Alien vs Predator. I've had my eye on this title for a few weeks now. Every time I step into a computer retail store, I hold the box in my hand, examine the screenshots, and then put it back. Another FPS ....
But I broke down this weekend, and purchased it. I immediately installed the recently released patch, which provides in-game save functionality. After a laborious key configuration process, I was immersed in the world as an alien xenomorph: climbing on walls, making trememndous leaps, and gnawing on the heads of the poor humans. The single-player portion is - so far - quite engaging. It's a quality game engine, and it allows me to play part in a world I've long been a fan of.
The multiplayer options, while unique, left me feeling somewhat cheated. Alien Tag and Predator Tag sound like interesting forms of multiplayer (certainly better than traditional deathmatch), but only in context of a LAN party. I wouldn't want to play Alien Tag with complete strangers on MPlayer, for example. Likewise for Last Man Standing - as marines are eliminated by the host alien, they respawn as aliens; the last human receives bonus points, and the game starts again.
Cooperative mode is what I most wanted to play. I envisioned my friend and I being a Colonial Marine fire team, sweeping through darkened halls to secure installations from alien infestation. I was all geared up to assume the role of Cpl. Hicks, screaming and taunting the digital aliens on my monitor as we progressed deeper and deeper into the game.
No such excitement was to be had. Cooperative mode in Alien vs Predator is nothing more than the human players stuck on the level fighting an infinte horde of aliens (and / or predaliens, praetorians, etc). There is no objective other than survival. But there's no where to go. Get weapon, shoot, get health, shoot, die, repeat. After 10 minutes as a colonial marine, and an alien frag count well over 100, I realized I was incredibly bored. No strategy was involved in any way. Whether one runs, or one stands still, the same results will occur. There's no capacity for strategic movement, or stealth, or inventory management. No capacity for cooperative teamwork in the attainment of a goal. The only goal is survival; and your teammate can't help too much with that.
Perhaps the designers see the Alien vs Predator world in a different light than I do. Perhaps they want to stress the visceral nature of a fight for your life. Perhaps they want to stress the constant chaos of a fight against alien xenomorphs. But this just doesn't interest me. The levels are small, and generally circular in design. There's no real Point B to make it to. You just run, and shoot. Mindless. Mind numbing.
I hope that Rebellion and Fox can envision gameplay from a more cooperative point of view. Whether it's colonial marines trying to secure a landing zone, or predators vying for a xenomoprh skull trophy, or aliens protecting the hive - the game needs a stronger cooperative function.
I was addicted to Doom, as I think most of us really were. It was a lot of fun to run around as the muscle-bound hero, blasting hordes of anonymous alien monsters. I had a ball! Then I discovered the joys of multiplayer deathmatch, and my life was never to be the same.
I played multiplayer Doom via DWANGO - now unfortunately defunct - and dial-up connections to my friends. This was all radically new to me at the time, as I barely knew what PPP stood for, or what an IP address was. But I did know that I enjoyed strafing down a hallway backwards, watching the blue zig-zag from my plasma gun, and hearing my buddy's character scream in agony! We played on hundreds of custom WADs - even dabbled with making our own - and evaluated many of the popular Total- and Partial-Conversions. My favorite was the Aliens TC (Check those corners!). It was one on one, generally. When connected to DWANGO, we enjoyed the massive bloodfest of a four-man free for all. The thrill of victory - of proving your prowess in the hunt, weapon selection, and map strategy - was fantastic. The crush of defeat was mitigated by the intense adreneline rush and pure joy of competitive gaming.
I'd spent months reading about Quake. I downloaded the QTEST, and tried desperately to get my 14.4 modem to sustain a connection on Kali. I downloaded all the various hacks to enable the monsters. My appetite was voracious. Then the shareware release hit the FTP servers. I spent hours downloading - sitting at my monitor waiting with baited breath for the status counter to hit 100%. After some intense shock at the addition of the third dimension, I raced through the single player missions. I quickly learned to master the mouse. Freelook became my friend.
My first game of Quake online, with 7 other players, was fantastic! I was in sheer awe, admiring the quality of the character graphics. I looked at the level design. I shot the rocket launcher, just to watch the explosions. I lobbed grenades everywhere, amazed at the arc of the deadly pineapple. I was addicted, all over again. I spent countless hours playing Quake with complete strangers. Racing around corners to confront enemy fire. Learning exactly how big the splash radius was from the rocket launcher. Timing grenade launches almost perfectly. Finding every tactical nuance to all (eight!) of the maps.
