Malik  (7/06/04)

Well, I know I'm a bit late in getting this posted.  However, since this is late as it is, I won't take away any more time in ranting right here...there's enough of that in the following pages.  As a sneak preview, on Friday I will cover some of the more social aspects of violence in gaming from a less politically correct, yet more correct point of view.  However, that's not important at this moment, so sit down and get ready to enter my world.

Are We Just Getting Greedy? 

According to the Rumor Control section of Gamespot, GTA:SA will not be online...was I sleeping or something, because I could have swore that the recent GTA games (in other words, the games that appear on the PS2) did not have online and this was in no way what-so-ever an issue. However, since this had to be addressed by Gamespot, it makes me wonder if we, as a society of geeks, are just becoming too dependant on the online buzzword. 

With some games, online is a second nature event. For example, it is hard to imagine a FPS that doesn't' have an online capability, since FPS games are typically based more on the action and adrenaline rush you get from pulling out your shotgun and capping someone in the arse than on a story driven mechanism (story games don't usually work online). I mean, if we heard that Halo2 was not going to offer online, I think that would be a good reason for the geek community to riot. 

However, on the other hand, we have Chronicles of Riddick, the new FPS that is based on a strong plot element. There is no online, and CoR is still kicking ass and taking names because it is one of the rare FPS style games that actually gets you more involved with the plot than the average FPS. On the same note, imagine an online Deus Ex or probably imagine how cool it would be to play those online, but if you really consider the implications, it'd be easy to see that the plot devices would have to go and all you would have left is a mediocre FPS action title. 

Now, why would we need a game that is obviously set up for the story and one player action, like GTA, to be online? I mean you would have to throw out the missions, as a first step. Next, you would have to consider how many people could be active on a single server. If you have a lot of people, with a more complex engine (like the GTA engine), you would have the most lag filled crapfest ever seen in an online game. So, unless the SA city gets scrapped and replaced with either a smaller version or a less detailed version, the lag would just make the game unbearable. However, I think one thing we've all seen from GTA3 and VC is that a big city is where half the fun comes from. Without a large city, we would cheapen the entire experience. So, how about we reduce the number of people per hypothetical-server? Well, with such a large environment, you would never run into another player...well, not never...just really rarely. So, what would be the purpose of that? 

Now, supposing you took care of those issues, what would one do online? Would it be a co-op experience? Deathmatch? Separate servers for each? Let's start at the top; 

For a co-op experience, since the missions are always based on the logistics of one criminal (like Mr. Johnson in GTA:SA) vs. a gang or more. However, if you throw in more people on the side of the protagonist, wouldn't that just make the game either cheap and easy like a Liberty City whore or overly unrealistic (I know, GTA isn't realistic...but it has enough elements of realism to keep it fun). On one hand, if the missions are all like those of the normal (1-player) game, then you could have a whole server of players (let's say's a good number for maxing out a server on most online console games) vs. one little gang. What would be the fun of that? It would be as difficult as playing the one player game with god mode enabled. On the other hand, if the missions are bumped up in difficulty online, to encourage parties of Mr. Johnsons, then you would have to face a few hundred gang members. Just think about it for one second. Not only does that sound really unrealistic, but it sounds like that number of characters in one place would drop the speed of the game to a crawl (the CPU can't handle that type of shit). 

So, how about we give a deathmatch mode? Well, with only 16 or fewer people per city, and with a huge city full of interior and exterior scenes...well, you would never find a single victim. It's like playing Desert Gultch (Halo map setup for 8-16 players) with only two people. You search for about 10 minutes and hopefully find someone to kill...then one of you dies...then that person respawns far, far away...yipee? Once again, I don't think we'd want a smaller city, so that just wouldn't work with a simulated major city experience...maybe if it was GTA: Smallville or something in the hick town type of size...but that just sounds pretty damned lame. I dare anyone to say otherwise, and mean it. 

