Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Game review - Half-Life series.

On my blog I'd like to talk about a few games that have made an impression on me. This can be for several reasons such as: Art, Story, Game-play or other things. To give the best examples it's possible I might spoiler story elements. If your planning on playing these games OR sensitive to spoilers please stop reading as it might take the fun out of the game.

The Half - Life series made it's first entrance at 1997 it was made by valve and released by sierra. several small expansions and years later Half-life 2 was released (2004) it had an episode one in 2006 episode and two 2007.


Now why has Half-life made such an impact on me ?
I was already partly game addict back in those days. Spoiled with Wolfenstein, Doom and Duke Nukem ( had the demo that before half life) i was already shooting away left right and center.

However Half-life was new. This was heavily proven in the first few minutes of half-life while your in the train on the way to black mesa.  A memory i will never forget. the life hood around me, cargo being transported, soldiers running around, heli's flying by.

By the these days impatient generation called the longest train ride. this impressed me heavily when i was young.

It brought so much more believability to the game that it completely sucked me in. The first few minutes the experiment goes wrong and you walk by the several research rooms where you see scientists being attacked by headcrabs... awesome stuff !
For half-life this was also the main source of narrative. Where other games generally had cut-scene's or text Half-life had in game events that were up to the player to be seen or ignored.

The greatness of this was continued in Half-life 2 and even more story got put into small events such as citizens being arrested, combine soldiers being attacked or conversations npc's have. One of the most likelly most ( and probably without realizing) noticeable things i found was at the start when the player just arrives in city 17 before the negotiation the player walks by an interrogation room where one of the combine soldiers shuts the little window only to beat the citizen up.

Long video where you can see how valve does it's story telling ( start of the game )

The story itself was also one of the great things. These days a lot of games have implemented this technique ( though valve is still well known for NOT including any cut scene in the half-life series) but the unlike the load of spin offs and world war 2 First person shooter games that followed in it's time Half-life seemed to have a lot more depth and more unique than most of it's spin offs. The fact the player has never gotten to see or hear Gordon freeman ( of course there are some "photo's " hidden around and in half-life 2 the front cover suggests how Gorden Freeman would look like. but in game itself he's the faceless hero making it easier to emerge in the story.  Another good thing about the story is the setting. The environment subtly changes and all makes sense. valve has done it's research and makes things the way it should be. A good example one of my previous teachers on game-design once gave was: The fact the Half Life series ( actually valve in general) Has a good sense of Visual Rhetoric. So for example a warehouse containing heavy objects must have wooden pallets to move them around. If they are there must be a forklift to pick them up. If there is a forklift, there must be a floor/ramp/doorway that allows the forklift to have access.  This is something that amazes me and something that even to date MANY MANY MANY game developers can learn a lesson from. Because how often do i see games where there's this massive boss standing in a room with a tiny door/entrence and/or random items that don't fit the setting( invisible walls anyone ? )

Then there is art. Half-life even though originally not meant like it has gone for a "Realistic "approach. meaning that even though the events might be fictional textures/models aren't stylized. the creature design is really good. I remember headcrabs scaring me to the point where i had to stop for several minutes to breath. . . . . ok maybe they still do. Then there's the Vortifaunts with 3 hands casting electric shocks. and the amazingly cool 3 legged dogs that shoot a pulse of electric when you get close and sometimes travel in packs ( unfortunately not in half-life 2).
Another thing that has made Half-life very good are the puzzles. In half-life 2 the gravity gun got added. this brought a whole new element of game play. The player could now pick up radiators with the gravity gun and hide behind it and/or move obstacles to place them on different locations(solving puzzles example)  This made the puzzles a lot more fun.

What i liked the most about Half-Life 1:

Probably the Start seeing black mesa in it's work and the 3 headed  Tentacle part in half life which took me ages to get through.

