Crysis 3: First Impressions

I put my beefy new graphics card up to the test. I’ve always been a fan of Crysis. The first Crysis game was such a brilliant creation. From the spine-singling intro scenes, to the best mix of cutscenes and free-roam arenas. The vehicles, guns, and explosions all felt right. But the game kept getting better. The tank battle was a nice departure from the jungle stealth of the start. Then the zero gravity sequence just totally blew my mind. That turned Crysis into delicious cake. The ice level, the VTOL sequence, and the entire last level (with that epic end sequence) were all just frosting.

Crysis Screenshot

I know every level of that game by heart. So when Crysis 2 came out, I was excited. The multiplayer beta gave me some idea of how the controls would differ. But I reserved judgement (since the singleplayer campaign is the heart of any game). So imagine my surprise and disappointment when the game came out, and it sucked. Gameplay was boring and linear, enemies were samey and uninteresting, vehicle sections were highly linear, and the graphics were somehow worse than the first game. Despite all the hype over the “CryEngine 3”, the graphics were plasticy and bloomy. Crytek took everything interesting out of the series, and removed all the main characters to boot – Nomad was replaced by a silent, unimpressive protagonist. The game was cut and dried; there was no boisterous spirit left in the IP.

Since Crysis 3 came out, and I got a new graphics card, I figured I would buy the game. Maybe Crytek had taken the lessons they learned in making Crysis 2 to heart. Nyeeeh. The enemies and weapons are the same, and the interface is still dumbed down. I’ll admit, the graphics look a bit better, and the choice of environment is sounder. But since when was a bow and arrows cool? The bow and arrow concept seems like a feature tacked on to justify the game; without it, Crysis 3 would just be a short story add-on to Crysis 2.

My biggest issue is that the game is still highly linear. There are such excellent, expansive sets in Crysis 3, but each area is bounded by myriad invisible walls. The crudest element, which really insults me, is that you can see into the void in some places, where they forgot to put geometry. CryEngine has a default feature that puts a terrain layer across the entire map. The fact that they eschewed that, which was designed for creating large free-roam environments, means that Crytek has truly forsaken the idea of open gameplay. This makes me sad. There was great opportunity for this urban grassland idea. Imagine being able to fight through semi-collapsed buildings, then onto a grass plain, then climb onto a freeway and drive a tank down it, scaring deer out of the way and shooting down helicopters, which crash into skyscrapers.

There were good things about Crysis 2 and 3. The idea that the nano-suit is alien technology, the idea of Prophet’s conscious switching bodies. The stalkers in high grass were cool. But they screwed up the aliens, didn’t bring back ice levels or zero gravity, and took away speed and strength mode, tactical nuke launchers, and in-game freedom. I will continue to tout the demise of the Crysis franchise as a definitive argument against EA and consoles.

< / rant >


Halo 4: First Impressions

First I want to discuss another important event: the finale of Red vs Blue Season 10. It was amazing, and tied up a lot of the story lines. The connection between the present and past storylines was flawless; I don’t think anybody saw it coming that the blue ODST from a few episodes back was Butch Flowers. However, there are still some loose ends for Season 11 to pick up on, the Sarcophagus and the Councilor being two.

I guess I should also discuss the promotional web movie Forward Unto Dawn. It was about as close to a Halo movie as anyone could wish for, and seeing the game universe expanded was great. Despite some cinematographic errors, the story was top-notch and the movie contained numerous nods to the books. Plus, they had a space elevator collapse! Actually, the lack of destruction following the collapse was disappointing. Other than that, the only failure was the massive gaping plot hole: why would the Covenant stage a ground invasion rather than just glass the planet? I would have forgiven them if even a slight mention was in that regard, but zilch was explained.

But on to the actual game. I’ll admit, I don’t actually own the game. I’ve played it for maybe 7 hours total. But being an avid fan of the franchise in general, I definitely have some thoughts.

I played about a quarter of the singleplayer campaign. It upheld the themes and style of the previous games, but expanded into awesome new areas. I’m not sure how I feel about the introduction of living Forerunners, or the new story with the Mantle and the war between humans and Forerunners, with humans being devolved at the end. Still, I loved the gravitation towards background lore: from AI rampancy to Dr Halsey to Forerunner shield worlds (Ghosts of Onyx, anyone?), the book references were awesome. Even little details, like the decompression sequences at the very beginning or the zero-gravity on the outside of the ship, were exquisite. I don’t get Promethean weapons, though. Why do they pop apart?

