Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Rise and Fall of the First Person Shooter, part one

Okay. Dupa cum cunoscatorii cunosc, acest post a fost spart in doua following some hideous problems generated by some bad characters in the post, and triggered by people commenting. (COMENTEZI ???!)
Am postat partea intai cronologic dupa cealalta pentru a aparea in ordine corecta pe blog.
All old comments have been unfortunatelly deleted, but adding new ones should not cause any more problems.

(this was added way after completion)
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Really long post. Beware. (this was added upon completion)
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CREATIVE SPREE !!! WOOHOO !!! Si iata cum sar eu din pat la 00:30 la doar 15 minute dupa ce m-am culcat, ca sa scriu despre first person shootere.
A pornit de la Quake 4. Intamplator ma joc Q4 nowadays, desi probabil nu mai dureaza mult pana sa-l termin (are 2.58 Gb, deci e probabil cam de 2 ori mai scurt decat Unreal :D). Si tot intamplator m-am apucat sa ma gandesc la cat de interesant este acest joc (este acel gen de intamplator care apare cand esti pe punctul de a adormi, dar de cand am uitat cu desavarsire tot reviewul la NGE pe care aveam de gand sa-l scriu in dimineata urmatoare, m-am invatat minte sa nu mai pierd ocaziile de exprimare creativa). Anyway... Q4 right ?... Well, este bine realizat. Nimic de zis, si-au dat oamenii silinta, nu doar la partea grafica, dar si gameplayul este bun, are jocul o poveste bine inchegata... si rezultatul este un mare *yawn*. Dar ca sa intelegem de ce, we'll look a bit back.

Eu sunt un mare mare MARE fan (si declarat) al genului first person. Truth be told, nu se mai fac nici pe departe asa multe jocuri FP in zilele noastre, inclusiv genul action migrand catre acea oribila follow-up camera which I hate with a passion. To make things simple, I'll keep away from stealth games (besides, I'm getting more and more convinced that there is only ONE series that does justice to the genre - and if you don't know which that is... try stealing something and see what people shout at you :D) and from RPGs (to a degree at least... anyway I'll just mention Morrowind here because that game deserves it, and since I'm at it we can't forget about Ultima Underworld). That leaves us (mostly) with the bread and butter of FP games: the SHOOTER.

It all started with Doom(1993). You might argue that it was Wolfenstein(1992) that spawned it all, but for me it was Doom (Doom 2(1994), actually). Doom was great. Surprisingly (or maybe not), it still is, unless you mind the graphics - in which case, you're probably just stupid. What made Doom great was that there was no two-ways about it - you were there to kill stuff. You knew it, the designers knew it, and eventually the mosters found that out as well (usually the hard way). Oh, and you were also saving the world in the process. Or something. If you cared to read the text-screens that popped every ten levels or so, anyway.
Doom, even more than Wolfy, spawned an entire generation of games, Heretic(1994) and Dark Forces(1995) coming to mind right now, although I've only ever played them superficially - I was too busy playing Doom, since I had also discovered Doom 1 in the meantime. At some point I even made my own Doom level, and it was great (I'm quite sorry about losing it since then... remember the secret BFG room, Skander ? :D)

Well, good thing I remembered one of the classics of that age - Duke Nukem 3D(1996). While I didn't actually play that until WAY later, I remember it as a good game with a whole bunch of original ideas (the shrink gun, and the building demolition which everyone was so excited about). I also remember it was quite hard, although I suppose I finished it eventually. Duke also had a bit more story than Doom, mainly centered around the bad-ass main character, who appeared in some really cool cutscenes and occasionally put out brilliant quotes like "I'm here to kick ass and chew bubble gum... and I'm all out of gum". (Don't ask me why that is funny. It's probably because of nostalgia. Strange, but true. Ask others if you don't believe me.)

And thus we arrive to the other mega-classic: Quake(1996). Quake spawned the third generation of shooters, which thrives to this day - the fully 3D, polygonal kind. IIRC, I didn't like much the polygonal monsters when I first played the game, but it didn't take me long to get over it. Quake had a whole lot of new and great ideas: underwater action, interactive difficulty level selection via teleporters, thunderbolt gun, rocket&grenade jumping, the lava boss... Just like Doom, it kept the story to an absolute minimum via text-screens. Unlike Doom, it didn't have masses of monsters, but fewer and tougher ones; interestingly enough, this was widely regarded as a bad move (and I concur), although the action was typically very intense. Also, while it had its fair share of pentagrames and occult thingies, I can only quote my Quake playing partner from the days of old, Meecootzoo: "[dapdv] imi place Doom mai mult decat Quake... e mai satanist" (approx).

