That's Innovation!

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That's Innovation!

Hooray for developers who care about something other than shinier graphics.

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I remeber putting in Mercenaries for the first time in my PS2. Let me tell you, calling in carpet bombs to scorch the cities, bunker buster bombs to cause buildings to topple, it was the most fun I had in a long time.

Its also why I'm enjoying Bad Company 2 so much, the destructible enviornments offer so much to the game. A group of enemies in a building? Blow out the walls and destroy the thing while your teamates pick off the straggelers. Is your objective in a building? Destroy the building and you destroy the objective without having to go through masses of enemies.

Games look just fine nowadays, I'm glad more seem to be focusing on giving us more fun games instead of prettier games.

sounds like you would love BC2, but who wouldn't.

and destructible environments does almost automatically make a game more fun and intense, instead of hiding behind the same rock popping you head up every 10th second to shoot some more bad guys until they are all gone, suddenly you have to be cautious when taking cover, how long can i stay here before i have to move out in the open to a new location, and it also changes which targets are the most valuable (or dangerous, depending) instead of just gunning down whoever is closest to lower the risk of missing, you have to think about what route your going to take when this wall gets blown to pieces and which enemies will post the greatest threat when taking that route.

so yeah, i like to break things.

Considering MW2 spent more on advertising then on making the actual game, it seems to me that more games should be pushing the boundaries with gameplay stuff like this. Apparently, they can afford it.

Anyway, kind of surprised this week's article had nothing to do with Ubisoft.

I loved the scene in Uncharted 2 where you were in the building as it was falling, shooting Lazaravic's men and dodging helicopter missiles. One of my favourite videogaming moments ever. It's this sort of environment that really sets Uncharted 2 apart for me; the attention to detail is amazing, and the sense of urgency and awe that you get from experiencing it is unparalleled in most other games. I can appreciate that this kind of exerience is extremely hard for devs to produce in other games, but that fact that Naughty Dog have gone that extra mile to produce something never seen before in others of its kind is very commendable.

Graphics can only take your game so far before their existence is rendered pointless by lacklustre gameplay.

Nimbus:
Considering MW2 spent more on advertising then on making the actual game, it seems to me that more games should be pushing the boundaries with gameplay stuff like this. Apparently, they can afford it.

Anyway, kind of surprised this week's article had nothing to do with Ubisoft.

Same here actually, I was expecting some about Uni too, but, this is good on its own.

And I agree. They have the money, and they have the resources. It just putting it into action which seems to tbe stumbling block they neither can, or will come over. We can prolly guess which

I dunno. If we truly get to the point where EVERYTHING in the world is destructible or morph-able that might be notable. Until then, designers are just mucking around with the same basic gameplay features that can be found in Ultima V in 1988.

Of course, most modern game designers couldn't go too far wrong in reviewing the old Ultima series. It continues to amaze me that the innovations of that series were somehow swept aside and forgotten for the better part of two decades. It's still difficult if not impossible to find a game that gives you as much freedom of choice and environment as Ultima VII did in 1992.

Bang on, Shamus! :) I thought the first Uncharted, while perfectly competent and pretty good, was also pretty overrated for what it was. Uncharted 2 blew me away because of it's huge set pieces that actually pushed the limits of interactivity to a new level. They took stuff that was normally just a cutscene and made it (at least halfway) playable. Keep pushing guys!

Now if they'd just take the money they spent inventing new and more draconic forms of DRM and put that into stuff like this, everything would be better?

Red Faction is awesome due to all that sexy destruction.

Bring on the fully destructible environments!

enlightening never considered this as innovative.

Irridium:
I remeber putting in Mercenaries for the first time in my PS2. Let me tell you, calling in carpet bombs to scorch the cities, bunker buster bombs to cause buildings to topple, it was the most fun I had in a long time.

So true...I think I might go play it now! ;)

Shamus writes about something I've been saying for a long, long time. I think it's on the minds of a great many gamers too. Unfortunately those of us who think about these things make up a small percentage of the gaming public I think. Otherwise games like MW2 wouldn't have sold 50 million copies (or whatever). Watching adults 'Ooo'ing over new 1st person shooter releases reminds me why gamers can't have nice things...

But why didn't anyone have that same sense of caution when taking any of the last dozen graphical steps? Why is the industry always so eager to improve how a game looks and then have such trepidation to improving how it plays?

