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What's Your Ludic Goal?
February 15, 2012 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Errant Signal is one man's blog about games, wherein he plumbs the nuances of game mechanics, bemoans the state of game journalism, and also offers incredibly insightful reviews of games. He tackles the intrinsic flaws of Deus Ex: Invisible War, broaches heresy by critiquing the Half-Life series, and combats cynicism by gushing about Bastion.
posted by Panjandrum (54 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Are there scripts / transcripts?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:42 AM on February 15, 2012


Good stuff! It's nice to see in-depth breakdowns like this in video form. Reminds me of Plinkett's move reviews.
posted by Drexen at 11:42 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I probably shouldn't watch these at work, but anyone who defies Valve's mind-control ray to point out how awful Half-Life was gets my full support.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:50 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of Plinkett's move reviews.

That's exactly what I thought too. Mixes a genuine passion for the subject with a keen grasp of the mechanics and theory. Also, has the bonus of no rape jokes.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:01 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I played through HL2 (and some of Ep2) recently, and it really is a terrible game. He's right that it's a content muncher, or whatever he calls it, where the whole game is a single hallway that guides you from set-piece to set-piece, making sure that you're almost always at full health and armor, with no choice element, and the wimpy guns. Instead of having skippable cut scenes the entire game is a never ending unskippable cut scene, where the best that you can do to still feel like you're playing a game is to spin in circles and throw physics objects around.

I wish he didn't have to couch the review as "Half-Life is a good game, but..." No. It's not.

Anyway, I think he has some good points, but he doesn't really have screen presence, and I wish it was in text.
posted by codacorolla at 12:02 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I probably shouldn't watch these at work, but anyone who defies Valve's mind-control ray to point out how awful Half-Life was gets my full support.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:50 AM on February 15 [+] [!]


I'm in the same boat with the videos at work, but we differ in that I'm not insane.

I think the Halflifes stand up extraordinarily well, though they're starting to look a little spare by modern standards.

So - have at it! Why is Halflife awful?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:04 PM on February 15, 2012


I played through HL2 (and some of Ep2) recently, and it really is a terrible game. He's right that it's a content muncher, or whatever he calls it, where the whole game is a single hallway that guides you from set-piece to set-piece, making sure that you're almost always at full health and armor, with no choice element, and the wimpy guns.

Nearly every shooter ever made is a corridor. That's a critique of the form, not of the game.

Making sure you're always full of health/armor is an element of difficulty - and in the absence of the more modern style rechargeable health/shields, it's a necessity.

Wimpy guns... the HL2 SMG I'll grant you. But the others are all very solid, and - what was that, Redhot Rebar-shooting HL2 Crossbow?

Redhot Rebar-shooting HL2 Crossbow: phTHUNK.

Thanks, excellent point.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:10 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


(where "games" = "videogames" because it's not like there are any others)
posted by Legomancer at 12:16 PM on February 15, 2012


I got the Orange Box last year, and I think I've played Half-Life for all of 6 minutes. There's nothing about the game or its popularity that I find remotely grokkable.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:22 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agree with Legomancer. I've played "video"games since, well, pong came out in the 1970s. Been through it all (80s were the best). At this point I'm pretty tired of machine mediated games and making a return to table top games, where one is not looking at a screen (all day anyway), one's brain is the software (learn the rules and play them completely wrong or different), and working with physical objects at human scale and speed. Machine mediated games are great and all, but they are just one genre.
posted by stbalbach at 12:25 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nearly every shooter ever made is a corridor. That's a critique of the form, not of the game.

Nah. Other games let you decide paths to take, or have multiple approaches to the same situation. Half-Life 2 doesn't, because they spent so much money developing their pretty set pieces that they don't want the player to miss any. All of this is aside from the terrible virtual girlfriend shit with Alyx. If you want counter examples in terms of shooters that are well designed, then you're going to have to look at the Dooms and Build Engine games, since HL1 basically ruined FPSes for a while. The only difference between HL2 and bullshit like Gears of War and Call of Duty is that the later games actually incorporate cover shooting and regenerating health as mechanics.

