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Leave me alone (or Why I Love Single-Player Games)

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You can very well say that I've always been somewhat of a loner. I've always kept a bunch of friends close by, and generally, I like going out into the public and exchange looks, experiences and places with other people, some of which I'm familiar with, some of which are friends, some of which I've never crossed path with and quite possibly never will again. There's something educational about observing the people walking by without interacting with them in any way, them being completely oblivious to the watching eyes studying them, themselves rather oblivious to other pairs of eyes doing the exact same thing.

The thing is - in the nearly complete majority of occasions, this is an activity I do on my own, and I have no desire to go and interact with those people. There are activities in our lives best enjoyed with no other souls around, and my guess would be they vary between individuals and are completely preferential. Some people are more social creatures, always seeking the company of other people, and some are more introverted, preferring to share only a selected handful of out -and indoor doings with other members of society.

Some activities are best enjoyed with others

As for me, being a 26 years-old gamer who first picked up a Mega-Drive controller somewhere around twenty years ago, I find that gaming is best enjoyed on my own. There, I've said it. I generally don't particularly enjoy long sessions of multiplayer mayhem, and would rather spend my minutes with a high-quality campaign that tells a story and goes somewhere. Not that I don't enjoy multiplayer games - on the contrary. Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, Worms Revolution (and Reloaded of course), Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and Battlefield 3 are permanent residents of my hard-drive, and should I go into a TF2 mood, I might very well find the clock showing impressive advancements towards the upcoming change of dates.

But this generally doesn't happen. I don't normally get this craving for social binges. Sam Fisher keeps staring at me, inviting me to go follow that guy and interrogate him, only to knock him unconscious and hide him somewhere so that other guy doesn't find him. Moreover, with the very exception of Left 4 Dead 2, which I enjoy on occasion with my girlfriend, I don't have any friends who like gaming, or my games in particular. And so, looking at my Steam library, which is meticulously divided into categories, one would find that my Multiplayer section is smaller than any other but Rhythm Games, and even the one dubbed That Which I'll Never Play dwarfs it with shame.

While other are better alone

I don't think I can pinpoint exactly what it is that makes a fine single-player experience so much more enjoyable for me. Perhaps it's the persistent will to overcome challenge. It could also be the need to see what happens next, what exciting battles are up ahead, the constant urge to finally get to the twist in the plot and have revenge on that villain with wide eyes and a true sense of virtual vengefulness that's unmatched by any film or book. (Note: I adore movies and books. But in a different way. Kind of like how I love chocolate, but I also love chicken soup).

So, while I cannot pinpoint the exact element of single-player gaming that makes it so much more to me, I can recall a few unforgettable moments that no multiplayer game has ever showed me. Please note that this might be spoiler territory, so this next paragraph is marked as a spoiler. Read at will.

I remember playing a level callled Boat in a 2004 gem called Far Cry. The level asks that you destroy a bunch of radio towers and then go and blow up a boat. Of course, the order of towers and where you go exactly is completely up to you, which was the charm of this flawed masterpiece. But somewhere near the end of this level, I found myself looking out on a big field of banana fields, with guards patrolling between the trees, on their heightened posts, and near their tiny fleet of armed jeeps and buggies. Having just acquired my OICW, I just started my ascent into the trees, stealthily looking for the right moment. And then all hell broke loose. Someone saw me. The ensuing (and rather hilarious) "Your ass is grass" signaled the upcoming chaos. Finding temporary cover between thin tree trunks and fending off threats from all around while explosions and a chopper blow the canopy around with sheer force and wind was such a perfect moment, perfectly paced, incredibly challenging in just the right way and the absolute peak of one of the best games I've ever played.

In that same year, my very favorite game, Half-Life 2 came out. Throwing you from one environment to the next and always keeping a threat above your head, this is another example of Valve's immaculate skills at designing games for one. Pretty late in the game, in a chapter called Follow Freeman, the chattery Gordon Freeman is to invade an old museum and destroy the enemy's defenses against the rebels, in what becomes a series of non-stop fighting against the game's strongest humanoid enemies, evasive gunships and the notorious Striders. This chaos goes on for the better part of an hour, forcing you to fight through streets, buildings and one unforgettable courtyard. The missiles pollute the air, the rebels get pummeled by the numbers, and only you, the one and only messianic Freeman, own those striders from cover to cover, enhancing the point that you are the key to ending this war. I felt like the ultimate VIP, the lone knight plotting to courageously overtake the castle. The fact that this long scene continues to Gordon receiving that blue Gravity Gun and owning every soldier around with hilarious ease only works to serve as Valve's immense success at making up for the shaky last two hours of the first Half-Life. Absolutely exhilarating.

