Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Art of Computer Game Design: What the Player sees in the Design Process

In the 1983 book The Art of Computer Game Design Chris Crawford begins with comparing traditional art and its design process with computer games. He believes that “the computer game is an art form because it presents its audience with fantasy experiences that stimulate emotion.” Just as the painter uses strokes and colours to evoke fantasies deep within the audiences mind, the computer game uses codes and rules as well as audio and visual stimuli to draw the player into a fantasy world. Yet as Crawford says “art is nevertheless difficult, because there are so many practical problems associated with stimulating fantasies deep inside another person's mind.” It is for this reason the design process of computer games is so difficult to master. When we listen to a song, for example, we can automatically detect the tension or harmony that occurred during its design process. If the composer was writing to a deadline we often can tell the song feels rushed. If he/she hadn’t used a particular instrument before we can tell it feels amateurish. Crawford argues that computer games face the same problems. He believes that players can see the points of tension and planning that occurred during the design process in the finished product. In this essay I aim to discuss what exactly becomes visible of the design and production process through gameplay. To do this I will draw on Crawford’s own experience with designing his game called Eastern Front 1941 as well as the experiences of Richard Rouse the Design Director at Surreal Software as he recalls the design process that occurred during the making of a stylised horror shooter called The Suffering.

In Chapter Five of the Art of Computer Game Design Crawford suggests “a set of habits that the prospective game designer might wish to assimilate into her existing work pattern.” These habits are laid out in a sequential order and depict the “ideal” process when designing a computer game. These steps include: Choose a Goal and a Topic, Research and Preparation, Design Phase, I/O Structure, Game Structure, Program Structure, Evaluation of the Design, Pre-Programming Phase, Programming Phase, Playtesting Phase and Post Mortem. When one designs a computer game artistic tension or harmony occurs within these stages. It is this tension or harmony that becomes evident in the final gameplay.

Crawford says “a game must have a clearly defined goal”. This “goal must establish the fantasies that the game will support and the types of emotions it will engender in its audience.” A designer who does not layout a clearly defined goal at the beginning of the design process will inevitably face problems when they must make trade-offs due to limitations. If the goal is murky or vague, when it comes to choosing between certain features the designer will most likely make the wrong choice. However if the goal is clear the designer will only include features that truly reflect the fantasies the game supports. Rouse tells us in his post-mortem of The Suffering that “having established [the] high-level design goals from the start, [they] were then extremely frugal about adding features”. These goals aimed to produce an action horror game that explores the issues of the prison system and the death penalty. They found that they had to omit mechanics that were non-essential, for example, beyond the main character’s weapons and flashlight batteries he is not able to carry any inventory items. The team at Surreal would have like to incorporate keys into the characters inventory (since it was set in a prison) but they realised that this would not add much to the “core gameplay experience”. In cutting such features out they were able to focus more on the features that did enhance the gameplay. For example, the inclusion of a first-person mode was able to be developed. This provided the player with a more immersive way to experience the action and horror and was very popular during playtesting. Rouse believed that “overall our strict policy paid off nicely and allowed us to refine our core features while staying on schedule.” The choices made through this “Choose a Goal and Topic” stage of the design process were made visible in the gameplay.

According to Crawford, following the creation of the goal the designer must then implement a game structure that reflects the goal in every way. However, “the central problem in designing the game structure is figuring out how to distil the fantasy of the goal and topic into a workable system.” Crawford uses his title Eastern Front 1941 as an example. The goal of EASTERN FRONT 1941 concerns the nature of modern war, and especially the difference between firepower and effectiveness. To implement a game structure that effectively reflects the goal of the game Crawford focused on a key element: movement. Movement is the key element through which many other aspects of war are expressible. It is easily understandable and easily manipulable. The result of designing a game structure focused on a key element which clearly expresses the goal is that the player is able to easily express him/herself within the fantasy of the game. If there are too many key elements trying to be tackled at once the game loses its focus and the player’s ability to express themselves becomes disjointed from the goal of the game. The player experiences a disjointed fantasy through gameplay when there are too many features that aren’t directly related to the apparent goal of the game.

