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Archive for the ‘half-life’ tag

Thoughts on Jumping

Posted on 15th May 2011 at 09:30 by Joe Martin with 29 comments

Joe Martin
It may seem an odd subject to focus on, as jumping doesn't seem to be very important on the face of it – cut it out of a game, though, and it can make a huge difference. Games in which players can’t jump, or at the very least dodge or roll, can seem painfully slow, dull and static. Games in which players can jump around and use that movement to interact with the environment can seem immeasurably more fun because of it.

Take Half-Life 2, for example. It’s a game which nearly everyone would agree is well-made, decently written, fun and fast to play through. Now cast your mind back to the first scene in Kliener’s lab, where Gordon is first properly introduced to his allies, where the plot is given its first proper push and where you’re gifted with the HEV suit again. It’s a busy sequence; lots to do, lots to take in. You’d expect most players to pay close attention, at least the first time around.

Instead, every single player I know spends most of the time jumping around. Sometimes they try to jump on the scenery or knock over objects, other times they just leapfrog around the room when a simple stroll would suffice.

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Thoughts on Expansion Packs

Posted on 9th Oct 2010 at 08:36 by Joe Martin with 36 comments

Joe Martin
I completed Half-Life: Blue Shift for the first time last night and, I have to say, I was enormously disappointed with it. I’d heard it was supposed to be the worst Half-Life game by far – something which had put me off playing it until recently, when I picked it up on a whim, but even I wasn’t expecting it to be so totally…bland. It was too short, too easy and enormously lacking in character. It took me three or four hours to complete, during which I died once and didn’t get to see anything in the way of new monsters or weapons.

Compare that to Half-Life: Opposing Force, which I still maintain is the perfect expansion pack even in spite of the silly end-boss. Opposing Force has plenty of new content, including an entirely new race of aliens that have never been officially explained within the Half-Life canon. Plus, it has the barnacle gun. It’s a fantastic expansion pack.

What really makes Opposing Force better than Blue Shift though isn’t just the new guns and baddies, but the fact that it has a personality of it’s own which, while it draws on Half-Life, feels entirely distinct. Like the original Half-Life, both expansions open with the player sat in a moving vehicle, but where Blue Shift merely apes HL’s train ride Opposing Force differs in every possible way. HL opens with the start of the story, deep underground, with a sedate and lonely pace; Opposing Force’s Adrian Shepherd is in a helicopter with the rest of his squad, entering the plot at the half-way point in a rather dramatic fashion.

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Thoughts on HUD Design

Posted on 31st Jul 2010 at 15:06 by Joe Martin with 32 comments

Joe Martin
Heads-up displays are, to me, a far more contentious issue than some of the other more bandied-around topics in modern game design. Everyone cries about regenerating health and how many weapons a player can feasibly carry, but HUDs seem a lot closer to the real, underlying complaints these other issues hint at. Instead of worrying about whether players have regenerating health, what about considering if the player should even know how much health they have left?

The issue of how health and ammo should be presented though is only secondary to the far bigger question of if they should be presented at all. Whereabouts do you draw the balance between accessibility and realism? In most shooters there's no logical reason why your character should have an ammo counter in the corner of the screen. It's only there because the player needs that information in order to get the most out of the game. As players we just take that info for granted.

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Thoughts on Regenerating Health

Posted on 22nd Jun 2010 at 10:01 by Joe Martin with 54 comments

Joe Martin
My first thought on the concept of health regeneration in games was something along the lines of “it’s rubbish”, though with more swearing and waving of fists. With a bit more consideration though, I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps there just isn’t a good way of presenting a character's health to players.

The matter of presenting player health has been one of shifting standards, with each new format being initially unpopular before it became the convention. Back in the good old days (TM) of the Spectrum pretty much every title employed a system of Lives or Sudden Death, where suffering one hit would kill your character or avatar, and you had three or five strikes. Then along came the likes of Wolfenstein which presented health as a percentage and, for a while, people hated it. Then it became the standard.

Now regenerating health is starting to supplant that format and people hate that too, claiming that it takes the fun and challenge out of a game as you can just hide behind a rock to recover from a headshot. Regardless, it’s already become a standard for many styles of games – though there are exceptions to every rule, especially at such a general level.

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Free Games I Like: The Wastes

Posted on 6th May 2010 at 15:28 by Joe Martin with 8 comments

Joe Martin
The Wastes is a mod for the original Half-Life that struggled for a long time to stand out amongst the hundreds of other HL mods, but which never really managed to gather the sizable audience that multiplayer mods really need. Half-Life’s mod scene was just so big that The Wastes got lost in the shuffle.

That's not surprising because when it comes to the concept there isn’t really much that makes The Wastes stand out. It was a straight up deathmatch game with a post-apocalypse setting that mixed scavenged firearms with home-made weapons. Spears and sniper rifles, basically. What I really liked about it though was simply that the level design and balance made it great for playing in small groups, which is exactly how I chose to play it - 1v1.

The Wastes became a tradition for me in the weeks when I was home from university and every night I’d start it up and play a few quick LAN games with members of my family. We had two ailing, ancient PCs back then, plus my own slightly better machine, so when I made the out-of-the-blue suggestion of playing deathmatch with my non-gaming family then Half-Life was an obvious choice. It didn’t require much in terms of hardware, but the basics of the game were easy to pick up – and the mod community meant I had a way to customise it. I chose The Wastes at random, accidentally falling upon a game that would keep me entertained on and off for about three years.

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Free Games I Like: They Hunger

Posted on 29th Apr 2010 at 13:54 by Joe Martin with 8 comments

Joe Martin
I've always loved zombies and I’ve got piles of comics and books and games about them at home. The fascination probably comes from the fact that an apocalypse filled with slow-moving already dead things is likely the only type of survival situation I’d stand a chance in, though there are forum members who might disagree with me.

And as zombie games go, They Hunger is one of the best. Well, to start with anyway; the series was spread over three separate mods and, as time went on, they got increasingly ambitious.

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