Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

Archive for October, 2008

Dead Space

So, I’ve finished this game once (~12 hours on medium), and am playing through a second time to max out my achievements.  I may play it through again for the really challenging achievement (finish on hardest difficulty / pistol only), but I’m not sure of that yet.

I think EA delivered a good, solid, game with Dead Space, but it has a few issues.  The issues seem to come not from the game, but from holding on to conventions from other games that this one was inspired by, which clearly are System Shock 2, Resident Evil 4, and to a lesser extent Bioshock.

What I liked:

  • Creepy level design
    I think of this mostly as a plus, and a bit as a negative.  Its levels make sense for the most part, but it’s hard to imagine people living and working in a lot of the spaces in the ship.  They feel more designed for scary things to be around corners than actual working space for a ship’s crew.
  • Some nice moments that make you jump
    There’s certainly some good scares in the game.  A few even come from the UI itself.  Well done.
  • The UI presentation
    I love the floating UI / HUD they used.  The health bar on the back of the suit is great too.  Makes sense for the tech, and comes across as a near-future possibility.  It was easy to navigate, although I rarely used any of it.  The objective “line” you can create, and a use health pack button were really all I cared about.
  • The ammo skewing
    If you want more ammo for a certain weapon, just carry it with you.  The game seems very nice in that it tends to give you ammunition for what you’ve got rather than what you’re not carrying.
  • Vacuum & zero gravity sequences
    Zero G was fun.  The vacuum sequences were great.  More.  Loved the lack of audio and explosions.
  • Weapon upgrade is meaningful
    You can feel the power of the weapons as you upgrade them.  The upgrades make a profound difference on your weapon’s effectiveness.  The cutter rules!

What I didn’t like:

  • The inventory system
    With few exception, for where you are in the game, there’s very little you can’t carry with each suit upgrade you receive.  It feels like this system was carried over from the RE series or the Shocks, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why they went for a limited inventory system, since it’s more of an issue earlier rather than later in the game.  I think (maybe?) they originally wanted you to have a lot more inventory issues and you returning to stores to manage it, but then went away from it as the game was developed.
  • Too many weapons?
    There’s about four weapons that feel truly unique to the game, and then three or so more that they really didn’t need.  Although I don’t mind having more, some of them feel so niche-based (the flamethrower, for example) that they have only very situational use and are more of a hassle than fun.
  • Not enough creative use of the limb mechanic
    I like a lot of the creatures you fight in the game, but doing the color change = tougher thing they do later in the game felt like a means of saving time.  I love the idea of blowing limbs off of creatures for maximum effect (although they never explained WHY that was more effective at killing the necromorphs) but would have liked to see more creatures later down the road that used that mechanic a bit more creatively, rather than just tougher versions of the same things from earlier.
  • Lack of recharge mechanic on Stasis
    This I blame on System Shock 2.  Remember that you could play a Psi, and only use telekinetic powers to get through the game?  Now remember that your Psi meter would never recharge on its own, leaving you at the mercy of the vending machine?  Yeah, they have that here too.  Stasis is a great power, but the lack of any autoamtic recharge mechanic means a Stasis / TK playthrough would be very, very hard to achieve.  Thank god there’s no achievement for that!
  • The ending
    It just was a bit too cliche.

At the end of the day, I have to say that there’s something missing from this game, and I can’t quite put my finger on what that is.  Maybe I didn’t really care about the characters?  It’s hard to quantify, but there was just something… hmm… maybe it was a lack of themed encounters.  There’s only a handful of boss fights, and a few other types of encounters you repeat a few times.  Wait, I’ve got it — the environment doesn’t help tell enough of the story.  In Bioshock, you’d spend time just looking around every environment to read the “story” of what that place went through during Rapture’s fall.  In Dead Space, you just move through the enivronments.  Sure, there’s blood and gore all around, but as you go further, you start to lose the sense of unique things happening in different places on the ship.  I think that was a missed opportunity.

Overall, I’d say it’s a game certainly worth playing.  I’m hoping we’ll see DLC for it to take it even further, since I’d like to get more into the story and more about… well in order to be spoiler-free I’ll just say “everything else”.

You know what’s really strange?  I almost never looked up in this game.  Maybe twice, not counting the times you really had to in zero-G or during the basketball game.  That’s kinda odd, but I guess since most enemies were ground-based, it makes sense.

Finally, I was pleased to see that an old friend that I’ve not talked to for a long, long time played a major role on this production as well.  Nice going!

No comments

Finally, almost!

Yeah, confusing title I know.  I’ve been distracted by the Next Big Thing to have a lot of time, but it’s almost here, so that’s a very good thing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about simplification and staying focused, largely inspired by a cooking show, of all things.  If you’ve not seen Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (here on BBCA in the US), I’d highly recommend it.  Here’s a guy that is a very successful chef with nothing to prove and certainly enough clout and success to rest on his laurels if he wanted to, yet he does the complete opposite.  He’ll do anything to get the restaurant in shape.  He’ll scrub the floors (and ovens), get the owners out about town to market their restaurants, give everyone a no-bs opinion of their cooking and management, push for quality and simplicity, and becomes part of the team he’s trying to save.  He never says “they’re screwed” it’s always “we’re screwed”.  He never lets up, and no task is below him.  Of course, editing helps convey this, but it’s a good model to follow for making games, actually.

There’s a difficulty as a game project goes on that sometimes it gets harder and harder to find time to play your own game, namely because you have so much else to do.  This is a horrible mistake, as iteration is the only way to hone a product.  It also becomes easier to let things slide as projects go longer, because you just want them done.  This isn’t because you don’t care about the game, but sometimes egos get in the way and confrontation becomes the norm, making development a battle with others rather than a collaberation.  This too is a huge mistake.  You have to keep fighting for quality and consistency in your titles.  All the way up to the day it ships (OK, well the day you code-freeze it), you should be trying to make it better.  If there are people that aren’t as interested that are bringing the project down, get them interested again.  No team passion = no quality.

About six months ago I had the pleasure of visting a friend that works for Blizzard and meeting a lot of the people there.  If you ever want to point to a company in which everyone just does what it takes to make the game great, it’s them.  You do what needs to be done, not necessarily what your title says you should / should not do.  They are a true collective in how they function, and it really pays off, as evidenced by their success with the ‘craft games, Diablo, and of course WoW.  The impression I got is that they are a very formula based design company, meaning they derive an interesting formula first, then create a game from it.  If the formula is fun to play with by itself, graphics, control, audio, and pizzaz added on top of it just make it that much more fun.  It’s a very solid concept, and obviously successful.  Everyone there is passionate about entertainment and consistency — to the formula and the series itself.

I guess from all of this, what I’m trying to say is that sometimes it’s very hard to be passionate 24/7 about what you do, but giving up at any point because it seems overwhelming, losing your passion along the way, or letting team members not be passionate will lead you down the road to a less than great product.

Keep the faith!

It’s an attitude we’ll certainly try to uphold at that Next Big Thing I’ve been mentioning.

And yes, recognize that some people just do what they do for a paycheck.  Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to overcome in a very creative environment like games.

1 comment