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Six Reasons to Play MechWarrior Online

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment

For those of you not familiar with the MechWarrior franchise or the BattleTech universe, allow me to introduce you to MechWarrior Online, the latest installation in the series.

The basic premise of the BattleTech universe is as follows:

In the distant future humanity has broken free of the shackles of our solar system and begun settling the vast reaches of space.  Over time human nature rears its ugly head, leading to any number of wars over the period of a millennia.

At some point in time humans perfected the IndustrialMech—a (usually) bi-pedal humanoid machine capable of aiding humans in completing various work more quickly and easily.  As usual, the military applications of the technology become far more important and it isn’t long before the mechs become weaponized.  From that point on, mechs dominated the battlefield.

Inner Sphere Ca. 3050

The Inner Sphere (ca 3050) with colors denoting the various Successor States and their holdings. The center point at which all Successor States meet is Terra Firma (Earth).

MWO is set in the year 3050, long after the Star League—a government uniting almost all humans under one banner—fell and the various states that existed attempted to fill the vacuum left by the Star League in the most selfish manner of all.  These states—known as the Successor States—engaged in numerous wars leading up to 3050.  Currently, the MWO universe resides on the precipice of an impending disaster—one that will shake all of the Inner Sphere (the geographical domain of the Successor States).Until then, the various Houses in power are still engaging in their various squabbles and wars over land, power and resources. MWO is an amazing game, and if you aren’t already playing it I suggest that you begin to do so.  If you aren’t totally convinced, allow me to provide the following reasons to help sway you.

MWO Is Familiar…

MWO is, at its core, a first-person shooter.  The various objectives in the two game modes are reminiscent of the game modes available in the most popular FPS games.  There is, upon playing a match in MWO, a sense of familiarity to it all.

The familiarity is what makes MWO so welcoming to people who are not familiar with the franchise.

Atlas HUD

The HUD within your mech. Note that it is very similar to other HUDs in FPS games.

Matches in MWO are played in teams of 8 players, for 16 total in a match.  The matches themselves involve various capture points that each team can capture, though destruction of all enemy mechs is also a condition for victory.  At the end of a match players are awarded XP and c-bills (in-game currency) that can be used to advance your character and customize your mech.

If it all sounds very much like the COD or Battlefield series of FPSs, you’re right.

The control method is also similar enough that players who have yet to touch any MechWarrior games will not be totally lost in their first matches.  Nonetheless, the controls still have a learning curve to them.

So while MechWarrior games may be foreign to you, MWO is going to be familiar enough to be welcoming and easy to learn.

…But It Is Also Different

While at the most fundamental level MWO is an FPS that is similar to other FPSs, the game is true to the MechWarrior franchise and BattleTech universe, as various unique systems are introduced into MWO that will be familiar to experienced MW players. What separates MWO—and really all of the MechWarrior series—is that it is really the thinking person’s shooter.

I am not a big fan of the COD/Battlefield games.  For one, if I wanted to be yelled at by thirteen year olds who think it’s cool to shout racial slurs, I could have become a junior high teacher.  Since that is not the path I took, I want a game in which I don’t have to worry that some tween is going to lose his shit and/or teabag me.

But the real reason I never got into games like COD/Battlefield is the gameplay itself.  While the core basis of the game is not objectionable, the game itself feels like one must be on speed in order to actually play well, much less enjoy the game.

Consider the following gameplay from a COD game:

There is a lot going on in that game.  Players are falling left-and-right and the player recording even respawns at one point.  People walk around a corner only to be taken out with a single shot.  Movement is paramount, as stopping to time your shot is asking for a bullet to the face.

All-in-all, the COD/Battlefield games are twitchy FPSs that rely on instinct and lightning-fast response times in order to do well.  I do not deny that there are certain elements of strategy, but in general that strategy is limited to the following key points.

1)      Never stop moving.
2)      Always strafe.
3)      Fire your gun at the slightest provocation.
4)      If you die, it’s probably because you were too slow or stopped moving.
5)      Don’t stop moving.

Frantic games have a place in the hobby of gaming as a whole.  But the homogenization of the industry (to which I have previously devoted a post with no small amount of ire) means that almost every game plays this way, with the same elements.

