First impressions with Split Second

I'm sure the following scenario will sound familiar to most of you, there is a game that has an interesting and fresh concept, you see some gameplay of it and it looks rather awesome. From then on you keep tabs on it, checking up on news and so forth and you're dead set on buying it when it comes out, but for whatever reason, you just don't get around to picking it up until much later. 

This is what happened for me with Split Second, the last driving game I really enjoyed was PGR2 on the X-Box. I can’t think of a time where I have regretted not picking something up earlier, I love this game and while I don’t have a ton of experience with modern racing games, there are certainly changes here from my last experience that I really like.

First of which is the HUD, gone is the distracting mini-map of the track with the car blobs on it, I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes ends up paying more attention to that rather than the actual race. There is no speed metre either, Split Second does a fantastic job allowing its great visuals to convince you that the speed you’re travelling at is above and beyond what regulation MPH dials go up to. And the core mechanics of the driving just feel so great to control.

As of right now, I am falling in love with this game, since PGR2 I wanted a racing game to do more than just race other cars to see who can finish first and this fits that bill perfectly. 

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Identifying Difficulty in Games.

Difficulty in games is perhaps one of the most awkward topics to discuss in gaming. Everyone’s answer to “what’s the hardest game ever?” will always be different. People tend to lean on older games from past generations, but whereas those games were hard due to the limitations of the technology at the time, finding a truly difficult game in this day and age is certainly rare.

Just like the answer to the aforementioned question, people’s definition of difficulty also tends to be varied, in fact, when you consider the literal definition of the word it doesn't really make that much sense in relation to games. Whether or not something is difficult is entirely subjective, what is difficult to one person simply might not be for someone else. Now I’m not saying we need to change the way we name difficulty levels, I simply think there’s a better way to describe it for games and that is looking at it in terms of identifying the problems that games give us. What makes a game difficult is the problems that the game presents you with, depending on the complexity of those problems is what determines the difficulty of the game. More importantly, it is your ability to deal with these problems that determines the consequences and it is the severity of those consequences that ultimately defines how difficult you think a game is.

Older games fall particularly short when looked at this way, the problem was simply that you died in one or two hits from your enemies and there happened to be half a dozen enemies to deal with. It took more memorization skills to overcome these problems because there was simply no margin for error, the consequence in these cases was simply game over. This is the main reason why games that still use this approach are irritating, it comes across as lazy design. Games usually structure their difficulty in one or two ways, there’s the tried and tested “Easy, Normal, Hard” and one that is becoming far more common, which doesn’t really have a name so we’ll call it the “above very hard mode that is called something else”... mode. So, if we were to look at each individual difficulty and break it down into the problems that you face when playing on them, you should have something like this:

Easy: The consequences of not dealing with a problem successfully are still apparent, but toned down to a degree where they are negligible. For example, trying to Rambo your way through Vanquish on the lowest setting is possible because the damage you’re receiving from enemy fire is extremely low, whereas the damage you are inflicting is tremendous.

Normal: Consequences should be clear and concise and the penalties increased accordingly. Once you’re past easy, each difficulty should prepare you for the one after it by making the strategies clear to the player. Finishing something by the skin of your teeth is fine, but not if the only reason was because you got lucky.

Hard: This is where you should also start encountering new problems along the way. Swapping the tables from easy in the favour of the enemies is lazy, make the enemies smarter, introduce new enemies or different combinations of enemies. Fighting one shadow at a time in the original Devil May Cry gave you exactly what you needed in order to overcome it. Fighting multiple shadows forces you to expand on that knowledge as the core problem has been changed, and when the problem is changed, so should the solution to it.

Very Hard: This is where everything you have learned should be put the ultimate test. Consequences should be severe, but by the time you reach this mode you should have learned the necessary strategies to overcome any obstacle a game throws at you. Ideally, if a game has a very hard mode, it should force the player to utilize everything they have at their disposal in order to succeed. If the player only needs to rely on one or two mechanics to deal with unfair disadvantages, then their skill isn’t really being tested.

Sadly this is rarely the case, everything about most games is always the same no matter what difficulty is selected, it just takes a lot more attacks to kill enemies on harder modes than it does on easy. Which doesn’t give the player any incentive to go back, if the player is constantly encountering new problems, learning new strategies and developing their own methods based off a solid base of mechanics; then once they have journeyed their way through all difficulties, they should feel unstoppable, they have bested numerous different problems and overcome them. They haven’t just stood around and repeated the same sequence of events over and over again.

