Countdown Game Standards

Written by TAD


In this article I will describe some really bad points of the PC software standards and the public's eager mood to buy some rather crappy games just because the graphics or screenshots look 'pretty'.


This article is a bit of a 'rant' but I am sure that many other people and experienced gamers will agree with some of my words, not all, but some.


The Net feedback.

Why do I write such a negative article against some well known games when I can simply e-mail my suggestions and bug-reports directly to the game company and help improve their products?

Well the simple reason is that many companies will completely ignore cold e-mails unless you are registered (and so have to endure endless crappy adverts and news letters - buy all our games... etc..). If you really dislike their game then you highly unlikely to register, aren't you? The other reason for not registering is that you have only played a demo and so want to ask about "will this bug be fixed in the final version?" type questions. Some companies dislike this type of emails, which is strange when you consider the price of your average game.

Companies are usually slow to react to public comments unless they come from a large (paper) magazine with the ability to kill sales dead without buying a single game. They don't want a bad advert for their games, do they? Companies will release a game, wait until they see the % scores given by a magazine and THEN pay for adverts in that magazine. They also like to use and gold-awards in their adverts too.

Tomb Raider 7 - The quest for decent controls.

When I first saw this game running on my old, dusty (non-cached) 80486 using a software renderer, I thought it looked nice, so much so that I bought the game!

After playing many, many levels which looked more and more alike I got really bored and gave up trying to finish the game, something I normally like to do (DOOM, DOOM II, DUKE3D, BIOFORGE, SYSTEM-SHOCK etc). I can't really understand why so many people buy EVERY Tomb Raider game that comes out, they all look indentical to me, just a few new textures and levels and Core Design rake in the chink-chink gold stuff. I remember I used to call them "Poor Design" because far too many of their early games had nice graphics, but shame about the game-play. I feel that this can still be said about the Tomb Raider series (sorry, Core, heh heh).

The main problem I have with Tomb Raider is that of the control system and the really big lack of flexibility in its movement and actions. You can only jump if you press the key before a certain pixel somewhere in the middle of a block, NOT near the edge like a "real" control system would allow. It seems that the animation sequence dictates the movement and whether you slid endlessly down to your death time and time again. If you try to change directions or actions during an animation then tough luck, you can't. The freedom of most modern games are frustrating absent from Tomb Raider. I don't know if this is a restriction of the game engine or what, but it still seems to be present in all the later game demos, and IMHO it SUX.

The beauty of games like DOOM, QUAKE, HALF-LIFE etc. is that you have pixel based control over the characters and not block based trigger points like in Tomb Raider. In short if you fall off a ledge then you were too late pressing Jump, rather than missing the engine's jump trigger point in the middle of a block like in the T-R games.

Another major problem I have with Tomb Raider is the rendering engine. It sometimes looks very pretty, but it is still a cube based platformer and so many landscapes and rooms all look indentical and really blocky. I can't understand why they are still sticking to this old method of rendering, it's starting to look very, very, very dated.

The actions for jumping, running and sliding all look like pre-defined animation sequences rather than a true "interactive" control system. How many times have you slipped, landed on a slope and had to climb all the way back up because there is no way out of the falling sequence? Far too many. Sorry, but there are far too many automattic actions for my liking. If Lara "stereo-type" Croft touches a slope then she suddenly performs a back-flip for NO reason. Why? I didn't press the JUMP keys! Hey, I thought the player (ME) was supposed to be controlling the character?

Konsole Kidds.

I guess the reason for the block-based levels and auto-action controls is that Core Design wanted to aim for the console market where most players are younger than PC owners. Because most consoles don't have a keyboard or mouse they are restricted in their control systems and try to make things very simple due to lack of keys, or lack of game engine freedom.

The only other reason could be that Core Design's programmers have a poor understanding of control systems and the word 'playability'. Perhaps this is unfair, but after buying the damn game I feel that I have some right to bitch about some horrible problems, who knows, maybe they might get off their rich, worthless arses and improve things for Tomb Raider 5... (it's not like they are short of cash from the Lara Croft money machine).

Game Freedom.

One of the best reasons why 3-D game engines are so popular is due to their freedom of movement. In the old 2-D games you were simply moving in 1 or 2 directions without any real control. Games like Scramble, Star-Force etc. In short these games forced to player to move at a certain rate and in a certain direction. Along came 3-D games and the players found that they could move in any direction and at any speed, they could even stand still and snipe at passers-by if they wanted (I know, I do).

One of my favourite games on the ancient Atari ST and Amiga is Hunter. Although the game engine is laughable by today's 3DFX standards it had the freedom to pickup object and explore the map in a large number of different forms of transport, you could even fly a helly over an enemy base and parachute down to drop timed explosives. Or you could drop land mines behind you as you drove across the hilly terrain to try and blow up the passing bull or solider. Fun, Fun, Fun.

And this is my main point. Most games just blindly follow the standard Quake-like engine without any real new innovation or decent control system. The companies seem to spend more time on their fancy lens-flaring, colour lighted graphics engine than they do giving the player a good control system. I have seem far too many engines which looks very nice, but had the playibility of a dead slug in a Gym trying to bench-press 100 tons.