Funny thing, another of my best examples comes from Half-Life 2, or, more precisely, Half-Life 2: Episode Two. After a long series of incredible fights against the combine Hunters and some high-quality vehicular action, Gordon finally reaches the remaining members of the Black Mesa Science Team at a base called White Fortress. Soon enough, an army of Striders invades the compound and Gordon is given a tool which helps him take them out with a single bullet. From his handgun. While this sounds easy, this scene is all but - it'll have your heart racing with speed and challenge, urging you to be fast and go from one point to another, all while facing the threat of heavy fire of the Striders and the lethal agility of the Hunters. It also sets the stage for one of gaming's most shocking, emotional endings, which I won't write about here, and just say that if you're one of the few who have not yet played this series of games, you kind of should.

Half-Life 2 and Episodes. Striders and stuff.

The list goes on and on. I can talk all day about how fun it was to navigate a haunted house amusement ride in Max Payne 2, how incredibly satisfying it was to invade the Jedi Academy and defeat Sith and Shadow Troopers at the end of Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, how, frightened to my bones, I participated in staring competitions against Metro 2033's Librarians, how incredibly joyful it was to invade a tiny city of lungfishfish or fight my own dad in a meat circus at the end of Psychonauts. I can talk about the hilarious and perfectly scriped trip to India in No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M's Way, defeating that spooky spider in Limbo or making it out of the CIA headquarters undetected in the tensest mission of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, a game known for its high tension levels.

You get the point. It's moment like those that make single-player games my cup of tea. Sure, it's fun to dominate someone wearing a Pikachu hat, blow another player's cement cover open with a grenade or even team up to fend off assaulting zombies. It's all good fun, but it's no match to a tightly-scripted, well-designed challenge that a developer set for you to conquer. Not for me, anyway.

I guess, as I said, it's all preferential. As individuals never share the exact same experiences and emotional roller coasters in life, their preferences for the smallest, and biggest, things in life, vary widely. While I can understand the meaning of social gaming to some people (watching Free to Play was a blast), waiting for that next unforgettable moment is where it's at for yours truly here. While I do realize that competitive gaming can also provide countless unforgettable moments of its own, it's never been the same for me. Daunting as the task may seem, I have over a hundred games in my Steam library to beat. I can't wait.

Is Originality Enough?

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In 1995, a small development team named Crack Dot Com released an incredible piece of software, a 2D side scroller named Abuse. I remember the shock of playing that game for the first time in 1999 (Hey, I didn't even have a PC up to 1997) - The idea of controlling the character just like in any other 2D platformer while using the mouse to aim at enemies across the screen was so refreshing, and so different, that I still remember it as vividly to this day as I do Schwarzenegger's traumatizing Terminator 2 smile. I only wish I could get past that damned 14th level.


Abuse. Revolutionary controls

There's something about uniqueness that we love. The thrill of playing something different, something special, is hard to match by something that's completely devoid of anything it can call its own. Yes, this is why acting master Vin Diesel's Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, despite having a few problems with pacing and level design, was much more exciting for me than the action-packed, adrenaline-pumping, never-stopping experience of Sgt. Soap Mactavish's war. Riddick could have done with an English accent, though.

Insert long sigh accompanied by smile.

If only we were to get more of that.

Unfortunately, not all is jolly in the world of original games. Having recently played DICE's hybrid platformer/first-person action game, Mirror's Edge, I came to realize that uniqueness is not to be considered the main attraction of a game. After all, what good is something that you've never seen before if it makes you go bananas with frustration? While it did feel like a breath of fresh air with its stunning visuals and fast parkour concept, this feeling often quickly switched seats with frustration as I missed that jump for the seventh time or met my demise by the hands of that cop for the twelveth. What kind of sick bastard fires at a woman, anyway?


Mirror's Edge. More frustrating than anything, really

Here comes our first question – what is originality to us? Is it a staggering, never-seen-before setting of an underwater city? Is it that twist on co-operative play? Is it the frightning feeling of being chased by Something Terrible, unable to fight back? Is it a story and writing like which we've never seen anything before? Or is it about gameplay and what we actually do within this setting with a friend while running away from Something Terrible, trying to unveil the story?

