The will to fight

I've been thinking about the high number of videogames lately that use combat as their main theme and/or gameplay mechanic and although violence and combat is something that our modern culture is obsessed with I think that this topic is more interesting when it comes to video games.

The first interesting thing is that, compared to other media, video games require interaction from the given audience. This interaction has to be compelling and interesting enough due to the fact that videogames have nowadays an average length of around 8 hours (speaking fo retail games here) and the player will have to perform aforementioned interactions over the course of the entire game.

The second thing that is only required in videogames is a clear win-condition. Basically all you at the beginning of a game are your starting values, a set of valid operators (actions you can perform in the game) and a desired solution. From then on all you do is manipulate the given values using your operators to be closer to the values presented in the desired solution.

So what has this to do with combat and violence? Combat defines the clearest win-/lose-condition of all actions. You win by damaging your opponent until he/she is no longer able to fight back. You lose by not being able to fight anymore. This can be easily expressed in math X amount of health points for both sides and a set of attacks or moves dealing Y amount of damage. This makes combat pretty easy to implement as a gameplay mechanic but doesn't explain why you actually should or why it would be an action interesting enough for the player to perform for 8 hours. And this, THIS is the actual reason why there is so much of this stuff in video games.

Peace is an unnatural state for humans, because it means that everybody is completely happy with the status quo. This can and will never be because we as individuals always tend to want more than we have. We want to improve our situation. We want to optimize. But as you might have noticed, conflicts are solved differently nowadays. They're getting solved with contracts, via agreements etc. and although this is the more civilized and intelligent approach I believe that a part of us as human beings misses the physical confrontation with others. Fighting others means competing with them, it means testing who is fitter (in the Darwin kind of way) and although we compete with other humans via other things today (jobs, popularity, money, relationships etc.) the 'cave men' part of us is still there. And competing with others by bashing each others skull in with a blunt object is what we have done for the larger part of our existence as a species.

So there you have it my theory why fighting is such a common mechanic and theme in video games. It gives the 'cave men' part of ourselves a compelling action and presents a logical optimization problem with a clear win condition to our brain.

Thanks for reading, comments would be great.


How not being able to trade in games could be okay

I've been thinking about the whole "Used games are killing the industry"-mess again and although I'd agree that most publishers are a bunch of huge f*ckers trying to nickel and dime us for every piece of "extra" content, I think that a build-in mechanism preventing us from reselling our games could improve the current situation.

Don't get me wrong I'm neither on the side of the publishers nor on the side of gamestop. They brought this mess upon themselves by A) fixing the price for new retail games at 70 euro (~90 us dollar) thus making it literally impossible for most to buy more than one (non-used) game a month and B) gamestop not being willing to share their profits with the publishers.

But here's the thing: Let’s assume that if the next generation of consoles links game copies to your console-id or your account and thus prevents us from trading in. The publishers will still try to sell us those new games for 70 bucks at first. But no one will be able to trade in games and people will be short on money for gaming related stuff, so in the end most gamers will tend to only purchase "safe" titles (big franchises etc). But these titles do only come out once a year limiting publisher to just a handful of viable projects.

This sounds dire for us but also means less profit for them and so publishers will probably lower the price wall to allow the customer to take more risks with their purchases again. And this, THIS could make things better. Imagine games being sold for 40 bucks … that would be alright wouldn't it. Imagine also that the console-lock isn't as harsh as you think now, making games transferable or giftable. Wouldn't that be great as well?

Of course there is no guarantee for this to be the outcome. But at least I hope it will be. Fact is that something regarding used game sales will happen and I hope it will make things better for us the consumer in the end.

And no let the poo flinging begin because I am 100% sure that 80% of you guys won't agree with me.


First person opportunities

Recently while playing some The Darkness 2 I suddenly remembered why I actually prefer games with a first person perspective. It was basically during one of the execution kills where I (a massive fan of gory, gruesome movies and video games) flinched. The reason for this is that the canned animations during the executions in Darkness 2 are pulled of really well and use the player’s perception of depth and distance to your (pitiful) target. You'll get the visual impression that the poor fool is pulled right before your face and that your facial expression is the last thing he'll ever see.

This is something you only can pull off with a first person perspective and in fact a couple of games before Darkness 2 did this really well. My favorite example here would be Condemned 2.

Condemned 2 was basically a first-person-brawler (... at least until the second shitty half of the game) and really gave you the feeling of being in all these close quarter brawls with these crazy looking people. It made you paranoid because of the limited field of view that you're used to have as a human minus your peripheral vision. This worked really well to build up tension. Every time you heard the sound of footsteps you suddenly turned around and started to look for the possible threat.

My point is that I think that more first-person games should try to use they're perspective as a tool to build up tension and immersion. It is really easy to do these things and provide the player with some sort of ... visual "friction". Melee attacks in FPS for instance tend to get this wrong. Think about the COD knife attack for a second. The maximum range of this attack is simply to big (feel like attacking something with a long sword) and there is no visual reaction to the swing or impact in the player’s field of view no shaking to indicate the motion or the resistance of your opponent. Some simple changes in the attack animation and its result would easily make the whole damn thing more believable and more immersive. And of course some of you may say that the same thing can be done in third person (Assassin’s Creed XYZ did this, Uncharted did this as well etc.) but I don't think it's the same thing from a third-person perspective.

