As we entered June, one thought permeated the RPS-hivemind. Has half the year really gone already? Is another of our scant three-score-and-ten gone, lost forever in the wind? The answer, we discovered, was yes. Between despairing and lamenting, we wrote about the following videogames...
We start getting excited over Street Fighter 4, like it was 1992 all over again.
Jim: I always think that I don't like Streetfighter games and then I play one, and remember that I do in fact love the spring-and-elastic kick physics and crazed characters. They're best played against people who at a similar level of skill as yourself, of course, the guy who knows the moves is always a fucker.
Alec: I'll always be a Dhalsim player, because I'm cheap. The big deal about this one, of course, is that it's happening on PC. In a year blighted by eejits like Epic and Crytek turning their backs on the platform, we've also got Capcom loving it more than ever: I hear the Devil May Cry 4 port was suprisingly decent too. If only more publishers would acknowledge that a PC can do anything a console can, and then some.
Kieron: Last time I wrote about Street Fighter was part of my time on the cheerily-doomed website Digiworld. Figuring that the Street Fighter 2 girls were using incredible violence to cover up emotional torment, I once chopped up the victory lines for Chun-li to create emo-esque poetry. For example...
"A BETTER REASON TO FIGHT"
I'm not just cute!
I am a serious fighter!
I'm sorry if I hit you there too hard!
I'm just doing my duty.
Why do I care about the likes of you?
Please don't take it personal!
You haven't seen my best yet!
Please let me show you!
You'd be great if you found a better reason to fight!
At this moment Capcom will be rethinking the idea of letting Street Fighter anywhere near PC games journalists. Too late, punks.
Jim: Exploration for its own sake will, I suspect, be increasingly well-catered-for in the next few years, as people get to grips with procedurally generating interesting landscapes. (I'm looking at you, Steenberg.) Likewise, I'm certain this is a theme that I will expand on in the next year or two, in fact I've been writing about it today in a big Far Cry 2 thoughtpiece.
John: Wandering was my primary reason for playing World of Warcraft for a total of 67 levels over two characters. That's how much you can play it before you run out of places to wander. My dream game would be one in which I was tasked to do nothing other than explore. Just an environment. Just space. Hills, buildings, valleys, ruins. The idea of a world on the scale of WoW's, but with the effort put into creating things to discover, sights to see, and places to potter about sounds like bliss.
Alec: There is, though, a question over what 'exploration' should involve. Simple rambling, collecting stuff, fighting beasts, seeing sights? Is killing random monsters enough? Is staring at vast canyons enough? It's clearly not beyond games to present a vast world to wander at your leisure, but there's a real challenge in ensuring the player stays interested and engaged. We all cry out for entirely open-ended, exploration-friendly games: but do we really know what we want from them yet? That's why the likes of Fallout 3 and STALKER end up bound to a core storyline and, tangentially, why so much of Spore was made up of mini-games. Even WoW turned to heavily scripted experiences in Lich King, which though initially wondrous do lack the I-found-this thrill of the original game. To make the actual act of exploration constantly satisfying is surely a hugely daunting challenge: you either need to create a frightening amount of content or to trust in procedural generation to auto-render convincing enough sights. I really hope Love nails it, so at least we have a true template to work from.
John: I would argue that an exploration game, by its very nature, contains no killing of anything, unless for food. I was interested enough to explore WoW for many hours, and found fighting things an irritant on my journeys.
Kieron: I lean more towards Alec than Jim or Walker here. In something like Far Cry 2, my joy isn't really in exploration - it's in context. The idea that I'm moving through a world which uses its sprawling sense to create verisimilitude. While I do go off the beaten-track, I generally like having a destination in mind. Even freeform games like Space Rangers 2, I'm not wandering - I've got a function in mind. That said, much of the year has been spent watching my good lady playing Wii oddity Forever Blue/Endless Ocean where nothing happens, very slowly and the simple pleasure of just occasionally finding a new fish seems to be totally enthralling. Coming the other way though... I always wonder what would happen if someone making a game (specifically an RPG) decided to throw out all the side-quest exploration stuff. Because the second you have a larger top level plot in the game, the whole thing feels fundamentally stupid: "Yes, we must save the world... after collecting Mrs Easy-Experience-Points pigs for the barn". The one thing exploration in games sacrifice is urgency. Which doesn't mean they're bad games... but it does means they're deciding to not press certain buttons.
Jim: Fact: I eat quite a lot of tinned bamboo.
Kieron: I was particularly pleased with Kung-Fu Panda's tags.
John: This game could shit money out of your PC, and no one's going to be satisfied with it. I really think the mature thing at this point is to announce it doesn't exist, and we can all move on.
Kieron: Hell, even if it does exist, they should announce that it doesn't. Then surprise people.
