Phew… It seems like forever since I last wrote an article, but I had a lot of exam reassessments at University, so it has been stressful times. However, I believe that it is time to change that! Today I’m going to be writing about a subject that I’ve been thinking about during my relaxation time between now and the start of term. This topic is that of modern gaming and if it is an improvement or step backwards.
So, why am I writing this? This topic that has been done to death by more bloggers than I care to count. Recently I was playing through Unreal 2: The Awakening and it really came to my attention. Those who follow me on Twitch or Youtube may know that I recently did a play through of Unreal and Unreal: Return to Na Pali and I rather enjoyed them both. There’s something that I find satisfying about blowing Skaarj and other aliens apart as an escaped convict with no objective beyond escaping with your life. You do not play as a Mary Sue space marine of death and destruction in power armour, you literally play a convict who was fortunate enough to survive the crash landing on an alien planet of the prison ship that he or she was incarcerated on. You go through the ship, finding dead crew members, or alive crew members who then get brutally murdered before you find the dispersion pistol and start your journey, which has no real direction at the start, though it pieces together as the game progresses. As I said, I really did like Unreal. I’ve also been playing through the Half Life series of games again and absolutely loving those, but I will not subject you to my wild Valve fanaticism in this article. The original series were released in 1999, with the sequel and its episodes coming between 2004 and 2007, and possibly remain some of the best gaming experiences that I have had.
Now forward to Unreal 2. Again, not a new game, coming out in 2003, the game-play mechanics stayed true to the Unreal style; fast paced action and plenty of jumping and projectile dodging. However, when I got into the story and the core gameplay, you play as a preset, generic space trooper in power armour. He is not a marine, he used to be and is trying to get back in, so we can’t define him as a space marine at least, but he is rather generic. His supporting staff consist of a mechanic who did something bad in the past and is mopey about it, a blue alien pilot who is confused at everything and a third character who gets her own mini-rant. Of course, Unreal 2 fell into the trap that almost all games fall into these days: They made the female character the token eye-candy of the game. Why can developers not get out of this obsession? She wears the tightest fitting clothing ever that makes sure the gamer does not need too much imagination, comprising of a pair of tight fitting leggings and a top that looks like somebody got a crop top and cut a whole out from where her cleavage is. She also happens to be a war hero, and obviously war heroes all dress in PVC. So much rage! At least she seems to have a tough personality and is quite a fun character when conversing with the other crew members, but I am not sure her personality was the first thing that the developers were concerned about when coming up with her as a character. The story is, again, mediocre. Without getting into too much detail, you are space trooper Marshall John Dalton who is basically a galactic peacekeeper. You find an alien artifact when responding to a distress signal and, naturally, everything goes pretty bad pretty quickly. The Skaarj show up, the corporations show up and things get odd. Upon writing this I have not yet finished the game, so the ending could be incredibly amazing, though I’m not holding out much hope.
Fast forward again, though this time to the modern day. I’m going to not talk about specific games here as I do not buy many new games any more. ActiBlizz, as I like to call them, I will not buy from on principle, and EA are verging on the same with a few exceptions. I will instead talk about concepts and general ideas in gaming as I can not accurately pick apart a game that I refuse to play because it just looks so terrible and felt so terrible when I gave them a try. First on the agenda: Micro-transactions and downloadable content. This is a point that I can sympathise with as well as scornfully detest. On one hand, I can see that new content takes time and effort. This time and effort costs the company money as they have to pay the workers to produce said content. It is understandable that companies will charge for things that have costed them money to produce and this has always been the case through expansion packs which generally costed a little bit extra and gave you more content. What I do not like about modern micro-transactions and downloadable content is the fact that companies are charging people for downloadable content that is already on the disc! Not only do you pay the extortionate going rate for games that can be around £50 sometimes, but you then have to pay about £10 to access something that is already on the disc! As someone who is used to paying around £30 for a new game that will last me for a few years, I find this to be rather stupid. A good way around this, which a lot of Valve games seem to follow, is to release a game which has good game-play off the shelf and then leave the game open to the modding community. The modding community is hugely talented, a relatively recent update for Counter Strike: Global Offensive shows evidence to this, and want to create content for the games that they play. A lot of games that I play, including Team Fortress 2, the Dawn of War series, the Counter Strike series, Unreal Tournament, Killing Floor and Left 4 Dead 2, do not really have much or any paid downloadable content, barring aesthetics such as hats in Team Fortress 2 or character models in Killing Floor. What they do all have are a massive amount of community-developed content. I’ve lost count of how many maps I have downloaded from Filefront for my installation of Dawn of War Soulstorm, how many games of the zombie mod for Counter Strike: Source I have played over the years or just how three of my player models in Killing Floor look like Flandre Scarlet, Patchouli Knowledge and Hina Kagiyama from the Touhou series. Now, let’s go to Call of Duty. You pay $15 for five maps. True, those five maps are professionally made by the studio that made the game, however are they worth $3 each? They are simply not. If I’m going to pay $15 for more content, I expect there to be something of substance behind it, not just a handful of new maps. I will happily pay £10 – 15 for an expansion for a game, as long as there is some substance to it. The Secret World does this well with the issues that come out every now and again. £8 and you get a new line of missions that I have heard are very well written, as well as a new weapon to try out. I have not bought any issues because I am not such an MMO gamer, but I respect their payment model.
