Friday, February 23, 2007

My "Wow Moments"

Half-Life 2. To many Halo fans in 2004, it was the enemy. Critics hailed it as the best game of that year in many categories including storytelling, graphics, and countless other fields. Online polls across the net were pitting it and the console's biggest game of the year, Halo 2 up against eachother, and we saw on many Halo sites forums numerous "Vote f0r Halo 2!!!1!" threads pop up.

Now, two years later much of that is all forgotten among fans of both games. Truth be told, Half-Life 2, quality wise, is my favorite game of all time. The simple fact that it makes you feel when you're entwined within the confines of the spooky Ravenholm. Or when you are gazing upon abandoned rebel outposts on Highway 17, this game truly immerses you into its world -- something game designers are still striving to do (and not necessarily succeeding) to this day.

Enter Halo 2, which offers up hundreds of hours worth of fun times with friends in multiplayer, on top of the dozen or so hours (close to thirty if you're an easter egg guy) within its campaign mode. It never offered me the same feelings as playing Half-Life 2 on the Xbox did, but it always kept me entertained, which is what games are here to do. Right?

But as someone who is planning on getting into this industry someday, I can't help but be concerned about the generic quality that games seem to be striving toward. If you take away the fact that Halo 2 is part of multi-million dollar hit game, and strip it of everything that associates itself with the original Halo, including characters and names, it isn't above any other first person shooter to come out within the last few years. What I'm saying here, is most modern games focus more on dazzling you with special effects and pretty graphics, and let up on instituing these amazing moments that make you say, "Ok, what I'm playing is more than just a game." And yes, followers of the HBO forum will recognize the term I'm about to use here, I call these "wow moments".

I define "wow moments" as any event taking place during the confines of gameplay that make you feel what's happening onscreen, and take you aback. Any little event or scene of gameplay that's more movie-like than something you'd normally think would be a part of a game. These are little scenes scattered throughout the game that truly immerse you, the player, in the universe, and make you believe you're there in that universe, and not sitting staring at a computer screen or a TV. You may get it from a Strider lancing a fellow rebel soldier in Half-Life 2, or from the first scenes of Prey when you're abducted and taken on the ship. But any way you slice it, interactable or not, these little in-game events are what makes gaming great for me, and I hope, for you.

The original Halo provided me with quite a few of these moments, including scenes like your flight into, and the exploration of, the 343 Guilty Spark swamp. The swamp just had this eeriness and total mystery about it that put you through a loop if you weren't expecting what was about to happen ahead. That was one of the many instances that got me immersed into the Halo universe, though truth be told I had read Halo: The Flood long before actually playing the game. Yeah, strange.

But anywho, it stayed with me until summer 2004 when I first watched the first, and only, campaign demonstration of Halo 2. To get my full feelings on that demo, visit this thread on HBO, but back to the topic at hand. While watching the demo and seeing all of the little immersive events onscreen like the Longsword bombing run, the Marine giving you his SMG, the conversation between the pinned down Marine and Perez, before the Marine's cover is blown away after a humerous exchange. All of these instances clearly fit into my explanation of "wow moments". These were things you would see in a real battlefield (if not somewhat stripped of realism seeing as how you're a 7 foot tall cyborg). From beginning to end, the demo gave me a very strong emotional impact that left me wanting to see it again and again. Truth be told, I still watch it to this day, even if it's more for research for my future career rather than "taking me back to the old days".

Then, Halo 2 shipped. And in comparison with the demo, it was absolutely nothing like it. The design of the "hive city", as I like to call it, was totally stripped down to a rather boring skyline, with generic buldings and "skyscrapers" (if you could call them that) that just made you think this all could have happened closer to sixty years in the future, rather than five-hundred and fifty. The Mombasa levels, and the rest of the game, were filled with absolutely none of my "wow moments". Not once was I taken aback and found myself saying, "This is art." No bombs dropping, no A.I. controlled Warthogs squishing a Jackal formation, and certainly no sense of true conflict with bleeding Marines and medics on the battlefield tending them. That being said, the experience was fun throughout, and the art design was great as always with the Halo games.