Having a game that is familiar is nice, but I also think that it is about time we as gamers asked for a change of pace.  MWO is that change of pace.

Again, while the basic elements will be familiar, it is the rest of the game that is not.  For one, combat is slower and more deliberate.  Consider this video of MWO gameplay:

There is no shortage of excitement and even some very fast-paced action in MWO.  But for the most part, the game relies on your wits and coordination with the team.  If you are not cooperating with your teammates—even at the most fundamental level, which is sticking together as a group—you will watch your team get picked apart one-by-one.

Note the last event before death was “ammo explosion”. Which means this jackass was either running way too hot or got shot there, and either way didn’t have a CASE to contain the blast.

But the strategy goes beyond that.  Your torso twists separate from your legs, which means you can fire at enemies while retreating.  Your weapons also have maximum (and often minimum) effective ranges.  Selection of weapons for your mech depends upon what role you wish to fulfill, and in combat situations which weapon you use depends upon the range of engagement.  Finally, weapons generate heat, too much of which can cause damage to your mech or shut you down in the middle of a fight.  Heat management is a key to the game, both in terms of mech design and actual gameplay.

What all of the above translates to is the requirement that one think before doing in MWO.  Firing all of your weapons at once may do a lot of damage, but if it shuts you down— and you cannot move or fight back—then the damage will have been for nothing.  If you design a mech for long-range combat with no short-range solutions, you need to be aware of your surroundings and always keep away from the front lines.

I could, quite easily, go on for pages and pages about all the ways that MWO separates itself from the COD series and its clones.  But I will just repeat that MWO is a shooter for the thinking person.  Every action—in the mech lab or on the battlefield—has far reaching consequences.

Make no mistake, though, that the game is intense even if not as fast-paced as COD.  There is no lack of excitement, but rather it is just not as twitchy and reflexive as your typical FPS.

The Game is Free-to-Play—and it’s F2P Model Works

No, really.  You are actually required to pay nothing—as of right now—to enjoy every major benefit of the game.  This is a topic I am going to address in its own post, so the following information will have to do for today.

I have a lot of qualms about free-to-play games, mostly because I have a lot of issues with microtransactions.  If you didn’t read that article previously and you’re not going to click the link, I have two issues with real-money transactions in games:

  1. Often microtransactions are a means for companies to make quick money off people for content that should have been included in the first place or that is hardly worth the money
  2. The second use is to provide players with powerful in-game items without having to do any of the work to actually earn them.  In most games time is a kind of currency that can be exchanged for more powerful items.  There is a reason you don’t get the best weapon from the first moment of the game.  Real-money transactions allow people to skip this work and, in online games, can result in unfair advantages for players who are have the money to spare over those who do not.

So I was a bit hesitant to immediately buy into MWO (in the figurative sense), as I did not want to enjoy the game only to find out that I cannot buy the exact mech I want without dropping real money.

Image

This is the various subscription levels for Star Wars: The Old Republic in its new payment model. Left column is full payment, right column is free-to-play. You might see why I was a tad concerned to hear MWO was F2P.

Fortunately, my concerns were unfounded.  Real money purchases MechWarrior Credits (or MC) which can be used for the following services:

1. Premium time.  This basically earns you more money and experience from each match in which you compete.
2. New BattleMechs that you can use right away and begin customizing immediately.
3. Exchanging one type of XP for another, harder to earn type of XP
4. Mech camo specs, essentially visual customization of the interior as well as cockpit of your mech.

What this means is that given enough time you can purchase the mech you want, give it the loadout you want and play it as much as you want.  If you are determined not to support Piranha Games, then you will have to live without custom camo for your mech.  I think that is a fair trade.

As far as those who do drop money—sometimes lots of it—to get mechs within the game, I would tell you not to be too concerned.  In any game there will be people who are very far ahead of you in terms of progression and skill.  The thing is, none of what that person has (besides perhaps his camo spec) is not obtainable through in-game money.  So, given enough time, however, you can balance out with other players without dropping a dime into the game.

Seeing as there is inequality inherent to games anyway, I figure that PGI’s model for f2p not only works, but addresses quite well the inequality issues inherent to the f2p or microtransaction model.  It isn’t perfect, but there is incentive to play even if you never intend to spend money on it.