This leads me to my main point when creating a balanced difficulty structure in a game. I have already given you a clue, the key word here is balance, the importance of balance cannot be overstated. If you’re fighting an enemy that has only one safe way to be punished after attacking you, then the player must be capable of delivering massive damage to that enemy. This is where enemy variety really comes into play, if the ability that the player has works for everything, then the game is unbalanced in favour of the player. A perfect example of this is the square, square, triangle move in the first God of War game. It worked as a counter to anything that the game threw at you and once you figured this out, the god mode setting became more about patience than actual skill.

In order to create the level of balance I am talking about, it is essential that the game mechanics be as reliable as humanly possible. Boss battles serve as a great example here, use the boss fights in Bayonetta as an example. Every one of them has a clear, defined strategy for defeating them and learning that strategy is possible through use of the mechanics. Put simply, things must work all the time; there is no use in mastering the mechanics of a game if they are not 100% reliable. Creating such mechanics is hard, and there have certainly been changes to allow for errors on the players part in games where the mechanics aren’t reliable. Regenerating health being an obvious one, this allows a developer to know that you will always come into an encounter with 100% health which can (and often does) creates very hollow experiences on the highest difficulty. The nightmare difficulty in Alan Wake is a good example of this, if you were to make it to some fights with only a sliver of health left, the less than perfect mechanics would make proceeding forward extremely frustrating. Whereas in Devil May Cry, you can be one hit away from death going into the hardest battle in the game, but due to the reliability of the mechanics, success is always possible.

As I said in the beginning, people define difficulty in different ways, more often than not though, it seems that difficulty in games is simply defined by how many times it takes a player to complete a certain task. Just because something took you over a hundred attempts does not mean it has any depth, actually it’s quite the opposite. Each failure should teach you something, and if you’re failing over a hundred times on something then the game obviously isn’t teaching you much with each subsequent failure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that difficulty select screens should end up looking something like this:

Complexity level of problems encountered / penalties for not dealing with them successfully =

·           Negligible

·           Apparent

·           Severe

·           Catastrophic

However, I do think it is a better way to describe what makes a game difficult, and while certain games do little more than alter damage values to increase their difficulty which in turn still forces the player to come up with strategies in order to proceed. Those strategies often boil down to harsh repetition rather than exploring the possibilities offered by the game mechanics when presented with a problem. Merely stating that a game is “really hard” means virtually nothing, the problems, consequences and solutions must first be identified before one can even think of using the word difficult to describe it.   

TLDR = It's only 1400 words, man up! 

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Being spoiled by superb games.


I imagine at some point this has happened to others, when you play a game that is just so damn good it can raise your standards a little too much. The main reasons for this blog are the recent gameplay footage from Ninja Gaiden 3, I played Ninja Gaiden Black competitively for over four years and it took me a while to change my mindset when it came to games that didn’t have the level of depth that game had. Depth wasn’t the only thing though, the responsive and precise controls and the skill based gameplay really stood out to me and became something that I looked for in every game afterwards.

 

Action games became the biggest casualty by far, it wasn’t until X-Men origins Wolverine that I managed to get out of that mindset. It reminded me that not all games needed that level of depth or technical proficiency to be enjoyed. I missed out on some great games over the four years where I played virtually nothing beyond a first playthrough of other games than Ninja Gaiden Black and now that I’ve played those games, I doubt I’ll ever take a game as far as I did NGB.

 

The main thing that Ninja Gaiden is renowned for is a high level of difficulty, it’s pretty much always the first thing people bring up whenever it’s mentioned. It certainly is hard, but anyone that has taken the time to get very good at the game will no doubt appreciate what that time investment rewards you with. That leads me to my main point I wanted to get to, the only thing people seemed to be concerned with NG3 is that the high level of difficulty returns. Ninja Gaiden 2 was a brutally difficult game, but for unfair reasons a lot of the time, while you could overcome most of the stuff that was thrown at you; it was that even after a heavy time investment, some enemies couldn’t be controlled and that took away what made the combat in NGB so special. I hope NG3 has the same level of difficulty as NGB, I want the depth to return, if that means making the core combat easier so more people can enjoy it, so be it, but as long as the combat is as rewarding as it was as NGB.

