Thursday, May 15, 2008

GTA IV: Reiteration

GTA IV is a great game, everybody knows this. Being a great game I feel the need to stake my personal claim in it and just use it as an excuse to repeat things that I've already said. That being: video games allow for a different sort of expression than other art media can allow for.

I'm tremendously impressed with the scope of this game. When I heard people say such things I assumed they were talking about the number of streets, realism of textures and environment layouts, the complexity of the foot and car traffic, the usual GTA stuff. What I've come to realize is that beyond that there's a huge amount of smaller detail put into it. An enormous amount of audio and visual commentary on media and urban culture. It's this smaller detail that actually is what excites me about the game.

Prior GTA games, and sandbox games in general, have had to be large in (virtual)physical scope to allow for experimentation and invention. The only thing they've managed to really reinvent, however, is basic gameplay. GTA III is exciting due to the fact that you are able to just run around and not actually play the game, but all that running around is still set in established platforming and racing paradigms. It's not really special except for the fact that you can just pick up and play in a non-linear fashion.

GTA IV has actually broken into the realm of social commentary in a way that only video games can do. It's paving the way for games to express certain things in ways other media can't.

GTA IV is actually approaching a virtual reality world. The game is detailed to the point that just existing in it is commentary on city life and social norms. None of the easter eggs are too hidden or too expository. They're not so complicated that you'd be distracted by them, but are detailed enough that you can spend an entire play session just on the internet or listening to the radio.

I'm very excited about this game because it's better than a satirical blog, better than a gag youtube commercial, better than game filled with pop culture asides, better than a comic book caricature of a city. The ability to have an agenda and move freely through the environment makes the commentary more real and more poignant than it would if the situation was more static.

Bottom line here is interaction in and of itself is a valuable expressive tool. A lot of this game is clearly designed as commentary, to be noticed as satire, not simply as entertaining. By being able to interact with this environment at your leisure, and by having so many different things so detailed, you are able to selectively and efficiently experience the aspects of this world that are meaningful to you. Whether you take in the gestalt feeling of the city as you play missions, wander around looking for graffiti, drive around listening to the radio or go looking for the building architecture, so much time has been spent on so many aspects that each one has appreciable depth and insight. And since the world is still one entire piece, it's all fluid and cohesive. You are guaranteed to run into things you may not have been interested in and be exposed to criticisms you may find shocking or provocative. It's like an art gallery where you come for a particular artist but end up noticing others passively.

I don't think this would be nearly as effective if it wasn't a game, either. As much as a lot of this game's value comes from the non-goal oriented extras, it has sooo much more charm than Second Life, which is arguably far more radical, but not necessarily more influential. The fact that the game has a decent story with a likable character is just another aspect of the game's various artistic and expressive avenues, but it's also a key component in motivating you through the world. There could be the same amazing world with the same amazing detail, but without a story and goals, who would play? I don't even mean this to sound like "you have to throw people an entertainment bone to get them to sit down and think about something." The story is like a path of arrows guiding you through a dauntingly honeycombed museum. It's too easy to just wander to the most familiar and attractive aspects of a completely open environment, and too easy to zone out of a continuous narrative. The game aspect of this work is a pivotal aspect of it's strength.

You go Grand Theft Auto IV! I spell your whole title out with pride!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

You Might Not Get It

You Have to Burn the Rope is a video game joke. That's never really happened before as far as I know. There are games that have jokes in them and games that are overall silly, but in YHTBTR (gonna just...ctrl+c that so I don't have to say it over in my head again) the entire game is a joke. Whats better, and what makes it blog worthy, is that it's ALL joke. What I mean is, the game isn't a set of jokes, or a comedic setting, but a set of intertwined satirical gaming elements that are a joke once they've all been completed. Whereas Penny Arcade and Sam and Max tell jokes, YHTBTR is a joke. It's Ravel's Bolero of video games.

Like with Portal, YHTBTR is a seldom seen example of a game who's form and content, interaction and narration, work together and form a complete idea. It may be simple, but it's exciting to see.

It also happens to bring to light somethings that I hope becomes more of an intentional aspect of gaming. Absurdity and abstraction. As Internet culture grows and tastes become more niche, I feel like absurdist humor becomes more interesting. In television and movies, jokes have to have a clear reference point. You have to allow for lots of people to "get it", so it has to be based on something concrete and recognizable. Online gags no longer have to be anything except exactly what the creator intended. They're hard to explain and they deal with very specialized insights in very focused way.