What i liked most about Half-Life 2:Seeing how portal got combined in the Half-Life universe, The whole resistance fighting part ( and being part of the resistance) helping them out, giving them cover etc. Nova prospect ( the abandoned prison) which was absolutely Awesome running around fighting off waves of Combine. Also probably my favorite part would be the tunnel part in Half-life episode 2 ( decided not to spoiler this)

What I didn't like about Half-Life
Headcrabs, Ravenholm, fast headcrabs, poisonous headcrabs.

P.S Keep them in the game though.

Friday, 11 November 2011

My personal gaming history

My personal gaming history goes back to when I was about 6 / 7 it was about 1991 where i Started off.
I started playing small games like The dangerous Dave a side scrolling platformer and Paperboy. Clones of pong. A bit later my dad game home with games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom things like that. It caught my attention even more than the others and it didn't take long before i started asking if I was allowed to play games on the computer more and more. As I grew up I got familiar with the terms demo and freeware so I often went to a friend's house for him to burn a ton of demo's for me so I could play them at home. I must have finished the Command & Conquer demo that contained only 3 levels at least 20 times. It was mind blowing how realistic and awesome it was to me. Soon i got the full version of Command and conquer and Warcraft i loved it. the strategy obliterating my enemies angry parents because I spend way too much time on the computer and often got way too much into it.

Several other games that made a big impact on me back then were: Worms,Duke Nukem 3D, Tomb raider (obvious reasons I guess), unreal and Half Life. Half Life  ESPECIALLY has always impressed me greatly.the story, the animations the world... it really feels like you're in "Black Mesa". One of my favorite and mostlikely for people also the most boring part was the start in the train. I kept on looking around at soldiers running back to their helicopter cargo being transported the things happening made the game for me.

By this time I was completely addicted to games. No game would be released without me knowing all the in's or outs.

As time passed on I started playing Final Fantasy which I really enjoyed due to the again great story, detailed environment, great character development game play and mini games. I must have finished the game about 6 times by now with the last time being about 3 years ago. The graphics might be old now but i still think the Final Fantasy series can survive for people who are in the genre.

While in high school I played a lot of Unreal Tournament over the network. Continued the Command & Conquer and Warcraft series loyally. And of course Half-life 2 which i can't say much more about than I already said about the first one.

I've played Pokemon and really enjoyed the story but also the game mechanics. even today I still think the Pokemon >> Gameboy<< RPG's are a really solid title.  The story is simple but not cliché, the game play appeals and there's a lot of sense of progression through the game.

Then I got games like Portal that had simply again one of the best stories I've seen so far. a fun puzzle game that kept me busy for a while. and games like Left 4 Death as i really enjoy co-op games.

I ended up with World of Warcraft which kept me busy for several years unfortunately. Unfortunately in the sense of it's a good game and I enjoyed my time but. During this time I didn't play any other games i didn't expand my knowledge of games ( I did in the sense of art) and lost a lot of time.
Until I canceled my subscription and started to play the games I missed before like for example Mass effect 1 & 2.

In my gaming history I've always mostly been a PC gamer. I have had a Sega mega drive, Game Gear, Gameboy color/Advanced, Playstation, Playstation 2 and now Xbox 360 but most of my games have been pc. I also mostly enjoy RTS, RPG and sometimes FPS games. I'm not narrow minded when it comes to games that are outside these genre's ( portal for example) however these generally have to be good games that have both really good game play and story as that's what i enjoy most in games. So from games in the future i hope there will be original games again ( most of the things coming out now seem to be clones and/cheap rip-offs or developers milking out an IP) Portal would be a great example, Left 4 death or even a small title like Bastion which was originally released with the Xbox live arcade pack and due to its success quickly became available for pc on Steam.

So original games, Quality and while I'm at it maybe scale the difficulty up a notch. because it really feels like games these days only have the easy and easier option. several games that will be released soon and live up to this criteria are: Skyrim ( 11-11-11) Diablo 3 ( early 2012) and Guildwars 2 ( un announced release date). these and the examples of Half life, portal and left 4 death are the type of games I'd love to work on.

P.S of course i still hope about every single day valve will release an episode 3 or Half Life 3 but seeing how long it's been silent i fear for the worst.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The history of computer games, part 3 2000 - Now

Like most subjects studied going back to the origins of its subject is always a good idea. So for studying game-art where did this start off ? When did the first video game emerge and how did they evolve ?