That brings me onto the next point. Subscriptions. I was following Wildstar, the up and coming MMO by Carbine Studios. It looked very interesting, despite its MMO status, because it catered towards role players and was being developed with role players in mind as customers. I enjoy role playing and was very excited when i heard the concept of player housing, character customisation and lore of the game world, so I got stuck in. Recently, however, the business model was released. It is going to operate on a $15 per month subscription with a base price of $60. My interest in the game immediately just vanished. What can I get for $60? Four copies of Counter Strike: Global Offensive, a Crimson Hunter flyer model that my Eldar army so desperately needs, a new Sisters of Battle unit of any variation, a healthy amount of new cyberpunk clothes and accessories, around eight new books, the list goes on and on and that only takes into account the cost of the game with the complimentary first month. Consider this. I have been playing Team Fortress 2 on and off now for around six years. Let us assume that I have only really played it for two of those years as I have been busy with studies and the like; that is twenty four months that I have been actively playing Team Fortress 2. Now let us transpose that onto Wildstar with its subscription. $60 for the game, then add $(24 * 15). I would have spent $420 on playing a game. Yes, $420! What could I get with $420 that would last me at least two years? Well, I can buy a normal game like Saints Row 4 for around $50, or I could massively expand my Eldar or Sisters of Battle army, or I could buy a Playstation 4 with Metal Gear Solid 5; don’t even get me started on how much out of the ordinary clothing I could get with that, I would be in heaven. People will claim that the subscriptions are in place because more content is being launched all the time and it’s a dynamically developed environment, but again is it worth it? The content is often lacklustre and infrequent, so I would say that it is definitely not worth it. Team Fortress 2 and Killing Floor require no subscriptions and I know for a fact that the Halloween events are just around the corner. Frankly, I am giddy with anticipation for more chances to obtain haunted metal without resorting to custom servers.
The next point is mainly for PC gaming, though I am not much of a console multiplayer gamer. The number of games featuring privately owned dedicated servers has massively dropped. I view this as purely destructive as privately owned dedicated servers hold many advantages over matchmaking services and company owned servers. All the best memories I have from gaming come from games featuring a list of dedicated servers as opposed to a matchmaking mechanic. Xyo’s Hardcore Search and Destroy server back in Call of Duty 4 , DarkDevice Synergy, Fizzadar’s Zombified World server in Garry’s Mod, NighTeam’s TF2 servers. All of these servers shared one factor that I absolutely loved. Community. Dedicated servers accumulate regular users who start to recognise each other every time they connect. It builds e-friendships, constructs a really pleasant atmosphere for those in the server, contains admins who can ban hackers or griefers on sight and settle disputes that may arise within seconds. Matchmaking removes all of this as every time you play, you will be put in a different server with different people and rely on an anti-cheat algorithm to ban cheaters, which we all know goes famously. Also, company owned dedicated servers require upkeep, so costs are increased with no real way to mitigate it efficiently, whereas privately owned dedicated servers, whilst having similar costs, have afar better way to mitigate it through donation services. I have donated to servers and mods in the past; you can find me in Synergy rocking my purple frag grenades as the “female hero” player model, and most server donation packages are not game breaking, usually just giving the user some new aesthetic toys to play around with, or coloured names in the chat. If people enjoy playing on a server with the rest of the server’s community, then people will donate to keep it running; it’s a tried and proven strategy that has lasted and improved for around a decade. Also, company owned dedicated servers means no custom content. Custom content is the lifeblood of PC gaming. It adds variety, fun, new experiences and gives a server its personality. I was streaming on Twitch this morning on a Mann vs. Machine server in Team Fortress 2 that multiplied all weapons stats by ten and introduced new wave configurations to make it challenging. I really do enjoy it because it gets incredibly hectic and downright ridiculous at times, when the pyro is rapid fire airblasting giant soldier robots’ rockets back at them, or when thirty steel gauntlet wielding heavy robots run forwards being impervious to all ranged damage but taking ludicrous amounts of melee damage and dishing out their own amount of pain in return. All of this is fun and breaks up the usual repetitive stream of official game modes, but with less and less games opting for privately owned dedicated servers, I do not see this fun part of gaming surviving. The lack of dedicated servers in my opinion is really just a huge step backwards, as if developers are trying to force PC gamers to think like console gamers. it is not going to happen!
