What is to save

I’ve said many times that the game industry, especially the MMO branch, needs more failures. There have been many recently, but it doesn’t seem even close to be “enough”. Maybe some developers are concerned because it becomes harder to find money to start new projects, but the point is that in all cases these projects are born from a “me too” intent, more than a need to make something new that is felt as *indispensable*. If your game doesn’t add anything new and isn’t felt as indispensable, in a way or another, then it doesn’t deserve to be made.

Things need to be done because there are solid ideas behind, because they answer a demand. Projects shouldn’t be started before the ideas are there. Today any new MMO announced brings absolutely nothing new to the table, nor has any idea on how to improve what we have already. Under these premises, I’m happy if they continue to fail.

Successes should be motivated, not simply incremented. I want a MMO to succeed not so that other companies have an easier time finding money. I want a MMO to succeed when there are good motivations to make it a success. No MMO released in the last years had good motivations that would justify a success. If we had MMOs being successful without being good games, then we would have an industry that feels legitimated in releasing more crap and lowering the quality level. We should be all thankful if this isn’t happening and if this genre isn’t felt anymore as the goose that lays the golden eggs. That trend just brought us crap and we still aren’t out of it. So the more failures, the better.

From the personal perspective, the way I consider a good game is the same that makes me consider a good book: if after a while I feel that I could do a better work then I stop reading/playing, because I feel that I’m just wasting my time. Fortunately, this isn’t happening often.

These are some examples from games that I played recently and that I enjoyed:

Assassin’s Creed – It is redundant and probably needed more time to add some variety (as Charles admitted on the forums), but it gives a lot of freedom and has that “visceral feel” done rather well. The Controls are also well thought and original in their own way. Where it truly excels is in the animation system and direction. Up to now the crown was of God of War. Assassin’s Creed surpassed it. Best animations ever, and obsessive attention to detail.

Fallout 3 – It’s one of the better realized worlds, visually. Probably one notch above Bioshock (but Bioshock was more creative). I never liked Bethesda’s gameplay design, and even here I believe that the majority of gameplay is rather bad. Everything that moves looks bad and the effect becomes exponentially worse when it involves scripted NPC sequences. It’s the game where the environment surpasses the gameplay. A bad game, but a world that deserved to be experienced (as long you just watch, and don’t pretend to interact).

The Witcher – Another game with terrible gameplay. The combat system has nothing that is worth saving. Counterintuitive, clunky, hard to parse. The reason to play this is the opposite of the usual: it’s a bad game with a good story. It has an eastern european flavor that is on its own unique, and it’s one rpg where you can actually “roleplay”. There’s not much in the way of “game”, but there’s a lot in the way of being in a story and let it flow. A game from the past.

Left 4 Dead – This is a game, like other Valve games, that attempts to do just one thing, but manages to do it exceptionally well. I don’t think it’s worth the full price as it is just a mod idea done with high production value. The narrow scope makes it extremely limited and so not worth the price, imho. That said, there’s virtually nothing I would change in game design. It’s as close as possible to a flawless execution. Good graphic, fast engine, the best cooperative gameplay ever. Playing with just four players represents the perfect cooperative balance. For the full price I’d have expected ten different characters or so to pick, with some subtle differences in gameplay between them. Also one more campaign and even there different gameplay instead of just different environments.

FarCry 2 – It’s the concept of the kind of game I may love. One seamless world to explore. A FPS sandbox that makes you play the way you like. With non-linear paths and different storylines to follow and entwine. This game only realizes a fragment of these ambitions, but it is enough to make an interesting game. It’s immersive, has an engine that runs well and yet accomplishes/simulates a number of features that have consequences on the gameplay. It has many flaws, especially in game design, but they can be forgiven. I still can’t figure out why they haven’t released a patch that increases respawn timers. Everyone rants about that, it’s easily fixable (add a slider maybe), yet they do nothing.

Call of Duty 4 – Last year, but still on my HD. It’s the best shooter gameplay. The game is rather short, but it has a high replay value. The gameplay is so well done and fun that it never gets old. Very good engine, good graphic. It’s entirely scripted, but it’s this scripting that makes it good. Not only you can pick different paths through a level, but every time you die and redo the last bit, you seem to find a different situation. It’s a reactive game, scripted perfectly. Good to play on “hard” difficulty as dying doesn’t really break the flow (you are back into action right away, being surprised again).

Sins of the Solar Empire – I didn’t have a lot of time to dig in this one but it is the perfect blend between the no-personality 4X strategy games and Homeworld. Mix of tactical and strategical. It is an indie game that deserves success, also because of the absence of copy protection and the good support (with patches, the main reason why I bought it). Good production value, huge battles, decent engine. It’s a pleasure to explore and the demonstration that even an indie game can have a decent production value and very good gameplay. Also good AI.

Fifa 09 – Huh, well. The type of game to fill that niche where you want to have some fun without too much commitment. It’s either sport or driving games. Up to this year the best was Pro Evolution Soccer 6, but that franchise went worse instead of better. Fifa 99 is playable. It gets a bit repetitive and deja-vu, stuck into certain patterns, but it has pleasant controls and avoids a lot of the frustration. Maybe a bit too easy to “game”, and could use a lot of tweaks in the UI and plenty of other minor, and easily solvable quirks.

WoW: WotLK – It’s still the best, better designed MMO by far. When this one launched it brought many, many good ideas to the genre and fixed an almost endless list of problems. A list that today isn’t considered because those aspects are now considered norm. If the game was successful it’s because it had very good game design and many good ideas. If other MMOs fail today it’s because they have bad game design and because they solve or improve virtually nothing. WoW has two flaws. The PvP is still only a fragment of its true potential (I haven’t tried Wintergrasp, but the idea to make the zone so hard to reach is already a terrible flaw), and the game is so big that it may become a problem. Sometimes you have so much to do that it may take too much time to get there that you just won’t bother. You can feel that it is eating your life.

These are the games that I played recently and that I thought were good in a way or another. Add maybe Mount & Blade.

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