Thoughts on Metal Gear

Recently I played through Metal Gear Solid(MGS) for the GameBoy Color(GBC), a surprisingly hard to find and often overlooked game in the popular Metal Gear series. As with other games in the series, especially the Playstation version of MGS, it doesn’t let the technical limitations of the hardware hold it back from delivering a surprisingly deep game with a detailed story. The game raises the standards of games on the GBC, not just technically but through it’s enquinety with control and sheer content.

Today I want to share my thoughts on the Metal Gear series, currently I’ve played Metal Gear 1/2, Metal Gear Solid 1/2/3 and Metal Gear Solid on the GBC.

I find that the series contains many aspects that sets it apart from other games, however these aspects make it such a polarising series. The story would have to be the most polarising aspect of the series. Relative to other video game stories, Metal gear presents a more complex, stylised story, be it through the use of modern history, the discussions of the technicalities of war or the layered relationships between major characters.

More complex entertainment demands more from its audience who are trained to accept the lowest common denominator of complexity in entertainment. Clearly anything that steps up the complexity is at risk of alienating a few. However I think the expense of alienating a few in order to raise the standard of entertainment is a perfectly okay sacrifice to make.

Parts of the story become very convoluted with plot twists that layer and intertwine and become so complicated to some that the story comes off as being incoherent. I can understand how people don’t like this. Personally I enjoy the plot twists and there are points where I am at a loss to describe what is going on. However because of my attachment to these games such twists and entanglements encourage me to pay closer attention to the details. This problem is evident in MGS2, while confusing I found the ideas that were presented to be incredibly compelling.

The stories of Metal Gear are layered on thick and arguably too thick with long cut scenes that drown out those who don’t take interest in it. The argument that there is this balance between interaction and no interaction in games confuses me. Video Games are just software, the classification of games can narrow our mindset to what we can do with such software. However thinking just in the steeped definition of games doesn’t do us any good when you have games that push that definition into interesting places.

The game play in Metal Gear focuses of setting up environments in which the player much use her arsenal of stealth items and sometimes lack of, to sneak through without being detected. This open ended style of play allows players to create their own narrative if they take to the games mechanical system. The game offers few in game rewards for experimentation and ultimately the player is self rewarded through the interesting scenarios that can play out. The process of the players rewarding themselves goes against some silly ideas the industry has of baiting players with rewards in order to keep them playing.

As you’ve probably noticed I’m really a fan of this series. I’ve just defended some of the major complaints people have with it. I can understand these views however they don’t bother me so much, sometimes they do quite the opposite. However there are things that bother me about the series and I want to talk about them too.

MGS borrows heavily, as do most games in the series from the well established Metal Gear 2 mechanics. MGS is practically Metal Gear 2 in 3D and MGS on the GBC is just more Metal Gear 2, with the only new mechanics being added were 8 way movement and colored box puzzles. MGS3 and probably MGS4, I’ll find out when I play it, add more to the base mechanics but it barely changes the fundamental mechanics at play. The fundamental mechanics of the Metal Gear games is ‘stealth’ which basically boils down to avoiding enemy viewing boxes. Not really all that interesting. The different scenarios that play out can be interesting but they don’t always remedy this core problem. The major mechanic of a game should be the most fun/interesting/whatever and avoiding hit boxes is not.

Repetitive story structures are another problem that plagues the Metal Gear games. Repetitive villainous groups are in every game, be it Fox Hound, GRU, Dead Cell, etc with each group containing around 5 members that you must destroy through the entirety of the game. This story choice greatly influences the games structure with boss battles set at regular intervals that can make for predictable pacing. This point is rather subjective but it does tire when in every introduction screen you hear about of a rebel group of 5 or so members.

What information is hidden and revealed and to whom great affect the mood of games. One frustration that I have with the Metal Gear games is that once you have alerted an enemy in the game, then all enemies appear to know where you currently are if you are within a certain range(physical distance, not necessarily the enemies viewing distance). There is nothing in the game to indicate that all enemies should know exactly where you are. The enemies use radios to communicate but that doesn’t explain why the realism presented in these games graphical system doesn’t match the realism present in the games mechanical system.

I think that’s about all I have to say on Metal Gear. It’s a great series that I recommend people try, even if it just to see if you’d enjoy it.

The Quest for the Dragon

Until yesterday the name Chris Crawford was a name that I had heard mentioned many times but didn’t really know much about. His book Chris Crawford on Game Design is often cited in books on video game design and appears to be the next classical text on games after Huizingas’ Homo Ludens. Crawford also started the Games Developer Conference and as such you would expect him to still be in the public eye from time to time. However he is not. Crawford left the industry in 1992 after charging out at the end his Dragon Speech. He left to pursue what he called ‘the dragon’, a metaphor for games as artistic expression.

Yesterday I watched these videos below and learnt a lot about what I feel to be a very interesting and progressive character, Chris Crawford. I encourage you to watch these two videos in order to get a better understanding of him and his vision.

