Archive for the ‘Console Games’ Category

Virtual Reality: A Commentary on Simulation Games
November 24, 2009

Hello Everyone!

My name is Peien and I’m currently a senior E.E. major at Northwestern University. Like my colleagues, I’ll be contributing to this blog, but with a twist. Like Dan and Rudy, I often enjoy playing RTS’s and other games with hard-core strategies, but my true passion lies within the realm of simulation video games.

If we all think long and hard about why we play video games, we inevitably all reach the same conclusion: we play because we want an escape from reality. In the real-world, it is impossible for you to engage in magic, kill 250 zombies in a span of 15 minutes, or save a princess from a reptilian megalomaniac. But the genre of simulation video games has a different spin on the ‘escapism’ ideal behind video games. Games like Gran Turismo and Microsoft Flight Simulator aren’t designed around fantasylands. They seek to allow the average person to be placed in scenarios that comparatively few around the world have experienced while keeping realism at the center of game design.

Before I continue, I should define what I mean by a simulation video game. By this I mean games that stick as close as possible to reality and don’t trade realistic dynamics for easy gameplay. I also am not referring to games like SimCity and Roller Coaster Tycoon (although they tend to be lumped in the simulation category at Fry’s and Best Buy, I refer to these games as management games). As such, focus on America’s Army rather than Call of Duty, Gran Turismo rather than Need For Speed: Underground, and IL-2 Sturmovik rather than Ace Combat. These simulation-lite games, as I like to call them, are great fun, but really lack what I’m looking for.

When it comes to true simulation games, the realism of the physics are just important as the realism of the graphics. For example, in the WWII combat flight simulator IL-2 Sturmovik, a Mk. I Hawker Hurricane will have its engine stall out when you pull into too steep of a dive. This accurately reflects the primitive fuel delivery technologies of the 1930’s (when the Hurricane was developed) and adds an additional challenge to the game. When I’m driving a mid-engined Ferrari in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, if I lift off the gas pedal in the corners, I experience snap oversteer and will spin if I don’t correct it. This is in stark contrast to other driving games where all the car models are extremely forgiving and a mistake won’t cost you the race. As such, simulation games give me a thrill because I am able to experience flying an F-104 Starfighter or driving a Ford GT at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as if I could do them in real life.

Of course, there are limitations to how far simulations can go and even with the best graphics and the best physics engine, you are often limited by the gaming accessories that you own. For example, Forza Motorsport 3 is supposed to be one of the most realistic driving sims out there, but given that the only two control options are the XBox 360 controller or the XBox wheel (which has a limited steering range and terrible pedals) you aren’t able to really reap the fruits of the programmers’ hard work. Indeed feedback and immersiveness are integral parts to a simulation game’s success. Gran Turismo 5 became so much more enjoyable after I played it with a Logitech G25 steering wheel (it has a full facsimile manual transmission and a force feedback 900-degree steering wheel). IL-2 Sturmovik is pretty much unplayable for me unless I have my TrackIR 4 head-tracking unit (a device that you mount to a baseball cap which tracks your head movements and, correspondingly, moves your view around the virtual cockpit).

Unfortunately as of the writing of this piece, Microsoft Flight Simulator has been terminated by Microsoft due to low revenue and most racing games have gone the way of the ‘customizing’ route (e.g.: Need for Speed). Here’s hoping that  other companies will pick up the torch from Microsoft and EA, making new and improved simulation games. With skyrocketing insurance rates and gas prices, I believe that demand for simulation games will increase as people strive to escape from moving about in boring Toyota Priuses and Airbus A320’s into a virtual world filled with Aston Martin DB9’s and Lockheed F-22’s.

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World of Goo/Braid/N+: Independent Games and their Contributions to the Gaming Market
October 29, 2009

With the advent of the newest generation of consoles, the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360, the gamer population has grown to an unbelievable size. Naturally, the gaming market has grown indescribably as well. Back in the days, when it used to be the NES and Famicom, the gamer’s market was not a widely known or even widely appreciated one. Many remember playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and admiring it’s beautiful graphics. Even I remember those days. The Wizard is still a classic movie (meaning horrible, horrible, horrible) for those of the time. Even Tron was a great breakthrough!

But now, Gaming has become a commodity. It’s not that such a state is bad. For the gamers out there who enjoy games, more games ultimately means more fun. The problem, then, lies in originality or the framework of these games.

Gaming is much a template nowadays. Most notably seen in Nintendo, there is a constant stream of utter garbage that floods the market, making that one gem even harder to find. In fact, for the once renown makers of Zelda and Mario, the reputation garnered by the sewage material spewing from this source is enough to send Miyamoto straight to Hell three times over while being tarred and feathered, in a chicken suit. Apart from that though, because gaming is now more capital focused than ever, the focus is on producing faster and making things look prettier. Quality is less of a factor, nor are aspects such as storyline, music, gameplay and the like. Of course, some games are still high quality masterpieces, balancing story, gameplay mechanics, control, music into blends of greatness. Some of the template games are still marvelous as well. In fact, some games are good enough to compensate for the incessant amounts of horsepiss that clogs the gaming market. The problem that many gamers face, obviously, is that these diamonds in the dust don’t appear as often as they should in comparison to the sheer number of games being produced.

Of course, it must be acknowledged that game developers, especially larger companies, are forced, by precedence, to release a certain type of game, to stay their course and creativity. As a result, many long term gamers find certain dullness, repetitiveness to these games. Examples, of course, include Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Tekken. The brand name, having been so popular, causes development of similar products following a format, a template, a frame. Because of such, innovation, though possible, is limited. Zelda may have cool new toys, but the old ones will always remain. Final Fantasy will still use the Fire, Fira, Firaga series of spells. Tekken will always be a normal 1v1 fighting game with complex combos. Development can happen, but the frame will not be altered. If it is altered, much like Mario and Sonic have been, the successes will generate another template and the failures will just cut the reputation. I’m not, in any way, bashing these titles. Personally, I love most of the games that I listed above. It’s just that now, after more than 20 years of gaming, brand names are beginning to be viewed as repetition.

This is where Independent developers must butt in. These games, such as World of Goo, Braid, N+, Portal and more, are creative masterpieces in the world of gaming. World of Goo is a structural design game where goo balls ARE your structure. They branch out forming trusses and beams to support themselves as you stack them higher and higher to reach pipes. The puzzle possibilities, alongside the hilarious script and obvious memetic references, increase as you progress the levels. This is the same for Braid, except with a different mechanic. N+ is a puzzle game based solely on skill and Portal, the most well known of them all, is the crowning achievement of the genre. Fathering a few very well known memes, alongside a great side market for popular culture, Portal is the game involving some hilarious dialogue, warp portals, and cake. These games of independent make are the jewels that litter the gaming world. The only unfortunate aspect, is that these jewels are located in a single genre. But, even by showing their amazing potential, these independent game developers are issuing a challenge to the big companies of gaming. They are challenging the innovative minds of these companies to bring out a product that will trump theirs in fame and fortune.

These are the independent games that will bring about a new generation of games. Hopefully anyways. More and more, new ideas are being brought onto the table and slowly, the gaming market is being redesigned. Games with new battles systems such as The World Ends With You or just an incredible mechanic period (Scribblenauts) are being released and are slowly find their way into the gamer market. As these games slowly proceed up the ladder, hopefully, the market will be more innovation oriented than now. This slump is but another step to overcome.

Kun Woo

The guy who played Braid too much.