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volume 1, issue 20

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

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Can't Please Everyone

By Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford

The game making process is fast becoming a balancing act, and this is particularly true since the explosion of 3D gaming where you can have framerate or detail, but not both. Developers are forced to forego one for the other, attempting to find a balance that will appease players who prefer detail, and those that prefer frame rate. Again, there is no such thing as a perfect balance, and no matter how good your intentions are there will always be a large number of people that are unsatisfied with the results.

id Software decided to favor detailed indoor environments when determining the balance for Quake 2, Epic Megagames chose to favor large outdoor environments at the expense of detail with Unreal, and DreamWorks decided on large detailed environments at the expense of framerate and smoothness for Trespasser. All quite different solutions to the problem of detail vs. framerate, and yet all equally valid.

These differences of opinion, whether at the genre level, or in seemingly minor details like the firing speed of a missile launcher or the running speed of the players character, make the process of creating games very frustrating, and often disheartening. Developers are making games they enjoy and so they live with simple the belief that their games are enjoyable. To read reviews that attack elements of the game that were intended to be features can be very surprising, especially when it's clear that a simple, arbitrary bias in the reviewer has lead to the attacks rather than any substantial reason.

And it's not enough for us to just prefer one thing rather than another, whether we have what we consider a good reason or not, there's always that additional tendency to then hate the opposite.

"Command and Conquer is crap."

"Why?"

"I hate strategy games."

Ever had a conversion to that effect? Then they'll try to apply some reasoning; "the gameplay is so slow, it's boring." The thing is, that's not the real reason they dislike RTS games, they don't really know why, that was just the first thing that popped into their head. The irony is that, given time, they'll probably find they actually do enjoy those types of games; tastes change, so ultimately they're arguing with themselves.

Orange sucks!

Solutions? It's possible to see technology based issues being put to rest some time in the future, at a time when computers are fast enough to give a full frame with any level of detail you may desire. Based on our current expectations, that day will come eventually, although it's hard to judge what the expectations of game players will be by then. We might find that there is never a time when balancing of some sort isn't required by game developers.

A number of the issues can be, at least partially, eased by simply being clever in the design process. Unreal's outdoor environments are awe-inspiring enough to take your attention away from the lack of baddies in those areas. This helps maintain the framerate enough to keep things comfortable until you get back indoors again.

Sin, by Ritual Entertainment, fades map detailing (such as plants, cups etc) into existence a surprisingly short distance in front of you to increase the framerate while maintaining a detailed environment around the immediate area. Even knowing that this goes on leaves no negative impression; in the heat of the game you are all but completely unaware that it's happening.

Another interesting example is the use of realtime tessellation, something we'll be seeing a lot more of in the future. The process involves creating highly detailed environments and models, and then using a clever algorithm to reduce the elements to a usable number of polygons during playtime. The benefit is that if there is, for example, only one baddie on screen then it will have all of your attention and a high polygon count. If other baddies then come into view, your attention is divided and the polygon load can be spread between the different models. This works for distance too; there's no point drawing 800+ polygons for a baddie silhouetted against the horizon. Traditionally this has been done by creating a number of different models, or different sized versions of the textures, but the real-time approach will allow far greater complexity in the choice process.

However, even this method for increasing detail and speed will divide opinions since the process is (at least for now) rather distracting and many people simply won't like it. You can't please everyone.

The remaining elements that make up games simply have no solutions to this problem; people will always be divided no matter how much work is put in, and how good the results are. It doesn't matter how good Dark Reign 2 ends up, people that don't enjoy RTS games still aren't going to enjoy it. If someone prefers realistic characters in a FPS game, it doesn't matter how well designed and implemented an alien might be if it isnít realistic, and (more importantly) can't be.

I often wonder what the point of game reviews are. We all know how divergent opinions and tastes can be, and they are quickly becoming even more so, which, when combined with the "can't please everyone" theory it appears to make the whole idea of reviews rather pointless.

Or at the very least, reviewers are in desperate need of an industry-wide re-schooling on the art of reviewing games. It's all too easy too hate a game simply because it didn't have a graphical style that you preferred, or perhaps you found some feature distracting enough to put you off everything else. Writing a bad review for reasons like that is pointless - you are writing the review purely for the benefit of yourself. It's no good to anyone else! (and that's not even mentioning the reviewers who think that reciting the plot of the game is what reviewing is all about..)

With genres now beginning to split into whole new types of games, like the aforementioned deathmatch orientated FPS games, we're beginning to see people slamming games they perceive to have design problems, when they are actually playing a different type of game altogether. There's a very real risk of people trying to overlay the designs and strengths of something like Quake 2 over games such as Tomb Raider or Trespasser which are actually quite different types of games with entirely new aims and incomparable gameplay. To compare one to the other is verging on the ridiculous and yet we see it happening all the time.

So not only do reviewers need to be able to differentiate between what comes down to taste/opinion, and what comes down to poor design, but they also need to be aware of the sub-genres that are appearing all the time. Comparison is one of the strongest tools that reviewers have at their disposal, but not at the expense of diversity in game design. If someone wants to make a puzzle game out of a genre that has typically been an action format, they should be encouraged rather than slandered. The same goes for multiplayer-only games. Slamming them simply because they don't have a single player element is to be missing the point. If you cannot make the distinction, you shouldn't be reviewing games.

This is one of the reasons why game developers find the recently popular spate of "opinion sites" annoying, because they are, in effect, an outlet for simple opinions (wrapped up in layers of sensationalism). They radiate the false impression of being "correct" (whatever it means), with the sensational aspects making them popular. This somehow gives the appearance of being informative when, if you think about it, they are little more than a collection of a single personís arbitrary opinions.

Rather than smearing sensational opinions all over a review, they would be far better off talking about the aspects of the game that can be substantiated, and comparing similar elements found in other games so that people can learn something from the review and form a picture in their mind. Opinions can still be included because, in small doses and when combined with valid arguments, they can prove beneficial - but not as the whole review.

If everyone liked the same things the world would probably be a pretty boring place, but it would certainly make life for game developers much easier. So, for now at least, spare a thought for the problems faced by developers, and if you think something "sucks", just take a moment to see if there's a good reason why, before you open your mouth.

 

- Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford is a member of Team Impact. His most recent project has been the upcoming Quake 2 Internet Pack: Extremities.

 

Credits: Illustration © 1998 Mike Sanzone. Can't Please Everyone is © 1998 Rowan Crawford. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, you pervert.