All About DraugenCP
An oasis of intellect, with views clear as water and thoughts green as trees. In other words, the place where I dump all of my video game-related reviews and ramblings. Much obliged, I'm sure.
Ever since I started thinking about video games more seriously, I have had to acknowledge the significant advantages media such as literature and film have over video games when it comes to such elements as storytelling, pacing and composition. The obligatory focus on gameplay in video games causes them to have a virtually unsurpassable disadvantage when it comes to the development of these secondary but still important aspects. However, this does not automatically condemn gaming to being an inferior form of entertainment. Due to the high level of interaction with the player, video games offer unique possibilities in terms of immersion and emotional involvement. The only catch is that video game developers do not always capitalise fully upon the potential.
Much like how horror films are seldom about the sensation of fear itself, horror games frequently focus on secondary elements such as gore and violence, relegating the nightmarish horror universe to a fancy backdrop rather than the centre of the experience. Even when the horror aspects do become the central focus, convenience dictates they take the form of short-lived jump scares rather than a more constant, suspenseful sense of dread. Many horror games give the impression the developers made the core game first and only then started creating the horror setting around it. This method leads to several fundamental errors finding their way into the design of even the most renowned horror titles of today.
Better bring a shopping list.
A major problem lies in the fact that many of the more traditional horror titles are, at their core, puzzle games. It is absolutely true that a well-designed puzzler can offer the same flow as the smoothest action titles, but lamentably, many developers lack the finesse to prevent the difficulty of their puzzles from hindering the overall pacing. Finding the right item or speaking to the right NPC in order to progress the game does not need to be complicated, but all too often, developers are too ambitious when they expect the player to come up with the far-fetched solution to the situation at hand. Swedish developer Frictional Games seemed to have realised this after it finished making the Penumbra series: its spiritual successor, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, presented items and locations in a much more logical fashion, their purpose being more obvious off the bat and puzzles being less convoluted in general.
"Ironically, video game developers can learn from even the most cheesy, unscary horror flicks."
However, there is an even bigger obstacle on the way of horror games becoming truly scary. Ironically, video game developers can learn from even the most cheesy, unscary horror flicks in this department: things do not become scary until the protagonists (or victims, if you will) become vulnerable. You can put all the creepy noises and eerie locales you want in a game, but if you subsequently give the player the arsenal to overcome all these terrors, they will never feel truly threatened by the game world, reducing the moments of fear to jump scares. The latter have a very limited effect, because more intelligent players are likely to quickly familiarise themselves with the pattern enough to be able to roughly predict what is coming.
Time to soil some loins, perhaps?
Granting the player too much power resulted in a game such as F.E.A.R. being only mildly frightening during the first few levels, when the details of the story are still alien to the player. In more advanced stages of the game, though, the knowledge of the player about the context of his surroundings, as well as his rather excessive arsenal make it hard for the game world to feel as hostile and dangerous as it did in the first two hours of gameplay. By the time F.E.A.R. 2 came out, the mystery surrounding the story about the ghostlike girl Alma had been unveiled and the game barely managed to live up to its horror pretence any more.
"The feeling of being hunted creates a more genuine sensation of fear."
Fortunately, the indie scene has managed to revitalise the horror genre, to a point where outlook is bright for those who look for a new influx of truly terrifying video game experiences. The afore-mentioned PC hit Amnesia: The Dark Descent hit the sweet spot of terror when it stripped players of the possibility to fight the hideous monsters they encountered. The feeling of being hunted and not being able to do anything about it creates a more genuine sensation of fear, as players realise that the game world is essentially way more powerful than they are, and can strike them down at any given moment. The effectiveness of this method was further confirmed by the cult hit Slender. This primitive, home-made game proved that the simple concept of having the player be chased around a forest at night can make for an experience easily more terrifying than many AAA horror titles. The reaction videos will attest to that.
Granted, F.E.A.R. did have moments of absolute terror.
Still, the key to suspense is not only vulnerability, but also surprise. Slender in particular spawned tons of clones on Steam (aided by the fact that the Slenderman is an internet fabrication that does not seem to be copyrighted), and it is only a matter of time before the concept becomes obsolete - once players know what to expect, their anticipation may render numb any terror derived from it. Fortunately, recent developments in the genre have been promising, as developers all over the world finally seem to have realised that it takes more than just severed limbs and spooky faces to make the modern audience sweat. But they will have to innovate if they want to keep catching us off-guard.
