Friday, December 30, 2005

A recommendation for Developers and Next Generation hardware...

Graphics, graphics, graphics. Sure, they are great, but I personally think that hardware vendors and developers have the wrong idea as how to handle it. As I go into this, I want to remind readers that a riveting storyline takes precedence to all of this. But moving on...

Playing the Xbox 360 and reading way too many Sony fanboy posts got me thinking. What do gamers expect? As a computer specialist, I really wasn't expecting some super-amazing graphical jump with next-gen hardware. Maybe I mentioned it before, but we aren't going to be receiving games that look like the Final Fantasy movie (Spirts Within) any time soon. Sorry to shut down hopes and dreams for this generation. It wouldn't be cost effective, and there wouldn't be enough space EVEN WITH a bluray or hd-dvd disc to make a game that looks like that movie.

So what is important?

I personally don't know, but I vote for online features. But we have those with the 360, and probably won't get jack from Sony in that department. So let's instead talk about character graphics and environments.

Personally, I was happy with character models in the last generation. Sure, the best ones were during FMVs, but that is a cutscene deal. What about actual gameplay (HINT HINT SONY!)? If we assume that the models were fine, then that leaves us with animation and environmental improvement. However, good environments in a game will take careful planning. If the environments are too amazing and the character models suck, then the character may seem out of place. Obviously, there needs to be a balance.

I propose using current gen character modeling with next gen animations. We can do without the veins and sweat. If any body part needs work, it is hair. For example, when a female with long hair turns her head, her hair should act accordingly, not just magically go through her body. But maybe I'm jumping ahead of myself. Before even that comes animation. I'd rather have less detail and better animation myself. That alone could provide enough realism. However, that would include animations for body position transitioning. If a character needs to turn, the footwork should indicate such. Turning while crouching is a good example there. You have to move your feet to turn in that position.

As far as environments go, I don't think they necessarily need more detail. What they do need is more interactivity. First, I just want to say developers really should be more clever about blocking off areas you can't go to. Don't show it to us if we can't go there ('nuff said). Second, it's great to be able to move things around, but again, don't put it in there if it looks movable or usable but can't be interacted with (doors for example). Lastly, consider that actual item being portrayed. If a bullet can go through it, then let it! If it would actually break if you did this, then let it break! I don't necessarily care if I can see the wood grain and knots on a crate. But if I shoot at it, and an enemy is behind it, the bullet better go through. If it is a think metal, then ricochet that bullet!

Tiger Woods 06 for the 360 is an early example of good and bad examples of what I'm saying. We were comparing the PS2 06 and the 360 06 at my house the other day. Graphics and environments aside, the 360 version sure is missing A LOT of courses. Since the 360 version was the first Tiger Woods game I've purchased, I really don't mind. Especially since the 360 controller has a much better setup for the game than the PS2 controller.

Starting with the bad, you can almost completely customize the look of your character down to skin texture. Great, but I'd probably just want to use a professional golfer, or preassembled models anyway. That's just a waste of space on that game disc because it isn't that important of a feature. Moving on to good, the grass actually seems like grass (on the 360 version), not a flat polygon with textured-looking grass on it (in the PS2 version). There are spectators, and they react if hit with a golf ball (but ironically, don't move out of the way if they are in the line of your shot). The trees cast shadows, and seem to have branches (instead of being a 2D polygon paper cutout as on the PS2 version).

I appreciate the effort EA put into making the courses look better, but not necessarily the players. I mean, I was happy with the PS2 Tiger, and I'm sure the Xbox (not 360) Tiger looks even better. So take the latter, but improve the environments as they did, but take it a little further. Lose the unimportant-non-affecting gameplay facial and body customization, and concetrate on the courses. I understand offering different clubs, but clothes (other than shoes) shouldn't be a big deal. In this case, I'm already happy with the animation. They had the right idea, although it could have been executed better. Save space as appropriate and give as many features related to gameplay as possible. Unfortunately, the HD requirement doesn't help here. Hi-res is great, but not always necessary worth the space it takes to support.

Hopefully the future will present us with better-balanced games. I have high hopes for Gears of War and Halo 3. Halo 2 only needed better hit-detection and better animation in my opinion, so hopefully the next installment will fix these problems and give more interactive environments. I guess we'll see in a few months how Ubisoft does with Splinter Cell: Double Agent.