It's probably nothing any of you haven't heard of already, but, it's all about risk. You can't go wrong with better graphics, gamers are only gonna like them, assuming they are indeed better. While with 'how it plays' you can go all sorts of wrong. And neither investors, nor important people with ties that can prove with flowcharts and diagrams that you've evolved from a medusa like risk. A company would have to have at least this and this amount of money and time allotted for a game, as well as daring executives, in order to risk how a game plays...

Destructible environments would be fun to a point, likely until some NPC shopkeeper is standing stupidly in a heap of rubble completely unfazed by the wanton violation of his property. But I guess that's what purpose the limiting factors serve.

Hell, I be happy if more games would just incorporate Euphoria animations.

I am sick of graphics improvements, everyone just stop, pool your resources and make an engine that allows for the most to appear on screen with little to no drop in graphical quality.

End of challenge, build the game, everyone has the same graphics as you, shut up.

Grrr...

*Cough*

Part of the push for more and better graphics ties into pushing people to keep forking up money for better systems. Ever wonder why your game does an ad for Nvidia or ATI? That would be why.
I agree that more should be done with a game beyond just making it pretty. Though I can imagine the code that went into Half Life 2, Episode 2 for just that one bridge melting from the core outburst is staggering. I think I remember hearing the mention though that Valve had worked its own mini-engine for those kinds of effects, making future applications of it easier to implement. Now if they can work it into a real time implementation, so Gordon can pilot his own Strider. That would rock.
Reminds me of one of the funnest parts of Medal of Honor:Allied Assault, driving the tank. Not only could you blow up buildings (albeit only select ones), but the mission orders downright encouraged it. I knew that was a forebear to many new things to look forward to in games.
I look forward to what comes next, especially when Battlefield Bad Company 2 succeeds. :D

Destructable enviroments are only part of the picture. What comes to mind when i think of the word "Dynamic" is proabaly the STALKER series with its dynamic weather cycles/ day night cycles, ultra dynamic lighting (propper sun tracking, flashlight shadows etc) A-Life creating a world that exists without the player and where the players actions are persistant but the world it's self is constantly in flux.

Want to kill everyone? Well go ahead but don't expect them to be freindly thereafter. You go into a cave and might find zome zombiefied stalkers, come back the next day (or ngiht) and it might be filled with snorks or some loners might be camping there. Truely dynamic worlds are something just imerging but THe Zone does offer us a glipse of what could be done if we focus on creating worlds instead of shooting gallery corridors or tighly scripted missions *cough* MW 2 *cough*

All this goes in the opposite direction of a corridor shooter and even some more "open world" games and ensures you will never have a playthrough the same or even a mission go the same way twice.

Shamus Young:
Hooray for developers who care about something other than shinier graphics.

But there is a downside to innovation, when someone comes up with something new/innovative, theres a rush to build the game around this one thing at the expense of all other features. Red Faction comes to mind here, the destructable terrain was nice, but as for the gameplay or plot (lack of) there was nothing else to hold your attention.

I think videogames will only come of age when graphics don't matter any more. By this I mean when graphics are so perfectly lifelike that any further improvmenet to the actual technology is not really feasible. Until then, videogames will never be an artform, and will never rise above the ephemeral "look how pretty it is" reaction of gamers.

It's as simple as that.

These things tend to come in small doses. I recall back in the 90's thinking that they should stop improving all the graphics and start improving game play with things like this.

Unfortunately, they tend to come in small doses and a time. Like Prince of Persia being one of the first games that showed the consequences of falling down a pit or Fallout allowing character stats to change dialog options and a person's overall gaming experience. I also seem to recall Twisted Metal (possibly #2?) being one of the first games that also allowed destructible environments, albeit only for about 1 or 2 buildings throughout the game.

Point is, too many companies would rather make games look shiny and pretty than offer a new game play feature. They're in it to make money and the best way to do that is to milk a good idea to death, not create new ones. Sadly, it's the indie developers who tend to be the only ones to break the mold. The more we see the publicly traded, multi-billion dollar conglomerates take over the gaming industry the less innovation we're going to see in games to come.

Hey Shamus, got 3 words for you:

Bad Company 2

You're welcome. See you next week.