It is not often that a small-time blogger such as myself would risk his head by sticking it into the hornets nest that is the gun crime debate, but when American President Barack Obama introduced new measures to fight gun-related violence, a response was warranted. Among a wide array of new measures, Obama called for the US Congress to invest 10 million dollars into researching a possible link between gun violence and the depiction of violence in media, such as video games. Unsurprisingly, the suggestion sparked outrage among gamers. The implication that their favourite pastime might be related to the recent bloodbaths is a tough pill to swallow for the millions that grew up on games such as Mortal Kombat and Doom without ever having hurt a fly. Though the vast majority of the gamers will have rejected the presidents words immediately, a more thorough analysis makes his proposal seem even more bizarre.
"It would be sensible to save the 10 million dollars for more fruitful scientific endeavours."
Should Congress heed Obamas call for more research, the subsequent study would not be the first attempt to establish a link between virtual and real-world violence. Those who witnessed the media coverage of the Columbine shooting will surely remember how the shooters affinity for Doom was presented as a possible cause of their violent actions. Even more recently, the fact that Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik owned a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (along with 22 million other people) spawned the rumour that he used the game to practice before he went out to kill 69 people. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, these and similar claims have never been substantiated, likely because they were motivated by the necessity of a clear scapegoat rather than factual information.
Do video game developers have blood on their hands?
Still, Obamas main argument in favour of more research we dont benefit from ignorance implies that a link between violent behaviour and violent games has never been taken into consideration before. Given that there have in fact been numerous studies on violent video games, it would be sensible to save the 10 million dollars for more fruitful scientific endeavours. Out of the countless studies that have been conducted on the subject, some found basis to speculate on (temporarily) augmented levels of aggression in gamers, whereas others saw no reason to further explore the hypothesis that violent games cause violent behaviour. At any rate, the ignorance mentioned by the President says more about his own obliviousness to decades of research than the existence of a scientific niche.
"One would think that there is no better time than now to stop beating around the bush."
Curiously, it is still unclear how serious the suggestion of Obama will turn out to be. The 10 million dollar research was but one of many ideas, and it could well be that it was solely intended as an attempt to appease vociferous opponents of gun control by offering a broad range of measures, as to demonstrate that the White House is taking everything into consideration. After all, in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, the National Rifle Association was quick to point its trigger-fingers at films and video games. Moreover, the Presidents desire for more research does not explicitly mean that he believes there is indeed a link, let alone that the conclusions of the research will lead to censorship. After all, the idea that virtual violence could be a decisive factor in Americas current gun crime epidemic seems far-fetched when you realise that the same games are being played all over the world without necessarily causing similar patterns of violence. As such, it is to be expected that the President of the United States is wise enough to realise that restricting the depiction of violence in video games is unlikely to contribute to a drop in gun-related crime.
Games such as Grand Theft Auto are often accused of promoting violence.
However, even if Obamas plans turn out empty shells, he has insulted not only gamers, but also the academic community. It is not without reason that Dutch video game researcher and journalist dr. David Nieborg described the words of the President as a slap in the face. For to suggest that decades of thorough scientific research have resulted in ignorance displays a lack of either knowledge of or respect for the many academics who have dedicated their careers to investigating the possibility of a link between virtual and real-world violence. Moreover, now that gun violence is sweeping across America, one would think that there is no better time than now to stop beating around the bush and address the problem with measures that will harvest results rather than votes. A red herring may temporarily boost approval rates, but it will surely not prevent more lives being lost.
Links and sources:
 "Barack Obama begrijpt niets van game-onderzoek", nrc.next 7, no. 216, p. 16. 18-01-13
Also posted on System Wars Magazine.
Anyone who is active on System Wars even sporadically, is forced to take a stance in the ongoing conflict of adolescent fanboyism. Playing games on your computer, for instance, will automatically grant you permanent membership of the glorious PC-gaming master race. But flattering as this status might be, the reality is that, outside of this alternate universe known as SW, PC gamers such as myself are willing to admit that consoles have their fair share of worthwhile games. So much so, that members of the 'master race' will sometimes cave in and go out to buy a console. And what better time than Christmas to get an Xbox 360 and catch up on 7 years of exclusives and so-called 'console exclusives'?