So with the Halo series so far, we've gone from a really immersive gaming experience, to nothing really above that of its competition? The sad truth these days within the industry is that developers again seem to be looking more toward cool effects (humm.. think "pretty water" and interactable foliage) and jaw dropping graphics, rather than envoking feeling into their work. Not that awesome effects and amazing graphics are bad, it's just that Half-Life 2 has proved you can have those and a stunning campaign that really makes you think and feel. Gears of War, sadly, is yet another example of this. Awesome game, great graphics, but practically no story and no "wow moments" within.

I know I can't personally do anything to change what Bungie does with, say, Halo 3 to give it the same feeling that playing the original Halo did, but I can promise that if and when I do make it into the videogame industry, I'll do my best to institute my little moments into any projects I work on.

Until that happens, I'll leave you with this question that you can leave your answer to in the Comments. What do you prefer? A game with absolutely amazing moments scattered througout an immersive and fun campaign, or a more "mindless" (kind of harsh word there..) gameplay experience of slaughtering aliens and watching cutscenes?

So, "wow moments" or no, for you?


~Major Silva

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the reason Halo 2 didn't have as many "wow moments" is because you weren't shown the big picture. You felt like you were going from one mini battle to the next. There wasn't a flow to the levels. I was playing Gravemind the other day, the level where this lack of flow is probably most obvious. I would stop and fight with a group of elites or brutes and then walk for a few minutes before getting to the little fight. Most of the time, I got to a new fight and just waited for the two sides to kill each other off before getting involved, adding another couple of minutes. Hopefully, in Halo 3 these moments in between fights will be taken out, shortened, or filled in with evidence of outside fighting that's going on to eliminate the feeling of stopping and starting constantly.

Anonymous said...

For me, Halo 2 seemed to want to be an interactive movie - too much in the way of cut scenes. Although we did get to find out more about the mysterious Covnenant, it just had the effect of 'humanising' them.

Splitting the gameplay between the Chief and the Arbiter was another mistake as it just interupted the flow of the game switching between the two. Remember the backlash in the PS2 community when Metal Gear Solid 2 introduced the Raiden character part way through the game? For me it left me cold. Its' fine to intoduce a character when its a new Intellectual Property to start with, but forcing you to play as another character (who is in effect the enemy) just turns me off to the idea.

What about the many sequences where you fight on a gondola? again, did they just rip this idea out of Metal Gear Solid 1 & 2. It's just another cheap way of forcing the action along on the rails. What happened to the promise of huge open levels like the like on Halo where you could rescue the marines from the escape pods in any order you wanted?

Sergeant Johnson - we know he was a cool, gung-ho character, but his comments went as far as being 'cringable' at times - just going for a cheap laugh which detracted from the immersion of the story.

Gravemind?? What the hell? Did someone watch Little Shop of Horrors for the inspiration for this character? Leader of the Flood - hive mind and all that - Seen it all before. It all just spoke to me of 'making it up as they went along'. Sure Bungie spend loads of time tweeking the multiplayer as it was obviously to be used a vehicle to boost Xbox Live subscriptions, but if the campaign was to be so much of an after thought, I'd have been happy just for them to release the game without the campaign aspect.

Halo 2 was so obviously a filler for Halo 3 and microsoft's Xbox 360. For me, the campaign has very little replay value compared the inspired original Halo.

One thing that fills me with fear for Halo 3 is this development of the Brutes which for me looks like there's too much association of Peter Jackson's vision of the Uruk Hai's of JRR Tolkiens Lord of the Rings than what is envisioned in the Halo novels.

I want missions to infiltrate Covenant facilities like in First Strike - engage the covenant on their own territory, plus less of the flood as they were frankly ruined in my opinion with what they did with Gravemind (see above)

The original Halo came together like a planetary alignment or living somewhere where you get to see a total eclipse of the sun - a magical once in a lifetime occurance that doesn't often repeat in your lifetime. I doubt that Halo 3 will surpass Halo in gameplay, although the hi-definition graphics will wow many.

