Are FPSes the enemy?

A man of many talents, Hideo Kojima is best known for his pioneering work in the stealth-action genre with the Metal Gear franchise. In a recent interview with Official PlayStation Magazine he expressed his concern with the state of the video game industry and how first-person shooters are the dominating force, making it harder for original ideas to blossom. Kojima told the mag that there are only about ten big name games that can grab the public’s attention and that Japan-centric games will find it hard to compete with them.

“I think it’s more consumer demand – right now, consumers are happy with what they have. First-person shooters sell like crazy, so there’s not really a strong demand for anything else, and that’s why [original ideas] stop being made. People are satisfied with making minor upgrades and tweaking things here and there – as long as that’s the landscape, it will keep on happening. I don’t see a problem necessarily, but at the same time it is nice to see new things come.”

While I agree that the FPS genre is a hard one to beat it’s also hard to master and the number of titles that can get away with incremental updates gets less every year. Take the most famous shooter series, Call of Duty. The third Modern Warfare release sold very well and floats nicely near the top of the charts but the excitement for the franchise is definitely wearing thin. I’ve hardly seen it appear in my Friends’ Lists of games on Xbox Live and the general buzz about it felt less enthusiastic than last year. Partly due to the other big military shooter and partly because gamers do look as if they want something more than an FPS. The relatively poor sales for id’s Rage eludes to this as does the fact that Skyrim took the Christmas number one spot in the UK’s all format Chart not to mention the almost universal praise of Portal 2 throughout the year.

But it’s fair to say that publishers who are keen to make a quick sale will often go down the FPS route whether the game calls for it or not. And shooting in general is a mechanic that is found in the vast majority of titles. Though I would say that just because the wider audience gobble up a first-person-shooter, that doesn’t mean developers should exclusively cater for them. Yes it makes far better business sense in the short term but a great original game will resonate with the masses regardless of genre. The aforementioned Skyrim shows this as does the Assassin’s Creed series. The latter may be experiencing its own stagnation but has been very profitable and playable for both publisher and consumer.

Kojima added how that a digital distribution method or even off-shoot could be a good way of getting new ideas out with less risk than traditional releases.

“Maybe for new ideas, the way to do it is [by] releasing things via online services first and then seeing how people react to that. Or even if you’re making something from a game-design perspective that’s completely different, you could tie it to an existing franchise – like even if it had the Metal Gear Solid title, it could be completely different. Maybe you can make a Batman game that has the Batman title, but you can still be free with what you make the game into. Making something that’s completely new – where the gameplay, the characters, the world, everything is completely from scratch – that’s very hard to realise in this day and age.”

Batman is an interesting example used because Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are two huge successes. I may not have been as wowed by Asylum, City has been a joy to play and the franchise took very big risks with the potentially repetitive combat and lack of stereotypical content. Like how there is now Batmobile in either games. If asked what a Batman game would feature before 2010, I would have expected there to be a driving level complete with a poorly handled Batmobile. For all intense purposes, you could view the Arkham series as an off-shoot to the typical Batman or indeed action-adventure-brawler game. Kojima mentioned a Metal Gear Solid title that was completely different and while Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance isn’t part of the ‘Solid’ collective, it’s still very a Metal Gear game that, from what we’ve seen, will play quite differently.

I do very much enjoy a good first-person shooter and understand Kojima’s frustrations, equally wanting to experience some new and interesting ideas in gaming. Luckily, BioShock Infinite is set for to come out this year and from what Ken Levine’s team have done in the past, it should be a good combination of FPS ideas with new ways to play them. Perhaps a better way of combating the languishing genre is to take a similar approach rather than admitting defeat.

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Sony E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Sony’s press conference wasn’t particularly kind to those of us who live in the UK. Not because it didn’t mention much about Europe but because it was on so freaking late! To top it off things were running late so what should have started at 1am instead began almost twenty minutes later. Not a massive amount of time unless of course it’s 1am…

Anyway, onwards and upwards and Sony began proceedings with an official apology from Jack Tretton regarding the PSN downtime recently. They couldn’t exactly ignore it and despite mumblings within the community that they would do just that, Sony have proved they are a humble company after all and do value their image and development studios dearly. It was classy and well done, almost as much as the segway between negativity and positivity regarding PSN; start by apologising and end with “isn’t it awesome? Well it’s going to get more awesome too!” referring to the many video and music streaming services either on or coming to the PS3.

Naughty Dog made an appearance with a playable demo of Uncharted 3 to wow the audience though after seeing the new Tomb Raider game, I wasn’t as wowed. Don’t get me wrong, Uncharted 3 looks good, very good with all the usual Nathan Drake stylings that make for a fantastic third person action adventure but, and it could very well have been the live feed, the demo didn’t feel like it came on leaps and bounds from Uncharted 2. Then again, said game was really quite special so perhaps it doesn’t have to and perhaps my incredibly tired eyes saw things differently. Still, the action looks superb with the demo showing Drake sneaking his way around a ship, taking out guards and being chased by a huge wave of water that did look incredible. Naughty Dog have done wonders with their water physics it seems. Another must have for this holiday season? It’s definitely looking that way.