The good weapons (and I'd really only count the crossbow and the Combine rifle in this category) all have severely limited ammo pools, unless the developers feel that it's time for you to use that particular gun and decide to plunk down an infinite ammo crate for whatever set-piece battle you happen to be coming up on. This makes player choice meaningless, since you'll always have the right ammo for however the designers decide the most dramatic way to fight a particular fight is.

So you have a game that's like 40% cutscene, where the primary action is to go forward, you're not rewarded or punished for playing well, you don't make any choices as a player, and there's no sense of flow since battles are clearly divided into gimmicky side areas instead of a constant battle for survival. It's an amusement park. It's like walking through a haunted house at a carnival, especially since there's never any sense of excitement or danger since everything is so tightly controlled.

I hope that they go at least a little outside the box with whatever they're doing with three.
posted by codacorolla at 12:27 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want counter examples in terms of shooters that are well designed, then you're going to have to look at the Dooms and Build Engine games, since HL1 basically ruined FPSes for a while. The only difference between HL2 and bullshit like Gears of War and Call of Duty is that the later games actually incorporate cover shooting and regenerating health as mechanics.

Your argument literally amounts to "kids these days". Next you'll be decrying the fact that you can jump in modern games.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh god, the badness of Half-Life. Let's start with the level design in the first game, because every time I try to play through the game that's what makes me quit. (And yes, I've never actually finished the first Half-Life. I've also never punched myself in the crotch.)

The game is, as has already been mentioned, profoundly linear. Not merely in that you start at point A, go to point B, from there to point C, and so on; that's part and parcel of computer gaming in general. But because the path you take is effectively a zig-zaggy hallway. There's no openness, not even a hint of the multiple routes between locations that would feed the feeling of a natural location. Which is a problem because artistically, the game desperately wants you to buy into Black Mesa as a natural location. So there's all this effort that goes into creating office space, labs, etc. that appear realistic if you're just looking at them. But when you actually move through them you quickly discover that there's only ever the One True Way to progress, and it's always by developer fiat – a single accessible air duct, one door that hasn't been blocked by rubble. Immersion: broken. Exploration becomes a hunt for that one opening that gets you to the next corridor and nothing more. The fun of discovery that should go hand-in-hand with a well-developed environment is nonexistent.

The set-piece events that were so highly touted when the game was in development only serve to reinforce Black Mesa's artificiality, because they're all in the background. People falling from disintegrating ledges or fighting for their lives against encroaching aliens might as well be shown on a projection screen in the background, because it's got nothing to do with the world Gordon Freeman is in. He can't touch those people, and they can't touch him. Like the contrast between the artistic and gameplay elements of the stage design, the non-interactivity of the events renders them a net negative to the overall experience.

And then there are the enemies. The AI for human soldiers got hype back in 1998 for its critical-thinking abilities, and it's certainly not abnormally stupid, but other than that I've never noticed anything special there (first played the game in 1999, so it's not like I was comparing it directly to a modern Rainbow Six title or something). The aliens, though. The fucking aliens. The headcrabs that drop in silently after the player passes by their entry point and launch themselves silently at the back of your head. The electric biped things that teleport and hurt you just by being close by, so you're guaranteed to get a shock if you don't know where they're going to show up. Unavoidable damage is bad game design. That's FPS 101, but Valve thought they placed out of that class.

Half-Life 2 is a better game that engages the player with the world much more effectively. The guns are mostly vanilla, but there are worse flaws for a shooter to have, and one of them is useless gimmick guns. It still suffers from the faux-openness mentioned above; the environments sure look expansive, and you can try and wander around, but take a few steps off the predetermined path and you walk into a downed wall or an impassable waterway or a bottomless pit. But what elements of the world you can interact with actually feel interactive, which helps a lot.