Also, the quality of writing in games is definitely going down the drain. Consider the difference between games such as Final Fantasy VII, with such emotionally evocative moments that can literally bring a grown man or woman to tears, or Half Life’s memorable moments, environments and non-player characters, friendly or otherwise. Now consider Battlefield 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Halo and World of Warcraft. Did Battlefield 3 even have a story? How similar to an 80s Stallone action film was Modern Warfare 3? None of these currently popular games contain decently written stories. Their main characters are hilariously badly written, though not in a way that can be comically interpreted like Indrick Boreale from Dawn of War Soulstorm. I do not want to play as perfect soldier #523. I do not want to be flawless and awesome at everything. World of Warcraft I have a slight soft spot for in that regard, having enjoyed the wonders of Vanilla and role-playing as a staunch traditionalist Night Elven Sentinel, but I look at it and my first reaction is: “Pandas? Really?” which is not what I should think about. However, the butchery of Warcraft is mainly community driven, so that does go to show that community can be both good and bad (I swear if I see another Blood Elf Death Knight walking around Silvermoon in-character and casually socialising with other Blood Elves, I will stab them and their conversational partners in the face. It is like nobody remembers that the Scourge almost drove them to extinction and caused them to now be a dying race). As well as poorly written narrative, there is also the issue of game-play mechanics. Call of Duty’s mechanics have not changed, yet there are at least nine of them! Battlefield as well has followed the same mechanics since at least Battlefield 1942 and actually got rid of the best feature about Battlefield 2142, which was called Titan Mode. Basically, in Titan Mode, it was the same as conquest but the capture points were anti-air gun platforms and your tickets were shields rather than reinforcements. The aim of the game was to get the shields of the opposing team’s titan down and then board it to blow it up from the inside. Oh, did I mention that there were two huge ships above the map as you fought on the ground? Well, the Titans were there. This offered so many resources to the commander and really brought about fun, team-driven game-play that relied on coordination between each squad. Is there anything innovative about Battlefield 3? Not really. Some would argue that you can blow up walls, but I hate to burst your bubble when I say that Red Faction did that way earlier. There are exceptions to this, however, mostly coming from the indie scene. Maere, when Lights Die is an indie horror game that literally had me screaming like a big baby; Element4l made me marvel at its music as I slid, rolled, puffed and burned my way through levels as my little ball of elemental power. Indie games are not the only outlet of innovation and good ideas, however. The Last of Us is a game that made me want to up and buy a Playstation 3 just so I could play it. The game has interesting characters with notable personality flaws, interesting game-play mechanics, a story that takes its time to evolve into something great.
Combined, it creates a pretty bleak future for gaming. I do not look forward to a future filled with $100 games with subscription fees, micro-transactions up the wazoo and no community-driven content. Somebody hold me, I feel faint just thinking about it.I hold out hope for the Indie scene, which is producing some really innovative gaming experiences and I recommend that everyone pays a lot, perhaps even more attention to them than triple-A developers. As usual, there are arguments for and against everything I have stated above, these are just my thoughts on the matter, so if you have your own views, leave a comment and let me know. I would have to forfeit my self-proclaimed journalistic title if I was not open minded about these things, but criticism should be constructive! Flames help no one, as Smokey Bear says: “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
I am so sure that still applies on the internet…