With all of the talk about 3D action games, you'd think that in the past couple of years, an entire decade -- and then some -- of computer games were instantly rendered irrelevant. Do games these days need to be 3D to keep a gamer's interest? What makes a game fun? These answers, and more, in due time...
I'd like to first start by expressing my opinion of what makes 3D action games so popular these days. I think there are several reasons, not the least of which is the "show off" factor. For years, demos of what computers can accomplish in terms of sound an animation have captured the imagination of users (this may in part, by the way, explain why so many people use CPU-taxing displays like flying toasters as a screen saver).
You must admit that if you're a technophile, it is just plain cool to be able to see the next great advance in audio-visual technology flying around on your computer monitor. It also gives you bragging rights: "Hey Dorfus, look at what my 166mHz PPC can do!" While being able to see it is cool, being able to play it is the next level of geeky coolness.
3D games also help with an important factor in games: immersion. If your computer screen is displaying a 3D texture-mapped corridor that you're cruising through while toting a machine gun, it's pretty damn easy to live vicariously through the game. The more you can "get into" a game, generally the more you'll enjoy it.
Finally, 3D games also provide the opportunity for -- but generally do not deliver -- a true added dimension in terms of playability. In other words, there are some elements of game play that simply can't be done in a traditional 2D game. Unfortunately, many 3D games lack these nuances, settling for a 3D implementation of a 2D game.
While these factors are all well and good, one of the major hazards of creating a 3D game is concentrating on the whiz-bang graphics, and forgetting the game play that makes it an interesting game in the first place. If you're not convinced that this is happening in droves, I gently refer you to take a peek at the collection of graphically stunning but largely uninteresting titles that are available for "next-generation" consoles such as the Sega Saturn or Sony Playstation.
Technology such as 3D animation does not make a game; it compliments and accentuates what is already there. I feel that it is unfortunate that many people deride "2D" games simply because they lack a 3D texture-mapping engine -- and I say this with an Ambrosia 3D game looming on the horizon.
I think an analogy is in order here. George Lucas is often remembered for the quote: "A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing." Even today, the Star Wars trilogy stands head and shoulders above movies that have taken advantage of newer, more impressive special effect technology. They have stood the test of time because they were damn good movies, with a compelling story to tell. Still, I can remember a phase when many friends of mine would go to a movie just to see the "cool special effects."
I'd like to revise good old George's sentiments: "A special effect without the game play is a pretty boring thing." We may well be in a period in gaming history where we are so enamored of the cool effects being incorporated into games that we tend to gloss over the most important ingredient: the game.
Maybe I'm the only one, but "multi-media" makes me want to toss my cookies.
I certainly don't feel any new gaming technology -- from dorky looking 3D helmets to surround sound -- renders games that were a blast last year "un-fun". In my opinion, anyone who only plays games that incorporate the "latest technology" may very well be in it for something other than the game.
Please don't misunderstand me: I'm as excited about the new directions that games are taking as anyone else. I'm just slightly disturbed by the emphasis on technology rather than game play.
Yes, we all want the beautiful vapid bimbo -- but unless she has the intelligence and personality to match, it's amazing how boring or even irritating she can become... and how quickly.
Wow. Perhaps this column should be entitled "Andrew's manic rant." Ah well, it felt good to get that off of my chest. ;)
Andrew "Gag me with full-motion video"
Ambrosia Software, Inc.