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FarCry not a game

Posted by Maitrek on Mon, 05/04/04 - 5:29 AM
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Well, seeing as I now have a designer forum with which to dump my armchair 'yet-to-complete-a-game-and-have-no-idea-how-hard-it-is' opinions on various other game designers work, I thought I might as well share. This post mainly refers to PC gaming, so when I mention games/gaming, try to eliminate consoles from the argument...although some of this stuff also applies to some console titles, which are mostly PC game ports anyway.

My biggest gripe with FarCry....is that it's not a game.

It's about as frivolous as a first date - it's stressful, tense, nerve-wrecking, and if you stuff it up - all the good work is lost, and you have to start all over again.

Okay, so games aren't always a 'frivolous' activity, but a certain sense of 'fun' should always be ascribed with any gaming experience. The enjoyment of the process and the experience would have to be foremost on my list of things I like associate with gaming.

Now, before I go on further, I've been doing alot of research into the sociology of sport lately, and it appears to me that we are starting to mimick (in games) some of the great pitfalls of modern sports and competitive athletics. You'll see the link as I explain further.

There are two significant types of sporting model. 'Power and performance' being one of them, and 'pleasure and participation' being the other (J. J. Coakley 1998). The 'power and performance' model of sport (and sportspeople) is rather self explanatory. The focus of these sports is that performance is the ultimate form of sport, that winning and setting records is the means for which people (within the sports arena) are evaluated.

Using this ground, all the seeds of what ruins modern sports are planted. Athletes, 'over-conform' to an ethos that dictates sacrifices are to be made for the game, distinction is what defines a successful athlete, and 'no limits are to be placed in the pursuit of possibilities' (J. J. Coakley). From here we can see athletes taking drugs, using aggressive behaviour on field and off the field, bending the rules of play, using 'fouls' and illegal forms contact to alter the outcome of the match etc etc.

You might think I've gone loco now, but bear with me.

For me personally, the only way I could get any enjoyment out of FarCry, is if I achieved the next checkpoint, if I could get some form of 'triumph'. The process of getting there was terrible...I'm no guru of modern FPS, my days of being 'midfield' are long gone. On 'easy' mode, I tried 30-40 times unsuccessfully to get to the next checkpoint in the demo off of the PC Gamer CD.

The process of playing the game wasn't inherently fun, I would attempt to snipe, relocate, hide, flat out attack, flank, double-back, divert, strategise etc etc...to absolutely no avail. All these things are not simple fun, it's hard and challenging. The complete focus of the demo was on how much success you had at getting through this research facility.

This so clearly mimicks the process through which alot of modern sports are 'fun'. The ability to achieve goals and objectives and to beat the AI opponents (or multiplay buddies) is what gives the sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and fulfilment.

Now, having said all this. Am I saying that this sort of 'power and performance' model of gaming is an altogether bad thing? Not entirely. Much the same way that sports aren't entirely bad. But the fact of the matter is, it is getting harder and harder for the average joe to pick up a game, play solo, with buddies or on the internet and have 'fun'.

What is bad, is that how the 'ethos' of the over-conforming athlete is leaking into gaming arenas such as LANs that are becoming decreasingly 'social' and more competitive all the time. Prizes are awarded regularly at large LANs and it is all too common to see new attendees at a LAN who are simply looking befuddled trying to keep up with their team-mates while everyone is firing on all four cylinders...

How often is it to hear 'I own joo bitch' at a LAN? While some people may find it acceptable lan-speak, others may not be so comfortable with such aggressive language (even if intended as part of the game and hence 'disconnected' from reality). Much like watching football players get into a bingle, some people don't bat an eye-lid, some people cheer, others think it's a pathetic display of aggressive (and often mistakenly labelled as 'masculine') behaviour. It is an exmaple of how the ethos of being a gamer is aligning itself with the ethos of being a jock...and over-conformity to this ethos is causing friction at the real-world social level of gaming.

Battlefield 1942 is another example of a 'game' that uses the combat simulator ethic. It is a successful game in spite of this because it has an element of fun with regards to vehicles, parachuting, diversity of play etc and it is not overly commited to the reality of combat. It too suffers from over emphasis on run'n'gunning ability and familiarity with FPSs of modern times (laying prone, crawling, using cover etc), but just the process of playing it can be fun.

FarCry, as far as I can tell, is no game. It's quite a plain combat simulator. To pick up and play the game for twenty minutes or so may not even result in any accomplishment, nor any fun. There is no association of their being pleasure in just 'playing the game'. The only way to experience any form of pleasure is through the gratification of completing some goal.