Once the game has taken shape playtesting ensues. According to Crawford, “ideally, playtesting is a process that yields information used to polish and refine the game design.” Playtesting is not only used as a program debugging tool but also as means through which to gather information regarding the effectiveness of the key elements in expressing the overall goal of the game. Playtesting will tell the designer if the elements are too disjointed to convey an effective fantasy for the player. Hopefully this is not the case and the flaws within the game aren’t so fundamental. However if it is the case, the designer must make a crucial choice; try and fix that which may already be broken, or abandon the game altogether. As Crawford says there is a temptation to “fall back on a quick and dirty patch job”. The designer should only choose to carry on if there is a solution that promises to further the faithfulness of the game to its goals. Crawford uses his own experience as an example, “I ran into a severe problem with unit counts: there were far too many units for the player to control conveniently. After wasting much time trying to devise ways to shrink the map or directly reduce the number of units, I eventually stumbled upon zones of control, a standard wargaming technique that extends the effective size of a unit. The inclusion of zones of control in the game not only solved the unit count problem; it also made the logistics rules more significant and gave the game a richer set of strategies.” Crawford was able to repair this design flaw in a way that still kept true to the goal he set from the beginning. When playing Eastern Front 1941, instead of confronting a flaw within the game, the player now has access to another layer of strategy that fits coherently within the fantasy of the game, due to an effective playtesting phase.

Overall, the most important design aspect is a clearly express goal set out at the beginning of the project. It is the harmony and tension within the expression of this goal that becomes visible to the player through gameplay. Every design phase that Crawford suggests is dependent on a clear goal. If the goal is ambiguous then the game structure will be disjointed and filled with tension. If the goal is not clear, no amount of playtesting will help. Once the goal is defined, its expression within the fantasy of the world becomes next priority. The balancing of key elements becomes a juggling act between too little or too many. It is this balance that is crucial to the success of a game. Whether the balance is struck or not, it is nevertheless the case that the player experiences each and every choice the designer makes throughout the design process.

Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design can be viewed in full here
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Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Artistic Revolution of New Media (the R18+ debate)

As with all new forms of media, or new artistic mediums, controversy surrounds the content that should and shouldn’t be displayed. For society to come to grips with new media a period of scrutiny must ensue. During this period society enforces its accepted moral standards upon the new media to control and restrict its access. This has been occurring for hundreds of years in all cultures, but more recently and in Australia the moving image was once thought of as a crude and distasteful medium. Such classics as King Kong, Frankenstein and Dracula were banned in Australia in 1941 for high impact scary violence and cruelty. Society of the times had heavily scrutinized a new media they did not fully understand. Today we have such movies as Hostel and its sequels, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Cannibal, all of which have incredibly high amounts of blood and gore and are freely available from any video store. Gradually society has accepted film as an art form that should not be easily restricted for it can be used as a form of expression and meaning.

Today interactive media is under the watchful eye of society. Video games are a new media not yet fully fleshed out as an art form much like film was in its infancy. On top of the crude and violent image video games have received they are also unfortunately seen as the domain of children. Hence society has scrutinized and shunned games for a very long time. However this has been shown not to be the case as Dr. Mark Finn discusses in his insightful reading Politcal Interface: The Banning of GTA 3 in Australia (2006);

The criticizing of a new form of media is an entirely natural process, yet with games it has lingered for further than usual. One person; Attorney-General Michael Atkinson is responsible for the banning of so many potential games in Australia over the years. As it still stands today, “In Australia, a game that cannot be rated by the Classification Board into the top MA15+ category is essentially unclassified (UC). Anything that is UC cannot be legally sold in the country.” For example, the banning of an American parody game known as GTA 4 was recently banned in Australia (then modified and released) for containing the ability to perform what would be an indecent act in real life. A potentially positive addition to the education and culture of Australia was restricted by a man that does not accept that games can have an artistic message much the same way film and literature can.

What do you think?
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Path - PC Review

Developer - Tale of Tales
Publisher - Tale of Tales
Genre - Undefined
Platforms - PC
Score: 9/10

When I announce to someone I’ve recently met that I study and design video games I quite often get puzzled looks. ‘Really?’ they say. ‘You’re devoting your whole life to games? Errr… Why?’ It is at this point I take a breath, ready myself and begin my rant. I’m pretty proud of this rant; it can go on for quite some time and I’ve put a lot of work into it. It includes everything from Aristotle’s Catharsis theory to psychological theories of escapism and its importance. I deliver this rant with all the passion I have in my body. By the grand finale I’m puffing and sweating at the brow. I look up, awaiting the response to my perfected monologue. ‘But in the end, it’s just a game isn’t it? I mean, has there ever been a meaningful game?’

