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Ugh, stop twitching
vice city
games Posted 2003-05-20 23:39:41 by Jim Crawford
When Rockstar Games released the original GTA for free, it was pretty clear that their intention was to promote Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

A few weeks later, while I was playing Vice City on my new Playstation 2, it occurred to me that their ploy had worked.

And what an excellent game it is. Driving around in Vice City is, in and of itself, fun. They managed to make the simple act of getting from point A to point B enjoyable. Especially on a bike.

Recall that I pointed to the same virtue to explain why another game is the best game ever. Unfortunately, many elements conspire to keep Vice City from reaching the same heights of playability. I don't intend to go into detail here, although anyone who knows me can tell you that complaining is what I do best. No, against all instincts, I'm going to keep talking about the good stuff. (the on-foot controls totally suck)

What's great about Vice City is that it's constantly rewarding you (while you're in a vehicle). The second you get into a vehicle, which is not hard to do, you're getting positive reinforcement.

In this case, it's not just the control, but also the mind-blowing soundtrack. I do miss the original music of the first three games, but you can't beat looting the past for top-notch music in mass quantities.

Then there's the city itself. It's huge, and you get half of it right at the start, before you do a single mission. And it's a rewarding place to explore! Vice City is huge, it's full of interesting places, and the packages are the closest I've found to a literal easter-egg hunt in a video game.

There's always extraneous stuff like that to do. Usually there are three or four missions available to you at any given time, so if one of them is too frustrating, you can try another. If they're all too hard, you can do one of the “vehicle” missions: You can steal a police car and start killing criminals. You can steal a fire truck and start putting out fires. You can steal an ambulance and start saving lives.

Or, if you prefer, you can just go on a rampage. Let's talk about the violence for a minute. The game allows you to do a lot of sick shit. However, it never requires you to kill an innocent person. In unnecessary side missions, yes. For your own enjoyment, sure. But never for the main story line.

Rockstar is creating a world here. One of their goals was to give you the illusion of complete freedom of action. By the nature of the genre and setting, they chose to include weapons and pedestrians. In deference to reality, a side effect of these two choices is that you can attack and kill people you meet on the street.

Back in real life, real people are, inexplicably, offended by this. People are up in arms about how you can have sex with a hooker, then kill her with a chainsaw to get your money back. Guess what? You can do that in real life, too. Are you going to bitch to the deity of your choice for allowing it?

What would you prefer, sir or madam? That they populated the city only with criminals? That they implemented the damage code in such a way that a bullet or explosion will only injure criminals? That would be an excellent message to send to the children, wouldn't it?

Speaking of children, you should note that there are none in Vice City. Rockstar didn't include them, because it isn't too much of a realism hit, but mostly because even more people would be offended if they heard you could kill children in a video game. See, Rockstar does care about your feelings.

Look at me, I knew I'd get back to the complaining somehow. I guess I'll just go with the flow, then: The on-foot controls totally suck. People don't use their turn signals. Cops have to knock you over to bust you on foot, but when you're in a vehicle, they can bust you just by opening the door. You can skip cut-scenes, but first you have to wait 15 seconds for the cut-scene you're about to skip to load. Loading, loading, loading. The joystick's response curve in first-person aiming mode needs some severe tweaking. The sun blinds you if the camera is facing it -- screw realism, it's really irritating, and should've been left out. That is the kind of shit that stops Vice City from being the best game ever.

Let me tell you the best thing about Vice City, though: it's an incremental improvement. It's everything GTA3 was, and then some. If they created an all-new game, yes, it would be shiny, new and exciting, but it would also have shiny, new and irritating problems. Quality is more important than originality.

Vice City did nothing but make the old engine better and add new content. It's like they gave GTA3 an extra year of beta testing. The whole series has been like this, really -- it's the nature of sequels -- but never has the sit-on-it-and-polish aspect been so blatant from one game to the next.

I've been told that the next game in the series is going to be more of the same. I am really looking forward to it.

[link to this] [See more on “games”]

comments
more on DMA
Posted by Jim Crawford on 2003-05-20 16:05:48
There are a few things I wanted to add but couldn't find room for in the above essay without ruining the flow:

1. Rockstar North used to be called DMA Design, and they have a history of making excellent, genre busting games. You may have heard of Lemmings. Space Station Silicon Valley is also excellent.

2. The awfulness of the on-foot control is, I'm almost certain, a result of the developers wanting the movement animations to look fluid at all costs. The worst part is that if you stop the character, you have to wait for the hard-coded stop animation to end before you can start moving again. This is, unfortunately, a fairly common problem.