Now, if the servers were a mix of co-op and deathmatch, that would be cool in theory. However, you'd still be limited from few people and much city space. The only plus side of this setup is, and I think we, as in GTA-geeks, can all say this, often times with GTA it is just more fun to sometimes go ape-shit after you finish a mission constructively. It helps you take out your frustrations (like with the Death Row mission of GTA:VC...after I finally got through without Vance committing suicide, once again, my first time, I had to go crazy with my rocket-launcher on some of the po-po). The only problem is that this would be no fun, at all, for the people who are trying to finish a mission. I mean if it is a simple escort mission, then you won't care when you have to restart because on of the other players gave you a grenade. However, if you're almost through a Death-Row style mission and someone (mini-)guns-down your ass, you are not going to be just wouldn't work to share a server with some people who are just there to kill. 

Plus, when you consider the engine, GTA is not made for multiplayer. The premise of the game, in a nut-shell, is that you are a little god-like in your abilities. That's how you can take a grenade and keep walking. Or you could fire a rocket at your feet and still go on. No if you give every other person on the street the same abilities, it would just cause some really lame shoot someone with three rockets and they run off to find some more armor...woohoo? If you want a co-op GTA experience, you are going to make the game way too easy, and if you go deathmatch you are just going to have some really lame fights that will never end. 

Most importantly, GTA games (well, post-GTA2 GTA games) are designed for the plot. While the plot may be silly and really lame at times, you are playing to progress the plot. If you stand around just trying to cause a riot by firing your rocket launcher like mad, the game wears thin in about 10 minutes. What keeps a player playing is the thrill of passing a mission. Without the missions, it just wouldn't work, and with multiple people trying to tag-team a mission, it definitely wouldn't work (it'd be so easy that only the people who would normally use cheat codes would enjoy it...or so hectic that the game would chug along as the PS2 tried to handle 100 gang members in a massive brawl). 


The solution is, thankfully, both easy and being implemented...or should I say the problem is not being implemented. For those who want online in everything you do, then get the hell away from good offline games and quit your bitching. Rockstar is definitely doing the right thing by leaving online far away from GTA:SA. We don't have the technology in the PS2 to handle a proper online GTA game, and unless we want to sacrifice the quality level that GTA is known for, then we are far better off leaving GTA offline. 

For those who really want an online GTA with large servers, I have a simple solution for you; To replicate that experience, play GTA3, VC, and I'm better SA will let you do this too, and turn on the pedestrians riot and the pedestrians are armed cheat codes. Enjoy!

Games May Earn More Than Movies... 

...but is doesn't mean that games should be treated like movies. After finishing Thief: Deadly Shadows, and the last dozen or so games that I've played, I have to say that I'm sick of seeing the standard movie clichés that fail so miserably in movies making such a strong presence in video games. 

Slight Spoilers For Thief: Deadly Shadows 



For example, after finishing Thief, we are not only treated (treated? No...that implies something enjoyable...) to a typically void Hollywood style ending. I'll skip over the actual details, but I'll say this; as the credits are drawing closer, we see Garrett meet a prodigy to serve as his successor for a probable sequel...this is done in the typical fashion of a cheesy Hollywood movie in which as the audience is seeking closure, we instead get the vague promise of a future game with almost no closure, what-so-ever, to the plot. Instead of closure, we are pretty much being told that we'll have to play the next game to get an idea of how the game world continues, but without a real presence from Garrett, who is the only thing I really wanted to know about as the game ended. I've been following Garrett for three games now, and the ending makes it look like we are not only done with Garrett, but we'll have a future title featuring Garrett's little acquaintance. Sorry, but if this is the probable end of Garrett, who is the "thief" of "Thief", I don't want to be left without a sense of closure and a vague promise of some half-assed replacement in a future title. Not only did we have to deal with that cheesiness at the end of Thief, but then as the screen fades to black, on this medieval set game, we are then given a loud unhealthy dose of techno. Techno! How the hell did this get crammed into Thief? Not only doesn't it keep up the mood of Thief, but it finishes the crappy Hollywood style ending in Hollywood style fashion. 