Jim: I have a feeling that it might actually be good, if they can manage to meld funny with action, and not end up disappearing up their own development budget. It's a long shot of course, because any game stuck in development hell for this long is going to have some serious problems. It's not even going to be the game they were developing all those years ago, either, as it's been scrapped and started over so many times. I remember meeting people who had worked on the game and then moved on to other companies over five years ago, and it seemed a long time then. They all seemed surprised that 3DRealms didn't just want to get it finished and ship the game. That feeling turns into raw indignation among gamers at large, but I can't help thinking that it shouldn't really matter. These are very wealthy men spending their money in the way that they see fit. It's their money, they should be able to spend their entire lives developing one game if they want to...
Alec: It's a rock and hard place situation, surely: for every year that passes, something new happens in FPSes and DNF risks looking archaic all over again. That can't be fun. I'm really not convinced 3D Realms do want to spend their lives making this game - I'd imagined they're exhausted and a bit frightened. I'm not at all surprised that they haven't just finished a version of DNF and shoved it out - but I am surprised they haven't made something quick'n'silly'n'fun in the meantime to pep up their and their players' spirits.
Kieron: It's always worth remembering that Team Fortress 2, while not Duke Nukem Forever, did have almost as protracted a development a cycle. And it's also a game which changed more radically in the different versions we saw at different times. In short, I'd love them to pull it off but...
John: I feel it's important to tell you something here. Kieron collated this week's 2008 posts, and for this entry in the draft he has added the note, "Only talk about the cock and perversion stuff here." I like to imagine that note has never been left on an article on Kotaku or Joystiq. This is why you come to RPS, people. This is why we're special. Cocks.
Jim: Western society phallocentric, you say? I don't know what you're talking about. My favourite anecdote about this was that the following week saw Will Wright's pre-Spore talk at a venue in San Francisco, and an SF-based friend of RPS reported who attended reported; "all anyone was talking about was whether they'd seen the Sporn thread on RPS." It's nice to know someone is reading...
Alec: There's a strong and terrible chance Sporn will be the biggest story we ever had. Oops.
Kieron: Yeah, it was the last time I checked. It felt a little dirty after collating them all, and not just because I was staring at an endless stream of simulated phalluses. It was definitely one of those rare moments when we displayed something approaching commercial instincts. No-one's collected a menagerie of cock? Well, RPS are the men for the job. Alas, we didn't have any proper adverts on the site back then, so it didn't make us any money. We can't even sell out properly.
John: My theory is that Blizzard performed some sort of terrible act, sacrificing innocents to the devil, to ensure that all Diablo clones are cursed to fail and take down their developer. Iron Lore as well as Flagship were victims this year. Ascaron, watch out. (Disclaimer: Blizzard have not sacrificed innocents to Satan, probably - RPS Legal Ed)
Jim: I was pretty much convinced that Hellgate was going to be amazing, until we actually saw it. Then it became clear that another word would need to be used to describe it. Looks like we'll have to wait a bit before we get a decent techno-gothic multiplayer demon war.
Alec: 2008 was about the busiest year MMOs have ever had, and also probably the worst. What absolute carnage. Is WoW's infinite money-hat still a bigger inspiration to publishers than the huge risk of failure that comes with MMOs? The next couple of years are going to be fascinating. I suspect we're going to see The Old Republic being far more different than we suspect, as the traditional systems don't seem to be working out anymore.
Kieron: I wasn't ever really convinced by Hellgate either - when I saw it in the flesh at a press event, I found myself wondering whether it was possible to do a Diablo-esque thing in first person. Of course, you could... but would it work. That you're basically in the same place for the whole game doesn't really register in a randomly generated Diablo game - at least, as much. But when you're looking into that world from ground level, it's a bit too obvious. I dunno. The bigger issue for me was both the sense of greed around it - buying it, and then having a subscription on top of that? Why, exactly? This is clearly an experimental stage in the business model of PC Gaming, and I suspect we're going to see some other misteps along the way. Hellgate was asking too much for too little. I wonder if we're going to see something that goes the other way eventually - Guild Wars 2 open-world-but-still free system, maybe? That, at least, would have a sense of nobility to it.
John: And how. What a dramatically brilliant thing this was. A bunch of guys from the pub have the idea to make a computer game, a couple of decades back, and finally release it to an eager world. And it's literally screenshots of other games with hideous 3D demo models of characters superimposed. Add to that trailers showing cutscenes stolen from other games, and it was the most brazened act imaginable. Watching the various posts on various sites (including here) begin to collate quite how many games had been stolen from was cascadingly hilarious. To boot, it was an awful game. Simply astonishingly bad. And of course got praised by specialist adventure gaming sites. Fnnarr.
Alec: I hope someone manages to get these guys to tell their story eventually. It's still desperately unclear whether this was wilful cheating or simple stupidity. Of course, having the answers might take some of the hilarity away - and that would be a sad thing. This is the stuff of legends.