Also, the gravity gun. My objection here is more to the praise heaped upon it than the implementation itself. Yes, it's fun to play with. Bisecting headcrab zombies with a circular saw you found in the last room? Much more satisfying than the shotgun. But it is not creative, or innovative, or even remotely new. It is picking things up and throwing them. Even if River City Ransom had never existed, that would still be a long way from innovation.

Now ask me what I think of Left 4 Dead!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Your argument literally amounts to "kids these days". Next you'll be decrying the fact that you can jump in modern games.

No, my argument literally amounts to the argument I made after this statement that you quoted. I think there are good games being developed today, I just think that Half-Life is lamentably bad and widely emulated.
posted by codacorolla at 12:48 PM on February 15, 2012


If you want counter examples in terms of shooters that are well designed, then you're going to have to look at the Dooms and Build Engine games, since HL1 basically ruined FPSes for a while.

You have to go back to 1993 to get a counter example? That's tarring a lot of games with the 'meh' brush. Maybe you just hate fun? WINKYSMILEYFACE

The only difference between HL2 and bullshit like Gears of War and Call of Duty is that the later games actually incorporate cover shooting and regenerating health as mechanics.

Not sure what point you're making here. GoW and CoD are bad, but they're better than HL2? They're all the same? New mechanics are bad? Good?

The good weapons (and I'd really only count the crossbow and the Combine rifle in this category) all have severely limited ammo pools, unless the developers feel that it's time for you to use that particular gun and decide to plunk down an infinite ammo crate for whatever set-piece battle you happen to be coming up on. This makes player choice meaningless, since you'll always have the right ammo for however the designers decide the most dramatic way to fight a particular fight is.

This is a fair point, though I'd add the shotgun and magnum in there too. And the glock-analog has its charms in a BLAPBLAPBLAPBLAPBLAPBLAP way. And come on the antlions are great. The only really rubbish weapon is the SMG.

The guts of your and Mr Fish's critique seems to be that HL sent FPS design in a bad direction. Like how Jaws and Star Wars spawned the blockbuster. Which is fine as a bitch about the industry, but doesn't work so well when criticising the game itself.

I reckon Valve feel much the same - they just don't have much interest in linear cinematic corridor shooters anymore (witness what they tried to do with the squad mechanics in HL2 and the open field walker shootout at the end of HL2E2).

But I think it reeks of hipster contrarianism to pull elements out and sneer at them because of what they later evolved into.

The nature of the HL games is focused design, which is antithetical to free-roaming choice heavy gameplay. You can hate that, but it doesn't make them bad games - just games that took directions you don't like.

But ultimately it's trying to create great moments - and I think it does the job.

For instance in HL2 there's a bit where you're wetfooting your way down a toxic waste canal on your bayou water skimmer, and you've just had this awesome sequence where you've chased off the insectocopter that had been dogging you, with cool music and dangerous jumping and sliding and bouncing &c and you see a little side canal. You can ignore it if you want.

But if you head down there it's a dry culdesac, with some jerry built construction, windmill, wind chimes, guard tower etc. Loot! you think and hop out, at which point you're bushwhacked by like 19 headcrabs, just pouring over the wall.

After they're done you climb a ladder and there's a dead couple up on a raised platform, with a mattress, some plates, boxes. And you're sitting there and the windchimes are bonging and the windmill is creaking around and you see the headcrab missiles which killed these people and it's very peaceful and a little bit awful and ALL OF A SUDDEN you're sad, and angry, and full of a desire to beat the ultimate baddies who did this to your planet (but with the eerie harmonic that, actually, it was you right at the beginning pushing that cart in the test chamber).
posted by Sebmojo at 1:00 PM on February 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


The guts of your and Mr Fish's critique seems to be that HL sent FPS design in a bad direction.

