Saturday, June 30, 2007

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games: A Menace to Society, or Something Beautiful?

First of all, I would like to inform my readers of a disclaimer: I, the writer, am a gamer, and will always be. I have never seriously played any massively multiplayer online role playing games, and have focused my gaming primarily on driving, first person shooters, and role playing games. I have only gotten a small taste of what MMO's are like, so I will do what I can to be as objective as possible.

What are they?

MMORPG's are games which are played online over the internet, and involve the player cooperating or competing with other players to attain a certain goal, be it defeating another 'clan' of players, or becoming the most powerful. There is usually an economy of some sort, and prices for items rise or fall depending on their value, determined by factors such as rarity. This all takes place in a virtual world. MMORPG's are complex games, and in some ways, they are more complex than other kinds of games. The number of interactions, transactions, and conflicts that occur in such a game in a day is simply mind boggling, and to define an MMO based on a common pattern of activities would be impossible.

MMORPG's change and evolve as time goes by. Players shape the way the game plays and based on them alone, developers constantly make changes to make it more enjoyable. Unruly players, who make the game difficult for others to enjoy, are normally banned from the game, or imposed certain sanctions. In some ways, not just MMORPG's, but games in general, affect people's lives in both positive and negative ways.

One reason why I never seriously played an MMORPG is because they often lead most players whom I know into addiction. This is the state when a player is no longer able to manage his own time effectively, and in the end, loses precious real world time to gain virtual benefits in the game. It is not an uncommon sight, as several friends of mine were, at one point in their lives, addicted to an MMORPG, and eventually got over it. I however, was so into an MMORPG that I completely lost track of time, and it affected my schoolwork badly. In the end, MMORPG's weren't the right games for me, as I felt that for a game to be a game, it had to have a proper start and finish. In an MMORPG, there is no defined end (other than the decrease in the game's popularity online to staggeringly low levels, such that game servers are forcibly shut down due to financial losses). The player can never truly be the most powerful player in the game, since he is limited by the game moderators to only be slightly more powerful than the general population, which enables other players to catch up.

Although this rabbit hole may fall deep for some, it is indeed a colourful rabbit hole. There are hundreds of things to do, and things keep getting better and better as time goes by.

In the end, I believe that MMORPGS should be fantastic experiences for those who search for something unique and community based. Just don't let the rabbit hole pull you down too deep.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lessons Learnt from the History of Video Games

I refer to the article on Wikipedia about the History of Video Games. I find it fascinating that video games have evolved so much from the past, all the way to the present. This is evident, as it all started from simple pinball machines, all the way to our current electronic games. One thing that I find interesting about history is how we can learn from it, and the history of video games is no exception.

1977-1983 - The Rise, and Deathly Fall, of the Video Games Industry

There are several interesting events in the change of this entertainment medium which I would like to talk about. Firstly, the birth of the games industry offers a fascinating insight as to how the medium's popularity nearly led to its downfall. After Ralph Baer created the Magnavox Odyssey, the first commercial video games console, Atari created the home version of PONG. This sparked the immense popularity of home video games. Soon, many clones of the same game emerged, and later newer consoles were made, such as the Video Computer System, the Intellivision, and the Colecovision. Because of the rising popularity of games, many developers decided to 'Jump In' (quote from Microsoft's current slogan for their XBOX 360) and several different consoles were made, offering too much choice for the average consumer. Most of the developers were not prepared for what the industry had to offer, and as a result, they produced games that were of poor quality. A popular example is the Atari 2600 version of the game E.T. This led to the erosion of interest in games made by consumers, and from Christmas 1982 to 1983, the video games industry crashed. The terrible long term effect of this crash was the shift in the balance of power between the Japanese and American video games markets. When the industry recovered in 1987, the leading console was the Japanese Nintendo Entertainment System. This shift in power can be seen today, as the Japanese console manufacturer, Sony, is the current market leader. This is because of their highly successful PlayStation and PlayStation 2. The lesson learnt from this is that for this industry to survive, it must always produce products that have certain values, such as 'FUN' and 'Quality Entertainment' experiences. An example of a device that is beneficial for the games industry today is the Nintendo Wii. It's a games console which uses motion sensing control for input. It is beneficial for the industry because of its simple motion controls, thus attracting today's non gamers (mothers, fathers, grandparents) to an entertainment medium that has lasted for more than a decade. Thus, the circle of gamers in the industry has expanded, and more people are now willing to play games than before. Overall, I praise the Wii in its universal appeal, and making the industry more colorful than the often stereotyped 'DOTA/Counter-Strike' player (Hardcore Gamers).