It Needs Your Help

MechWarrior Online is the retooled MW5 game, made into a multiplayer online game.  Currently MWO is in its open beta phase, with a planned release date of late summer this year.  Pirhana Games, the developer, decided to use a free-to-play model for the new MechWarrior game and make it multiplayer only.

Image

Uncle Atlas want’s YOU. He also doesn’t want to get scavenged for parts and end up in a box for twenty years. Do not anger him.

Gamers familiar with the model will probably recognize that moving a game to free-to-play status is often a last-ditch effort by the devs to bolster falling subscription rates.   Star Wars: The Old Republic moved toward a three-tier free-to-play model to, as BioWare put it, “expose [the] game to the widest audience possible, so [they are] allowing everyone to download the game for no charge, then play the level 1-to-50 game without having to purchase anything.”  That is corporate buzzword for “our subscription numbers were falling and we figure if people play they’ll get hooked”.

Needless to say, starting off as free-to-play is a bit risky.  We live in an age where people can hardly be bothered to pay for the movies they watch or the music to which they listen.  Offering a fully-functional game for free and hoping that people will be willing to drop real money on bonus features is hoping for the best from an audience—i.e. the internet—that has shown nothing but disdain for the very corporations upon which they depend for entertainment.

That’s the risk: games cost a lot of money to develop and so Piranha and Infinite are putting down a lot of money for something that isn’t guaranteed to return that investment. There are discussions about certain future elements of the game requiring real money investment from players, but for the most part discussion is centered on the game still being fundamentally free.

That’s where you come in.  The more people who play the game, the more people there are that will enjoy it.  The more people that enjoy it the more people there are to feel the desire to pay for elements of the game to provide Piranha/Infinite with some money.  (While I currently can’t afford it, I will definitely support Piranha/Infinite in the future in this manner.)

The best part, though, is that the game really is absolutely free.  Like I said above, it is possible to play and enjoy the game without spending a dime.  You can pick it up, play it and—if you’re unimpressed—just uninstall it.  If you like it, you can still play without paying or you can choose to support the developers.  Regardless what option you choose, there is no risk to you. If it sounds like the kind of game you’d enjoy the least you can do is support the developers by giving it a shot and seeing where it takes you.

It’s Giant Walking Death Robots

Image

Except the ones in MWO have numerous weapons. Many, many weapons.

MechWarrior online is, really, just Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots for adults.

Do I really need to say anything more than that to get you interested?

It May Be the End for MechWarrior

As I stated above, PGI is working on MWO instead of MW5.  There was not enough interest in the game—especially without a PS3 version—and so PGI went this route.  It is a huge risk for them, but also for the fans of the BattleTech Universe.

From the release of MechWarrior 2 until the release of MW4: Mercenaries in 2001, the MechWarrior series was at least alive, if not moving in fits and starts.

Should MWO fail it may well mean no more MechWarrior games for a long time.  It took 9 years for MWO to come out after MW4.  In the meantime we saw some BattleTech video games, namely the MechAssault series.  But these games were not MechWarrior.  They played from a third person perspective and had none of the strategy required in previous MechWarrior installments.  These games are more in line with today’s FPS or games like Gears of War than with anything BattleTech.

Should MWO fail, it shows all the developers and publishers that gamers are only interested in clones of Gears of War, COD and Battlefield.

I am sick of those being the only games that anybody makes anymore, and I hope you are too.  They are insulting in so many ways (see my article about them, linked above) but most of all we need variety.  Even those who love COD/Battlefield no doubt need a break from those games from time-to-time.  MWO can be that break, and in doing so you help make sure that we continue to see quality MechWarrior titles in the future.

I have lived far too long without being able to build my own mech and unleash destruction on all who oppose me.  MWO has brought that dream back to me, and so I hope you’ll help keep MWO alive to keep the dream alive.

Yeah, I said it.

What Kai Leng Should Teach Us about Mass Effect 3

May 20, 2012 4 comments

Spoilers, as usual, will be all up in this post.

