Thursday, December 31, 2009

In defense of The Conduit.....

Just finished reading VGChartz' Wii Games of the year list, and something seriously doesn't sit right with me. The Conduit has been listed as the biggest disappointment of 2009 due to his overwhelming hype and lack of features and polish, but is this really the case? I don't think so.
I think behind all the badmouthing and hate floating around about the game there's actually a different story that needs to be told.

The story begins in 2008. Which was according to most Gaming Journalists were calling a "weak year" (that's debatable depending on what you were playing) for Wii games. E3 brings nothing but serious disappointment of Nintendo talking business and showing Wii Music and Animal Crossing as most anticipated core games, and to top it off this is when that stupid "abandoning the hardcore" meme got started. IGN's Nintendo Voice chat started dropping hints about a game that would not only take full advantage of the hardware, but would be one of the best FPS games on the Wii. I don't know if it was the fact that it was a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dreary outlook, but it whetted enough appetites to keep gamers who wanted more "hardcore" games for the system interested. And if that wasn't enough the biggest bombshell thrown out that year was the video of High Voltage's Quantum 3 engine in action.



As the video says the images are shown with as live with no prerendering or post effects. The engine also added a level of gloss and kicked up details that would make gaming environments have that extra layer of realism that players were clamoring for. Notice I didn't say it would be as good or better than anything on the PS3 and 360. I have a reason for this. Now I'm going to say something and it's probably going to blow a couple of minds; I don't believe that it was ever said that the Conduit's graphics will be better than what's seen in PS3 or 360 games . Now before your eyes fall out of their sockets, and slap the keys in primitive disgust, let me finish. Now I've been sifting through a dozen or so interviews, and the closest I've come to anything resembling this comment was this statement from a Gamepro article.

"The Conduit trailer, released on Saturday, displays graphics that rival that of early Xbox 360 games by some standards, including advanced lighting, environmental memory, and detailed level design. The exclusive shooter, still without a publisher, uses the proprietary Quantum3 graphics engine, which was built from the ground up to achieve better-looking Wii games."

These statements are from an article on That Videogame blog.

Rob Nichols (RN): "From the artistic perspective it was difficult because we needed to develop our engine so that it is as competitive with the 360 and the PS3, and that required a lot of trial and error. And even before we started the game, we had to do a lot of work on it. Everyone did a great job and by the time the game ships it’ll really look amazing."

here Rob Nichols makes another statement.

"We really have gone back and done our research with classic games like Goldeneye and Halo. We want to bring that experience to the game. And in addition to that, we have the ASE and a government conspiracy story. There are some twist ending moments that even shocked me when I was working on the story. We’re pushing the ASE a lot, but in addition to that it really is a very solid FPS that is very grounded in classic FPS style gameplay. We’re doing a lot of focus testing on it and the people have really liked it, and we’ve worked with the focus testers to make changes as they come along."

Matt Corso follows it up with this.

" The technique that we’re using to generate the character models are exactly the same for a PS3 or 360 game. All of our models are being built in z-brush and then we’re applying them to the lower res models. What you’re seeing in the game are normal mapped characters. The thing we need to work out is the lighting systems. The more we continue to tweak, the better it will look. I don’t know what the debates are but we are in fact running full normal maps on everything, not just characters."

Another article with Gamespot features a Q&A segment with Eric Nofsinger he had this to say:

"I think there are some hardware limitations. The output resolution is never going to match that of a PS3 or 360. But, as a system, it's very powerful. And why not utilize some of the capabilities of that system. It seems like a bit of a cop-out. When I buy games on the Wii, a lot of times the gaming experience is good, but the visuals, I feel like I'm stepping back in time, you know? And I think it's important because it just adds to the immersiveness of it. It doesn't necessarily need to be realistic or anything like that, but pushing something, you know?

Just like when I go see a movie, I want to see something that hasn't been done before. And that's really what we're trying to do here as creators where we just saw it and said, "This is capable of a lot more than people are doing." It's really my favorite system, and I hated it when friends of mine would look at it, and they'd just go, "Yeah, but,"--you know, it started gathering dust. So we started playing the PS3 and 360 so much more, even though we like the Wii better, just because there are more games for those other systems that cater toward me. And part of that equation is graphics--not all of it, but part of it. "
To not sound like I'm not using the quote out of context, here is the full excerpt

GS: "Right. So, what do you think is holding other developers back from trying to expand or improve upon the way their games look on the Wii? Shouldn't there have been an easier transition to go to the Wii from the PS2 or GameCube, as opposed to messing around with all the new stuff in the 360 and PS3?"

EF:"Yeah, I think that everybody got dazzled by the bling, you know? And I think everyone's having to wake up and smell the coffee. 360 and PS3 development is insanely expensive. And if you look at the data on the sales of a lot of these games, they're not that great, at least, not when you consider how much money is spent on them. And all these games are starting to come to market, and they've not hit with the kind of sales that are necessary to support that.