I don't know maybe I'm just too cynical these days...

Anonymous said...

More people focus on the alien slaughtering rather than the atmosphere and crazy AI routines that have nothing to do with you and your alien slaughtering. It's the reason people play more multiplayer than campaign. Atmosphere can take the form of aliens in non slaughtered mode, but it doesn't really mean much compared to blowing their head apart.

Anonymous said...

While having such immersive moments of gameplay in video games is awesome, I really couldn't care less if Halo 3 was like Halo 2 in it's lack of "Wow filled moments".

All I want is to see thats grunts face peel apart when I shoot it.

Anonymous said...

yeah it did kinda suck compairing the preview of halo 2 campain, to halo 2 what it was.... even that preview had better grafix then the game, and it looked so FUN and just over all AWESOME the halo 2 levle as it was on earth, pretty much sucked... nothing as complex, and none of the oh noes my marines are getting shot qick get them to help. the brutes were not there, i could not do cool punching with my BR and most of all it was not as interactive as it had looked....

UNSCDF Blog said...

Actually, I kinda think Bungie (heh, just thought of this after I posted the Blog post!) is fitting in some of my "wow moments" into Halo 3. Look at the Brute Doc.

In it, they talk about how you'll see Brutes and other A.I. characters acting out things that aren't even related to combat. Now, I'd have to see some of these first hand (hopefully it's not like a Brute going-number-two in the photo realistic bushes), but from what I've heard so far, I would classify these as wow moments. Not to mention seeing an Elite cut off a Brute's leg, then go in for the kill.

All in all Halo 3 appears to be going for a very cinematic game, somewhat like that old E3 trailer I've been talking about. But who knows, except Bungie really :)

~MS

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I had some "Wow moments" on Xbox live. Running along, trying to return our flag, all 16 player met at the same point. I was ducking under gunfire, screaming bullets flying back to meet them, dust puff kicking up besides me. It was sweet.

Billy said...

Half Life 2 was great, yes it had those "wow moments" and yes, they were spectactular, but it's replay value was extremely low for me where areas Halo 2 has made me come back for countless re-adventures. I'd rather have a game that's fun enough for me to come back than a game that's awesome once or twice through.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree
Theres so much I hated about Halo2, and I don't want to waste the time listing them
Fun multiplay, untill cheating got ridiculous..

Anonymous said...

I'll list all the Halo 2 wow moments I can think of by level.
Cairo Station: When the other stations exploded, when Gunns died, When you step outside the second time and see the huge covenant ship fly extremely close by.
Outskirts: Hunters bashing through the gate(You can sorta call it a wow moment. On my first playthrough it sure as hell was.), and when the scarab blows the hog up in the tunnel.
Metropolis: When you would run into the scarab as it walked by, when the scarab rounded the street corner and blows the tank up
Arbiter: I can't really think of any unless the Hangar fight counts as one(I don't think it does)
Oracle:Cutting the station down(And the subsequent "OMG the station falling gotta get out" thing)
Delta Halo: When you walk up on the first tower cluster and you can see covenant patrols on the towers.(I think this counts, I'm sorta 50/50 on it)
Regret: The underwater gondolas, when the covenant armada warps in(even though it was a cutscene) and you can look up and see them and High charity, and the Regret fight(sorta 50/50 on it too)
Sacred Icon: The first enforcer you fight and disengage the shield and ride the gondola you disengaged across the trench and watching the shield retract. Also when the sentinel factory is knocked out of the sky when you reach the bottom of the wall.
Quarantine zone: The whole gondola sequence(sorta 50/50 again)
Gravemind:When the In Amber Clad jumps in above you, and the final battle in the Mausoleum.(50/50 again)
High Charity: I can't really think of any
Uprising: Right at the level start looking off the cliff. Also there's just something I like about this level that I can't think of. I just like it.
Great Journey: Sarge blowing the door to the control center.

Thats all I can think of for now.

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