So I know I’ve talked about ME3 a lot, but as I said in my last post (about gamer entitlement), I’ve been playing the Mass Effect games, so it’s on my mind.  I’m actually considering doing a review (story only) of the game, mostly because I think I have something unique to say about it: In reality, ME3 is a pretty mediocre game.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love playing it.  It’s the same reason I will accept that the Star Wars prequels exist, even though they were a huge disappointment.  I may even watch them sometimes.  Similarly, I’ll enjoy playing ME3, but every time I do there are things that just rub me the wrong way.

The gameplay, graphics and all the technical pieces are there, and in fact it’s probably my favorite of the three games to play.  I credit BioWare with fixing the gameplay issues from ME2 in ME3.  I know some people have issues with how it has kind of turned into a generic cover shooter, but I’d disagree.  That, however, is really just taste.

What I don’t credit them with is the story.  While people have been quick to talk only about the ending, there really were a lot of holes in the story throughout the game.  As I played ME3 I frequently found myself asking “what the hell” to various events.  I told myself that, hey, the general story is good enough that I can look past it.

I can look past a great many things, but there was one thing in all of ME3 that just pissed me off to no end.  This post is about that, so let’s get to it.

Crass Commercialism

Kasumi Goto

“I hope you see the inherent hilarity of me being a master thief, and my DLC being just another way for BioWare to sneak money from your wallet.”

Beyond all of the story issues with ME3, you have the blatant commercialism throughout the game.  Consider the quest with Jondam Bau (the Salarian spectre) to find the traitorous Hanar.  If you didn’t get the Kasumi DLC for ME2, you have to choose between letting the Hanar homeworld blow up or saving Bau.  If you have the Kasumi DLC everybody lives and you get extra war assets.

Or how about Arrival and Lair of the Shadow Broker DLCs?  If you didn’t get those for ME2, you’re basically left in the dark as to why Shepard was stripped of rank and how the hell Liara suddenly became the Shadow Broker.

I find that to be incredibly crass.  After all, not everybody wants to pay an additional $60 to get ALL the DLC from ME2 just so that they can have a better experience in ME3.  In fact, given that I spent $180 on the game, I shouldn’t have to buy anything extra to enjoy the games.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that BioWare wanted to add additional value to the DLC packs by referencing them in ME3.  But referencing should have been it.  The fact that a lack of DLC pack (Kasumi) drastically changes how certain events happen in ME3 is ridiculous.

But you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about all of this in a post titled “What We Should Learn from Kai Leng”.  Especially since I haven’t talked about him at all, at least yet.

Recall how I just said I spent $180 on all three Mass Effect games—probably more for many people who got all the DLC—and consider that for Kai Leng to make sense, you need to have read books.

You see, Kai Leng makes his first appearance in Mass Effect: Retribution and makes a second appearance in Mass Effect: Deception.  Let me tell you right now, I am not a huge fan of reading books based upon video games.  I’m all for people fleshing out the universe around the games, especially in a universe as vast and interesting as Mass Effect.

“Hey guys, I think I’m lost. I’m looking for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Could you point me to the right game?”

But considering that each game is an easy 40-50 hours and $60 (if, like me, you purchased them at release because why wouldn’t you), I feel like I’ve done enough with just the games. But then, you have to buy and read a book to understand this character?

When I talk about crass commercialization in video games, Kai Leng is the poster child.  His existence should have been relegated to the books and should have never crossed paths with the video games.  I’m not sure if people just really liked Kai Leng or if BioWare just had their heads too far up their asses to consider that many of the people playing ME3 wouldn’t have read the damn books.

In comparison to the other examples I put forth above, this is by far the worst transgression.  I can totally understand BioWare giving extra to people who paid for and played the DLC.  I do not understand BioWare expecting me to give a good god damn about Kai Leng because he was in some book.  That is especially true when one of those books has a 1.5 star review on Amazon.  Furthermore, Deception has so many errors that BioWare has announced that it is of dubious canon until a revised copy is released.

The answer is that I should never have to do that to fully understand a video game.  Again, expanding upon a universe is all fine and great, but that’s an expansion of the universe and shouldn’t be a necessary part of the game.

Kai Leng Sucks (And Is Out of Place)

What this post really comes down to is that I hate Kai Leng.  I don’t hate him in the way BioWare intended me to, though.  It is clear that BioWare intended Kai Leng to be Shepard’s foil, the man who stands a chance of besting Shepard.  So if I hated him for that reason, hey congrats BioWare you did your job.

