Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Black Mesa Source: Sights and Sounds

So last weekend I played through Black Mesa Source with notable freelance gaming journalist damselgaming who wrote a review of it before I could even blink. As a result I have very little to say about BMS because she has put it very well herself and I would have to be derivitive.

One thing I would add to her comments is this; the sound design of BMS is astounding. New voices, new voice acting, new audio cues and creature sounds make the atmosphere of the game much richer than the original. The soundtrack alone is breathtaking; Blast Pit has a gradually building minimalistic piano accompaniment that makes its rotting concrete and rusted steel vastness haunting and poignant (while you're not being attacked by giant armoured worms) while the grand finale of Questionable Ethics has a musical score which got me so pumped I ended up dying several times because I was playing like a spacemarine (and not a theoretical physicist).

The other thing I have to add is a few HD screenshots of the mod. Some of which reveal some interesting design decisions:
The Xen Tentacle, shortly before killing a scientist

A Gargantua staring me out. A few seconds after this he reached into the corridor and cooked me with his heat rays. Yes that actually happened

Two marines, shortly before explosive neutralisation

The rocket towards the end of On a Rail

Launching the Rocket

The new Black Ops Assassin model. Notice the spring heeled boots  are almost identical to the long fall boots from Portal. Is this Aperture tech being used by marines or did Aperture Science send in their own kill team for Freeman? This little detail is one of the things that makes BMS so fun.

Out with the old, in with the new.

GREAT SCOTT! Every white board in the Questionable Ethics Laser lab is filled with physics and diagrams in the distinct style of all 4 science teams that were working there before the Resonance Cascade. 

All the physics objects in the main laser lab ready for science!

Only the cup survived. Right on mug! There are at least 5 different mug designs in BMS, one of which has the Chuckle Brothers on it. How's that for detail?

The hydro electric dam. Pretty!

These bitches just got scienced.

Lambda Core , in all its gleaming glory

The gateway to Xen before powering up, breathtaking stuff.

As you can see, BMS is quite the labour of love. Play it now.

Stay Crunchy Internet.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Something for the Weekend: Black Mesa Source

This week marks the culmination of over 8 years of blood, sweat and tears. This week is the week when one of the greatest fan labours of love in gaming history comes to fruition. On friday at midnight Black Mesa Source is relesed.

Black Mesa Source is a mod for Half Life Two that recreates the entirety of Half Life in glorious current generation HD graphics. It features re-recorded high fidelity voice acting, remastered audio design and fully re-rendered character models and environments built from the ground up in Source. All you need is SDK 2007 to play it (if you have Half Life 2 on steam you can install it via the tools tab of your games library) and it's completely free.

Currently the game only runs up to where you enter Xen in the lambda labs (about 3/4 of the way though the original) but they are planning to add the last quarter of the game when it's done. Made by the fans, for the fans and completly free. Prepare for Unforeseen Consequences.

Stay Crunchy Internet

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Free to Play. The Future of Online Gaming?

I think we can all agree that free stuff is awesome. Tell me a new fast food chain has opened near my house and I will probably not be that bothered. Give me a book of vouchers for it that includes offers of free stuff and I am there. Even if I know the food is terrible. Even if the company has been outed as anti gay and is inundated by self righteous types with signs.
Your protest is lame and I will punch through you for free chicken
We all want free stuff and in a perfect world everything would be free but this is the capitalist western world. Perfect it aint. On that subject few aspects of our lives are more dominated by the whims of global mega corps than gaming, especially online gaming. MMO's are a global phenomenon that have become a massive part of our generation's culture and they don't come much bigger than World of Warcraft (WoW) an MMO with an 8 year pedigree, a sinister relationship with rodent behavioral studies and an annual turnover that makes a great deal of medium sized companies look like lemonade stands. WoW is immersive, addictive and  apparently massive amounts of fun. It is also paid for via subscription. I have always had an issue with this. As a teenager I was heavily into Runescape and for a time I paid a subscription fee monthly to be a full member so I could play the other 75% of the game that was denied to free to play members. I know what it's like to play an MMO like WoW. That's probably why I will never play it.
Well that and this guy

Microtransactions Vs Subscriptions: Innovation Vs. Addiction

It would appear however that recent years have seen the rise of a new business model for online gaming: free to pay (with microtransactions). Essentially the developer makes their game free to play but adds in game items/ currency that the players use real cash to buy. An old boss of mine from Games Workshop always used to say something that has stuck with me to this day: "a good business decision is one that makes us (the retailer) and the customers happy". I feel that free to play is a step in the right direction for us customers in terms of the amount of control we have over the online gaming industry. If WoW is an angry landlord that you have to pay rent to every week with the constant threat of eviction then games like League of Legends, Team Fortress 2 and Star Trek Online are genial comic book shop owners. I don't go out of my way to buy my yu-gi-oh cards and hobby supplies from the small independent comic book store in my local village because they have the best choice; I do it because I respect the guy who runs the place. He's a pillar in the community. He even DM's games of Dungeons and Dragons during school holidays because the local kids can't DM a game themselves.
You gotta go where everyone knows your name
The free to play business model forces companies to put us first as customers instead of acting like drug dealers. Subscription based online gaming relies on keeping people addicted not keeping them happy. Free to play games however rely on patronage; they need you to enjoy things enough to invest money in them as a kind of thank you. Take League of Legends (LoL) for example; it has an in game currency (Influence Points) which you can earn by playing the game (the better you play the more you make) and a separate currency you can buy (Riot Points). Riot Points and Influence Points can be spent on new characters to use in the game while only Riot Points can be spent on skins for your characters; superficial improvements that make you look cooler on the battlefield.
Some of which look insanely rad
While you can buy a cooler look for your favorite character however, you can't buy power. There are items called glyphs which give you an early game boost in power and these can only be bought by Influence Points. In short you can't buy your way to the top, that takes skill, experience and a bit of grinding. You win because you can look cool, Riot (the company that makes LoL) wins because they may make some money and you win again because putting lots of money into the game can't buy n00bs an easy victory. I have played LoL for 3 to 4 years and recently gave up on it in favour of DotA2 (I was always a DotA boy from the beginning). In those 3 to 4 years Riot has made over £200 out of me. Not through subscriptions but because I wanted to give them money. They created a world and I played in it and had fun. So I bought some stuff in game because I could. No tricks. No creepy psychological exploitation to keep me addicted to their product. Just good honest fun. That's how this industry should work.

Stay Crunchy Internet