Playing Dead Space and Mirror's Edge closely together was a bit of an enlightenment for me, in that I realized that anything that revolves around a woman makes a game great.
Oh wait.
...in that I realized that one or two original elements (be it story, characters, gameplay, setting, you pick) are enough to make a game stand out in a world of derivation and franchise-milking. But, everything else in the game simply MUST get the same loving treatment for it to become a truly uplifting experience. Take Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, for example. I remember that as well as I do Abuse. Maybe that's because I played it a few years later. Nevermind. Sam Fisher was so much fun to play because he could do all this stuff and he looked so good doing it, and the game was as balanced as it gets. Everything just dripped with so much love and attention to detail that we only saw the cool gadgets, enemy interrogation and croch-tearing split-jumping rather than the fact that games like Hitman, Deus Ex and No One Lives Forever have done the whole stealth thing before. To cut a long story short, it clicked.


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. It clicked.

So the second, BIG question is: is originality more important than refined gameplay?
I wonder.
On one hand, I'm getting mighty tired of playing the same old get-to-cover-to-automatically-replenish-your-health and we'll-lead-you-by-the-hand-so-you-don't-see-invisible-walls gameplay. It feels like treading through increasingly familiar waters, and as those games keep coming, they only serve the purpose of becoming stale. Oh, and selling. The gaming industry, just like any other industry, is driven by money. But BioShock sold as well. Crysis sold nicely considering no computer at the time of release could run it respectably. Portal sold beautifully. There's something those games have in common – apart from introducing new stuff, they were all very well-promoted and reached out to a large audience of people that opened up their wallets and bought them. So we see that polished derivation is only an easy solution that people keep forking money over for.

On the other hand, if our new game-we've-never-seen-before is flawed to the point of becoming merely decent, or even mediocre and less, it's simply not worth it. Developers should find the balance between original game mechanics and what makes a game... click. We all had a lot of fun traversing Far Cry's lush jungle setting, playing cat & mouse with witty mercenaries, but how did it feel when we were killed by a mutant just a second before we reached the end of the last, long checkpoint? That really didn't click with me. I'd rather play a game where everything... ok ok, almost everything (let's be realistic here), is made right, and you're still given the privilege of experiencing something refreshing, like a gravity gun, or stretegic dismemberment, or Lance Henriksen.

I would like to take a moment and salute smaller independent developers, for not fearing to release refreshing games on a regular basis. Trine, The Ball, World of Goo, Gish, Eufloria and Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time are just a handful of examples of good games released recently by independent developers that are special enough to stand out above some of the bigger names in the industry as memorable experiences. Could salvation come from them? Maybe. All I know is, as those development teams keep getting more support from Steam and the likes, they have a better chance of keeping their heads above the water and delivering more interesting concepts. Just like mod teams (let us not forget that Portal, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat and Team Fortress all took their first steps as mods before becoming commercial hits), independent developers hold an incredible amount of potential and I hope big game publishers and developers pull a Valve - look more closely at these dudes and hire them so that more of the big names can deliver more of the special goods.


Trine. A unique experience from an indie developer

I see now that my Abuse example isn't all that great, because that game was so difficult that I've never even beaten it. But in no way does that change my opinion – Even though I don't want to play the same thing time and time again, I also don't want my unique experience to be spoiled by broken gameplay, annoying bugs or poor controls. I want my game to be whole – I want everything about it to be great, and I want it to be better than the sum of its parts, all while being special enough to stand out. It's time for individuality to take over. I call out to game publishers and developers – don't limit creativity. Make original games, and strive to find the right balance between refinement and originality.

I may be naive, but I also decide which games I buy. One can only hope that more gamers grow tired of the same-old, same-old, and that developers would take note of that and start encouraging experimentation. The world would be a better place.

Then, we can smile. Just like Ahnuld.

of Art and Crysis

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When I first watched James Cameron's Avatar earlier this year, there were two things that struck me as incredible: the movie was an absolute spectacle to behold, and Sigourney Weaver wasn't more of a badass than her fellow marines for a change. But that's not what I'm here to talk about in this latest here editorial. Avatar, especially when watched with them special 3D glasses, was a technical marvel (and an excellent headache inducer) – it created the most believable-yet-unreal environments ever seen in a movie, but it was not its technical prowess that impressed me most – it was the artistic vision, or, more correctly, the visionary art design, of the movie's Pandora. The movie has the most advanced special effects ever seen in a movie, but it's when you see the oversized smurfs running through bizarre glowing plants that your breath really gets taken away.


Ellen Ripley. Way more badass than Dwayne Hicks.

