The gamers of the future

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Have you ever got to a point where you had had a taste of a little bit of everything and still wasn't quite satisfied? A bit of RTS, a touch of FPS, a hint of racing and simulation. Maybe you even got to the point of trying to understand what's all about social games on pages like Facebook. And yet, with all possibilities right there in front of you, nothing stimulates your gaming senses. Maybe you were, for a moment, an addict and games were your drugs. Not so much drugs as in different types but more of the sensation they provide. Maybe it's just nostalgia.

The game industry has changed a lot in the last decade. With all the new technologies and the new social vibe going on, games took a turn somewhere. Something quintessential has changed and for some it wasn't for the best. I consider myself included. I'm not an old guy. But I did get to play the now consider old-but-gold games and had my own SNES, Megadrive and such. The first game I ever played on PC wasn't actually a game. You might be familiar with MS Paint. But I digress. 

Games in the old days didn't have the social component. The closest it got to this were scoreboards after you failed or succeeded in a game. How many points you made or in how much time you got that lap. But even those things were more of another nature, the competitive one. And games weren't forgiving. If you hadn't had the skills to complete a certain level, it was your problem. You had to try and try again and again until you got it. Even when - but not always - games had the option of choosing a difficulty, you had to try your best. Sure, gamers might argue that most games still entice competition but it isn't anymore about actually managing to kill that boss but how great was your combo or how fast you did it. And you get to choose the casual or the brutal difficulty but the game itself doesn't change or stay true, it just gives you less help or hardens your enemies.  

It's not so much a question of difficulty but of originality. Developers are so worried about pleasing gamers nowadays that games are becoming generic. Your standard FPS might change it's colors but the bones are all the same. You got regen instead of health packs. You got linear with oh snap moments. You are either the bad guy turn good or just the good guy. I'm not saying that games in the old days were so different but you could feel that everything that was done was done because the developers thought, "hey, I think this is awesome". Whenever I play a game today and I get to that same point that I already saw happening in the last ten games I think, "again? I bet the developers created this moment thinking, 'I bet gamers will love this moment'". And it saddens me because I know exactly what to expect. 

It takes the fun out of the games. Even the oh snap moments are, somewhat, predictable. Unless I'm speaking only for myself and I am a genius level creator but don't know about it. It also appears that developers know of this issue and with the help of technology and connectivity vibe thought that they could circumvent this by creating new ways to have fun with a game. Achievements that are shared with friends. Co-op games online, so you can meet new friends, but not split-screen. A thousand ways of sending messages and comparing stuff with strangers so that your ego goes sky high by besting others but not yourself. 

It might be that I'm not exactly a multiplayer guy. I do play with friends but mostly lan games or with people I already know but I am, at the core, a single player. And I miss the games that had the focus on that. Games today are created thinking, at best, 50% focus on singleplay, 50% focus on multiplayer. At worst, singleplayer is a crutch for a multiplayer experience. It provides a meager background so when you get online to shoot/race against/build armies and crush bases against strangers, you have the option of picking sides or consider yourself a baddie or hero of the people. 

Yes, I am aware of games like Halo and its great narrative. Yes, I've played the Mass Effect trilogy and yes, I know of hits like God of War. But one must consider that these are rare occurrences in an era of a massive bloom of games. Anyone that wasn't born yesterday can remember when games took a long time to be developed or there wasn't a great number of games being launched at the same time. Also, games used to be more of a relationship base experience where the game first courted you, you eventually fell in love with it, spend a lot of time with it and then got to that point where you marry the thing and never forget it, always remembering as that special game or just divorce it and move on. I'm married to the C&C era still though I'm not fan of the past couple children it sired. Warcraft is my long lost love who died after her bastard child WoW ruined her memory. Games of today are more of a thing of the moment. You buy it, kill the campaign in a few hours, rant about how short it was, hits the multiplayer, go up in the ranking, brag about how you dominate the n00bs, get bored and in a time span of months you already forgot it. Probably will never played it again. 

I think this is the profile of the gamers of the future. With a constant stream of new games hitting the market with the objective of giving just a hit of that good sensation and promising more on the next episode (e.g. Assassin's Creed), the old days - and I'm not going to say good because yes, they were good for me but for some today is much better and I do acknowledge its merits - are actually gone. Like the fool I am, I still wait for a change and for that game that might bring back the crazy gamer in me but I fear that the gamer in me was generated in a mold and the mold was broken. Now I'm trying to fit in a new era and I'm having trouble with it. 

