Saturday, 17 January 2009

Halflife 2

I've gone and got myself Halflife 2...For educational purposes. No, actually this is the case. It's one of those great, innovative games which I feel I ought to have played, but haven't for the simple reason that I am very easily scared.
So in the name of research. I'm playing Halflife 2, nudging the mouse twitchily and making small squeaky noises whenever anything scary happens.
...Could be worse, at least 'Call of Cthulu' wasn't rated as one of the best games ever. I suspect when I get to the dreaded 'Ravenholme' area, I will sub in my brother and watch him play from the safety of behind some furniture. Zombies are the thing I'm most afraid of in the world. Gordon Freeman is, unfortunately, not a cleric/paladin class character and has no 'Zombies go away!' (aka 'turn undead' ) button I can hit. Nooooooo!

Okay, so, what's good about Halflife 2, having played the first half hour or so:
1. Integrated cutscenes. While Metal Gear kind of had the right idea, putting cutscenes in ingame graphics rather than using FMVs (which while they were an absolute boon back in the PSX games when graphics weren't so great, there's not a huge difference now, you may as well spend the extra money and time on your in-game graphics as far as I'm concerned) it still stopped everything for them. Halflife doesn't stop. Everything is in real time, in the game's graphics and in the game's engine. The result is a superb level of immersion. You are always Gordon Freeman and stuff is always going on. Rather than a viewer, even though you're saying anything, you feel like a participant, even when people are talking.
2. Attention to detail in area design. It irks me in games when nowhere is cluttered. In real life, places are often cluttered, there's litter, paper, appliances, piles of discarded boxes and the like. The world of Halflife 2 looks lived in. It's dirty and messy. The best area so far was the lab. There was so much stuff in there and I was just thinking 'ooh! I wonder what those tanks of liquid are for?' and there were some really well thought out bits of clutter on desks and details like notes on pinboards.
3. Intuitive design. First the simplicity of the interface. It's not crowded with info, there's no big bar at the bottom or anything. Secondly the levels, which are designed so the player feels like, in the early areas where you're running away from the soldiers, like you're just running away and arriving randomly in these places. Even though there IS no other way you can go, it doesn't feel like that. The illusion of free choice and luck made me feel like I was the star of an action movie, it was wonderful!
4. Expressive characters. The naturalistic dialogue style is clever, as well as the way they slip the exposition into the dialogue without needing a 'Basil Exposition' character or anything. Also, the way the characters move and the incredibly detailed expression system really makes them come alive.
5. Heroine is attractive within realistic terms and sensibly dressed and is also funny. +100 points!
6. DIFFICULTY SLIDER. All games in which the character can die should have one of these. I may not know at the start how hard I want the game to be. Also, this one works. Easy mode is nice and gentle on an RPG player who squeaks and fires in random directions at the first sign of danger, but still challenging enough that the game doesn't feel 'nerfed', so I still feel cool on overcoming challenges and baddies. It also doesn't punish me for playing on easy. I hate how in some RPGs, if you play on easy, you get less exp as punishment. Surely you should get more!?

Chatting with non gamers today. They really like the Wii console. I theorise that to make a game which anybody, even your granny or mum can play, involves making a game that doesn't follow 'gamer logic' or assume that the player already knows concepts like 'one up', 'elemental resistance', 'rocket jumping' etc. Perhaps by looking at gaming tropes, I can learn to avoid them and make a game that appeals to a wider market...

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