Category Archives: Feature

What No Man’s Sky Really Needs

No Man’s Sky has launched with a somewhat mixed critical reception. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a “relaxing experience of discovery in the vast unknown,” or a falsely advertised “steaming dumpster pile.”

Much of the criticism is well-founded but it’s too soon to give up on No Man’s Sky. Sean Murray, the game’s adorably awkward creator, says the focus of the game may change with future updates, so new features and tweaks seem likely. Here are a few that would help No Man’s Sky reach its enormous potential.

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Get the hell off my planet!

From the beginning, Hello Games have made it clear that No Man’s Sky is a game about exploration and discovery, so why don’t I ever feel like I’m discovering anything?

It’s probably because structures and outposts built by the game’s alien races litter every planet. Some are abandoned, some have a single alien custodian for me to talk to.

It kills the sense of discovery when most of the planets I land on have more signs of intelligent life than my hometown in South East England. Sure, I’m the first human to discover this strange new world, but like Columbus before me, the natives have beaten me to the punch.

Restricting these intelligent beings to space stations and the occasional colony world would go a long way in making players feel less like tourists and more like explorers. When I touch down on an uncharted moon, I want it to feel lonelier than a Shadow Cabinet meeting.

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Moon Buggies!

Concept art spotted in the Hello Games office suggests that land vehicles are a feature that was either scrapped during development or simply wasn’t finished in time for release.

Whatever the case, a quad bike or moon buggy to roll around in would make exploration so much easier. As things stand, your ship is your only means of transportation, so the further you explore, the longer you’ll have to trudge back across ground you’ve already covered.

Being able to range further,  faster and perhaps even remotely call our ship to us using the vehicle would unchain players from their spacecraft. Besides which, who doesn’t want to go off-roading on an alien planet?

Hey, if I can fit 15 crates of plutonium in my cargo hold, I can fit a moon buggy.

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More Landscapes

One of the most common complaints players have about No Man’s Sky is that the planets quickly start to all look the same. While there’s a great deal of variety in the flora and fauna, every planet is one of hills, mountains and valleys, with the occasional cave formation.

There are trees but no forests or jungles; grass but no fields; snow but no glaciers. Minecraft  procedurally generates these kinds of environments, and so must No Man’s Sky if it wants to offer the kind of variety players expected from it.

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Many of the best games, particularly those made by small teams, focus on doing one thing but doing it really well. No Man’s Sky has the potential to do exploration better than any other game out there. By giving us the means to explore the enormous worlds we land on, and ensuring that each discovery feels new and significant, Hello Games can make No Man’s Sky into the game we always hoped it would be.

 

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Lessons Publishers Should Learn from Rainbow Six: Siege’s Success

Ubisoft recently boasted that the number of people playing Rainbow Six: Siege has almost doubled since launch. That becomes even more impressive when you compare it to The Division; a more recent Ubisoft offering which took less than three months to lose 93% of its players.

With that in mind, here are the lessons that publishers can learn from Siege on how to create a multiplayer-only game that won’t wither and die in a matter of weeks.

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Don’t Segregate Your Players

Multiplayer shooters often release with 10-15 maps, with more added later as paid DLC. The problem with this model is that it splits the community into haves and have-nots, and the haves can only play their shiny new maps with other haves.

This creates a cycle of longer matchmaking queue times, leading to players getting bored and moving on to other games, leading to longer queue times, and so on. Few games ever recover once they go into this tailspin.

Take EA’s Titanfall for example. Much like The Division, Titanfall lost most of its players very quickly. When the first batch of new maps released as paid DLC, it divided an already diminished player base.

Ubisoft’s approach with Siege has been to release one new map and two new characters for free at three-month intervals. Every time one of these free updates has dropped, the player count has spiked as players who got bored with the game have been lured back with free content.

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Don’t Cut Corners

If you’re making an online multiplayer shooter, particularly one where players can shoot each other through walls, don’t skimp on the anti-cheat system.

You wouldn’t know it if you started playing now, but Rainbow Six: Siege’s PC version was a wild west of aimbots and wallhackers until very recently.

After months of outcry from players wanting a solution, Ubisoft finally implemented the “BattlEye” system as part of the “Skull Rain” update in early August. Since then, over 3800 players have been permanently banned from the servers!

It’s no coincidence that this update saw the biggest spike in player numbers since the game’s release. Many people who gave up on the game out of frustration with the rampant cheating problem have come back into the fold.

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Use Microtransactions Responsibly

“Releasing free content and implementing a competent anti-cheat is all very well,” says a hypothetical publisher, “but those things cost money. What’s in it for us?”

I’m glad you asked, Hypothetical Publisher; this is where responsible and unintrusive use of microtransactions comes in. Microtransactions have never made a game better, but Ubisoft has shown that when used with restraint, they needn’t make a game worse.