YHTBTR is a very non specific joke that has to do exclusively with video game culture and ties closely into the Internet Bizarre. But not all gamers get it! It's so indirect and so subtle (despite its total overtness) that many gamers, according the the creator, don't get it!

I don't know, I'm sure this is an overreaction on my part. But this is more of what I want to see! This is a game being art, not art being found in a game. This game says something with itself, not from within itself.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Yea, Well I Played flOw Before It Got Licensed.

Well, it was the tenth one, but it's the first time I've heard of the Independent Games Festival, a little get together within the much larger Game Developers Conference. The games up for awards at the festival show exactly what I was hoping would happen with game design; independent designers are experimenting with format, presentation and content in ways that money-flailing companies puss out of.

Now, I don't want to sound like I think these games are better than well funded, popularized ones. Far from it. Most of these games look clunky, unfinished, and are often not all that fun to play. However, it is notable that while Microsoft is showing off it's gelatin physics and lighting advancements, smaller designers are actually trying to think about new ways to make games.

So, here's a quick rundown of the stuff that caught my eye.

Fez and Psychosomnium (which was not at the IGF, but is another indie game) really strike me as interesting.

Fez uses a gimmick of shifting between 2D and 3D environments. It does so, however, in a really intelligent way. The 2D world is not just a constrained angle of the 3D. It's an entirely different environment, created when the 3D world is compressed to a 2D perspective. The result is often vexing, since we expect the 2d world to mirror the 3d one. In Fez they're really two separate worlds. Objects which exist a great distance apart in the 3d perspective are right on top of one another in the 2d one. Distances and objects in the 2d world are truly not in the same space as those same objects in the 3d one.

Psychosomnium is a simple side scroller that is a set of puzzles with counter intuitive solutions. They're only counter intuitive, however,from the perspective of a gamer. The game intentionally takes familiar gaming obstacles and creates solutions that are unconventional or downright opposite from what one would expect. The result is engaging and thought provoking.

What I love about these two games is that they effectively use a virtual world to comment on virtual worlds. Fez's dynamic reminds me that we often do try to make our games and imaginary scenarios mimic reality to the point that we forget that it's games' ability to not be realistic that is their strength. Psychosomnium makes me think about the sort of logic that accompanies gaming strategy, and how it may be a set of rationale entirely localized within the gaming community.

The other two that I'm trying to make parallel to one another, but really don't seem to, are Audiosurf and Crayon Physics. There are a lot more to talk about but I think anyone reading this would rather I wrap it up.

I have to say, I think Audiosurf is overrated. It's fascinating, but after playing it for a little longer than I'd intended to, I feel a little let down. It doesn't manage to make the music and visuals sync up as much as would impress me. It's fun, it's addictive, but it doesn't change my perspective much on either my music or video games. Having said that, it is very cool. It excites me because it seems like a game being used as a means more than an end. This may just be me, but the fun of this game is that it uses your music, not because the game itself is that much fun to play. That means that the game is a conduit between me and my music. It's using interaction and narrative to achieve a goal beyond interaction and narrative. That's exciting.

Crayon Physics. It's fun. It's way fun. It's...not very unique except for it's charming appearance and the fact that it functions so seamlessly. I really think it's the appearance that gets me and makes it valuable. I'm tempted to link it to Audiosurf in that it seems like Crayon Phyiscs is more of a means than an end but... no, no it's an end. The point is to play, and nothing more. To play though, is to doodle. And as someone who remembers doodling long into his academic life, nothing is more exciting than the idea of your doodles coming to life. Crayon physics uses textures and colors that are so dead-on nostalgic that you almost want to just draw box after box and watch them bounce around. Many of my favorite moments of playing it come from screwing up the puzzle and seeing my gritty-lined creations explode into motion. Achieving a goal in the process is just the icing on the cake. It's shallow, but man... it gets you right *here*. ow...

I think the value of these games, on the whole, is the fact that tap into the hearts and minds of, well, gamers. They draw on gaming nostalgia, gaming in-jokes, gaming what-ifs, and gaming "man I wish they still made"s. Combine these minds with a budget, and a whole new vibrant gaming culture could emerge!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Playing in the Pixel Box

Amidst all my talking about games as art I'm constantly reminded that this isn't what draws us to gaming. In fact, I don't think the meaning underlying any art is what draws people to it, at first anyway.

Explaining why I play video games is something I feel like I've been solicited to do for a long time. By parents, peers who aren't interested in games, and especially adults who have a "concern for how you're spending your time." It's not easy to explain, and something tells me I shouldn't have to. I don't have to explain why I like the color red, or what makes a singer's on-pitch voice appealing.

