In response to “The Tragedy of Alone in the Dark” from The Escapist Forum: This article interested me, because it echoed many of the thoughts I’d had on, of all things, Final Fantasy VIII. Yeah, that one. The middle child in the PSX FF brethren, doomed to never quite receive the attention of his younger, thicker sibling (VII) or his mightier, more respectable elder (IX).
VIII, like AITD is riddled with bad design decisions, yet each one redeems itself on reflection by being a good, swift kick to the face of convention. The worst issues that plague JRPGs are all swept away by a new and radically different ‘Junction’ system. Gone is the ability to simply grind your way to victory, mashing attack and intermittently casting some Cure spell (a la VII) – enemies don’t just level alongside you, but ahead of you, gaining significantly better stat boosts. Fighting need not be about gaining experience, but there’s now a more varied, more interesting incentive to go out and fight, which is to draw spells and obtain a collection of items. GFs shook up a stale and predictable battle system that had stayed virtually unchanged since the days of the very first FF.
Of course, that doesn’t stop them from still being bad decisions. Giving any player equipped with more brain power than a cephalopod to junction himself to 9999 HP and max stats in the first few hours of the game was never going to turn out well. Nor was building a junction system that punished magic casting use with stat decay: in essence, players had little incentive to do anything other than junction to Str and spam attack, or, failing that, junction to Mag and spam the GF command command instead, the latter being only marginally more relentlessly uninteresting than the first. Hunting down rare enemies to obtain some obscure item vital to a weapon upgrade became tiring quickly, and the card game was either a pointless distraction or an express route to 99 hero drinks, that then made the game virtually un-losable.
At least the spirit was there, though, and perhaps with better execution and a little more thought, FF as a series could have taken a radically different direction. As happened, though, the cool reaction from fandom prompted the self-consciously conservative IX and may well have seeded the stagnation JRPGs have suffered from (and for) over the last decade.
If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If a game is worth playing, what makes it worth playing? You’d want to play it right, since your idea of right will be my variant of left.
Perfection is quite a fickle thing. We can never quite get to that point where we say ”This is perfect, it cannot be improved any more than it has been.” due to the fact that someone may not like it thus making the whole thing, well, imperfect. When someone has brilliant ideas but is unable to shovel them in to a product correctly they’re usually shunned, but it doesn’t make the idea any less of a good idea if you believe it to be so.
Even if Alone in the Dark was a monolithic goose-chase in several areas, it has still made an advance of some kind and I believe that’s what matters.
Also an off topic: Many great ideas were spawned in sheds.
In response to “Crying Out For More” from The Escapist Forum: I applaud games like this. But to spurn certain gameplay conventions is doom for the medium. There are certain things that the game industry take for granted but are not (i.e. ‘everyone loves burly space marines! who needs a storyline? let’s stick some guns in there.’) But there are some things that are the result of true and tired trial and error, and you should not ignore it. Look at Portal. Okay, it’s no Citizen Kane, but it has a nice difficulty progression, it makes you feel all fuzzy inside when you complete a puzzle, and you almost never wonder where to go (unlike, say, Half-Life 2).
The same way some experimental moviemakers will try to do away with basic moviemaking elements, or literature deconstructed itself with postmodernism, some people will push these boundaries. But since games require the gamer’s effort to proceed, you are failing in your quest unless you expected the game to be so hard to solve the player had to resort to a walkthrough. (Now that would be an interesting commentary.) There’s little point in building an amazing wonder of sensation and misdirection if those experimenting it need to alt-tab back to our drab old world to proceed through it.
Then again, after watching the characters in Dead Space explain exactly they were feeling as if the designers assumed I might be an autistic robot raised by wolves who would be unable to comprehend that strange thing humans call fee-lings, I welcome any game that assumes I am able to understand things that are not explicitly said.
In response to “The Last Masquerade” from The Escapist Forum: I can’t put my finger on what’s so good about Bloodlines, but I’m willing to see past its flaws to enjoy the game underneath. That’s kind of rare for me. It’s that Jazz idiom; “They’ve got something to say.”
