There are certain enemies in certain games that are a real pain to deal with. Among those there a small select few that are downright panic inducing for some. The first time I can remember it happening was when a friend of mine freaked out upon encountering a band of monks in the original Bard's Tale...needless to say it didn't end well for him. I've heard people online claim that the psychic monkeys in System Shock 2 or headcrabs in Half-life 2 trigger a similar reaction, one of primal fear. While I've never been all that upset by any particular type of video game enemy, there are a few that I have learned to dread. Here's three in particular...
Friday, November 8, 2019
The simplest answer is they are not. In fact, I get the impression that a lot of thought and energy has gone into trying eliminate hammerspace. One of the most common solutions is an encumbrance system. These weight limits were fairly ubiquitous in early table-top RPGs and (unsurprisingly) ended up being incorporated into a lot of CRPGs. In more recent years, the concept has fallen out of fashion (Demon's Souls is the last game I've played that used it). One of the problems with an encumbrance system is it still doesn't really reflect reality in that players can still haul way more stuff on their characters than would ever be humanly possible. In some cases this would result in hilarity in games like Diablo and Dungeon Siege, causing a massive explosion of dropped equipment all over the screen when a player character was killed. Another big problem with abstractly measuring weight is it doesn't account for bulk. Some objects (say, for example, a big bag of fluffy cotton) aren't particularly heavy, but do take up a lot of physical space.
Taking a step back, it's easy to see why a lot of game developers give into the temptation of hammerspace. Managing inventory is a tedious task and in loot-driven games can be an outright punishment in that it forces players to leave valuable booty behind. That is unless a core aspect of the fun is logistical planning. Darkest Dungeon, Astroneer and most recently Death Stranding are built around making important decisions based on limited inventory capacity. In an interesting case of reverse cross-media influence the table-top RPG Torchbearer uses an inventory slot system very similar to what was invented in video games. Another instance where this sort of restraint can be interesting is in the case of equipment definingly the character's role. Some FPS games let the player carry all the guns, but others such as those in the Halo series force the player to decide on a class (made up of two guns) and stick to it. An alternative approach might be to make encumbrance restrictions adjustable in the options menu, or perhaps tied to the difficulty setting. Regardless, the takeaway here is developers that don't want hammerspace need to integrate the limitation in a positive way rather than a negative one.
In truth, I don't mind hammerspace as a concept. The "Tain" in the Myth series or "Dite" in Metal Gear Survive hint at the storytelling potential of having an in-fiction pocket dimension. Alas, the vast majority of the time hammerspace it just hit points of a different color - concepts overused by developers because they lack the creativity to come up with an innovative alternative.
Friday, November 1, 2019
It's something that really began to show at the last Blizzcon with Wyatt Chung's rhetorical question, "Do you guys not have phones?" In other words, their focus had become totally fixed on mobile platforms, microtransactions and tapping into the Chinese marketplace. My understanding is that China is an especially lucrative place for video game companies, not just in terms of new player potential but a lack of stigma when it comes to loot boxes and pay-to-win gameplay elements. Those things, along with free-to-play or fee-to-pay games, have become a plague on the industry. The fun and interesting parts games are inevitably eroded away by more repetitive, more obfuscated, and more addictive gameplay whenever these revenue models are utilized. It has reached the point now where playing live-service games is about as enjoyable as chain smoking. Honestly, I don't see why that kind of electronic entertainment should be tolerated any more than regular casinos. Taking the most unhealthy parts of video games and magnifying them to make a quick buck is as devious as all the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas...yet, despite all the awfulness associated with this industry trend, Blizzard keeps marching toward that golden grail of gambling in video games...piling those straws on that camel's back. That is until just recently, when a big chunk of wood got chucked on top.
Another thing I've seen some people online try to do is claim that this is actually just racism against Chinese people. While I'm sure that is a motivating factor for some, I don't understand how it invalidates calling out American companies and the Chinese government on their human rights abuses. Just to be clear, if we were to consider this form of whataboutism valid then it could be used to dismiss any criticism of any institution. Don't like the way Spain is handling Catalan? You're just racist toward Spaniards. Don't like Brexit? You just hate the Britons. Don't like the way the American government handles...well...anything recently? You're just prejudiced against fat, orange men with bad hair - You get the idea.
The camel's back is broken and this has been a long time coming. Blizzcon is just around the corner and I hope protestors make things truly awful for all those executives and Blizzard and Activision. I also hope that in the future things become awful for any corporate executive that doesn't have the moral fiber to put fundamental human rights before profit margins.
Monday, October 21, 2019
The original Sony Playstation had some great games and, thanks to its CD-ROM drive, high quality music/sound for the time. What it didn't have though, was enough memory. Textures, in particular, were very blocky with a tendency to warp when viewed from certain directions. The lack of filtering and low polygonal models didn't help things either...even so, there are a few surprisingly nice looking games. Just last month, I posted some animated GIFs from Vagrant Story that still hold up surprisingly well. Another game that uses the limited processing power of the PSX to its advantage is the first Silent Hill. The short draw distance introduces clastrophic aspects of horror by blanketing the player's surroundings in fog or darkness. The monsters that emerge from the gloom are also murky and shrouded, giving off vague impressions rather than particular details. It ends up working extremely well in this case because the player's brain is forced to fill in the gaps (a key aspect of the horror genre).
Perhaps influenced by the original Silent Hill, a number of more recent indie horror games have tried to emulate the visual style. Inspired by a post on the 4Chan message board and made into a game for the Haunted PS1 Summer-Spooks Gamejam in less than 30 days, Lost in the Backrooms is one such example. Currently, it's available for download over at itch.io for free. Overall, it isn't a bad game (especially considering the constraints under which it was made), but Lost in the Backrooms does end up feeling a lot like the "Blair Witch" except with a bunch of empty halls instead of a forest.
Getting back to my original point, the presentation in these games is very...grimy. The 3D objects are too jagged to have the impressionist vibe of Overland. Simultaneously, the textures are too muddy and unfiltered to give off the clean simplicity of Grown Home. I understand that what I'm saying here is highly subjective. By all means, if PSX era graphics are your prefered aesthetic don't let me ruin your enjoyment. Some people still like CRT monitors and vinyl record players after all...I, for one though, would be happy if this particular mold-ridden corpse of game presentation was not brought back from the dead in a big way.