"Do You Want to Play a Game?"
Kuma\War: Frontlines of a New Medium

Mark Wallace | 6 Dec 2005 11:02
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I just went back and played the Samarra bank heist mission to make sure I wasn't overstating things here. I'm not. Actually, I had high hopes for the heist mission this time. My entire four-man squad wasn't wasted in the first five minutes, as has occasionally happened in other missions, as one man stands stock-still facing away from the enemy who's shooting at him. Unlike in Desperate Housewives, squad AI in Kuma\War is so stupid as to make you want to frag your own men (which isn't actually possible). Your squadmates barely register your existence, even when they're supposed to be following you into the fray. Once we climbed in our M1A1 tank, we had better luck shelling the black-clad Fedayeen - some of whom didn't seem very alarmed; they just stood there, too. When one finally did manage to disable our Abrams, we were tossed from the vehicle - only to get stuck within the model's polygons, comically unable to escape the confines of Kuma\War's broken physics.

Battlefield 2 this ain't. In fact, it's not even America's Army, though Kuma claims a similar level of realism, wrung from consultants recently retired from various branches of the armed forces. But an Abrams tank that can't drive over a car - that can't even drive over a small rock, for cryin' out loud - is just not a realistic game feature. Nor is the completely non-interactive environment and the kind of collision detection that has NPCs occasionally wading thigh-deep through the landscape.

Nevertheless, I love Kuma\War. Even in the state it's in now, it has a chance to help make not just gaming history, but media and entertainment history as well. Whether it's Kuma or someone else, the idea is just too good not to happen, and it's going to happen soon. The crossover between games and movies is already deep (though we've yet to see a game and movie that are designed from the outset as two facets of the same product). With online game delivery, Xbox Live and Turner Broadcasting's new GameTap service, the medium of television and the medium of games are poised to go through some kind of significant convergence. A concept like Kuma's could easily turn out to be a big part of the future of both forms of entertainment. And one of the best things about it is that it could do a great deal to help finally drag gaming right into the center of the mainstream spotlight.

As the soldiers in Kuma\War all too rarely say: Hoo-wah!

Mark Wallace can be found on the web at Walkering.com. His book with Peter Ludlow, Only A Game: Online Worlds and the Virtual Journalist Who Knew Too Much, will be published by O'Reilly in 2006.

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