Things I Played in January

XCOM 2

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XCOM 2 really wasn’t too bad. I just don’t know if it’s my kind of game. I don’t get any satisfaction out of planning the perfect execution for a mission. I can absolutely see the appeal. It’s just not for me. Also, the GUI was bugging me out constantly. The game was laggy and enjoyed wasting my time in general by displaying its lavish animations. Maybe I could enjoy it with mods that make the experience smoother, but I just don’t care enough.

XCOM 2 Stream Part 1

Mercenary Kings

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Bullet-spongy enemies, ton of +0.1% crafting, and cutscenes on top of cutscenes. The art style is amazing. There are so many enemies it blows my mind. All the equipment could fill a book. It’s just very shallow. The difficulty comes not from executing a move perfectly but from having the patience to execute it 100 times in a row. If you cut out all the variable names and pretty sprites of the crafting system, it all boils down to this: spend resources so you don’t have to waste so much time. It just wasn’t engaging. What a shame.

Mercenary Kings Stream Part 1

FarCry 3 Blood Dragon

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I was looking forward to this little piece of DLC. But it had nothing but problems to offer. It was buggy as hell. I lost all my progress due to a crash. There are SO MANY cutscenes and tutorials I had to force myself not to just quit it immediately. The game makes fun of its annoying tutorials, but guess what, THEY’RE STILL ANNOYING TUTORIALS! I wanted a funny, oldschool shooter that harkens back to the 80s sci-fi action films. It wasn’t funny. It was irritating. Maybe the open world parts would be more fun which is why it blows my mind that they would start the game with some braindead “protect the NPCs” missions.

Blood Dragon Stream Part 1

More Things I’ve Been Playing

So, 2016 is over and it has been a busy year with Riptale. I have been playing some games, but with less free time, it’s gonna go to some more relaxing things. Playing games to me is work. I do it because I need to keep my game design glasses clean. Very few games are enjoyable to me anymore. They are getting too bloated with things that aren’t good. That being said, what have I played this year?

Metro 2033 Redux

While atmospheric, Metro 2033 didn’t shine in the one area that I most anticipate from a first-person shooter: the shooting. Maybe it was just my PC getting overwhelmed, but on the other hand I think they intended the shooting to be terrible. I didn’t care for it. Too much downtime and too many poorly scripted events.

Metro 2033 Redux Stream Part 1

Dark Souls

Somebody suggested that because I obviously like intelligent games, I should try Dark Souls. First of all, I don’t like intelligent games. I most enjoy games where I can just forget everything and play. Dark Souls seems to be a lot of empty levels with a bunch of baddies to mow down. It’s slow and methodical. While it looks cool, I just didn’t have the patience for it. The actions somehow felt unresponsive what might be what they were going for, but I don’t enjoy that.

Dark Souls Stream Part 1

Starbound

I’ve played this before when it was in beta and that experience was pretty terrible. I now tried it again thinking that it might be better. While there must be a ton of new content in the game, it still suffered from the same issues as before. The UI is still bad and the combat just doesn’t feel anywhere as satisfying or responsive as in Terraria. Also, I just didn’t care about anything happening in the game. It just expects you to care about it because it’s there. Won’t be touching this game again.

Starbound Stream Part 1

UnReal World

While UnReal World looks absolutely terrible, I already knew this game from 15 years ago. So, I wanted to give it a try now that it had been perfected. It doesn’t really draw you in. I like the fact that it’s hardcore survival, but in my opinion it didn’t offer you enough rope. It feels like most of the content is locked in the endgame and you can’t get there if you are bad in the game. How do you get better? Just keep trying over and over again. I don’t have the time or the patience.

UnReal World Stream Part 1

Heroes of Might & Magic II

Ok, I used to love this game as a kid but I wanted to give the campaign a try. It gets super difficult in some point. It expects you to make every single move and decision completely the way that it has planned. To me, that is not interesting. Still a fun multiplayer game.

Heroes of Might & Magic II Stream Part 1

Downwell

A simple game that is interesting at first but then gets ridiculously difficult. The third section of the game is one where I just die immediately. And it takes time and patience to get there so that you can practice the section in the first place. This is one of those games that I’ll never be able to complete, but it nails the controls and that’s what makes it a fun game to play.