But, I am called on to explain why I like the sound of a distorted guitar, and what makes noise music appealing. So maybe a little exploration into the appeal of playing video games is worthwhile.

I think the first thing to say is that if you like video games, you probably like the sights and sounds of them. You probably like the bright colors, you like the sound effects, the music, the movements on screen. Seeing and hearing the images and sounds is inherently pleasing for the same reason any image or sound would be. And yes, games have a particular look and sound (we'll get to feel later) that you don't necessarily find elsewhere. This is particularly true for those of us who played them in the 80's and early 90's. We grew up with MIDI sound effects and pixelated images. At the time they may have been substitutes for better images and sound, but now they're pleasing for their nostalgia.

The real reason I think we play, however, has to do with the ability to have selective emphasis over what is inherently pleasing, and be creative with a set of tools that are entertaining in and of themselves. I should note that I'm going to skip over the entire phenomenon of immersion and escapism. What I'm talking about here is the appeal of playing video games in an abstract sense. What motivates interaction?

Interaction is a form of creation, I think. Within established boundaries that are predetermined we are able to make the game go how we want. The game itself is pleasing, and interacting with the game is like choreographing the sights and sounds and motions that we enjoy.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I got into video games first by watching. I would watch a friend, or a friend's older brother, play. I liked the sounds and the motions and wanted to see the game happen. When I was offered the controller, the beauty of the game became a little fractured. The graphics didn't move so fluidly, the motions and colors didn't interact as well. I didn't make as good a choreography as they did. But, when I practiced, when I got a little better, all of a sudden I didn't want to watch. I wanted to play. Because playing made it mine. I was able to "create" the graphics and sounds to my specifications. That degree of control and pride in having helped make the enjoyable thing is what hooked on gaming.

Playing a game makes the sounds, the sights and the motions that are inherently pleasing personal. They become yours by the fact that your decisions create them in time. The more you are able to control the aspects that you are drawn to the more pleasing the game becomes. This seems to be both the reason people may have a hard time with RPG's in which you have only to press "attack" to win, and why people get so excited about being able to customize an avatar.

Some say that gaming is appealing because it's a challenge, that the fun is in overcoming obstacles and that the reward is a sense of accomplishment at having beaten the game's puzzles. While I absolutely agree that that is true, I can't help but think that I never play games to be done with them. I play to play. There may be a goal in gaming, but the fun of playing in my mind is in "creating" the game as I go, not destroying the game by ending it. Gaming is like being given a set of light and sound toys to play with, and being given a task to help you decide how to play with them. Like being given blocks to play with and being told "build a tower." While you will surely feel pleased with yourself at having built the tower, you're playing with blocks because blocks are fun to manipulate and control.

As player, you are conductor and decide how the game unfolds. The game dynamic breaks down when you are given so much control (or so little) that you can't make the game dance the way you want it to. If you have an idea in mind of what you want to conduct, but the tools you have won't let that become realized, it becomes frustrating and not fun.

I think the fear that people feel when they see us playing has something to do with the understanding that while we are being creative by playing, we aren't being very creative. There are lots of boundaries and while our desire to be creative and proud of ourselves is satiated by gaming, we don't really have much to show for it. And this is why I want games to have meaning. So that while we are playing in our sandbox, being creative within limits, we are also learning.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kill Your Friends

I think the demographics enjoying video games are seen as more homogeneous than they really are. Music and books aren't all marketed to the same people, but in general I feel that the biggest variety of acknowledged gaming demographics that exists is between age groups. And even then ESBR ratings are overlooked pretty heavily, leading to the "why are video games so violent? you know kids are playing them!" crap.

There's also the "casual" and "hardcore" demographic distinction, but from the abysmal reception of most of the titles designed for "casual gamers" and frustration with games sacrificing complexity for accessibility, I think it's safe to say that casual gamers are people who don't much care for video games. The only successful marketing toward casual gamers that I know of is the Wii.

It's no longer fair to draw the line at PC or console either. But there are real video game demographic disparities.

There's an entire approach to games that I like to call "sport-gaming". Yes sports games are often included in this, but I'm not referring to simulated sporting events. I'm referring games who's primary draw is competition with other people. It seems to me that this is use of the gaming medium that differs fundamentally from games which are designed to be immersive or tell a story. All games try to be fun, but sport-games rely on the fun of competing with other people.

