Wednesday, 20 April 2016

On Doom and linearity again

I really like this iconic image all around the internet, manipulated in various forms, making a point that modern gaming sucks, wondering what happened to the genre, lamenting the old times. Guess what, we have all been lied! The original author of this image wasn't intending to represent that idea with this image, he thinks it's misleading to use it all over the internet to argue how games suck these days. Link to the talk where it first appeared. He is actually a person who used to make Doom maps in some of the best megawad collaborations ( Requiem or Memento Mori 2 ) and is working as a level designer in major titles ( Dead Space 2 and others). Here is another talk with an interesting analysis on what Doom does well. It's just funny that a person who used to make Doom maps and likes some elements in Doom, popularized this picture, wanted to say something entirely different than what is spread out there (maybe the fact that his design in Dead Space 2 while linear, is still fun to play). That's just to inform you on something we didn't know about the origin and the meaning of this picture. Although I am still firm on my opinion that I want games more like the map on the left and less on the right.

I have some more thought about it. I am binge-playing Doom WADs these days (using the Brutal Doom MOD, shame on me) waiting for the release of Doom 4 (or simply Doom, I hate when they do this with titles of famous franchises,. like it's the Definite Doom) which I am sure it will disappoint me (I'd rather see new franchises that try something different, the Overwatch and Battleborn games seem interesting, even though I've never played something like this before (inspired by TF2 which I also never played)).

Anyway,. during plays I keep wondering what elements of level design from different mappers I like or dislike. (Right now I am playing the Community Chest series in succession, each mapper has a different idea on linearity, secrets, difficulty, monster and item placing, architecture, texture usage, open spaces, etc so it's interesting to observe which maps I enjoyed most and why). Some of the good elements of Doom concerning monsters/gameplay were already discussed in Mattias Worch second talk (I really like that idea that resonates to me and people who have been played Doom for years so that brain cells are dedicated to specific audio/visual cues and reactions when you open the next door and observe a specific monster configuration and reach instantly, taking decision on which monster to kill first or if you should retreat behind a column while strafe shooting). But what I am curious about is those elements of how the map is designed and I want something more than the linear exaggeration in that mock up image. Because one element that I loved in original Doom was exploration. That one is missing from most games, no matter how violent or frantic action they have. The new Doom or the mock ups of old retro FPS might have crazy violence, frantic action, non regen health, no weapon reloads (those are easy choices) but not even a single one goes for the more interesting oldschool FPS levels.

But I noticed something while playing a specific set of maps (they weren't on CC, not very known, I don't even remember it's a recent download and one episode even used Doom Alpha textures!). The guy had made a totally extremely non-linear set of maps that would make you being lost for half an hour. A very frequent theme would be rooms would be seen from windows through windows through windows, kinda like John Romero's E1M7 but way more confusing and exaggerated. This also made it so hard to reach to the next keycard door while looking at the map, because a window sector will still look like a passage. It was a fun set of maps because they where huge levels filled with shotgun guys and other small monsters, perfect for sniping through windows, but then you had this flaw where it confuses the player to death, even experienced players.

And then it hit me! You can't say that Doom is the epitome of non-linearity. Some of the original levels can be quite linear if you think about it and people will disagree with what that means. While you have rooms connected to other rooms, even entire sections just for additional exploration or finding health/ammo, in many levels the main path from start to end would technically look like the fps map design image in the right. Maybe with some hoops and loops sometimes. Or backtracking. Think about, most levels are small sections of donut shaped rooms, side corridors, but a colored key door. You have to find the key to progress. You can't necessary do A without B. Can't finish the level without getting the red, then blue and finally yellow keycard (unless you do some crazy speedruning feets or happen to make the Archvile open the door for you :P).

I also noticed that some of the levels I loved playing in CC series had the specific characteristics (not always all). Big spaces and outside areas so that you can move freely and observe nice architectures and pinpoint kill enemies from afar. Some very good realistic buildings and places, so that the level is atmospheric and interesting, kinda like telling a story about the place but without cutscenes or dialogues. And third and most important, the level progression was so fluid and without much interruptions, so in a sense it was more linear going from A to B but masked in such a way that there is still the feeling that you are exploring and not pushed through a direction. Meanwhile there were side rooms and secrets, you could backtrack if you wanted, some rooms were still connected so that there are different passage ways, but somehow the progression was planned such a way that if there is a red door on A and you need to go to B, then after getting the red key another passage might open that leads you back to A from a new path where you can directly use the red key to go to C.

I know, it's a strategy I have seen some modern games use frequently that it becomes predictable (the inside levels of Borderlands among others, maybe Half Life 2 popularized these game design techniques I have to check this). But the difference is that new games do this in a way that this is just your path and there are no side rooms and feeling of something different to be discovered, while the good Doom levels are a mix between linear paths and non linear side rooms and connecting passages. Maybe player psychology is taken in account, because if I get the red key and maybe not notice that a new passage has opened, I will do tedious backtracking from the old path, or maybe the old path has closed now so I really have to observe the new alternative path (but that would seem more linear, less choices, more forcing you only through one path). Sometimes because of player psychology I happen to get stuck at a point because a side wall opened with a button that opens the path and wandering around the wrong places for 10 minutes (and sometimes, the splatters of Brutal Doom will make a switch so red that you can't see the button, yes this happened a lot leading in confusion :).