If I'm right, this is a clear-cut case of the tail wagging the dog. Mario 64 got around this problem essentially by making Mario's legs short and stubby, so it was hard to tell that they didn't naturally push against the ground. Vice City is already using a skeletal animation system; the next step is to generate the skeleton's motion on the fly to make moving where the player wants to go look natural.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I'm working on such a dynamic animation system for the next iteration of Swarm, though admittedly based on much simpler anatomy.

3. Vice City's Commodore 64 intro is awesome.
anatomy
Posted by AdamMil on 2003-05-20 22:32:06
Bones connected to the eyes!!!
re: anatomy
Posted by Jim Crawford on 2003-05-21 04:26:47
To the eyes?! I am compelled to say that I have no idea what you're talking about. That idea is totally crazy and also off-the-wall. Let's everyone keep our fetishes to ourselves, hm?
re: anatomy
Posted by AdamMil on 2003-05-21 09:03:24
Ahh, fooey.

Mark my words, pfister_! Some day I'll have a good idea!!!
huh?
Posted by AdamMil on 2003-05-24 22:56:49
Something strange happened. I just realized that I hadn't read the story at all before I posted! I wonder how that happened. Perhaps I clicked on "1 Comment" and just read the first comment as the post.

By the way, since I'm trapped here in 640x480 with a 1280x1024 virtual desktop (scrolling horizontally back and forth for each line read, yippee! X sucks.), I notice a slight cosmetic bug in the HTML generation. In the "Posted by NAME on ..." part, the space after the name is also underlined. It must be bugging the hell out of all your users running at 640x480 under X with its 1cm high fonts.
re: huh?
Posted by Jim Crawford on 2003-05-27 01:20:49
Thanks for pointing that bug out. I'll fix it at some point.

Damn you, syntactically significant whitespace. Damn you to Hell.
re: anatomy
Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2003-06-07 22:20:24
>Mark my words, pfister_! Some day I'll have a good idea!!!

Here's my attempt:
Cellphone manufacturers should take the polyphonic ringtones feature to its logical conclusion and embed SID chips in their phones.

>Let's everyone keep our fetishes to ourselves, hm?

Shit, too late.

re: anatomy
Posted by Jim Crawford on 2003-06-08 06:18:10
I started writing my response to ringtones in general here, and before I knew it, it was long enough and had enough pretty words in it to make it onto the front page. And there you can find it.

I didn't actually talk about the idea of putting a SID in cell phones, but those are the breaks. For what it's worth, if there was a cell phone available, I'd probably buy it and use it to pick up chicks.
re: anatomy
Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2003-06-15 00:37:04
 if there was a cell phone available, I'd probably buy it and use it to pick up chicks.


You're probably referring to that study which found that cellphone usage was courtship behaviour in human males, right?

http://www.newscientist.com/dailynews/news.jsp?id=ns9999275

But all the same, I'm having trouble visualising what you'd actually do with a cellphone in order to seduce women. Now if by 'pick up' you meant 'levitate', that'd almost be more conceivable.
no subject
Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2003-06-15 00:49:59
Why is it that I can imagine cellphones emitting tractor beams but not seduction rays?

Sci-fi has corrupted my brain.
re: anatomy
Posted by Jim Crawford on 2003-06-16 17:42:07
I hadn't seen that study, though it does look interesting. I was thinking more of ringtones as demonstrations of musical taste.

For instance, if I hear someone's cell phone playing Fur Elise, I know that the owner either likes a heaping helping of banality with his classical music, or never bothers to change defaults. Pachelbel's Canon In D and Also Halfway Between D and E, and I know the owner is tone deaf.

You know, come to think of it, I've never heard a ring tone that made me think anything other than "what a loser," when they made me think anything at all. Even the phones playing the Super Mario Bros theme are questionable, because they renditions are invariably unforgivably wrong.

But that's the idea -- to stand out from the crowd of loser ring-tones. How better to do that than with Commodore 64 music?

As for how to seduce women with my cell phone, here's the situation I'm envisioning:

Step 0. My cell phone starts playing the Commando Hiscore theme.
Step 1. An attractive woman, in thrall to my excellent taste in music, runs up to me and ... well, I'd better not go into details. I might jinx it!
wildly offtopic
Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2003-06-17 03:42:13
 I've never heard a ring tone that made me think anything other than "what a loser,"...


Me too! I wonder what happens to people when they hear someone else with the exact same ringtone?

The super mario brothers theme? Bah, even low-budget knock-offs like Giana Sisters had better soundtracks than that. Nobody played Mario Brothers for the music, so why subject listeners to a tune they've heard either 0 or 40,000 times before?

(BTW, you've seen the MPG of a guy playing the super mario brothers soundtrack on a guitar, right? The fingerwork is impressive, if nothing else.)
re: wildly offtopic
Posted by Jim Crawford on 2003-06-20 14:51:58
 The super mario brothers theme? Bah, even low-budget knock-offs like Giana Sisters had better soundtracks than that.
Jesucristo, vato!~ At least you're not saying it was a bad game, like some nutty people I know.