Hence the latest addition to my gaming connection. Fable 3 and Halo: Reach came with the package, and I got Forza Horizon, the game that eventually triggered me to buy the console, separately. Halo's Anniversary Edition was added to the family at a later point. With about a week of 360 experience under my belt, I do not regret the purchase at all, mostly on the account of the many, many hours of fun I've already had with Horizon, a game that does just about everything right when you are willing to ignore its obnoxious presentation and the constant in-game promotion of its DLC.
Still, the experience also reminded me why the PC is my main gaming platform. It is a common complaint that PC gaming is a hassle compared to the convenience of consoles, but even if this were true, that hassle is a small price to pay if it allows you to avoid being surrendered to the crazy antics of console manufacturers. One week was enough to bring back all the frustration I had experienced with the classic Xbox. I'm willing to accept that they charge a small fee to provide a streamlined online experience, but when I discovered that half of the functions on my 360 were practically disabled without a Gold subscription, the temptation to move 2 metres to the right, and sit behind my PC was already considerable. And as I was familiarising myself with the console interface, I came across more and more indicators of a complete absence of ethics on the manufacturer's behalf. Ten dollars to change my Gamertag? Oh, please. Where combining the full enjoyment of PC gaming with a set of principles is difficult already, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that it just can't be done on a console like the 360.
Although the sour taste left by Microsoft's cash-grabbing schemes has not been completely washed away, I did already get considerable amounts of enjoyment out of my new console. The allegation that PC gamers aren't missing out on anything can henceforth be classified as biased tripe. Having been left slightly disappointed by Burnout Paradise's repetitiveness, Hot Pursuit 2010's lacking open world gameplay, and Test Drive Unlimited 2's problematic racing AI, Forza Horizon absolutely, 100% nails the arcade racing genre. The races themselves remind an awful lot of Dirt 2, in the sense that they are accessible, yet with numerous options allowing more seasoned players to give the experience an air of quasi simulation. Meanwhile, the open world is littered with extra challenges, races and collectibles, so that exploring Horizon's fictional rendition of Colorado never feels like you are wasting time. It is simply perplexing how a Forza spin-off seems to have taken all the strong elements from the most prominent open world racing games and combined them into one, seamless experience.
As an avid FPS player, I was pleased to finally catch up with the biggest series I've missed out on since the start of this generation. I quickly noticed, however, that my interest in this title over the years painted a picture in my head that was perhaps a little too bright. While the single player campaign of Reach was a versatile ordeal showcasing some excellent direction, its pacing seemed off, with the campaign becoming interesting too late into the game. Maybe the green hills and large, open-ended zones made me expect too much of a tactical sandbox flavour à la Crysis from this title, but the first few stages in particular made the game feel a lot like a horde shooter, yet without the joy of over-the-top carnage that is imperative in that subgenre. Maybe the multiplayer will do more justice to the game's potential.
Halo: Combat Evolved (Anniversary Edition)
Seeing as I am planning to go through the entire Halo series, this purchase was only logical. I owned the original on the Xbox, but wasn't very good at it, as is attested to by the fact that it took me one playthrough in the Anniversary Edition to get to the point where I quit all these years ago. One thing that immediately caught my attention was the incredible similarity to Reach in terms of gameplay. It is only logical that instalments in the same series feel alike, but some more evolution in the gameplay would certainly not have been an unwelcome addition. It must be said, however, that the pacing of Combat Evolved in comparison to that of Reach is what betrays the game's age. Even the most tedious stages of Reach still showed some sense of progression, whereas Combat Evolved relies an awful lot on the 'ship full of bad guys lands on open space; repeat ad infinitum' configuration for its combat sequences. But of course, it is inevitable that any game comes across as archaic in some areas a decade later, and the fact that improved (though by no means fantastic) graphics proved sufficient in obscuring the game's aging process for the most part, only confirms its rightful status as a classic.
With a big portion of free time lying ahead, my 360 will probably work over hours during the final days of the year. And naturally, I'm more than willing to share the holiday joy. So if you want to play any of the above-mentioned games with me, just add Gamertag Draugen1P to your friend list, and we'll see each other online. I'm mainly looking for co-op partners, but even if you want to finally seize that opportunity to shoot me in the face after all these years, I'm game. Suggestions for what other 360 games I should get are also welcome.
My Recent Reviews
Entering the town again. This time with a platoon of T90 tanks.
Some random footage from a battle between the Russian special forces and a private military company in a Takistan town.
Might wanna take a few step backs here...
Feb 27, 2013 11:05 pm GMTDraugenCP posted a new blog entry entitled Bicycle Clip Time - Stagnation and Innovation in Horror Games
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