It's biggest downfall is that it's too commited to reality, and the reality of jungle combat has never been 'fun'. NO one joins the army for 'fun', for something to do with some mates on the weekend, like kicking a football around playing marks up or something.

In a way, this is why FarCry ends up being so sports-like in it's method of appeasing the audience. It can't come up with something 'fun' to do in the army or in the reality of combat, it can only come up with methods of giving the player some form of 'distinction' to make the player feel good.

Overall, it's not necessarily a bad design, it's a design choice and clearly it has it's market. But there are many games mimicking this kind of 'game design ethic'. This ethic being such that we are trying to approximate as close as possible, realistic combat. Is this ethic a good one, should games be simluations if thats what the current market is paying for, or is there more to the gaming (mostly pc gaming) market? However, if we want to broaden games beyond simply using objective based means for entertainment, then we better start doing some thinking about what games really are, and how we can make games more social within a more 'pleasure and participation' focus.

Anyway, what do other people think about this? I'm not being overly clear at the moment because it's difficulat to explain, but I feel like sharing, so sucked in.


Submitted by Sorceror Bob on Mon, 05/04/04 - 6:33 AM Permalink

good post!

My thoughts after playing the demo were pretty much the same.. It looked pretty, but well.. It seemed to take parts from different fps's and mushed them all together to create something wholely unoriginal..

But that is my opinion on the demo.. The full version could be something magical and fun.. But I'm not holding my breath.

Still this design code is used all the time.. Why? Audiences lap it up... Your average Jo Blob doesn't know a great deal about computer games - he goes to the local eb and what will he see first - the critically acclaimed game based on several diverse worlds, each featuring a variety of weird and wonderful characters and unique weapons, backed up with the worlds greatest storyline.

Or the game that has an army man on the cover.

I can hear you all disagreeing, but everyone here is on the inside looking out.. Very few of my school buddies are computer nerds.. They play games - but won't travel further than call of duty, rainbow six, day of defeat - one even bought some crappy marine sharpshooter game.. I've lent them copies of deus ex.. It gets handed back a few days later.

Soo, until Jo Blob gets a bit more educated about the games (s)he is playing, we'll probably see alot more of these games, and fewer of the critically acclaimed ones.

Personally.. I blame publishers.

Submitted by Aven on Mon, 05/04/04 - 7:53 AM Permalink

You really put a lot of effort into that post :)

I do disagree with a lot of the points though. I do really enjoy the difficulty level that FarCry has. It is fun to play a game that even on the easiest difficulty you are really being cautious. If I want a game where I can just run around mindlessly and know exactly where enemies are spawned, then I can go back to Quake2. One thing that one of my friends and I often complain about is the lack of challenge presented to the player. I have been playing the full version a bit and it is quite a bit easier than the demos. I like the checkpoint system, as I am constantly shitting myself and hoping that I dont get killed. The enemies don't kill me though. You know what does? My own stupidity. Trying to climb to the highest point in the islands, slipping and falling one hundred feet to the ground bellow. Running low and health and getting in a vehicle to drive across the map to get more health, only to forget that the car is nearly rooted and then running it into a tree. Kaboom :) It would be annoying to play the same bit over and over again when you die, but it doesn't feel that way as the enemies have random more random spawn and patrol routes than most FPS games. You can't try one thing and expect to do it the same every time. You have to do what works at that particular moment. That is where the fun lies for me. Not just doing the same thing over and over. Not just picking the 'best; gun and bunnyhopping all over the place taking out every guy in the same fashion. Not running into an enemy and waiting for them to play their melee attack cycle, running backwards while shooting them and repeating. I'm tired of that. Doom had it and games now still friggen have it. I like the idea of having the challenge as you are one guy versus a merc group. It should be hard (hell it should realistically be impossible). Let's all play 'generic based FPS shooter #430' where it is you versus a whole species of alien/marines/cyborgs/SWAT/what-the-hell-ever (delete as needed), and they are getting their arse kicked by you.

For the design being realistic. I don't find it so. To me it is as realistic as your average Holywood action flick. Hence the name FarCry. It is a pretty far cry from reality. A guy running around in a Hawaiian shirt taking down a whole organisation. I can see how it can be seen as realistic, as the engine is trying to make the playing world as realistic as posible. I'm sure that HL2 will have similar problems and Stalker even more. HL2 wont be as bad though as it has aliens as opposed to people.

