Friday, 19 September 2008

Tearing, Game Demo's and Controls

Ahh game demo's. Do they really convince anyone to buy a game? Or do they just convince them not to buy it? I can feel a whinge coming on ...

A couple of new demo's on the PSN today. Mercenaries 2, and Fracture. Actually neither are games I thought looked interesting enough to buy before I tried their demo's, but having tried, they're even less likely to be swapped for some hard earned plastic.

And the main reason? Controls. Both let you 'invert y', but not x! For some reason - I think Jak and Daxter - I learnt to use camera controls opposite to the rest of the world.

After a couple of minutes of looking at the floor or the sky or spinning in circles, I gave up on Fracture. It was just too frustrating and annoying - even for a demo. They've obviously put a lot of work into it, and other than that, from the small demo I saw, it is probably a competent game, but without inverted controls all it ends up to me is deleted from my hard drive. From what I could tell, the ground-altering mechanic is a little odd as I expected it to be - a bit neither here nor there, but I guess it could 'work' ok if it's use isn't too gimmicky or forced.

Mercenaries 2 wasn't much better. I ran around randomly and somehow ended up where I was supposed to, but well, died. It looks like it could be fun, but running around looking the wrong way isn't. I like the stylised graphics, and the explosions are nicely done.

Both suffered another major turn-off for me too - screen tearing. Where they were too memory-strapped or lazy to use multi-buffering. Some devs claim that using double-buffering would halve the frame-rate when they just-drop a frame, which is true (if you just miss a frame on a 50fps animation, you have to waste processing/wait a whole frame before you can flip, and you end up with a 25fps frame-rate, and spending approximately half the available time/cpu power doing nothing) - but triple buffering doesn't suffer this problem - it's mostly just a memory cost. Well at least the tearing was only minimal, but still it was there, and it is a visual glitch I've found particularly irritating ever since I first saw it on crappy PC games that didn't have the hardware to easily avoid it on every frame (the way Amiga hardware worked you had to go out of your way to make things tear, so it was a real shock). It's such a tiny little nod to quality that can't cost more than a tiny fraction of the ginormous bloody budgets they spend these days - I can't see how the art department could sign off on such a sloppy trade-off (versus dropping the texture resolution slightly for instance).

Ok yes, they were only demo's - and sometimes problems like this get fixed by release time (Burnout?), and often control inversion is also included in the final version - but that doesn't help in evaluating a game from it's demo. It's not like I had planned to buy either of those games (I guess they're not my type of games), but the demos didn't help to convince me otherwise.

While i'm on demo's, last week we had 'Pure', a sort of trick-bike off-road racing game. Weird choice of game mechanics. You have to do slow and clumsy and hard to pull off `aerial tricks', otherwise you don't get enough boost/juice whatever they call it to be able to win a race. Sounds pretty tedious to me. Actually I may have had enough off-road racing with Motorstorm - I'm still not even sure I'll get Motorstorm 2. Well, the local split-screen would be nice, and maybe it'll load tracks and cars faster. Pure does look nice though.

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