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volume 1, issue 19

Today in loonygames:

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Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

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From the Mouth of Madness: Jason "loonyboi" Bergman compares Metal Gear Solid, Zelda, and Xenogears.

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Pad Happy:
Solid Gameplay:

(or, how I loved to stop worrying and love the interactive movie)

By Nick Ferguson

The subtitle on the game’s CD case is ‘Tactical Espionage Action’. This is a pretty accurate description of the gameplay – you have to be ‘tactical’ to navigate some of the trickier levels, making good use of the items you’ve been given so far and judging whether it’s worth sticking your neck out for extra ammo. Likewise, the sense of ‘espionage’ is the most authentic in any game so far, thanks to the realism of the near-futuristic hardware you are given. The satisfaction of putting your tools to use never gets old; playing with the binoculars, night vision glasses and infra-red goggles (plus the ‘hidden’ camera) is just incredibly cool. When you get caught out, the ensuing ‘action’ is as fast, frantic and bloody as you could want, with some nifty bullet and explosive effects as well as plenty of arterial spray from some of the more powerful weapons. Groovy!

Being a third-person (most of the time) game, it’s fortunate that the roaming camera is highly effective. Most of the time it’s located in a three-quarters overhead perspective. This has the effect of enabling the player to move with relative ease through the immediate environment, but limits your distance of view in any one direction. A remedy for this is a single button press away - holding the ‘triangle’ button slips you into a first person view mode. You aren’t able to move Snake around like this (quite possibly a limitation of the 3D engine - there has to be a reason why the PlayStation’s notoriously warping textures behave well in this mode) but you can look all about you. One great touch is that if you’re wearing a gas mask, or hiding under a cardboard box, your first-person view will be viewed through an appropriate matte, like the cheesy "binoculars effect" in the movies. Another great feature of the camera is that when you come to a corner, you can lean against the wall and the camera will shift down and ‘peer’ round the corner for you. With such an emphasis on stealth, the ability to keep the enemy in view without being seen is crucial and it’s just another reason why Konami have created one of the best 3D camera systems in any game, ever!

Metal Gear Solid’s levels are in many ways reminiscent of the dungeons of the Zelda series. Bad guys regenerate, certain items will re-spawn occasionally, and it is common to find doors that will remain locked until you gradually upgrade the security clearance of the key card you find early in the game. This game mechanic in particular is similar to the Zelda games’ habit of showing players glimpses of areas inaccessible until later in the game, when the object required to allow you access has been obtained. Individual rooms will also function as puzzles in their own right – one section of the game has you puzzling how to get across an electrified floor and the solution is quite ingenious. Unfortunately, Metal Gear Solid is a tad hint-happy. It’s as if the designers are anxious for you to get on to the next stage of the game – a thoughtful gesture, but the hand-holding can occasionally be frustrating and annoying, like someone telling you about the good bits of a movie you haven’t seen yet.

Another similarity to Zelda is the health system – when your energy bar is reduced, you die and then restart on the same level you died in, and with your equipment and ammo at the levels they were when you entered. There are no ‘lives’ or any other real penalties, effectively you just re-do the rooms again and again till you get through. Perhaps the designers decided that sending players back to their last save point was an artificial way of lengthening the game’s life span, or that treading old ground would break the flow of the game’s story? Whatever, it saves players the hassle of continually saving the game - even if it means you get through an already rather short game more quickly than you might otherwise.

The Zelda comparisons continue! Like Miyamoto’s classic Gameboy version of Zelda, Metal Gear Solid makes no apologies for being a game. Characters will refer to specific buttons on your joypad, instruct you to "look at the back of the CD case", congratulate you on "being a gamer" and knowingly warn against "cheating by using auto-fire" during one particularly gruesome session requiring some fevered button-bashing! By constantly drawing you (as the player, as opposed to the on-screen character) into the game, Metal Gear Solid leaves you feeling involved, even during the numerous lengthy cut-scenes with little or no interactive content. It’s also testament to the complex and genuinely engaging plot that the urge to skip lengthy sequences of dialogue is absent, even when all critical information has been divulged.

Aaaaah, the cut-scenes. Real-time 3D, overlaid with CD-audio. Snoozeworthy? Wrong! Metal Gear Solid has some of the best cut-scenes I have ever seen on any machine, ever. They are dramatic, exciting and visually powerful in a way that the most exquisitely crafted FMV is often not. Technically, they are some of the most impressive 3D sequences I have ever seen on the PlayStation, incorporating motion-blur (which hides the notorious PlayStation jaggies) and color filters (for certain dreamlike flashback sequences). In one sense, the game does suffer from a critical divide between the ‘you-have-control’ and the ‘sit-back-and-watch’ sections. However, there is something inherently more immersive (and impressive) about intros and cut-scenes using the in-game engine as opposed to (yawn) streaming video. It’s certainly less jarring as a player to see crucial events related in this style. If your goal as a developer is to convince players they are immersed in a world which is responding to their actions and not the pre-determined machinations of the programmers (hey, that’s the ‘interactive’ idea we were talking about before), it’s pretty annoying to show some glorious pre-rendered FMV footage then dump players back into the world of your game’s real-time engine. You might argue that a real-time cut-scene is no better – the player has no real influence over it either – but I believe the dislocation effect caused by jumping to FMV sequences and back can do serious damage to the illusion of participating in an interactive environment. That’s the purist in me talking – the truth is, I like a juicy, well-done FMV sequence (try Resident Evil 2 or Ridge Racer Type 4) as much as the next gamer! Actually, Metal Gear does have a couple of FMV sequences, but – in perfect keeping with what I just mentioned – these are intended to relate the world of the game to the player’s own reality and so their use is entirely appropriate here.

 

 

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Credits: Pad Happy logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 1998 Nick Ferguson. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it, or you'll get some real force feedback.