Again Sony pushed their commitment to 3D entertainment as hard as they could with almost every demo and trailer in 3D – for anyone in the audience with 3D glasses of course. But they realise that not everyone has a 3D capable TV or even wants to upgrade to one seeing as they can be a tad pricey. The solution? Produce a 24 inch PlayStation branded monitor and two pairs of glasses for $499 plus throw in a copy of Resistance 3 for good measure. That should sort it right?

To keep with the whole 3D love, Sony also announced God of War Origins, a 3D and HD remastered version of the PSP God of War games which, to be honest, doesn’t do a whole lot for me though it’s a series with legions of fans so I’m sure it’ll sell well. What did tickle my fancy was the Ico and Shadow of Colossus HD collection that will also be in 3D. Team Ico’s legendary games were meant to come out not long ago but were pushed back until later this year. The inclusion of 3D is probably why.

Ken Levine of BioShock fame took to the stage to show off another dazzling trailer for BioShock Infinite, a game not out until next year but already looking amazing. He went on to say how in the past, he’s not been too kind towards motion controls particularly Sony’s Move. However they’ve some how made him change his mind (cough huge wads of cash cough) and now he loves the device because it isn’t just about waggling a HD wand but so much more. Levine spoke of enhanced interactions with Elizabeth, the female hero of BioShock Infinite, by using the Move controller. What ever could that be?

What I found quite bizarre about Sony’s conference was how their next handheld is meant to be coming out later this year but it didn’t seem to be shown with the gravitas that a new system deserves. The official name is now PSVita and all I can think of is Ryvita, the tasty health food snack. I’m sure that will dissipate soon much like the giggles after hearing the name Wii for the first time. It also has a price of $249 for standard Wifi models and $299 for ones that are both wifi and 3G capable. No doubt Sony are making a considerable loss for such a relatively low price but they need to match the 3DS in order to compete. Graphics and processing power be damned, if the 3DS is having a hard time selling a $349-$400 PSVita will definitely struggle. Expect prices of £220 and £250 here in the UK.

One PSVita title that really looked good was LittleBigPlanet. A series which has now graced all current gen PS systems with each one adding a little more magic. The PSVita version does so with its touchscreen controls utilising all the tools from the PS3 in a smaller, maybe even easier to control, pocket port, making good of all the features PSVita has. Take pictures with the camera and instantly import them into the game is one example. Graphically it looks lovely but could well have been faked so I’m taking the footage with a pinch of salt but still, LittleBigPlanet on PSVita may just be a the one game you need to make the system make sense. And with touch controls, the kinds of levels and experiences created by the users are likely to be similar to bite-sized iPhone games, adding another feather to LBP‘s already downy cap.

A good show from Sony but I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything. A few odd choices were made and the delay was a little annoying though handing out multiple 3D glasses and getting everyone to their seats must have been a pain. Next up however is Nintendo this afternoon at 4:30pm BST which is the conference I’m most excited about. Not long now!

MovieShock

The exceptional storytelling found in BioShock was one that Gore Verbinski wanted very much to adapt into a full blown movie. However, his ideas and treatment of the fiction sadly failed to win over any kind of financial backing leaving the chances of a BioShock movie fairly slim. Verbinski’s plan involved content that would give the movie an R rating, anything less just wouldn’t suffice. Speaking (rather ironically) with ComingSoon.net (via PSU) he said: “Alternately, I wasn’t really interested in pursuing a PG-13 version. Because the R rating is inherent. Little Sisters and injections and the whole thing. I just wanted to really, really make it a movie where, four days later, you’re still shivering and going, ‘Jesus Christ!’… It’s a movie that has to be really, really scary, but you also have to create a whole underwater world, so the price tag is high. We just didn’t have any takers on an R-rated movie with that price tag.”

Losing the Little Sisters and their hunger to empty bodies of Adam would have been far too different from Ken Levines vision of Rapture. The decision not to lessen the narrative and opt for a family friendly rating is certainly highly commendable especially with a video game adaptation. Though oddly enough, I wonder just how well BioShock would have translated to a motion picture. The events which unfolded throughout the game were aided greatly by the discovery of old recordings and partly due to the choices gamers made. The latter was less impactful though the decision to either harvest a Little Sister or save them did provide differing avenues to explore. I don’t know how something like BioShock and the way its story was presented to the player would contain the same amount of gravitas if compressed into around 120 minutes or so. Still I would have liked to have been given the chance to find out.