Downwell Stream Part 1

INK

A dime a dozen precision platformer that is too punishing for me to keep on trying the same levels over and over again. It didn’t really do anything interesting and I’m wondering why I’m spending so much time even talking about it now.

Uncanny Valley

I suppose it’s an adventure game and a horror game. Seemed more like a visual novel to me. It never got my attention and I soon just started to hate it. People don’t want to solve your mystery if you don’t give them anything. This game gave you absolutely nothing.

Cook, Serve, Delicious!

This game had potential. At first I didn’t take it seriously but it grew on me a bit. The progress you make in it is just not very interesting. I wanted to seriously spend money on my future in the game but instead I felt like I was just selecting different playmodes, which felt like anti-progression. Pretty fun. I’m sure there’s a better game like this out there.

Home

I was bored from step one. And it got worse from there. This game also gave me nothing. It just implies you that there’s a mystery and then that’s it. Figure out what it is yourself. But I don’t care! You never made me care. You just wander around aimlessly and then quite the game.

Solstice

It’s a visual novel. I should never try one of these again.

Tharsis

An interesting space dice survival game. I managed to go through the game once but then just felt like I saw everything already. It wasn’t compelling enough to make me go through it again. It felt like I couldn’t have done much better even if I tried. And you don’t want that if you expect your players to go through it multiple times.

Endless Space

Oh wow. I didn’t play this for long because I mainly just wanted to test it out quickly. This game looks massive. I’d have to read through huge manuals to be able to play it efficiently and care enough about all the weird factions. I’m just not in the right place in my life to appreciate this right now.

Cities: Skylines

So, this is the better SimCity? I don’t really know about that. I didn’t play it as much as I did the new SimCity but there’s potential. In my eyes they’re both on pretty much the same line. And both have some stupid problems when it comes to JUST BUILDING THE CITY. Connecting the roads to the highway was like a nightmare. I can’t believe there isn’t an easier way to just have it go right. Try to read the player’s mind just a little bit, would you?

The Stanley Parable

I don’t know. The way everyone was praising this game, I expected it to be something remarkable. Instead it was just listening through some relatively clever narrative and walking through some plain levels. It’s not bad. It was just completely underwhelming. Yes, you don’t have to do things in a way that the narrator is describing. I thought the narration would be funny or clever but it was just reactive. And that was it. I guess I should have explored it more, but I didn’t care.

Just Cause 3

Ok, here we go. Saved the best for the last. Well, it was a Christmas present to myself. Just Cause 3 is like Just Cause 2. Just, better looking. That’s pretty much it. Just Cause 2 is one of my all time favorite games. But I played that game already. So, Just Cause 3 didn’t really offer me anything new. Sure, there were some new tether add-ons and new explosive tricks you could perform but I DON’T CARE. I never cared. That’s the most boring part of the whole series for me. The wingsuit was fun but I liked driving around and now I never did that again unless I forced myself to do it. So, was it a good decision to add it? Let me put it this way: I like Just Cause 2 better. I still played 18 hours of this before getting bored.

Industry-Wide Asset Bank

As an indie developer I’ve been pondering an idea of a game-industry-wide asset bank. Granted, its use would be somewhat limited, but it would serve games as an art form. Let me explain.

Consider something like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It has got a massive amount of assets tied to it due to its immense game world. Still, many of those assets soon grow repetitive. PC users aren’t tied to the vanilla assets, but the quality of fan-made mods can vary drastically. What if there was an industry-wide asset bank with thousands of models, parts, and animations that any company buying the subscription could access? It might sound like an asset store at first, but read further.

Where are those assets coming from, then? From these very companies. They would be required to submit any specific type of content (human models, textures, animations) from their published games to this bank.

Now, I can already hear you coming up with a ton of questions undermining the usefulness of this idea, so let me beat you to the punch and answer few of the most obvious ones.

How would different companies be able to use the same animations?

Naturally, this would require some sort of standardization. However, there are already some generally accepted best practices when it comes to 3D human models and rigs. It might take a while, but if everyone really saw the value in a service like this, they would work towards making this work. Creating a unique rig doesn’t really have much value to the end user.

Wouldn’t every game look the same?

