Programmer / indie games developer from the UK.
Joined on 4/22/05
Posted by Paranoia - August 24th, 2008
Okay, I got the game a while ago. Right when it came out, actually. I chucked it into my newly purchased PS3, sat down and clicked on the 'Start' button, ready for the best gaming experience the world had ever seen.
Actually, that's a lie. I chucked it in, say through seven minutes of installation, then clicked on the 'Start' button, ready for the best gaming experience the world had ever seen.
And to be honest, I was underwhelmed. Not that I'm criticising it - it's a great game. It's full of all the innovation, excellent direction and general awesomeness which we've come to expect. But that's all it is. It doesn't jump out of the screen and tear your face off with the sheer power of its epicness like you feel it should - it just sits there being very good. And it was good - good enough to make me sit up for twenty straight hours completing it, then freaking my friends out with minor insomnia induced hallucinations of Liquid whispering into my ear - but it wasn't nearly as good as it should have been. This is the final instalment in the MGS series - bringing everything in the series together in one big slab of great. What we wanted was an apotheosis of everything that made the series great - what we got was Return of the Jedi.
So, maybe I had unrealistically high expectations. Nonetheless, here's a top-ten style list of things that Kojima could have done to make the game the single best thing ever created by anyone, but with one more! As for the lateness - I just needed some time to process things. Also, this will probably contain spoilers, but I'll try to keep away from anything major. So, you know - fair warning.
1. More, shorter levels
A pretty basic point, but it's important nonetheless. Back in earlier MGS games, you had to sneak your way through room after room. The result? Every new screen posed a new challenge, and every completion left you with a small feeling of victory and satisfaction before you made your way forward, not to mention making the game feel much, much bigger.
Here, though, the game seems to consist of a small number of huge areas to play through. Now, you don't get that feeling of having completed another bit of the game so often, and when you do, it's somewhat reduced by the realisation that you've just thudded a big chunk closer to the end of a chapter - and end you don't feel ready to meet untill you've performed some more really daring acts of stealth.
2. Disguised loading screens
Yeah, loading screens and installations are to be expected on this system. Even so, it'd be nice to have some ingenious way of softening their blow - you'd think that Kojima could come up with something. Maybe a room with a locked door which doesn't open untill the game is loaded, or something.
Also, the occasional between - level loads tend to break up the gameplay - another thing which could be reduced by having shorter levels. Loading screens were disguised nicely enough in MGS3 - why not here?
3. Less boring briefings
Some people see terms like 'interactive movie' as criticisms. Personally, I see them as healthy extensions of a form of media. Nonetheless, the pre-mission briefings seem a little overly drawn out considering the gameplay that follows. Maybe if the game itself were a little longer you could justify sitting through an hour of plot which could be summed up in a quick codec call, but in this case they just seem excessive, and make the game seem slightly pretentious.
Anyway, if they'd have taken the time put into those briefings to develop some more actual gameplay areas, I'd be much happier.
4. More checkpoints and tougher challenges
Sort of tied in with point one - the game's main problem is that getting from one point to another consists of easy-easy-easy-easy-easy-oopsdead! Almost as if to balance the easiness of it all out, the game doesn't provide you with much in the way of checkpoints to come back to when you die - it's just a matter of replaying a big chunk of level.
I'd much prefer if the challenge was condensed into some smaller zones - maybe some indoor scenes requiring creative evasion of the guards, and stuff like that - with frequent checkpoints. Again, you'd get a small sense of victory with each new screen reached, with a rewarding challenge but no annoying deaths. As it is, getting killed often loses you a big stack of stealthily captured weapons and progress, and there's not a whole lot in the way of reward from completing big but generally easy areas.
5. A non-annoying secondary health bar system
Stamina was a great innovation in the last game - well-tied in with your character's performance, pretty easy to manage, and allowing for a whole new dimension of survival in the jungle.
This game's version - Psyche - seems more annoying than anything else. It's the least self-explanatory concept in the game - it depletes if you fart too loudly, takes forever to bring back up, and effects of keeping it at zero include getting knocked out if you land too sharply, and back pain (seriously!).