I want to make clear I haven’t read the books.  However, in looking into the information for this post I read the entries about Kai Leng on the Mass Effect Wiki.  That wiki states that Kai Leng “became the Illusive Man’s most trusted agent, working as an infiltrator and assassin.”

But if you read that post further, Leng repeatedly fails to succeed in his missions in both Retribution and Deception.  In fact, all of Retribution is about how Leng is an abject failure.  Deception (which again, is apparently one of the least researched books ever written) features Kai Leng using a goddamn cane to walk, though apparently in this he does a little bit better and succeeds at a mission for once.

Oh, wait.  He can.

I can understand that BioWare wanted to put someone in this game who could “best” Shepard and add tension to the game.  Shepard can never really go one-on-one with a Reaper without getting his ass kicked.  But for there to be any real tension, we need someone standing in Shepard’s way throughout the game.  Previously nobody has really been a match for him.  Saren was kind of a joke and the only time you fight him you kill him; the Harbinger, when he took a Collector body, was kind of a joke himself.

So it makes sense that Kai Leng is introduced as the dangerous face of Cerberus (after all, who seriously thinks the Illusive Man would be hard to kill once you actually found him?).  It makes sense.

But I had no idea who the hell Kai Leng was in Mass Effect 3.  He shows up on the Citadel in support of Udina’s attempted coup.  We aren’t told his name, he just shows up out of nowhere and tries to kill the Salarian councilor.

In our first introduction to Leng, he is bested by a terminally ill Thane.  When he finally stabs Thane he is so smug and self-assured.  Let me tell you this, if I fought and killed a cancer patient, but had my ass handed to me on the way to doing so, I would never brag about it.

Reaper on Rannoch

Oh, and this.

The thing that shocked me most about Kai Leng is his appearance.  He looks like something that snuck out of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and got lost in Mass Effect.  His cyber-punk ninja act is totally out of place in ME3.

I’ve heard people say he’s just the king of the phantoms, but they, too, were completely out of place in ME3.  While they are fairly dangerous adversaries at close range, I’ve rarely had a phantom get close.

You see, it turns out that these things called “guns” can hit stuff that’s far away.  Almost every phantom I’ve encountered in the story I’ve taken out with a headshot from a sniper rifle.   Kai Leng, being the king of these buffoons, brings a sword to gun fights repeatedly and only ever succeeds because BioWare forces his story upon you.

The Trash Talk

The trash talk is, far and away, the worst part of Leng’s persona.  In no way does Kai Leng ever actually best Shepard.  He manages to outwit or outmaneuver him at many points, and that certainly means a lot when that rarely happens to Shepard.  But to have Kai Leng spend half the game telling Shepard how awesome he is and how Shepard sucks is just annoying.

When he gets back to Chronos Base, he’s totally going to brag so hard about that time he killed some dude who was totally terminally ill.

But every time Shepard encounters Leng after the Citadel, Leng does nothing but talk shit about how Shepard is inferior to him.  Let me make light of this every way I can: Kai Leng can only stand up to Shepard and two of his companions by having a fucking army and a gunship fighting by his side at all times.  The gunship, really, is the only reason he ever stood a chance.  The moment it’s gone, Shepard wins.  And yet he happily talks shit like he is better than Shepard.

This doesn’t make him anything other than fucking annoying.

Consider the fight on Thessia: even on a high difficulty setting Leng never once even hurt my shield.  I, on the other hand, was so busy handing him his ass at every opportunity to really pay attention to how little he seemed to hurt me.  On my first play-through I kept getting frustrated wondering why the hell the game was punishing me for killing him when, apparently, I am not supposed to.

Let me make one thing clear: there’s no such thing as “fighting fair” in war, really.  Maybe back when armies marched at each other in a clearing and shot you might have had some concept of honor.  But in general someone should take every advantage he can to survive in a war environment.  So I get that Kai Leng uses a gunship to keep Shepard under control.

In BioWare’s collective mind this fight was as good an idea as just changing the color of the explosion for the endings.

Where BioWare made a huge misstep is by making Leng brag about how much better than Shepard he really is.  If Kai Leng got into a bar fight with you it’d play out like this: he’d fight until he might get hurt, then have his five body-builder friends beat the crap out of you.  When the fight was over, Kai Leng would then brag about how much tougher than you he is.

