Ambulation

June 4th, 2009 | Posted by Jason Imms in Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Following a conversation with Japh and a coincidental paragraph in a blog post from Bice, I thought I’d commit my take on the subject to the intertubes.

I’m not sure about motion controls.

Stare into Project Natal's child-like eyes
First we had the Wii – it was quite fun, but inaccurate. Rather than actually being able to swing Link’s sword using the remote and ready his shield with the nunchuck, we were disappointed to find that the game replaced button-presses with motion. Instead of pressing X to swing, we move the remote in a downward arc (ironically, causing Link to swing his sword in a horizontal arc).
Our dreams of 1:1 sword swinging were not realised.

Then came the announcement of the Wii Motion Plus, a gyroscope-based peripheral for the Wiimote that provided 1:1 feedback. Unfortunately these things are yet to be seen, prohibitively priced and only supported by a small number of games (at least, in Australia).

At E3 this year, both Sony and Microsoft announce that they too have decided to jump on the bandwagon and produce their own motion peripherals.

Sony’s offering provided a fairly exciting demonstration. 1:1 realtime mapping of the user’s movements, high degrees of environmental interaction, video feedback from the Eyetoy’s camera and the ability to utilise two of the devices made it seem a fairly attractive possibility.

Microsoft’s Project Natal was somewhat unexpected. Rumours of a Wiimote-esque product for the Xbox-360 have been circulating for some time now and were recently confirmed at E3. Unfortunately for Performance Designed Products, Natal seems to have made their product redundant. They don’t seem particularly phasedfazed by the prospect, though.
Having watched the linked product vision video, Natal initially comes across as a bit of a pipe-dream. Until, that is I read the hands-on demo some of the Kotakuites were given at E3. Full body control, without a controller is something we’ve been pining for ever since we first saw Minority Report. It seems that Microsoft may have something incredible on their hands here. If, only for its practical uses in the system’s operating system.


My concern is that I cannot see how this tech will be utilised in the types of games that built this industry. Sure there will be feckless minigames to play with, little more than tech demos used to show off the new products at conferences, but how will they fare under scrutiny from the ‘hardcore’ player-base?

I’ve heard musings about the prospect of Sony’s offering being used conjunction with Assassin’s Creed 2. I know what you’re thinking: “He’s got that twin blade thing going on, that could be awesome.” Thanks for bringing that up, Assassin’s Creed 2 is a great example.
In my opinion, Assassin’s Creed was primarily a cinematic experience. The thing that ‘made’ Assassin’s Creed was the fluidity and fluency with which Altair dispatched his opponents. Attempting to map that sort of skill to a 1:1 control interface seem fraught with danger to me. The demo of Sony’s motion control system highlighted one of the major problems with motion controls. You have no physical presence in the game world and thus, your ability to instinctively interact with it is diluted.

Case Study: You want to pick up that block.

Real life: You reach out and pick up the block.
Motion-controlled game world:
You reach out, watch the screen so that you know when your hands are over the block, move back and forth a bit to make sure that you’re directly over it, press the button that grabs the block, miss it, try again and eventually pick up the block.

You don’t have the advantage of all of your other senses and subsequently lose your reflexive, unconscious ability in these contexts.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think motion controls are interesting or even promising. I just don’t think we’re there yet. I am quite excited to see how Natal is used in the Xbox Dashboard interface. I think motion controlled operating systems could be great – In conjunction with a good old keyboard and mouse that is.

Substantiation

January 15th, 2009 | Posted by Jason Imms in Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Or, Why you should be playing Left 4 Dead.

Warning – this is my longest post to date – more of an article I guess?

Co-operative play is Something that we have desired for a very long time. PC gamers have long been jealous of the ease of access to co-operative experiences which console owners enjoy.

There have not been many games that have been released for PC which have co-operative play as their primary aim. Typically, PC gamers are required to wrestle co-operative experiences from games like a farmhand attempting to milk a surly cow. We have been required to utilise third party mods, laborious multi-player AI or to endure lazy first-party implementations which subject the players to a disjointed mish-mash of play due to the developer’s inability to work out how to get certain levels and cutscenes to work with two simultaneous viewers.

