Comments on

Against the Current

Original entry posted: Mon Jul 7 17:13:42 2008

psu @ Mon Jul 7 16:55:06 2008 EST

Play a few hundred hours of Halo and you won't mind the gamepad anymore.

Of course, you will have lost a few hundred hours.

Thomas @ Mon Jul 7 17:06:44 2008 EST

That'll probably happen at some point--but from what I hear about the Halo community, I'm not really looking forward to it.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Tue Jul 8 11:37:23 2008 EST

Personally, Halo brought me from mouse to thumbstick and I've never looked back---these days I say why would you play a game on an interface designed for spreadsheets, when you could be playing your video game with a joystick, as god intended? It is a little harder to be precise, but far from impossible, and making it challenging to minutely adjust your aim seems right and accurate to me. Plus, yes, the fine movement controls are much missed when I try to play a PC shooter.

As for Bioshock: The plot gets steadily better, although I will say that the very end is disappointing (though the big reveal 3/4 of the way through is one of the smartest moments I've ever seen in a game). But I think what's really notable about the game is how it uses environment as a storytelling device. The first room you visit after stepping out of the bathysphere, with the celebratory banners, the opulent fixtures, and the improvised protest signs lying on the floor, is a great example of how a space can tell a story, especially valuable since it lets the player absorb story information at their own pace, gathering as much or as little knowledge as they like before moving on.

This is, I think, a key to the future of interactive narrative---expanding the idea of how a narrative is transmitted. I've often thought that game design is closer to painting than to filmmaking, since you're more creating a space for people to inhabit than delivering a stream of data to them. And therefore, game designers could learn a lot from the narrative painting genres that fell out of fashion in the twentieth century, particularly the historical painting, which was adept at deploying environmental details to convey story information.

That's where Bioshock really shines---in creating rooms full of significant props, revealing decor, and evidence of occupancy that tell you a great deal about the life and death of Rapture (I'll refrain from listing some, for fear of spoilers). And that's where I think it will have the most influence.

Thomas @ Tue Jul 8 12:49:33 2008 EST

What, because it's not hard to do precise aiming with a mouse? Nonsense. If that were true, my TF2 Sniper scores wouldn't suck. It just doesn't actively fight against you like the thumbstick does.

Why WOULDN'T you use the same interface for gaming and spreadsheets? Have you seen my score in Excel? I dominate A1:this.End.

Technically, I have a thumbstick on my laptop--because I've got a Thinkpad, there's the trackpoint right there. If Windows or games (or both) were capable of understanding multiple mouse pointers, I could use that for movement, and it would be awesome. Sadly, it looks like that has to wait for things like multitouch before it'll happen.

Good thoughts on environment. That's actually something I think HL2 really got right, which is rarely recognized: the degree to which its setting (and particularly the opening scenes) tell you about what has happened and the role the player is meant to inhabit.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Tue Jul 8 13:07:10 2008 EST

HL2 did open strong. But actually, I think City 17 is a little overrated as a scene-setter. I mean, the refugee pen is great, as are the broadcasts (esp. knowing how complicated that is to do in the HL2 engine). But it's more an insert-dystopia-here than a plausible world---where do people work? what's their entertainment? And after the opening, you're quickly thrown back into the same tunnels 'n' caves where every FPS takes place. HL2 has some great storytelling elements in it---I hugely respect the lack of cutscenes---but the story itself is a little sketchy.

Josh @ Tue Jul 8 14:45:05 2008 EST

Dear golly don't get me started on the overall mediocrity of HL2 compared to the hype of HL2...

For me, GoldenEye sold me on being able to use a joystick in lieu of the old keyboard/mouse. I certainly wouldn't want to deathmatch someone with a K/M setup with a gamepad, but depending on the mechanics I've grown to quite enjoy the gamepad for FPS games.

The Wii offers a pretty decent alternative as well, I think, if not with the subsequent arm fatigue that can follow.

More to your point though - piracy will be the defining wave that crests into the PC gamng industry. And to jump to the conclusion of our usual debate, the main emergence will be the kinds of publishers who are more rewarded by not using copy protection over the ones that complain constantly about their users.

Thomas @ Tue Jul 8 15:13:49 2008 EST

In my experience on the Wii, it's less armstrain than a gamepad--because the controller is effectively split in two, I can let my arms stay at my sides and on the couch's armrest instead of having to hold them in front of my body.

So the Wii, far from making me more physically active in most of my gaming, has actually contributed to my sloth.

I need to play through more Bioshock before I can be sure. But I suspect that it and HL2 are very similar in terms of their weaknesses and plot holes.

I had no real problem with Valve's setting, honestly. I thought it was immersive, and I'd hardly characterize most of it as "tunnels and caves." But I will say this: thinking back about it, what Valve didn't particularly do is show how the utopia affected the gameplay. If Gordon's meant to be a messiah-figure, where are the levels where you lead a mass resistance? I dig the use of lambda as the underground's symbol, but is there any real indication that your fights take part in a greater struggle?

On the other hand, so far I kind of feel the same way about Bioshock. For a game about a capitalist dystopia, it spends really very little time playing with that dogma, besides the ability to bribe alarm systems. And for a game set in an underwater city, I find it odd that I haven't done any swimming past the intro.

In summary: they're both good games, and the thumbstick still sucks. Sorry, but it does. It may suck less than a d-pad, or than the arrow keys--it may do the job adequately, as we all agree--but it still sucks. And frankly, the fact that Microsoft decrees no wireless or USB mice and keyboards on their console (unlike the PS3) to remedy the situation is idiotic.

Josh @ Tue Jul 8 15:21:02 2008 EST

My basic summary of HL2 in stageplay terms- it was a great set piece. Valve does great stage design. They just need to get a better script writer.

BioShock is certainly similar in that regard. There are parts of the overall plot which have been wildly overblown (Little Sisters) and even misused (Again, Little Sisters) and some finer parts overlooked (character design, unreliable narrative).

In general story telling terms, I would hope the games serve more as stepping stones than anything else.

Matt @ Wed Jul 9 09:52:40 2008 EST

You write these things to egg me on, don't you? :)

I agree that playing first-person shooters on a console is a little "tank-like," but for those times when I don't want to worry about whether my PC can handle a game, the Xbox 360 is perfect. If you want to talk about games that are made for the PC, let's talk RTS. I'm curious to see how Halo Wars is going to "reinvent" RTS on a console. I just can't see that happening.

As for the complaints about HL2, I think that series does a great job of setting mood. BioShock is a little better at storytelling through the environments, though. I've never understood the Halo hype. It's just one big corridor crawl, with the occasional outdoor battle and scary Flood-infested level. Multiplayer can be fun, but the community sucks. It's like that one Concerned comic, when Gordon Frohman is transported into Counterstrike and everyone is hopping around with "UR GAY" thought bubbles.

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