Archive for December, 2005

Tactile communication

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

I am currently thinking about “force-feedback” and how that affects the gameplay experience. I have a sense that there is much left to do with this simple controller mechanism. I mean, there are things you can do that causes tactile feedback without rumble so, come on! And what in God’s name is that, you ask?

Feeling strong

A couple of weeks ago I played through half of “God of War”. It was a great experience and a true pleasure (although I don’t see the point in the more sexually lurid stuff in the game.) The gameplay is absolutely marvellous and everything is polished as hell.

One feature that really got to me was the use of interactive action cutscenes. I use the term “action cutscene” to describe short sequences that you have little or no control over the character in. In “Riddick”, we used the term to describe the third person sequences when Riddick climbs a ladder or uses a health-station. In “God of War”, there are tons of similar things, just so much cooler and also heavily interactive.

Let me take an example:

In the game, when you encounter a gate, chances are that you can open it and that it’s a vertically sliding iron gate. In most other games, the player would have to push the activation-button and just see the main character grab hold of the gate and pull it upwards until the gate was open and passage was safe. But in “God of War”, the player is doing the actual lifting – sort of.

What happens is that Kreitos, the main “hero”, grabs the gate. Then the player has to hammer away on the controller like crazy to lift the gate. If you slow down, Kreitos will bulge under the heaviness of the steel gate. The effect is that it takes physical effort from the player to open those gates – talk about tactile communication between game and gamer!

There are many similar things in the game. Timed battle-puzzles and enemy finish-offs that requires you to hammer away (I love how you kill the centaurs, for instance). You will have to try the game to get the feel for what it’s like. Some of you might remember sports games on the C64 (“Daley Thompson’s Super Test”, “Decathlon” etc) and think that “God of War” is just a fancier version of the same thing. Well, actually it is. Running 10.000 meters in “Daley Thompson’s” dried you up real good so some of the effect was there. Only, “God of War” doesn’t limit the experience to exhaustion. I really feel strong and agile when I make Kreitos do his stuff, and that’s a winner for that game.

And Rumble?

So, back to force feedback and rumble… The inclusion of the rumble mechanism in game controller has allowed games to add a tactile channel to the feedback loop with the player. Now we have visuals, audio and physical feedback (through rumble). If you count peripherals such as the “Eye-toy”, there’s lots and lots more: dance mats, special controllers for “Donkey Konga”, “Steel Batallion” and God knows what else. But every single controller today has rumble and I am absolutely positively sure that those are underused. If the developers of “God of War” could use controller-hammering so extremely efficient, I bet a game could allow the player to communicate with the game through the rumble facility.

I have not yet seen a really good example of rumble-use. Sure, rumble adds to the racing game experience – and I believe it adds a lot. But that killer-game-design-rumble-thing is yet to be seen. The closest I have gotten is in “Wind Waker” when you sneak into the castle and the guards spot you. “PADAM!” and the tension goes to 100% in an instant, with music and a rumble-shake. I definitely jumpstarted when I played that game. A similar design is in “Metal Gear Solid 2” where you can feel heartbeats through the controller (this has been done in other games as well).

So, If you got any thoughts, or a good example of innovating use of rumble – please write.

Samorost 2

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

For all you guys that (like me) loved the original Samorost game, a follow up was recently released. This is extremely well done, beautiful and bizarre puzzle-solving that really hooks. The guys at Amanita Design has done it several times before, and not only the original Samorost. For example, check out the cool The Quest for the Rest, made for The Polyphonic Spree.

Blue sky and clouds

Friday, December 9th, 2005

The Blue Sky in Games Campaign is a fun and refreshing initiative that deserves attention. I wholeheartedly support their ideas about games. I will always prefer Zelda before GTA – Always.

And speaking of blue sky. Check out the beautiful game Clouds! It’s a free download and allows you to fly among clouds, make friends with them and do other cool stuff.

Wakeup for adventure games?

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Don’t you have a sense that Adventure games are crawling back up to the gaming surface again? For a number of years, the industry has deemed Adventure games (in the classical sense) stone-dead. Sure, there are tons of games with adventuring/puzzle elements, like “Beyond Good and Evil” and our own “Riddick”, but the traditional adventure game gets little or no publisher money since many years back…

But now games like Fahrenheit (“Indigo Prophecy” in North America) is appearing. Telltale games seems to do quite well with “Out from Boneville”. A sequel is coming up and a new “Sam & Max” game is planned from the same company. Other upcoming games are “Dreamfall”, “Broken Sword 4” and “Ankh”. Other really cool stuff is also happening on the adventure scene, like the free (!) Rise of the Hidden Sun that’s been in development for some time now. I really hope the developers have the strength to ride the game until it gets finished. Cudos to the guys on Chapter 11!!!