Same goes for 2007's Crysis, which is still, three years later, the prettiest game of all time. The game has phenomenal special effects and countless other technical traits that earned it numerous awards and enormous attention, but truth be told, I found the game's most impressive moment to be when Nomad ran to the light and into that delightfully bizarre alien ship, where the verdant island setting gave way to the otherworldly, disorienting environment where gravity and architecture played with your senses while stealthy shimmering aliens tried to bite you in the buttocks.

Which is why, if you ask me, 2007's prettiest game really is Crysis. As for that year's most beautiful game? That one definitely goes to BioShock. I may sound like a crazy fool here, for BioShock suffered from low-resolution textures and very small environments that sometimes failed to astonish on a technical level. But as they say, real beauty comes from the inside, and if you look at the bowels of BioShock's graphics, you'll find one thing – an absolutely flabbergasting artistic direction that makes this strange underwater metropolis one of the most brutally beautiful game worlds ever created, so much so that it makes Crysis look, as pretty as it is, quite mundane.

As an artist myself, I tend to look at photorealism with a smidgen of disdain. If it is photo-realism that I wish to create, why not just go ahead and use a camera? I find a strange artistic vision to be the most valuable treasure an artist can have (I do not mean in any way that a photographer is not an artist). And, just as I'd much rather behold a completely twisted, surreal painting over another breathtaking portrait, I'd rather revisit Max Payne 2's playhouse than, say, Modern Warfare's dull enemy bases and F.E.A.R.'s sleepy office buildings.

BioShock, along with other games, displayed environments that weren't as technically marvelous as those of others, but its look had a soul, a heart, and a vision. It's just like how Mikael Åkerfeldt's incredible delicacte leads and emotional touches steal your consciousness more than any of Yngwie Melmsteen's highly technical, lightning-fast licks. I believe it's through the heart, soul and vision of an artist that a really memorable piece is conceived.


BioShock. A truly memorable game world.

Let me not be misunderstood – the advances in technology that have been achieved over the last five years or so are quite significant and extremely impressive, and I do prefer a sharp texture and delightful animations over a blurry texture and stiff animations. It's just that I believe that, the better the technology, the more of a tool it can be in bringing a unique artistic direction to fruition. Take Janelle McKain's Enigma. It is the perfect example of how to create a piece of art that is amazing on both a technical and artistic level, on paper. If you take a close look at Painkiller, you'll find the perfect example of this in a game. Back in 2004, it was one of the top-five prettiest games out there, and each of its environments (and its fantastic enemies) had its own unique look and details, and it's within these little details that I found a reason to think this game was so gorgeous.


Painkiller. Excellent textures, excellent animations, excellent models, absolutely spectacular game world(s).

Yet, when a game displays a striking world that is artistically strong, a lack of technological superiority is easily forgiven. Take for example, well, just about each and every level in 2005's Psychonauts. The game had, by no means, any superb lighting effects, highly detailed character models or stunning textures, but it did have character. It had its own look, its own atmosphere, presented by Schafer and co's bright minds, which also seem to prefer art to technology.


Psychonauts

At times, those arts can even make up for monotonous gameplay. I will use a more recent example, being UbiSoft's Prince of Persia. The repetitive exploration and slow combat weren't always enjoyable, and after six hours or so of gameplay, the game began to feel like watching Citizen Cane (say what you may, this movie was a snorefest). This is all sheer opinion, though, and I'm definitely not knocking UbiSoft for making a lacking game, even though I sort of am. Once the novelty has run its course, we were left with an unlikeable protagonist whose occasional sitcom humor and unnecessary attitude inspired nothing more than a gawk from me, good (if repetitive) boss fights and one remarkable… erase that… fabulous game world. Everything about it was incredible – the distant windmill, the floating halls, the machinery grounds, the enemy designs, the beautiful healing of corrupted lands – everything about this game's environments was pure brilliance, so much so that it softened the blow of the game's lackluster gameplay.


Prince of Persia. Lackluster gameplay made up for by deliriously artistic environments.

While I can count quite a few things that are more important to a game than graphics (gameplay and sound being the most shining examples) I can really appreciate a graphically proficient game. After all, it's way more fun to watch Nazis crumble into glowing bits and dust than seeing an alien marine immediately disintegrate into blocky pieces, and it's even more fun to behold a spectacle made available only thanks to a very creative mind than see the same old (meticulously detailed, amazing-looking) Russian base, countryside or tropical island. Am I saying that I'm looking forward to Bulletstorm's weird new planet more than Crysis 2's NYC? You betcha. Unique art is precious, and no powerhouse game engine in the world can replace that.