What do you think? Are the "new" games better? Did that old special ingredient - what the developers like - get lost along the way? Is the new competitive model better? Share your thoughts.

Aliens: Colonial Marines and the problem with canon

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TAKE HEED: HERE BE SPOILERS!

So I've decided to take a shot at Aliens: Colonial Marines. After reading several reviews heavily criticizing the game and even watching a video on YouTube where the game was being mocked at I still decided to take a shot. I don't consider myself a huge fan of the Alien franchise but I do like the movies and the universe created for it. Hell, everyone hated Prometheus and I actually enjoyed it for its mystery. Back to the subject, I took a shot at Aliens: Colonial Marines on PC.

See, after reading and watching so many bad things about the game, I had to really force the pessimist in me to shut up and play the game as something completely new. But right from the opening cinematic - rendered in the game's engine - it all began to fall apart. Baaad graphics. Ugly graphics? No. You can easily play and still think it's cool but for today's standards it just didn't fit. Since the game was in development for five years it almost makes you think they didn't upgrade the engine in the meantime. But I did go on after all, I wanted to see this new episode of the franchise.

But the game wasn't helping. Soon enough - as in, in the first minute of the game - ridiculous plot hits me in the face. A badass sergeant named Cruz - because apparently only latino marines are badasses enough to become sergeants - starts shouting orders about rescuing a bunch of other marines who are in trouble. Now, if there was something Prometheus did teach us was that technology in the far future is quite advanced. As in, why in heaven wouldn't their comms work? No idea. Sarge doesn't have a clue. But the harsh language continues and everyone shouts a hoo-rah and my guy, the apparent protagonist, starts to talk to the sergeant. Now, I have no idea why, if the game is really a sequel to Aliens, they didn't take proper care with ridiculous plot. What I mean is, the sergeant decides to put all responsibility in finding out what happened in me. No problem. Since I'm also a sergeant and have a whole squad at my disposition, right? Wrong. I'm going alone. Yeah. They do stuff like this in movies as well. Except not.

I'm crossing this bridge-airlock-thingy that connects both our ships - Sulaco and Sephora - when an explosion kicks in from the Sulaco. Sergeant radios in and asks me what's going on. I give the scientific explanation: "It's an explosion". He gives me the most rational answer: "Ok, keep going!" And so I do.

This is stretching a bit and I still have a point to make, so I'll try and cut it short. Some minutes later, I rescue a guy who's trapped in the wall with alien goo. I kill the alien that was lurking around and cut him free. More bad plot: our sergeant wants to talk to this guy and see what is happening so he orders us back. Emphasis in "orders". But hey, we're marines in space so to hell with orders!

The guy I rescued actually says something like "to hell with orders" and says we've got to get a recorded thingy that will explain what's happening. I'm the guy who singlehandedly entered this ship with orders to find out what's going on, so against reason I don't say anything and just go with the flow - even though my sergeant told me not to. And he's a badass named Cruz. We kill some aliens, get the thingy and decide that it's finally time to get out. We get to the hangar where the bridge-airlock-thingy is but hey, there's an alien right on top of the dropship. So, my mate decides that it would be way cooler if instead of just shooting the blasted thing he could throw a grenade on it. Really professional, marine. Not that there's a damned missile right at the side of the dropship.

Bam! Big ass explosion, really bad alien death animation - did I mention that when they die, bad colored green blood literally explodes but don't actually hurt 'cause it's just ink and not molecular acid like in the movies? - and the way is clear. Except not. Since the plot is bad, bad things happen. The explosion, we don't know why, locked the door. So I have to protect him while he unlocks it. There are two other marines here - who came out of nowhere. I have to say something here. Every review emphasized that the game was easy. Mind you, I did play in easy difficulty. Do you know how many times I actually died trying to pass this checkpoint? Four.

That's right. You see, you have three health bars and a long one of armour. One alien pounce - they don't actually attack, they just stay frozen and then pounce on you - takes away your armour. Every pounce after takes pretty much 80% of a health bar. First time I died was because there was an alien pouncing at me from behind. No damage indicators told me that so I died. Second time I was going for an armour thingy on the floor and pressed F instead of E - because some games use the F for action. Bad decision, F stands for grenade launcher in this game, baby. Third and fourth I died because I switched the weapon from rifle to shotgun and decided to use the F key. After hitting an alien, I exploded as well. The second time one of those unknown marines ran in my face and I shot him. I blew up, he didn't.