It doesn't need getting rid of, but it feels like a wasted opportunity. A little scattered, non-score-reducing medication, or possibly bringing back the last game's concept of eating small animals would have improved things. Better yet - apply some of that classic MGS innovation, but make psych affect you in different ways. For example, there're no physical penalties for being low on it, but staying down could cause the screen to wobble slightly, hallucinations to distract you, and voices to freak you out. You UI could start to dribble, and you could get prompted to take part in pointless exercises like running in circles, and be told that you'd picked up imaginary weapons like sheep cannons and raddish swords. In fact, why not really mess things up and give enemy soldiers afros of various sizes depending on the sorry state of your psyche.
All in all, I'm surprised that the best concept Kojima could come up with was low psyche leading you to pulling muscles and aiming like a chimp with ADHD.
6. Some interesting secondary villains
OK, first off, the B&Bs were an excellent idea for boss battles. Interesting, pretty cool looking, and they freaked the hell out of me. Laughing Octopus in particular had a really impressive character, and all of them had some surprising depth.
The problem was the lack of any real bosses of character significance. All of the main boss fights in the game were with the B&Bs, which while fun didn't really act as pivots to the story or anything like that. The fight with Vamp was more of an exercise in lateral thinking than a true boss, and the two fights with Liquid (not wanting to give too much away) seem respectively like a novelty segment and an interactive (although still really impressive) cut-scene.
Take MGS3, for example. There you had a perfect balance - the Cobras on the one hand occupied a space filled by the B&Bs - pure, solid boss fights with crazy characters which were great to watch and play but didn't really impact the story. To support those, though, you also had an array of plot-significant fights - Ocelot, Volgin, the Shagohad, the Boss... All in all, Kojima had things balanced out perfectly - the Cobras acted as impressive and fun space-fillers so the game didn't go too long without any interesting fights, and the plot battles served to involve you in the game to a greater extent.
The problem with MGS4 is that the battles were entirely space fillers. Plot-significant fights didn't really feel like bosses at all (in fact, the only one played in the game's main engine - Vamp's - didn't seem to have any interesting attacks to speak of). Having some new characters standing by Liquid would have sorted this out - I'm sure that Kojima could have thought some up. Even failing that - would one early, real fight with Vamp and one real battle with Liquid Ocelot have been two much to ask? Possibly two? The whole first chapter of the game was sorely missing at least one fight with a higher level henchman of some description - you infiltrate Liquid's camp, for Christ's sake! Are all of his generals on their day off or something?
I could overdo this point, but the whole end of the game felt like it was sorely missing a climactic boss battle (not to mention some climactic stealth infiltration). As I've said, the final battle felt more like an interactive cut-scene (albeit a really impressive and epic one), so the game proper essentially ended where you defeat Screaming Mantis. The last boss battle in the game ends with some semi-comedic appearance from the original Mantis, after what was essentially another fun and impressive, but plot-hollow, space filler battle! Is that any kind of swansong for a legendary hero like Solid Snake?
7. Stop trying to appeal to your audience of idiots
MGS3 had this problem, but here it seems much worse. I can feel for Kojima - having so much to address in the way of plot points and junk, but he seems to have tried to satisfy everyone in the world with internet access.
I feel bad. Like I should have gone back in time to counter everyone making forum posts telling Kojima how to end the series. If only someone had made the following points:
- You don't need to go back and find explanations for every supernatural element in previous games. Psychics - Ocelot getting possessed by an arm - a sensible audience is capable of suspending disbelief when it comes to stuff like that. We're prepared to accept walking tanks - we can sure as hell take haunted limbs!
- Don't try to rewrite characters established in previous games. MGS2 was the last game to really make sense with Ocelot's character - MGS3 was passable since it covered his youth. The plot twist in MGS4, though, just seems exceptionally contrived. I didn't even think the human mind was capable of holding a quintuple-cross :/
- Some characters are best left in the past. Johnny made decent comic relief, but he doesn't need a legitimate character just because he's been in the series for more than one game. And Meryl? Her coming back is a great big slap in the face for people like me who were too crap to survive Ocelot's torture. I didn't even know there was an alternate ending to MGS1! This is a complete shock to me.
- There's always room for new major characters. The cast of MGS4 seemed kind of... stagnant. Like one of those crappy film sequels which includes everyone from previous instalments, even when there's no logical reason for doing so. Out with the old; in with the new, and such.
8. Make more of the codec system
It just felt last-minute in this game. Two contacts? Come on! Also, why are all calls so serious all of a sudden? Whatever happened to MGS3's topical humour based on where you were or what you had equipped? I want a full range of colourful characters on my codec!
