Monday, May 31, 2010

worlds

floating from one game to another is a little bit too easy. i spend my time attacking one game, exploring it to its conclusion, then before i remember to reflect, another game pops into the disc tray. the previous game’s universe collapses into a .sav – the next one expands onto the hard drive.

i finished Prototype about a month ago. I didn’t hear much about it besides the fact that it was based on the Incredible Hulk game where you could drop-kick tanks, so I snatched it up for $20. The plot was as sparse or as intricate as I wanted it to be – I could glide from story mission to story mission, I could only play challenges testing my ability to mow down 100 Infected in 30 seconds, or I could stalk the city for people who knew about the plague settling on NYC. It was actually very reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed –  surprisingly faithful to its real-world setting, intricate conspiracy theories to explore or ignore, interesting ways to move around the city. GTA, as a comparison within the genre of open-world games, was never very good at either of those issues – salient plot points are either doled out meticulously by story missions or not at all, transportation is either conventional and pedestrian (can cars be pedestrian?) or unforgivingly sparse. Gliding from Times Square to the top of the Chrysler Building, hijacking a miltary helicopter in midair and taking out several tanks before bailing above ‘Whichcraft, while whipping scientists out of the crowd and consuming their memories doesn’t compare to “running over a bunch of pedestrians in a car and then ramming into other cars until my car sets on fire and explodes” in my book.

I also concluded my experience with Resonance of Fate – not as in “completed”, but “had one of my party members removed for a mission in a game whose central mechanic is that all your party members need to work together”. it’s a fun game, i will probably pick it up again in a month or so after my indignation subsides. like random battles (also in this game!) or escort missions (the mission right before this), removing a party member is a sacred RPG trope dating all the way back to FF1, whose existence is a crutch for gamedevs to lean on when they run out of ideas. Resonance of Fate seemed to work fairly hard to shed Squenix cliches, giving us a battle system without menus, characters with reasonable hair, no MP system with fire/ice/water/air/life/death spells. It’s unfortunate that despite the vastly different mechanics, RoF ended up with the same old tropes – simply because the genre has a history of that trope.

Starcraft, though. Jesus.

Part of the reason I posted a partial history of online gaming was because the PC was once, unquestionably, dominant. Around the time of the Playstation and N64 (and even the Dreamcast, PS2 and GameCube), some enthusiasts were tolling the death knell for the PC. but there were 2 factors working in the PCs favor: (1) online connectivity, which was horribly implemented or outright ignored by everyone except the dreamcast (lol) (2) PC hardware was still expanding rapidly since the heat wall of Moore’s Law hadn’t yet been hit. The chart below shows how dramatic this wall is – you still don’t see CPUs hitting more than 3gHz without dramatic cooling aparatusususussim (I don’t care what the plural of “apparatus” is)

moore's law capped out around 2005

 

And if you correlate with the previous timeline, you can see 2005 is the beginning of the end – Xbox Live launches a popular online gaming service, getting it completely right to the point where Microsoft can charge a monthly fee and get customers for it.

ANYWAY.

STARCRAFT.

StarCraft is the penultimate PC game – something that requires delicate controls only a PC can provide, a multiplayer component that can’t be played split-screen, and a deep, thoughtful, immaculately balanced player-versus-player matchup that only Blizzard can provide and mantain. Add in a dedicated community using public tools to create entirely new genres – Tower Defense? Started as a StarCraft custom map. Defense of the Ancients games? Started as a Warcraft3 custom map. Farmville? Started as a – okay, that’s a lie (But for the record, Farmville inherits heavily from browser-based MMORPGS created before “social networking” – or even “Web 2.0” – was ever a thing).

I chose the word “conclusion” extremely carefully in the first paragraph of this endlessly massive post. StarCraft is so finely tuned that, like many of the finest FPS’ (which are, of course, the flagship of digital graphics, smart twists on old formulas, and online play in the gaming world), its appeal seems nearly endless, impossible to conclude. Yes, you can “finish” the single-player campaign, but like Half-Life, single player is barely the beginning. StarCraft’s multiplayer world is so rich it has developed its own language. Learning the language, improving your play, watching players comment on their games and share knowledge – I won’t get tired of this anytime soon.

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