Close but no Cigar (Games that just miss the mark)

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evilkinggumby
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Tue Oct 07, 2014 11:49 am

I figured I'd add a thread about this so anyone can talk about games they've played that were not BAD but just shy in a few ways to being good or even great.

Mind you I don't want to have everyone ragging and flaming games for the sake of flaming. This is more meant to discuss ways a game can fail because of game mechanics, poor design choices in the UI, music, dialogue, etc etc etc

I just did an initial playthrough for Neverending Nightmares last night. I was one of the original Backers for this on Kickstarter, and played the initial demo they had for the fundraiser to get a feel for it. Beyond that I have skipped a lot of the videos and discussions and Alpha/Beta tests so as not to spoil the experience of the game.

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(image is a little large but if i resize it smaller it completely kills the line work and makes it hard to see anything).

Now as you'll see they went with a classic pseudo Edward Gorey style of art, and this I actually like. The pen like line work is kool and the animations and overall look feel very similar to Gorey. It uses a minimalist color scheme, where interaction objects are color so you can easily spot them and know when to use them (though there is few spots to do this aside from a myriad of portraits to view, cell doors to look in and a bunch of dolls to glance at). The game only has a handful of objects to find, a candle, an axe, umm.. that's about it I think.

Most of the game is walking around this large creepy house (or an asylum) just trying to find an end to the "Nightmare". Along the way is a bevy of imagery, creepy/dangerous creatures to avoid and a few mild jump scares.

What works:

Overall sound design is atmospheric and interesting/creepy
Art design is solid
Control of the character (uses Gamepad or keyboard)
Runs at a number of resolutions, all the way to 1080p
Has enhanced audio for headphones (it has a warning that it's better to play on them than speakers)
Disturbing imagery without going overboard.

What misses:

First nightmare seems to have more creepy instances and mild jump scares than any other level
shading//lighting is too "still" (more on this later)
Music becomes quickly monotonous and repetitive
Some areas have noticeable skips where you can tell it's jumping from the end of a hallway to a new hallway when it is supposed to be one continuous hallway
The character has asthma, so you do get a "Sprint" button but you can only use it for short (1/2 a room or so ) bursts and the character makes the same whiny out of breath noises whenever you've sprinted a couple steps.
No interaction with the little dialogue that is there.
Obscure branching paths
aside from a few tense moments when you first encounter an enemy (and learn how to avoid it) the game is mostly walking and navigating.

Where this game just misses is that it feels like everything that is there, at some point was deemed "good enough" instead of "perfect" or "great". This is a trend I suspect I'll see a lot with Indie games and Kickstarter projects by small studio's. With NeN the audio design is good, it has a good somber spooky vibe to the music and the kaleidoscopic of noises that come and go are suitably "horror game" sounding. But that's all it is.. background filler. It rarely ramps up or builds to a crescendo, doesn't try to manipulate the player aside from a simple orchestra hit when something jump-scares you. And most of the atmospheric noises are heard no matter where you are, with a few audio cues added for when you are outside or in the asylum or in a bathroom.

The visual design is serviceable, but what would have made the game a lot more tense and nerve-wracking would be to make the lines creating shadows a lot less static and a lot more "noise". There is a slow crawl series of layers to the lines that create the obscured effect in the game, but they move slowly and from right to left and that's it. Horizontal and vertical lines, when thinking of it like a designer for a home or a useable space, are usually beneficial. vertical lines imply strength and stability. horizontal lines imply peace, calm, and relax a person. ANGLES cause tension. And squiggles or erratic lines also cause tension and unrest. If they had worked on the line work and shading a bit more, and created something that felt unsettled and "restless" when you are simply standing there, it would have worked wonders. I harken to playing the original Fatal Frame and how the simple detail that the view of the game was through a grainy film layer, which made every moment of every scene lack a placid stillness that felt calming, and so you were kept on edge even in moment where you were "safe".

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The use of blood around the house was good in the first nightmare, but over time there is more and more blood splatters and strips and puddles. Since there is likely about a dozen or so decals for blood, you see a lot of similar splatters, and over time they end up just feeling cartoonish and copy-paste. Any atmospheric effect it could have is lost, except when you ramp it up and see a room with a LOT of blood on the walls or floor, and by that point it has lost it's shock value.

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There are a lot of re-used assets. I imagine they created a lot of the objects for the game individually, then placed them around the house to create a variety of halls, rooms and areas to explore. I am not against this, except after seeing the same doll/chair/painting the 50th time. As well the fact that most of the areas you navigate are (again) static and unmoving makes it feel like " ok here is another room like this.. just need to find the door". In a lot of ways, stacking this idea with the fact some of the levels are maze-like and frustrating to navigate to the object you need or the end of the area, makes it feel like such a slog. I will admit during the second nightmare I was on the edge of shutting the game off out of sheer banal boredom.

I guess for a nightmare, I would have expected the house/asylum/areas outside to feel more "alive". organic. I want a steady stream of dolls turning to watch me, of paintings slightly fading from one normal image to a creepy one. Of stuff poking into the scene just at the edges of the screen where you almost see them, but not quite. When I played the second Phantasmagoria game and you go to work and there is a simulated "computer screen" you can check email with and do some work activities, I loved that every little while (seemingly random), words would change to other words, hard to see but if you manage to spot it you realize it's sinister and evil. It made the simple act of reading email as the character feel disturbing and you would question your sanity. When the environment feels extremely copy paste and static, so you have a good feeling of what will happen and what to expect, it ruins the tension and takes away that feeling of being helpless that makes horror games successful.