Here's the distinction: sport-gaming is not about immersion, story telling, exploration, or information. The game is actually a little incidental. Despite graphics being present, you aren't playing a soldier and you aren't fighting an alien. You are you, and they are them. The actual people. You don't die or destroy, you lose or win. Rather than being judged based on a narrative or complexity or originality, sport-games are judged based on how they allow you to interact with others. I sometimes see Halo matches as basically touch football. The game is just a way for you to play a sport against someone

Experiencing a game as a sport makes the game a conduit between you and others. There is still a lot of focus on the game, but once you become familiarized with it, the game itself becomes almost invisible and the activity becomes much more about outsmarting and outperforming others. I think this is in fact why there's so much trash talk among people playing online games. It's not the same as playing against your friends. When not face to face, the desire to "better" becomes heightened, as does the need to create more tangible social contact.

There is a demographic of gamers who primarily play sport-games. Many games try to appeal to both types of gaming, narrative and sport. Often times this works perfectly well. I really like playing Starcraft's story. I have no interest in Gears of War online. There are a lot of gamers out there who seem to exclusively play games as sport, like game jocks. I seem to remember Gears of War not truly being accepted by 1up and IGN until it had sufficient multilayer maps and modes. Starcraft practically is an organized sport in Korea.

Part of this divide I think has to do with when you started getting invested in games. For those of us who grew up with an NES, I think there's more of a tendency to see video games as not really "games". Indeed this is where I see their value, as interactive narratives. While our parents asked "what's the point of this game" and were confused when we had a difficult time answering, we understood why our friends spent hours on games with "no real point".

On the other hand, there's an entire generation of gamers who only really began investing time in games during the X-Box era of online gaming. The growth of video games as a profitable industry I think is indebted to this type of gamer. Men young and old have video games, and many of them have no interest in fantasy narratives of any kind. They watch action movies for the explosions, watch sports to bet, and play games as sport. They pay for online subscriptions and they buy lots of titles.

Most of us participate in both worlds, but there are some who almost exclusively play online, and those who avoid online games like we avoid Hollywood clubs. It may be coming through that I don't particularly care for this type of gaming. I think it's like playing real life sports without any of the physical fun of playing real life sports. I'm trying very hard not to be snobby. But as much as I can admit that this is a useful way for people to interact, and a valuable way that video games have become embedded in culture, I do think that it's stifling gaming from being the expressive medium I think it should be.

Sport-gaming has to be repetitive. Rules have to be second nature, resources have to be familiar. The point is how you use the established game elements against others. If maps weren't small enough to memorize, controls simple enough to be predictable, and gameplay repeated enough to be accessible by players of different experience, the game wouldn't work. Playing the actual game can't be difficult or complicated, or the addition of unpredictable opponents would make the experience unbearable.

Video games are like comics in that they are just lucrative enough for them to be mass-marketed, but niche enough for the marketers to not know almost anything about the breadth of people they're marketing to. I don't think we as game consumers really know where we fall in game culture sometimes either. Maybe it's bad to draw lines in the sand and "other" different types of gamers, but I think some discussion of different types of gamers would be valuable.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Best Game

It’s clearly an overstatement to say that Portal is the best video game. That’s like saying The Siren is the best painting. There are too many factors involved in the art to be able to say that. But, I can say that Portal may be one of the best examples of an actualized video game that exists.

Portal is a complete interactive narrative, executed in such a way that its separate elements reinforce each other without interrupting each other. This is not something most games achieve and those that do do so by being very simple, visually and thematically. The simplest parts of the game are its premise (you have a gun that makes portals and must get from A to B) and the solution to it’s casual plot (the computer flipped out and killed everyone, and is now running on it’s own.) And honestly, a simple premise that becomes complicated and an archetypal plot that is introduced in a roundabout, mysterious way are elements of good games and good stories respectively. The graphics, mechanics, environment and puzzles are fairly complicated.

As far as a gameplay goes, Portal is executed extremely well. It has all the elements that decades of gaming have taught us are important for the experience to be fun. Its game mechanics are straightforward, the learning curve is natural, and the game stops before it becomes tedious. Your ability to play with portal technology freely lets you feel like you have been allowed to exploit the idea as far as you might like to. There's nothing I wish I'd been able to do but couldn't.