Kind of the opposite, really. I think HL is a bad game on its own merits – so bad that despite paying good money for it I've never gotten more than five stages in before I go back to Deus Ex, Serious Sam, Max Payne or some other competently-designed shooter. I think that badness is largely due to its status as a transitional form of FPS between the Doom/Quake style and the more cinematic games that figure heavily in the genre today. It's some of one and some of the other, and they ain't exactly peanut butter and chocolate.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:15 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


HEY GUYS! LOOK! I'M BEING ICONOCLASTIC!

LOOK! ALL THE ICONOCLASTICISM I HAVE! LOOK AT IT!
posted by flaterik at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I just want to steer this away from bickering over Half Life for a minute and say that Bastion is indeed awesome and should be played. His review does indeed hit a lot of what's so awesome about this game (although his breakup analogy was a bit tortured). Also it's available through Chrome's native client which mean if you swallow having to use the browse, you can, as I did, play it on linux.

Amazing story. Great gameplay. Beautiful graphics. Not too long. Just awesome.
posted by Alex404 at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2012


Given that he's a guy who likes to throw around words like kinesthetics and ludo-thisorthat, his sloppy use of the Mary Sue term to include Gordon Freeman makes me feel justified in my fussy annoyance.
posted by fleacircus at 1:24 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, I can see why he had to couch his critique of HL2's terrible game design in such a fawning way. Heaven forfend that you criticize every nerd's ultimate wish fulfillment game where you're a lump without a personality who gets called a great scientist for pushing a box along a rail and who's girlfriend loves him for no apparent reason.

Don't worry about the weak-ass level design, because the game just cranked up the fuck-awesome with that scripted sequence where it doesn't matter if you have your eyes closed while you're playing, so long as you're holding down on W on the keyboard.
posted by codacorolla at 1:27 PM on February 15, 2012


I need to find the time to play Bastion again. And possibly once or twice more after that. And get all of the skills, so I can play around with them instead of mortaring everything to death. And turn on all the idols. And....
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:28 PM on February 15, 2012


Wow, I can see why he had to couch his critique of HL2's terrible game design in such a fawning way. Heaven forfend that you criticize every nerd's ultimate wish fulfillment game where you're a lump without a personality who gets called a great scientist for pushing a box along a rail and who's girlfriend loves him for no apparent reason.

Don't worry about the weak-ass level design, because the game just cranked up the fuck-awesome with that scripted sequence where it doesn't matter if you have your eyes closed while you're playing, so long as you're holding down on W on the keyboard.


I honestly don't see where you're getting all this angry pushback that you seem to be feeling. I mean, I guess you've been called a hipster and a faux iconoclast, which I imagine is hurtful, but maybe calm it down a bit?
posted by Copronymus at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really can't argue with your critiques directly. In retrospect, they make sense. But i got orange box for portal, loved the hell out of that, and then figured I should give the other game on there a shot. And it was fun. I'm sorry my fun offended you so much.

Well, not really. The sorry part, I mean.
posted by flaterik at 1:41 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just want to steer this away from bickering over Half Life for a minute

NEVER!

I played through HL2 (and some of Ep2) recently, and it really is a terrible game

I really don't agree with this. Half-Life is approachable for people like myself who aren't hardcore. I like Mario Kart and Final Fantasy and Goldeneye and Metal Gear and Zelda and Resident Evil and stuff. I like Starcraft and Warcraft against friends. I fucking hate shit like Halo, and the online multiplayer versions of Call of Duty where you get blasted by some obnoxious 12-year old who has spent a 5th of his life mastering the art of pwning n00bs. I don't much care about how awesome the weapons are or how open the map is; Half Life had an engrossing story I wanted to keep playing, and delivered a lot of the same types of thrills and scares as Resident Evil. That Ravenholm level in HF2 alone is one of the most intense experiences I've ever had with a video game.