To finalize an almost review, I tried again and succeeded in opening the damned door. We get to the bridge-airlock-thingy and when we're crossing something happens - not that we were all expecting. The crazy dude I rescued starts moaning and then screaming and HEY, an alien bursts from his chest. Now, here comes more bad plot! Instead of focusing on the alien on his chest or maybe thinking about his fellow marines, he pulls a grenade - damn, this guy likes his grenades - and blow up right in our face! Mind you, we were right in the middle of the bridge connecting both ships. As in, space. The bridge gets torn apart, vacuum sucks him and the alien out and I'm left to die with one of the two guys - one of them disappeared. Maybe dead. Who knows? Plotmakers didn't care for him since he had no name or something. The best part is: we were in the middle of the way, but closer to the Sulaco and not the Sephora. So, we get back on the alien-infested ship. Sergeant starts screaming on the radio about what happened and after an explanation about an alien bursting from the guys chest, we get the order to find other marines. Plot hole here? We were leaving the ship before and leaving those marines behind? What kind of a**holes are we? I wonder when in the future did the motto "Leave no man behind" fall out of fashion. So, we get back on the room that has the door to the bridge-thingy and the guy with me just say something like "follow me" and does something simple but mindblowing at the same time: he just removes one of the floor panels and jumps in. Floor, I mean, plot hole! How did he know of that? Why didn't we use that passage before? He's a simple marine but he knows the schematic of the entire ship tunnel system? What happened to those instructions we used to get from the guy in charge in mid mission or checkpoints in other games?

I know, I'm probably being "picky" with lots of small things but bear with me. The engine is outdated. The guns fire funny. The death animations are simply ridiculous. The characters have such bad emotion animations that most times they laugh and scream rage sentences with the same expression. Their lipsynchs never match the voice. The AI is so flawed that the aliens actually come running then freeze in front of you, make a scary face like "I'm gonna attack you now, be ready" but then pounce so freakin' fast in your direction that even if you manage to kill it in mid air you still take damage. I mean, so many flaws in the technical part that I had to look for the good side in the plot. But the plot is just bad. Plain bad. Which leads me to the subject regarding the rest of the title of this post.

Canon. I know that nowadays most gamers care so much for graphics and the actual gameplay that sometimes the storytelling is left behind but there are some games where storytelling is everything. Some games are actually developed with storytelling as its main characteristic. Mass Effect is an example. You didn't play the game because it had awesome gameplay, you played it because you wanted to save the galaxy and fool around with everyone you met, be women, men or aliens. And then there are games where storytelling is not only the really import but also fundamental. These are games which are canon to some universes. Colonial Marines is considered not by fans but by 20th Century Fox itself as a sequel to the movie Aliens which was sequel to Alien.

Now, I know that most people would say "but Hollywood is messing with sequels all the time!" And I agree. However, Hollywood doesn't make games. Games are in a certain sense a world apart. The gaming world has its own canon. Take Warcraft - and I don't mean World of Warcraft, of which I consider of the greatest heresies of all time -. Great lore. Now they're going to make a movie. Did anyone actually see the people cast to write and direct that movie? Honestly, Duncan Jones? What experience does he have to direct a movie like that? None. And screenplay by Charles Leavitt? Don't take me wrong, I loved Blood Diamond but what has that have anything to do with medieval fiction? My point is, Hollywood might, probably will, scr*w with Warcraft canon - but maybe no more than WoW already did. However the gaming world should be different from Hollywood and try not to do the same thing with canon from movies or anything else for that matter.

Unfortunately, the gaming industry is doing the rational thing now. With such amazing technologies at their hand, is only natural that graphics, physics and mostly gameplay get the spotlight when developing new games. There was a time when games were all 2D and then the 3D came up. Lots of games with bad storytelling were born but were bearable because of the whole visual thing. So, in a certain way, we gamers have to take advantage of this and be somewhat patient. But I still make an appeal regarding the canon because canon stuff is supposed to be permanent. It's not like you can just make another sequel and then say the previous one doesn't count. Once is made canon, it's canon. And, in cases like Aliens: Colonial Marines, all we can do is look away as a bad chapter in that universe's history.

* Mind you: I did play the game in the highest settings possible so no, bad graphics weren't because of bad settings.