How to Kill a Shooter in 10 Easy Steps

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Let me get this out in the open first: game design is art. There's a lot of creativity involved, and as with any other form of art, everything is flawed and nothing is perfect. Small flaws can be forgiven when the whole painting is so striking to look at, but some flaws are less easy to forgive: let us not forget the fact that on Metallica's 8th studio album, St. Anger, Lars Ulrich banged his drumsticks against tin cans and Kirk Hammett didn't play a single solo. Same goes for game design – the utter and complete uselessness of Doom 3's chainsaw has absolutely not as large an impact on gameplay as, say, Half-Life's horrible jumping puzzles.

As a huge shooter fan, I take serious flaws, well, very seriously. A well-designed shooter can be a blast and everything could be fine if done well, but in all ways should it avoid those steps which I'm about to delve into on this editorial. I would like to present to you 10 sure-fire ways to kill a shooter.

I'm here! I'm there! I'm everywhere!
Ever felt so naughty and proud of yourself for running around and disappearing on your mom at the local supermarket? Yeah? You have, haven't you?
That's a bad boy!

Play Half-Life 2 and you'll see what I mean. Then go and apologize to your mother and give her a big kiss, and promise to help her with the groceries next time.

Do not by any means get me wrong. I still believe to this day that Half-Life 2 is the most enjoyable shooter I've ever played. That is, of course, until the fearsome proposition of playing with AI teammates circa Anticitizen One. The whole point of having AI teammates is that they help you fight off your enemies, not go randomly running every which way aimlessly, clustering around doors and getting killed. And yes, I know you never got killed on your mommy.

I would have said that Infinity Ward could teach VALVe a lesson, but thankfully the AI guys in the following Episodes were just fine. And oh, they weren't half as bad on "Follow Freeman".

Hey momma, can you please hold my hand?
Imagine this. You're running around, shooting enemies that are fun to shoot. The graphics are great and the guns are satisfyingly loud and devastating. You simply have a blast. You fight through the last fight of the current level and progress to the next, where you're introduced to some sort of lame excuse for a character who's probably going to die anyway. Then you're told it's up to you to keep them alive for your next assignment so they can do X to help you do Y. All is well and dandy.

You barely say Chaser and you and your new talking pet come under attack from such a juggernaut that you want to go cry to your mommy. No need to apologize again. Soon enough, your feeble new friend is all but tombstone-worthy and you're introduced to an encouraging little "game over" screen. Such are poorly designed escort missions.

Some of the greatest shooters I've played included escort missions, among which are Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, Half-Life 2 and BioShock, and they all had those missions nailed to the very last script. But it's when games put you up against ridiculous odds that this problematic assignment becomes more a chore than a fun little variety and degrades a game that is otherwise as fine as a lovely chicka holding a gun.

So what now? Where go I?
If it's Chaser we're talking about, then this good game has another glaring issue that has also appeared in fine games such as Heretic II and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.

Hub-oriented level design is just fine as long as you're informed well on where to go, just like a tourist heading to the nearest supermarket. That was one of the greatest advantages of BioShock – even when it sent you to other levels to complete a mission, you always knew where to go. But that is not an obvious trait, oh no dear sir, it ain't. Now eat your cookie and read on.

When you have a level that's built like a hedge maze and you get absolutely no indication as to where you have to go next, you might find yourself traveling through empty hallways and yards ad nauseum, having already killed all enemies in sight, completed your tasks and collected all the goodies.

Then you find your way, and it's like finding the birthday cake of your dreams. Soon enough you realize that the truly daunting experience isn't the hour+ that Xfire just registered to your gaming profile of you doing absolutely nothing, but realizing it was there all along right in front of your eyes, and that the cake actually is a lie.

At least those spectacularly tedious indoor levels in Halo had arrows on the floors.

If a cat can do it, you probably can. 't.
Cats are sneaky little bastards. I find it hilarious to watch a cat trying to use its fascinating sneakiness on a target as silly as a cockroach. The point is, just because a soft-pawed, omni-alert cat can do it, it doesn't mean that you, a buff, entire arsenal-toting Big Tough Guy can too.