1994-1999 – Changes in Format in the Video Games Industry

Change occurs in many different ways, but for the video games industry, if one is to survive, one must handle change INSTANTANEOUSLY and without hesitation. A good case study of change was seen in the 32/64 bit generation of video games, when Nintendo decided to continue to use cartridges as the medium for video games with their Nintendo 64, instead of adopting the new Compact Disc formats its competitors followed. This was because they wanted to reduce piracy of games for their console, and enabled their games to have shorter loading times. However, the downside of using cartridges meant that Nintendo charged greater licensing fees because cartridges had a higher manufacturing cost than CDs. This led to developers preferring to develop for Nintendo's top rival console, Sony's PlayStation. This was due to the fact that it was cheaper to develop for, and that they could change production to meet demand. In the end, the Sony PlayStation became one of the highest selling consoles of all time, with 102.49 million consoles sold worldwide as of 31 March, 2005. This was significantly higher than that of the Nintendo 64, which sold only 32.93 million. The lesson learnt from this part of history is that developers and hardware manufacturers must meet the demand of great changes in the video games industry, and for them to satisfy the demands of their clients, not themselves.

Overall, I believe that the history of video games has a lot to teach us, and that we can learn from our past. History can guide us as game developers to not only avoid past errors, but to work towards a better future for this industry.

My Favourite Game

My favourite game of all time is known as Resident Evil 4. It is a game about a Government Agent named Leon S. Kennedy, who is sent to an undisclosed part of Europe to rescue the US president's daughter. I enjoyed playing it very much, because of its awesome story, innovative gameplay, and mind blowing graphics.

When I first got the game, I did not expect much. I had played the past Resident Evil games, and did not like them. I felt that their stories were corny, and contrived. The past games involved the massive viral outbreak caused by the fictional Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical company which experimented with cures to diseases. As a result, many lives were lost as people turned into zombies craving for human flesh. Resident Evil 4 takes place after the fall of the Umbrella Corporation. Leon is first seen being driven to a remote village in Europe, and chances upon a cottage near the village. He meets an elderly man within the cottage, who appears annoyed by Leon's questions about the president's daughter. Soon, as Leon turns around to exit the cottage, the man swings an axe at him, and just barely misses. This surprising act caught Leon off guard, and he soon realizes that the village was keeping a dark secret. As a player, when I gained control of Leon, I knew I had to search for the village. When I finally found it, I saw villagers shuffling about, and burning what appeared to be human corpses. This scene in the game triggered an unusual emotion which I felt. I wanted to go into the village because I knew that that was my objective, but at the same time, I didn't want to enter the village, because I feared getting killed. At that point, I knew that this Resident Evil was going to be one hell of a ride.

After learning about the story, I started getting used to the gameplay. The previous Resident Evil games involved shooting targets from a fixed environmental perspective, and searching for puzzles. In Resident Evil 4, you control your character from an over-the-shoulder perspective, and used precision aiming instead of probability. This was a fantastic move made by the developers, as it made the game more challenging and addictive. Also, the camera angle created a sense of claustrophobia because of its rear centered nature, which enhanced the gameplay experience, instead of hindering it. This is because even if Leon was attacked from the rear, he had strong reflexes that could be activated using certain button presses. These button pressing events even took place during cutscenes, which kept players on their toes. Also, there was a wide variety of weapons, which enabled the player to blast his opponents away in dozens of styles. My favourite weapon was the SWAT shotgun. Nothing matched the satisfaction of blowing a zombie's head off.