Then there’s the e-mail Kai Leng sent to Shepard.  The one where he basically brags about how it took a gunship and countless soldiers to keep three people under control.  In the world of missteps, that one is second only to the terrible ME3 endings.

In fact, I have a story.  Once when I was about ten I got into a fight with this kid.  Neither of us really “won”, but that didn’t stop the other kid from somehow getting my phone number and calling me to taunt me.

So congratulations, BioWare, you’ve turned Kai Leng into a twelve year bully.

When I finally beat Kai Leng, I didn’t celebrate because I took down some big challenge that kept standing in my way.  I celebrated because BioWare wasn’t railroading me into being “bested” by someone whose first encounter with a terminally ill Drell almost ended badly for the one in perfect health.

I celebrated because I knew that I wouldn’t be dealing with Kai Leng ever again.

What to Learn from Kai Leng

I’m not sure what, exactly, motivated BioWare to put Kai Leng in the game at all.  In this post, the first reply notes that “[a]fter getting used to him in [the books], he feels like a natural fit in ME3”.  So I guess that’s great, except for those of us that never read the books.

So perfect.

In fact, I couldn’t find anything giving me insight into the official reasoning for Kai Leng ever showing up in the game.  I have to assume that BioWare, again, felt he would make a good foil to Shepard.  That’s fine and great, but if you’re going to give someone a foil, you should do so properly.

Instead of a foil, Kai Leng felt like an attempt to cash-in on the books.  More than that, I think it just goes to show how out-of-touch the BioWare story guys are with what we wanted from ME3.

At the start of this post I suggested that ME3 was kind of a weak game overall.  The story in general kind of sucked.  Kai Leng is where I think the best evidence comes for BioWare not having a goddamn clue what they were doing with ME3.

While we hear things like “artistic vision” in reference to the story as a whole, Kai Leng is the strongest argument I can think of against the idea that BioWare had any clue what they were doing or that they had planned anything out.

You see, if you look at the games only we end up in a tough spot with Cerberus.  Without Miranda or Shepard they really are just a bunch of terrorists.  The Illusive Man has a ton of resources but is himself not much of a fighter (he’s really kind of a coward).  But with Shepard walking away from Cerberus in ME2, and leaving the Illusive Man pissed right the hell off, Cerberus was a natural choice of enemy in ME3.

On the other hand, the Illusive Man might secondhand smoke you to death. That’s threatening, right?

So you see, Cerberus isn’t much of a threat to us.  After all, Shepard has taken down Saren and the Collectors, what chance does Cerberus stand against him?

It is logical, then, that BioWare wanted to look for some new enemy to put as the face of Cerberus in ME3.  Instead of coming up with some new threat and introducing it to us in the proper way, we instead get Kai Leng—Deus Ex Cyberninja Extraordinaire—shoehorned into the plot to stand in Shepard’s way.  After all, why create an all-new bad guy when you’ve got a series of books that has one already in there.

But don’t stop there, put in a reference to the events of the book so that people are left wondering.  After that, they’ll be sure to go buy the book!  That idea = cash moneys.

If the story of ME3 are darts, the ending would have been the dart that hits three feet to the side of the board.  Kai Leng would be the dart you drop on your foot, the one that leaves you with an infected sore and a gigantic hospital bill.

What I’m trying to say is BioWare fucked up.

Hey Gamers: Can We Stop Playing COD and Save Gaming?

April 18, 2012 5 comments

Alright readers, I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’m working on pretty grand discussion of religion and autism.  I’m still hammering away at that, but it entails a lot of research and reading.  It will also, I’m thinking, end up as a multi-part series.  With that said, I’m hoping to have that ready to go for tomorrow and Friday’s updates.

In the meantime, a return to the original form of this blog: talking about pop culture-y type stuff.  With Bethesda’s announcement of The Elder Scrolls: Steampunk, I think this update is pretty perfect.

I’m a big fan of video games.  I still play them to an extent (what’s up Skyrim?  You going to destroy another 100 hours of my life?), but nowhere near as hardcore as I used to.  At one point I played World of Warcraft and sank over 400 days of play time into my characters between 2006 and 2011.