Points – The Hidden Money Grab

I thought I’d change my tune with this post and express my opinions on something that concerns me a little. With the internet connectivity being a strong focus for the current generation of consoles, we have seen the emergence of online stores that digitally distribute games, additional game related content and lots of other goodies. Two of the three major console manufacturers currently use a custom currency on these digital distribution channels. This in itself annoys me because in my mind it appears to mask the real cost of a piece of content. Since a Microsoft point or a Wii point isn’t a common currency I believe that people tend to undervalue its worth and hence buy more content on this fact alone. This is however not my major gripe with the system. I am very dissatisfied with the methods of buying a game through this point system.

super_mario_rpg

To explain my point I want to refer back to an incident that happened a few weeks ago. My brother and I were buying some virtual console game via the Wii Shop Channel, the digital distribution service for the Nintendo Wii. We wanted to buy around four games that we’d previously missed out during our youth. We searched the store to find our first game, Super Mario RPG which was valued at about 800 points. We then followed through the prompts to purchase the game since we couldn’t add it to a shopping cart and bundle it with our other purchases. We were soon arrived at a screen saying that we had to buy a block of points to buy the game. The lowest increment of Wii points was 1000 at $15 AUD. This means that we had to spend $15 to get a game that was really valued at $12 AUD. If we were buying a NES game that usually sell for 500 points then we would have to pay twice the price for it. Overtime we will likely buy more games and use up those points but it is highly likely that we will get to the stage where we don’t want to buy any more games and have several hundred points sitting in our account.

points

Let’s play with some numbers to get a rough idea of how much Nintendo are profiteering from this concept. According to VG Chartz there are about 48million Wiis sold around the world at the time of writing. Let’s make the assumption that only 5% of Wii users are online and of those 3.75% have some Wii points left in their account. Lets continue with some more assumptions and assume that on average there are 120 unused points in an average account. If my figures are correct this means that 1.8 million Wiis have a total of 216 million Wii points sitting in their account. This works out to a total of $3.24 million AUD and they are making this money for free. Do you feel a little cheated now? I know I do. Of course the Wii user base will continue to increase in the future as will the amount of users buying content for the Wii Shopping Channel so this figure will surely increase.

Don’t take these numbers too seriously but do take note of the extremity of these values. I believe that the Xbox 360 Marketplace uses a similar sort of system so Nintendo is not alone on this one. To heighten the amount of unused Wii points the current bundles of Wii points are not easily divisible in common pricing structures for games. Of course for cases where you buy a point card at retail this problem is inevitable by design but could be avoided by a more realistic point allocation. So the next time you invest in a block of points think about how much you are really paying for that 800 point game. Be back soon.

Back in the Saddle

After several months away I have decided to get back in the saddle and get back to updating this blog. I’m sorry for disappearing for a while but I’m back now. Over the last few months I’ve been playing around with a few things which I plan to quickly run through today.

Firstly I have switched over to the Dvorak key bindings on my keyboard. Dvorak is just different layout for the keys on the keyboard such that you don’t need to stretch as far to hit the commonly used keys. As a result typing related injuries are greatly reduced and in some cases people improve their typing speeds. Before using Dvorak I didn’t consider myself a good QWERTY typist so I also used this opportunity to teach myself to correctly touch type. I used a combination of the fabulous GNU Typist and ABCD: A Basic Course in Dvorak. Another change that I have made to my typing is a change in keyboard. I have switched over to the Microsoft Ergonomic Destop 4000 as recommended by the users at Stack Overflow. It’s great keyboard once you have adjusted to the greater split between your hands and the slightly curved keys, highly recommended. You really only notice how good this keyboard is once you switch back to a standard keyboard. I think the same applies to the Dvorak key bindings.

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Secondly I have been playing around with a few different libraries in C and C++. The first of which is NCurses which is a library that is used to create TUI’s in the terminal. NCurses works by treating the terminal as a grid and allows the creation of Windows, forms and menus. It’s a lot of fun to play around with. I found this site particularly useful for learning the ins and outs of NCurses. If you enjoy playing around with NCurses then I suggest you try the Curses Development Kit. I started programming a platformer game with the terminal but I the jumping didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked so I abandoned that project. In the future I’d like to work with NCurses for another project.

Another library that I have been playing around with is SimpleDirect Media Layer(SDL). The SDL library allows you to integrate audio, images, pixel manipulation, keyboard handling and much, much more into your programs. It is commonly used to created 2D games but also has the functionality to work with OpenGL. Learning SDL has been very enjoyable and exciting. I have been through all of the excellent tutorials by LazyFoo and intend to implement a draughts game which I will cover later. The SDL Documentation is also very good and highly recommended.

SDL

Probably one of the biggest changes to occur in the last few months is the fact that my family is now on Naked ADSL. Previously we were on dial up since the distance between our house and the telephone exchange was too far and hence the signal degeneration was too high. But with Naked ADSL, in particular Internodes Naked ADSL Extereme we were able to just get Naked ADSL despite the fact that our line attenuation is still very high. With Internodes Naked ADSL Extreme, the ADSL signal is pushed further since Agiles’ DSLAMs don’t have to worry about handling the PSTN side of things. The switch to Naked ADSL has been great and Internode has been very responsive to any problems we have had. I’ve been enjoying a lot of unmetered content from Steam and Games.on.net.

Internode Loge

With the switch to Naked ADSL also came the switch to Ubuntu Linux. I had been using Ubuntu on my Acer Aspire One netbook for several months and have been really enjoying using it. I did try to setup before on my desktop but things were too tedious and not always functional with Linmodems. Currently I use Ubuntu as my primary partition and I switch to Windows Vista for gaming.

I’ve also been doing alot of gaming over the break, possibly too much. Notable titles that I have been playing are Farcry 2, GTA 4, Metal Gear 1-2, Metal Gear Solid 1-2, Wario Shake Dimension and Mega Man Powered Up. I am currently playing GTA4 and some Pixel Junk Eden on the side. As usual there is a mountain of games to play which is never a bad thing.

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That pretty much concludes what I have been doing over the last few months. I almost forget my twin brother returned from Shanghai, you can read about that at PrimeScape or read his games blog at DanielPrimed.com. As you may have noticed there are some small tweaks to the site. The most notable one is the Current Projects Box on the side. Within the next few days I will post up the details about that. Stay tuned.