What I'm hearing from people here is that it's not an open world, which in itself doesn't make it a bad game, and the main character lacks "personality". I can only think of a few titles with open worlds that I've really enjoyed. It's not a necessary feature for me. And the personality of most video game protagonists is irritating machismo action hero douchebag, so I'm not really missing that either. It's a fantastic game tons of people enjoy. It may not be what you were looking for, but that doesn't mean it's deficient.
posted by Hoopo at 1:42 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


HL2 sorry
posted by Hoopo at 1:43 PM on February 15, 2012


BLLLLAARRRGGHH

posted by codacorolla at 1:27 PM on February 15 [+] [!]


Oooookay.

Alex404 I agree completely about Bastion - though it plays best with a controller, since the natural key directions have you running off the platforms all the time.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:44 PM on February 15, 2012


there's never any sense of excitement or danger

That is possibly the wrongest thing I have ever read.
posted by Hoopo at 1:54 PM on February 15, 2012


though it plays best with a controller, since the natural key directions have you running off the platforms all the time.

I actually used the mouse control system in the end. After I changed the default key bindings around a bunch, it was awesome and very fluid. That this guy complained about the platform game jumping part I thought was pretty funny because I literally just ran through the whole thing without stopping.

Although I found the Fang Repeater and Spear to be the most effective weapon combo, I tended to use the knife and dual pistols just to emphasize the frantic button mashing gameplay that mouse movement brought in.

God I love RPGs with good game mechanics. I'm just going to advertise here for the 'Spirit Engine 2' a completely free game made by one guy with production values so good it boggles the mind.
posted by Alex404 at 2:19 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


God I love RPGs with good game mechanics. I'm just going to advertise here for the 'Spirit Engine 2' a completely free game made by one guy with production values so good it boggles the mind.

Oh, good call - I played the beginning of that ages ago, must get back to it. Pity it's not on iOS.

My suggestion for underrated gem is Republic Commando. A really nice, tight and even funny squad based FPS in the Star Wars universe.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:51 PM on February 15, 2012


Although I found the Fang Repeater and Spear to be the most effective weapon combo, I tended to use the knife and dual pistols just to emphasize the frantic button mashing gameplay that mouse movement brought in.

One of the great parts of Bastion (other than everything) is how pretty much every weapon combo can be used effectively, depending on your playstyle.

And I don't remember if this was ever linked here or not, but: Bastion Soundtrack Live. So beautiful it hurts.
posted by kmz at 3:12 PM on February 15, 2012


I got the Orange Box last year, and I think I've played Half-Life for all of 6 minutes. There's nothing about the game or its popularity that I find remotely grokkable.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:22 PM on February 15 [+] [!]


So you know it sucks without playing it, and are befuddled by how all the people who have played it could like it? Is that right?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:16 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


What do you think of Left 4 Dead, Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish?
posted by Zozo at 3:50 PM on February 15, 2012


It is the product of that same mind-control ray, which apparently has a ten-year charging time. The gameplay is essentially binary - you are either handling the horde and not being touched at all, or you're being mauled and quickly overwhelmed. And the entire concept of the "director" is almost insulting in the idea that placing enemies with a random number generator is somehow a triumph of game design. I can't really speak to the level design other than that it's not memorable.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:57 PM on February 15, 2012


It is the product of that same mind-control ray, which apparently has a ten-year charging time. The gameplay is essentially binary - you are either handling the horde and not being touched at all, or you're being mauled and quickly overwhelmed. And the entire concept of the "director" is almost insulting in the idea that placing enemies with a random number generator is somehow a triumph of game design. I can't really speak to the level design other than that it's not memorable.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:57 PM on February 15 [+] [!]


You don't go far enough - its use of the mouse and keyboard to control your character are insultingly simplistic and entirely lacking in innovation.

The notion of 'enemies' is completely lacking in backstory or context. Why do the zombies attack? We don't know and we don't care.

The safehouses make no sense - who set them up and why do they always look the same?

Menu screen ditto, it breaks immersion.