[paranteza]
Daca tot am ajuns la Quake, cred ca e momentul sa spun si ceva despre multiplayer. Am jucat ceva Doom multiplayer, mult, mult Quake, mult Quake 2, un pic de Q3, si TONE de Counterstrike. Dar, desi este o parte integrala si uneori foarte importanta a acestori jocuri (ba cateodata chiar tot jocul - vezi CS), multiplayerul nu este obiectul acestui post. Get over it.
[/paranteza]

Fireste ca succesul lui Quake a inspirat multi alti producatori. Unul din cele mai reusite jocuri, facut chiar cu engineul de Quake, a fost Hexen 2(1997). The good part of Hexen 2 was that it had 32 weapons. The bad part was that it didn't. Funny thing, actually. You see, you chose one of four classes to play: Necromancer, Paladin and... two others :D. Each class had four weapons. Each of the weapons had a (sometimes very) different effect when you picked up a certain powerup (its name is eluding me ATM). So if you played the game four times, each time with a different class, then you (might) get to see all 32 weapons (16 of them only briefly). You will obviously realize that in reality that almost never happened. Otherwise, Hexen 2 had some story about killing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (which were cool) and then some uber-bad dude (if I remember right). It also put you through a variety of fantasy settings, had a lot of places to explore, some interesting puzzles and was overall FUN. Yes, they still made good games back in the day.
Speaking of which, there was also Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight(1997). This is the first shooter which I can think of that had a strong story element which was central to the action and also a catchy part of the game; but then again, JK did come with the whole impressive Star Wars universe as background. This was also the first FP in which you got your own lightsaber (and the Jedi powers to go with it), and although it would be dwarfed by later productions, back then it was the coolest thing ever. That and the fact that you could choose to embrace the Dark Side (although you got a few less cutscenes to punish you for it. Sigh. Noone said that being evil is easy.)

About now we face the first real blunder of the shooter genre. Of course, even before there were some really bad games, but since most of them were clones and people hardly ever played them, they never got any attention. But this time things would be different. The game ? Quake 2(1997). Duh. Unlike the Doom series (to that point anyway), Q2 took a different approach to the concept of "sequel", and tried to change more things than it afforded to. The result was a totally uninteresting SF shooter. Fortunatelly for ID, an excellent multiplayer saved the game from disaster and kept it one of the most played shooters of those times.

But then, a long-awaited game is finally released, and it is very welcome indeed. I am of course refering to Unreal(1998). Many years in development had apparently payed off to provide us with one of the best shooters of all times. Unreal was also SF, but in a way that was miles and leagues on top of the competition. While it also continued the trend of fewer, tougher monsters, it had the interesting twist of making some of them very agile, so that they could annoy you to no end by dodging (the idea was obviously scooped up by following titles and eventually became a trend of its own). Fortunatelly, Unreal provided an excellent arsenal (which included some new and original weapons) that helped the player by favouring a slower and more careful style of fighting. The fact that the enemy projectiles' speed was just right to allow a fair amount of dodging on your part was the icing on the cake, since no other game except Doom has ever managed that, both before and after (incidentally, Doom is the shooter I've played most of, and Unreal second, singleplayer-wise).
Unreal is also the first shooter that made a point of impressing people by sheer eye-candy; in fact, I think it's a wonder that it also managed to keep the gameplay excellent while delighting us with scenery after beautiful scenery (in fact, Unreal still has the greatest sky ever made in a 3D game, and if I could make it look as good on my current video card as it did on my old Voodoo 2, I'd take a screenshot. Damn. I can't see my beautiful sky anymore. Sometimes it makes me cry.) I'd say it's also the first shooter I remember having really great music, but Doom beat it by quite a few years.
Unreal also had a story. It was totally unobtrusive, lurking in the background in the form of old logs and the ever-helpful Nali. You could ignore it if you wanted. Heck, you could even kill the Nali. But if you took the time to pay attention to it, you'd discover that it was quite well developed, with many lines of text detailing the local culture and the adventures of those that came (and invariably died) before you. In fact, because of this, the item inventory and all the castles and small villages (since half the levels were medieval and half were high-tech), Unreal had a certain RPG quality about it, at least for me.
Since I've already written so much about this game, I'd like to take a moment and use it as an example in proving the decline of the FPS genre (heck, and games in general), this time from a technical point of view. It is said that when the game was first finished, the lead programmer was not satisfied with the result, so he rewrote the whole code, in assembler. I don't know if this story is true; personally, I like to believe that it is. Anyway, the fact is that you could run Unreal on a P2/200, software, and you'd still have a good fps, and the game would look almost the same as when accelerated. Unreal is also a long game, and it takes quite a bit to get to the end even if you've finished it a few times before. And the total size of the directory is... 413 Mb. And sadly, Unreal looks just as good (or sometimes even better) than many later games which take away gigabytes of your harddisk, act sluggishly even on new video cards, and end before you get to warm up a bit. And since this is technical, I won't even comment on the relative quality of the gameplay and the other important stuff. I rest my case.

Right now is 3:12 AM and I'm going to sleep. I'll finish this in the morning.

2 Comments:

Blogger Gabriel Sandu said...

Arrrr! Puteai sa le salvezi inainte... O sa postez maine pe blogul meu partea care era comentata aici. HMPF!

11:37 PM  
Blogger Asm said...

Pai, ar mai fi Serious Sam 1&2, Mafia, si cateva jocuri de razboi. In rest engleza e excelenta, astept review la FEAR. Poate mi-l dai si mie daca faci rost.

1:57 PM  

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