The Giana Sisters music was a low-talent Galway knock-off, whereas the Super Mario Bros theme was utterly brilliant and completely original.

 Nobody played Mario Brothers for the music
I imagine that statement is mostly true. I'm not sure if you intended it as a disparagement of the music, but if so it's not a very good one :)

 MPG of a guy playing the super mario brothers soundtrack on a guitar
No, though I would be interested in seeing that. If he plays the harmonies, I'd be impressed.

Did he get it reasonably close? The SMB theme seems to be a popular kitsch item, and I've seen/heard countless bands play it extremely badly.
SMB theme mpg
Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2003-06-20 21:56:16
His rhythm is a bit weird. There are many pregnant pauses in between the frenetic activity.

http://choplogik.com/mario
re: wildly offtopic
Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2003-06-20 22:06:17
 The Giana Sisters music was a low-talent Galway knock-off, whereas the Super Mario Bros theme was utterly brilliant and completely original.


Chris Huelsbeck == low-talent?

If you're talking about the ingame music for the outdoors levels, I completely agree. I hated that track for the same reasons I found the SMB soundtrack so infuriating.

But would you say the same thing about its intro music?

re: wildly offtopic
Posted by Jim Crawford on 2003-06-21 01:55:52
 Chris Huelsbeck == low-talent?

Haven't heard anything else of his, I suppose I shouldn't be making judgements until I've determined that this wasn't the result of an off day.

 If you're talking about the ingame music for the outdoors levels, I completely agree. I hated that track for the same reasons I found the SMB soundtrack so infuriating.

Ooh, now we're getting somewhere. Care to go into detail?

 But would you say the same thing about its intro music?

I'm listening to the .sid file, so I don't know what track goes where. The default track sounds like a relentlessly mediocre attempt at an epic Galway loader tune. That was my first impression and it irritated the hell out of me.

I thought the track that sounded like in-game music to me was much more listenable, if far from memorable :)

I gotta fix that extra break after quoting. Not intuitive at all.
SMB music
Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2003-06-22 03:42:32
 The default track sounds like a relentlessly mediocre attempt at an epic Galway loader tune


Alright, yes, subsong 1 does. I'm thinking of subsong 4 (seems to lack some of the polyphony it had on the amiga though).

And if that too is relentlessy mediocre, then why is it on so many webpages as a background midi, huh?

Ok, you win. ;)

 
 reasons I found the SMB soundtrack so infuriating


Well, I should start by saying the music to the game I wrote is probably no less annoying than SMB's, and that I have an irrational dislike of happy music. Especially when I've just fallen into a pit to the doodlings of some extra twee muzak. This can compound one's frustration into pure Horror Violence.

But they couldn't win. The music had to survive truly vicious repetition. Perhaps if it had a minimalistic melody with lots of good riffs and plenty of percussion it might've stood a chance.

But SMB's outdoors music is definately not that. It's all melody, with all sorts of baroque flourishes that really grate after repetition.
re: SMB music
Posted by Jim Crawford on 2003-06-24 17:34:38
 I have an irrational dislike of happy music. Especially when I've just fallen into a pit to the doodlings of some extra twee muzak.

Considering how poorly I handle frustrating gameplay, you'd think I'd suffer from this problem too. But I generally don't, unless it's that one particular song children tend to use as a taunt, lovingly elaborated upon here:

http://www.youngcomposers.com/peterstanley/nannyboo/nannyboo.mid

 all sorts of baroque flourishes that really grate after repetition.

That's reason enough, I suppose. I had always been impressed by Koji Kondo's work for the very aspect of not being grating after endless repetition. What do you think of the Legend of Zelda theme?

Repetition has never bothered me much, though... often I play a song I really enjoy over and over again. I don't know if this is because I grew up listening to the same music over and over again for hours on end, or if I'm just predisposed to this sort of thing.

With that attitude, you'd think I'd enjoy the work of Philip Glass more than most. But no, I find it pretty grating.
re: SMB music
Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2003-06-27 19:58:35
 I had always been impressed by Koji Kondo's work for the very aspect of not being grating after endless repetition. What do you think of the Legend of Zelda theme?


It didn't bother me at all. I wonder what his secret is?


 With that attitude, you'd think I'd enjoy the work of Philip Glass more than most


I didn't know who he was so I did a search and turned up IBM's Glass Engine.

It's fantastic, but they must be using some pretty heavy psychoacoustic compression. I've never heard opera gargled before. :)
no subject
Posted by Anonymous on 2003-07-13 12:13:16
Koji Kondo and Hirokazu Ando are undisputably two of the world's most brilliant composers who have the great honor of writing music for Nintendo.
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