Jim: It concerns me that Limbo Of The Lost's ludicrous awfulness might actually be a measure of how boring games are generally. I mean, behold:
Kieron: My biggest regret of the year is that I didn't actually just get on the train and go down to where the Limbo of the Lost guys were based. I spent some time chatting with the lady from the Local Paper, but didn't actually get my arse in gear. Only defence is i) people with a budget didn't send someone either ii) I think all the Devs actually were off on Holiday, so it wouldn't have worked anyway. I didn't even do the phone-the-pub-and-ask-if-name-of-developer-was-in thing even. Pah. Sorry. I failed you all.
John: I wish I had written a book.
Jim: Me. Too.
Alec: I still haven't read it. Sorry, Jim. Blame it on my having read something you've written about videogames every day for the last year and a bit. If it's any consolation, my copy of it is currently sandwiched between Borges and Vonnegut books.
Kieron: I've read it, and it's great. I trust that you'll bear this in mind, Jim, when you're buying us Christmas presents.
Jim: Signed photographs of my unsmiling face for everyone!
Jim: Multiplayer Mecca, with more whirring CPU fans than you can possible imagine. The notion terrifies me somewhat.
Kieron: Every time I cross paths with Mythic's Paul Barnett he ends up ranting about how absolutely wonderful Dreamhack was. And as you know Paul Barnett likes to rant, it normally means I'm there all day. The one thing which makes me not want to write about it... well, it's got a great open-hearted modern-techno-hippy vibe. So everyone goes and games over THERE and leaves all their stuff over HERE. Thousands of people's bed-rolls just lying there with their stuff. And there's no crime. Whatsoever, apparently. When I couldn't even leave some comics on a table without them being stole last night, that's just incredible. And writing about it extensively... well, it's just going to give some scallies an idea to go over there. Hmm.
Alec: A lovely concept, but I fear for a nervous, bumbling man like me it's a fairly accurate realisation of my idea of hell. I need an internet to hide behind.
Jim: This is one event I would really like to have been able to make it to this year. The rapaciousness of the Blizzard fandom is surely a thing to behold, and the Blizzard folk themselves do know how to hold an event. Thanks, Warcraft.
Alec: Occasionally I get these stark reminders of the difference between games journalist and games fan. Normally it's someone ranting about a minor imbalance in an RTS patch or something, but being in the physical presence of people who define themselves by the game they play was something else entirely. I rue that I'm too self-conscious to ever go that native in a game.
Kieron: Just to stress it, I love Alec's second piece. Totally heart-on-sleeve self-critical Alec-awesomeness.
John: I think the most remarkable thing about this story is the bit where he managed to spend 13 million Euro. It's just extraordinary. I get through my tiny amounts of money in a frustrating and unproductive way, but I think I'd struggle to see 13 million go out of my account so quickly. But then I tend to about break even at online poker.
Kieron: I suspect if I were ever given thirteen-million, I'd just spend it on thirteen-million penny chews. Because I'm not very bright.
Alec: My only experience of this was watching PC Gamer's tip-toe-walking man of mystery Tom Francis playing it in the office. A guffawing crowd swiftly gathered, incredulous at quite what a disaster it was.
Kieron: Wow, I'm amazed. I'd have swore one of us would have played this, but seemingly not. I followed the debates about it online with some wicked fascination. There's been many games - especially console-centric games - which have fell on their face totally, but this one appeared to be walking some kind of genius/hellish line that implied it could be almost Boiling-Point-esque. Maybe I should give it a crack in the new year.
John: I'm the wanker on the internet who found this a lot more fun than the full game. Look at me! Look at me!
Jim: Few internet toys this year have been put to such good (or bad) use. If Maxis achieved nothing else they kept us amused with the meticulous creation of five-armed arse beasts and walking saxophones.
Alec: Oddly, I still prefer the space stuff to the creature creation. That remaking an entire universe in my image is more compelling that making my own image in the first place possibly says a worrying amount about me.
John: My relationship with Eve is entirely second hand, and yet I feel affection for the game. Despite never having played it, nor even seen it moving (although I'm led to believe this isn't a big aspect of the game), I've listened to Jim talk eloquently at length about experiences, battles, and even the economy, and always found myself fascinated. Never interested in playing it, but always interested in hearing about it.
Jim: Was that this year? Blimey. It does seem as though I've been playing Eve for as long as I've been alive, but it's actually only five years. Five years! Holy fucking shit.
Alec: I'm so glad Eve exists, but sometimes it seems like the nerd equivalent of football, at least in the social circles I'm a part of. Long, tedious, statty conversations, utterly innacessible to those who don't follow The Beautiful Game. It's a little different with Jim though, who has clear enthusiasm for the nature of the game rather than simply the details within it: talking about Eve is about the only time his stony face cracks into a smile.
Kieron: People ask me what's the biggest change since moving to London. I tell them that I don't have to hear Jim talk about Eve for four hours every day.
John: That's the problem with games, all about shooting and violence and murdering your gran. Should be banned.
Alec: I wonder how many people are still playing this, let alone buying it. Does it retain its appeal now its main selling point is done and dusted? You don't get many games that are purely topical, apart from those awful KUMA/War thingies. It's something I'd like to see explored a little more. The Recession Machine 2009, anyone?