I think as an industry, a lot of folks are looking at that and going, "Oh, this is [poised] to become the next Hollywood," as opposed to, "Really, what will the market support?" I think why a lot of folks didn't hop on the Wii is because there was the catch-22 of it. It was very much presented as a family-oriented device, and a communal device, and a lot of the games that came out initially and that have continued to come out have been successful and been very casual. You look at Carnival Games and the sales on that, and different things like that, and you go, "These games sold really well," and there's a catch-22 there of, well, that's what consumers want.

It's a bit of a cyclical argument in that the more of that kind of stuff that's out there, then more it becomes "Oh, well, that's what Wii owners want." But then when you really look at what's available for hardcore gamers, what's out there? It's games that are first-party, or it's ports, or it's games that are not done as effectively as they could be on the system.

I mean, there are definitely some games that you go, "Oh, wow, that's great." And that's where it's amazing. You look at Medal of Honor Heroes 2, and you go, "That was a really fun multiplayer experience. It's really good." But, graphically, I'm not impressed by that. And as far as we know, that was a PSP game that was ported over. The same thing with Resident Evil 4. That was a GameCube game that was ported over.

But then you look at something like Red Steel, and I think that set the trend for a lot of folks. It was one that a lot of folks that I know were very excited about, the consumer promise of what that game was going to deliver. But then when I bought it, I was a little let down. And then a couple of other things came out like that, didn't live up to everyone's expectations. I think that can cause a malaise of, "Well, maybe this system isn't about that," and it sort of becomes self-fulfilling.

But I think that with a few more good games that start coming out that push the system and are at least competitive in graphics and audio, you know, I think then you can get out of that rut of, "Well, that's only for families and kids." And I think it's wonderful that that's for families and older people and younger people, but there's a very vocal core audience there that I think would appreciate Wii-specific games."

It seemed that Game Journalists were at fault for this comment rather than HVS, themselves. Of course because of this, HD twin owners birthed neutron suns in anger over this arrogant company and it's upstart little game. The hype was there, but it was countered with a severe case of anti hype, and I don't have to explain what happens when a positive and negative anything decides to go against reason and give each other a firm handshake.

Then came the complaints. I've played generic FPS games before (Farcry 2 says hi, btw.) This game had decent art direction, and decent character design. The foil of the game however, was it's scenery. Using Washington D.C. as a backdrop made sense within the main story, however, the backgrounds do seem a little bit on the blah side. The more exciting locales in the game were in the underground tunnels of the Library of Congress, The Subway, and The enemy base. With that being said It's odd to hear someone bash this game for it's graphics. The videos and the screenshots are pretty much accurate with the end result unlike games like Killzone 2 which depending on who you ask is either the greatest game ever, or the flavor of the month. Graphics weren't the only thing gamers scoffed; The story was considered a rip of games like Halo and Gears of war (really?), and a bland monotonous single player campaign.

The reviews were just a hodgepodge of WTF with a sprinkle of "are you freaking serious". The majority of reviews were positive while a few ripped on the faults i just posted in the above paragraph, while completely ignoring the fact that the controls were at a PC gaming level of customization: meaning any action can be mapped to a button or a gesture control or remapped from gesture to button.

"What I couldn't stand, however, was the use of motion controls; for whatever reason, High Voltage mapped two critical functions -- grenade throwing and melee-to motion controls but even my grandmother knows that that was a dumb move. You make a throwing motion to toss a grenade and how hard you swing dictates how far it flies. But it's not an exact science, meaning your explosive either flies over your enemy's head or lands five feet in front of them. The melee is even worse: you have to thrust the Wii Remote forward to trigger it. Yep, that's right; you have to wildly move the very same Wii Remote you use to aim with. This means after you kill a nearby enemy with the butt of your gun -- if you can get the fickle melee to trigger, that is -- you'll probably die because your viewpoint was suddenly thrown off and you couldn't get it realigned in time to shoot at the enemy on the other side of the room. It's inconsistent, unreliable and a complete liability in the heat of battle."

- Gamepro

Which is why this statement is hilarious on multiple levels.

It was surprising to hear from Sega that they were pleased with the sales from The Conduit. I mean with all that bashing going around it's a wonder that HVS didn't just close the door on Wii development and just gone back to doing ports of Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and other Cartoon Network games for PS2 indefinitely. Thankfully they're hard at work on the next uses for the Quantum 3 engine; Gladiator A.D., a Gladiator based fighting game that's heavy on the fatalities and The Grinder, a four player based FPS inspired by their previous game Hunter: The Reckoning, and Valve's Left 4 Dead. Both games are scheduled for a 2010 release.

The Conduit will probably go down in history as being one of those games that was a "disappointment" by whatever standards, but I could easily see in a couple years from now the game given a second look and the respect it surely deserves. Until then I'll definitely be looking out for anything else High Voltage Software is planning to release in the future.

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