, I won’t spoil any of the endings, but I will speak in detail about the Prologue and the dramatic turn of events in Chapter 1. Also, I’m not here to criticize the game and condemn it just for the sake of it. Heavy Rain is excellent in many ways, but because of this, its shortcomings are more surprising. They need to be analysed for us to understand why they happened and what a narrative designer can learn from these mistakes.

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What Bloodborne Can Teach You About Good Writing

Bloodborne, the spiritual successor of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, at its surface, might not seem a very complicated game. In fact, you might miss most of its stories and narrative design if you’re not a very good observer and a competent reader of clues. 

I could talk much about how the Souls series manages to get its hidden narratives right, but recently I have played Bloodborne, and there was an explicit line of dialogue that has stuck with me.

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The Importance of Miasmata

This was going to be another “Games We’d Like to Play” article, but it would’ve been a stretch to write it, since I can sum it up for you real quickly: “I want to play a game just like Miasmata, but with less rough edges.” Now, I found out that IonFX is indeed working on a spiritual successor to Miasmata, so that made my day.

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Games We’d Like to Play #1: Space Adventure

I would like to play a game something akin to Mass Effect, but without action. To make a great team of scientists, archaeologists, mathematicians, physicists, paleontologists and so on (like in Michael Crichton’s novels); and to go to undiscovered planets and do research. The gameplay would be about the discovery. Getting samples of unidentified materials (maybe of extinct ancient species), insects, plants, bring it to the ship and research them, just like in StarCraft II – Wings of Liberty. But not to make new weapons and cutting edge laser technology to kill other species. Just to make discoveries to make a better team, with better equipment! After you gain a new and better item, you should go back to previous planets and reach previously unreachable places – such as acid lakes or giant canyons – and make further discoveries. Also, if you have a better cartographer, you should see more detailed maps of the planets. Continue reading

5 things that should be in Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain

Hideo Kojima’s main series, the saga about Snakes, hours and hours of cutscenes, giant nuclear mech-weapons and tactical espionage gameplay, the Metal Gear Solid will have a new episode in a few weeks, month or years (theres no official release date yet), so as a (metal) solid addict of the series, I’m gonna list some things, that I definitely want to be in it.

 

1. A great story

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Essential in the series. The main issue here will be the transformation of the main protagonist from the good guy Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater) across the revolutionary Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker) to the brutal „Venom” Snake with vengeance. Snake will no more be a peaceful guy, who doesn’t want to kill any enemy on the battlefield, he will be a really gritty and gruesome dictator – according to the beautifully directed trailers and infos. And we already knew that he will be the main boss from the first two Metal Gear games from MSX, and this game will tell the reason for everything. As a big fan of the game Peace Walker, I don’t like its story, I think it’s idolizing the character Boss and don’t really add anything to the saga’s plot. But with this predecessor (plus Ground Zeroes),  there should be something better, emotionally greater in the new game.

 

2. A great cast

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We already knew some of the characters from previous installments. Alongside Big Boss, Kazuhira Miller is a likeable guy from Peace Walker, he always has a good tip for the situations on the battlefield and has a great sense of humor. I think he was the best character in Peace Walker and he is really pissed off in the ending video of Ground Zeroes. If he only has a few great lines and moments, I will be thrilled. And then there’s the badass Ocelot, who is older now and not just a bishounen like in Snake Eater, he always has some great lines and cutscene-moments in the entire series. I don’t like Huey Emmerich much, he is just Otacon in the 70s, but he is crucial for the story. If we believe from the infos from Kojima Corp, Quiet will not just a big breasted eye-candy, and in gameplay videos we already saw that she can help us in action (as other squad members and the dog), so I really want to like her (previous games always had otaku-based eyecandy elements, and I think these little winks are not that sexist or chauvinist things as some might think on the internet).

 

3. Fluid gameplay and new elements in tactical espionage

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In the infamously short Ground Zeroes we can already see and try some of the features from the Fox Engine and the new functions (such as easier CQC and interrogate or the iDroid) – and if Phantom Pain will be as fast, beautiful and intuitive in an open world sandbox jungle in Africa as in this short „demo” with the small Naval Base, this will be potentially the best episode in the series. When I played Ground Zeroes, I loved the tagging, the iDroid options, the return of the walkman, but I really missed the Fulton Recovery, which is the awesomest thing in Peace Walker – but that will be in Phantom Pain. I want to overfulton the Mother Base with animals.