But there’s been this incredible trend in video games of late.  I think I can sum it up in one two words: they’re dying. You might argue with that assumption based upon the fact that the video games still seem to be going strong, but I suppose I could tack on two other words to make the difference: in spirit.

Gameplay > Story > Graphics

I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue with me to no end about my prioritization of the major parts of a game, but I stand by this.

Gameplay is, far and away, the most important part of the game.  Back before video games became monstrous, big-budget affairs boasting X hours of game time, slapping together cut scenes in the 30 minute mark (Metal Gear, I’m looking at you) there was only one thing that made you play the game: the actual gameplay.

Did you really care why the hell Mario ate mushrooms, used fire flowers and jumped on Goombas?  The motivation there was “that guy is bad, the game told me so, and thus I am to destroy him.”  You don’t need more than that.  People didn’t play Pac-Man in the arcades because the graphics and story rocked, they played it because it was fun.

Crysis

Proving once again that if the graphics are good enough, people won't notice you forgot the AI.

Point being made, game play should be intuitive but not lack depth.  Games should present you with multiple options toward the same goal.  Deus Ex is probably the perfect example of this.  You had to specialize your physical enhancements as well as your skills, and in doing so you created a character who solved problems the way you wanted.  If your JD Denton was stealthy, he’d sneak through the ubiquitous man-sized air ducts that populated every part of the game.  If you wanted to run and gun, you probably died a lot more but you could do it.

On the other end of the spectrum you have a game like, say, Crysis.  Crysis was touted as the big thing in gaming for no other reason than the graphics.  In the early days you’d hear how amazing the AI was and that it would change gaming.  Then you get things like this: Good AI .

Crysis was by no means a failure (which is its own commentary on video game audiences), but it wasn’t the earth-shattering game-changer it was supposed to be.

As far as story, I don’t know that there is much to say here.  Video games aren’t like Pac-Man anymore, and as such they need to have a story.  People, spoiled by the fact that video games have been moving toward being an art form, now want some more motivation as to why someone has to die than “he’s bad”.  That’s how you get monstrous story-driven games like the Metal Gear series on the extreme end of that spectrum.

Femshep, pictured here, shocked at how shitty the ME3 ending was.

Despite the issues with gameplay in the Mass Effect games (about which I could write a series of posts), the story was so engrossing that you couldn’t help but want to play the next installment.  Look at the outrage around the ending of Mass Effect 3 (that is looking to involve the Better Business Bureau) and tell me that people aren’t invested in those games.

A good story and good gameplay can make you look past the other shortcomings.  Graphics mean nothing, but to say something about them anyway: Crysis was built almost entirely on graphics and that game was kind of a letdown.  ‘Nuff said.

Multiplayer Games—I’m Looking At You, Modern Warfare—Will Kill Gaming

When I was a kid I’d sleep over at a friends house where we would play Goldeneye or Perfect Dark for hours.  Somehow this came back in college in the form of both Goldeneye and the original Smash Brothers.  At either point in time, youth or college, we’d play those games until we couldn’t keep our eyes open.  Then we’d play more the next day.

Goldeneye

Modern gamers are no doubt scratching their heads at how anybody could play a game without anisotropy and dynamic shadows.

The thing is, as I get older I face the sad realization that I am (kind of) an adult.  I’m also realizing that it’s becoming harder and harder to get four of my friends in one place to enjoy some split-screen gaming.  So consider this my disclaimer that I do understand partially why split-screen gaming has gone away.

But then you have to consider the video game companies and their greed.  After all, four people playing the same game at someone’s house is $50.  Four people playing the same game at their own house?  Two hundred.  So yah, there’s the motivation of greed.

Whatever combination of factors drove gaming toward the online multiplayer sensation we see today, that is the same trend that will destroy gaming as you know it.

I realize that’s a pretty big claim, but let’s look at why.

Modern Warfare.  I fucking hate those games.  I’ve played them like twice and couldn’t stand it.  If I wanted thirteen year old kids calling me gay and using racial slurs that would make the Klan blush I would have become a teacher.  The idea is that gaming should be fun, and games like Call of Duty—for many of us, at least—are not fun.