Be honest. Do you think true stealth missions can actually be implemented to a pure run-and-gun shooter? Well, yeah, but it's about as touchy as a lunatic. For the sake of example, why, oh why did the guys in 2015 think they nailed it? What is up with that night raid in Medal of Honor? It is obvious someone is going to see you and sound the alarm. Those missions should not be designed like that. What I find even more amusing is that, should you not run into a game-killing game over screen, the ensuing chaos is more often than not way more fun than trying to sneak around. Think about it. Walking this slowly at a crouched position with 8 weapons on your back must give you one hell of a backache.

Stealth was fun in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way and Aliens vs. Predator 2. It was also fun in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (with what is probably the single best stealth mission I've ever played in a shooter), Crysis and Far Cry, but if I ever run into another Soldier of Fortune II I'm going to get seriously pissed.

Thanks for reading this far. No need to catch me later, here's your beer:

Right. Now that that's out of the way, let's move on.

Tap tap tap! Tap 'till it's dead!
Let's face it. No one but freaks likes little furry critters. If I hate them in real life, what fun is it to shoot them? I simply loathe spider missions, especially when you might find yourself under attack from multiple angles (Doom 3) and when those little tap-sound-making scumbuckets are too small (Unreal II: The Awakening). Remember the scene in Jurassic Park: The Lost World where the Russian guy is killed by a pack of little dinos? Does that look like fun enemies to fend off? DOES IT?!


Ugh

Please, game developers, please stop the spider missions. They're not fun. If anything, they're the epitome of tedium and frustration.

Not if I see you first!
Do you enjoy making eye contact with your enemies on your casual kung-fu fights on the street? Yes, so do I.

Do you like it when your Ninja foe throws shurikens at you from the window across the street from you? Me neither.

I guess the guys in 2015 like having their protagonists pierced by magical bullets that appear out of nowhere, because they're really into absolutely ridiculous enemy accuracy from magical Nazis that share the odd knack for invisibility. I think we all remember that mission in Medal of Honor Allied Assault where we're tasked with making it through a town filled with Nazi snipers. But those supernatural Nazis (wait, is this Wolfenstein?) can do the childish task of peeking out, shooting you while. you. are. running, and returning to hiding within less than a second. I'm surprised they didn't win the war.

But they're snipers. With enough being a forgiving rag you can forgive them developers for surprising you with foolish design choices. But it's when it's a darn punk with a .22 gun who hits you three times in a row from fifty yards away (a certain baseball bat Mafia mission springs to mind) that you wish you had a gravity gun.

Running away from snipers can be a blast (see: Half-Life 2, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow), but I have a feeling growing inside me like an evil fetus that developers might not always be too aware of their mistakes.

No, really, baby. I was just waiting for the right moment!
Hack-abusing enemies aside, there's another form of annoyance. I'm talking about those fools who have the ability to be invincible and suddenly (and foolishly of course) relinquish it just because you're around.

I don't think triggered enemies are fun to fight. And if they are, please let them appear after I trigger them so that I don't waste my trusty bullets not killing them.

Here, my pet! Jump. Jump. JUMP, or die trying!
Shooters shouldn't have jumping missions unless they're designed around them. Especially first-person shooters. It's obvious. Why would I want to do athletics when I can do some shooting stuff in the face?

Unfortunately the best example I can give you comes from another favorite of mine, Half-Life. Do you remember those horrible Xen levels? Where you had to jump from platform to platform lest you plummet to your invisible death? That's simply something you want in your shooter as much as a tsunami wave in your hometown. A few jumps here and there aren't harmful if they're done right, but man oh man. Jumping from rotating platform to rotating platform doesn't make Gordon Freeman feel like Lara Croft. It makes him feel like an idiot.

BOOGA BOOGA!
There's an evil monkey in the closet, and he's going to bite you in the butt when you turn around. Cheap scares are cheap for a reason, dear developers. I don't buy enemies hiding in the secret broom closet and treasure chests. They can suddenly appear for a nice scare here and there, but building an entire game whose name I'm not Doom 3 going to give on it shouldn't become your next New Years resolution.

Dead Space actually did a pretty good job with cheap scares because its enemies were actually scary, what with their high speed and remaining human features, but at least they pretty much stuck to vending shafts. They didn't cower in the closet like children. I want to fight brave, heroic creatures! Not children. Killing kids is illegal, you know.

On a lighter note, I'm pretty happy to see that "prize fights" are dying and out and only appear in compatible Painkillers and Serious Sams. No thanks, dear Mr. Carmack, I don't want to grab that armor.

We will now move to THE most annoying annoyance in the annoying history of annoying shooter annoyances. Take a breath, people, and enjoy the drumroll.