It is this question that always shuts me up. I stumble and stammer whilst I desperately search for my perfect example. I suggest that Super Mario Bros was actually a social commentary exploring the detrimental effects of illegal substances. That doesn’t work. I suggest Tetris was actually a socio-political demonstration of the self-destructive nature of capitalism. No luck there either. I point out Dominic’s moving love story in Gears of War 2. I’m met with laughter. No matter how hard I try, I can’t tell them of a truly artistic, meaningful game. That is, until now!

Believe me when I say The Path will be unlike anything you have ever played before. That I can guarantee. It flips and reverses the way you have become used to experiencing interactive media for so long. The Path is essentially an interactive re-telling of the famous Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. Using the template and themes of the story it shows the player that the path to womanhood can be experienced in very different ways depending on the woman herself. At the beginning of the game you are met with a room of six very different sisters named in the vein of something red. You must choose between Scarlet, Rose, Ruby, Ginger, Carmen or Robin to begin their journey. For an independently developed game the visuals in The Path are very evocative, especially the on-screen art around the edges of your view which constantly shifts. Once you have chosen a sister you are set on your path with only two instructions: visit your sick grandmother and don’t stray from the path! The first time I played through I couldn’t help but notice various movements and glows of light in the edges of the forest, but I continued on. I arrived at grandmother’s house, safe and sound. However, at the end, I was told I failed and received no score! This confused me immensely! When I thought about it, I realized the designer was trying to tell me something. The path to womanhood is never straight forward and without conflict. I realized I had to disobey my instructions and take these sisters through the forest so they could mature into adults before arriving at grandmother’s house. What lies within the forest is completely unique to each sister, but the last thing I want to do is spoil this incredibly moving and (for me at least) educating experience. Each sister must face their wolf and most do not change for the better.
If you believe you are someone who appreciates artistic expression, whether it be through canvas, film, music or literature, do yourself a favor and purchase this game. It may well be the game that changes your view on video games forever. Hopefully, one day, I’ll never have to answer the ignorant question ‘But it’s just a game isn’t?’ again!
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Art in Computer Games

Can the next Nukem inspire the next Neitzsche? Let’s hope not…

When society hears the word ‘art’ and ‘computers’ in the same sentence they automatically cringe in disgust. People tend to see art as a purely humanistic creation and shun the involvement of any computational processing. The use of computers, some believe, take away from, or take over, the input humans have into their own expression. What I aim to do in this feature is to show people that this is not the case. Indeed, I aim to show that the medium of interactive media has more potential for the expression of the human condition than any other medium that has come before it.

How can I say this is the case? How can I possibly compare such games as DUKE NUKEM, TOMB RADIER and GEARS OF WAR to such revolutionary masterpieces as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and Michelangelo’s David? The truth is I can’t. However, we cannot let computer games be eaten up by the dreaded pop culture beast solely on the evidence of the current crop of games. The medium is in its infancy and the longer we let games bow down to popular culture the longer we will have to endure such meaningless titles as GTA, DAWN OF WAR and WOLFENSTEIN. What we must consider is not the actuality of the medium, but rather its potentiality.
Firstly, we must come to consensus as to the definition of art. Now, as a game design student this is way above my head. However, in 1982 game designer Chris Crawford published a text called ‘The Art of Computer Games’. This fantastic piece of writing was way ahead of its time and is my main source of reference. It can be read in full at Crawford proposes his ‘pedestrian’ definition of art; “art is something designed to evoke emotion through fantasy. The artist presents his audience with a set of sensory experiences that stimulates commonly shared fantasies, and so generates emotions. Art is made possible only by the richness of the fantasy world we share.” Crawford observes that the challenge of art is to get the attention and participation of the audience. With traditional forms of art the audience’s role is to sit passively whilst the artist does all the active work to get the audience to care about his expression. Being active as an audience is impossible. However, without participation attention can dwindle and the impact crumbles away. Here enters the computer. According to Crawford, “the artist has here a tool that is more subtly indirect than traditional art. With other art forms, the artist directly creates the experience that the audience will encounter. Since this experience is carefully planned and executed, the audience must somehow be prevented from disturbing it; hence, non participation. With a game, the artist creates not the experience itself but the conditions and rules under which the audience will create its own individualized experience.” So as you can see the potential for computer games as an art form is much higher than what you had previously imagined. A game allows for participation, participation enhances immersion and immersion creates a much more effective fantasy that can evoke intense emotion.
Take into consideration that Crawford wrote his text in 1982, the time of arcade and pixel graphics. Now that the technology has matured the capacity for not only believable graphics but also high complex rule programming has arrived. Not only this, but independent game design is slowly but surely coming into fruition through such avenues as the modding communities. Now is the time we can create more than mere superficial Skill and Action games. Now is the time we can captivate our audience with something meaningful. Something to get them thinking. Something to get them feeling.
If you took nothing out of this post, please at least play a game called The Path by Tale of Tales. If your attention span can only last if you’re blowing up an alien in a fountain of goo, don’t bother. But if your open to something more, something different, please give it a go. I shall be giving it a review soon.
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Fear 2: Project Origin: Game Deconstruction

