The State Of Gameplay

I haven't really flown off the handle about anything recently. Maybe it's because I'm maturing as human being... maybe it's because on the whole I'm generally content with my existence or maybe it's because I couldn't be arsed? Yup, you guessed it, its door number 3. Well obviously I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning because I'm almost annoyed. Something has frustrated me enough to overcome my naturally apathetic state. It's wound me up to the point where I feel compelled to write about it. Basically my preposition is this... when did games turn shit?

Ok, that was a little vague. Allow me to add a some background purely in an effort to aid explanation. The year is 1986, I am nine years old. I'm listening to Sigue Sigue Sputnik, reading Your Sinclair and playing the most revolutionary computer game ever created. Elite. Now as I'm sure Nightmare will testify I don't shut up about Elite, there is of course a very good reason for this. For about a year straight it's how I spent my evenings. I would get in from school, fire up the rubber keyed speccy of love. Whack the tape in, have a cup of tea and watch Phillipa Forester do her thing in the broom cupboard (phwoaaarrr) until the screeching had finished. Then that was it, I was set for the evening until my mum made me turn it off and go to sleep. The game play was and still is simply superb, and the feeling of achievement that you got from a profitable trade or an increase in your elite rating is still to be matched this day. You know you reached your pinnacle when you could do the Diso run without fear of attack. As the adverts said this wasn't just a game, it was a way of life. By my calculation I spent at least 800 hours in total playing Commander Death... oh come off it, I know the name is lame... I was nine! Anyway, at ?6.99 that works out at 0.8 pence an hour for top quality gaming entertainment.

In 1994 a similar occurrence took place. This time the game was UFO: Enemy Unknown or XCOM as it is known to our transatlantic brethren. I managed a first year college attendance of 65% mainly due to this game... and if I'm completely honest, the Pub. When I first got the nice big alien festooned box home I didn't bother attending college for 3 days straight. Well over 24 hours of solid game play on one game. Ahhh, I can see it now. Psy Amp equipped troops packing flying suits and Autocannon/HE's. I made those invading alien bastards taste turn based vengeance I can tell you. Again I estimate at least 600 hours of high quality game play was extracted from that single purchase. At ?35 this returned a rather stonking cost to play of 5.8 pence per hour.

Right, I'll stop with the nostalgia trip. I mean, I could go on about Doom, Red Alert, Quake or Angband but I think you get the point. When did it suddenly become ok for a game to last 20 hours? Take for instance Max Payne. This is a prime example of the current trend of gaming rip-offs. Hands up everyone who completed it within 15 hours. Oooh, now would you look at that. Every hand is up. Hands up everyone who thinks bullet time is absolutely marvellous. Once again, every hand is up. Ok, now the big question. Hands up anyone who played Max Payne in the last week. What? Not a single hand? Point made. Max Payne is a great game to look at and the story was quite compelling the first time round. But once you've seen all the nice graphic novel cut scenes and used bullet time until you are blue in the face the glaringly obvious fact remains. It's repetitive and dull. It has all the return appeal of a pubic louse infestation. 35 of your earth pounds for 15 hours gaming works out at ?2.33 an hour. It's daylight robbery.

I wish that instead of pummelling a huge amount of man hours into eye-candy that has limited appeal, developers would put some effort into creating interesting and absorbing game play. Playing ?30 for a game that gives you two evenings entertainment is basically crap. The upcoming Return To Castle Wolfenstein looks like being along the same sort of lines. However this time the 'twist' isn't bullet time... its a snazzy looking flame thrower and once again drop dead gorgeous graphics. In my mouth foaming fit of nostalgia earlier did you hear me rant once about how great the visuals were? Sure it's easy to look back now and wince with the simplicity of the 3D objects in Elite, but in their time they were easily as ground breaking as anything being done today. It's because people put their heart and soul into developing the game play. The game wasn't designed by committee, it wasn't rushed out to make the Christmas shelves. It wasn't backed up (read as: driven) by massive marketing campaigns. It sold because it was good to play... and people enjoyed playing it.

Multiplayer online games are the only future I can see for gamers who want more than a couple of hours of fun from their hard earned purchase. Return To Castle Wolfenstein will be on my shopping list for that reason alone. The game engine on which it is based, Quake 3, pioneered a trend of games sold only for their multiplayer capabilities. A trend that will hopefully keep me interested in online gaming until Elite 4 arrives. Ahhh... the promised land. Trading, pirating and bounty hunting thousands of other real people on line and in real-time **sigh** . This doesn't mean that I agree with monthly subscription MMORPG's, but that's another rant. I'm off to immerse myself in a little game play driven, alter-ego releasing, Thargoid destroying, enjoyment enriched parallel universe. See ya.


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