Lastly, the graphics were a major reason why I bought the game. It plays just as well as it looks. The lighting and atmosphere is awesome, and each character model is fairly detailed. The sound provides a great horror ambience, and gunfire is just as satisfying. Overall, if you are looking for a fantastic action adventure game, I would highly recommend Resident Evil 4, because it is truly the greatest game in the Resident Evil series, and is probably one of the 100 greatest games of all time. Period.

Friday, May 25, 2007

My Definition of FUN

To me, fun is the emotion experienced when a person enjoys what he or she is doing immensely. This is the feeling I get when I play great games. Good games induce 'fun' to a targeted audience.

An example is the popular Dance Dance Revolution, which is well known for its rhythmic gameplay and the addictive music accompanying it. It has an audience of millions of people based on one simple gameplay principle: the tapping of floor buttons based on arrows appearing on screen. This is a game with fantastic design, as it allows beginners and advanced players to enjoy the level of difficulty they prefer, and at the same time have an addictive multiplayer component. Another example of a game that is 'fun' in my book is Mario Kart for the Nintendo DS. It's a racing game that is easy to learn but hard to master. This is because of the skill required in handing the random items given to a player in a game, and the drifting mechanics. Because of the random items system, players can never really master the game, as some of it requires luck. Another example of a game that is 'fun' is the first person shooter, Counter-Strike. I loved playing this game when I was in secondary school, and still do today. It is a game that involves tactical strategy and quick reflexes. The fact that it is multiplayer leads to an array of possibilities for the outcome of a match. Because of the unpredictable multiplayer component, no one can be truly good at the game, and that is why it was so popular back then.

Overall, I believe that for a game to be fun, it must provide a certain degree of challenge to the player; a challenge that can be circumvented within human capabilities and at the same time, a challenge that does not overwhelm the player. Also, a game that is fun must have a certain degree of unpredictability. This would ensure that the player would come back to the game for more FUN!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Munchkin Mania & Story VS Gameplay

The New Munchkin Cards!

I refer to the article titled Story Vs. Gameplay, on I agree that games are capable of telling a story, but find that a story in a game is merely secondary in nature to gameplay. This is because I believe that the reason why people play games is that they are looking for a time to have fun, not to enjoy a story. A good example of a game with little or no story is a game called Beatmania, a rhythm action game where the player must press buttons in order to play alongside a piece of music. This game has no story, but its gameplay is so well designed that people all over the world play it for fun. Another example of a game without story is one of the oldest games in the world, chess. Players move pieces across a tiled board in order to defeat an opponent.
Although I believe that story may be secondary to a game, it is a contributing factor to how games are so enjoyable. The story is sometimes meant to enhance the gameplay experience, and to give the player a reason to continue playing the game. A good example is seen in a game called Halo, where players must save the human race from the clutches of an alien race. If the story was not as well told as it was in the game, players would feel unsatisfied with the game, despite its brilliant first person shooter design. However, if the gameplay was stale, people would care little about the story. Thus, story is an element incorporated in gameplay, but cannot exist on its own in a game. An example of a game with too much story is the Xenosaga series. Most review sites such as Gamespot and IGN have complained that the game series tends to focus too much on story. For example, there may be times where there is half an hour of cinematic cutscenes, but only 15 minutes of gameplay at a time.

Overall, I believe that games are what they are: games. However, it cannot hurt a game to have a small, but meaningful, story.

Friday, April 27, 2007

26 April 2007

Today in Principles of Game Design, I learnt about posting our experiences in the class on a blog, and this is my first post. We played a card game called 'Munchkins' in class. This was the first time I had ever played a role playing card game, and I was thrilled. It was a game that involved the leveling of your character until level 6 to win. However, others would try to stop you.