Portal has a plot. Well, Portal has a story. Not very original, but entertaining. What’s great is that Portal’s story is told brilliantly, almost without any expository information for nearly the entire game. The hardest thing in gaming, it seems, is to integrate a narrative with free control. Things like cut scenes and environmental boarders make play separate from story. They make a distinction between when you are playing and when you are listening. Portal tends not to. At all. The plot comes entirely from auditory and visual clues that may or may not be noticed by the player the first time, or any time, they play. All narrative information comes through almost subconsciously. Although the story telling value of hidden rooms and GLaDOS’ intonations depends on the player’s attention to them, there is no separation between the world and the player. The gameplay and story are one. What you see and hear in the process of playing is all that’s needed to communicate the game’s narrative. What makes things more perfect is that the passive plot and active play reinforce each other perfectly. The environment is much more real the more you explore it, using the gun is more fun because of GLaDOS’ comments, and failure more frightening as GLaDOS’ backhanded compliments remind you of the immediacy of the danger facing your Every[wo]man character.

This sort of symbiosis wouldn’t be possible if Portal’s simple features were not so simple. That being said, this game is a new archetype of how to do a game right. It could have easily been the same game it is now minus the monologues and visual cues. It could have been a ton of fun without any of it’s humor. But the added voice, the hidden graffiti, and environmental story clues make the game. As does the humor. I’m not sure what to say about the song except “kudos” and “thank you”. All games should have this much personality.

I don’t remember where I heard it, but I heard it that game design companies were hiring people as staff writers specifically. What I hope happens is that they don’t write simply dialogue, or general plot elements. I hope that part of video game writing involves writing plot as gameplay. I hope writers will storyboard and sketch and pitch ideas to the concept artists. I hope the timing of game elements and the layout of the environment will be territory of writers as well. In fact, games should have directors. Do they, Warren?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Shooting Fish in Hell

I've been anti-first person shooter for years. My opinion is turning around, and it's thanks to something else I've denounced for a while: graphics. Well, not just because of graphics, but technology in general.

My first point in this argument is that I love Doom. Love, love, love Doom. So it's not that I don't like the first person shooter genre. I also played Quake. Also played Unreal, Half-Life, Marathon, Medal of Honor, Halo, and Hexen. Couldn't stand any of them (though to be fair it's cause I could never run Half-Life well enough to really play it, so that's not fair). What became frustrating was the way everyone talked about Halo as if it was the greatest thing to happen to video games since...well Doom. I've never thought Halo could hold a candle to Doom. Is that an actual phrase? Hold a candle?

Three games that have recently come out have turned me somewhat. Gears of War, Battlefield 2142, and Bioshock. And you know what, let's throw Metroid Prime in there, though I'm not going to talk about it. I'm sure there are more that are worthy of note, but these are the ones that have started affecting my point of view.

Doom was not the first of it's type, but was nearly, and was definitely the first to do it's type well. Doom has an appeal that I think is really the basic motivation for all first person shooters. Shooting things. I know, I know, that sounds obvious and a little too simplistic. But honestly, that's saying something. For all it's flash graphics and bullcrap, Halo is basically just tracking and shooting moving targets. There's an element of strategy to it, but seriously, I've never seen a game of Halo that was really much more than point and shoot gameplay. It's not like an RTS where you have an actual strategy. Doom's levels were complicated, varied, colorful, expansive, and highly interactive. Many elevations, many, many enemies, lots of variation of enemy difficulty. It had the basic elements of lots of games of its time. It had simple gameplay mechanics applied to complicated game environments and with no story whatsoever. The atmosphere was palpable though.

Future games in the genre basically did exactly what Doom did, but started putting emphasis on weapons, enemy designs, graphics, realistic physics engines, and all sorts of things that really affected gameplay very little. WHO CARES IF HE FALLS REALISTICALLY?! Once he's dead, you can't shoot him anymore AND THAT'S ALL YOU DO IN THE GAME! A lot of money and energy have been put into technology without the fruits of those labors affecting the gaming experience very much.

Explaining what it is about shooting things that's exciting is hard for me to do. It has something to do with power, something to do with destruction, something to do with mechanical telekinesis. All I can really say is that I think shooting things is fun in and of itself. The fun in shooting moving things is in the challenge. Tracking, hunting, aiming, shooting. Combine that with sports mentalities and you have Halo and Unreal. Combine it with WWI backgrounds and you have Medal of Honor. It's still just pointing and shooting at moving objects, combined with avoiding getting shot (which usually consists of nothing more complicated than running away from things shooting at you). Games have made the attempt at "innovation" in the genre by making the guns' discharges more tangible, enhancing the sense of reality with better AI, and impressing us with nifty explosions and lighting. These things alone do not necessarily enhance immersion, and certainly have next to nothing to do with gameplay (save perhaps the AI).

