Mass Effect: A huge Xbox360 exclusive that's finally coming to the PC. A sprawling, free roaming science fiction extravaganza that has you taking the helm of a starship with a galaxy (or probably quite a small sector of it) to explore.
While it's been out for a while on the console, I've purposely avoided as much information as is humanly possible, given that I'm on the internet pretty much every day. There's been a real dearth of scifi in games (that aren't FPS (first person shooter), so I'm pretty psyched for this one, although I've just learned of some draconian DRM (anti piracy shit) that EA is gonna put on this for the PC. (UPDATE: EA have responded to the internet backlash against some of rheir copy protection measures and scaled it back some). Originally, the game was going to phone home every five to ten days, this has now been scrapped. They're still retaining the three installs and out CP, so if you're planning three or more upgrades to your PC in the coming year, I'd wait to do that before buying the game (they say piracy is killing PC games, I would counter the developers / publishers are doing fine all by themselves).
Unfortunately, the same anti-cracking protection is going on Spore, by Will Wright. Now this is a game of evolution from microbes to space faring race, with about six different game types included, from 2D top down eat or be eaten to basic city building, RTS (real time strategy) wargaming to design your own race, all clothed in a procedural body shaping game, how well this merging of game types will work remains to be seen, but Will Wright is a bit of a god when it comes to designing playable games.
The Sims3 is also looking good, from the same stable as Spore, bringing with it a much more open world and identifiable personalities to your little people.
And finally Fallout, from Bethesda Studio's, which, if they iron out the problems with their previous offering, Oblivion, (see below), promises wild action in a post nuclear holocaust world of giant mutants and radscorpions.
Ok, games I'm playing now... hmm. Well I've played Oblivion (soulless corporation created sandbox RPG with magical flamethrower staffs, but no actual staffs for any players that might, you know, wanna roleplay a monk or something. Next gen graphics where the far landscape looked like something from 1992, where the horses turn in 90 degree increments, and the NPC's / creatures still look as though they were floating along the ground. Very little choice and absolutely no consequence whilst playing the game - join the wizards guild and rise to the top without casting a single spell, murder who you liked because all the important NPCs are simply unkillable. It has a broken levelling system (everything in the world levels as you do), that they haven't bothered to fix and pointless dungeons every 200 yards. With the thousands of mods out there for the PC version the game is still horribly borked. Apparently the expansion that came out did do better, but for me, too little too late.
The best bit of Oblivion, the intro. In game that river is about 10 feet wide
I tried to like it, I really did, I played Arena, Daggerfall and Morrowind (from the same company), and loved those games, but in Oblivion... I think it got released long before it was finished (to hit the Xbox360 launch, natch), so all the promised depth, the world politics, most of the towns sewers, the underwater experiences, the towns-people AI (and about five actors to voice all the characters - except for captain Picard who voiced one for all of five minutes before dying), were butchered out.
I also played Bioshock for some time (about 5 hours), and sorry, a poor mans System Shock (1990s), in which the original did everything better bar the graphics (which are superlative in Bioshock). In fact, I'm being a bit unfair, because Bioshock drips atmosphere, but that's it, it's kind'a like your childs first shooter with an annoying computer hacking mini-game that involves plumbing? In System Shock, to hack meant plugging yourself into a console and going into a wireframed virtual world within the game.
Wireframe floating cyberspace in 1994 vs 2007 Bioshock hacking by plumbing
I enjoyed Half Life 2 whilst playing it, but corridor shooters in 2007 need to be dead, it doesn't even try to hide the fact... I mean, I could understand it twenty years ago... Anyway, I played number 1 all the way to the surface before losing interest, No 2 I took a boat out, following the river for a while, had a break for tea and just never went back to it - but I did enjoy it whilst playing it.
Cool, another corridor to follow, don't you dare let me choose a different path
So, what I've got on my computer is Sims2, still dip in occasionally, but now Sims3 is being advertised, I want that instead. NFS Underground2 the last one that allowed you to watch replays of your races - still playing that. An indie adventure game called 'The longest Journey' and Crysis.
Crysis... absolutely loved Farcry, didn't quite reach the end, those Trigen turned it from a fun outdoors, sand boxy type game into a corridor, one swipe and your dead affair. So Crysis; well, it's still sitting on my computer, but it feels like I need to force myself to play it, not sure why, but the graphics sure look sweet.
The games I played growing up, man I wish I could still spend as much time playing games as I did then, but other things in life now demand my attention. Possibly my largest timesink was:
Daggerfall... A cRPG where you created an alter ego and left on a mission for the emperor of Tamriel, travelling in the largest world you could imagine. A buggier game there has never possibly been, but God, I loved it! Trawling through dungeons for hours in real-time, always worried if you had enough health packs to see you through – or that you wouldn’t fall through the crack in the world to go void surfing (a bug). Like Oblivion but a thousand times better, for though it did much wrong, with many things not working, the amount of love that got poured into this game shone through. A world twice as big as Great Britain with guilds and covens and groups you could join, thousands of cities and villages with news of far off kingdoms on the verge of war and a storyline, though being told through little notes in your hand was breathtaking, with few being what they seemed: And no artificial barriers, if you could see it in game, you could explore it.