By now were in the 3rd and last part of the history of games. 2000 till now.
This is the time where sega stops developing consoles and only focuses on games.
Sony releases the playstation 2 and a year later microsoft comes with the Xbox while nintendo releases the gamecube.  The playstation 2 was an instant hit and to date the best selling console (150 million playstation 2's are sold)

2000 the sims
In 2000 Maxes released the Sims 6.3 copies and became best selling game for that time. It was a casual simulator of the daily life targetted for the casual gamer. Giving the freedome of playing the game, designing your own house and family.

2002 Warcraft III and Age of mythology

Warcraft III made by Blizzard and Age of Mythology made by Ensemble Studio's set the standard for 3D graphics in RTS games.

2004 world of warcraft

Blizzard releases World of Warcraft. The first and only MMO to date with such a huge amount of subscribers. World of Warcraft had 10.3 million subscribers.

2004 Half-life 2.

Half-life 2 Released by Valve revolutionizes the physics engine called havoc with things like the gravity gun that allows the player to pick up object and throw them away. and puzzle's involving gravity.

In 2005 Microsoft launches  the Xbox 360, also  age of empires III brings physics in RTS pretty much setting an example for its genre. Due to all these changes in games with physics the games became a lot more interactive and destructible.

2006, Sony launches the PS3 and Nintendo Launches the wii.

With all these new consoles Microsoft and Sony discover their making a loss on every sold console while Wii makes about 6 dollar profit per sold unit while microsoft loses about 125 Dollar per sold Xbox360 and playstation 3
307 Dollar.

Because by this time most gamers were asking for better and better graphics most developers couldn't keep up. Because the ps3 Sold so poorly at the beginning Sony ended up losing a lot of their exclusive titles making it harder and harder for sony to compete.

the rise of MMO'S

Even though MMO's werent new in this time they became a lot more popular.
Games like Final Fantasy XI (2002) World of Warcraft (2004) Warhammer Online (2008) Age of Conan
got more gamers addicted to the genre. And due to it time since MMO's proven themselves to be a steady income
for developers. However the demand for new content increased as well stressing big MMO developers like Blizzard, NCsoft and CCP Games to come up with more and more content patches.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The history of computer games, part 2 1980 - 1990

Like most subjects studied going back to the origins of its subject is always a good idea. So for studying game-art where did this start off ? When did the first video game emerge and how did they evolve ?

Because the home computer became more and more popular hobbyists could now create their own simple games allowing for a burst in games. two of the earliest games of this age were Donkey Kong and Pacman. Pacman is an arcade game developed by Namco. it was so well received that up to this date it's the highest grossing game. Everyone has seen it and unofficially became the face of video games at that time.

Donkey kong however started off as a game for players with poor results but it was such a breakthrough for nintendo that it also became one of the best selling arcade games. in 1981 universal studio's decided to sue Nintendo over Donkey kong because it would have been a copy. However Nintendo's lawyer named Howard Lincoln discovered that universal studio's didn't own the copyright neither. Universal studio's ended up not only losing the lawsuit but they also had to pay legal costs.

Because video games development made such a sprint
in innovation and releases new genre's and title's
appeared. A few well known title's are: Battlezone(1980)
,Zelda(1986) and Galaxian(1989)

1992 Wolfenstein

developed by Id software became a breakthrough for puzzle shooter games. 3D flat shaped 3DGraphics, simple textures were something new. Apogee also released the first episode ( 10 levels) as shareware making everyone play it for free and giving the player the choice to purchase the rest of the episode. This is a marketing trick still used today.

1992 Dune II

In 1992 Westwood released Dune II. It wasn't the first RTS but did pretty much set the standard for RTS games such as warcraft / command and conquer. Several new elements in this game were:
A World map where you can choose your own missions, resource gathering,  mobile units that could be changed to buildings, different factions and a mouse that changes  depending on what it's located on.

