Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reflections from Gaming

You may have read yesterday that my gaming laptop recently died.

I was reflecting on my gaming experiences on the laptop over the last few years, and thought I'd put them down on this blog...

Play today's game next year
Or maybe three years from today. Chances are, your computer is two years old. And maybe it still meets the recommended specs, but that's just marketing. You will probably not be able to have the graphics sliders all the way up or run it at the maximum possible resolution on your screen -- So trust me, you're missing out.

Also, if the game has mods, let the game mature for a while and let the mods catch up. Games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion were completely overhauled graphically by the modding community to high-res graphics that would probably have run the game like a slideshow at the time it was released. Playable, yes. But it didn't look as good as it could have. And there were some events in Oblivion's main quest that were so processor intensive that the game was liable to crash several times.

The newest games aren't always the best
What trumps eye candy is story. Sometimes, a game is so old that the current hardware no longer supports it properly and it is unplayable, which is too bad. But otherwise, some of the old games you may have missed are real gems, not because they look good, but because they told good stories and gave you good experiences.

For example, Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force and Star Trek Elite Force 2.
If you are a Star Trek fan, you'll be pleasantly treated to gameplay that feels like you are not just watching a Star Trek episode, but participating in the action. The only thing unlike a Star Trek episode is the inordinate amount of alien-slaughtering you will have to do. Otherwise, there is the opening scene, the opening credits, using tricorders, rerouting power, conferences with the captain... In addition to an interesting story with many twists.

Another game that has an okay story but good game experience is Doom 3. It was a massive update and upgrade of the early first person shooters that were based on Castle Wolvenstein 3D. The flat models were replaced with highly detailed and realistic 3D models. Play it with a superior computer with anti-aliasing and all the graphics turned up, and it looks like a movie.
More than that, it does horror well for a first person shooter. Typically, this is hard as you are meant to survive and slaughter all opposition. However, Doom 3 lets you do this and still keeps you on your toes and keeps the suspense and horror elements.
Initially, you start in dark and claustrophobic environments, where anything could crawl out at any time. Later, before you move to more open surroundings, you are introduced to new monsters that are smaller or sneakier and could still crawl out at any time. The monsters pounce forward suddenly when they are close, adding to the shock and the compulsion to keep them at bay.
Straight satanic horror visual elements like glowing runes and candlelit conjuring circles are sparingly used so that when it appears, it heightens the tension.

Simple games can please
You don't need the most processor and video card intensive games to have a great time. There are many "casual games" that can deliver a lot of fun (and for a fraction of the price). Some also tell interesting and excellent stories, such as Drawn: The Painted Tower ™ and Tradewinds Odyssey. Many come with artwork that can have excellent quality because they are static portraits and don't need 3D or animation.

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