Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
24 April 2006
Gaining perspective, and wishing the AI would
"It's ok, but it's not worth $50."

"A 7/10 is average." (Although apparently 1up has declared it to be 5 -- this link courtesy of Mory in comment to JohnH's Odama post awhile back. And the link's got an explanation/comment about getting rid of scores entirely, and why they're not doing that which certain ranting curmudgeons should read.)

The fact is, most of the new games we talk about here, and indeed that serious gamers talk about, review, etc., are premium games. I don't mean they're necessarily above average, but there's genuine investment, in marketing and distribution and even development.

There's a world of videogames out there that don't have those kinds of production values. And again, that doesn't guarantee they're subpar. But when you consider all the umpteen franchise spinoffs and the cartoon adaptations, all of a sudden that fair-to-middling racing game looks a lot less middling. And that's my point: while we're being curmudgeonly and unsatisfied with the some of the top stuff out there, normal people (who don't read CG) are buying games that are nowhere near that level.

And some of those poor suckers are even liking them.

I happen to have some examples in mind. World Snooker Championship 2005 (PS2) isn't a particularly bad game, but if you don't have a snooker itch to scratch, you'd probably wonder why you'd play it. Unless you're in the UK, you'll probably never see this game in the flesh, so screenshots are available here, here, and here. The last two also have reviews.

Long story short, snooker is a game kinda like pool -- cue sticks, balls on green felt that you try to hit into each other so they fall into pockets. It's very popular in the UK -- the top professional players are household names. So it makes sense to have a videogame where you can play the professional tour against those players, move up in the rankings, and maybe even win the World Championship. World Championship Snooker is that game.

They've licensed the top 100 players, they've got the voices of four (out of the six or so) BBC commentators, and just in case you get snookered out, you can play pool (or some other cuesport variations) instead. You can play with up to 4 live players. It supports network play. I expect to get many hours of entertainment from it.

So, what are the production values I'm complaining about?

The player models aren't bad, but they aren't really up to the standard of, say, Tony Hawk 4 or Karaoke Revolution. And particularly in the training mode, the player model is often partly _in_ the table.

The interface rather nicely lets you take your shot one of two ways -- either pressing X, setting a strength meter with the left stick, and pressing X again, or pulling back on the right stick and then push it forward. Unfortunately, the strength meter is invisible when using the second method, so there's no way to figure out how to calibrate the strength of the right stick method. User interface tip: don't make "the fun way" to do something necessarily also "the losing way".

There are little hiccups -- sighting arrows going away for no particular reason (you can recover them by fooling around with the strength meter), dead time between an animation and the next shot, animations in general being slow and inaccurate (after you painstakingly set up the shot as hitting the bottom of the cue ball, the animation clearly shows you hitting the top of the ball -- fortunately the balls roll according to how you specify the shot, not how it was shown.)

The AI is much more artificial than intelligent. Even when I'm playing against lower-ranked players, the AI makes ridiculous shots that no human would ever play. Clearly the algorithm is based on knowing how the balls will roll, rather than understanding why they do what they do. I had an AI opponent knock a pair of touching balls in a bizarre multicollision cascade that eventually squirted the appropriate one into the side pocket. (For the pool enthusiasts, _not_ a regular plant, where you hit one ball and the ball touching it flies off.)

The voice commentary starts repeating itself far too early, and doesn't live up to its potential. Throw in colorful digressions about player's personalities, continue the voices through the animation/shot set-up transition, and include more emotional outbursts, and it could really have captured the snooker viewing experience. (If the commentary had said "Incredible! I can't imagine he intended that -- but he certainly won't turn down this bit of luck." after the aforementioned crazy shot by my AI opponent, it would've turned an implausible moment into a nearly realistic one.)

The result is that this is a game that's got the requisite elements to fill the snooker void when I'm back in the states, but could clearly have been so much better. I usually concentrate on gameplay and look down my nose at scores for graphics, but the shortcomings are enough to be jarring.

In summary, it's a "good-enough" game, and I'm happy to have it at 10 GBP (about $20). I wouldn't have been happy with it if I paid full price.

International Snooker Championship, on the other hand, might be satisfactory as a $5 shareware game, but anything more (the recommended retail price is 40 GBP, according to this site) is out-and-out robbery. Oh yes, there is more than one snooker game out there. This game, in contrast to the similarly-titled World Snooker Championship, doesn't have you play against famous professional players. Indeed, as the screenshots available here demonstrate, you don't actually play against anyone at all, since there are no player models. Just a cue stick floating in space over a table. (Somewhat strangely, despite the lack of models the one player game is structured as a series of matches against opponents, who are represented by nothing but a random name on the screen opposite yours. I would have thought "COMPUTER" would have done just as well.)

Not to worry -- this game also has an AI with a talent for making frustratingly ridiculous shots. So at least it's got something in common with World Snooker Championship.
--Bob Wieman at 21:56
Comment [ 2 ]

Comments on this post:

What the...?

Bob posted?

Oh, yeah...I should read it.

By Blogger jvm, at 25 April, 2006 01:55  


By Anonymous zachary, at 25 April, 2006 03:38  

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