Thursday, 26 February 2009

Guest Rant: Turning The Other Cheek

The following piece was written by a friend of mine and I offered to post it on my blog if he could get the thing down in print. Follows is Tim's rant about realism, immersion and convincing game AI.

I am a fan of Control Alt Delete comics. I am also a fan of Call of Duty 4. Recently Tim Buckley, author & artist of CAD, made a comic joking about Killzone 2. To anyone who has read this comic my rant will make sense...or at least more sense than otherwise. (So go read it – Ed.) Regardless it did bring up the question, to my mind, of why game AI designed to respond tactically to a player’s skill or playing style, which is attempting to mimic the real world, would in the comics situation just send more troops in to die. Now true enough; if one man with a gun runs into a military facility then sending in a squad of heavily armed troops may be entirely appropriate as a response, but seriously, how many men can be sacrificed before someone says, "OK...lets just lock him in and flood the building with poisonous gas”.

Sure that may be overkill, but considering how many people (virtual people) die every time I play Far Cry 2, its curious that one man can make it the distance in a computer game without being nuked, without being murdered by the very factions I’m betraying. The commanders of these armies must be lunatics to think that a guy who has already killed many, many of their soldiers or security guards is going to have trouble if you just send in another 10.

It's then somewhat surprising these games can create and hold any sense of immersion. Sure we'd all love to see ourselves in a fantasy, an unstoppable force of good or evil or ponies...whatever you stand for – that doesn’t change the fact that no single person could possibly do the sorts of things we achieve in the virtual world. This is not to say games should make all characters week and venerable cowards who run in fear at the first site of an enemy...thought that did work for Mirrors Edge. But it is to say, why are game developer’s still obsessed with creating a sense of realism when the point of these games is often to escape the real world.

And this brings me to why I love Call of Duty 4. Any game that Nukes the player character halfway through the story is good in my books. Still, wouldn't it be nice to return to the good old days of Sonic the Hedgehog where you could die horribly by drowning but before that happened, you got bright colours and a gameshow countdown timer to bring it about, rather than horrifying orchestral music and 8 shades of gray?

- Tim.


Daniel Primed said...

Great rant Tim. I think this more or less comes down to how realism is valued in the face of entertainment. Obviously many a game scenarios are not fesible in the real world, but I think the same thing occurs in movies too, James Bond etc.

With your examples, I think the consequences that you discussed would not be accepted by the player. It's similar to how Peter Mollenux wanted to include player scaring when they lost in Fable 2. This drove play testers mad, they just reset the game everytime this occured.

Call of Duty did a fantastic job at making you feel real and overall making war feel real.

On the flipside, I think some games benefit from an unrealistic number of body counts. Syphon Filter, Stranglehold and other titles are similiar to the one-man-army aspect of 90's action cinema. So here is fits appropriately.

Jonathan said...

Good games do have systems like these in place, such as Fallout 3/Fable 2. If you do bad things, the game remembers it and you will find it affecting how people react to you (closer to real life). You even have full control over these situations.

I haven't played Killzone 2 but in terms of Farcry 2, I think this explains one reason I was so meh about it. Everything you did seemed to have little to no affect on the persistent state of the world, yet there was so much emphasis on immersion with the buddy system and exploration of the levels (the only "gamey" aspects to the game was a few HUD elements and the bus teleporters) and the result was a very one sided experience, where I was constantly getting frustrated at the game and the developers for putting so much effort into doing one thing well but obviously not enough into another.