Thankfully some game companies are slowly starting to get the message and produce better controls instead of simply adding more and more lame weapons. They all talk about freedom but their levels are still very linear with a start and end point. The very worst games force the players to collect a certain object before they can exit, without they must go back and search the entire level for a tiny 1-pixel switch hidden under a box behind an invisible door on the secret platform which you can't get onto because you shot an enemy and his body is preventing you getting out. ARRGGGGHHH.

The best games are the ones with different routes to the same goal. This could just simply mean a fork in the road with different obstacles down each path (one large monster, and one puzzle for example). Or where a mission can be completed using ANY form of transport, weaponary at your disposal. Again, I return back to Hunter. You had boats, surfboards, jeeps, ships, helicopters, tanks, hovercrafts, push bikes and a shit load of weapons at your finger tips. You could even chop up seagulls in your helly roter-blades, or squash civilians under your tank tracks. Oh what fun.

Combat Cobblers.

Another rant ahead:

I have never been able to get into the Virtua-Fighter type games or other modern beat-em-ups. The main problem I have with them is the control system (yet again). The player seem to just be there to type long sequences of key-strokes while the on-screen character jumps, kicks and goes through a boring animation of impossible acrobatics.

Sorry if I am sounding thick here... but where is the interactive part? You know, the bit where you control the player and get almost instant feedback, sort of, interactive.

I still have a soft spot for the old Spectrum "Way of the exploding fist" (yeah, dodgy title for a game... but true) and those type of fighting games. Also "I-K 2" on the Atari ST was a nice little game. The skill was in the speed and reaction of pulling punches and activing one of those 17 odd actions (kick, punch, back-flip, block etc.). In short you were playing in real-time.

I can't see the fun in modern fighting games, I guess I'm more of a shoot-em-up fan, give me Half-Life or Quake anytime.

Interactive Movies.

These suck. I really can't stand long, boring opening movie sequences. After all I bought the game because it's a GAME and not a movie! They are simply a quick method to fill up the CD space and most people just view them once or skip them completely. The only real benefit from using movies is to keep low-budget actors in work (grin), but seriously, they can be good for mission briefings rather than a huge page of text. This gives the player chance to catch his/her breath and grab a coke/beer.

Perhaps one of the best uses for all that 'spare' CD or DVD space was demonstrated in that old favourite of mine, SYSTEM-SHOCK. In that game they used huge audio samples as the data-logs for the massacred space crew, and so the storyline and clues could be discovered as you played the game, rather than having to watch a boring 15-minute movie at the start. In short you could play parts of the movie which you wanted to at any time, in case you missed an important clue, it was YOU in control and not some wanna-be movie director.

Big Business Blues.

There are lots of movie companies and big corporations trying to get in on the game creating scene and like so many others in the past, most will sink without trace. They think that games are "beneath them" and are poor immitations of the movies which they are making, but they are just being very stupid and want to "bring their movie/story telling skills" to the world of video-games. (Oh, no. Not again!)

Did anyone play the game Tresspasser?

Can anyone recall a good interactive movie?

Can anyone remember the name of an interactive movie?

Thought not. Movies are a passive experiences, and video-games are NOT. This is something which most companies and the army of directors fail to realise. They just waste time everyone's time, and some peoples money.

The only real benefit from the movie world is motion-capture and image scanning technology, but it all goes into making a dynamic, real-time and INTERACTIVE experience, not a 5 minute long sequence of B-movie acting.

Closing Words

Well, that's all folks. Sorry all you Core Design or Tomb-Raider freaks, but I strongly feel that my criticism is both fair and correct. How many TR games have you sold? And how much profit have you got from the large breasted Lara Croft? And when will you create a better control-system instead of simply repackaging the same, old game engine time and time again?

I have a feeling that if Lara Croft wasn't on the cover, then Tomb Raider 2 would probably never have been made.

I think that the game scene is similar to the current demo scene. Far too big and unfocused. ID-software has the best approach, keeping the number of employees down to a small, talented number instead of a vast collection of individuals who all seem to do identical jobs, but take years to produce anything good. Big business likes idea of having hundreds of people working for it, it gives them the sense of being "successful". I have seen both sides, the small groups and the large teams with more managers than braincells and I'm definitely in favour of small, groups and small companies.

It seems that once a company has grown beyond a certain point they achieve "Critical Mass" and never produce anything of worth due to the company's gravity. Soon entire teams of people leave and form their own small company. The problem with huge companies is that the top people want to try and control the creative process, throwing money, hardware and people at a product when it starts to go pear shaped. Most are so out of date that they wouldn't spot a great game even if it jumped up and bit their head off.

Does Sony want to own the entire music/entertainment world, or is it just me? Even some of the well known and seasoned companies of yesterday are being bought and sold every week. Their name changes to "xxxx Interactive" and all of a sudden, they aren't producing any games which is kinda strange in a games industry.

"There will always be great games, great programmers and great artists, the problem is getting them all together at the same time to produce one game." TAD 1999.



TAD #:o)