What follows is a game deconstruction of Fear 2: Project Origin. It is by no means a review. It was an assignment in which I had to analysis the structural make up of a game to get a better understanding of how a certain type of game is made and played. WARNING: It is interesting, not entertaining.

Game Deconstruction
Fear 2: Project Origin

Fear 2: Project Origin is a first-person action shooter with elements of supernatural horror released in 2009 and made for the Xbox 360 and PC. The story revolves around the supernatural multi-dimensional being named Alma whose rage against those who wronged her as a child causes an escalating paranormal crisis that threatens to devour and replace reality with her own. You play as a Delta operative named Michael Becket whose initial orders are to take scientist Genevieve Aristide into protective custody. It is later learned that you are a key player in Project Harbinger an effort made by the ATC (Armacham Technology Corporation) to brain-wash those with high levels of psychic abilities to become psychic commanders designed to control thousands of troops through telekinesis. Unfortunately, the high level of psychic energy within you is exactly the gateway Alma needs to permanently replace reality with her own twisted version. It is up to you to survive both the ATC and Alma and avoid the destruction of the world either by the invasion of a super powerful scientific corporation or a sadistic supernatural little girl. The game includes all the usual features of a major action shooter title such as a large arsenal of weapons and various enemies to destroy, however it also offers; slo-mo combat, martial arts attacks, enhanced A.I. and the ability for you and your enemies to push objects over to create cover.
To deconstruct the gameplay experience of Fear 2, Espen Aarseth’s (2003) multi-dimensional typology method will be applied. Aarseth’s method is predominantly used for the categorical analysis of games rather than a critical evaluation. It does, however, provide thirteen elements of game identification that can be used to evaluate Fear 2’s gameplay. The thirteen elements are divided into five categories; Space, Time, Player Structure, Control and Rules. To analyze the gameplay of Fear 2 the effect each element has on the experience of playing the game will be observed and critically evaluated. As well as Aspen Arseth’s multi-dimensional typology of games, Christian Elverdam’s (2007) “Game Classification and Game Design: Construction through Critical Analysis” will also be used as a direct improvement on Arseth’s open-ended method. Elverdam found some inconsistencies within Aarseth’s typological classification and sought to improve on the core foundation Aarseth set. Elverdam has eight categories each with their own elements; virtual space, physical space, internal time, external time, player composition, player relation, struggle, and game state. The use of both of these methods will allow for a much deeper analysis of Fear 2’s gameplay experience.