I really enjoyed this article, but it made me only think of independent developers who may not use the most modern of graphics, but tweak play elements. Frankly, as long as things look fairly close to what they are supposed to be, such as a gun not look like a book, then that's about as detailed as I need them to be.
I don't know about anyone else, but aren't we all a little tired of having to play musical chairs with our hardware every 6-12 months to keep up with games? I would really like to see a firm graphics system that is 99% bug-free instead of a new version of light shading.

GodKlown:

I don't know about anyone else, but aren't we all a little tired of having to play musical chairs with our hardware every 6-12 months to keep up with games? I would really like to see a firm graphics system that is 99% bug-free instead of a new version of light shading.

I'm with you, I think If games looked as good as half life 2 I'd be happy, and that was nearly 6 years ago. I really think it's pushing in the wrong direction, More dynamic worlds are indeed the way to go. Last game I played that really interested me was Fallout 3 actually, and that's a far cry from all the pretty games going around. It's almost ugly in parts, but the focus on broader scope and interaction With vast amounts of people and events wowed me no end.

Sounds interesting if nothing else, fingers crossed

I have to say I'm wholeheartedly agreeing with you on this front. Some of the most fun I've had includes Crysis's destructible buildings, simply for the sheer immersion factor.

But one game stands out over most any other for me - Company of Heroes. It's an RTS, yes, and it's not exactly nose-to-wall level, but it's graphical representation combined with the sheer ability to destroy everything means that the battlefield is constantly shifting, and I like being able to use the craters in the ground or rubble from the buildings you've battered as cover.

This innovation must persist!

Outright Villainy:

GodKlown:

I don't know about anyone else, but aren't we all a little tired of having to play musical chairs with our hardware every 6-12 months to keep up with games? I would really like to see a firm graphics system that is 99% bug-free instead of a new version of light shading.

I'm with you, I think If games looked as good as half life 2 I'd be happy, and that was nearly 6 years ago. I really think it's pushing in the wrong direction, More dynamic worlds are indeed the way to go. Last game I played that really interested me was Fallout 3 actually, and that's a far cry from all the pretty games going around. It's almost ugly in parts, but the focus on broader scope and interaction With vast amounts of people and events wowed me no end.

I'd be happy with Battlefield 2 graphics for every future game being released. I've gotten to the point where I don't bother upgrading my rig for a specific game. 9 times out of 10 the $400 investment won't be worth it since those 3 year old games are still taking up most of the hard drive space... and my free time :)

Sorry Mr Young, but you haven't sold me on anything here. Seems like you're saying a dynamic game world has until recently been untapped, and until now the focus has just been on making things prettier. But is Half-Life 1 not more dynamic than Quake? It still used an engine that needed to compile the map geometry and run optimizations based on what would be visible at any moment, but that doesn't altogether preclude having a dynamic environment. Going back further, Duke Nukem 3D was more dynamic than, say, Descent. And with moving lifts, Doom was more dynamic than Wolf. Seems to me this trend has existed since the beginning of 3D.

Also, one of the examples of destructible environments you mention is really just about making things prettier anyhow. Don't get me wrong, I love the cinematic physics that are on display in Episode 2, but the finale would play exactly the same if they did an old-fashioned obscured-by-explosion-sprite model switcharoo. Of course, that wouldn't be as cool. So making things prettier actually does matter for player experience, too.

Interesting example you chose for a discussion of a gaming innovation other than graphics. I'm curious how fighting on top of a moving train improves the gameplay? Furthermore, the top-of-a-moving-train sequence reminded me of the one in Killzone 2.

Fearzone:
Interesting example you chose for a discussion of a gaming innovation other than graphics. I'm curious how fighting on top of a moving train improves the gameplay? Furthermore, the top-of-a-moving-train sequence reminded me of the one in Killzone 2.

He was talking about how this game introduced fully traversable set pieces. Most games would reduce many of the sequences in Uncharted 2 to cut scenes or quick time events. The train is notable as being the largest of these interactive set pieces, so it gets a lot of attention, but the tech that went into that is the same tech that allowed you to maintain full control during the trucks sequence and the collapsing building sequence, neither of which would have been possible without the tech they developed.

But then again, we had Syndicate having fully destructible Goddam cities back in the early 90s.