 

4. Kojima’s cutscenes

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As a movie geek, I love the long (and I mean LONG) cutscenes of Kojima. He adds a movie-like feeling, and not a bad movie feeling, but something like from Kubrick. In Ground Zeroes, the 10 minute length intro is a single take and the „camera” position is artistically placed, so we don’t see too many things (such us Skull Face’s face), just as many as the creators want to. This add a little found footage-feel to it, and this is amazing. In the Phantom Pain trailers we can saw some of the elements of the coming scenes, and wow… I wonder, will there be some hidden POV-shots, as in Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots?

 

5. The weird easter eggs

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In all the previous installments, I love the little mystical things, such as UFO subplots, ghost photography hunt, Moai sculptures, movie references and even the Monster Hunter crossover or Kojima sightings and the divine wind of Tanegashima. I always love when I find some references to future or past things, and these are not that crappy references as the Star Wars prequels have, these are beautifully placed and well balanced… I love it this way, the crew behind the Metal Gear series know how to do these.

What do you think? What are the components that you want to be in the next MGS game?

Lens flare should be banned from first person shooters

I have been playing Alien Isolation recently and I noticed that it has the lens flare effects of the original movie – which is awesome, by the way. I looks authentic, nice. Yet, it’s fundamentally wrong at the same time.

Many cinematic effects in video games don’t make sense. Especially in first person games. We don’t see through a lens, we see through our own eyes. Not through a camera. The three big sinners are:

#1 Lens Flare

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This is mildly annoying, since our eyes can actually produce the effect through tears and blurry vision, but it’s not like we ever experience our reality as a freaking J. J. Abrams movie. I noticed that somebody opened a thread in the original forum, so I’m not alone with this opinion.

 

#2 Depth of Field

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This is especially awful. Depth of field effect means that anything we look at is sharper than the background / foreground. It’s a movie effect, and it works in photography well, it creates contrast. But gaming isn’t about pretty pictures, it’s about quick observation. In Uncharted it was pretty distracting. When the character looks at something, the background blurs, and if an enemy suddenly starts shooting from the background, you’ll lose precious seconds while trying to figure out how to bring them to focus. Our eyes is quicker. It already uses a focus / depth of field system. We don’t need a second one. Our eyes move way quicker than any transitional effect, and ultimately it will interfere with the gameplay.

#3 Motion blur

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Again, can’t see the point if we already can’t follow quick movement with our own eyes. Blurring is registered immediately as something artificial, and the immersion just breaks.

Ultimately, this is of course just an opinion, sometimes these effects are utilized well, but I think games should use them sparingly.

How Thief (2014) failed as a Thief game

I can’t really consider Thief (2014) a disappointment, since I wasn’t expecting it to be good. As many reviewers pointed out, Thief doesn’t even work as a standalone game, it has serious issues, many of them come from its troubled development at Eidos Montreal. But I’m going to focus on the reasons why I find Thief unworthy of the name Thief.

1. Lore

The biggest reason why the original Thief games succeeded was because they had a rich, atmospheric setting, unique characters and factions. In the new Thief, pretty much everyone is a backstabbing, selfish bastard or some sick, oppressed citizen. There was almost no implication that the City had a mythological past, other than a few fan-service references, there was no magical, weird stuff that made the original games so unique.

2. The philosophy behind the lore

In the original trilogy, The Order of Hammer, the Pagans, and the Keepers weren’t only there as factions, as set pieces: they were symbols of various philosophical ideas, and their conflict wasn’t only political. Dividing the City into factions that represent technology, nature, and balance may seem a bit superficial, but there were actually developed, well-written ideas behind them, they also had conflicts with themselves. Reading the precepts of the Hammerite order was enlightening: everything they stood for was logical, yet insane at the same time. It made me understand how people shape history and vice versa. None of this philosophical depth is found in the 2014 version.

