My association with The Citizen and The Citizen Returns is long. I know both main developers fairly well and even voice acted in them. However, when The Citizen Returns was released slightly over a year ago, I delayed playing it because I just didn’t have time. As time went on, I kept saying, “Oh! I’ll play it next week”. Of course, I never did.
Then Jim Patridge was “asked” to do it for his Critical Jim and he seemed to slip into full berserker mode and verbally trashed it.
Recently, I have started my on livestream event called Phillip Plays Badly, where I plays mods that I have been meaning to play for a while. So, last weekend I played The Citizen Returns, against Jim’s advice I might add!) and didn’t hate it.
Now, I am not going to review it here, but essentially the gameplay is not as good as I hoped, but it did raise some questions about whether gameplay was the most important aspect or element of a mod.
If was assume that it is (perhaps that’s a larger discussion) what comes next? My feeling in this case was that the visuals and story telling elements almost made up for the less than fun gameplay.
So, here is this week’s poll question After Gameplay, which is the next most important element?
I think I would have to select story because that’s one of the main reasons I play SP stuff.
What about you? Do you even agree that gameplay IS the most important element?
I’d say it’s story, but perhaps not in the sense of the physical printed plotline.
The narrative and player agenda, told through environments and gameplay combined, transform maps from a meaningless challenge into a narrated experience.
If lost coast was just a set of rooms as opposed to a long, lonely trek, it wouldn’t have made the same impact on me.
So it’s a tough one. It’s a little bit story, a little bit graphics, but combined and weaved in such a way it makes me care about what’s going on in the virtual world. A pretty map with no environment story or goal leaves me feeling without an agenda, I don’t care about what’s happening. A story hamfisted into an ugly map makes it hard to suspend disbelief and follow it.
It’s a value which cannot have an element like “graphics” in isolation.
In retrospect I realise I haven’t answered the question very well at all.
I’m very story-driven myself, and my long association with the Half-Life franchise (and Half-Life 2 in particular) is derived from how it tells its story and packs so much detail beneath the exterior of a relatively simple plot.
In HL2 modding in particular, I actually struggled to get into it much because most of the time it’s just a compilation of gameplay features, rather than a cohesive story. So, to me, a mod will stand out when it tells a good story, albeit not necessarily through NPCs or voice acting. Sometimes it’s how you build the world, or other original ideas to transmit the story – that’s why MINERVA, for instance, still stands the test of time, as it used both techniques to tell an engaging story.
I would say visuals, on the grounds that not every mod needs a story. At least, not in the traditional sense – with choreographed actors and whatnot. Year Long Alarm, for example, really had no story behind it. Minerva’s story is so smug and cryptic that it adds nothing of value for me. I actually find it rather obnoxious.
But a mod should look good. I actually couldn’t tell you much about the story in many mods, but I could tell you about the visual setpieces that stood out. The visuals themselves can tell a story and that’s arguably all the story a mod needs. After all, when you get down to it, HL2 goes for very long stretches with the thinnest of stories. Route Kanal and Water Hazard, for example, are held together by the need to get to Black Mesa East. And that’s all. But along the way, we get a recurring threat from the Hunter-Chopper. We get the little rebel outposts. We get the transition from day to sunset. And that’s mostly visual storytelling. If the visuals weren’t up-to-par, you couldn’t do this. Players would be too distracted by bad graphics.
I would also argue that audio is a hugely overlooked component in most mods. People overlook it because when it’s doing its job, you don’t really notice that it’s there, but you will notice when it’s not, even if you can’t put your finger on why.
Concerning The Citizen Returns, I also dislike the mod. But I dislike it for a different reason than Jim. I accept that not everyone maps for the same reason. It’s like playing basketball. Not everyone dreams of joining the NBA, and so they play to entertain themselves and don’t follow all the rules in the process. That’s perfectly fine. And if you enjoy that too, then more power to you. Who can say you’re wrong?
Leon is a good example of this. I don’t like Leon’s mods either, but he’s said very plainly that his style of combat isn’t for everyone, but he does it because he enjoys it. And there are plenty of people who enjoy it with him. I cannot fault him for that. You keep doing you.
The problem is when folks in that group start making declarative statements about the group that is taking it more seriously. To whit, the Citizen’s developers became very defensive about their work and made a lot of criticisms concerning the “run of the mill” combat in other mods, calling it “boring,” and saying that they had “no interest” in HL2 combat. Well, that lack of interest shows. The Citizen’s combat is terrible. Weak narrative rationale prevents them from giving the player Suit Energy. Combined with the relentless onslaught of AR2 soldiers and a total lack of health pick-ups, not to mention that every last soldier seems to be on the “Run directly at the player and keep firing until someone dies” script, the mod is a grueling slog to get through. And that was on Easy, no less. It’s obvious that the combat did not receive the same attention that the visuals did, or the wonky story, and the authors did not avail themselves of all the options at their disposal.
Again, I could argue that Leon’s combat style isn’t much different. But Leon isn’t out there putting down every other mod in favor of his own. That’s the key difference here.
I will maintain that a mediocre game (via its gameplay, visuals, or innovations) can still be made to feel much better with a good story. In fact I’d absolutely say that story trumps all of those things, but in balance. (A truly atrocious play through of something with what might be a good story is still crappy because I have to be able to play it, in order to reach the story.)