But this may not really be the fault of the newer games. Halo and Unreal are really impressive for the ground the break in terms of gaming technologies. One of the reasons I think I like Doom so much is exactly because it has crappy graphics. Monsters are iconic, knowable, easily recognizable. Levels are geometric, simple, easily memorable. Games with better graphics tend to be more realistic, but in doing so become less easy to relate to, less easy to become immersed in. Characters may sacrifice individuality for realism (the first Quake's monsters were hard to tell apart sometimes). Levels may become visually impressive, but unplayably repetitive or uninterestingly simple. I always felt like, when playing Unreal, there was no point to being on a server with so many people when only a few could fit in a room at a time, and in open spaces where lots of people could be there was basically nothing but a large platform. I longed for the days when I was avoiding dozens of monsters. I wondered why there were so many people playing when I only ever saw one or two at a time.

The first game to make a big step in the right direction for FPS games was, for me, Half-Life, which tried to make a realistic looking, complicated, story driven game. It's still aim, shoot, run, but the story elements make the immersion actually meaningful and necessary. Story elements follow action continuously and a convoluted plot drives discovery. With Half-Life my problem was the environments were just realistic enough for me to demand them to be more so, but just unrealistic enough for me to be constantly reminded that I'm in a game. Gears of War and Bioshock are the first FPSs that really, really makes me feel like I'm in someone else's shoes, using the tv as a window.

The realism of the first person perspective has hurt the genre's immersive power, counter intuitive as that may seem. It's the one perspective that we actually have a frame of reference for. Game designers can make us believe things more easily when they are clearly unrealistic. We have no frame of reference for a pixelated environment, for overhead views of troops, for third person polygons. We can believe that it all works together because all we know about the world is what's on the screen. When games try to become realistic, especially from the first person perspective, the believability breaks down. We know what the real world looks like for first person perspective, and any deviation is immediately noticeable. Gears of war was able to be incredibly immersive by being not only exceptionally realistic, but simultaneously stylized aaaaand, not really a first person shooter. While it in essence is still just that, the fact that the game doesn't make you distrust what's on the screen makes it much easier to be drawn in.

Bioshock and Half-Life 2 have also been able to make a game believable, partly also by being stylized, but also by being incredibly well rendered and lit. Physics aside, objects in these games have real weight. Now they're not the first to do it. Doom 3 was pretty damn amazing. But Bioshock's environments in particular are colorful, engaging, complicated and continually believable by virtue of its amazing textures. Bioshock is the first FPS that has really drawn me in with graphics and atmosphere alone. In fact, when I take a step back, that's really what the game is. The action is relatively humdrum. But lighting and sounds are scary enough to make me uncomfortable, and the contents of rooms are detailed enough to insist that I explore every inch of the well rendered city.

Aside from graphical believability, finally there are some FPSs that are changing the formula. Gears of War is perhaps the first real step away from what Doom established. A new type of gameplay. Not aim, shoot, run. Granted it's not much different; it's cover, aim, shoot, reposition. But hey, I'll take what I can get. It changes the tempo of gameplay substantially and requires an entirely different mindset. The pinch of strategy that's added into Gears combined with the difference in environment interaction make for a breath of fresh air.

(By the way, if Splinter Cell is an amazing breakthrough in gameplay for the medium, let me know cause I never got into it.)

Battlefield 2142 is my first introduction to a massive multiplayer FPS that actually was immersive. It's environment, the number of people on a server, the variety of gameplay, and the gravity of some of the challenges in any given match make it feel like a real battle. Aside from the fact that dying is a frequent occurrence, it feels like you're actually in a war. I think the scale is really what does it. I applaud Halo for previous attempts, but the scale of Halo matches and no story just makes it feel like a game. Fancy graphics make it feel like an expensive game. Battlefield 2142 actually feels worthy of the graphics that it boasts, even without a story. The game's scale allows for strategy on an immense level. Makeshift military rank, massive numbers, real-time speech, and specialization of units makes this game really feel like a community with a purpose. This feels like a war simulation, not a shooting gallery or a football game.

FPSs I think have tremendous potential. I think they have a ton of ways to exploit our forced perspectives exactly because the point of view is so near and dear to us. While other game genres have continually experimented with ways of interactive with a particular style of gameplay, FPSs have pretty much stayed in the shallow end. Now that the technology that the genre relies on is finally becoming standard, that may change. Games like Portal make developers look like they're finally starting to take their water wings off and look toward the diving board.