Face Off: The Slowdown Game

Face Off: The Slowdown Game

 December 10, 1998 – Dennis “Thresh” Fong and Kenn Hwang

The heyday of 3D gaming is upon us, particularly in the category of the First-Person Shooter. With heating competition on the CPU side, high-powered, low priced PC brains in the form of Celeron and K6-2 have become widely available for the average Joe, and 3D accelerator cards are constantly pushin’ the envelope. I mean every friggin’ company has a new, next-generation card that’s supposed to blow all of the competition out of the water. What it all boils down to is that it’s a damned good time to be playing games! We’ve got more speed than we’ve ever had before, and it’s only getting better!

So why is it that now that we have access to all of this RAW SPEED, games have been getting slower and slower since the very birth of the genre? Doom was fast, blazing in fact. Quake was slower, but still zippy. Then we got Quake II, Unreal, which gave us larger levels and environments, but molasses in our boots. Half Life wasn’t any kind of improvement in this regard, and with the popularity of “strategic teamplay” in games like Rainbow Six, it looks like folks are forgetting how fun racking up 200 frags in 10 minutes can be.

Well, the way I see it, it’s a natural progression. True, we’re experiencing an Indian Summer in 3D consumer technology, and the solutions available today allow for some damned fast processing. While speed is certainly a factor, it’s not the whole enchilada! Gamers are demanding more than just adrenaline nowadays, as the demand is for the experience, something that makes people sit up and take notice, and in all honesty, a dizzying blur isn’t going to cut it. Playing Doom, you ran around orthogonal, one-story bulidings all day, without the ability to even crane your neck to look around. Quake introduced the hard-kill factor. Players were slowed down slightly so they couldn’t zip away in a blink, and the weapons were weaker to introduce more of a “dueling” aspect to the game. Add to this truly three-dimensional environments, and I’d say it was well worth the sacrifice in speed.Technical issues aside, the amount of detail going into today’s games far surpasses everything that’s come before. If you want people to take notice, you have to play a continuous game of one-upsmanship – whether it involves more detailed models or textures, more convincing and impressive special effects, or what not. Adding to the realism of the environment isn’t going to do much good if the in-game characters run around at a discrepant speed – it detracts from the immersion of the game.

Well, here’s a dead horse. Realism vs. Fun all over again? Anyone who’s talked to me about Quake II knows my opinion on the matter. I couldn’t give a hairy horse’s ass about realism if it detracts from the enjoyment of the game. Let’s talk about “the experience.” You seem to think that it’s all about being stuck in a realistic world. I say screw that. The experience of playing a game is in how it makes you feel. Doom grabs hold of your attention and never lets go, because there’s never a dull moment. Walk around in a Quake II 1 on 1 and there’s constantly tension, which definitely adds to gameplay, but overall the intensity isn’t quite there. Half of the time you’re walking or crawling, or just standing still to hear your opponent’s footsteps, or just vying for position. When you do see your opponent, it becomes nothing but aim – at that point what’s left of the strategic game flies straight out the window.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just what I feel. I’m down with variety, but the trend towards slowing down is taking the “action” out of action games.

Well, you may say that Q2 isn’t the strategic of games, but watching some of your PGL Finals demos, I would have to disagree. What were you doing the whole time, charging blindly? Give me a break. The reduced speed in that particular made obvious the need for stealth – it magnified the need to play strategically. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that playing Doom depended more on aim than Q2. Think about what the hell you’re talking about when you mention strategy. Rainbow Six multiplayer is ALL about strategy. A game even slower, Eidos’ Thief, requires a hell of a lot more than aim – it’s entire focus is on stealth and strategy.If you want proof of a game that’s slower than Doom/Quake, but still action-packed, look at Half Life. It’s got completely exaggerated footstep sounds, item respawns that are louder that hell, and yet it still packs a hell of a punch in the action department.

Are you kidding? While there’s no doubt it’s fun, all of those hitscan weapons in Half Life make it a total aim contest. I do think it’s a blast however, and HL has a number of features that make up for its speed. The long jump makes it possible to cover the smaller levels in a matter of seconds, and the awesome Gauss gun makes the slow-down player cringe.

I’m not here to bag on slower or strategic games, I actually think they are really fun and entertaining. I try to play any game I can get my hands on, but spending too much time on other games can seriously whack up the Quake skills; and the reason I mention this is because I believe that there’ll be a trend going back towards the faster paced games. Just look at Blood 2! From what I have seen, I have to say that Half Life DM is definitely fun, and Thief, while only Single-player, is still pretty damned pimp, especially while trying to evade multiple guards or zombies.

Well, there you have it. Slower doesn’t necessarily mean less intense. If it makes you feel any better, think about it this way – old geezers like me, who can’t compete on a reflex level with you young’ns relish the opportunity to use our brains more. Not everyone has the hand/eye speed of a 10-year old, and if it’s pure action you’re looking for, go buy a console. I think Parappa is right up your alley.

That’s not what I’m saying at all, and I can tell you right now it’s not reflex you’re lacking when you play, Mr. “I’ll pick up every item on the way to the armor.” I just feel that given the growth in the genre and the availability of the technology, the adrenaline-pumping, super-fast-action first person shooter is just dying to make a comeback. Trust me, when they do, even old geezers like you can shake off the years of rust and actually start having fun again!

Well, I don’t know about that, but when Quake III Arena comes out, you can be sure I’ve got my eye set on the fastest player class. As demonstrated by Shogo’s similar 4-class setup, speed usually IS the biggest advantage you can have. Unless the id guys do some serious play balancing, speed freaks like you might get your wish and be able to run around like you’ve got a stick of dynamite up your butt, incinerating everything in sight. Boy am I looking forward to that…

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