Monday, June 13, 2005

9:32 PM// Eureka!

I had a brilliant thought. The video game industry is a multi-billion dollar a year giant. However, video games have changed in only one way over the last seven years: graphics. Graphical tricks, effects, processing power have made some great leaps and bounds. Right now there is a huge push towards more realistic physics, especially with the recent announcement of the first physics processing card. But all these areas of concentration to not lead to greater enjoyment, only a greater "wow" factor. Good looking games will only interest players as far as level one unless the gameplay itself holds some merit.

Consider the movie industry. Very similar things have happened in the special effects arena. There are some eye-poppingly amazing movies out there, graphically speaking, which were basically a huge flop at the box office. (Think Final Fantasy, a movie that assigned one processor to each strand of hair on the main character, but didn't do so well, story wise. Don't get me wrong; I liked it very much, the story and the graphics. And then there's Finding Nemo, a story which was not only graphically stunning, but had a terrific, heart pulling story. And this is what made the movie: the story. They can talk on and on about the quantum leaps made in the graphics department at Pixar, but in the end it was the story that people went to see.

Back to video games -- you've got your first person shooters, your real-time strategy warfare, & your fantasy role playing games. But there haven't been any new genres in recent years, only eye candy. There's a difference between Pac-Man & Asteroids and Doom & Warcraft. But not between Doom & Halo, two games separated by nearly a decade. What we need, is not a new piece of hardware, but a new style of game entirely.

In order to move forward, games must have an incredible multiplayer aspect. I understand Halo 2 has a 64 multiplayer capability. 64 players in the same battle. An amazing infrastructure, but the problem is that if you throw yourself into a 64 person game, it becomes mayhem. What we really need, is a command structure. A team of 32 players with a rigid command structure, that practices together on a regular basis. Now that would be fun. For the first time, it would be a chance to use real strategy, instead of simply overwhelming force or superior marksmanship.

One of my favorite games is about six years old, called Total Annihilation. It's a real-time strategy warfare game involving air, ground, & sea mechs & terrain. You've got your typical resource harvesting aspect (energy/metal) and the goal is to...totally annihilate your enemy. Now there are a number of prospective strategies, such as building cheap scout units, using them to draw the enemy into a bottleneck or valley, then reigning fire from heavy guns on ridges. But alas, the units are too numerous, too cumbersome, and too stupid to control effectively during battle. All attempts at real strategies fall completely apart, leaving the only viable solution: amass a single enourmous army faster than your enemy. And the only way to do that is through effective resource managment. So the game becomes all about efficiency and resource handling. Now this can be fun too, but real cunning, military tactics, etc. go out the window.

But don't redesign the game. Simply allow other human teammates to take control of smaller armies, call them "toons". So your army consists of several toons of computer units, each controlled by a human toon leader. Each toon leader can only control the units in his/her own toon. A single commander gives orders to his/her toon leaders. The same for first person shooters. In order to establish such a system, we would need regular teams, like soccer or volleyball teams. Intermural sports like. Except the people can be anywhere. Kind of like today's clans, but, ya know, not stupid.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's because I came up with this while trying to decide how best to turn Ender's Game into a fun video game. Then I realized what makes it fun is not the game, but the strategy of it. Today's games don't allow for any real strategy. It's really mostly skill/force, i.e. I can snipe you better than you can snipe me. My driver is better at evading rockets than yours. All important aspects, but strategy should at least enter into it. It doesn't.

+ Read on...


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