I have fun from the most odd games though. If peole want to play a game by just running through it and completing it as quickly as posible, then that is cool. I get my enjoyment from a challenge and time spent. I like dying as it makes succeeding more enjoyable and it feels more rewarding. I still spend two hours climbing up hills and swimming out to the map's boundries. I like breaking games :) I feel that if people try to just play through the game and completing mission after mission, then you wont have as much fun. Games are starting to have more freedom, so try to play it the exact opposite to the traditional way :) It is the first game that I have played where I do actually sneak around and stay in the shadows (when it isn't forced -like Theif).

Sorry for the long post. I also realise that I seem to enjoy this game a lot more than what everyone else here does. Most people seem to think that this game is the same generic crap that has been pumped out time and time before. I don't see that, and I am enjoying playing this more than what I have enjoyed any FPS for such a long time (since the original UT). It is always cool to see peoples oppinions though and realise how difficult it must be to make a game and keep people happy :) Most of us will claim to be 'true' gamers, yet we all even have different tastes :) Poor bastards.

Matt - I don't blame your friends for handing back Deus Ex, they at least have some taste :p It is just their other options that holds them back :) (see what I mean).

Submitted by Maitrek on Mon, 05/04/04 - 9:09 AM Permalink

quote:Originally posted by Aven
I like dying as it makes succeeding more enjoyable and it feels more rewarding

That's probably the statement that I feel explains your view point the most. Like I said, this kind of gmae is not a *bad* design, it's just *a* design decision, like many others. It has it's pros and it's cons. However, it does prove my point that the game itself is based on a feeling of reward and accomplishment. Much like winning a game of soccer for example. But games, and sport, are not doomed to this path. My Tae Kwon Do qualifies as a sporting activity, yet it is very often not competitive. Even when sparring every week no score is kept. The goal is to develop your technique and your instincts, try to teach the other person as much as possible, and try to learn as much yourself. The fun is really in being there, participating in something with others etc.

quote:Originally posted by Aven
For the design being realistic. I don't find it so. To me it is as realistic as your average Holywood action flick. Hence the name FarCry. It is a pretty far cry from reality. A guy running around in a Hawaiian shirt taking down a whole organisation. I can see how it can be seen as realistic, as the engine is trying to make the playing world as realistic as posible.

The concept of the game is unrealistic, that is true. However, the design of the game mechanic is clearly inspired by reality. When you make a racing game for instance, you model things like the cars dynamics, the tye contact patch with the road, the tractive force a tyre can put down to the ground. It is not so much a 'game' as it is a 'simulation'.

This is the same way that FarCry is designed, same with some other realistic 'tactical' games like the Tom Clancy's games. The AI is developed mostly so that it reacts to situations in a realistic fashion, it's unpredictable, challenging, clever etc. There are other things too, the sound of your gun alerts guards, your footsteps alert people. All these things are real physical phenomena that manifest themselves in combat, and are modelled (although not to perfection) in the game environment.

The layout of the guards is designed to simulate patrol routes that a 'realistic' guard would take. The guns are semi-reality based (although obviously not quite!). My point is, any game-mechanic related design decision is first of all compared to the reality of the situation, then adapted as closely as possible (given tech restraints) within the game.

Sure, the game is ultimately, unrealistic, slightly Hollywood-esque etc...but from my experience, it plays out about as well as any 20 guard versus 1 lone wolf sortie would play in real life, ie I die 95% of the mission attempts.

quote:Originally posted by Aven
I feel that if people try to just play through the game and completing mission after mission, then you wont have as much fun.

As for what seems to be my 'gripe' with the checkpoint model. I'm not overtly frustrated by the fact that I can't save between checkpoints. I'll argue that this adds tension and feeling to the game. I can clearly see where the decision came from. But, as said before, this is a device to enhance the feeling of success when you actually achieve the next point. The tension is released, you've 'passed' the test. The tension itself is not fun...excess tension without any success will probably result in some players getting aggravated, bored, frustrated, any combination of the above.

Tension is what I would call a 'device'. It's a device used by the game to put the player under pressure to make them feel like it's more important to succeed. It's not illegal to use it in games, but it's a bad idea to rely on it pulling the player through the whole game.

Your last word in that quote is probably the most interesting. By 'fun' do you mean enjoying the process of playing the game? This could be true, I can see how trying different things etc could be intriguing, it engages a sense of exploration and can be fun to play out. Or do you mean have as much fun, as in, satisfaction from the end result of the game?

It must be argued however, that if the process of the game was inherently fun, it would be reasonable to assume that the player would want to play through again regardless of the success or the failure of their technique, simply for the enjoyment of going through the process of the game again? Which begs the question, why is it that playing through the mission again is forced upon the player simply because they weren't up to scratch? Is it fair? Is it good design? Is it reasonable? Are there alternatives?

quote:Originally posted by Aven
That is where the fun lies for me. Not just doing the same thing over and over. Not just picking the 'best; gun and bunnyhopping all over the place taking out every guy in the same fashion.

quote:Originally posted by Aven
I get my enjoyment from a challenge and time spent.