The main challenge isn't engine or processing power though (Or at least it isn't always now, and certainly won't be by the next gen), its AI. We still have enough problems making AI react believeably when they know where all the cover and navigatable objects are and will be. How the hell are we going to get them to react to an enviroment that constantly shifts. If you look at the AI of nearly all games they only use immoveable or partyly immoveable objects as cover (by partly immoveable I mean objects which are destroyed or moved in Stages) they usually just ignore objects which are pushed around the world entirely by the physics engine.

destructive access in games is a problem not a future. level design becomes a huge PITA, how do you control progression if someone can blow the bricks off the locked door? how do you stop the player driving a truck through your expertly setup chokepoint because trhe barriers could never be sufficient.

you end up with the original red factions problem, the first few missions feature all the destructive power the gamer wants then it gets reigned in hard with indestructible walls again. anyone who's played red faction and red faction geurilla will probably agree with me that the linear fps environments were more immersive than the open world ever felt.

EBass is raising another good point in that AI HATES dynamic anything. nav mesh's still get built procedurally and finetuned. later drop a truck across an edge in the navmesh and you cut off huge area's of navigation. the more dense the navmesh is the longer the AI needs to spend solving a path. so fewer points equals faster pathfinding. but it's prone to AI's getting stuck without a path because a car landed in it. more complex pathfinidng AI tends to be based on fixed world spaces.

to the people saying stop improving graphics and start focusing on the other stuff, the improvements allow for the other stuff. dx11 has added tesselation on the hardware, this sounds like wank to most people, but it allows the artists to make a 4,000 triangle character that when close up has as much physical detail as the 4 million triangle mesh it was extracted from. not just normalmap (which is used to simulate lighting recieved on a surface to APPEAR more detailled) but actual 3d bumps. to put this in perspective, marcus fenix is about 10,000 triangles. so you can fit 2.5 of him into memory for the same performance cost. these changes your opposing actually enable what your asking for. afterall epic hasn't stopped making perfromance updates to unreal3 so the next gears will play smoother and faster than the first did.

but back on topic, breaking buildings needs a fully dynamic game engine. physics need to be fast as the game will suddenly spawn a few hundred extra physical models when a grenade goes off. the renderer needs to be fast or the models need to be simple as even adding 100 cubes is a big performance hit. 1200 triangles is not big but 100 items instanced is. lightmaps are out on dynamic gameworlds you need to switch to dynmaic lighting. those are expensive. forward renderes struggle with more than 8 and defferred renderes struggle with transparency. you'll have seen this in many games as checquered patterns on "see through stuff" it's pretty obvious on the x360 saints row 2 and the last few halo games. you can get around the stipling by rendering in another pass but you can't have lit tranparent objects if you do that.

so in closing. the graphics engines outthere just are not up to fully dynamic worlds yet. AI is still where it was for quake. and to run engines that can hack full dynamic worlds your looking at reduced story telling capacity as players will just steamroll the game. when the next wave of consoles hit expect dynaimc worlds to be a focus as the median hardware in the market can handle the load. only high end pc's can really do it at todays graphical standard.

I know XCOM Apocalypse was the mutant child chained in the basement as far as most fans were concerned, but the fully destructible environments really added to that game. And it made grenades fun as hell.

Aliens were hiding in a conference room waiting to ambush you, so you had one guy blow a hole in the wall and your other guy toss some grenades in while avoiding the line of fire.

I'm still angry about the Pepsi Machine physics debacle that Bionic Command had. Pepsi was the big advertiser in a game that was all about wrecking havoc, but those damn Pepsi machines contained Anti-matter that invalidated your ability to smash them. I had dreams where I went on a rampage leveling everything in my path, and there stood that damn Pepsi machine, taunting...mocking...shining like a polished turd logo of omnipotence. I still don't drink Pepsi and people tend to give me extra space when they see me screaming and making lewd motions at Pepsi machines.

Shamus Young:
Red Faction: Guerrilla brought us destructible environments.

Starfighter 3000 was the first game with fully deformable terrain, it came out in 1994.
image

mooseodeath:
destructive access in games is a problem not a future. level design becomes a huge PITA, how do you control progression if someone can blow the bricks off the locked door? how do you stop the player driving a truck through your expertly setup chokepoint because trhe barriers could never be sufficient.

While I certainly appreciate the technical examples you give, and I think you make an excellent point that there are still many technical hurdles to creating the wet-dream of a nearly dynamic gameworld, this first bit gave me the most pause. The issue of doors being destructible, and chokepoints being assaultable with trucks, are both things that people in real life deal with all the time. I would think that real-life solutions might offer possibilities for your game world. Alarms on doors, impassable vehicular barriers. Etc.

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