 

For me, that is the aspect that spoiled me so much regarding the game. It was the constant sense of overcoming enemies and situations that always presented a fair challenge. This was the also the exact same reason why NG2 was such a disappointment, I’m mainly referring to the survival missions here. Sometimes, no matter how skilled the player, you are killed by something that is just completely unfair. This is the feeling that I looked for in other games while playing NGB competitively and for a good while after. Looking back now, I’m actually glad that I stopped when did, even now I still cannot play NGB the way I did before I got involved in playing it competitively for score, the techniques and moves that I learned have become habits that I just cannot break because of how long I played in that style.

 

So, my question to anyone who has read up until this point is... Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever played a game that is just so good (for whatever reason it is/was to you) that raised your standards when playing, or just considering playing other games. Or like me, did you take a game to a much deeper level and have a similar experience?

 

Thank you for reading.

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Writing for a gaming website, what to do... what to do?

I’ve been writing for a gaming website for a little over six months now, doing reviews, news and features on topics in the gaming industry. It started out really well, I had a lot of freedom to write about topics that I found interesting and had a decent choice of games to review.

 

Lately things have been getting pretty bad though, the direction of the site has changed drastically in the space of a couple of weeks. The concern has shifted to producing as much content as possible regardless of quality, the attitude seems to be just “write whatever the hell you want” and it’s really putting me off. Also, the leads are trying to schedule features and news articles, which is, you know, a little stupid as you can’t just invent news on the spot or think of something genuinely interesting to write about.

 

I’m just looking for some input here really, I’m a little stuck as to what to do. There’s part of me that’s tempted to stick it out to see if things improve, but I just can’t ignore my initial gut reactions over the last few weeks.

 

So what do guys think... Should I stick it out, or cut my losses?

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The Next Devil May Cry had better rock, baby!

 

The Next Devil May Cry had better rock, baby!

Those of you who get my amazing pun above are no doubt familiar with the Devil May Cry series in one way or another. The reason I’m writing this article is to share my thoughts on the upcoming entry in the series and the legacy the previous games have left behind. Devil May Cry, like most Capcom series, has its ups and downs, but for the first time ever, I am dreading the release of the upcoming entry in the series. From what that reveal trailer showed, as well the developer’s attitude combined with some questionable actions by Capcom, the fate of DMC is not looking good at all.

Right, first thing I want to talk about is the history of DMC. As far I’m concerned, the original DMC was the game that gave birth to modern 3D action gaming. There was simply nothing like it when it launched way back in 2001 and it’s amazing that the game began as the next Resident Evil. The original Devil May Cry is one of the few games that literally changed the medium. Onimusha dipped its foot in the water, but it was the original DMC that took it to the next level. The game was very well received and the expectations for the sequel were immensely high. Now, DMC2 was in every way possible, a legitimate disappointment as a sequel to the original. Everything about it was a step backwards from the original and when a new idea reared its head, it was over shadowed by the mistakes that had been made. Some of the core ideas made their way into DMC3, but they were completely re-visualised and taken to a different level.

DMC3 would be subject to expectations too, but information as to the core mechanics of the game was not plentiful up until its release. It was clear that the dual character approach had been done away with, the level design looked way more in touch with that of the original and the combat seemed to be a similar case. DMC3 was both completely different and exactly the same to the original. The quality of the level design, enemies, weapons and the way all of it fit together was a huge improvement over DMC2. However, this game was widely scrutinised for its ruthless level of difficulty and made it so it couldn’t be enjoyed by everyone. Which is a shame as DMC3 brought the franchise back to where it should be. So once again, attention shifted to the next DMC game, could it retain everything that made DMC3 great and not be excruciatingly difficult. Short answer would be no, the inclusion of a new protagonist and further change of the gameplay mechanics caused a divide among fans. Rightfully so in a lot of ways, mastering DMC3 was an immense challenge, and those that did had a right to feel betrayed by the decisions made in DMC4.

DMC4 simply made the most money out of any DMC game before it, but again, wasn’t considered to be a completely successful sequel by fans, due largely in part to the inclusion of a new main character and Dante not being the focus. Which once again, brought about the anticipation for the next DMC game, could Capcom manage to successfully combine all that is write with DMC1, 2 and 4 and create the perfect DMC game? Or as I would put it, the sequel that the original so rightfully deserves.