Catching the metro

As first person shooters continue to dominate all but a few video game genres, a relentless stream of developers endlessly try to carve out a space in this highly competitive and demanding market. Earlier this year, a relatively small Russian-based team attempted just that with Metro 2033 and one writer believes that its one of this year’s shamefully overlooked titles. Stephen Totilo of Kotaku fame brought my attention to Slate.com‘s Gaming Club where credible wordsmiths discuss games and gaming with a recent topic being the game of the year. Five-time author Tom Bissell proclaimed his love for the post-apocalyptic FPS calling it intense and atmospheric and described its effect on him: “I’m not generally that into sci-fi, and if I never see another post-apocalyptic video-game world that would be fine with me, but this game wormed its way into my dreams in a way no game has since good old BioShock.” Now that is high praise indeed as Ken Levine’s shattered utopia was a truly brilliant and a landmark title for video games. If Metro 2033 can instil the same kind of euphoria as BioShock, then he needn’t say anymore. But does: “What I love about Metro 2033 is that it takes the power fantasy tropes of the first-person shooter and effectively Russianizes them. In Western shooters, typically, you progress through the game, unlocking deadlier and more accurate weapons and cooler and ever-more-neato technology. Metro 2033 says, To hell with all that. Your sniper rifle is pneumatic. You actually have to pump the thing up manually before firing it. Your bullets suck. Really good bullets are the gameworld’s only currency; they’re literally what you use to buy stuff. This means that, when you switch to the good bullets to fight, you’re losing money. Ammunition’s expensive in real life, of course, and this was the first shooter I’ve seen that tries to explore that fact. Also, you’ve got a miner’s light on your helmet for use in the gameworld’s underground Metros (where most of the action takes place), but the battery sucks, and it’s constantly running out of juice, and, yet again, you have to manually pump a hand-held generator to brighten up the light again. This is a shooter imagined by the heirs of a resource-scarce culture, and as such it’s a culturally revelatory experience. Metro blew me away.”

The experience was a little different for me when I played through almost the entire game (which becomes important later). What I loved was the thick and sometimes terrifying atmosphere and how believable the world felt. You travel between broken shanty towns and refuges for the few remaining humans that are ironically rich in life. They’re still down-trodden and beaten but you get the sense of being part of the community even if it’s for a limited period. I agree with Bissell about the unique weaponry with its piece-together look and function that adds a neat element of strategy to combat, however I do think that these less than perfect guns you eventually accumulate are actually quite cool in their own unique ways. While they may not provide the steadiest of aims, there is still a desirable charm about them. What soured me enough to stop playing when I was so close to completion was the slight lack of polish to gameplay. For example, enemy AI floated between good and moronically annoying, ultimately driving me away from an otherwise great game. That being said, all this talk of Metro 2033 has reignited my interest and the fact that you can pick the game up for under £20 nowadays is reason enough for FPS fans to give it a try. I’ve just got to persuade my mate to give me back the copy I leant him!

BioShock Infinite announcement and trailer

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Ken Levine had been tight lipped about what project he’s kept himself busy with after BioShock 1 but at a 2K press event he finally revealed that his Project Icarus is actually BioShock Infinite. The announcement trailer took me a little by surprise as I didn’t expect Levine to be making another game in the Big Daddy sporting franchise but this time around, the premiss is less about finding out who you are and more about rescuing a girl named Elizabeth. But backing things up, BioShock Infinite is somewhat of a prequel being set in 1912 in the cloud city of Columbia. At the start of the twentieth century, Columbia was built within a deadly secret – is was a heavily armed fortress. Things start to go wrong and the city disappears providing a perfect setting for a video game. BioShock Infinite puts players in the role of one Booker DeWitt, a disgraced detective of a protection agency called Pinkerton who has been shipped off to Columbia in order to save young Elizabeth from the perils within. But Elizabeth isn’t quite the helpless princess figure but actually very powerful and the two form a bond, combining their abilities for one goal – flee the city before it comes tumbling to the ground.

The trailer shows considerable similarities to the original BioShock with a primitive Big Daddy character, plasmid-type powers, an eerie score and the idea of a fallen city (though in this case quite a literal meaning). However, the likeness is more on a conceptual level, after all it’s called BioShock Infinite so you’d expect – and want – those kinds of features. Levine commented on just how different things will be: “In order to explore the floating city of Columbia, we needed an entirely new engine. To bring Elizabeth to life, we had to build brand-new animation and AI systems. To create wide-ranging indoor and outdoor firefights at 30,000 feet, we had to rethink, rebuild and expand the BioShock arsenal. The only thing gamers can be certain of is this: the rules of the BioShock universe are about to change.”

BioShock Infinite isn’t coming until sometime in 2012 for Xbox 360, PC and PS3 so we have a while yet to ponder of its contents. There’ll be plenty more details to come yet and this year’s GamesCom will play host to the public airing of gameplay footage so stick around for that one. I’m so glad that the BioShock universe didn’t end with the second game as its a franchise that provides some great first person shooting in a truly believable world. Can’t wait!

{Thanks Giant Bomb for additional information}

The rapture is coming

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Oh what to think? Bioshock was a game that was not only a joy to play but a fanciful feast for the eyes and ears. After the game’s weak ending (such a shame…) I wanted a sequel almost straight away, even though there wasn’t really need for one. Nevertheless, Bioshock 2 is out next year (February 9th) and trailers are coming thick and fast, hoping to pique the interest of those who may have previously dismissed the game after news that Ken Levine wouldn’t be so heavily involved. From what we see above, I hope these people are convinced as it’s looking really good. The pace seems to have quickened a touch from the first and the boss looks a bit unoriginal but for the most part, it’s good old Bioshock. Ending the trailer is a sentence on how the hands-on embargo lifts this Thursday so expect a flourish of excitement soon.