For me visuals have hardly been ‘really’ important, ever, unless they stand out as being *actually bad*. (World of Warcraft I am looking at you, and that’s sad because I know at least a couple people who work for Blizzard ON the game.) If they don’t appeal to me I’ll already be soured but if there’s nothing else interrupting my game I’ll enjoy it for whatever else it offers.
I am not even on the bandwagon of ‘innovation is a must-have’ for any mod. Quite the opposite because most of the time *they don’t work well* and haven’t been adequately tested to ensure that everyone ‘gets it’. (I’m like the only person who actively disliked Transmission, apparently, because holy crap I hate the idea of institutionalized grenade hopping with such a passion. I cannot DO that, in or out of a mod.)
So for me it ranks a very evenly matched Story/Gameplay, then visuals, then anything else.
I chose story, but it really depends on the mod. I enjoy, in this order: compelling story, strong locations, fun puzzles, good visuals, and well paced combat.
Voice acting can add to the sense of story, and I thought the female character in The Citizen Returns was very nicely done.
I wish I could remember the names of mods. There was a short mod where you had to climb across a tall building with Zoey and fight a helicopter, and then another inside an auditorium. The voice acting in that was the best I’ve heard, outside of ‘genuine’ HL acting.
Dangerous World had a some very cool mechanics, which can play like mini-puzzles.
I mentioned in an earlier comment about a challenge mod in a single street with tall apartments that had a number of notes from a lover scattered around cafes, etc, and ended in the apartment that you shared together. it was a very clunky map with lots of problems, and some hallucinogenic moments, but the emotional resonance of that melancholy story really got to me.
Combat is definitely the least important element for me. Research and Development (corrected) worked really well without any standard weapons and little combat. But improving combat skills over many hours of playing can be satisfying, too. I used to hate fighting the hunters until I learned how to pace myself – run, dodge, hide, shoot, run, hide, shoot, dodge, etc…
If a mod is strong in any of these areas, I’m probably happy. If it ticks several boxes it’s a winner.
I see alot of ppl feel that story is very important.
Honestly, story has never been the main focus of active games like the fps genre.
Do you guys like RPG’s and other genres that actually have story as a more important part of the game?
Actually the first fps, that had a fully immersive world, was Marathon by Bungee. It did have a story, played out in the text messages of Durandal.
RPG’s tend to be side scrolling, scenery with hot spots, or isometric perspective, rather than fps style. The Longest Journey went form side scrolling to fp in Dreamfall, and lost some of its charm. I think.
It really comes down to that old adage, show-not-tell. A lot of older games had stories, but they didn’t use elaborate cutscenes or text blocks to tell them. It was mostly visual storytelling. Nowadays, I think we conflate story in games with having cutscenes and conversations instead of allowing the player to fill in those details for themselves.
And that’s exactly why I’ve seen all too many younger players rush by those things in a game where you GET to shoot – claim that there’s ‘no story’. I won’t go so far as to say they require the hand-holding of cut scenes and explanatory text, but sometimes it sure feels that way by how little story some of em claim to have seen.
Even Portal – how can you freaking MISS the story that’s there? Not having headphones on? Not actually looking at details in the rooms?
For me it’s not an either-or situation – I expect there to BE a story, whether I’m able to test my skills or not. Even something as overtly stupid and fluffy as Saints Row (3 and 4 I’ve played, and seen plenty of people complaining that they didn’t have ‘as much’ story as 1 or 2), has a reasonably well-told story that doesn’t rely on just exposition or lengthy scenes. The radio playing in SR4 offers different channels and the people talking on them sometimes give some incredible clues as to what really happened. Easy to miss, even for me: I don’t usually listen to radio in my car so it didn’t come naturally in the game (that and I tend to not use the cars when I have *super speed*. 😀 ).
It may just be a matter of expectations. If what you see of a game is ‘you get to shoot things’, you don’t generally expect there to be a story or more of a story that strings along ‘you shooting things’ in a somewhat sensible manner. When you see ‘this is a grandly told story’ you don’t fully expect to HAVE to aim or run or stealth.
Either of those things are what makes a good game great, and when they’re put together well enough that you can’t tell where one leaves off and the other begins, that’s a terrific game.
Navigation and visual aids (classing it different from visuals). If I don’t know where I’m going or where I can find what I need to proceed, the mapper is not making me feel hugely immersed. I do suffer from “Goldfish Memory” sometimes when playing and I need the environment to guide me to my destination, instead of remembering what some character said about what I need to do 20 minutes ago.
Having the player be pointed in the right direction can be as easy as a bright light in a dark environment, or a supply crate which we all know players can’t resist. For long term goals, landmarks and the view of where your heading (e.g. the Citadel) can give the player a feel of progress and direction.
It also improves gameplay, as being shown the routes you can take in a arena fight or the visual introduction of a new mechanic can help the flow of the game. (Now that I think about it, aids do tie into gameplay, but I think it’s done after the gameplay is fleshed out in the map so is a individual element of its own)
Story for me all the way. I can quite easily play a map or mod that gives me a gun and I simply need to reach the end, but for it to feel like an experience rather than a way to pass the time, I need to be invested in the characters and the environment.
Decent visuals are nice and all, but they say “Graphics don’t make the game” and I stand by that.
Climate is the most important thing in most games genres. Half-Life 1/2 is the example of awesome FPS atmosphere. Games like Quake 2, Unreal 1 and F.E.A.R. (2005) is good example too. Sometimes unnatural, sometimes dark, sometimes war, sometimes music.