Hey there, Sunshine! It's me again!
Don't you just love it when that enemy you just fragged reappears out of nowhere? How does the next proposition sound: if you stay put, you're just going to get swarmed and run out of ammo, so I will now DEMAND that you keep moving. Yeeeep.

Respawning enemies are an epidemic. I simply can't see why any developer would want to do that. They weren't that bad when the occasional zombie reappeared in Ravenholm, but No One Lives Forever 2's Soviet base mission was absolutely horrendous. Same goes for the same game's submarine mission, that spider battle in Doom 3 where you're waiting for that ladder to come down, and what is, in my opinion, the most terrifyingly horrible level in shooter history, Halo's Flood-flooded The Library.

This isn't the tip of the iceberg. It's very bad when there's one or maybe two levels that implement this cheap method of inducing challenge, but it's an absolutely devastatingly critical flaw when certain developers base entire games around them. It doesn't matter how intense the mission can be and how, in the end, you had some fun with the game. Fighting through countless waves of infinitely spawned enemies is just not what I call good game design, and definitely a cheap way of challenging you and keep you going. As cheap as Far Cry's intelligent enemy taunts.


If seeing the same baby is this disturbing, why see the same enemy time and time again?

Everything can be done well. The problem is that most of the things mentioned here tend not to be very well-done in a lot of games. They tend to be tedious, frustrating and at the end of the day - it's all a question of what the shooter is trying to do, or be.

So yes. There are games out there that contain some seriously flawed design that I simply cannot underrstand. For me, a good shooter creates challenge, emotions and good gunplay through good design and a long thourhg process, not something cheap and fast like... respawning enemies, or ways to prolong gametime with bad level design and hair-pulling sniper missions. Here's a toast to a future of well-designed shooters that have no respawning enemies. Please, no more respawning enemies.

Congratulations! You've made it through my new, and admittedly long, editorial. Hope you had some respawning fun reading it. Thank you and see you next time!

Video games vs. The Movies

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Gamers have been the victims of prejudice for years now, often being labeled as childish geeks who lack "a life". They're often portrayed as glasses-toting, curly-haired, freckled-faced, acne-loving kids who would rather play a game of GTA than hang out with their friends, whose existence is often doubted by others as well.

In some cases, that's true. We've heard stories of people who, over the course of a year, have accumulated over 4,000 hours of World of Warcraft experience. We've heard stories of people who sold their virtual loots for actual cash. We've heard stories of people who popped the question to other people behind their videogame avatars, and we've heard stories of people who Counter-Struck themselves to death, having not eaten, drunk or slept for over a hundred hours of playing a game.

Being a gamer myself, I find myself, like many other gamers, enjoying the company of my friends, the taste of a good Guinness, the sound of music and many other in- and outdoors activities. I play guitar, read books and draw, and I also have a job. You know, being 22 requires that you start adjusting to life.

When I have some free time, I still often find myself firing up a game and, more often than not, having a blast playing it. I've been gaming for about 17 years now across several platforms, and I can't see myself stopping. Why's that?

When I was encouraged to "stop playing games and go see a movie or soemthing", a discussion with a non-gamer friend ensued, and the inevitable comparision between games and movies popped up. Can games and movies really be compared? No, not really, as games have the person actively take actions within the medium of entertainment whereas movies are for your passive pleasure. I, of course, lumped at the opportunity to defend gaming against numerous insults, and have productively come up with a few reasons as to why I think videogames are a preferable entertainment medium to films.

Videogames aren't too cheap today, at least when they're new. With prices going up to and over $60 a piece, they're definitely not the poor man's choice, whereas going to see a movie takes less cash out of your wallet. So where's the question here? Movies are obviously cheaper.

Not at all.