Take Far Cry 2 for instance (no not for the melee stuff that was horrible in this one) where the main protagonist has to do some little visual action when healing himself in a critical state, like pulling out a bullet or burning out a wound with some matchsticks. I've seen people flinch at these as well. Now imagine your reaction when seeing this happen in third person. No flinching at all really.

My point here is that the first-person perspective really allows us to project the actions on screen on to ourselves and I hope that more games will use this like The Darkness 2 does. Thanks for reading and good night/day/morning (depending on your current location).

Edit: I am sorry for some of the horrible spelling mistakes I had in here. I really shouldn't write these blog entries when I'm tired and half asleep. Mea culpa mea maxima culpa.


Tales of the bargain bin

Hey there. So last week I kinda realized that I am finished with COD (MW3 to be precise). I just wanted to quit the multiplayer and to get rid of this friggin timesink. I played one last match to bid farewell to the campers, the ten year olds that were telling me about the awesome intercourse they've had with my mom last night (like really 3 kids in one night ... gross) and the whole leveling bullshit. And then I went to gamestop.

I know a lot of you guys seem to hold grudges against gamestop and I can see why but don't hit me and keep reading. Well I traded in this turd for a new copy of Vanquish (and a fucking bunch of MS-points), a game that I kinda wanted to buy when it came out in the late 2010 but never did because of ... well because of the 2011 release schedule.

This game is pretty awesome. It's heavily influenced (main designer) by Shinji Mikami who was behind the original Devil May Cry games, Viewtfull Joe AND the Resident Evil franchise and is basically a take on a "typical" western shooter by a Japanse development team. It doesn't explain itself very well and you'll need some time to get into the mechanics but once you're there it's a real blast.

So here is an example where a "new" (some weeks old) triple A game went to the bargain bin and has been replaced by a new copy of a one year old game. So anyone got some bargain bin stories to share? Anyone?


Undying - A forgotten gem from the past

I've been thinking about video games lately, especially those kind of video games that really had an impact on me. And although most of these games are well know: Deus Ex, Silent Hill 2 & 3, Metal Gear Solid and so on, one game in my personal list of "video game gems" seems to be fairly unknown. I am talking about Clive Barker's Undying, a game that I really loved when it came out 10 years ago.

The game is an occult themed shooter placed in the 1920s and is heavily inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s narrations as well as Barkers own work.You play as a man called Patrick Galloway, who has received a letter from an old friend, who asks for his assistance in the investigation of a series of recent supernatural events. Patrick himself is a WWI veteran and possesses a magic artifact allowing him to see supernatural things and ... well most of you guys will recognize the beginning of a classic lovecraftian story by now. A story about a simple man trying to keep his own sanity, while approaching the great dark unknown. I could give a full story synopsis here but I really don't want to spoiler anything, as it is not necessary to explain why I loved this game so much.

The Atmosphere: Imagine walking slowly through the barely lit hallway of an old manor, lightning striking on every step you take, suddenly ... a scream, a howl, the sound of flesh ripping. You slowly follow the screaming and watch the housekeepers flee in terror when you discover the dead body of one of the housekeepers lying on the floor in a pool of its own blood ... and THEN you barely catch the silhouette of a beast fleeing through a shattered window. This is what undying is about, especially the first part of the game. Yes it is a shooter. Yes you'll have to kill a shitload of monsters. But the game sets its tone and mood very thoroughly before it even allows you to see what you will be shooting at and what your enemies really are.

The Mechanics: The game basically features the dual wielding from the first Bioshock game (yup no new idea) and allows you to wield a weapon on your left and a magic spell or curse on your right hand. This allows you for some interesting strategic approaches, especially in the later stages when you have the option to either throw a bunch of exploding skulls on your enemies or enhance your own movement speed to move extremely fast and cut of the heads of your enemies with a magic scythe. Also the magic artifact I mentioned above, that allows Patrick to see things for what they really are, leads to the following change in a family portrait that you come across:


This is literally the reason why I loved this game so much. It was immersive and really well made and if you are interested in a good horror game AND are able to find it somewhere have fun playing it. (and yes I am aware of the fact that it looks like "arse" by todays standards, like I said its from 2001)

Thanks for reading.


Why Dark Souls feels rewarding ...

Dark Souls is a weird phenomenon, the overall general opinion would seem to be that this game is, incredibly frustrating yet satisfying and rewarding but most people are unable to describe why. Of course the reasons for this are highly subjective but for me it is how the game hands the content to the player. When you explore new locations you go on slowly, watching the environment. You do not rush through it. You take your time unless you want to die over and over again. Here the difficulty of the game forces the player to be aware of his/her surroundings. By not giving the player any direction and by providing this level of general difficulty the creators of Dark Souls give simply more meaning to the content.