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3. Grittiness for the sake of grittiness

This has been said before, but it’s true. Garrett is no longer sarcastic because of his past, but because the sake of it. He’s bitter, he’s awful, he doesn’t actually care. He did care in the original trilogy, he didn’t talk like he did, but there were much more subtleties in his character. He had humor. The characters and the world of the reboot is just bland and dark. Despite the name, Thief: The Dark Project wasn’t actually dark. It’s world wasn’t violent, unforgiving, hateful. It was foreboding. It was a mystical, surreal experience, not gritty. I missed that in the reboot.

4. Exploration

Big, sprawling levels with many secrets – they are gone. If technology doesn’t allow us to create bigger levels, the game won’t work as an immersive simulator. Exploration was the key of the success in previous installments, and it doesn’t work in the reboot: loading screens and points of no return tear the levels apart.

5. Lack of colors

I took this (mildly spoiler-y) screenshot myself:

cathedralYou may notice that it contains circa two colors. This is actually really troubling, since the original games, especially Thief II played with warm and cold colors so well. Even Eidos Montreal’s first game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution had the “only one color” effect, but it was used for a reason. Here, you can see that Thief is just bleak, unimaginative, boring. Needlessly dark in tone, and not a single reference to the elemental magic and its associated colors. The vivid green of pagan forests. The blood-red flag of the Hammerite order. There’s no contrast between certain missions, and if there’s no contrast, you don’t want to explore new parts of the City. It’s all the same. The same atmosphere throughout the whole game. It’s nauseating.

I wanted to love the new Thief, even if it doesn’t have Stephen Russell, even if it doesn’t have the lore, the factions, but it misses so much more. The atmosphere, the uneasy feeling, the exploration. We needed that, no other franchise does these things this well.

It’s been a year since it was released, but I never bothered to try is again. Maybe I should, but it was so uninspiring, that I just can’t.

 

The importance of the Jak & Daxter franchise

People are constantly trying to convince Naughty Dog (developers of hit games like Uncharted and The Last of Us), that they should return to their PlayStation 2 mascots, Jak and Daxter.

They have obviously moved on, they became big, they work with motion capture and bigger budgets now. There were attempts to continue the series with the help of other developers the PSP-spinoff Daxter was quite good, but Jak & Daxter: The Final Frontier didn’t exactly meet Naughty Dog’s standards. Years later, it seems that no one bothers to resurrect the franchise, while the other big 3D platformer of PlayStation, Ratchet & Clank is more popular than ever.

So what made Jak & Daxter so unique? Why is it a difficult task to reboot or continue the series?

1. The world doesn’t make any sense

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This is awesome, by the way. The original Jak & Daxter introduced a complete sandbox worldmap without loading screens, the sequels kind of expanded on that. Naughty Dog created a mythology, an ancient past that still has its influence, everything works logically and organically… to a point. Then things fall apart, we’ll notice the world exist just for the narrative. The Final Frontier plays with this, it introduces the Brink, the edge of the world. It has a potential, but seeing The Final Frontier, any new Jak & Daxter game would need writers as good as Naughty Dog’s, or else everything would be a mess.

2. Platformers are so PS2

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Naughty Dog obviously wants to make mature games, so we can’t really hope that they will return to Jak & Daxter. But to those who are dismissing 3D platformers, look how insanely popular Ratchet & Clank is. Sure, it has weaker titles, but the Future trilogy was solid, and the humor still works in the weaker titles.

So why can’t we go back to Jak & Daxter? It’s a mature, well written trilogy with great twists and a beautifully realized world with nice lore.

3. Forgotten characters

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I really miss these guys. Every time Daxter said something, I laughed hard. Jak was silent in the first game, and laughed when he first spoke in Jak II.

Great voice acting, memorable characters… and we are already forgetting them.  The last title in the series was released almost ten years ago. This is really unsettling and makes the possibility of a new game more difficult.

But, you see, Jak & Daxter is important. It showed us that a game can be insanely fun, weird and ambitious at the same time. Many ambitious games today forget that they are ultimately games. We might experience their beauty, their intense action, but a 3D platformer like Jak & Daxter has everything. It speaks to all generations of gamers. There should be much more games like this, especially now that the Vita has the capacities to continue the legacy of the PS2.

Or, they could always make a Daxter’s Angels spinoff for a quick cash-grab. Who knows?

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