More Bang for the Buck

See, cheap is a relative term. You cannot really say that buying a car for $10,000 is equal to buying a bicycle for $5000. It's a question of how much efficient use you get out of what you buy. Let's say you're going out for a movie, and you end up spending a total of $30, including gas/bus ticket, food and beverages. You get a great two or three hours' worth of entertainment but that's pretty much it. Now let's say you buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for your Xbox 360 for $60. You will get about the same amount of single-player content, but multiplayer will keep you coming back for more and more until you haven't realized you've clocked in over a hundred hours of enjoyable playtime. So you pay twice as much for something that gives you over thirty times the hours of enjoyment.
Some may say that this is all well and dandy, but what about single-player games that offer 10 hours' (or less) worth of gameplay? Are they still worth that much?
Well no, not at first when and if they're sold at a full price, but within today's market price drops come rather fast, and by delaying your purchase you don't degrade your experience as you would by purchasing James Cameron's Avatar on DVD without the ability to fully absorb the spectacles only possible with unique 3D glasses. It'll play the same, look the same and sound the same on your preferred system whether it was purchased on day one or six months after release.
Yeah but you have to spend a few hundred bucks on consoles (and a proper LCD for them too!) or a PC!
Right, and if you want to enjoy a film properly at home you also need to buy a big-ass LCD and other forms of home-theater equipment such as great wooden surround speakers, a receiver and a Blu-Ray player. Movies on DVD may be cheaper than videogames even relatively when you buy them at your local store, but upon searching Internet sources such as eBay, Steam, D2D and British gamestore GAME, you might find used- or new copies of your wanted games for just as much money, giving you still, more bang for the buck.

Let us not forget that the videogame industry makes more money than the film industry, even with piracy rates breaking records every year. I'm not sure whether or not there are more games sold than film tickets, though, so the question of popularity is interesting, albeit irrelevant to the topic.


It's all relative!

They're more accessible

There's no question whatsoever as to the accessibility of games. You no longer have to physically go to the store to purchase your games, you can order them via mail (as you can with DVDs) or, alternatively, buy them online to download and start playing immediately, a service available (to some extent, of course) on all three of the major platforms, the PC (D2D, Steam, Xfire store), Xbox 360 (Xbox Live!) and PS3 (PSN). The advantages of the digital market create a win-win situation for anyone who knows his way around the web - is there anything more user-friendly than filling out a form and downloading your new game to start playing immediately? Going out to the store to buy a physical copy not only costs more, but is also of course more of a hassle. The only risk you take is, what if someone hijacks your Steam account? Play your cards right and that won't happen. Be careful as you would with any other password-protected online service and you can create an entire gaming library from your livingroom.


Steam. It's easy to use, it's effective, and it's convenient.

It's a socailly active hobby

Many online gaming services offer people the chance to acquaint themselves with other people who share their love of videogames. By adding people to your PSN, Xbox Live!, Xfire or Steam accounts, you can chat with them and share your stats, achievements and favorite game servers online. Playing with a friend is always nicer than playing with strangers, and over time those people may actually become your actual friends. There's no difference between getting to know a person through Xfire than getting to know them on Facebook, so you might as well do what you love to do on the fly.
But you can also socialize at the movies!
That is correct, my friend. In fact, I'm one of the believers that the best way to meet new people is to actually step out the door and look for them at public places such as the movies, pubs and clubs. Going to a pub and talking to people face-to-face will always be better than chatting with them while backstabbing Heavies, though this is still more expensive than playing a videogame. Is going to the local pub, to me, better than playing a game? Most definitely. Is playing a game better than watching a movie? Most definitely.

It's more active entertainment!

That is my main reason for finding games ultimately superior to movies. Movies are passive entertainment - you sit tight and watch a story unfold in front of you. Games, however, are active entertainment, where YOU are the one who fires that gun at that alien and YOU are the one who dies if a wrong step has been taken. It's just that much more absorbing and immersive, and with such appliances as the Wii-more and the upcoming Project Natal, with which you're physically controlling your character, the options are immense.

On the other hand, with the advancements made by three-dimensional cinema, movies can become a real spctacle, and I'll use the same Avatar example I used earlier - you can't enjoy this movie unless you see it in 3D, and in that case, it's absolutely astonishing. But wouldn't it be that much more fun to step into Jake Sully's shoes and ride that Turuk yourself? Getting to explore Pandora at your own pace and taking the time to smell the roses?


Project Natal. Physically controlling your games, or sitting in a chair and looking at a screen?

In the end, though, it's really a question of what you enjoy doing more. While it's pretty much a fact that games have a longer life than movies, and they often offer more content for your cash, a person who dislikes video games won't be convinced of the advantages of buying a game. As for me, I just wait a bit for the price to drop, and then I drop the cash on several more hours of fun from home, not bothering with the hassle of taking a bus or driving to the movies. Of course going to see a movie once in a while is very fun and good, but it's eventually a relatively pricy night out that, in most cases, I'd rather do without, instead opting to have a beer with my friends at the local pub. No amount of gaming in the world could replace that, but yeah, I'd take a night of gaming over seeing most overpriced movies at the cinema any day, and it appears I'm not alone.