End of Spoilers 

Thief is not the only example of this treatment. It's been seen in everything from the cheesiness of FFX to the campiness of Kingdom Hearts, to the Terminator 3 style ending of Deus Ex: Invisible War. When I finish a movie, that I put only 2 hours into, I don't care if the ending is sub par. I mean if my commitment is only measure in a hundred or so minutes, it doesn't mean much to me if that time turns out to be wasted on the ending. However, if we're dealing with a game that I pour a few dozen hours into (or more), I want to have a sense of closure. I mean with a short little movie, I don't have the time to form any sort of feeling towards the characters and world of the movie. However, if I'm playing for over a dozen hours at Thief (not counting the time spent on the first two titles), I want some closure to the story...unless there is a prospective direct sequel. However, Ion Storm seemed to make it clear with the ending of T:DS that if a new Thief title comes out, it won't star Garrett, but rather it would be an opening for his apprentice. So, in the end, Ion Storm is telling me that I spent several years and dozens of hours with Garrett to be left with nothing. 

Games, by nature of requiring a far greater level of commitment, need to please their audience in a way that's different to how a movie must. Anything that requires a deep level of commitment by the audience, also requires, from the designer or author or whatever, a deeper level of commitment in the total experience. 

We should not have to expect cheesy sentimental crap in the end of a game, or something so short that it doesn't answer the essential question; Why wee we playing? Plus the ending of anything, be it a movie, game, book, or whatever, needs to put in as much effort towards the ending of the story as it does to the rest of the plot. Like with FFX, after a somewhat deep (crappy and sentimental as it was, it still was deep in the aspect that is had some depth to was deep yet shallow at the same time...) experience, I didn't want to be left with some ditzy looking ending that only seemed to explain that Yuna was some air headed idiot and the rest of the cast were equally dense. Or in FFVII, I didn't want to be left, after a fairly good plot through the majority of the game, with just a (this is a spoiler, but not really...) screen shot of a few of the dog-things (that Red XIII was) on a cliff. Was that Square's way of saying, "we didn't think of programming a real ending, so here's a picture of a few doggies...I like doggies!"? 

In the golden age of console RPGs (the days of FFIV-VI, Phantasy Star not being online, Lufia not being torturous to play, and Chrono Trigger), even though the plot line tended to not be nearly as well refined, the ending matched the quality of the game. In FFIV, you felt for Cecil's situation with his brother. In Lufia (the first one), you felt happy when things turned out good...and sad when things weren't so good. In Lufia 2, you could see how a good ending and a bad ending could co-exist (something Hollywood tried from time to time, but always with the same results of failure). However, once geeking became far more mainstream (around the time of FFVII introducing the world to RPGs...not just the geeking world), games started to imitate movies in both visuals and in plot requirements. However, considering the low quality of everything besides audio and visuals in most movies from the mid-'90s to present, is this a medium that should be imitated? 


When one puts so much time and effort into making a game, and when the target audience is expected to put some much time into playing the game, the developer should consider putting some extra time on the ending. I mean a good game (of most genres, but not all...), should have at least a good idea of plot. Thus we should have the plot (which is expected to be good), be handled in a good having a beginning (usually handled quite well by developers), a middle (usually handled the best), and an ending (which is usually omitted). That's it in a nut-shell. If you're going to have two parts of the plot, throw in the third to not look like a jack-ass. 

It Doesn't Look Like a Taco, But It Can Make Them! 

More information is being released all the time for Sony's upcoming PSP. Most of the recent info has been geared towards what shouldn't matter in the grand scheme of a game system; what it can do. I mean a game system, by definition of being a game system, should only really have one responsibility; to play games and to do it like a mo'fo'. 

However, Sony decided that the PSP should be more like a Sony Electronics product and less like a Sony Computer Entertainment product. In other words, the grand scheme of the PSP currently includes playing video games (which is good), playing videos on UMD disks (Universal Media Disks...although they have been dubbed Universal Mini Disks since they are basically a small DVD...not too much different than GCN disks), playing music on UMD, and possibly handling things from TV to MP3 to being a personal voice recorder. The video and audio are more or less set in stone, but the other features are changing with each new set of PSP rumors. 