Having an icon on the desktop to start the game is also ridiculous.

Um, what else?

Oh, the music - who is playing it? I can see no musicians. Completely stupid and pointless.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:08 PM on February 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


The "director" is like the gravity gun - perfectly fine as a design choice but when the developers start trumpeting to the heavens about this amazing thing they've done and it turns out to be one of the basic building blocks of a 20-year-old genre it's just silly. Sit on the shoulders of giants all you like, but don't announce yourself as the tallest man in the world.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:35 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


So - you knew all about that stuff before it was cool, then? Hipsterriific!

(background)
posted by Sebmojo at 4:46 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Half-Life isn't bad because it lacks an open world, apparently, but rather because it gives you insufficient choices--you know, tactical options. (I think that's what Zarquon's getting at.)

This is a dismissal of a genre, but not of the first-person shooter genre--by this token, Half-Life is really more like one of those arcade side scrollers, like Metal Slug or Streets of Rage, where you're not so much assessing a tactical situation as a maze. Make sure to have the right weapon loaded at the right time, jump here, shoot there, that kind of thing.

I kind of like rail shooters though. They are certainly less complex than the tactical games that Zarquon likes, but to me, that just makes them more like puzzles.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:48 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I take that point and it has some merit. But I think it's being overstated in the interest of hyperbole and with an overly jaded historical perspective on what came next.

I do think Valve are sick as hell of the linear shooter though.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:59 PM on February 15, 2012


Both Half-Life and HL2 are marvellous games for their time.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:07 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love rail shooters! You have no idea how many times I've played through Starfox 64. I have no idea how many times I've played through Starfox 64. And I've never even owned the system it's on! It's the difference between the open world you see in Half-Life and the super-linear hallway you actually get to play that bothers me. That and the mediocre shooting, like I said.

(Also, I didn't even come close to liking random dungeon games before they were cool. I was three years late to Diablo.)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:38 PM on February 15, 2012


I wanted to like this. There's an amazing amount of room for intelligent game criticism and theory, but this guy spends a lot of time saying very little.
posted by aspo at 7:04 PM on February 15, 2012


Disagree. I watched all of the videos linked and thought he had some real insight. His Half-Life commentary was the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
posted by Thistledown at 7:21 PM on February 15, 2012


So you know it sucks without playing it, and are befuddled by how all the people who have played it could like it? Is that right?

Nope, you're wrong. I don't remember saying it sucked, I said I didn't get it - compared to TF2, which I am terrible at but love more than is healthy, and Portal, which was one of the funnest games I've ever sucked at, HL2 was an odd mix of frustrating and tedious. LogicalDash is on to something with the sidescroll/rail shooter thing; I really hate that style of games, of being presented with what seems like an explorable world, but in reality being herded in a very specific way.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:47 PM on February 15, 2012


The great thing about arguing about video games is how much pussy it gets you.
posted by bardic at 8:17 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


To be resolved: Does playing Sorcerers Get All The Girls really get you all the girls?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:21 PM on February 15, 2012


That seems reasonable, alvy.

There's a lot of internet grar that wouldn't happen if people recognized the difference between objective reality and their opinion.
posted by flaterik at 10:41 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


That seems reasonable, alvy.

There's a lot of internet grar that wouldn't happen if people recognized the difference between objective reality and their opinion.
posted by flaterik at 10:41 PM on February 15 [+] [!]


Well indeed.

This is all in good humour though - and the lesson we can all draw from it is it's okay to be wrong.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:32 AM on February 16, 2012


Eh, when I played the Half-Life games I never really got the impression I was free to roam. The plotting was such that you were always running away or toward something, and the scripted events took pains to remind you of that fact. I'm thinking of that tentacle in the air vent near the beginning of HL1--after seeing that, is Gordon really going to make like J.C. Denton and sneak into his coworkers' rooms to steal their stuff?