Some levels (like the ghost house) are very well designed, others are just ugly (down-town). The White Wolf canon in the background could have become an orgiastic nerdgasm (imo WW players are notorious nerdgasm-junkies) but manages to stay out of the way without feeling overlooked.
Great, memorable characters. Maybe that’s enough.
The only other flawed but brilliant game in the same league I can think of is the first Mass Effect; although a sort of reversed version where I love the gameplay but don’t really care about the bland rubber-faced-alien “epic” in the background. I did however care about three of the characters. Perhaps that’s the secret sauce?
Excellent article, although you took the time to mostly focus on the game’s shortcomings. In response to that, I’m not joking when I say that Bloodlines holds the top spot in my list of favourite games, and here’s why.
Obviously for me to say this I have to rely on fan made patches to make the game 99% playable and reliable; that comes as a necessary thing with a game featuring so many game breaking bugs. And sure, as pointed out, the game is indeed rushed – as you progress through the four main level hubs the amount of available side quests drastically diminishes each time, the lengthy sewer section midway seems mainly like a cut and paste job, and the last quarter of the game is heavily combat oriented and inferior to the game’s beginning. But all of this is mostly irrelevant in my eyes, as what this game offers that so few others do is a vivid and compelling atmosphere.
Bloodlines not only allows you to play as a Vampire, you become one while playing the game. The soundtrack, the storyline, the characters, the setting and the art direction all come together to form an in-game world that is not overwhelmingly huge to the point of Morrowind-esque sandbox, but large enough to invoke awe while still remaining strongly focused to the plot. While the game has many obvious flaws, it gets everything that matters completely and utterly correct – there has not been another game that has drawn me into its game world as effectively and enjoyably as Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.
If only the team had have been able to polish this diamond further, perhaps more people would have been aware of it and game may have been even better. Thankyou for the article, I hope that somebody reads it and is compelled to find and play the game as a result.
In response to “Stumbling Through Mirror’s Edge” from The Escapist Forum: I definitely had an issue with the combat. I tried going through my first playthrough for the “no shot fired” achievement, which (aside from being an achievement junkie and needing my fix) seemed to me like the way the game should be played. I didn’t want this game to be a shooter. Before the game came out, I played the demo into the ground; I was totally hooked on the style of “run, jump, flow” through the city, with “combat” limited to “kick, disarm, drop the gun, and run”. That was the game I wanted to play.
Some of those levels were head-poundingly frustrating, though, having the self-imposed limitation of not shooting. The old saying “never bring a knife to a gunfight” is even more true when you have a half dozen guys shooting at you from different directions and you substitute “knife” with “bare hands”.
That, and I found the controls extremely unforgiving. Way too often, I felt like I was fighting the controller as much as anything else. I’d know that I’d want to make a certain jump or turn, but if I didn’t hit the right bumper button at the right microsecond, I’d find myself flat on my back on a platform thirty feet below with the wind knocked out of me, if I was lucky. (And using the bumpers anyway felt really awkward; my hands always seemed to feel more cramped after a night of Mirror’s Edge than any other game.) It’s even more aggravating when you’re working on a time trial and that one microsecond miss results in complete failure.
Absolutely adored the full Mirror’s Edge experience despite the guns and clearly intentional slowdowns in the game. When you look at ME you have to understand that the size and scope of the levels you are playing whiz by at a pace unheard of by any FPS games. There is such a depth of design that other development companies just never have to deal with while DICE themselves have been pushing the boundaries of for years (full 360 degrees of map). They had to find a way to slow the player down and keep them from speeding through each level in minutes.
I think what needs to be done in a Mirror’s sequel is essentially find more creative, in engine ways to pace players through the game and enhance the story or gameplay at the same time. My first suggestion there is to make a few more boss set pieces like what occurred on the rooftop with Ropeburn. Throw in some scripted moments that require a some specific maneuvers to break up the free run and advance the story and you could have a really strong series. Guns need to be disarm and drop all the time.