When I first heard Dead Space 3 would have a co-op, I was hyped. The first 2 games are some of my favorites from this generation. I couldn’t wait to blast necromorphs with a buddy and this mode would surely be better than the half-baked, Left 4 Dead multiplayer knockoff Dead Space 2 featured. However, as more details emerged, I felt like Tom Hanks in Big (or Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, for you old-school folks) with the maxim “be careful what you wish for” echoing in my head.
Based on the released details, it seems that Dead Space 3 will be much more of an action game than a horror game. Let’s look at the items:
- Co-op confirmed: On the most basic level, the game cannot run scripts specific to individual player progress. This breaks the continuity of the game and will, no doubt, make it less scary.
- Now has universal ammo pickups and ammo is more plentiful: This works toward removing the critical “desperation” component of a horror game. Personally, I thought ammo was too plentiful in these games already.
- Cover system and weapon mods: This emphasizes shooter game mechanics over adventure/horror game mechanics.
- Less linear and more open-world: This removes a sense of urgency from the game. To date, Dead Space games have been focused and controlled. Now, instead of the wonderfully simple “get off the space station before necromorphs kill you” plot, we will have a “get off the space station before necromorphs kill you, but take your time and don’t miss any fun collectables” plot.
In conclusion, I am sure Dead Space 3 will be a good game. I trust Visceral Games to deliver a quality product but I do not expect to enjoy it for the same reasons I enjoyed the first two games. When I think about my favorite moments from Dead Space 1 and 2, I never think about the gun play, action sequences or exploration but instead I think about panicked moments of distress and feeling completely alone.
Who knows? Maybe my speculation is wrong. I hope it is.
I’ve been called an “achievement whore,” I have lost many lives in pursuit of achievements and I have even thrown myself off that dreaded cliff hundreds of times in Halo: Reach to get the “If they came to hear me beg” achievement. My pursuit of achievements has led to lost matches, tons of frustration and derision from fellow gamers but I don’t care. I love achievements.
There are physiological reasons to love achievements. Accomplishments like these make us feel good. Achievements massage the reward centers of our brains and, through mirror neurons and endorphins, can make us happy. But there is another reason to appreciate achievements;they expand game content and provide games with longer shelf lives.
Well-crafted achievements encourage players to play outside of their comfort zone and use different play styles. Suffice to say, not all achievements are good but what makes and achievement good, bad or worthless?
Good Achievements – Good achievements force players to explore game content or use different weapons like doing side missions of using melee weapons or ranged weapons. This breaks up the monotony of game play and helps players master multiple facets of games. A good achievement lets developers show off all the content and encourages players to use in-game strategy.
Examples: Dead Island’s “Swing Them Sticks,” Left 4 Dead’s “Rode hard and put away wet” and “Guardin’ Gnome,” Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s “Pacifist.”
Bad Achievements – Bad achievements are time consuming and repetitive with no innovation. Collectible achievements are bad unless there is something unique to make the pursuit of the collectibles interesting. Other bad achievements force you to mindlessly repeat crappy game mechanics or are nearly impossible to get.
Examples: Dead Island’s “Gesundheit!” Fallout 3’s “Vault-Tec C.E.O.”
Worthless Achievements – Worthless Achievements are ones you get without even realizing it or getting them for playing how you were going to play anyway. While these achievements might be worthless in terms of expanding game play, they are still fun to get.
Examples: Any achievement for campaign progress.
But, I guess, even bad achievements have their place. I couldn’t have been happier when I finally got “If they came to hear me beg” and I have been trying to get Left 4 Dead 2‘s “Scattering Ram” for years. Even if I never get it, i will keep trying to think of new ways to pull it off.
It is no secret that video games borrow narratives from popular movies. Star Fox has more than a passing resemblance to Star Wars, Tomb Raider is a female Indiana Jones, GTA: Vice City is a lot like Scarface and Dead Space is like playing through Alien. Games are often not terribly creative in terms of storytelling but many games make up for that through creativity in terms of game play. For example, LA Noire was a lot like LA Confidential but set itself apart with a remarkable new facial animation technology and Halo was like Aliens but the shooting made it exceptional. There are, however, two video game plot line clichés that seem to be a part of nearly every game that has come out in recent years.
Every game falls into one of two categories:
- The Super Solider
- The Double Cross
The super soldier story is pretty simple and easily recognizable. The player assumes the role of some sort of superior character. Whether you were genetically engineered, from a different dimension or have some sort of super power, there is always something that makes you special, something that sets you apart from the rest of the game world (or at least puts you an elite minority). While this is cliché and eye-roll worthy, it makes sense from a game play perspective. This is an easy way to explain how one character can survive such implausible scenarios, have certain abilities and mow through unending lines of enemies. This approach also makes the player feel like a badass and, my guess is, most video game players don’t want to play a game where they are an average Joe.