So, there is a balance between linearity and multiple paths, specific look in the psychology of where the player could go next or if they will notice that something has opened (in a recent let's play with John Romero, he describes how in E1M2 he let people playtest his map and most preferred one of the two side doors that go to the red key and how you can never be sure why this would happen and can't predict it will happen with all players) so that the experience is streamlined in a way that doesn't feel as restricted. And of course there are different opinions on this. Some levels that I would consider non-linear, some players could think it's linear as hell. I remember one of my maps, where I wanted to make it feel like an explosion sounds (hidden crushers smashing barrels) and the door behind closes, later to find a smashed wall, and in progression paths where closed and then opened, leading indeed into a very linear directed gameplay but that's just for the 20% of the game, much later it opens and you can visit everything. I got some reviews calling it too linear. I didn't thought it was or maybe people quit on the beginning. I just wanted to tell a story with the level events at that point. At least it was mostly non-linear when a trigger later opened all the restricted doors, the difference with many todays games is that a door always closes behind, being like 90%-100% linear.

Sometimes level designers get very enthusiastic with a specific element, my thing is doing crazy stuff that seem clever or impossible with the engine. I adored the levels that either have a very life like architecture or funny crude stuff done with sectors (like making acid spills, broken pipes, real life objects, designs telling a story that this was a real place not an abstract bunch of lines) or did tricks like bridge above bridge. In the passion to create such things we forget other aspects. Sometimes we designed very cramped small passageways (while I realized, the levels with more relaxed open spaces and outside areas became my most favorites) just because it fits a narration of the hero crawling through scary passageways, with specific functions. I remember such levels, and while they have very realistic designs with sectors resembling real life breakage and machinery and such, it's obvious the author obsessed over detail and forgot gameplay. There was a level in CC3 which had such kind of design, some passageways where you have to find switches to raise the level of water, sectors where representing turbines, etc. I fuckin spent like 20 minutes trying to progress, just wondering, sticking in walls, going around, not shooting anything. And I did kinda liked this level for these life-like design ideas, but imagine someone who doesn't care about architecture and tricks, rather than pure shooting. It wouldn't appeal to anyone even if as a designer I kinda like it. Sometimes I have some hard times in specific levels and I am experienced with Doom and finding my way out, and then I am wondering if I struggled for 5-10 minutes, then how about a newbie who hasn't played Doom before?

Then come to think, maybe some non-linear designs is of your preference, but would they work for the majority of modern gamers? You would beg game designers to map levels more like Doom (at least they can mix the linearity) but maybe there is a director in a big AAA game company that says to the team "No! Remove that corridor, it would be too confusing to inexperienced players". And maybe as a director he is right, because that would not drive away the less hardcore players. Maybe few game fans will be disappointed but the game will sell in the majority and so the director has done his job well. You'd have to base upon the few game companies that have passionate game designers who want to make the game they want to make or play, not what appeals in the majority.

But yeah, that's the issue. I think we obsessed a lot with linearity vs non-linearity, always targeting for the far end. Linearity or non-linearity are not inherently evil. I've seen how a very non-linear Doom map confused the hell out of me even if I found it interesting as a level design, while some less linear but mixed levels with some great atmospheric environments but a hidden linear path that tells a story were my most enjoyable levels. While most AAA games do 90-100% linear designs where they even close the path back or have invisible walls as to play it safe and not confuse the players. In my view I see most modern games like this. Others might have a different view. I am not saying that the solution lies in the middle, because of tastes. What do you like? What maps did you enjoy the most? Would the majority like them? Do you want to keep your job? Do you want to make the games that you would love to design or play yourself? Would you rather fixate on a very linear path just to tell a story?

So, in the game community we have the tendency to say "Modern FPS suck, I want to be lost in the most complex Doom labyrinths". Or "Doom labyrinths are horrible game design, show me the way point and close all alternative paths so that I don't have to search".

p.s. Now I have to find the maps I really loved, keep some notes, and design some new Doom maps myself (so long since I last did this). It seems to me that what makes Doom great or what makes some levels better is something not so well defined and might be different from person to person. But it's good to observe more closely and take some notes and find interesting patterns.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

So, there it is!

One more final merge. There is nothing more to merge. I couldn't keep with some of my blogs. Well, I don't have the motivation or time to write frequently in most of them anymore anyway. But at the end, it makes sense to connect Plasma Fun with Computer Hermit. They both talk about computers, one is more on the light side reviewing games and demos and just having nice screenshot of stuff, the other started as a serious ranting about things computer related. I think that's for the best. And then there is no way I would merge anything any more, Optimus Monologue is totally different than this one, it's two sides of my life, one thinking too much about life and ideas, the other about computers. Unless I decide to create yet another new blog, this will never happen again.

I might only move some of the blog links I still care about here and delete Plasma Fun once and for all. I am not sure if I will review games soon or just rant about game design or computers or maybe even talk about programming. But now everything will be together, instead of two separate blogs with minimal visits, one more abandoned than the other.

Maybe a new post - games I would have written about

This is a quite abandoned blog. Well, I have three of them, and sometimes wondering whether I should connect them all at once. But how many times have I done this thing? Deleting blogs, merging blogs, then deciding to separate them again then merge again? I have to decide. Certainly I decided to never make a new blog anymore, unless there is a special reason. And what should be merged? I would like to kill some of my blogs. Or they don't match together. (But I think I might do one last merge and keep it. This blog is more close to Computer Hermit and also less updated).

I would like to write about some games like in the past. I stopped at the first Borderlands and Test Drive Unlimited. I could have reviewed what I like and dislike about the sequels of these games which I played to death. Or there are few special titles that I would definitely like to mention. Special types beyond your typical AAA game. Indies or almost AAAs that I specially adore and are my favorite games of the year. But maybe I'll make a list for now:

  • Legend of Grimrock 1/2
  • Life is Strange
  • The Talos Principle
  • The Witness
  • Spelunky
  • To the Moon
Those are. Those are some of the recent games that I am really glad they are out there in the game industry, making things better than playing another AAA title with boring cinematics and QTEs. And maybe I forget few more.

Also, I'd like to mention some recent oldies I replayed and appreciate (some of them remastered).

  • Deus Ex: GOTY
  • Strife: Veteran edition

And of course:
Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale Undertale 

Hehe, the Undertale madness is insane. And I quite liked it, even though I have more love for some of the other games in the list. But anyway, Undertale deserves this too for doing something different and surprising with the retro rpg genre.

And there are quite more games I would like to talk about, also Brutal Doom and it's impact, why the community is divided. Also sometimes I play regular Doom or Brutal Doom and wonder what is the thing that makes it so unique compared to modern FPS. Or discuss what are the good elements from Serious Sam or how many new things had Duke Nukem 3D made and how back FPS are (or they followed a different route of cliche cinematics and linear storytelling with boring action). I could make a lot of analysis on some game design subjects I come back a lot of the times and wonder about.

Or maybe talk about demos and other stuff that I wanted to cover in this channel too. Maybe..

p.s. Or maybe do the merge. That will be a final. One is my thinking about life and ideas blog, Optimus Monologue. The other should be Computer Hermit (and I get rid of Plasma Fun title which is weird, didn't gave it much thought then). I know,. I would be killing some links to this blog, maybe the replies to the messages are copies and maybe I have to move some of the good links before deleting it. I think I'll make the move..

Thursday, 21 January 2016


Sometimes how specific terminology has come to stay make me furious. It shouldn't matter since it doesn't affect my life. But strolling through gaming or tech forums, I might end ranting to the air, search for other people hating the same terms, rejoicing in the thought that I am not alone.

Today it was 2.5D. I don't know how I have come here, maybe from articles defining raycasting, raytracing, raymarching, sphere tracing, remembering all those terms that are so intermixed with each other, sometimes even in graphics articles or papers. Later, on wikipedia talks about raycasting, people mistakenly calling Doom or Duke 3D raycaster based, also named it 2.5D. Although does it matter? What if we use the terms but then if misunderstood, describe in more words what we exactly mean?

2.5D. That's the problem with this term even between those who use it, which is used to describe various different cases of rendering and gameplay. They might be meaning 2d gameplay in a 3d environement (Trine series), 3d gameplay in 2d rendering (oldschool isometric games where you could still climb over objects and above enemies, e.g. Knight Lore), or games with 2D maps but 3d gameplay like Doom (about which, there are many misconceptions I'd like to discuss another day). And there is even misunderstanding of what they mean, for example some consider the new Mario World 3D on the Wii U to be 2.5D because sometimes the level design forces you to move through one axis. What they want to define is so diverse, that it's better to describe both it's gameplay and rendering in more detail than shoehorning it into one category.

I personally hate the term at all. It's meaningless. I read it was used as a derogatory term to differentiate classic first person shooters from later 3d polygon games. And sometimes I like to joke about it, talking about fractal dimensions and especially 3d quadratic koch surfaces (exactly 2.5D by Hausdorff dimension :).

It's isometric, so it must be 2.5D, right? :)

In fact, come to think, even the most modern 3D polygon games, what they really are, is projections onto the 2D screen. That's another way I like to mock this term. Your nextgen 3D games are 2D. Not even a half more :P

p.s. I read so much misconceptions about Doom that I will briefly mention. First, it's not a raycaster, no rays are cast to determine the wall rendering, not everywhere in the code. But the walls are still rendered with stretched column rendering just like wolfenstein. Then, people said you don't have control on the vertical axis. That's not true. While the maps have sections called sector made only by 2d vertices and having information for floor/ceiling height, all the things (player, enemies, items) have three dimensions. You can walk from a ledge and fall or climb stairs. They could easilly have added jump function in the game. Someone said there is autoaim when you shoot, which shows the limitations of the engine. It's not because of limitation. They could have done it. They just didn't have look up or down to aim the crosshair in one axis at the time because it would be harder for the gameplay. Also, there is an effect where you shoot a bazooka that hits a wall below a monster on a ledge but the explosion radius damages it. Just lazy coding. Monster has x,y,z. Your projectile too. Could do 3d distance or 2d distance like it does and another 1D distance check between heights of projectile and enemy. When imps throw fireballs at you from higher ground, the fireballs really move on a 3d linear path. Cacodemons fly above and below. If you shoot a bazooka on a higher place and later another monster crosses the trajectory below, it's not hitting it because it's above. At least, there is true 3d gameplay, things move in three axes and the 3rd axis matters.

p.p.s. Come to think, that's the best thing 3d graphics technology (no matter if real polygons or projections of 2d walls) has given us. Not more brilliant visuals, but an expansion of the gameplay space. Suddenly you don't scroll in front of a background, but you can discover things behind it, find hidden rooms from the other side, hide above or below, reach and attack from other paths, new views of the same data. Think Deus Ex. So many unique paths to infiltrate the same place. One could argue that you could have some of these things in 2d games but this has expanded a lot in the 3d space. That's another reason why it makes me mad to see another linear on-rails FPS with "brilliant" graphics but very restrictive paths. I could joke another time and mock modern FPS games by saying they take the 3D and restrict it in 2.5D. If we wanna play like this, Doom, naively called 2.5D, has more exploration and expansion of your 3D senses in terms of gameplay than your average modern FPS.

p.p.p.s. Yeah, I am ranting. I could be writing more if I didn't stop now..

Monday, 30 November 2015

Players should be bothered

Small rant, it still pisses me off that the gaming industry thinks more of the gamers like they are delicate flowers and they must not stuck in a game even for 1% of their time. So, we have "adventure" games where it runs more like a movie and they even force feed you the solution and then fill it with QTEs to make it look like you are in the action. And FPS/Action games where things are easier for the lazy player because you can just shoot mindlessly, yet god forbid if there is an alternative path in the extremely linear level and will make people get lost. You have "RPGs" where they simplify everything after every franchise because yeah, gamers are gonna cry.

And you have this eternal problem, for example you ask yourself why oldschool adventure games have died (well, one would say they are ..kinda revived, but pretty much a minority). And yes, there were the stories of pixel hunting and moon logic, things that nowadays adventure makes try to avoid, by simplifying riddles and having objects closer to your vicinity and designing puzzles that are generally more obvious and all that. I remember of some recent adventure games I played that in retrospective to the oldies they are much much easier in puzzles, yet I would still find myself stuck a bit sometimes. Because I realized that even with more simple adventure games, the player can still get stuck because his logic at a particular point of the game might be different than the developer's logic. As long as you have even the most basic puzzles, there is a possibility that at least some of your players will get confused. The only way to make a game where a player doesn't stuck is if it has basically 0% actual puzzles, basically to follow the Telltale games direction, where the illusion of acting on puzzles and fighting with QTEs is there and the handholding has reached a new low. Because there is no way like this that the player will get stuck even for few seconds and stop the flow of the story, which would be considered bad design.

And that's where I digress. Players should be bothered. Players should get stuck once in a while. If you want to avoid all distress and all you think is that good game design is a streamlined experience without troubles then you are giving a hollow experience to the gamer. It's the same with the FPS games. Let them click triggers and shoot extravaganza but without the exploration of classic FPS. They call Doom a labyrinth mess but Doom was well designed at some of the levels of Episode 1. John Romero once said he actually designed the first levels to have some distinctive characteristics that makes you remember the space. So, there are some stairs going up to the armor in the left, a window and four blue pilars in the center, a zig zag road later near the end, in such a way that they are very memorable and you know you have to go to this and that room with the specific architecture and details. There was thought put into it. And I am saying it because I have played some much worse Doom-clones at the time which were the real freaky labyrinths! But now you can't play an FPS that doesn't push you through the path or doesn't get so extremely linear, not allowing alternative design choices, because nooo... that's baaad design! And there is even a pointer telling you where to go and any door behind will close shut so that the player is not confused and go back, no backtrack allowed. Because backtrack==baaaad desiiign.

Fuck that shit! Well, maybe the gaming industry is going that way because there are millions now playing games and some of the people are more casual gamers in the sense that they want to come back from work and with little clicks on their controller they want to get all the cinematics and glorious graphics. I do believe that also the recent console generation brought all these trends. But what pisses me off is not that these new trends are more frequent, but that anything going to the other direction of actually challenging the player is considered some times bad game design.

At least there are developers who go their own way. Two recent games I adore for not going that way but also refining their gameplay in the middle ground (or maybe more tending towards challenging the player but with somehow more logical puzzles, so avoiding the sins of the old gaming era but still keeping it hard) are The Legend of Grimrock 2 and The Talos Principle.

LOG2 followed on the footsteps of the first one, but started you on an island and soon I realized that it basically gives you a non-linear open world where you can visit a lot of areas earlier and in different ways than the first playthrough and there are so many secrets to find and riddles that challenge you a bit but still keep being logical. It's like a proper balance between "We don't want to hold your hand" and "we neither want to have some very ridiculous illogical puzzles like in the past" and sometimes you have to leave a place and come back later and the solution might come or you might discover something else that helps you with that. I spent over sixty hours with that but it was a great experience at the end and I didn't mind the many times that I had to wonder around for few minutes being stuck on what to do next (I'd hack and slash random encounters in the meanwhile till I find some items or hints I missed before at different areas). I heard few people being frustrated of the puzzles because they wanted plain hack and slash, and still makes me wonder, should games be 100% streamlined experience without the player being bothered? Zero puzzles and linear paths means zero bothering, just mashing buttons and seeing cool spectacles. No,. I hope the few companies that don't follow, won't be influenced in the future by such.

And then you have The Talos Principle which is literally a first person puzzler in the likes of Portal but is something I enjoyed much much better than Portal for various reasons. Besides the very clever puzzles, which are although presented to you in a progressive way from very obvious riddles to gradually challenging new concepts and game mechanics, in a way that they are almost never unfair (there was the one that you had to stack a box over a sphere, seemingly illogical, but I prefer once in a while to be confused like that than 0% real puzzles) and gradually becoming more mindblowing, even though the game taught you well to start thinking in their logic. And the secret stars you have to think out of the box (literally) to get them. Besides that, there is a whole story filled with ideas about AI, virtual reality, ethics and other matters which created an experience that really blew my mind. There are some terminals between surreal scenery where you have to convince a computer that you are a human or discuss moral philosophy with another distant being which you don't know whether it's real or a bot. In one of the terminals, there is a letter of a dad to his daughter which basically say that she is free to explore the world and he doesn't have to hold her hand anymore, she has to explore and learn on her own from now on, like the game writers make secretly a mention to the handholding craze in the game industry.

Another funny mention to the handholding trend in gaming, can be seen in the new game I am playing now, Undertale. Which is quite an easy game, but the ideas in it are so unique that I get the recent hype.

literal handholding

p.s. Maybe I should just calm down and keep playing the few games where developers still get it. We are lucky there are still such developers. We don't need to simplify games any more, they are more than simplified already! There can be games that are both not easy but not unfairly difficult. Those two games for me have fair riddles but they are there and might make you stuck. I can never say they have bad design because one would stuck for 5 minutes, because they are well designed with modern standards, but never simplifying. But still that wouldn't satisfy many gamers. I hear of gamers who say "I am coming back from work and have only few hours to enjoy a game, I don't want to be stuck for two hours" or "I wish games were shorter". Well, do you want a game that let's you delve in it's world and learn the secrets of it, or just a movie experience?

Saturday, 31 October 2015

What I don't like about Telltale games.

Strangely enough, I haven't played yet one of the most popular titles, The Walking Dead. This was on the radar of all gaming sites as a masterpiece, not playing this would be like not living on planet earth as a gamer. I know, I know. It's on my Steam library now. I just didn't found the time or motivation to start it.

But I had to start playing some of the Telltale games. I read about them and have seen videos of people playing and was wondering at first where is the interactivity because I was watching long dialogues and nothing happening. No, I didn't watch some spoilers, I just tried to jump in parts of a video of Tales of the Borderlands or Game of Thrones to take a glimpse on how the gameplay is. I heard they were adventure games. I was always falling sort on dialogues with some brief moments of very harsh choices. Or maybe they are interactive movies, depending on who you ask.

And even more strange, I haven't played any of the Telltale games a month ago but was just finishing a similar game by another company that really touched me and really dragged me into it's world and it's characters, Life is Strange. I know. I know, what many people are just saying. "That game? That was very bad! Highschool drama. Cheesy dialogues. Bad lip syncing." even the very laughable "Feminist propaganda!".

And many people said this is a Telltale rip off. And I thought "Wow, if this is a rip off from Telltale style and I really like it, imagine how much I will like Telltale games!". Yes, at that moment, I was still an alien gamer on earth, having finished a Telltale "rip off" but never even played a single Telltale title, let alone the very awarded The Walking Dead.

I still haven't played this one but it's my next on the list, but my impressions from Tales from the Borderlands is this. This is one of the funniest games I have ever seen, very good plot and characters too, amazing presentation, really witty dialogues, it's exactly how you would do a correct addaptation of the original Borderlands games style, humour and characters to an adventure game (or interactive movie, whatever you consider these games to be). Marvelous, brilliant,... but left me cold.

It left me cold because there is something very off-putting to the way they handle interactivity. Maybe it's this special kind of game which is not exactly an adventure game in the traditional sense but more of an interactive story, something similar to Heavy Rain or Beyond Two Souls on the PS3 and a bit evolved with many dialogues and choices. Maybe it's just that kind of game and I don't like it the same way I don't enjoy sports game. I love story games, I even enjoyed games that are considered non-games, like Dear Esther or Gone Home. But not so the recent Telltale games style, which might be outrageous considering that there seems to be no gameplay at all in the so called "walking simulators" than a Telltale game.

For me, it feels like the Telltale game I tried (and I believe it doesn't change in Walking Dead and more of their titles) is how simplistic in your face it is. How it totally takes control from you and then tries badly to convince you that you are the one who is playing. To me it feels like it's mocking the player, it oversimplifies the already simplified yet it presents it to you like you have a choice. I am not talking hear about choices not matter at the end, I do understand that it's a very hard problem to make a vast tree of choices taking you to exponentially different outcomes in video games and I don't feel the same with many players who for many titles think "Hey, it gives you choices, but nothing matters at the end, except from a final dual 'go with this or go with that' challenge at the end. This never mattered to me, because I know how difficulty is to give exponentially unique endings after a vast tree of choices.

But it's how it totally tries to be a movie rather than a game, first of all with the dialogues. There are long sequences of dialogues which is good for a story, but a few times you get choices yet there is a timer going so fast that you don't have time to even read your choices sometimes. And guess what, if you don't answer, the dialogues will move on like a movie, because yeah modern gamers would think it's so unrealistic if you had all your time to give an answer like classic adventures, while in real life if a character talks and you don't interrupt, the plot and dialogue will move on. And fine, it's just an alternative way for dialogue interaction, something different they tried but I really don't like to be pushed to answer, I don't like an adventure game or interactive fiction that goes on it's own and doesn't let you breathe.

And that's the least of the offenders. It's when they give you "control" that I feel I am mocked. Yeah, after a 20 minutes dialoguefest I finally can control my character. In a very restricted camera, very small environment and with the most easy riddles I have ever seen. And I don't mind easy riddles, most recent adventures even those of the traditional style have quite ridiculously easy riddles if you ask a hardcore adventurer. But the riddles in the very few restricted sections where I could finally move my character where so obvious with the single object I need nearby that it's like they won't to convince me that "Hey, this is not just an interactive fiction, there are some adventure game elements in there" but it's just some clicks for me so that I progress. And not only that, they have to point you at it like you are such an idiot to even think of that! I really despise this era of gaming where companies have to make the games more and more easy because maybe they are afraid they will drive the gamers away. And how would adventure games evolve in this mindset if the user has to stuck for half an hour in the same place, or if it doesn't have the flawless progression of a movie? Telltale games.

The most recent example is when there was a rumble of obstacles that my character was not strong enough to lift, and when I found that out after clicking on the rumble, before I can think whether I should make a lever or ask my robot to lift them for me, it shows a cinematic where my character and this robot looks at each other, like they tell you "hey, just go ask the robot for a lift!". They even needed to tell me that obvious thing! Or when you have an inventory so that we consider this is an adventure game actually, but you can never drag one object to use, but if you had to use a screwdriver to some object to solve it, suddenly there is a second icon with just exactly the screwdriver below the look icon when you hover over the object. The game gives the solution to you like you are the most stupid gamer and even if it didn't it was already so obvious. Oh and don't start me about QTEs. QTEs is the equivalent of we want to show you an amazing action sequence but give you the impression it's you who did it, so yeah mush some more button we throw at you like a Pavlov dog just to progress. Why don't I watch a movie then? Imagine watching your favorite Anime, but every once in a while the M$ Clippy would pop up asking you for an imaginary choice, killing your immersion, not being sure whether you watch a movie, interact with a game or neither.

And say I don't mind about fast paced dialogues or forced QTEs. The fact itself that this thing moves like a movie and in few occasions have you solve pseudo-riddles in a very restricted environment without even being able to truly rotate the camera yourself and really explore the level and find things for yourself is a downer. And that's what Life is Strange didn't do. In LIS you have a 3rd view camera of your character but she can rotate and move freely all over the place, look at various objects and read material that relate to the story which you have to discover yourself, look at places, check every corner, talk to characters that stay there for you, not being forced into this though. There is talking in Telltale games and there is the chance to Look At objects but these are very minimal and few, always in your path, there is no sense that you are actually there in the world exploring for yourself and learning it's secrets alone, without anyone pushing you, without anyone showing you the solution. Telltales adventures just by restricting the camera so that you only find the interactions you have to do to progress, steal this feeling from you, and at some points no matter how good the story is, it makes me forget I am in this world but rather that I have to do these chores to progress, give an answer out of three fast, find out where I should click to progress.

And the riddles in LIS, while I must confess are quite simplistic by purist adventurers standards and even more, they are there for  you to explore. They are not always given to you at the same proximity in a room, you have to use this special time rewind ability (yep, there is also no real inventory) or find clues in your notes. There are few times that I got stuck for a while, but what did the game do? It didn't point me to the right direction in my own face before I even decide how to solve a riddle. I do remember when I was trying the same things, the 3rd time the main character giving me some subtle clues. This is not a bad thing, if you get stuck, an adventure game to give you subtle and not direct clues on what to do next. But the way this Telltale game I played did it was outrageous, I didn't even had the chance to decide for myself before getting stuck, not that it would be possible.

This is one thing I like in classic adventures. And also games adapting the first person view but are not necessary shooters (I actually quite like the first person perspective for adventure games and games generally inspiring exploration). They just throw you in their world and let you discover things. You can just stare in a background or scenery for half an hour, pondering what's there next to do. Not exactly the kind of game for people who are hungry for content in the least seconds spent. They might hint things at you but never throw the solution so blatantly in your face. And they never restrict you in a fixed camera with few clicks to progress, they let you explore all around you even if 90% of the items are just there for the character to Look At and get witty comments that are irrelevant to the main game. Telltale games kill that feeling, although they would be great for small anime movies following on the story of already existing franchises. They really do that part very well, if you remove the forced interactivity.

And maybe you will tell me I played the wrong game. Maybe I should play The Walking Dead because it's more dark and emotional. And yes, I believe Borderlands has a witty style, and The Walking Dead will have a different style and I know from one game and few other "let's play" video glimpses (I didn't saw spoilers, just jumped here and there) in their titles that The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones and Wolf Among us will have amazing presentation, good dialogues, characters and story. I am planning to play them and recently bought all their collection in Steam. But I am very afraid that even in Walking Dead or other more serious titles, I will somehow lose the immersion. I will feel like a Pavlov's dog, mashing buttons to progress, never being able to really explore the surroundings and find things on my own and really get into my character's boots. Mostly because they are doing this one single thing, they take control from you. They try to be like a movie.

Many critics said videogames shouldn't try to mimic movies so hard. There are other interactive ways to tell a story. Be subtle. Let the player discover things on his own pace. I enjoyed games that are even not considered games like Gone Home or Dear Esther, way more than the Telltale games I played so far. Just because they let me walk and stare at the scenery for minutes, letting me go back to revisit places, discovering subtle clues in the environment and easter eggs, no matter if there was no actual interactivity. I felt like I was inside their worlds even just for 2 hours of play and I would "play" them or "walk" them more times again. I felt the same with Life is Strange, it left a mark on me and I still remember the locations and characters and all subtle details of the story. I don't feel this as much in Tales of the Borderlands while near the end of the game, even though they depict perfectly the characters, style, background story and world atmosphere of the original FPS game.

p.s. While I don't like to comment on this, is Life is Strange "feminist propaganda"? Is it the same with "Gone Home"? No. I didn't felt that really and nothing really killed the enjoyment of the game for me. There are some tropes in the game that could remind someone in a lesser degree of things feminists say (or let's say modern era feminists) or maybe this is just girl talk. But even if it was, why not think of this like they give you control of a character that just have these traits (and really Max is ok, it's her friend who is more radical and annoying) and you are playing along these lines and hear girls talk about these things sometimes, in the same way you would play a game where the hero is an anti-hero with a dark past or maybe believes in things that you don't personally like. If you dislocate yourself for a while and just think that you live the inner world of Max with her own thoughts/feelings and nobody is trying to preach you anything then maybe you would be able to enjoy a game more. (This actually reminds me of this priceless Onion news article ). This from someone who is a bit more supportive with Gamer-Gate than anti and recently discovered that some feminists are scary, although doesn't want to be involved much into this discussion (yet).

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What is a geek? An imagined reality.

Times have changed. There is an oversaturation of geek culture. Geeks are everywhere. The Big Bang Theory is cool. Even non geeks watch it and celebrate the existence of geeks. Several years ago, most people were genuinely claiming that being interested in geeky interests is unhealthy. And most of the time it wasn't their opinion, it was an acquired opinion of the general consensus of the times. Today, this has shifted to geeks being cool, sort of. I will explain what I mean by this "sort of" soon.

Another thing that happened is that the stereotype is not holding anymore. The overweight, lazy, living with their mother, without a girlfriend one. What a lie! The majority of geeks you see talking about these things look quite normal most of the time. So normal, it makes me feel alone and betrayed. And that would make sense, because nowadays someone being interested in comics, sci-fi movies, games and that is already considered a geek and it was always the case anyway. But think that gaming or reading comics or watching movies does not require any special effort or brains. It's not the same as being a programming or electronics geek (and they do call this a nerd) where you really need to dedicate effort and have patience to reach the point where you make some really creative stuff. Thus, I have more respect for geeky cultures on our creative side, rather than the general music/game/film/arts fanboy culture, where anyone could invade nowadays, from the nerdy looking guy to the good looking girl. I am even curious why this hasn't happened before? Why were people so reluctant to at least game? Was it that hard that made you a no lifer? Why now?

But then again, bear with me. As a demoscene programmer, I met a lot of people at demoparties. Also having many programming friends in real life. Most of them look cool enough. Some might be overweight but so can be anyone outside a geek culture. Many of them have girlfriend or families. They pass on as regular people with just some special interests. And I am happy for them. I just want to point out, that even in the more hardcore programming communities, people are really looking just like the rest. If at gaming and sci-fi communities it could be explained why people are not looking nerdy enough (since gaming, everyone could do it), you still wouldn't expect it in coding cultures. So much for stereotypes! Maybe I also pass for normal and I have a wrong idea about myself. But I do know that I am the exception even inside the demoscene, a lot of these stereotypes are true about myself. And was it ever true? Did the demoscene ever consist of lifeless girlfriendless nerds? The average age of sceners have increased anyway (maybe because the older grandfathers are here and we don't get many young people anymore), it used to be full of teenagers (so, it was normal someone at age 15 didn't necessarily have a girlfriend) and now maybe it's around the age where many people already have jobs and/or a family. You can't say..

Meanwhile, the so called geek culture as portrayed by media, have grown up so much. We have comicons and cyber athletes and companies trying to capitalize on the nerd craze and all that. And everyone is into. It's interesting in one way, how this has evolved and I'd love to observe where it will go. But everyone is into. And because of that, you find people that you like and a lot that you might not. Look for example the gamer-gate, I would never expect something in the narrow, geeky and so cryptic (in the past) gaming community would become such a big news. Everybody is in, and now a hobby that was hidden from mainstream in the past, is invaded by politics, feminism and all that. Something that nobody would care in the past. But then you have the effect of what I call the gaming mob. Everybody is into it, from the shy guy, the common joe and the arrogant psychopath asshole. You can't be a gamer or a geek anymore and have someone who sends rape threats be at the same imaginary category they made for you twenty years ago. These guys could be the same ones who would bully you in horrible ways at school in the past for being different.

The stereotypical identity of the geek is lost. That's when it became mainstream and every kind of person thought it would be cool to get into it. It's similar to computer becoming mainstream. For some strange reasons, if in the past you even were into computers or consoles, even if it was just gaming and not doing the real brainy stuff like programming or even building a PC from scratch, you still qualified as an immensely crazy weirdo. It wasn't in. Now computers are in, but the average users does not understand or appreciate what's behind that box, yet facebook, smartphones or gaming are pretty trendy subjects. At least now they don't look weird at you when you tell them you are a programmer.

And strangely enough even the majority of programmers, from low level coders to web developers, are usually pretty normal looking most of the time. I think the reason for that is, first of all even the crazy geeks are humans and want some companionship and intimate relationships sometimes, secondly there is always some kind of social pressure against being the asocial weirdo or somehow there is a force that pushes everyone to try and resemble more the most accepted ideas we have about being normal. So, it will either come naturally to you, sooner or later. Or maybe you will just struggle and feel so alone even inside a so called geek community. Meanwhile, as this huge cloud of geek subculture emerging in the mainstream starts covering everything, geeky subjects will fuse with the average joe and the common pressure to be a little bit more "normal" or more like the rest of the people who are also into these stuff. Most true geeks might actually take the bait and try to fuse a bit with the other side as a necessity, not feeling inferior their culture being invaded by regular people. So we now have the idealized picture of the guy who does everything. The geek guy or hacker type who is also doing good with the other sex and dresses in classy or cool ways. The few guys who somehow doesn't get through this is frowned upon and there is double pressure nowadays to both resemble something like a genius (which is mostly artificial and success alone in the media is enough) and somehow be all cool and outgoing. I am not saying that it's impossible or not a cool dream. But it's as hypocritical as a parent pressuring it's child to study all day long, get the best grades, be the best of the best, while at the same time blaming him for being too introverted or not having luck with girls. And that unexplained pressure from both sides makes you want to quit and disregard society as a whole. I, for once, can truly understand how the otaku phenomenon surfaced in Japan. I am with these people, giving the middle finger to this oppressive culture. I am even entertained with news in Japan and around the world panicking about the youth people caring less about mating, totally laughing at the people who even wonder what's wrong with these kids nowadays.