The game itself nearly killed Bethesda, and the company that came after it bore little resemblance to the team that crafted this game. It was the first of its kind, and likely the last – tho there are internet groups who’ve been trying to rebuild a modern version of this game, but since it was released in 1996, and nothing has been forthcoming since, I’m not holding my breath.
Outcast, adventurey, running 'n gunning 'n exploration in a sandbox world - it used voxels for the landscape, which meant your expensive new 3D card sat there doing nothing, but what a sweet, sweet world - er game. Cutter Slade was the hero who gets sent there (along with a team who don't appear to have arrived with you), through some kind of black hole killing his world, a world populated by weird talking beasts with their own language, a story that involved time travel, the arrival of a promised one, an evil one (big surprise that one) and a frantic search for his missing team and computer parts. The world was beautiful and full of textual asides, you had to learn the local customs, and the savegame was a glowing cube called a Saavgam which you held as it hummed for 20 seconds - so you could save anywhere, but it had damned well better be in a safe place. The devlopers released some outtake whilst making the game.
Midwinter: 1989 was when I saw the future of PC gaming, looking through the characters eyes at a 3D phong shaded world (admittedly they were white triangles of varying heights but the entire landscape was created from a fractal map... man). Just looking at the poster brings back the memories. It was basically a first person strategy game, set on a snow covered island 160 000 sq miles where you could ski, buggy or hang-glide around in realtime 3D goodness, attempting to kill of the villain who was attempting to invade with a small army. To do this you had to enlist the help of villagers which was made troublesome by their likes and dislike, strengths and weaknesses. Missions included sabotage, assassination and working out which villager gets on with who so they could be recruited. It was possible to break various parts of your body like an arm which would impact on your shooting, and to this day I haven’t really seen anything like it.
Frontier: First Encounters - a space trading, fighting, flying game spanning the entire galaxy, seriously, on the 3D space map you could zoom out and see the galactic spiral. The galaxy was procedurally generated, so it could fit on 3 floppy disks.
I’d played the original Elite and gotten up to deadly status over many weeks (months?) of flying, one stage below Elite, but the graphics were eye bleedingly bad. FFE (badly buggy for six patches), was a wonder to behold tho’ – offering Gouraud shading and texture mapping which made everything look beautiful, and the ability, finally, of allowing the player to land on, and blast off from, planets, not just a cutscene (something not done since), also textured with 3D mountains, oceans and cities. Space flight was done using Newtonian physics (also not done since), and you could become a trader, a miner, an assasin, a smuggler, an explorer, a pirate, or even work for the military, whilst checking out the ingame monthly periodical which might mention your exploits if you followed any of the ingame hand coded missions.
We’ve been waiting since 1995 for David Braben to come out with Elite4, though a quick search on the internet shows it’s still alive in Frontier developments, with lots of mods and fixes for updating FFE – I guess a procedural galaxy is a big thing to render, I just hope the planets are still places you can land on...
Gunship 2000 by Microprose... I played this and its expansion, Fire & Ice (?), through to completion. I got the highest promotion possible in game and then I never flew another simulated helicopter again. This game seemed to have it all, realistic flight (you could use two joysticks), nap of the earth flying, popup and choice of weapon loadout / how much fuel. Once you reached some higher rank you took charge of five helicopters, and could send two or three off to take care of the secondary mission, and once the missions were complete, you could then sit back and watch the entire mission replay. The landscape had plenty of hills etc you could hide behind, and flying fifty feet above the earth was just awesome, until you suddenly came across a bunch of tanks just behind a ridge.
Carmageddon 2... is still the best driving game - ever, kind’a like GTA4 but with multiple ways of winning, running over pedestrians or cows for more time (once you’d downloaded the blood patch), crunching the other racers out of existence, or straight out and out racing, with fun physics and a replay camera that basically recorded as long as there was memory. These recording could then be saved to show off your elite driving skills to friends. The cars were deformable – unlike Need for Speed, and some of the environments were just astounding, like the aircraft carrier race, or driving through a nuclear missile silo. It was an early 3D accelerated game, so the graphics looked great as well. There hasn’t been a driving game to this day that induced such knuckle chewing adrenaline rushes – and I’ve played a few.
Starflight – my very first PC game, played in eye straining CGA (basically 4 awful colours) in the late 80’s. The box picture sucked me in, the gameplay kept me going until I could get no further. Yet another galaxy spanning game, though this time on a 2D plane, it basically gave you the captains chair of an interstellar starship, though you could drop to planets and do a spot of mining, the joy of the game was being captain Kirk, meeting inscrutable aliens, making allies, fighting enemies and trying to stop your home planet being destroyed. It, like Elite, contained a procedural galaxy, which meant the whole game came on 2 5.25 inch disks, and though the beginning was slow, it soon branched out into a huge space opera of a game with varied plot twists and mysteries to be uncovered. The unbelievable news is that this game has an actual sequel, nearing completion.
Hey, I was playing this game a damn sight longer than I could be bothered with Oblivion, and I'm pretty sure the colours above were more than I was playing in...
Peace Out ~ Tony F Paulazzo ~ All Rights etc....