Computer Games-- any comments?

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BrianSiano2008
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Computer Games-- any comments?

Postby BrianSiano2008 » Tue Jun 17, 2008 2:36 pm

Might as well try to kick off a discussion about computer games. I'm a fan of first-person shooters, myself. They provide wonderfully immersive experiences, occasionally they tell fun stories, and the game engines enable me (and others) to create levels and, thus, entertainment experiences for others to enjoy.

So, in no particular order, here are my favorites, and a few comments as to why:

_Deus Ex_: A complex story of competing conspiracies is only part of the fun in this game. Each level offers multiple "paths" to completion, enabling you to play pretty much as you'd like: stealthy, violent, cunning, whatever. A sequel, _Invisible War_, got slammed, but it was actually pretty good, too.

_Thief: Deadly Shadows_ used the same engine as _Invisible War_, but to greater effect. This one's a wonderful medieval adventure, excellent on its own, but it contains the single most terrifying game level ever created. The notorious "Shalebridge Cradle" level should never be played at night with the lights off while wearing headphones.

_Farcry_: I mainly liked this game for its e ngine, which provided for HUGE outdoor areas and terrific foliage. The game is enjoyable, but more could be done with the engine.

_Crysis_: A bigger version of _Farcry_'s engine makes this one look terrific, but the story's no biggie, either. Again, watch what others do with the game engine.

_Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl_: This has become a big favorite of mine mainly because of the atmospheric desolation of the game's environment. You're playing in the Zone of Alienation around Chernbyl, and the game makes you really feel, well, alone, uncomfortable, and desperate. Multiple endings make this game worth playing through at least twice, and a mod called _Oblivion Lost_ is worth trying as well.

_Half-Life_: Still one of the best game experiences available. It doesn't give you a lot of choices as to how you play-- one of the levels is titled "On a Rail," giving us the phrase to describe tightly-circumscribed FPS games-- and the story's just an excuse to put you in a situation where you kill monsters. But it's a real breakthrough, which brings me to...

_Half-Life 2_ and its sequels, which expands the story into a very different realm. Probably among the best in terms of character animation (with excellent voice work and expressive animation), and wonderful experiences as a single-track computer game. Valve, the company behind this series, has also given us _Portal_ and _Team Fortress_, making it the Pixar of the industry.

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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Tue Jun 17, 2008 2:49 pm

I'm not a gamer, but over the years I've happened into an odd software or two.

One was "Hellcats Over the Pacific," where you got to be a WW2 fighter pilot in the Solomons (there was also a practice field in Nevada where you could teach yourself to take off and land properly, but who wanted to waste time doing that?), bombing Japanese warships and shooting down Zeros. Of course you got shot at by both, and had to try to protect U.S. bases and ships from attacks as well. I never did learn how to land -- the one time I managed to put down on an airstrip -- my landing gear smashed, but the pilot still alive -- was a triumph.

Then there was a game that some designers that specialize in games for Macs offered for free . . . I can't even remember the name, but you played a fairly small and fleet-footed dinosaur collecting eggs and eluding or shooting down predators such as Tyrannosaurs, Ptesrosaurs, and Stegosaurs (the term "predator" was rather loose). I throughly enjoyed that one and was mildly addicted for several months. The creators' next level of game was called "Bugdom" and I think I bought the package but never got around to uploading and playing it!

We also bought a marked-down copy of Myst (2?) but never got around to trying it out, either. Perhaps that occurred during or shortly before a period between working home iMacs. . . .
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

alexanderthesoso
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Postby alexanderthesoso » Tue Jun 17, 2008 3:48 pm

The half life series indeed rocks. Wonderful story.

Halo and its sequels is a good game, but it suffers from the same problem as the Matrix trilogy. Everyone told me how new and unusual all these ideas were. Nothing I hadn't read in pulp magazines printed before many of us here were even born.

Im big on free online games these days. kongregate.com has a good listing, and theres free browser based text games. muelsfell.com and secretsocietywars.com are what i play right now.

As far as first person shooters go, Wolfenstein 3d, and return to castle wolfenstein. But then, any chance to blast nazis is good for me.

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Steve Evil
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Postby Steve Evil » Tue Jun 17, 2008 4:08 pm

I spend far too much of my life at a WWII simulation called "Hearts of Iron". You take command of a country (ANY country, not just the big five),
set up its industry, build its army, reaseach its technology, and go to war. Weather and geography matter. I take it far too seriouosly. . .not just a game, but a concious effort to re-enact the war and fully understand what occured.