Aarseth begins with space and the three elements that lie beneath it; Perspective, Topography and Environment. Perspective is the player’s overall view of the game environment, being either omni-present or vagrant. With an omni-present view the player is able to see the entire game environment like a game of chess. However, Fear 2 has a vagrant perspective where the player’s view is restricted to the avatar’s eyes, namely, Michael Becket. This restriction of the view enhances the gameplaying experience of Fear 2 in various ways. Fear 2 relies on a reaction- based gameplay where the player must use his/her reflexes to shoot and kill enemies that appear in view. If the player had an omni-present view of his/her surroundings then he/she would be able to pre-empt the enemy’s movements thus eliminating the reaction based gameplay Fear 2 is known for. The vagrant view also enhances the horror aspect of the game. The scary moments in Fear 2 are unexpected and this is because the view of the player is restricted to the eyes of a person. Topography (or Positioning) is the freedom of movement the game allows the player and the way the player determines his/her position in the game. Aarseth believes that a player’s movement is either geometrical or topological. Geometrical is the continuous freedom of movement in all axes of the three-dimensional world, thus the player’s position is the world is indeterminable, where as topological is the restriction of movement to specific co-ordinances designed by the games rules. Elverdam disagrees with Aarseth’s view of geometrical topography in that he believes the player’s position is actually determinable in relation to surrounding objects; therefore the topography is either relative or absolute (topological). The topography of Fear 2 is relative, for the position of the player is only determined by his/her relation to other objects within the game. As with Fear 2’s vagrant view, the relative positioning of the player lends its self to the unpredictable nature of the game’s reflex based gameplay and therefore greatly enhances it. The games Environment plays a particularly interesting role in Fear 2. Aarseth describes the environment of a game to be either dynamic or static. Dynamic meaning the player is able to directly change the functionality of the environment and static meaning the player is unable to change the environment at all. Elverdam believes there are instead three aspects of environment; free, where the player is able to make additions or alterations to the game space, fixed, where such alterations only alter the status of predetermined locations or none, where no changes to the game space are possible. A predominant feature of Fear 2’s gameplay is the player’s ability to flip over and move objects to create cover and gain a tactical advantage. Considering that these objects can be moved multiple times and in any direction it is hard to say that these alterations are fixed, they therefore must be free. The ability to affect your environment to this extent adds another layer to the gameplay of Fear 2. It enhances the interactivity between the player and the environment therefore immersing the player in the game space.

Another dimension of gameplay is the nature of time. Aarseth argues there are three categories of time within a game; Pace, Representation and Teleology. Aarseth describes pace as either being real-time or turn-based, where as Elverdam breaks this down further into three separate categories; haste (whether the passing of time alters the game state), synchronicity (whether game agents can act at the same time) and interval control (whether players decide when the next game cycle begins). For Fear 2 the pace is quite straight forward. It is played in real-time, haste is present because the mere passing of time changes the game state, synchronicity is present because the game agents act at the same time and interval control is absent for there are no game cycles for the player to begin. Again, the typological elements are lending themselves to the fast paced, reflex based gameplay that Fear 2 incorporates. In this real-time environment the player must make spontaneous decisions. If this spontaneity is taken away, the core gameplay is taken away and the game would become an entirely different type of game. Representation, according to Aarseth, is whether the game reflects the way time would pass in the physical world (mimetic) or whether it is disjointed from reality (arbitrary). Time in Fear 2 is mimetic for the passing of time and events reflect how they would pass in reality. Not only does this again lend itself to the fast-paced action of the game, but it also draws the player in and immerses them in a world quite similar to their own in terms of rules (physics, time etc.) whilst still begin fantastical in nature. There is, however, an exception to Fear 2’s mimetic nature, for the player is able to enter “reflex-mode” and slow down the passing of time for a short while. Neither Elverdam or Aarseth address this inconsistency, though it could be suitable to add another element under the category of time and name it Time Control to identify not just games with “bullet time” but games such as GTA which allow the player to “sleep” and control the passing of time. The teleology of a game describes whether the game ends at a given time (finite) or if it could, in principle, go on forever (infinite). Due to the presences of an over-arching narrative it is inevitable that the teleology of Fear 2 is finite. Although a finite game must end at some point it still possesses a few characteristics an infinite game may not. An important part of Fear 2 is the story of Alma who was betrayed and killed by her father when she was only a child. A story with a beginning, middle and end means that the game could not go on forever. Therefore the finite teleology of Fear 2 provides an entire narrative and experience for the player.

Next Aarseth describes the player structure of games as either being singleplayer, twoplayer, multiplayer, singleteam, twoteam, multiteam. The player structure is quite simple for Fear 2 as it is restricted to single-player only. It could be argued that the game would benefit from a single-team (AKA co-op) option to share the experience of the game with another player. However, due to the “scary” nature of Fear 2 the atmosphere and experience of the game is enhanced if the player plays alone.

