If Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery…

August 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

I felt bad arguing with David Jaffe in my post a few weeks ago, not because I thought he was right, but because I actually think he’s a damn good game designer. His work has done a huge amount for action games worldwide, so much so that the term ‘God of War style’ is now in common usage across the web.

Concepts pioneered in God of War have become commonplace in a huge number of games released since, with varying degrees of success. The three most popular features to rip off? Hit the jump to find out…

Brute Force Combat

Kratos is a formidable opponent. His constant scowl, menacing growl and frankly terryfying baldness combine to create a character that could easily make anyone want to commit suicide rather than face him in combat. This terror created by his character design is emphasised by God of War’s gameplay, which sees you take on dozens of enemies at a time without breaking a sweat.

A major part of what makes the game so fun is this power you posses. It’s rare to see an enemy you have any fear of taking on, and in normal combat this confidence is well placed, with your Blades of Chaos simply slicing through wave after wave of enemy.

A much more subtle sign of Kratos’s power however is the way in which he interacts with the most mundane of objects. Health refueling boxes are not opened with a single button press like most other games before it, instead the player must mash a button repeatedly to get at their contents. Doors are often opened in a similar fasion, and who can forget the scene around half way through the original game where Kratos ripped the skull off a dead body to use as a key.

This interaction doesn’t just add a little more interactivity to some of the most traditionally banal aspects of action games, but also develops the protagonists character to boot, by emphasizing the sheer power he possess.

Also seen in:
Too many games to count, but a couple that come to mind are Tomb Raider: Underworld when smashing vases for collectables, and more recently Batman: Arkham Asylum when smashing open grate covers.

Defining the Hack and Slash

Though clearly God of War is nowhere near the original hack and slash game, it nevertheless created the template that a huge number of games in the genre now adhere to, which needless to say makes writing this article a whole lot easier.

How many games have you played which involve the use of a long range melee weapon akin to the Blades of Chaos? Heavenly Sword ripped this feature off most blatantly, but countless others have done a similar thing. How many games use the now standard ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ attacks seen prominently in God of War? How many of these games even map them to the same buttons? How many – yeah, you get the picture.

I’m not trying to say that God of War invented any one of these things, simply that it did it so well, creating such a solid system of combat that it made sense for other games to use something similar. It’s gotten to a point where – as previously mentioned – simply calling a game ‘God of War style’ means you can be pretty certain it’ll control in this way, quality not permitting.

Also seen in:
Dante’s Inferno, the aforementioned Heavenly Sword, and certain aspects of Brutal Legend.

‘Cinematic Gameplay’

Here we have the most dividing influence God of War brought to prominence, but it’s worth noting that quick time events did not make up the whole of what made God of War such a cinematic experience. The oft overlooked uncontrollable camera employed by the game not only allowed for the right analogue stick to be used for dodging, but also allowed for the creation of some amazing camera angles, giving the game the cinematic quality it’s so lauded for.

But it’s the quick time events God of War has the reputation for, because it’s one of the only games to do them well. In the words of Yahtzee, quick-time events in most games hardly ever amount to more than a ‘Push X to not die’ button prompt appearing on screen, which is hardly very interactive, and never much fun.

Whereas most of its imitators will throw button prompts at you without any warning, often leading to a quick reload of your last save, God of War made sure that you always knew when such an event was coming up. It would make sure you were the one who initiated it, usually by pressing the circle button by a stunned enemy, so you were never on the back foot, and were able to actually enjoy the cinematic animation played out in front of you.

The backlash created by the overuse of QTE’s has meant that it’ll be unlikely that you’ll find them in many of this holiday’s releases, which is certainly a shame because when used in moderation, and above all, when done well, they can make the ends of boss fights all the more satisfying.

Also seen in:
Uncharted: Among Thieves, X-Men Wolverine: Origins, The Bourne Conspiracy, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Are there any other games that have spawned so many imitators in recent times?

Over to you…


I Work Alone

August 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

As popular as party games are, and as widespread as online gaming currently is, I still spend 90% of my gaming time going it alone. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is true of everyone, but for me it can definitely prove troublesome, especially with friends as great as mine (though your mileage may vary).

Why can’t I bring myself to game more socially? Multiplayer games are a seemingly easy option, offering everyone the chance to play simultaneously. You can live the life of a Fisher Price rockstar or topple Book Blox, but these are shallow experiences for me, based on quick thrills that can’t entertain for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Single player games can more easily scratch this itch, but they do so at the expense of group play. It’s easy enough to pass the controller round to take it in turns, but when there’s a lot at stake – such as in Fallout 3 where death can send you back a good distance to your last save – it becomes harder to hand over control. You’re sacrifice might not even be rewarded, as playing a small portion of the middle of a game means your friend will miss the all important difficulty curve entirely.

Most readers should be screaming at this point about co-op, and I’ll agree that this is without question the best way to play with friends. It promises the best of both worlds, the companionship of multiplayer, and the story driven experience of single player. Gears of War 2? Yes please! Timesplitters? Yes again! With these experiences being as fun as they are, it seems strange that they’re so hard to come by. A tiny proportion of games released have any co-op mode at all, and a smaller still proportion are games you actually want to spend time with.

Weirdly enough my solution to the problem is actually single player games. The best gaming experience I’ve ever had was playing Shadow of the Colossus, and for all intents and purposes, it was a co-op one. Both of us played the tutorial to ensure we knew the score, and we then took the rest of the game in turns, backseat gaming when possible to help things along.

This couldn’t have happened with more people, nor if we hadn’t been completely into what we were doing, but it was amazing to be able to share that game with someone else for its entirety.