1996 Diablo

In 1996 Blizzard entertainment decided to release Diablo. It pretty much set the standard for point and click RPG's and sold over 2.5 million copies. World wide it recieved near perfect scores.

1997 Goldeneye 007/ half-life

1997 was an important year in the games industry. several big titles were released and 2 of them battle each other claiming to have had the most influence on FPS to come ( after). Goldeneye developed by rare was originally going to be an on rail shooter however they decided to redesign most of it to become a free roam FPS. with the redesign also came a few new elements not seen before such as: The sniper rifle scope that can zoom, stealth and multi player deathmatches on consoles Howe
ver people also claim for Half-Life ( a game i personally favor) to have had the most influence. Half-life, made by Valve had no new elements of game play but it got over 50 pc game of the year awards and sold a total of 20 million copies proving it to be a great game ( More on Half-life in a future blog)

1997 final fantasy 7 

Squaresoft which is now Square enix released Final fantasy 7 in 1997 as well. Originally square only released their games for nintendo but because the nintendo 64 sticked to cartridges instead of discs causing it to have a lot less storage space Square decided to move over to Sony & PC. Final Fantasy 7 became a breakthrough and enhanced the popularity of RPG's in the west.

So in the 20 years there has been a massive increase in performance causing the graphics and game play to improve and making games into a proper industry. especially when 3D games became popular the amount of games but also the costs of games became more. Consoles weren't being created for 1 specific game only and there were only a few competitors on the console market ( Nintendo, Sony and Sega).  Also the fact that more and more people had a personal computer at home helped the industry to grow. It's funny because several days ago i was thinking back to what my dad used to say back when i was six years old. he said that we were going into a "Computer era" which sounded very impressive by the time. especially considering i tough you had to be either really rich or lucky to have a computer ( most of my friends didn't had one yet) and here we are today everyone has it's own computer and often one or several consoles either an Iphone or Android phone.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The history of computer games, part 1 1950 - 1970

Like most subjects studied going back to the origins of its subject is always a good idea.So for studying game-art where did this start off ? When did the first video game emergeand how did they evolve ?
To begin at the first sign of a true computer game (  Games on themselves existed far before this and would cover a whole new chapter) we would have to get back to 1958. Even though people have different opinions and arguments for what would be the first true video game I would personally acknowledge "Tennis for Two" as the first true video game.  It was produced by William Higinbotham and represented a by that time spectacular tennis match it was a machine the size of a Microwave oven had an oscilloscope as display with controllers. The reason for acknowledging this as the first video game rather than Spacewars ( 1962) is the fact it's the predecessor of pong. it had a clear win/los condition, graphics therefor making it a game and most important earlier in its time.

1962 - Spacewars !

In 1962 Stephen Russel at MIT developed a game called Spacewar. Unlike Tennis for Two you were a space ship trying to avoid the star in the middle and shoot the other player.  Both ships had fuel and ammo to take down the other while avoiding collision with the star and being hit
by the other.

1966 - Chase

Chase was a game made by Ralph Baer and Bill Harrison. the reason this was a breakthrough was because it used the television as display and a lightgun as controller. later on in 1968 they also brought table tennis and target shooting to their console.

1972 - Pong !

Still to date one of my favorite ( type ? ) of games came from 1973. Pong created by Bushnell and Dabney ( founders of Atari) . It was the first Arcade video game and became a great success. It was based on Table tennis and both players need to try and score and/or prevent the "ball" from slipping through. Due to its success Atari decided to bring a home version of pong in 1975 only sold in Sears retail stores. Because of this a lot of copies and variations of the game have been made and led to the birth of the video games industry.

1977 - Video games crash

In 1977 there was a video game crash. This was mostly due to all the obsolete game consoles ( mostly Pong clones) at prices that were below profit

1978 - Space invaders

After the video game crash in 1978 Taito released a game called Space invaders. this became a big success and caused arcade machine to be placed in more public places like shopping malls, restaurants and stores. Due to the success of Space invaders several other manufactures dared to enter the market leading to new and innovative games but more of that in the next chapter .