I’m going to put aside Real Time Strategy (RTS) games and team-based multiplayer titles for the moment. I am focusing specifically on games which are carefully crafted by the developers to give a group of players a co-operative experience against the game environment.

My first positive Co-op memories are of playing X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter over Parallel Serial/LPT cables at Nozz’s place. We had so much fun playing a game co-operatively for once that we just had to find more games which offered the feature.
We found other titles like Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Quake II, MOO 2, Diablo II etc. Unfortunately, we soon found ourselves running out of options. There were other titles available to us yes, but these required us to use unreliable (at the time) third-party patches like Sven Co-op for Half Life or strange contortions in order to fluke a level or two of co-operative fun.

The driving force in co-op games these days seem to be the consoles. Due to their nature, co-op is almost a requirement. “There are four controllers on there, so we’d better make games that utilise them”. Unfortunately, this means that PC gamers have to rely on dodgy ports in order to get a taste of sweet sweet co-op play.
Gears of War is a good example of this. Ported to the PC in July 2007, Gears landed on PC hard drives with a small amount of fanfare. The port was usable, but riddled with phrases like “Press A to continue” – not to mention the awful implementation of Windows (read:Xbox-Lite) Live. All this, after a full eight-month development cycle following the the Xbox 360 release!

Things were not looking good.

Then came Left 4 Dead.
Valve Corporation are a force to be reckoned with. The producers of arguably the best first person shooter (FPS) of all time, Half-Life, Valve have come to the market with great game after great game. I own the entire Valve back-catalog and I have not been disappointed with any of the games on the list. Most notably, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead.

Left 4 Dead is a four-player co-operative FPS set during the Zombie Apocalypse. Do I even need to finish this post? How does that not sound awesome?!

The basic premise of the game is four human players join together as the Survivors. Their goal is simple: Get from one Safe Room to the next without being killed by HORDES OF THE LIVING DEAD. Sounds easy right? I mean, you get guns and zombies are just slow, shambling things aren’t they? Not true. The zombies in L4D are subscribers to 28 Days Later School of Incredibly Fast Locomotion.
If that wasn’t bad enough, add to this the inclusion of the Special Infected. This band of gory malcontents include:

  • The Hunter – a zombie with the ability to leap great distances and pounce on a Survivor’s chest, pinning them to the ground to await rescue from a team-mate,
  • The Smoker – A slow-moving zombie with an incredibly long, prehensile tongue that it uses to grab, drag and constrict survivors again necessitating intervention from a team-mate,
  • The Boomer – a bloated sack of bile which excels at projectile-vomiting on the Survivors, coating them in its sickly goo, or exploding in a spray of the same substance. The kicker (as the Americans say) is that any Survivors coated in goop attract a horde of the undead to their position.
  • The Tank: A huge, hulking monstrosity which moves very fast, punches survivors off into the distance in order to separate them and can tear up huge chunks of masonry to throw as a ranged attack. Tanks have an incredible amount of hitpoints and require the firepower of a full compliment of Survivors to take down.
  • The Witch: What you might consider to be an non-threatening emo-kid crying in the corner is in fact one of the most threatening zombies in the game. She sits in place, minding her own business unless startled. Once she is peeved, she will doggedly chase the offending Survivor until she reaches them and swipes at them with her huge claws. This will usually incapacitate a Survivor in one hit, or outright kill them on higher difficulties.

The beauty of this game is the fact that it requires you to work together. A group of Survivors who are greedy with health packs/painkillers, separate, or do nothing to protect each other are not long for this world. The inclusion of inherent voice communication means that players can communicate almost instantaneously, giving them all of the tools they need to work together. Incidentally, I highly recommend playing this in the same room as the other players, or changing your voice settings to always-on. This adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game as you hear every shriek and freak-out from the other Survivors.

I could go on. I could mention the fact that you can drop in and out at will using the (ever-improving) matchmaking system, take breaks without ruining the experience for the others by going to Idle and allowing the AI to take over for you, or the included eight-player Versus mode in which four other players take on the roll of the Special Infected(!) – but I won’t. This post just hit 1033 words so I’ll leave it there.

Long story short: Go and buy Left 4 Dead.