9. Make Snake cough less!
Not much too this point. Snake's coughing fits just irritated me. I mean, I know how manly he is and all, but there's no reason to include all the symptoms of man-flu. Look at Naomi - she just gets on with her dying.
Anyway, I appreciate what Kojima was doing with Snake's age, and there are parts where it works really well. The bit towards the end with all the crawling (not wanting to give too much away again)... well, suffice to say it's the single most empathy I've ever felt with a fictional character in anything. If I was capable of tears, I'd have died of massive dehydration by the end of that section.
Even so, we don't need to see and old man coughing every five minutes!
10. Do more with the whole old-age and memory theme
As themes go, this one was pretty impressive. Pretty much all of Act 4 was dedicated towards memory, and is really felt quite intense. The problem was, though, that intense feeling was all it was. It didn't go anywhere, and the act itself was disappointingly short.
I was really expecting the game to end with some great revelation about all of the bits of memory and nostalgia - the flashbacks, the bosses being all combinations of people from the previous games, and so on - but I got nothing! The ending of the game itself tied up loose ends, but only physical ones. What about all the psychological stuff? What - does that just hang there? Why do you torture me with this promise of a cool plot twist? Why?
Anyway, I felt like the game was leading us towards a twist on the scale of the excellent revelations ending MGS2, but instead it went nowhere. As twists go, this is by far the series' tamest installment. And for a swansong, I feel that to be incredibly disappointing.
11. Less randomness!
While earlier games in the series felt nicely planned out and sorted, a lot of parts in this were just "WTF?" moments. And not the good "WTF?" weird out moments - just plain old "WTF?" director running out of ideas moments.
A lot of plot elements would have been fine if built up to, but the way they just get plopped onto our screens without any build up (ironically, since most of the rest of the plot has way too much build up) is irritating. Here's a summary of the biggest offenders:
"HEY! Liquid's head of all of these military companies somehow WEEEE and somehow he's working with Vamp even though the guy whos body he's squatting in killed most of his friends WEEEEEE and now Raiden's a cyborg ninja WEEE and EVA from the third game is also head of something or other WEEEEEEE and even though they were all relatively minor characters the guys from the third one all rebooted the organisation that controls the world WEEEEEEEEEE and somehow an ageing British major was able to construct a massively sophisticated network of AI computers from scratch capable of running the world WEEE and assumedly he did it on his own because he didn't trust other humans WEEEWEEEEWEEEE and his friends all managed to get relatively important jobs in the first game despite the odds of running into a particular person on a planet this size is several thousand to one even when you consider their specialist occupation WEEEE not to mention how it goes completely against their original personalities WEEEEEEE and look Mei Ling is in charge of her own ship WEEEEEEEEE and surprise surprise it's the only ship in the world that still works what a coincidence lol WEEEEEEEEE and look Liquid has pulled an Arsenal Gear prototype out of his sleeve WEEEEEEEEEEEE even though managing to steal and hide a ship of that size without anyone noticing would almost as much organisation as George Bush showed in orchestrating the 9/11 attacks WEEEEEEEWEEEWEEEE and now Psycho Mantis was back and he wasn't even a massively important character WEEEEEE but his boss battle was innovative enough lol WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWEEEWEEEEEEEEEEE and best of all, for some reason the ship's designs included a long chamber of people-frying microwaves rather than just a simple locked door or wall to keep people out WEEEWEEEEEEWE EEEEWEWERWQEWE DBVSJ GHVAWYVGFLIGVBSAIVYG S OBYSTRDSUOY"
That's an incredibly unfair summary, but you get the idea. Maybe there's some sort of secret ending which explains all of this, but until I see it I'm just assuming that Kojima can't be arsed any more. And who can blame him? Money doesn't count itself.
Anyway, that's the list. Go outside.
Posted by Paranoia - May 19th, 2008
So yeah, I had a free Front Page post so I thought I'd use it to stroke my own ego with an update on a new game.
I'm combining fun, childish adventuring like I remember from my Amiga with comic ultra-violence. I predict it to be the single most epic mix since aerosol deodorants and open flames.
This is what happens when you eat the poison berries:
Posted by Paranoia - May 3rd, 2008
First off, I'm plugging my new release like crazy - kind of pointless since it should still be somewhere to the left of this post on the front page but whatever :P
Now that that bit of self-indulgence is out of the way, time to bitch.