Does every movie look the same? Putting aside animations, all movies draw their visual styles from the real world. Of course, this sort of bank would mainly benefit games going for the realistic look, but I for one imagine that their number is only going to increase in the coming years.

Still, wouldn’t the players get sick of seeing the same Skyrim animations in every game?

That’s the beauty of it. You wouldn’t just have Skyrim animations in every game. You would have them combined with hundreds or thousands of other animations. If you consider the idea that only the extra characters in every game would get their animations from this bank and the animators could then allocate all of their time creating interesting motion for the main characters (which then would be added to the bank), this soon starts to make more sense.

Every side character might have 50 different idle animations that it could randomly choose one from. This would make every game feel more alive. And when the artists aren’t working on less important things, they can really make the best parts of their title shine.

All of the modern shooters could start by having the same shooting animations as a base and then start developing more animations to give their unique twist to the game they’re creating. Remember, we’re imitating real life here. People don’t run, shoot, or jump in that many different ways. And if in some animator’s opinion they do, they would then have more time to create those unique animations.

Is it just for animations?

I don’t know if this sort of tool would be useful for modern games. Maybe the time for an asset bank like this is still ahead of us.

However, for years and years now people have been saying that there will come a point when we can’t make graphics any higher fidelity anymore. When you make a game model of a human being, then that’s it. Maybe if those models too follow some sort of formula, someone might make a tool that can alter their physique like the character creation tools of modern role-playing games do. Then artists would simply keep creating things that would make those base models appear more unique. Just like people do in real life with their clothes, hairstyle, and other accessories.

What about more stylish games?

This is not a solution for everything. I wouldn’t suggest anyone to use this bank if they wanted to make a game about a cartoon fox flying through space. Realistic-looking games are still a huge market and I think it will only get bigger. Think about a company creating something like The Fugitive and all the artists spending all their time making the two main characters look and behave just the way the director wants.

Things like Unity asset store already exist. Why make another asset store?

I’m not talking about a single person doing generic models and selling them online. I’m talking about everything in the industry being interconnected. When I might see 2K games using animations by Blizzard, EA, Square Enix, Bethesda, and Eidos, then we’re talking about the same thing.

Asset stores mostly offer self-contained packages of models, textures, and animations. Other artists don’t really use them as a base to create more assets for that same pack. This might have happened, but there’s not a system in place that encourages everyone to put all their work towards a mutual goal.

Additionally, there are no style guidelines in asset stores. If you want to create a realistic looking shooter, you can’t really just download a hundred different realistic game characters and expect them to be stylistically coherent. Some standards might be forming over time as people realize that certain types of assets get purchased more, but the process is very slow. Also, there’s the matter of collaboration that is never addressed.

What’s so special about collaboration?

Let’s go back to the asset store comparison. Say that there is a company with two hundred employees that is concentrated on just making assets for the Unreal Engine Marketplace. The models, textures, animations, and sounds might all be top notch quality. I don’t know if companies like this exist yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The problem there is that it’s still just 200 people. Combine two companies like Eidos Montreal and EA Dice and you’ve probably got more artist right there. And that’s just two companies.

How many big game companies use assets bought from asset stores? I really don’t have an answer to this, but the answer doesn’t really matter much. There isn’t a sense of collaboration towards a conjoint goal. What is the goal? To make realistic-looking games look as realistic as they can be.

Consider a perfectly made asset store human model with a hundred different animations, one that can be plucked into any project without even a warning message. Then consider that a thousand industry veterans took that model, started to work it in ways that would make it perfect for their games, and then shared whatever they made with everyone else. Sure, you might not need a mortar reload animation in a game like Skyrim, but think about all the nuanced little tweaks that make the game world around the player look more detailed and alive.

So, you just like realistic-looking games? What about something like Legend of Zelda?

Hey, if I had it my way, every movie in the theaters would be animated. The thing with realistic style is that it’s a lot easier to do for movies compared to the amount of work you have to put to something like Wall-E or Zootopia (not that they don’t come with their own benefits).

Realistic is a lot harder to create with games and it’s the players who pay the price. Not everyone wants to make realistic-looking games and that is perfectly fine. Often the reason why people go for a more stylistic visuals is because creating a realistic look for the game simply isn’t viable. And when the developers don’t realize this, you end up with something like The Slaughtering Grounds.