Examples: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Final Fantasy VII, Dead Island, Prototype, Brutal Legend
The other plot line, the double cross, is when a character you thought you were working with or working for suddenly betrays you. This double agent pulls the rug out from under you revealing his or her true intentions towards the end of the game. Invariably, these characters end up trying to kill you or exploit you in some fatal way. I understand the purpose of this plot line a lot less than the super soldier plot line. There is no real reason to do this from a game play perspective. My best guess is that developers do this to inject drama into the story but it is often predictable and rarely effective.
Examples: Dead Space, Bioshock, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Red Dead Redemption
Obviously, I am exaggerating when I say every game fits into one of these two categories but many fit into one category or both. Suffice to say, not all of the plots in the games above are bad but they’d be better if they didn’t succumb to the cliché.
Many gamers decry annualizeable video games, or games that come out with a new version every year (see Madden, Call of Duty, NCAA Football). I can understand the outrage. New games are $60 and most of the differences between years are negligible. Sports games update rosters and add small innovations like the QB vision cone or hit stick. Games like COD offer a new single player campaign and some slight alterations to multiplayer. For $60 a year, these differences don’t seem worth the price but if people keeping buying these games, then publishers will keep churning them out each year. Annualizeable games will only go away when we stop buying them but until then let me offer a different argument: Annualizeable games limit their audiences’ accessibility.
I recently started playing FIFA Soccer 12. Years ago, I played a lot of FIFA games but have since taken several years off. My reasoning was that the games did not change enough year to year to justify a purchase (similar to a Madden or COD). However, these small adjustments that don’t amount to much year-to-year, accumulate over time. As a result, the game is very different several years later.
In my case, I used to be decent at FIFA but now I can’t come close to a win. The newest iteration of FIFA introduces more nuanced defensive techniques like jockeying and containing. The game features a variety of tutorials to help users understand these new techniques. However, from the matches I have played, it is clear that in the years I missed there have been advances to ball control and shooting among other things. I am completely lost on these techniques and there is no tutorial.
What am I left with? A game that I will never be that good at. Based on this inaccessibility, there is absolutely no chance that I buy next year’s FIFA. Game companies will keep making annualizeable games but I’m confident each one will burn out eventually. People will stop buying them due to diminishing returns or, in this instance, a complete lack of accessibility.
Is competition in video games always a good thing? In single player games, too little competition makes a game boring while too much makes a game too frustrating. But what about multiplayer games, when the competition relies on your opponents and their knowledge of the game?
In some cases, competition can break a video game. Take Zynga’s Words with Friends and Hanging with Friends for example. Any who plays it knows, Words with Friends is little more than a Scrabble knockoff. However, Scrabble hinges on in-person play and a reliance on existing vocabulary. Words with Friends omits these characteristics and opens the game up to a thoughtless style of play that is not about making words but about systematically trying out high scoring tiles. In my experience, the following words are common: ma, sh, qi, nu, jax, zee and qat. The game allows players to place tiles in any configuration and play unknown words without penalty. As a result, Words with Friends is a game about mindlessly combining tiles with no regard for vocabulary. If you want to win, you absolutely must play this way because if you don’t, your opponent will. When both players want to win and play this way, the game devolves into a silly exercise in filling up the board. Competition makes Words with Friends little more than a drawn out game of eeny meeny miny moe.
Similarly, in Hanging with Friends, an adaptation of Hang Man, the easiest way to win is to use four letter words with common letters. Think about it, if you encounter a word _ A _ _, the possibilities are immense (Daze, Fats, Main, etc.). Opponents interested in winning, trade 4-letter words back and forth hoping that the odds eventually tip in their favor. Thus, the game becomes blind guesswork and the winner is based on luck alone.
I argue that removing skill from a game makes the game not a game all but gambling. The stakes are high and the players’ level of control is lowered. If players are trying to win a game, they will implement certain strategies, even if these strategies break the game. Excessive competition in a game, that does not allow for skill, makes a game no better than a scratch off ticket from the gas station or a round of craps in Vegas. Video games should use odds but games should not be reduced to odds alone.
This is true of many games, not just Zynga games. If it comes down to winning a game, people will use the best weapons, camp the best spots and exclusively play certain game modes. And gamers will do this even if it not the most fun way to play the game. This isn’t always easily recognizable and I am guilty of it as well but once I realize this is happening, the game is ruined for me, even if I’m winning more than I’m losing.