Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bloody Good (Pun)

"Sometimes we get stuck on success/failure when those are the least useful criteria for judgment."

Michael said that on Twitter over the weekend about Fable 3, but for whatever reason, I've never really connected with that series. I certainly get what people think is interesting about it. I just was never able to get into the series. But that does mean I've been spared the pangs of broken Molyneux promises.

But what Michael said equally applies to another recent game, Outerlight's Bloody Good Time. The spiritual sequel to Outerlight's previous project, The Ship, originally a Half-Life mod that grew into a full Source release. And BGT bears a lot of similarities to The Ship. It's a purely multiplayer FPS where rather than being a free-for-all or team vs. team, you're assigned one specific other player as a target. Similarly, another player (but not your target) is assigned to hunt you.

There's a whole raft of weapons and they offer different points each round. One round, a kill with the remote rat bomb might be worth only two points, but when it's "hot" the next round, each kill is worth five. Additionally, there are environmental traps that always offer the most amount of points possible.

The catch is, you're not actually allowed to kill any of the other players. You'll be penalized if any of the guards or security cameras see you even carrying a weapon. So you have to find out of the way areas (or use the traps) to dispatch your prey. It certainly doesn't have the stealth dynamics of, say, Hitman but still means you have to be more deliberate and calculating than just wasting your target as soon as they come into view. But from what I remember, The Ship actually did a better job of creating the "safe areas" where you'd be mostly safe, but also unable to act on your own.

And that, unfortunately, sums up a lot of Bloody Good Time. The Ship was still rough in patches and there are definitely ways its dynamics could have been refined, which is really what I had hoped BGT would do. But it seems in the attempt to simplify for BGT, some of the design problems with The Ship have been exposed even more. Guns are the least interesting weapons in these games and encourage rote FPS behaviours that really don't capitalize on the game's strengths, but they seem even more prominent in BGT. I think Outerlight would have been better served losing the guns completely and creating more bizarre weapons that really emphasize the cat-and-mouse gameplay where BGT really shines.

The Ship also featured NPCs thatlooked similar to the players, meaning you had to be very sure the character you were aiming at was truly your target. They're gone in BGT which seems like a good refinement, except it's possible for players to choose identical characters that differ only in name. This means you still have the same challenge of ensuring you've got the right target, except both of the actors you're looking at could be looking to kill you, unlike the NPCs in The Ship that weren't threatening. This means you're usually best served taking the kill even if you aren't sure and just suffering the penalty if you're wrong, again undermining the playstyle where the game works best.

To be fair, there are improvements in BGT. Both games feature Sims-like needs (e.g. hunger, sleep) that must be periodically dealt with, lest they start to impair your character. The Ship had eight of these, which was way too many. BGT reduces this to three. This still provides the tense decision to either take a chance now when it's seemingly safe or holding out a little bit longer, possibly to be disabled at the worst moment without being overwhelming.

It's pretty clear to me this wasn't the game Outerlight wanted to release. There's a rather melancholy interview with Outerlight co-fonder Chris Peck saying the company has more or less been dissolved. Reading between the lines, it's easy to infer they didn't get along well with Ubisoft. One can't help but wonder if some of the shortcomings in BGT were compromises to make it "more appealing" but really just diminished the game as a whole.

It's sorta tragic that might be Outerlight's last entry, since Bloody Good Time is practically soaked with good ideas that just needed a bit more time in the oven. Although that they "spent two years and 600,000 pounds on pitch materials and demos chasing publishing deals" is a bit worrying too.

Mainly it's disappointing that there isn't more experimentation with multiplayer FPS design. Aside from all the crazy things Valve is doing with Team Fortress 2, the most significant advances in mainstream multiplayer FPSs is adding RPG-light leveling and a positive feedback loop for kills. And that's not a slight to Bungie/IW/et al. They're taking existing conventions and polishing them to a mirror's sheer. That's fine, but advances are increasingly fractional. I want more weird stuff like Bloody Good Time. I'm looking forward to Brink and what it looks to be trying to do with fluid movement, but I wish that wasn't the most (and seemingly only) ambitious project on the horizon.

But with all that being said, Bloody Good Time is only $5 on both Steam and XBLA. Even a bit unrefined, there's no question all their crazy ideas are worth that. Just make sure you're playing with six people at the most. Any more than that and it gets too frantic and doesn't serve the game that well.

And I made it through this whole post without making a nautical or "bloody good" pun. Gotta say, I'm proud of my restraint.



Blogger Darius Kazemi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 11, 2010 at 7:14 AM  
Blogger Darius Kazemi said...

This is maybe the most lukewarm endorsement of a game I've ever heard from a developer:

"And, despite the difficulties of working with a publisher, we still managed to innovate and keep the game fun. I think it's perhaps fair to say it's better in every way to The Ship, art, audio, gameplay, code, and polish. Despite everything, we had a lot of fun times making it"

November 11, 2010 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@Darius So sad and so true =( It shows, but the seeds of something really interesting are still in there. They're just sorta surrounded by noise and muddled design.

November 11, 2010 at 8:29 PM  

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