Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Doom Episode 1: Knee Deep in the Dead

Year: 1993
Rating: *****
Still the best damn game about shooting things ever.

To kill the standard base level enemy it takes three pistol rounds.
Or one well aimed shotgun blast.

Somewhere in that arithmetic is Doom’s secret. The shotgun is not the base weapon but it’s the gun you’ll use 90% of the time. It is so powerful against such a large array of targets wielding it make us the player feel powerful. Now I realise that in this enlightened new millennia we’re supposed to believe that FPSs are fun because they allow us to test our dexterity in an immersive environment, making use of advanced tactics and clever gamesmanship. But screw it lets throw away the pretence and face facts the FPS is the dominant genre of game because pretending to shoot something in the face is deeply cathartic and doing so from the literal perspective of the shooter only intensifies the experience. Every post-Doom improvement is secondary to that. Advanced enemy A.I was created for lazy level designers hoping the code will provide the challenge not the arrangement of obstacles they create. Regenerative health? Again lazy level designers hoping to do away with all that careful pacing of health packs nonsense. Gears of War style cover? Actually you know what if you’re not already stopping and popping in Doom what the hell are you doing?

And this brings me to the balancing of weapons. As stated earlier the Shotgun is better than the pistol in every respect. If you’ve got a pistol and a shotgun you’ll equip the shotgun. Now days FPSs feel like they need to make every weapon balanced. It makes sense for multiplayer but the shotgun is so deeply satisfying because it’s better than the pistol. Picking up a shotgun in Doom feels like progression. It’s that “I’m stronger now” feeling that is so addictive. It’s why it’s so painful when you die and you respawn with just the pistol. But that’s okay cause in a minute you’ll have the shotgun again. In comparison Halo 2's Battle Rifle (the go to weapon of the game) can only kill the lowest grunt in one burst if you score a head shot and as a result it feels much less satisfying than the shotgun in Doom.

Actually replaying Doom on Ultraviolence began to remind me of a Rougelike. With the generous auto-aim and no need to score head shots the combat is less about technical skill and more about effective crowd control and resource management. It’s oddly fitting that they recently turned it into a Rougelike for mobile phones (edit: Sorry I'm wrong about that). The other fundamentals feel the same, explore, gather loot, level up your gear. Just with a massive shot of adrenalin pumped straight to the heart. You know what I caught myself doing while playing this? Moving my body side to side in an attempt to dodge fireballs. The first time it happened I was totally embarrassed then I just said screw it no one can see me and threw myself into it with wild abandon. You know how many next-gen bloom blasting FPSs have elicited a similar level of immersion? None.

There is one myth about Doom I’d like to see cleared up. In the age old ludologist versus narratology debate Doom is often brought up by the ludologists as an example of a game that doesn’t need a story. You know what? That’s stupid. Doom may be proof that games don’t need a plot but it doesn’t prove they don’t need story. Story is more than just plot its setting, characters, atmosphere, and themes. Doom has plenty of all of that stuff. Look at the image at the top of this entry and tell me that’s not an iconic character, in an iconic setting, battling iconic foes. Doom wouldn’t be anywhere near as incredible an experience if it wasn’t for all the great work the artists and audio guys put into it’s non game elements. To dismiss all that and say Doom is proof that all you need is mechanics is ludicrous. The first few bars of the first level's music alone are enough to get my blood pumping how about you?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Videogame Ads Are Stupid Part 1

I stumbled upon an old Shacknews article and it led me to these gems.

Yes that was a pimped out mario you saw for a second there.

Anyway MOAR!!

I kinda like the song in that one. That's the kind of music people should use to sell me consumer electronics, none of this new age folky indie rubbish.

This next one is freaking arty as hell. So much for people who like to say those David Lynch Playstation spots were revolutionary.

Yes the nineties were awesome

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Sunday, May 10, 2009


Year: 1993
Rating *****

This is my favorite game ever.

It was night when I first approached Junktown. The guard posted on duty sized me up and told me to return in the morning. I told him to get out of my way. A few more words were exchanged before we exchanged bullets. Afterwards I took his pistol and left his corpse in the irradiated sand. What followed was an almost sickening display of violence as one by one I wiped out every member of the local police force. A few civilians stepped in and put up a fight. I quickly put them down. At one point I shot a kid, his chest exploded and what remained of his body sagged sadly to the ground. In the final reckoning I had brutally slaughtered damn near half a settlement, what was left would never rebuild. I thought about reloading but then a smile cracked on my face and I wandered off into the desert to continue my quest.

It was a moment that damn near exploded how I thought and felt about video games. Look I had killed innocent NPCs before, in Ultima VII whenever I got bored with searching dungeons or traversing the countryside I would take out the occasional peasant but after a quick chuckle I’d reload my save and get on with it. This was different, when the slaughter of Junktown was complete I didn’t feel like rewinding time and correcting some mistake. See in Ultima I had gone off script and it was fun but only as a distraction. In Fallout, looking at the piles of bodies, seeing my xps go up, checking out my new looted .45 Desert Eagle it all made sense. This wasn’t off script, the game and I were making up the script as we went and in this wasteland almost anything was possible. It was the realisation of Everything Video Games Promise to Be.

Perhaps the true appeal of post-apocalyptic fiction is not some dopey hope amongst the wreckage romanticism. I think it may almost be the opposite. You see there’s a part in all of us that looks at this world and wants to tear it shreds. Because with the end of the world comes freedom. Sure we’re mostly free now but it’s a genteel “you’re free as long as you don’t restrict some one else’s freedom” kind of freedom. It’s not real freedom, the freedom to do drugs, sleep with prostitutes and yes shoot a child in the eye. Most of us know that real freedom is unworkable and deeply immoral. But post apocalyptic fiction gives us a glimpse into a world where men and women are allowed to be brutally, disgustingly, hilariously free. Fallout doesn’t look for hope in the wasteland it rushes madly into the abyss howling with laughter. Because if you’re going to rush madly into an abyss then that’s really the only way to do it.

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