I started working on a new project a while back, only to essentially run into a brick wall. Figuratively, of course, but from where I'm standing I can't think of a better way to describe what's been done to my creative process. And it's all Adobe's fault :(
First, let's describe the wall. It's a bit of an error in the software. A glitch, or bug, if you want to be technical :) Personally, I don't find the term suitable in this case. It doesn't really do justice to what literally makes progress impossible. This isn't something which you can code your way around, or jump through some hoop or other to get past. This bug is, quite simply, the project killer.
BORING CODER SPEAK BEGINS HERE
I'm not an expert, but from what a few other people have said the error seems to crop up when you use too many classes. For the non-OOPers of you, classes are basically AS3's skeleton. It's possible to code without them, but what you end up with is a sloppy mess of skin and muscles with the odd eye poking out, blinking occasionally. I'm going back into metaphors here, but you get the idea. With classes, you can order your project into a load of neat, sensible objects, with methods and properties passed on from parents to children, instances which can have their behaviour changed en masse instead of as individuals, and order everything into neat, stackable files.
When it comes to large, complex projects (such as the RPG type affair in which the error occurred), utilising classes makes an engine which would drive any coder insane with its complexity and unpredictability into one nice, streamlined, easy to tweak collection of files. I've not even approached the subject of attached sounds and objects yet - AS3 requires you to give any library item you want to attach via script a class. This is great, since it makes sense in relation to the rest of the language, and allows you to set base-classes for objects so that they inherit their properties and methods from external files (for example, you could have a load of different looking enemies with MovieClips in the library, all of which inherit their behaviour from the same template file).
Now, everything's good so far. Unfortunately, all of this inheritance and whatnot leads to a large collection of classes. This shouldn't be a problem. Really. For an object based on OOP, as AS3 most definitely is, having a big pool of classes and sub-classes should be expected, if not encouraged. Unfortunately... Flash doesn't seem to realise that.
All of which brings me hurtling back to the error in question. In summary, it seems to be this:
If you use too many classes, or classes in a way which Flash doesn't like, it will stop running code
Seems simple, doesn't it? This is the project-killer. It can strike at any time, stopping it would generally require you to re-work an entire engine, and code is mandatory for any real game. There is no internal way of working around it - I've heard some talk about exporting and importing into Flex and messing around... Which as a Flash kid just goes way over my head.
BORING CODER SPEAK ENDS HERE
If you want another metaphor, this glitch is equivalent to something which is built around accommodating an object falling apart if you use too much of that object. It's equivalent to building a crematorium out of petrol. There is no way that a piece of software with a scripting language specifically designed for OOP should fall apart if you use more than a certain amount of OOP.
I'm a developer, so being limited by something or other is a fairly common experience. You start making something and realise you don't have the time, or resources, or drawing ability for it, and you have to stop. Having a great idea, knowing you can make it work and then being stopped at an early stage by an unforeseeable bug is profoundly annoying.
I always figured that serious coders who claimed that AS3 was removed from normal development were just, you know, unwilling to change old habits, and that if they'd give it a go they'd see how neat and clean and shiny a new language can be, allowing projects to be set up like never before. This whole thing is just a kick in the teeth to people who've supported Flash's moving forward as a serious bit of software.
NOW, obviously just bitching isn't going to get anyone anywhere, so I thought I'd head over to Adobe's site and make a report about the error. I had a slightly bigger look around today, and some of the stuff over there is just silly.
Here's something which caught my eye. The latest error: "ActionScript 3.0 movie clips and components exported by Adobe Flash CS3 Professional incorrectly play through their timeline when ActionScript is used to prevent the timeline from playing. ActionScript 3.0 components will appear to flicker between their normal state and their skin settings." - so essentially Flash ignores specific instructions not to play by (ahem) playing.
Have no fear, though! "This issue only occurs in specific circumstances where a movie clip or component is placed on the stage on a keyframe other than the first keyframe, or if the object is removed later in the timeline." It's funny - I've never though of using any frame whatsoever other than the very first on as a 'specific circumstance'. Still, only crazy people would want to remove stuff from the timeline, right? I mean, they put it there in the first place! Do you want it there or not? Make your mind up!