Now, many computer upgrades and game modifications later, I look at the upcoming crop of games. Not one of them catches my fancy. The novelty of true competitive gaming made easy, as embodied by the original Quake, has yet to be duplicated. No single game or game feature sparks any interest. I've grown weary of mindless deathmatch. "Why am I here, shooting these people? Is it just for frag count? Is that the only indication of skill?" Questions such as these filled my head. Ping discrepencies also affected my attitude toward online gaming. Zoid's original Threewave Capture the Flag was a breath of fresh air into the stagnating online gaming world. This was a fresh addiction; but it, too, became bland.
During all of this, a whole online community sprang up. Blue's Quake Rag became Blue's News. PlanetQuake was born, and matured. My personal favorite of the time, Quake Command, provided some of my favorite modifications (the original flamethrower; oh how I loved it!). My daily ritual involved a quick skimming of the major sites, then several hours playing Quake. I found the Quake Clan Database days after its inception, and quickly aligned myself with one of the original twelve clans.
From this came some great friendships, which exist today. I've travelled across the country to visit the friends that I met in my Quake clan.
Enter Quake II. The much stronger single-player campaign held my interest a lot more (I've never completed the full Quake I single-player campaign, all the way through). The new weapons presented a whole new set of skills to master. The new levels were beautiful. My new graphics accelerator made the colored lighting look absolutely fabulous. The monsters were gloriously detailed. The sound effects were rich. The flow of adrenaline was constant. It was a good game.
But what did it add to gameplay? Very little. It took months for the official Capture the Flag modification to be released. Without it, it was the same old mindless killing of people for no particular reason. It was, frankly, boring in concept. Oh sure, the visuals were engaging. The maps were challenging. The weapons were new and fun. But the gameplay was boring. Even CTF, once released, failed to keep my interest for more then a few weeks.
Then I stumbled upon a wonderful modification: Rocket Arena 2. I'd heard about Rocket Arena for Quake I, but never investigated it. I downloaded a beta version of Rocket Arena 2, and was immediately hooked. Once again, I was eager to get home from work, and play! Hours would go by as I played round after round of RA2. What a fabulous modification.
But now, I haven't played Quake (I or II) in several months. Starsiege:TRIBES has currently gained my favor. Because it makes sense. Here's a game specifically geared towards cooperative online multiplayer gaming. Capture the Flag, Capture and Hold, Defend and Destroy - this isn't mindless and mind-numbing elimination of your opponents. This is the attainment of an objective. Acquiring the enemy flag, holding a check point or structure, or destroying the enemy base - clearly defined mission objectives within the framework of a quality first-person gaming engine.
What is the point of the essay above? To express my disappointment in the maturing gaming industry. No longer are we seeing truly innovative games coming from the strongest developers. id software is churning out their third Quake title, which will sit aside nearly countless professional and user-created mission packs. No new game play is being developed. Unreal is taking much the same approach - focusing more on a solid multiplayer foundation than on providing a quality gameplay experience. Half-Life was a good addition to the FPS market, with its incredible single player missions. I was engrossed in Half-Life more than any other game I've played recently. I couldn't wait to get home to play it.
Games like The Dark Eye by Inscape, or The Neverhood by Dreamworks, really catch my fancy. These games force me to think creatively. They can be funny and irreverant, or morbid and morose. I understand that they are in a completely different segment of the gaming industry, let alone differen genres, but I wish that game developers would look to these bargain bin titles as inspiration for ways to improve the content of their own games. Run, shoot, die, respawn and repeat does not a good game make. What has been introduced into the FPS market lately that truly makes a better game? Even my favorite, TRIBES, doesn't add much that is new - TeamFortress focused on cooperative teamwork for the Quake players in much the same way.
Why is the focus today on taking a good product and driving it into the ground? Why can't developers move away from a successful title and create some quality new products? Is it that hard to have a brainstorming sessions to work up some creative content for a new title? The recently announced Opposing Forces add-on for Half-Life, while falling prey to the above criticisms about sequel and add-on mania, sidesteps a lot of the actual meat by allowing me to play in the same world but from a different perspective. Now that is refreshing!
I would like to see original content coming from game developers. I realize that id software has been making a slow direction change towards developing solid game architecture / engines, and then allowing third parties really make it shine with good content. Is the industry as a whole so terribly afraid of making something really new? Have the suits of the corporate world so tainted the developers by insisting that people will only buy a product based on a previous success? It's a sad day indeed, for the gamers.
I went for a bike ride the other day. Halfway in to my ten mile round trip I got a flat tire. Grumbling, I set off on my five mile walk with bike in tow. After about ten minutes, and dozens of passers-by, someone finally asked if I needed a hand.
This friendly stranger stopped to examine my bike. He pulled out this nifty little pump and tried to inflate my tire for me. After serveral failed attempts, I simply thanked the man for his efforts and sent him on his way.
The whole way back, I thought to myself - Would I have stopped, if the roles were reversed? My honest answer is probably not. I'm not generally a very outgoing, friendly guy. I've never stopped to help a stranded motorist on the side of the road...
You know, we're told so often about people being attacked or abducted in situations like that. If my car broke down on the road at night, I would probably refuse help from a stranger. Crazy, isn't it? And I certainly wouldn't stop to help someone, for fear they think me some homicidal maniac.
I was quite depressed on the walk home. What a sad world we're living in. How nice it would be if an honest helping hand didn't have to be second guessed.
I watched the movie The Doors the other night. Jim Morrison was one wacked-out genius! His poetry is nothing short of amazing. He had an incredible ability to say a whole lot with so few words.
Indian scattered on dawn's highway bleeding,
Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind.
What fucking power!
I often wonder how great poets think. The ability to combine such small words to say so much... I'm very methodical when I write. I try to plan ahead, choose my words carefully. I'd never use the word eggshell to describe someone's mind!
My biggest influence, as far as my writing voice, has been William Gibson - author of Neuromancer. His descriptions grab me, pull me into the story so quickly! He uses a lot of sentence fragments to express a complex, dynamic scene. I think it's truly amazing...
Gibson writes with exacting detail. He shows you the whole scene, even the little shit. It all adds up to a rich, powerful image in my mind.
Then you have guys like William S. Burroughs... psychotic genius. Well, that and drug-crazed. His writing - what little I've been able to consume - is another kind of genius.
I've always been interested in language. My math scores always sucked on standardized tests like the ACT or SAT, but my language scores were great. I'm not exactly sure when, but I became interested at a fairly young age. Somewhere it became very important for me to be able to use language as effectively as possible.
It worked - in a way - for quite some time. During my angry youth, I wanted very much to be able to decimate those who would provoke me using words alone. I was quite good at it, if I do say so myself.
But being quick on my feet with an acerbic comment hasn't helped my creative writing at all. Reviewing a lot of the stuff I've put on paper shows that it's generally either morose or macabre. Well, that and it lacks literary substance.
I've been carrying this idea for a story around with me for quite some time now - almost three years. But it's a real loose idea. No long-term plot. Really, it's just a couple of characters I've been slowly developing. They're autobiographical to a degree, but I don't want to write about specific things in my life - at least not yet. So I'm trying to find a story for these characters. Maybe that's the wrong way to go about it...
Sitting in The Counterfeit Heist with Elfboy. I have no idea what brought it up, but I tell Tom about the time I flooded that kid's room.
My folks used to drop me at this kid's house, so his mom could babysit us both. We used to have fun playing together - he was way into Star Wars figures, too. And of course we would play make-believe. One day we were playing as pirates. We took the cushions off the couch upstairs and used them as islands. The couch then became our boat. That was fun, but somehow we decided that we needed water...
So we found this long piece of tubing. We arced the tube into a large U shape and stuck one end under the bathroom faucet. Filled it up as much as we could with water, ran into the other room and dumped it. We must have made a lot of trips, because there was probably a good half-inch of standing water! We also had the presence of mind to put towels under the door frame...
So then Tom and I start talking about Star Wars figures. If memory serves, the day we flooded that room was the same day my parents bought Walrus Man for me. But they wouldn't let me have him as punishment!
Then we naturally segued into G.I. Joe. Tom had a boatload of 'em! He even remembers almost all of their names. I was talking about the Cobra plane, and floundered for its name. Tom immediately exclaims "The Rattler!" He even remembered the Water Moccasin, and gawd only knows what else!
I think it might have been fun to play G.I. Joe with Tom - once. He has a wild imagination, and I'm sure we could have had a lot of fun. But Tom told me how he used to play. G.I. Joe would always hold the nuclear threat over Cobra's head, but never actually use it. So Cobra would get some nukes and blast the shit out of the Joes! Game over! Of course, the Duke and Lady Jay would always make it out, somehow...
I used to disassemble my Cobra Rattler. I'd take the gattling gun out of the nose, and put a small pen flashlight in its place. Then I'd have the Joes hold Cobra Commander in a secret interrogation room (in my basement). So the Cobras would assemble a search-and-rescue team to infiltrate the dark basement.
And I always had Stormshadow defect to hang out with his brother Snake Eyes.