The multiplayer aspect was pretty similar to Reach’s, although I was bummed at the removal of multi-seat flyers. The falcon and hornet were some of my favorite vehicles. However, the ability to fly a pelican pretty much makes up for the loss. I remember in Halo Custom Edition playing maps like Coldsnap and Extinction. Getting your entire team in a scarab, or longsword, or pelican was an absolute blast. As for the Mantis, it seems a little gimmicky and unbalanced; it doesn’t really fit with the Halo theme.

Forge was better than ever with item duplication, locking, and magnet snapping. I’m not sure how I feel about the new “forgeworld” map. In any case, by far the most interesting addition was that of Dominion. This game type is basically a dumbed down version of Power Struggle from Crysis 1. You capture bases by securing their terminal, and then stick around to reinforce the base with energy shields. You can construct auto-turrets and pop-up cover around the base, and build new vehicles. Every 15 or 30 seconds a new power weapon drops at the base. In order to win, you must accrue points by keeping control of bases.

I can’t wait to see what gets done by people regarding Dominion, and the new Forge tools in general. Still waiting for the ability to add AI, though.

As brought up by Penny Arcade, 343 Studios not only had to make a game as good as its predecessor; Halo 4 had to be the best game of the franchise. I think they came pretty close to doing so. So, if I believed in giving number ratings, which I don’t…


Strategic Idea Reserves

I’ve noticed recently that my behavior has become a bit blander. I am more content to just sit and think rather than share my ideas with others. I doodle less, and when I do it is only about a few select things. This stems, I believe, from this blog. As I write down the ideas stirring around in my brain, I share them definitively. Rather than telling snippets of an idea (or at least its current iteration) to whoever happens to be around me, I can tell the whole idea to the Internet. Thus, there is no reason to discuss it or think about it anymore.

By posting almost everyday this month, I’ve burned through my idea reserves quickly. It’s as if I went straight for the gold nuggets at first and now I’m left to sifting for flakes. Ideas don’t form as rapidly as I’m posting them (although maybe that’s because before now I’ve had enough ideas as it were), and pretty soon I’ll burn through even my strategic idea reserves. Sure, I have interesting little tidbits, but nothing to make a substantial post. Maybe I’ll make an anthology post someday.

My interests balance between three points it seems. The main two are Writing and Coding (which includes the technical side of level design). The third, Drawing (also the creative part of level design), is less influential than it used to be, but I still have an interest in it and upkeep my residual skill often enough through doodling. Right now it seems to be heading from Coding to Drawing and a little bit of Writing. We’ll see where this blog will go as my interests change.

What I wanted to talk about today was circuits and mechanisms in Minecraft, but that can wait. What’s been on my mind this weekend has been a Crysis map I’ve been working on. That’s why I haven’t posted in the past two days; I’ve been up late working on the map. Of course, there’s not much to talk about on that thread. The best way to share it would be a video of the gameplay once the map is finished.

Today is going to have to be a work day. I need to catch up on schoolwork, etc. Tomorrow I will post a legitimate idea. Today I am left thinking about doing a series of tutorials or the Source SDK and finishing the Crysis map (which makes me keep thinking about the game itself, which gets more and more epic every time I think about it). Maybe I should read more and start posting book reviews.

Silent Protagonists

Why are game developers so loath to assigning personalities to the player character? Duke Nukem had one of the strongest personalities in a game, and the series was a big success (mostly). It seems that a paradigm has infiltrated the industry, teaching story writers that the player should be able to asset his own personality through the character’s actions. I can’t see why this has become such a popular concept, since in my opinion silent protagonists take away some of the game’s and story’s magic.

For instance, Halo CE was pure magic for me. The whole plot enchanted me. Halflife 2 had a story at least as good, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. The game was linear, so your character was going to do the same thing no matter what. They tried to let the player express themselves in a meaningless way. The game would have been improved ten fold if Gordon Freeman had a voice. Most of the cool story I learned after I played the game, while reading about auxiliary documents and developer commentary on wikis. I learned about the Combine and the different concepts behind them. The same logic powers Freeman’s Mind, a playthrough of Halflife 1 voiced over with what thoughts are going through Gordon’s head at the time. Its hilarious and adds way more depth to the game.

Gordon Freeman
What is this guy like? Nobody knows.