So, what's my problem? Well, it stems from three things. The first and most important (to me, at least...since I like money...I really like money...I have so little so I don't want to let it go without a good reason) is that with each new innovative addition, I'm stuck with paying a higher price when (I get all systems, so it is not a matter of "if I get one") I buy my PSP. I mean look at the pwN-Gage. With that abomination you get about 3 to 5 electronics in one, and while it is supposedly as much a game player (or more than...) as a cell phone, it is also a music player, a video player, blah, blah. So, in the end, the pwN-Gage is expensive, to pay for the technology that goes into that taco. With the PSP, rumors are saying that the price will be anywhere from $300 to $500 at launch. I don't know about anyone else, but while I'd drop (at the most) $300 on a new console, I will not drop that much on a portable. No matter how cool a portable is in terms of playing a game, it just wont match the abilities of a console...and since I find it more enjoyable to have my big TV, couch, surround sound, and a few other comforts as I geek-out, I will spend the big bucks on something that can fit into that equation...not for a small screen, less sophisticated of games, and a few features I won't use; like the video player and the audio player...once the PSP dies in a few years and is replaced with something more high-end (PSP2?), my UMD movies will be useless, but my DVDs will work for at least another 10 years on my big consoles and my DVD player, and my computer, goes on and on. Plus, with each UMD movie I buy, I'm wasting a fistful of dollars that could be used to get the same movie on DVD and have the longevity of a DVD movie.

So, another key thing with trying to cram as much crap as possible into a handheld is how this will delay a system, over and over. For example, as Sony gets their PSP ready, they need to try to force another media disk into an over-bloated market. With the new UMD disks, which so far can only be used in a PSP (which means low versatility), they must convince the movie and music industries to actually use these almost worthless disks so that Sony can fulfill it's promise of music and video on the PSP. Until these worthless chunks of plastic can get accepted by the RIAA and the motion picture people, Sony has a big reason to delay the system...they broke enough hearts with the poor PS2 release, and I think they'd rather piss people off with a delayed PSP than a worthless PSP at launch. 

Lastly, the issue of quality needs to be examined. How many people out there have bought something that did every possible procedure in one small package only to see that the music player (for example) in this all-in-one turn out to be worthless compared to their walkman? I know I've seen this crap before. I mean my PS2 can play DVD movies, and this added some cost to the price of a system (since they need approval...which comes from money...of the motion picture and DVD people to play movies) and in turn my PS2 is my last choice for DVD players. I mean the PS2 doesn't play about 5% of my DVDs correctly (like American, it's not just the lesser known will freeze and skip on certain chapters), so why would I want to pay for that feature when I can, literally, go down to a department store and buy a DVD player for a mere $50. True, when the PS2 came out DVD players cost a bit more, but even then I'd rather have saved the $20 or so involved with DVD movie playing and saved that towards a good DVD player. Plus, if you have a bunch of substandard (or at least less than perfect quality) features in the PSP and one of them broke down (believe me, that actually!), there's a good chance that it's take the other features down with it. 

As someone who'd want the PSP for only one reason (games!), I don't like the fact that I'm going to be price gouged for a music and video player, and all the other crap (why would I need a mic? I wouldn't), since these will just drive up the price and the chance of system failure. So, long story short, considering Sony's history with consoles (I've burned away 3 Playstations, and I'm a DRE sufferer with my PS2), I don't want to take that gamble on another $300 system. 


Sony needs to take a glance at one of their "competitors"; pwNokia. They tried to cram many features in the pwN-Gage, and what did it get them? Ntohing. At least the PSP can handle (what should be) good games, but the extra features are only needed for the techy style yuppies. No hardcore geek would try to get away with wasting that much money on a bunch of music and video UMDs that are useless without a PSP. These features are, in the long run, more of a liability than a innovation. Sony should try to learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others (Nokia). It's getting pretty late, but it's still not too late. 


So, this did come a little later than I would have liked to have posted it.  However, considering I like taking a vacation or two every year or so, I don't think I'm asking too much.  So, until next week, you know how to reach me if your mere opinions disagree with my correct knowledge.