Time was when you only needed to update your player every major update, and most Flash viewing regulars could keep track of what was being released and when. Apparently, though, this issue is present in 'Flash Player 126.96.36.199 and earlier' (yup - we're up to four separate version identifiers).
Not only that, but to rub salt into the wound, Adobe points out that "Flash CS3 Professional ships with the updated player, and developers will not encounter the behaviour when testing with this version or later." Good idea? Let's just clarify - if you're a developer, and you're testing your game, the version you see on the screen isn't the same as the version a great portion of the non-developing public will see. Who's idea was it to upgrade players for people making Flash separately to those for people viewing it? It's like that old joke about the UK moving from the left-hand lane to the right, and to ease the transition we're doing lorries and busses on Saturday and smaller vehicles on Sunday. It makes no sense for somebody who's making something to see a better version than the thousands of people who are going to be looking at it afterwards.
Now, updating software is good and all, but with something like Flash which is spread so widely, surely it's reasonable to expect that updates should be so big, loud and significant that almost all of the viewing public will know that they're supposed to update their players. Sneaking stuff like this under the radar is just going to confuse people, and penalise developers who don't have the mind-reading skills to realise that their work is buggy in a different version of Flash Player 9.
On a personal note, I've got a strong feeling that this is the reason behind the submission I'm currently plugging being glitchy with a few reviewers. Back when Flash 8 came out, it was easy to blame people for not having updated from Flash Player 7 - I mean - the site had great big disclaimers and everything. At the moment, though, you can't really hold it against the viewer for having Flash Player 188.8.131.52 when what they should have is Flash Player 184.108.40.206 (actually, as I write this, the latest version is 220.127.116.11). Remember simplicity? Remember when Flash was that one bit of software which you didn't need to constantly download 'The Latest Version!' for?
I don't like admitting that I'm wrong, but I can't help but get the impression that Adobe is completely out of touch with everyone who isn't a corporate management arsehole. It's taken long enough, but I'm finally beginning to see Flash as more and more as a faceless bit of money-making, run by people whos sales-pitch consists of bombarding people with versions and jargon until they're suitably impressed to make a purchase. I miss Macromedia :(
Posted by Paranoia - April 18th, 2008
It still needs a comments system, but all of the essentials are there:
Since my old domain was misplaced, all of the links in my submissions are pointing to an annoying squat page :(
Anyway, my new game should be released pretty soon. It's all there - I'm just negotiating around for the best sponsor deal, so Kayn - you can have your $55 back pretty soon :P
Let me set a shocking precedent by not using this post to spam a video through Rob's new system :P Bye!
Posted by Paranoia - April 10th, 2008
Some of the more observant viewers might have noticed that the game I promised around New Year is still not out. Trust me on this one - I've been working my bollocks off for it.
Right now I'm about half way through making the final boss (which still leaves all the secrets and super-secret-final boss to make), and getting this finished is my top priority. I've set myself a target for at least one screen or cut-scene a day, and I'm bloody well sticking to it, if not exceeding it. It's ahead of coursework and revision as far as commitment to getting it done is concerned, not to mention completely butchering my social life. I'm determined to get it done before my birthday, at which point I'll probably spend the remainder of the year drunk to make up for all the effort I'm putting it in now.
I don't like to quote statistics, but here's an idea of how big this project is: It's got over 90 screens at this point (including about 20 cut-scenes), and I want to give it at least ten more. There are currently 9 bosses (though a few of those have several stages), 15 secrets, and I'm sticking a couple more in too. I've managed to keep the library less than 1,000 items large by creative use of graphics, but it's still just shy of 800, and my class folder looks like the neatest paper-factory explosion in human history.
Just for the curious of you, here's a plot summary: You're the uncharacteristically altruistic vampire lord of a large land. Some younger guys decide to take over your kingdom. You have to go on two seperate chains of levels to take out the main guy's underlings (a bit like the second disk of Oddworld:Abe's Exodus if anyone played that), before you can head back to your castle and take out the big man himself.
On another note, due to a kerfuffle with my hosts involving several changes of hand, I've lost my old domain name. My new site is at brainflay.net, and that should be up at the same time as I release my game.
Anyway, I'm using up my Front Page post for this ego-trip. Just to demonstrate my commitment, I'm pulling a Tom as of last weekend and not shaving, or indeed washing my hair in the morning, until I've got this, my site, and all coursework finished. Observe: