Monday, 19 April 2010

Assassin's Creed 2 Was Never Good

Why do so many new games begin badly? Final Fantasy XIII forced me to watch the endless squabbling of a crew of adult babies irritating enough to star in their own anime series; Mass Effect 2 made me sit through a lengthy pseudo-cinematic where my Shepard died saving a character I would gladly vent out an airlock. Some developers must have the idea that gamers should be impressed by a mandatory, barely-interactive narrative introduction, then made to slog through interminable tutorials on subjects that were formerly consigned to a thing we used to call "the manual". The director Samuel Fuller said that he began every film gripping his audience "by the balls"; game developers often seem more interested in hand-holding.

It's as if nobody considered that the creators of older games with one-page plot scrawls and brief instructions might have actually known what they were doing when they brought the player to the fun part of the game as fast as they could. It's weird that "sink or swim" is now considered retro design. Do you remember when you first get a gun in that diner in the original Silent Hill, the radio starts buzzing, and then a winged monstrosity crashes through the window and comes straight at you? And nobody had even told you how to use the gun? (R2 + X, as anyone who's covered wars before can tell you.) Now that was some scary shit.

I mention this because AC2 has an awful beginning.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Sound Strategy in Starcraft II

The UI in Starcraft II is a beautiful display. Like everything else (except the ladder), it's so refined that its excellence barely registers. It's not subtle: big blocky forms house unit data, an animated portrait, and the minimap on the lower quarter of the screen, while a bar at the top shows a standard RTS info ticker (resources, supply cap, etc.) It retains the look of the original Starcraft UI, but decorates it with race-specific touches. If the image to the left was an animated .gif, you could see the Zerg tentacles gripping the HUD undulate.

Unlike some other cumbersome Blizzard UIs (Diablo comes to mind), the SC interface has a legitimate claim to all that screen real estate. More than anything, Starcraft is a game about managing a huge volume of information: directing units on the battlefield while continuing to spend resources, noticing when buildings and research back in your base are completed, scouting for enemy expansions on the minimap, and keeping tabs on innumerable micro and macro concerns. But the UI couldn't be large enough (and if it were, your eyes couldn't watch enough of it) to tell you everything you want to know. The SC UI doesn't try to make you watch all this information; often, it lets you hear it.