12 Aug 2008

OpenGL 3.0 (more like 2.2)

Oh the drama! The long-awaited OpenGL 3.0 spec has been released today after years of fruitless discussions in the ARB and Khronos Group, and - surprise - it is NOT the fresh and clean re-write that was promised, but instead only a minor release with a few extensions moved into the core feature set, and a few old features marked as depreciated. Nobody but the design commitee exactly knows what justifies the version number jump other then pretending progress.

In the old days of DX3 and DX5 I was a big fan of OpenGL, which was so much cleaner and easier to use compared to D3D. I still remember the horror of porting Urban Assault to DX5 in '97). I despised how Microsoft was completely rewriting the DirectX API every year. In hindsight that was their best decision, DX didn't have to care about old baggage and slowly got better until the excellent DX9, while the once elegant OpenGL was buried under a heap of vendor-specific extensions over the years, resulting in the mess it is today.

Somewhere inside I'm a bit sad to see OpenGL slowly dwindle into oblivion, on the other hand I didn't really care about it for the last 4 or 5 years (I think I stopped caring when I attempted to write an OpenGL renderer for Nebula2 and realized that I had to use a dozen-or-so extensions just to get DX9's core features).

2 Aug 2008



Alright, first play-through done. Debriefing showed 20 hours playtime. Overall an amazing experience, even if it felt like only one third of it was actual game-play and the rest was watching cutscenes. The game starts really slow and in the first and second chapter I actually had to motivate myself to continue playing. Then with the ending cutscene of chapter 3, the story suddenly becomes interesting and the rest of the game is an amazing ride, only problem is, there are only 2 chapters left at this point.

The presentation of the game during cut-scenes is jaw-dropping. The quality of the characters models, facial animation, motion capture performances is almost unbelievable. The direction and story-telling of the cut-scenes provides better entertainment then most good action movies. Unfortunately, for every one scene of pure awesomeness (basically every scene with Old Snake AND Liquid Ocelot) there two scenes which are outright cheesy and a real pain to endure.

The story wraps up all the events of the previous MGS games and can be a bit hard to follow since from time to time, the story-telling switches into some sort of white-board-mode and floods the player with details (which provide interesting background information but would IMHO be better if told through codec conversations). The other problem is, that the back-story of EVERY F*CKING PERSON which EVER showed up in ANY MGS game is brought to its end, turning parts of the story into a gigantic soap-opera. I think 4 or 5 hours of the cutscenes could have been removed and I wouldn't have missed a thing.

In its core, MGS4 tells the story of 2 old men, Solid Snake (the hero from MGS1, and clone of Naked Snake from MGS3), who's suffering from accelerated aging programmed into his genes (as far as I understood that part of the story), and Liquid Ocelot, a chimera of Liquid Snake and Revolver Ocelot. Snake is portraied as a cynical, pragmatic asshole, which really makes him a likeable protagonist. But the real hero of the game (to me) is Ocelot, he's an old man, just as Snake, but has aged naturally, and he (or better his Liquid Snake part) has all the energy and vision left which Snake seems to have lost long ago. In the end it's all about handing the world over to the next generation (shame that thist next generation mainly consists of whiners and wimps).

On to game-play: This is the disappointing part IMHO, which is a real shame since MGS4 is still considered a game, not a movie. The core sneaking elements are the same as in MGS2 and MGS3, which is of course a good thing. You can still hide in lockers or under cardboard boxes, shake knocked-out or dead enemies to loot them, and the camouflage element from MGS3 is also there, but now in its science-fiction version as the octocamo suit (basically, adaptive optical and infrared camouflage).

The survival elements from MGS3 have been removed, and replaced with shooter gameplay, and that's where I still have my biggest problem with because a sneaking element has been removed in favour of an action-oriented gameplay element. I'm a big shooter fan so that wouldn't be much of a problem for me IF PROPERLY IMPLEMENTED. Problem is, the shooting stuff is only very basic and for a shooter, the controls feel extremely awkward. If gun handling would only be half as good as in good tactical shooters like Rainbow Six Vegas I would be sold, but unfortunetaly it's far from it. Especially cover and firing from cover have been evolved dramatically since the times of MGS2 and MGS3, but in MGS4, firing from cover is still as awkward as in these old games. Also, the big number of guns offered to the player is kinda useless. There's no real reason to choose a submachine gun over an assault rifle. A sniper rifle is just as easy to use close-range as any other gun. An assault rifle with an optical sight is just as good as a sniper rifle over long range, because the levels are relatively small anyway.

I wish the developers would have put all the work which has gone into the shooters aspects into new sneaking elements instead. Compared to the last Splinter Cell, the game-play of MGS has been falling behind. Look at all the Bond-gadgets Sam Fisher has at its disposal, or all the ways Fisher can approach a door to investigate what's behind it before sneaking into a room... (man, speaking of Splinter Cell - I think I need to re-play Double Agent soon...).

But even if I don't particularly like the direction MGS has taken, it's still truly exceptional entertainment and one of the best games of the current console generation. And I think it was the right decision to put Snake to rest and with him the MGS series, since at least I am ready for some fresh wind in the sneaking genre (although it seems there will be lots of trial-and-error ahead as the S.C.Conviction and Assassins Creed "debacles" show).