I believe that we as an industry need to be working together in order to achieving high enough quality for realistic graphics. The other half of it are the game engines, but they can’t save a bad animation loop. The assets need to be top notch, which requires more time than any one company can afford to put in their game projects. This sort of collaboration benefits the games and, in turn, the player.

Wouldn’t big companies just start to churn out uninspired clones after another? Wouldn’t it benefit games as an art form more to have them try their hardest to be better than the rest?

If we dodge the topic of whether many modern games already are just clones of eachother (wouldn’t want to open that can of worms) I think people working in the game industry are very passionate when it comes to their craft. Handing these people an asset bank like this wouldn’t make them put any less effort in their work. They would still be very much trying to be better than everyone else. The starting point would simply be a lot higher for everyone.

Is that all?

This bank could have models, textures, sound assets, and more. Think about it. Having a growing library of rocks and trees with different textures at your fingertips. Just use them as a base for your game and then send the artists to the field to scan more rocks and trees. Think about the gun models. AK-47 is AK-47 in every game. If you want to give it an original touch, then you’re in luck! You don’t have to start creating the base model from scratch. (Of course AK-47 is just a very simple example. Use your imagination.) Same goes for sound effects.

I think that pretty soon big companies would start communicating with eachother to create more standards so that every game can be the highest fidelity imaginable. Some assets would in time be deprecated as more dynamic things rolled into the bank.

The important thing to remember is that this is all to benefit games as an art form. Less time wasted on creating the most basic assets, more time to concentrate on what really makes your game shine. Game developers love games and want to see them to reach their highest potential. An asset bank like this would benefit everyone.

It would take a lot of money and work for this to become reality. Is it even possible?

I think it is possible, but of course this concept is still in the idea stage. Maybe this isn’t even the best way to do this, but that’s why it’s important to start the discussion now. I believe that if game developers can see the value this sort of tool would bring to their craft, they are going to make it happen. They just need to know about this. Communication is the first step.

What Have I Been Playing

This week has been kind of bonkers with the games I’ve been playing. Some good experiences, some very bad. But always something interesting to note when it comes to figuring out how to develope games properly.

Kingdom

This was one game that I actually had to go back to and play an additional four hours of. There was clearly an optimal way to play it through and I couldn’t stop until I had figured it out. I always find it intriguing when you can screw yourself over by doing too much in the game. Definitely the highlight of the week.

Part 1 | Part 2

Anno 2070

Ok, so it’s already bad when your game come pre-loaded with fixed amount of installs you can do, but when the game is already not very good, I have to say I’m really disappointed. The campaign was an absolute joke, the game crashed when I tried to Alt+Tab to the desktop and froze after the first mission was done, the pacing was non-existent, the characters annoying and uninspired, and I had no interest in playing the campaign at all. The free play was more fun, but even there I ran into a dead end very quickly. Beautiful graphichs, though.

Part 1

Crysis 2

What can I say. I played it for 28 minutes (well, ten of those were cutscenes) and then it froze up my PC to a point where I had to do a hard boot. Surprisingly boring 28 minutes. If they intended to hold my interest, they were failing hard.

Part 1

Hitman: Absolution

This is another game that I might go back to at one point. The characters are very over the top and frankly I didn’t really care about the plot, but the sneaky action was fun enough. I just need to crank the difficulty waaay higher. Otherwise it starts to remind me too much of Just Cause 2.

Part 1

Need For Speed: Undercover

I don’t know why but for some reason I thought this was a newer game that it turned out to be. You can’t really blame me when you consider their naming conventions. It was ok. I was driving a racing car and it felt fast and fun. Too bad it bugged out and crashed towards the end of the stream. I think I’ll be sticking to newer driving games in the future.

Part 1

Voting Open For The Next Cast

Be sure to cast yours and let’s play something good, again!

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https://restartcast.wordpress.com/vote/

Gradually Removing Scores

I’ve always done game reviews with a score, even back when suomipelit.com used to be around, so it has always been sort of hart for me to think of doing reviews without scores. Having heard the argument against scores, however, made me realize that they do more harm than good. So, I’m gradually removing scores from my reviews and the newer ones will not have any scores assigned to them. I feel like it’s the direction modern game reviews need to be taking.