Long ago, I came to the conclusion that The Sims was designed for Someone Else. I don’t know who. Hottentots, perhaps.
I played through The Sims 3 with awe, respect…and profound boredom. It’s a brilliant piece of work, and if God is kind I’ll never have to play it again this side of Purgatory.
Meanwhile, I’ve been returning to Prototype. I like Prototype. I also liked it when it was called Spider-Man 2 and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. If a game is worth playing once, it’s worth playing two more times with different character models.
Games are all about wish-fulfillment and power fantasies. Some people are content to wield their mighty power to get three gems in a row. Others would prefer to jump 10 stories in the air and punch a helicopter out of the sky. If you have the opportunity to do the latter, I have no idea why you’d choose to do the former, but people are strange.
Some gamers treat the mere idea of microtransactions with contempt.
“Pshaw!” they snort, “like I’d pay real money to buy horse armor in Oblivion….” And then they usually trail off into a semi-coherent rant about their rights as gamers and greedy corporate pigs.
But microtransactions—which allow you to spend a few dollars on things to enhance a game, such as extra weapons or spells—are here to stay, and gamers just need to come to terms with that.
My little epiphany came when I took my son to the local Games Workshop store for some Warhammer love. There, spread out before me on shelves crammed with figures, books, paints, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of the hobby, was the world of microtransactions writ large.
Empire: Total War and Stormrise are two radically different games with a common core. Developed by Creative Assembly, they give us a rare opportunity to see the stark contrast between what PC and console strategy games can and cannot do.
Empire is a refinement of a revered brand, featuring new elements set within a familiar context. Despite the bugs, it’s still a deep, detailed, and beautiful strategy game with a different texture from any other Total War game.
Stormrise severs the 3D tactical element from the Total War series and reconfigures it as a third-person real-time strategy game. The ground-level FPS/RTS hybrid is not the huge innovation trumpeted by Sega. Pandemic’s Battlezone II: Combat Commander attempted a similar RTS/FPS mélange 10 years ago, with pretty solid results. But memories are short and hype is powerful in the game world, allowing Stormrise to position itself as “The First Truly 3D RTS Game.”
PC gaming began on mainframes and research computers. It moved to personal computers when independent developers put their games on floppy disks, sealed them in Ziploc bags with Xeroxed art, and sold them in hobby stores. If it is going to have a future that is not yoked to console design paradigms, we are going to have to recapture those roots and start paying closer attention to the small developers who are designing with us, and not 14-year-old console gamers, as their primary market.
Ringu, the movie that kicked off the Japanese horror craze, scared me as much the third time I saw it as it did the first. It’s a moody, unsettling movie that still packs a punch and its signal image of Sadako, a creepy little girl with long dark hair and ashen skin, quickly entered the visual vernacular.
Monolith did a fair job of exploiting elements of J-Horror to create a genuinely creepy FPS experience with FEAR (2005). The developer understood that Ringu was successful because a) it used atmospheric, psychological horror to produce unease, and b) relied on fleeting images of horror, glimpsed as if in passing. This, coupled with the relative freshness of J-Horror and its stock images, made FEAR one of the few truly frightening PC games in recent memory.
I was somewhere in the second location of Tomb Raider: Underworld. There was a jump that needed to be made—there’s always a jump that needs to be made—and every time I tried to get the right angle, the camera disappeared into Lara Croft’s gigantic backside like a twitchy colonoscope. If I turned a little bit, Lara herself vanished into the rocks.
Twelve years on, and with Tomb Raider creator Core now little more than a stack of devalued assets, the problems that plagued the series are still haunting Lara Croft like the Ghosts of Polys Past. Underworld is a creaking old hulk of a game, building very slightly on Legend’s meager innovations but still delivering most of what fans expect: running and jumping, some combat, puzzles, and Dr. Lara.
Then I turned to Mirror’s Edge and could not imagine two more sublime contrasts.
There are a lot of things we could say about Fallout 3. Sure, it’s Elder Scrolls: The Mutant Years, but damn, it’s still a brilliant piece of role-playing design: a wide-open world with amazing sights and challenges at every turn.
Rather than descanting at length upon stats and perks, I want to talk about the single most mind-blowing part of the entire character creation system: facial hair. Fallout 3 opens a new era in beard and mustache design. You have never, ever seen such an assortment of whiskers in any game, ranging from the pathetic wisps of a teenager’s first attempt to huge Burnside sprouts and styles not seen outside of movies like Gettysburg or Tombstone. And these aren’t just the paste-ons from Oblivion: These are complete, textured moving models.
So, did you know that Worlds.com invented massively multiplayer gaming and has a pair of patents to prove it?
It came as complete news to me, even though I wrote a column on massively multiplayer gaming back when the genre was just beginning. Apparently, Worlds.com created some kind of branded virtual spaces that used avatars and scalable chat, got somebody in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to rubber stamp its nonsense applications, and now is going to sue the entire MMORPG industry into submission, starting with NCSoft, possibly because it has less frightening lawyers than Blizzard.
There’s a game that’s become part of my daily regime. It’s one of the first things I do after firing up the laptop over my morning coffee and the last thing I do before shutting down the laptop with an evening gin. It never takes more than a few minutes, and I do it throughout the day, like answering email. In fact, it is answering email, except with little lettered tiles.
Yes, I am completely addicted to Scrabulous (www.scrabulous.com). Email games are certainly nothing new, but good, well-supported, free email games that a wide variety of people can play without any initial purchase are pretty rare.
So is PC gaming hosed? That seems to be the case for games that a) are not massively multiplayer, b) don’t have “Sims” in the title, or c) aren’t played by your mom.
But it’s not really as dire as all that. Mass Effect actually made it to number 2, and Sins of a Solar Empire to number 9, on the current NPD PC sales charts.
Those numbers, however, don’t reflect where PC owners are really gettin’ their game on: with casual games. Remember when you would say you were a PC gamer and people would say, “Yeah, me too,” and you’d ask what they played, and they’d say, “Minesweeper and Solitaire.” And you’d chuckle. Good times!