Before I talk about online multiplayer and how wrong it is, let me acknowledge what is right about it.  First, it is hard to get four adults with their own, separate lives in a room together.  Since the target audience of console games has gone beyond the teenage demographic, it is understandable that games now offer something for those of us who have physical distances between friends that we cannot always bridge.  I get that.

Also, clearly people play these games, as instanced by how many people were ready to rush out to buy Black Ops, then a short time later MW3.  First-person shooters are popular because you can get into a game and a short time later walk away.  Try doing that with Mass Effect, an Elder Scrolls game, etc.

But I think that’s where it ends.  The Call of Duty games are the ultimate exploitation of the gamer.  Most of them contain a shitty single-player that the gamer will go through once to justify the $60 price tag, followed by hopping onto the internet to yell racial slurs at people better than them.

But consider that Modern Warfare 3 for the 360 got an 88 on metacritic.  Many of those scores were 100.  How does a game that exists almost solely to deliver a slightly altered multiplayer experience get a perfect score?  Seriously.  Let’s play a game called spot which one is Modern Warfare 3:

Trick question! Nobody can tell!

Graphically, almost all of the COD games look almost identical.  I couldn’t tell you about the story of any of the games because, having asked numerous players what the story is, they basically showered me in racial slurs and told me there is no story.

Well that’s a lie, there is.  But they played it once and never went back to it.  Estimates of how much game time you get out of the single-player campaigns are usually in the 10 hour mark.  Hours of gameplay can be misleading, but when your game boasts ten hours of single-player, you’ve probably got something to think long and hard about.

And that is, after all, the problem with the Call of Duty series.  All of the above reasons still stand for games like this

Pictured: bridging the geographical distance--with racial slurs and seething hatred.

making sense. But what I said about the priorities of gaming stands as well: the medium has progressed so much from its youth and is capable of telling great stories, providing unique and engrossing gameplay and instead of using that to its fullest, we’re pumping out new installments of the Call of Duty series on a yearly basis, slapping slightly new features into the same game, changing the number to three and bringing the price back up to $60.

The reason this is killing gaming, in case you find yourself asking that question, is because these games are safe.  Look at any other medium of art and ask yourself this question: has playing it safe ever been good for that medium.  Consider network television.  Those channels cannot put out a decent show for the life of them, and the networks putting out shows that aren’t repetitive are the ones who are willing to take chances, networks like AMC, HBO, and shit, even USA.

The music industry right now is in this weird flux between the indie bands trying to actually do something unique (hint: they’re not.  Sorry hipsters, but your music still all sounds the same) and the overly homogenized pop where you can barely tell two artists apart.

Innovation drives art and innovation will drive this medium forward.  Modern Warfare 3 contains barely any innovation—if any at all—over its predecessors.  It adds a splash more milk to the mac and cheese and calls it a new dish.  All because we, the fans, apparently lap this shit up like catnip and the studios will not stop while we do this.

I have used Mass Effect as an example of what gaming is capable of, but believe me when I say that even that game is held back and limited by what it was too afraid to do.  The original Mass Effect had an interesting gameplay that was rich in RPG elements but still quite action-packed.  Scared that too many games would be confused by things like “numbers” and “leveling up”, Mass Effect 2 turned the gameplay into the most vanilla, cover-based shooter they could.

In case you’re wondering why I’m blaming multiplayer gaming (still), let me recap:

Innovation drives the medium.  Multiplayer gaming uses the same concepts that it always has to create the illusion of entertainment.  Worse than that, though, people do not expect massive innovation from multiplayer.  As a result, we’re just going to keep seeing numbers added on to the Call of Duty franchise until the gamers realize they dropped the soap a long time ago and the studios were just too sneaky for you to realize what was happening.

Wait, so its a Bethesda game where you start as a prisoner? Originality.

What Can Save the Medium

Instead of buying that Taco Bell or those energy drinks, save your money and buy an indie game.  You’d be amazed at the quality of the indie games on Steam (fuck Origin, don’t use that) that you can get for between $5-$25.  Supporting these small developers shows that you want more out of gaming.  We can continue to have multiplayer games like the COD series—they do not have to go away.  We just cannot, as gamers, be so single-mindedly obsessed with these games that we lose sight of the things that have made gaming so important as a medium: living through deep, interactive stories that could not be told well any other way.