So let’s look at what we know about the upcoming DMC title. It’s being developed by Ninja Theory, will most likely run on the Unreal Engine and is another prequel. On paper, that doesn’t sound good, throw in the fact that Capcom (from what I know) are not doing as well as they should be, they intend to market this game to a new audience and are aiming for double the sales of DMC4. Then there was that trailer... I’m not going to get started on that but I’ll just say it has me worried. The DMC fan base has stuck with the series throughout its missteps and it seems very cold for Capcom to chose this new direction and seemingly abandon them. Especially when you consider that all the ingredients for the perfect DMC game already exist in the games they’ve already made, they just need to combine them correctly.

For the record I will say that I think this new DMC game will be a disappointment to the fans. It might make money, get rave reviews and all that jazz. But DMC fans will be let down by it, how can they not be. All information thus far leads to the conclusion that they have no intention of preserving the core aspect of the DMC games, its gameplay. That is what has kept me playing DMC for the past ten years. I do believe Capcom are making a mistake with this game, they are taking drastic action when they really don’t need to. DMC is not a franchise that needs rebooting, it simply needs revising. A move like this really suggests desperation on Capcom’s part and if they aren’t careful, they could very well end up killing one of the greatest game franchises to come along in the past decade.

To get technical for a second, the Unreal Engine is simply not a good choice for an action game. Now before all of you put on your Arkham Asylum hats and yell at me, hear me out. DMC is known for its over the top and insane combo gameplay. It has a level of depth few action games have, a level that doesn’t present itself right away, it has to be discovered. Those that do discover it and learn it reap the rewards. Also, the Unreal Engine is not known for its reliability, something that is absolutely essential in an action game, especially DMC. And lastly, I am not ragging on Ninja Theory at all here, but their track record for action games is not great when considering the action they are handling here. The action is the only thing keeping DMC alive at this point, and if that goes, there will simply be nothing left to salvage.

As always is the case with DMC series, the next game will carry a lot of expectations. However, there are so many unnecessary uncertainties when looking at this game. They are swapping developers, and the one they have chosen is not the best to replicate the DMC formula, they are swapping engines, when they already have a polished and better engine to use and more importantly they are changing something that nobody asked to be changed, the gameplay. I can only hope that this game is the biggest surprise in gaming history, otherwise I cannot see the DMC name recovering again.

 

   

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Pacman Championship Edition...

Why did it take someone this long to do a Pacman game like this? 
 
Best part is this game has completely crept up on me, I had no idea it was even coming out until I saw the quick look.
 
Well and truly can't wait to get some M$ points and get the full game.

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DMC5 to have "western touch"...

http://www.connectedconsoles.com/blog-inafune-devil-may-cry-5-to-have-western-touch-to-boost-sales.cfm
 
Capcom's Keiji Inafune has revealed Devil May Cry 5 will have a "western touch" to make it more desirable to European and North American gamers.

The last outing for the series came in 2007, but has since gone quiet. Now rumoured to be in development at Heavenly Sword and Enslaved creators Ninja Theory, publisher Capcom wants western sales for the series to grow.

"Devil May Cry 5 is a game that, when started development, this will change a lot in relation to the above." said Inafune when speaking to Spanish site 3DJuegos. "The reason is that, despite the franchise has some very loyal followers, their sales are not particularly high, especially overseas."

"For this reason, it is likely that in the fifth chapter will incorporate certain "Western touch" to make it more attractive to American and European players."

Reports earlier this year suggested the game isn't in Capcom's two-year release schedule, though it is speculated that it will be announced at the Tokyo Games Show later this month.
 
Above is from the link...
 
Now I'm worried DMC5 will be DMC2 all over again...

22 Comments

What's the big deal about the mouse and keyboard setup for FPS?

Try not to flame too hard :)
 
Anyway, recently got Painkiller off Steam and been enjoying it a lot. A nice return to old-school style FPS gaming.
 
However, I must say I really don't see the big deal about using a mouse and keyboard. I'm finding it very uncomfortable to use and cannot play for much more than an hour. I've never had any problems using a controller to aim nor do I have any problems using my mouse, I just find it extremely uncomfortable to use for long periods of time. 
 
What do you think?

60 Comments

Great strategy for the worm in Bionic Commando on Commando mode.

Thought I'd post this :)
 
There is a tree that can be grappled to where you first land. If you stay here and just use weapons until you knock it down it will evade its two most lethal attacks. The burrow and shockwave attack are instant kills on commando mode but if you grapple to the tree and hold on you will stay out of harms way.
 
I realise this is probably common knowledge by now, but still, it makes cakework out of what would be an incredibly irritating boss.

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