Control of a game is paramount to the experience of playing a game and is Aarseth’s next category of typology. Control involves three elements; Mutability, Savability and Determinism. Mutability is always an important part of a game because it is the way in which the player enhances their avatar and its position in the game. This can be done through either power-ups or experience-leveling. If there is no change to the players avatar it is static. Within Fear 2, as the game progresses, the player is given access to increasingly more and more powerful weapons. These are power-ups as they are a temporary mutability that can be rendered useless (eg. Out of ammunition). Weapons are a central gameplay element in Fear 2 as they provide the player with the means of completing and experiencing the game. Savability is the nature in which the game state is stored. It is either conditional, unlimited or non-saved. As the game state in Fear 2 is saved automatically at predetermined increments throughout the game it is conditional. This introduces a risk aspect to the player in that if the player loses all his health he must begin from the last save point designated by the game designers rather than their own chosen point. A common gameplay theme within Fear 2 is its non-deterministic nature that lends to its unpredictablility. The enemies are controlled by a randomized code that affects where in the gaming environment they will move. With the inclusion of the advance A.I. the player will never play through the same situation in an identical way.

The last dimension of gameplay Aarseth describes is the rules, of which there are three types; topological rules, time-based rules and objective-based rules. How these rules are applied to a game determines what a player can do as well as their purpose within the game. Topological rules are rules that are determined by a specific condition at a specific location in a game world. Fear 2 employs these rules in order to trigger conflict between the game agents. For example, the appearance of a group of enemies is triggered by the player’s presence in a particular location. The gameplay and pace of Fear 2 is governed by these types of rules. The more these rules are triggered, the more interaction the player has with his/her environment. Time-based rules are determined by the mere passing of time and are not present within Fear 2. Objective-based rules however are constantly present within the game and are the main force behind the progression of the game and its narrative. The player has no choice but to complete the objectives given him. This effects the gameplay in that the player has limited freedom to explore his surroundings and is therefore always on a linear path.

By using Aarseth’s typological categories and the improvements Elverdam made upon them, an in depth deconstruction of Fear 2: Project Origin’s gameplay mechanics has been made. This has allowed not only the concise classification of the game but also an observation as to how these classification elements effect the overall gameplay. By critically assessing Fear 2 a better understanding of the fast-paced, reflex-based action horror games has been gained as well as the ability to easily critically analysis any other type of game.

Aarseth, E. (2003), “A Multidimensional Typology of Games”, p. 49-53
Elverdam, C. (2007), “Game Classification and Game Design: Construction through Critical Analysis” p. 4-16
Monolith Productions (2009), “Fear 2: Project Origin”, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
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Wolfenstein – Xbox 360 Review

Genre – First Person Shooter
Platforms – Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC
Players – Single Player Campaign, Online Multiplayer
Score: 6/10

The time has once again come to step into that chiseled American chin, whip on those bulging capitalist biceps and fight off the seething evil of the Nazi Regime. You are B.J. (snigger) Blazkowicz, a dashing young American special agent oozing confidence and charm. But can your steely gaze of democracy be any match for the pale, baggy eyes of Himmler and his dreaded SS Officers? (all of whom are curiously fluent in the English language). Only bullets will tell.

Yes, it’s 1943 again and the Second World War is at its peak. The Nazi war machine has moved into mainland Europe and has established their foothold. The conflict of Wolfenstein takes place in the fictional location of Isenstadt, a typical European town.