This goes on with the items. Every item you find by maneuvering over some weird structures, balancing on beams and looking into every nook and cranny feels valuable even though you'll probably won't use it depending on your character-build. And the weapons are not just different skins with different stats on them. Different weapons feel different and use different move lists and animations.

The combat itself is another thing for me, every new enemy brings the excitement of finding out how much HP it has and what moves it has. And damn ... the bosses. The last game that made me feel this good after defeating a boss was Ninja Gaiden 2 and the original Castlevania before that.

So what do "Dark Souls Addicts Anonymous" say to this? Why are you still playing this schizophrenic mess?


The struggle for relevance

Just some thoughts.

One could say that the standard goals for an adult in our western society have not changed over the last couple of decades and on first glance this statement could seem valid. Get a decent job, stay in touch with your friends from high school, college etc. and manage to find a partner for a serious long-term relationship. If you're one of those OCD types (who want to achieve everything) you could additionally try to have some children and raise them properly. These things have always kinda been there and achieving these goals kinda gave your life relevance and meaning (from an objective point of view). But there is a trend that I've noticed that kinda leads to a devaluation of these goals that a large part of society grew up with.

There are seven billion people living on this planet, when you think about the number and then imagine all these people in one place you'd notice how many of them did all these things above and that this 50's - 90's checklist for a meaningful life means nothing anymore. People nowadays do not struggle for successful careers or relationships, because they do not give you them this feeling of having a raison d'être. They are struggling to be seen and be heard and most importantly to be known. Look at this parallel community that we are maintaining via the WWW. It is full of social networks and platforms an all of these can show you who is the most important user, who has the most interesting blog and how many people are on your goddamn friendslist. These are the things now that allow you to measure your value as a person and I still don't get why.


Daily post limit for new users and Spam protection

Okay I get it you guys had issues with spam bots okay that sucks and I can completely understand why you want some mechanism that prevents people from flooding your boards with ads etc. FINE!!!1!!!  But ... let’s just say there could be a way to improve this.  The reason is, that if you are a new user and you actually want to participate in all this you  frustrate really quickly just because you don't get any ... information regarding how long you have to wait etc. so I just thought about some suggestions on how to improve new user experience. And I am not talking big here I am a software engineer myself and have been studying applied information technology (bachelor of science). I develop software every day so just some thoughts really ... please:
1) Add a counter of how many posts I have left at the moment so that i at least know when I can post again.  
I know you would have to make the counter disappear from the UI for any users who are not on "probation" so this is not ideal.
2) When outputting the message about spam protection at least tell me how long I have to wait. This would allow you guys to leave the UI as it is and just require one query to the database or one to your persistence provider/layer or even just some basic arithmetic operations.
3) Raise the number of allowed posts per day or lower the total number of total required posts till the blocking mechanism stops working for a given user.
Don't know if I linked this correctly so if not "mea culpa mea maxima culpa" ... Thanks for reading this though.


Localization killed the immersion ... star

Okay I know I am part of the "vast" minority of people in Europe and especially Germany who are able to actually talk and communicate in English ... right? WRONG! People learn English in our schools. They learn English because it is a common language. A language people are able to speak all over the world.  
So now to my problem (this is kinda becoming a rant I guess *sigh*) LOCALI-F***ING-ZATION. I found out today that Deus Ex - Human Revolution will not hit the shelves with the original audio on disk and that Square Enix decided to completely localize the game. This is not only the case for Germany this is the case for nearly every country in Europe. I understand that, although I have stated that a big part of the European population SHOULD be able to comprehend English dialogue, some people are glad to come home after a stressful day and do not struggle with a foreign language while trying to relax etc. Those people ... okay I understand that. I will not try to come up with some bulls*** elitist talk about how they "should learn English those damn n00bs" etc. My problem is that localization has (in my opinion) never EVER been kind to a games immersion.
I experienced this previously on (for example) Mass Effect 2 where Sheppard’s German voice made me turn of my speakers because I just could not stand how stupid everything sounded. Yes I've played Mass Effect 2 without ANY sound after the first 30 minutes of the game. I turned it on when one of my friends or my girlfriend where visiting me but otherwise I played through this 40 hour long game with its audio turned off because it immediately killed any immersion. This is somehow a quality thing when it comes to voice acting and also a translation thing that i simply cannot endure i don’t know why.
And now after thinking about cancelling my pre-order for Deus ex - HR I kinda hope that I will not play through another game in complete silence.


Pressing the reset button

 I've been studying applied informatic now for three years and recently finished my bachelor thesis. Thus finally getting back the freedom of choice over my past-work-activities. So I decided to delete my old and (for the last 2 and a half years) unused account and blog on another "gaming-related" site that shall not be named and decided to reboot my weekly submission of game related rambling by creating this account.
The reason for this is simply the bombcast crew. As those guys somehow manage to make me laugh a lot while listeing to their podcast.
So "Hi" to everyone stumbling over this account. This is somehow "work in progress" at the moment.