Crysis was such a cool game. The graphics were great, the plot was nice and solid, and you could relate to the characters. Crysis was way less linear than HL2, and THEY managed to create a versatile character. Crysis 2, on the other hand, had a weak main character who was just a pawn of the voices in his helmet. It was way less fun, although that probably also had to do with the worse gameplay and unexplained story. Speaking of which, I don’t understand the connection between the first game and the sequel. The aliens in the first game were aliens that possessed and lived in anti-gravity, with wiggly, blue bodies and tentacles. They also needed a cold environment to live in. They sent out robots to kill their opponent and stayed inside their massive spaceship. In Crysis 2, the aliens have become way less cool. They are red, squid-like aliens that use nano-suits. They have different forms, don’t use robots, and don’t need a weightless or cold environment. There are no big floating spaceships, except for ANOTHER spaceship buried under Central Park. A spaceship which apparently doesn’t have an inside, except for pipes full of biological weapons. Seriously, I could have written a way better story. A story in which the main character talks!

Some games are better off without dialogue, of course. Bioshock’s mind slave Jack is better off without a voice, except for narration. In fact, giving him a voice would be unnecessary and probably would have ruined the atmosphere. Skyrim substituted written dialogue for actual audio. While it let you imagine any voice for your character, I think a selection of voices would have also been OK. Strategy games don’t need protagonists, such as Starcraft or Command and Conquer. Sure, Starcraft 2 was fine with its cutscenes and personal characters, but the game also had very personal storyline. World in Conflict had a better defined player character (whether he was the protagonist or not is debatable), but he was still a mute.

I know that there are still lots of games with talking protagonists, but a lot of mainstream games don’t. I didn’t even mention some of the more popular games, like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Anyways, the point is that I hope the game industry sees a resurgence of games with awesome characters like the Master Chief or Duke Nukem.

Map Design

I’ve always been highly interested in creating levels for games. Computer games enchant people with their story, gameplay, and graphics. Some designer created everything I see in it. It would be incredibly fun and rewarding to wield the same power as the game designers.

Ever since I was a little kid, level design has occupied me as much, if not more than, the game itself.
I started out with games that came with easily accessible editors. Strategy games such as the Age of Empires (and Age of Mythology) have drag and drop editors accessible from within the game. Command and Conquer: Generals has an easy-to-use editor, accessible through its root directory. As I grew older I began to experiment with triggers more, crafting a crude story or giving a gratifying gameplay experience.

Most of these maps were for single-player games, with one exception. I would often hang out at my friend’s house and invite he and his siblings to compete in map-making competitions. We would take the turns crafting Super Smash Bros. Brawl maps, with a rather short time limit. The we would play a quick match on it. The best would get saved and played often. I made quite a few enticing designs in those sessions. My levels created unique gameplay situations that weren’t achieved in the default maps.

My attention slowly fixed on a new game. While I had been familiar with Halo: Combat Evolved for a while, it suddenly occurred to me that I could create single-player levels with story as interesting as the game’s campaign. I looked into it and discovered Halo: Custom Edition. I got involved in the community, and tried my hand at non-drag-and-drop map creators. While I didn’t know it at the time, Halo’s utilities are extremely obtuse. I never had much success in creating my own levels, although I experimented with new kinds of enemy formations and scripting on pre-existing custom multiplayer levels, although I met with little success in the latter. I had an entire 5-part campaign planned out, including overhead sketches, concept art, the beginnings of a 3D model (although I was still a newbie at modeling), and enticing characters. Needless to say, it never got off the ground. To this day, I dream about how cool it would have been.

A step up from Brawl, but a step down from Halo, came Halo 3 Forge. Although it was purely multi-player and was not very powerful, Forge let me create a blend of the epic Brawl maps I had forged and the Halo campaign I had brawled with. I would Forge until my friends got tired with me (I am a PC gamer to the heart, and don’t own any consoles). The recent Halo: Reach called me back to that, although the Reach Forge was so much more powerful that I never had the time to truly explore it.

After Halo, I discovered the Orange Box. Boy, did that open up a whole new world to me. I soon after discovered the Source SDK and began to explore the glorious world of Source map-making. To this day I have a campaign planned out for Half-Life 2 that follows a rebel operative as he subverts Combine operations in the American heartland. The only thing that disappointed me about HL2 was the limited capacity for storytelling (no first-person dialogue, cutscenes, or interaction). TF2, on the other hand, tells a great story, despite being purely multi-player. I am in the starting stages of figuring out how to bring a single-player story experience to TF2.

In addition to Source, Steam let me find Crysis. The Sandbox2 editor truly lives up to its name. I spent hours in that editor, sculpting tropical islands and scripting helicopter fights, beach assaults, and stealth insertions. The great thing about Sandbox2 is that it was extremely to pick up, requiring only a few tutorials from someone like Xanthochori. Crysis 2 with Sandbox3 was disappointingly more complex.

To check out some videos of maps I’ve made and other videos (I’m also into video production), see my YouTube channel. I have released any videos recently, but hey, maybe I’ll promise a weekly video next month (gulp!).

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