Sadly, we still frown upon the true stereotypical geeks. The introverts. The shy persons. The depressed. The fat people. The asexuals. The love-shys. But somehow we want to have a "geek" culture. While disregarding people who suffer from all these characteristics, because we don't want them to remind us of the ugly side of being a geek.

It's uncommon today, almost a taboo, to even have the idea that somehow with many of the above quirks you are still a person that should be respected and understood. Instead even in this "geek" culture infested society, the most typical ideas are about getting the geek approval while disregarding the ugliness of it. Things like "Yeah, I am a geek and geeks rules, but you shouldn't be socially awkward, fat or introverted and that's what constitutes a dork". We think we are just right, choosing the good things from both worlds and that we have the right to patronize and judge other poor souls for not being geeks and normal at the same time. We like to sound geeky and cool at the same time or rather maybe trendy in modern age (because many geek subjects are now more mainstream and easily accesible) and still consistent with a good social image because it's still uncool if you aren't very social. But these few poor individuals who still haven't made it and feel marginalized in this geek culture infested world, are not so because they voluntarily chose this life. And there are other serious issues that have nothing to do with geeky subjects. Hell, there are fat people, love-shys or introverted who might not have much to do with any geeky subject (but everything can be a geeky subject, so it's hard to prove). Extreme sensitivities, tamperament, psychology, even biology might have played a role into all these. The special interests come ahead, not always as a way to cope in my opinion (I have a natural fascination for ideas for the sake of ideas rather than people sometimes).

So what is a geek? Are the stereotypes real? Maybe not even in the past.Was it uncommon to get into geeky subjects? It was in the past. But not today. And many of these subjects could be easily invaded even in the past but for some cultural I guess reasons it was unpopular then. Isn't "geek" just another stereotypical word? Or "nerd"? Or the disrespectful and dividing "dork"? Didn't we once feel proud (or not) of being called "geeks" because it was supposed to be this minority of special people doing what everyone else was avoiding in fear of being marginalized, while coping with our real self-esteem problems and special sensitivities and all the bullying and such? They just called us this and we took it and elevated it into a status. Now, the modern culture has stereotyped this in BBT and everyday talk, but it's just a replica, a ghost of what it used to be, a crude joke of a bully society who wants to look cool and openminded at the same time, but all it does is just mimicking the trends yet still frown upon everything that is deviant from itself.

That's why I disregard the word "geek". I am pretty confused and pissed about everything. From how things have evolved yet we still cannot be tolerant and cannot get out this idea of being "normal" as defined. How we had a cultural explosion of geek media, everyone wants to be a geek, yet frown upon "uncool" people. And because the word geek is an imagined reality, the same way that "normality" is. We are scared people, trying to resemble the common norm, judging all others who fail to do so. People still think and act in the same shitty ways. Geek culture has just overridden our society without society to change.

I don't want to be a "geek" anymore. Excuse me for a moment, I am gonna hang around with some people at the psych forums. Poor people with better understanding of suffering. Hmm,. people who don't talk about geek subjects but real human matters. That must be! (If only they didn't fight with each other sometimes. Aarrghh... human nature! I mean, otherkin trying to expose anotherkin. How much more cognitive dissonance?)

p.s. I am still kinda proud to be a coder though. And a scener. Even if I am still failing the "normality" test compared to most other people in the scene. But at least, from a perspective of mainstream, the demoscene and programming can never become common ground. Because sitting your ass down and patiently manage to learn programming and keep on with it, is not the same as getting involved playing games or reading comics or whatever. It's more fulfilling even and sort of gives you some kind of identity.
p.p.s. I wanna state that I have nothing against "fake-geek girls". It might have looked like this because I disregard this geek culture craze. It's everywhere, regardless sex. I am also not gonna judge you for not being a geek guy/girl because you look more "normal" than me. I am only expressing some thoughts in these blogs but in real life I want to avoid conflict. And what you do is what you do, games are fine and fun, it is a huge culture on it's own (even if irrelevant with the stereotypes anymore), play and let other play.
p.p.p.s. About gamer-gate. I used to be a bit more siding towards pro. Maybe because I am not so much fan of the radical feminism invading everything, also such political correctness in gaming sites and especially how much they have exploited this into a drama for their own gain. But at the same time, I am sad with some of the attacks from the gaming mob. The same game mob have harassed some game developers in the past and as a programmer too, this infuriates me. Put in contrast what I've also said about how easy it is to just get into gaming and how much more patient, creative and clever it is to be a programmer. I might be snob here because I am also in the programmer's club, but you get my point. The gaming mob with every kind of person versus the few individual more creative and even more professional developers. Which would you chose?