The underlying point of the game, to examine and empathize with mental health conditions, and try to evoke a sense of what it is like to have a mental illness, is really what the game was supposed to be about. I think a lot of gamers won't know to look for this or see it at all when playing the game, mostly because it is hinted at and thinly threaded into the game but not so much that it's obvious or too much (and so heavy handed). I think having the entire game be nightmares (which aren't real, and disturbing nightmares are fairly common, so not indicative of a mental disorder) actually spoils any true sense of dread. But really I am sure a lot of folk that play this will think " well i have more disturbing dreams than this, and I am not mentally ill". The idea is in there, within the bones of the game, but being buried enough you have to actively seek them out, and also play the game about 5-6 times to unlock and "see" all of the endings makes it too much work and effort to "get" the point of the game. When you consider the other issues and the fact the game is neither completely scary, totally creepy, or terrifyingly exciting, going through the first few nightmares again and again doesn't sound inviting. Considering every time you die or enter a new nightmare you burst awake in bed, the initial play through has a bit of "repetition" fatigue already. Doing it again.. not inviting.

Thats my speil. Anyone else interested in talking about a game that just falls shy? I don't expect everyone to go all Wall-o-Text Like i did, it's ok to be brief. I just figured this could be an interesting conversation, and also could be applied to GoaT and it's final design.

-EKG
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david
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Wed Oct 08, 2014 7:18 am

wow... I also really like the art style of Neverending Nightmares, but from your comments it sounds like the other elements weren't fully developed - it seems like a missed opportunity.

I totally get what you are saying about repetition: low-interactivity, too much trekking about, mazes and overusing assets... yikes!

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For me, I was excited about Bioshock Infinite - the game premise and visuals really appealed to me. Seith disliked the story, in fact he did an article on his blog, but I found it fine... but then I don't have high standards for game stories.

For me what killed Bioshock Infinite was the emptiness of the world, the linearity of the levels, the 'shooting gallery' AI that made me abandon it: it just wasn't fun! :ugeek:
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evilkinggumby
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Wed Oct 08, 2014 10:41 am

Interesting, I have that but I have waited to play it and the DLC until I have at least played through the original Bioshock (which I also have, but have only played it a little). I can see how it might be linear shooting gallery type stuff but I've never heard it called empty.. that's disappointing when the original bioshock seems dripping with detail and atmosphere. :)

I haven't seen Seith's scathing blog about the game, not sure I'd want to as it likely dissects a lot and that'd spoiler it for me.

someday I'll check it out though. I really need to cull this roster of games hehehe
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JeremiahPena
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Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:00 pm

Bioshock Infinite was a bit of a chore to get through. I remember thinking multiple times while playing how much I would love a game with a similar visual sense and setting, but get rid of all of the action, and make it more of a narrative puzzle game.

Interestingly enough, I think the opening minutes of Burial at Sea Episode 2 completely nailed that, and has to be my favorite game experience ever. Here's a reference (starting at 2:03): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNcDA3x0X9U

Most of the Youtube videos just walk straight through, but I spent nearly 20 minutes just taking in the experience. And then the game devolved into on-the-rails stealth and shooting... Quite frustrating.
I compose the music for Ghost of a Tale. Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeremiahpena
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evilkinggumby
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Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:46 pm

Now one thing I'm curious about is.. What was the game proposed to be, or marketed as, and did it fall short of THAT or did it fall short of what you wanted it to be when you played it?

With NeN i think it fell short of it's actual goals (all of them) as a horror title, survival horror title, psychological horror title, and an examination of mental health and the attempts to re-create it in a game.

I never thought Infinite was going to be anything more than an action/FPS with a big ol story and some possible subtext in its agenda. So I'm curious what you guys thought the game was going to be vs what it was?

I am not questioning you or your opinions(I don't think you are right or wrong really, it's your own perspective), but merely curious and want to examine it. With regards to GoaT i often wonder if what it has sold itself to be (or what people THINK it is selling itself to be) is actually accurate, and if the final release will give the public exactly what they expect or if it'll go in a different direction and cause unanimous outrage. I suspect all will be fine, but it always makes me wonder.
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JeremiahPena
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Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:57 pm

My expectations for Infinite were mainly based on the first Bioshock, which nailed the mix of action, story, and atmosphere. I felt like I was a part of the game. Bioshock Infinite, while it looked nice, seemed more like an amusement park attraction with really repetitive gameplay.
I compose the music for Ghost of a Tale. Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeremiahpena
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david
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Wed Oct 08, 2014 8:59 pm

JeremiahPena wrote:My expectations for Infinite were... the mix of action, story, and atmosphere.
Yeah!

I do like to mess about with systemic AI (Crysis 1, Far Cry: 1&2, Just Cause 2, SWAT 4, Saints Row 3&4, Splinter Cell: C&B, Hitman Absolution). The gameplay in Infinite was just shooting or rooting about to find items. To me, shooting is an acceptable core game mechanic, but the AI in Infinite seemed so basic... the grunts would pop up, start shooting, then get killed... no grenades to flush you out, not taking cover often, no movement in cover, no flanking, no squad intelligence... the action was just a pointless grind in a variety of pretty -but vacant- fairground locations. And the action really was like a shooting gallery (an expression I borrowed from a review somewhere because it is so accurate).

@EvilKing.. I sympathize with your concerns about GoaT's future, especially because you haven't played the demo! At this stage, I don't think GoaT will deviate too far from the reasonable expectations that people have. The demo was a happy experience for the overwhelming majority of players: I think at this stage, Seith has built a quite a solid visual AND gameplay foundation to build upon. Unless he gets hit by lightning, I'm reasonably confident that Seith'll delight his backers, and the game will be somewhere between a modest indie hit and a juggernaut indie success :mrgreen:
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