The one time you do go through an air vent, as I recall, is because it's the only way out of a trash compactor.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:47 AM on February 16, 2012


MetaFilter: A lot of internet grar that wouldn't happen if people recognized the difference between objective reality and their opinion.
posted by Zozo at 9:38 AM on February 16, 2012


Have to say that I disagree with his assessment of Half-Life and HL2. If you have a look at the list of games that were released in 1998, HL made significant additions to the FPS genre in terms of story. HL2 carried the torch further with the addition of a great physics system and fantastic character animations. His issue that the HL franchise is linear and that the main character is a wish fulfillment device are critiques that could be made of any non-sandbox FPS. Does this mean that the only truly great games have to be sandbox style games with RPG style character creation systems? Was tetris a terrible game because it lacked story and one couldn't manipulate the blocks in three dimensions?

HL and HL2 must be critiqued in context. The year they were released and the state of video games at that time have to be taken into consideration. He claims that the franchise is overrated; overrated compared to what? Quake II? Rainbow Six? Heretic II? I found myself far more immersed in the world of HL than any of those other titles despite enjoying them, and one would have a hard time claiming that those shooters had a more significant impact on games than Valve's product.
posted by dazed_one at 9:42 AM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


HL2 was an odd mix of frustrating and tedious

you know I never really considered how HL2 might look to someone who hadn't played the original and I guess I can see how that makes sense. I picked up the controls instantly because they were already familiar from the first, and was ready to give the thing the benefit of the doubt from the get-go. Basically I find HL and HL2 are like an interactive version of a really fun sci-fi action summer movie. The part you were playing was the exposition. It gets pretty intense after that.
posted by Hoopo at 10:30 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I played Half-Life with my old housemate on his PS2, we both had a great time. I played the Half-Life 2 games while my girlfriend sat and watched, we both had a great time. Is this not just a horses for courses issue? It's always been apparent that the HL games are linear, story/setpiece-driven shooters rather than sandboxes or war sims or whatever; the fact that they don't contain the elements that you enjoy doesn't make them bad, it means that you should go and play games that do contain the elements that you enjoy instead.

Also, Alyx Vance - who else was almost deliriously relieved when the character you thought you'd have to babysit constantly turned out to be handier with a gun than you were?
(or at least handier than I was...)
posted by Lucien Dark at 2:00 PM on February 16, 2012


Of course Half-Life is linear: Half-Life is, after all, aims to be a linear game. Non-linear games, and less-linear games, are a different beast with their own inherit problems and advantages. Criticizing Half-Life for being linear is like saying Schindler's List is a shitty movie because it doesn't have any sharks or explosions.

The games certainly aren't perfect: looking back, some sections drag on for too long, the game could stand to give the player a bit more room for using different tactics, and some of the level design feels dated. And yet the game delivers a number of tense, memorable moments, many of which just aren't realistically possible to pull of well in an open-world game.

One of the better sections was a tense crawl through a sniper-filled trainyard, where you have to move from cover to cover and use destructible objects to get close enough to kill the snipers. In an open-world game, it would be almost impossible to balance: realistically, you could just place boxes to jump over the 10-foot high brick wall that blocks you in, use that as cover, and easily run past the whole conflict. AI is still in its infancy, and so open world games that try their hand at this sort of thing will generally end up making it far too easy (because the AI is easy to trick,) or too hard or ambiguous (because the AI is genuinely challenging, and it's unclear what path or tactics you're supposed to use.)

Having to find you way within the confines of a linear game changes the nature of the action: by forcing you to react instead of choosing how to act, it makes you think on your feet, instead of having the luxury of strategy. It turns the combat and navigation into something resembling a puzzle, where you have to figure out one of several "correct" solutions to get through many situations. Either you like that sort of thing or you don't, but that doesn't make it 'bad.'
posted by Green Winnebago at 12:58 PM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Freeman's Mind: Episode 40
posted by homunculus at 7:05 PM on February 24, 2012


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