Obviously, you would fit into the category of enjoying the challenge, working hard for success etc!

Clearly you are way better at the game than I am. I know my lack of skill is probably dragging my opinion down. However, if an old-dog FPS vet like me struggles through the first five minutes of the demo mission, then either I am playing the game wrong (ie my tactics suck, and believe me I've tried almost my entire repertoire) or the demo mission is just plain hard.

What is the average first time gamer going to think? They'll have enough trouble getting over jittering the mouse trying to aim, let alone out-smart the opponent! It would take a particular type of person who would sit down, and play and play and play until they got it right. For sure, that's admirable. It's admirable the same way our top athletes dedication to their sport is admirable. Their successes are admirable.

However, not every person fits into this category. We are only attracting these kinds of people to the consumer base and we are left in a cycle that leaves no room for the expansion and development of the material we cover in games. What is needed is some evaluation of how we can change these games in subtle ways to develop their method of engaging the player, so as not to simply attract the one type of 'gamer'.

I'm still scratching my head on that one, but I'm wondering if anyone else has some ideas? The real problem is that it's so closely related to being a simulation that it's hard to alter the formula without compromising the desire for a semi-realistic simulation.

Submitted by Aven on Mon, 05/04/04 - 8:39 PM Permalink

Fair enough call Maritek. I can see why you think that I am in it just to have a challenge and prove myself, but it isn't entirely the case. I did say that the most fun I had was just running aroudn a massive island and doing stupid crap. The FPS action is exactly that. FPS action. You run around and shoot. The way you do it is pretty standard. The thing that changes it more is the AI and the level of detail in the environments. I actually wont play a game for any longer than about two hours if it isn't enjoyable. I can put up with bad story lines, crap graphics and it running like a slide show as long as it is fun. That is why I am still playing FarCry.

It is difficult to try to make something 'simulation' based. It is completely dependant on the level of tech that exists at the time. To acheive a high level of realism, you need an engine and a system that can handle it. If not, then there will be small inconsistancies that can destroy the realism for some. I am one of those people. Gran Tourismo is toted as one of the most realistic driving sims in the world, yet you can't even roll your car. Cars take no damage, etc. To me it is just a 'better' handelling Daytona (though I still like to play Daytona a hell of a lot more). FarCry doesn't feel too great too sim like to me. It has great physics and excelent AI, BUT, it lost all that imersion as a realistic game for me at one point. You know when? I threw a grenade in the water and the splash had NO gravity. People have their ragdolls, barrels topple from explosions, cars flip and roll. Water doesn't even splash properly :) It doesn't change the level of the combat, but it does impact on the level of realism which adds to the whole point of a sim.

The (second) demo mission was just plain hard. It took me a dozen or so goes to get past the first part on the easy setting. It is nice to know that you think that I am great at games, but you are barking up a really incorrect tree there :) I amnot that great. I can become really good at a game if I play it for long enough, but very few games in recent times have kept my attention long enough to play it to that level. The full version is much easier. I am playing it on the normal setting and it is heaps easier than both of the demos. Hence why i have just been screwing around :)

The comment about making it unfair to people who may screw up at the beginning of a section is something that every game has. That is why difficulty levels exist. if you are having troubles passing many areas as you keep on getting killed, then you should perhaps think about lowering the skill level (I had to do it with Panzer Dragoon: Orta). Yes there are areas that will be much harder than the main parts of the game, but that was done as people were always bitching about bosses. There still has to be some areas that are more difficult to beat, other wise you may as well just play Solitare.

It is fair to say that the aim of the game is just to get to the next checkpoint, but nearly every game has that structure. Digital or real life. You can't have a game without any goals that need to be reached. All of the SimX titels tried it, but there is still a goal that needs to be reached by the player. SimCity has the initial challenge of gettign a city up and running, while keeping people happy, while paying off debts. When you get over that challenge, there is very little there to keep you going. You just end up trying to get more money than your friend who is playing :) Most action games have multiple goals. Either completing levels, killing everyone, or just flipping switches. You can't make a game that lets you do anything. It is impossible. You need to have structure to give a person a reason to play the game.