Trouble is, it takes dozens of hours to complete one game, and can easily take over one's life. I limit myself to Christmas.

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Postby BrianSiano2008 » Wed Jun 18, 2008 8:01 am

I forgot about a major FBS game: _Bioshock_, which won a slew of awards this past year. I could see this game having some appeal for this web site's Genial Host, but it falls short of being a real success in that regard.

Remember that game Harlan helped design, _I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream_? Part of the meat of the game rested on the ethical choices you'd make as you played: you were in an unwinnable situation, but _how_ you played was what mattered. I'm not certain that this was effective in a video game, where the player knows he or she is just manipulating scores. But it did try to accomplish something more than just killingry.

_Bioshock_ tried to introduce an element of this. Throughout the game, you have to acquire a material called Adam in order to succeed. But the main source of Adam were these creepy little girls who'd been genetically modified to extract the stuff from corpses. Each time you did this, you were given a choice of _saving_ the girl (and getting reduced Adam) or killing her outright and getting it all.

Thing is, there really wasn't much of a consequence in the game. If you didn't kill any of the girls, you got the Happy Ending. If you killed even so much as one, you'd get the Ghastly Ending. And since _not_ killing the girls didn't really hurt your gameplay that much, the "ethical choices" you were faced with didn't amount to much.

But, there's a lot in the game that'd appeal to a fan of Ellison's work, and maybe even the man himself: I'd love to see his reactionto the game. There's the beautiful Art Deco design and the use of period music. There's the nifty parody of Ayn Rand's work in the game's themes. There's the overall storyline, which plays out like a good melodrama Harlan might've written in the early 1960s.

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Postby markabaddon » Wed Jun 18, 2008 9:23 am

The shooter games never really captured me. Not that they were not well designed, or did not feature some intricate plots, they just did not appeal to me for some reason.

My addiction in computer games is the Dungeons and Dragons RPG, most specifically the Baldur's Gate Trilogy. I liked the first game, but its replayability is limited because you start out soooo weak.

The second and third games are amazing, though and I am still replaying them. In Shadows of Amn, the second game, your character awakes after being tortured in a dungeon and you need to escape, rescue your friend, and exact revenge. What makes this game so easily replayable for me is the wide variety of character types as well as the additional modules that can be added on to vary the game playing experience.

Should you continue on to the third game, you get to fight some truly legendary creatures, and could eventually ascend to godhood. I cannot even calculate the amount of time I have spent on this game over the past decade
Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristrocratic forms. No gov't in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, gov't tends more and mroe to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class

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FrankChurch
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Postby FrankChurch » Wed Jun 18, 2008 2:13 pm

Ms. Pacman, Space Invaders, Frogger, only stick with the classics.

My joystick needs a rest.

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markabaddon
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Postby markabaddon » Wed Jun 18, 2008 2:23 pm

Between this comment and your earlier one about jacking threads, you are really desperate for some attention lately, ain't you Frankie?
Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristrocratic forms. No gov't in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, gov't tends more and mroe to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class

BrianSiano2008
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The overall question I guess is

Postby BrianSiano2008 » Thu Jun 19, 2008 10:16 am

.. do we want something closer to art in videogames?

I know, they're basically timewasters that appeal to teenage boys who thrill to violence and warfare, right? The same could be said for comic books, but we don't kind it when Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman elevates _them_ to decent art.

I haven't figured out exactly why computer games may or may not be able to cross that threshhold into genuine, humanistic art. Films can do this, television can do this, animated cartoons can do this... but somehow, computer games do this only when they suspend the "interactive" stuff and become like animated cartoons or films.

Can a computer game offer a sense of tragedy? Challenge our ethics? Offer social comment? Which ones do it best?

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Fri Jun 20, 2008 4:17 am

I used to play Civilization/Call to Power and it turned me into a warmonger more than once. I also destroyed all the Indians and barbarian tribes running around on my turf, looking for trouble. Also love SimCity, most of all in fact.

But it all started in the late 80s with games like Jet Set Willy, Manic Miner, Indiana Jones III, Monkey Island, flight simulators in which I had to kill my co-player etc. This was before ego-shooters which I didn't get into, though I played Wolfenstein on rare occasions (where you have to find Hitler in his underground complex and shoot him). I don't remember ever winning a game.