Your mission is to drive the Nazi forces back with shear heroic strength and a hail of bullets. However, in Wolfenstein the Nazis don’t plan on holding you back with good old fashion hard work and ammo like the Allies. No, apparently the Nazis are so incredibly cowardly with their tactics they are willing to resort to the supernatural to take the upper hand. Himmler and his SS are ordered into Isenstadt in the attempt to muster an occult force known as the Black Sun (oxymorons add to the mystery! Oooooo!). As B.J. you must not let these powers fall into the wrong slimy hands.
Now that I’ve gotten all my sarcasm in relation to this abysmally shameless premise this game is based on out of the way, we can have a look at the features and design choices that make up the experience of playing Wolfenstein. The town of Isenstadt is yours to explore openly. You wander the streets in search of Black Market hideouts (save points) housing the German rebels who will give you the location of your next objective. Although this is a welcome change to the standard shooter-on-rails we have been used to for so long, it is by no means original. In fact, finding something different in Wolfenstien is like ordering the entire menu at McDonalds one item at a time. It can’t be done (believe me I’ve tried). As a game design student it really gets me quite depressed to see not one attempt at something original within a game. Usually, behind what seems to be a superficial action-packed First Person Shooter, you can see at least one little spark of creativity pushed through by a talented designer. But with Wolfenstein, those talented designers seem to have been quietly smothered with a pillow in the night by Activision’s deadly representatives. Wolfenstein is a game that has suffered from weak design. That is not to say it is a bad game to play. It merely means that the designers have used old design staples that have been known to work, so they are able to sell and keep their studio afloat.
So what staples does it rely on? What is it like to play? Most of the gameplay mechanics have been taken from the popular Call of Duty series, specifically, Call of Duty: World at War. Whilst playing I noticed this/ so I decided to list the similarities to WaW. I was unable to walk three steps in game without having to stop and write down a similarity. This is what I found:
The controls are identical. LT to look down sights, click in LS to sprint, B to crouch, etc.
The compass on your HUD (Heads Up Display) is identical. They didn’t even change the art.
Obviously the setting is the identical. But also the environments and art style are similar as though they were powered by the same engine (though they are not)
AI is very similar. Both will try to flank you, throw grenades in co-ordination etc.
The Battle Chatter system developed by the CoD series is employed without shame. Enemies will taunt you and inform their teammates that you are reloading. Whilst allies will encourage you and inform you of dangers.
The weapons are exactly the same (minus the supernatural ones). Though Raven decided it would be ‘cooler’ if they boosted the bass to maximum for the gun shots. So shooting an MP40 feels like you’re shooting a hand held anti-air flak cannon.
One major design choice made by the CoD4 team (Infinity Ward) was to employ a well rounded ranking system based on experience points for the online multiplayer. Wolfenstein uses exactly the same system, with the same ranks as well.

Now don’t think I’m trying to put you off playing Wolfenstein. Although it suffers from weak design, what it does do is deliver these unoriginal features in a faithful way. If you enjoyed the sensation of the WaW experience and want more of it, then Wolfenstien is the game for you. If you haven’t played WaW and mowing down Nazis with old fashioned weapons seems like a good way to blow off steam to you then Wolfenstein is the game for you. It suffers from very few technical difficulties and is quite a polished title.

An additional feature given to the player is the ability to use a supernatural power known as the Veil. This is essentially night-vision mode, but it also speeds up the player’s movement. Enemies and their weak spots are easier to see when in the Veil, though it costs ‘Veil points’ to use it. There is also a power called the Mire, which allows the player to slow down time and dodge bullets. Although this is fun when faced with LMG emplacement, it’s nothing new and your ‘Veil points’ run out to quickly when using it.
If you can leap over Wolfenstein’s terrible premise, hurdle over its inability to innovate and bring yourself to dish out $99.95 for a fun and mindless ride through Nazi Germany then it could be the game to entertain you till the next generic FPS comes knocking on your door. My advice is to resist the temptation, save your money and wait till an exciting, new and original FPS comes your way. Whenever that may be…

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Enjoy the Ride!

Hey there fellow gamers and non-gamers alike,

My name is Patrick and I'm a Game Design student studying at Swinburne University in Australia. I love games. I mean seriously love them. They're only second to my lovely partner Ann who helped me set up this blog. Thank you Ann! But anyway, nothing brings me together with a stranger more than playing or talking about games. Half-way through 2008 I decided this was my passion and dropped out of my boring Arts course at Monash and begun to study as a Game Design student full time. It was a huge decision for me! I mean, how many game developers are there in Australia? I know now, but back then, I hadn't a clue.

One year through my course and I've taken in so much. Swinburne has exposed me to the many facets of games and how they should and shouldn't be designed. I dare say I have quite a bit more knowledge on design theories than most professionals working in the industry today.

And that is what I plan to bring to you dear reader! Reviews and News brought to you by a student invested with the knowledge of one of the leading Game Design courses in Australia (check out Good Games feature on design courses)

So enough of the personal stuff! Lets get the ball rolling!

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