This Joystiq article mentions a BBC report about gaming that states that 63% of the asked gamers love “puzzles and quizzes”. That’s kind of interesting and might be good news for adventure game developers. However, the report did not separate between hardcore PC gamers and people who is only on to casual gaming. So puzzles might be more of “Sudoku”, “Jewels” or “Tetris” than “Grim Fandango”. Either way, a bit of mental challenge seem to attract lots of people and that in itself is interesting. We see tons of games that incorporates puzzles, character interaction and exploration in other genres, like survival horrors, platformers and shooters – and one must wonder why there is so little interest in games that solely focuses on the puzzles, exploration and character interaction? Perhaps the traditional adventure require too much attention and effort for most gamers. Firing up “Ratcher & Clank”, shooting through a level and solving its puzzles is easily done. But firing up “Riven” to just get through a few puzzles requires a lot more effort.

Perhaps what’s needed is some casual gaming thinking applied to Adventures? I guess that’s partly what Telltale is doing with “Sam & Max” – they seem to plan releasing the game as episodic content or by some other interesting release model. (This is what they write on their hopepage: “You will certainly see a series of episodic PC games. Sam & Max will likely appear in other places as well. Perhaps in entertainment formats not yet imagined by our fragile little brains. Perhaps, … Circle-vision!… Or not.”)

We’ll see how things are going with “Sam & Max” and all the other upcoming adventure games, but I have high hopes. So, let us all keep our fingers crossed and wish that the future has only good things at hand for us adventure lovers.

Roger Ebert and David’s butt

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Roger Ebert, noted movie critic, talks on his web page about games and their artistic merit. In his column Answer Man, a reader responds to an earlier quote from Ebert in which he states that he believes games to be an inferior medium to literature and film. Ebert elaborates a bit in his answer and writes:

Yours is the most civil of countless messages I have received after writing that I did indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.

I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

I am inclined to agree with Ebert that we have still not yet seen a game that beats the best of other media, artistically, although some great leaps in the right direction has been made. However, I strongly disagree with his argument that games, due to their interactive nature, lacks “authorial control” (which is his argument why games never can be as good an artform as literature and film.) Here’s why I diagree:

First of all, games are definitely not the only media that requires audience interaction. On the most primitive level, one can argue that viewing Michelangelo’s David (for instance) is an interactive process. Let’s look at the following imaginary scenario:

An art student walks into the Galeria dell’Academia to take a look at the status of David. On the way out he meets a friend who excitedly asks, “Have you seen David yet?”

“Yes, I have,” the student answers – and continues, “but I didn’t like it much. It’s just a butt.”

The point here is that the viewer is interactive in the manner that he or she needs to walk around the statue to fully absorb it. Sure, I know that this is an extreme example; video games require a level of interaction that tops statue-peeking any day. But try this: put David on one end of the interactivity spectrum and ICO on the other end. Then try to find exactly the level of interactivity where the author’s control becomes so “weak” that any work produced at the same level of interactivity will automatically be artistically inferior.

No one would argue that Michelangelo lacked artistic control when he created his work. Equally stupid is the argument that a game creator lacks artistic control, just because the consumer has some level of interactive freedom. As soon as you create content, you are in control of that content, period! Furthermore, the design of game play and flow of game narrative are fully in the designer’s hands, no matter what Ebert says.

Ebert has a point though. There is a contradiction between strong storytelling and interactivity. Many games evade the problem by making the narrative extremely linear and allow only very limited or no interaction with the story. As soon as a game allows the player more freedom, problems arise – and serious ones. However, I am inclined to believe that many or all of those problems are possible to overcome. Ebert’s conclusion is wrong though. It might be hard to make a game with the same artistic merits as the best of film and literature, but to say that it’s impossible?

I get the impression that Ebert’s view of video games is biased by movies – and movies such as “Doom”, “House of the Dead”, “Mortal Kombat” and so on. It is sad though that he is not taking games seriously. Movie makers such as Uwe Boll already does enough to drag games into the public opinion gutter. The industry would benefit from support by guys like Ebert and some day they will inevitably come – in hordes.