I liked games about exploring, especially one or two in which you walked through large houses and every room would be different.

There used to be a great mulit-player game called Vermeer which was about travelling back and forth between your money making farms around the world and spending the money at art auctions. We also played Hamurabi and Hanse (Hanseatic League) which are about trade and government. We spent a lot of time playing that.

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Postby Jan » Fri Jun 20, 2008 4:28 am

I haven't figured out exactly why computer games may or may not be able to cross that threshhold into genuine, humanistic art.


Too young a medium growing up at the wrong time. We don't live in a time of art. They're mostly designed and programmed by young guys without a full education. In large teams.

But there can be a little art in them if someone really has control over it.

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Postby BrianSiano2008 » Fri Jun 20, 2008 8:31 am

Jan wrote:
I haven't figured out exactly why computer games may or may not be able to cross that threshhold into genuine, humanistic art.


Too young a medium growing up at the wrong time. We don't live in a time of art. They're mostly designed and programmed by young guys without a full education. In large teams.

But there can be a little art in them if someone really has control over it.


I can't agree less. For one thing, many of these types of computer games have been around for at least a decade or two. Motion pictures were able to assert themselves as an art within that same period of time. For another, assertions such as "we don't live in a time of art" are unverifiable or, well, empty assertions. For a third, it's a bland cliche to assume that game designers are "young guys without a full education." The same could be said for the animators at Pixar, and they've come up with brilliant stuff.

I'm looking for insight about the medium itself. Is there something inherently limiting to computer games that prevents them from reaching the same level of art as, say, _Raging Bull_? Or do we examine them as art on their own terms, i.e., as experiences evocative of only certain kinds of emotions? Or is there something else to consider?

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Fri Jun 20, 2008 11:17 am

Computer games are much more complex technology than early films and will need many more decades before people have enough of a handle on the ever-changing technology to do produce any "serious" art. I think we're witnessing a time of exploration, experimentation and technological shakedown.

Serious artists are using older forms of expression.

You were talking about humanistic art, and that's not going to come out of Silicon Valley or other places like that, and the background of those guys is part of the reason. Animators at Pixar are not computer programmers - they use established software.

BrianSiano2008
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Postby BrianSiano2008 » Fri Jun 20, 2008 1:08 pm

Jan wrote:Computer games are much more complex technology than early films and will need many more decades before people have enough of a handle on the ever-changing technology to do produce any "serious" art. I think we're witnessing a time of exploration, experimentation and technological shakedown.


Thsi doesn't seem like a substantive or even accurate point to make. Filmmaking's a complex endeavor, and somehow, great art can be found in films. But somehow, computer games are more complex, so much so that the complexity has retarded its artistic flowering? (And given that many games are actually easier to make these days-- mods, mechanime, and the like-- this doesn't seem like an accurate point at all.)


Serious artists are using older forms of expression.


And exploring new ones.

You were talking about humanistic art, and that's not going to come out of Silicon Valley or other places like that, and the background of those guys is part of the reason. Animators at Pixar are not computer programmers - they use established software.


This is like saying that no great art can come out of Los Angeles. or that no great artist could emerge from the American school system.

You'd called game designers "young guys without a full education." I cited the work of Pixar. And you replied that the animators aren't programmers. That wasn't the point; the poit was that your comment about a "full education" was, well, missing some factual support. (Or it'd rest on a tautology. "Those people cna't create art because they don't have the right background." "What about Pixar?" "Well, obviously, _they_ have the right background.")

The point isn't whether great art can or can't come out of particular towns, or be created by certain types of people. The question is whether there's something inherent in computer game design that limits the kind of art that can only come from a computer game.

Let's say we have a game where a player's character goes through some intense adventures. And at the end, the character has some powerful and complex event happen to him-- say, John Wayne's final exit in _The Searchers_, or Lawrence leaving Arabia broken and used. To present this, a computer game would usually use a cut-scene... which is, basically, a snippet of a movie. The question is whether a computer game could create that same kind of emotional experience using something unique to computer games.

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Pressing Art on a Gamer

Postby kevinkirby » Fri Jun 20, 2008 1:53 pm

Ther may be some some logical prove this, but in my opinion, a game will always be the antithesis of art.

Put a print of the Mona Lisa on the playing surface of Tabletop Skittles--and the game's ruined.


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