It is the exact same way in real life with sports. I hate competitive sports. I love playing a game of soccer or basketball with my friends for fun, boing things that aren't allowed to be done at a competitive level. It is still a game with an aim though. You can just get a basketball and shoop hoops, but there is still an aim to it. You can get a ball and just kick it around, but you are still aiming to kick a ball. You will eventually find that boring as well, and want a little more challenge and competition. Trying to deny that is pointless. Life has aims. It is the way life works. I do enjoy the challenge that this game provides as it sepperates it from most titles that have been released in that last few years. Take away everything that gives it that challenge and you are merely left with what? A half arsed 'prettier' version of BF1942.

Aiming a game for everyone, or at least the majority of people is difficult. Everyone will never agree on the same thing. There are people who hate things just because it is popular. Not because it is popular and it has no reason to be, just that it is popular. There are people who will just love something as everyone else has either never heard of it or hates it. You will never appeal to those people. Trying to aim for the majority of people ends up aiming at mainstream (which most games players seem to hate). What is left? Trying to grab ten different ideas and mash them together? It hasn't worked successfully yet. I would love to play a game that everyone can enjoy, but I know that it wont happen. The best you can do is aim a game for one type of player and hope they enjoy it. If the player doesn'y like that type of game, then there is not much that can be done. You don't seem to like the realism behind this game and the challenge. That is cool. There are people who do. This is who it has been made for. There are plenty of game around that appeal to other audiences, so why should this one as well? You want games to be different, but when they are, you dislike them. There are plenty of games that have 'semi-realistic simulation' points. This is still one of those. It isn't completely sim based. If it was, you would have to worry about real damage, sleep, food, water, and even exhaustion. The difference between all games is that one may have an area that is more realistic than others, while being less realistic than other in other areas. There isn't a happy medium.

Yes new gamers may not be able to pick this game up and play it perfectly. That comes back to the challenge. All games have that ability of alienating a new player. The first time a played a Japnese RPG, I was completely confused. I stuck with it though and now I love them. Even the most simple of games have that problem. My mum still can't figure out Tetris, and it scares her away.

I guess that I am just annoyed with people who are willing to find faults in a game, and say that there must be a better way of doing it, when those people then don't provide realistic alternitves to the way it is being done. Hell there are plenty of games that i have played where I think that something has been done badly. I also don't have any idea on how to make it better either. I just let it slide as a game I don't like. Not a game that is bad. You have mentioned many things that could work for some players, yet others would have. You have just put yourself in their shoes. I am disagreeing as I don't like the idea of some of your ideas of making it better (if you can follow what I am trying to say), not as I just want to disagree. FarCry is far from being a perfect game (I really don't like it's multiplayer abilities), but it still has it's up points. I am all for people wanting to discuss how a game could be made better, as long as it is being done. At the moment it is more of a case of you just don't like it. Great. Delete it and place it in a growing list of 'games I hate'.

BTW. They have an option to change the jitteriness of the mouse in the full version. Basing comments on one tenth of game isn't always best. Try playing the full thing and seeing if it has changed from the demo. It has.

Submitted by Blitz on Thu, 08/04/04 - 8:02 AM Permalink

If you haven't read this yet, this brief article on a GDC talk this year may prove interesting
http://www.gamasutra.com/gdc2004/features/20040326/postcard-kane_04.sht…
It discusses four types of gameplay that players experience, including:
Hard Fun (Challenging), this seems to be FarCry the way you describe it
Easy Fun (exploring)
Altered States (fantasizing)
Other People (social interaction)
The speaker proposes that if your game can cover all four of these experiences well, you will have a hit title :)
CYer, Blitz

Submitted by Maitrek on Thu, 08/04/04 - 7:17 PM Permalink

I tend to believe that 'tryin to please everyone ends up leasing no one' can be a good mantra when it comes to game design. I'm currently playing through FarCry (full version) and I'll get back to this thread when I have finished with it.

Submitted by Blitz on Thu, 08/04/04 - 11:21 PM Permalink

The subject of the talk wasn't about trying to please everyone, it was about trying to appeal to the widest range of peoples emotions. However, pleasing more people is probably a happy side-effect of appealing to a multitude of emotions.
CYer, Blitz

Submitted by Maitrek on Fri, 09/04/04 - 11:34 PM Permalink

Yeah, as I think I've mentioned, it's about broadening the play experience within the context of the game.

Submitted by Maitrek on Tue, 27/04/04 - 8:21 AM Permalink

The scope of this subject and the scope of the failures of FarCry and other modern FPSs is so huge that I'm going to have to write a whole text on it. I'll get cracking as soon as I've done some more research then I'll present it in a month or so, hopefully it'll make for an interesting read! I promise it won't be one massive whingefest!