Honestly, if I could, I’d game like that all the time.

No Thanks, I’d Rather Play Indie

August 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

It seems my PS3 got imbued with a sense of taste at some point in its lifetime. After spending upwards of ten hours playing through the sublime Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay the console decided to die on me just a couple of hours in to the good, but inferior Assault on Dark Athena.

My first thoughts after the incident were understandably bad, not least because a rented game was now stuck in my console, but after being absent from HD gaming for two months now things really aren’t as bad as they initially seemed. I’ve discovered the wonders of indie gaming you see.

Most PC gamers are no stranger to indie titles. These games, often released very cheaply or even for free, are characterised by their small development teams and minimal budgets. Surprisingly (for me at least) this did not lead to a drop in quality in most cases, I’ve in fact found many of my favourite games this year have been indie releases. I only discovered this scene because my $400 console broke, so what needs to happen to get more gamers into this position?

A simple answer might be that with the sheer quantity of free games available it’s always going to be impossible to easily jump into. The low barrier to entry means that anyone can put a game out on the internet for free. If everyone were a born game developer this wouldn’t be a problem, but as it stands there are thousands of games out there of a questionable quality.

It doesn’t help that major game sites (think IGN, Gamespot) – where a huge majority of gamers get their information from – rarely pay much attention to these games. On the occasion they do get mentioned, it’s usually tucked away in some dingy corner, separated from the ‘big boy’ releases. Game of the Year awards rarely include any indie titles, which has lead to this assumption that they’re somehow inferior to Triple-A releases, which of course many of them aren’t.

There is some quality writing to be found about the ‘scene’ for anyone who cares to look for it. Destructoid’s ‘Indie Nation’ series as well as Bitmob’s own ‘The Indie Scene: A to Z’ column both highlight the best releases, and anyone at all interested would do well to check these articles out.

Another factor acting against indie games is that they hardly have a presence on consoles, where the majority of gamers currently get their fix. This has changed this generation with the advent of download services such as PSN or XBL but the economy of releasing on these platforms doesn’t allow for games to be released for free, a problem when the more eccentric indie games are very much a love it or hate it affair. It’s also a problem that a game’s quality needs to be assessed before it can make it onto a console, which, at the end of the day, will be someone’s subjective opinion.

I hate to say it, but with the closed nature of consoles, this situation is never going to change. At least a select few titles can make it through though, such as Everyday Shooter, and Cave Story.

For some the low graphical fidelity will prove too much, despite the clever methods many developers use to cover it up. No matter how good the gameplay, or how deep the experience, there will always be those put off by how a game looks. For these people there is no solution, and it’s unfortunate that they are the ones holding the purse strings of our industry.

The odds are stacked against the indie games of this wold, and you’re never going to see Passage plastered across billboards at Times Square. If it wasn’t this way it simply wouldn’t feel right though, it just wouldn’t be indie…

News Just In: David Jaffe Disagrees with Something!

August 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

For a long while now the discussion of ‘Games as Art’ has dominated a particular sphere of the web. There’s a group of people (myself included) that believe games have the potential to be so much more than what they are at the moment, for the most part mindless fun and violence. Someone who shares my view is Destructoid’s Anthony Burch, who in the latest instalment of his ‘Rev Rant’ series attacked gamers (and to a certain extent industry professionals) who claim that games should just be ‘fun.’ I’ve posted the original video below for your viewing pleasure.

But someone – specifically David Jaffe, creator of the Twisted Metal and God of War series – isn’t happy about what the Reverend is saying. He posted a video response on his blog attacking Anthony’s view, claiming that people are trying to make art games, they’re just not very good at it. He says that ideas that come along as art games turn out to be boring and simply don’t work well as games. For completeness sake I’ll also post his video below.

Anthony has done a pretty good job of defending himself here, saying that if a game like Passage can be more artistically relevant in five minutes than most video games out there can in their entire eight hour play time then this is proof that there are some people out there that know how to do art games well, making Jaffe’s response of ‘We just don’t know how’ mute.

Most of what needs to be said has already been, but that hasn’t stopped me from doing a bit of thinking of my own. No matter what way I go about doing it, I’m forced to conclude that Jaffe’s argument is defeatist, plain and simple. He’s saying that efforts have been made to make artistic games, and that because these have turned out ‘boring’ they haven’t been pursued.

It seems like he’s saying that because an artistic idea hasn’t fallen out of the sky into their laps, fully formed, that they haven’t tried running with these ideas. But no one said it would be easy doing something completely original and unique. To simply claim that ‘no one knows how to do it’ as a reason for not doing it is rubbish, you, being the incredibly talented game developers that you are, should be working out how to do it. If what he’s saying is one hundred percent accurate (I’m not going to claim there isn’t a shred of truth in it) then people came up with ideas that fell through, and then this same group of people turned around to just make the same kind of game again.

Think about the creativity of Infinity Ward, coming up with Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer, and completely changing the way we play online first person shooters. Think about all the innovations in Left 4 Dead, all the ways that game managed to make you work together as a team without forcing it upon you. These are all huge innovations, but they’re all going into making it funner and funner to shoot stuff in the head. Just think about what could be achieved if these amazingly creative teams set about making a game about something other than killing.

Jaffe, you’re not going to read this, but if you do, know that I think you’re an amazing developer. Twisted Metal was awesome, God of War more awesome still, but to give up at the first hurdle is taking the easy way out. If one man can make art games that last five minutes, a team of highly skilled developers could make a 8 -10 hour experience that speaks to the human condition. They couldn’t do it easily, but they could.

Edit: Since writing this piece, Jaffe has written a further follow up piece on his blog here.

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