In Siege, the items you can buy with real money are purely cosmetic (custom headgear, weapon skins etc.). No player can gain an advantage by lightening their wallet, but it means Ubisoft can continue to make money from the game post-release without having to charge for new maps and characters.

The more players, the more profitable this approach becomes. It’s in the publisher’s interest to spend money on making sure the game retains its player base, rather than focusing solely on selling as many copies as possible and then moving straight on to the sequel.

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Rainbow Six: Siege’s road to success hasn’t been the smoothest, but Ubisoft are now reaping the rewards for their commitment to the game’s long-term health. This consumer-friendly approach is why Siege has survived and thrived where many bigger budget games have run out of steam.

 

Why Stealth Games Are So Much Fun

I’ve always loved games like Splinter Cell and Dishonored but I could never pin down the reason why. Why is hiding in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, or slip past the enemy unnoticed, more enjoyable than taking the loud and violent ‘yippee-ki-yay’ approach?

The answer is slightly different depending on which game your playing and what purpose is served by staying hidden. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, for instance, encourages you to keep fights as brief as possible by taking advantage of camouflage and the element of surprise to eliminate most, if not all threats before they can pull their trousers up and take cover.

Alien: Isolation on the other hand, encourages you to hide in cupboards and lockers and hope that the drooling monstrosity on the other side of the door won’t smell you when you soil yourself out of fear.

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Stealth then, can be either your sword or your shield, and games are tailored accordingly, but what could possibly be fun about a game in which you spend most of your time cowering under a table, sucking your thumb and waiting for the monster to go away?

It’s the same nervous tension that makes hide-and-seek fun when we’re children (and possibly when we’re adults, I’ve not tried it lately): hiding under the bed and holding your breath as the seeker draws closer, only it’s less “tee-hee, you’ll never find me!”, and more “tee-hee, you’ll nevOHCRAPITSAWMERUNRUNRUNRUNRUN!”

This hide-and-seek style of gameplay lends itself perfectly to horror games, where creating a sense of vulnerability and helplessness is crucial, but while Alien: Isolation is an excellent example of how games about being a wuss can be fun, things get a lot more cathartic when the roles are reversed.

If games like Outlast, Amnesia and Alien:Isolation are about hiding from the monster, then games like Arkham Asylum and Splinter Cell are about being the monster, waiting in the shadows for one of your unsuspecting victims to stray from the group, before creeping up behind him, giving him a wedgie, and dragging him back into the shadows before he can call for help.

It’s tense, challenging, and a lot more subtle than loading a machine gun, kicking the door down, and making a dreadful mess.

Of course, many of these games offer you the gentleman’s choice of sneaking past your enemies entirely. While it is satisfying to ghost through a level without the guards catching so much as a whiff of your aftershave, it’s not nearly it sometimes leaves you feeling as if you’ve cheated yourself out of the fun.

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The popularity of stealth-focused games has led to a lot of more mainstream action titles incorporating stealth elements into their game mechanics or having a token stealth level or two. Like when music producers realized rap was popular, so every pop song must now include a token rap verse to appeal to the hip-hop crowd.

This can be a great way of giving players more freedom in how they approach their objectives or varying the game’s pace, but only when the game’s AI and controls can properly accommodate stealth mechanics.

Far Cry 2, for example, gave players the option of getting things done ninja style but forgot to adjust the AI’s detection capabilities accordingly. Being able to choose suppressed weapons did players no good when the enemy could spot them from 200m away, at night, through foliage and heavy fog, whilst wearing an eye-patch and someone else’s contact lenses.

Assassin’s Creed games have made the same mistake in the past. They often tasked you with tailing someone or reaching an objective without being seen, but it was only with Assassin’s Creed: Unity that the developers thought to add a crouch button. I can only assume that crouching behind things wasn’t invented until the late 18th century, and so this was done in the name of historical accuracy.

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It’s strange that for a demonstration of how to do it right we have to turn to Call of Duty of all series. For all its intense firefights and action set-pieces, if you ask long-time fans what their favourite Call of Duty level is, the most common answer will be ‘All Ghillied Up’ from Call of Duty 4, in which you don a camouflage suit and crawl across the irradiated ruins of Pripyat, Ukraine.

It’s a perfectly paced level that empowers you one moment and has you holding your breath the next, as you crawl through the long grass, desperately trying not to be run over or spotted by tanks and soldiers coming in the opposite direction, like a snail trying to cross the road in Pamplona during the running of the bulls, only the bulls have automatic weapons and really hate snails.

That’s what a good stealth game is about. No large-scale firefight or James Bond style car chase can match the thrill of being the monster in the dark, or hiding from certain death when it’s so close it’s in danger of literally treading on you.