Tag Archives: zerg

New sci-fi games, same old motifs

3 Aug

Recently I purchased a copy of Blizzard’s new Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty game. I love playing it and enjoyed the story, but something occurred to me: this is the same motif every sci-fi space game uses.

Here is the formula:

  • Human-ish space marines of some flavor
  • An advanced alien race, usually religious fanatics of some kind
  • Some type of infection or bug alien that is threatening the universe

The player (usually as a human space marine) starts off by fighting the advanced aliens, only for the third party (bug/infected) to enter onto the stage, where by both the humans and aliens form an unstable cease fire to fend off this greater threat.

The similarities even bleed over into the look of the units:

Space marines: From left to right, Mass Effect, Halo, Starcraft, Warhammer 40k

The aliens: (again) from left to right, Mass Effect, Halo, Starcraft, Warhammer 40k

The bugs/infested, again, from left to right, Mass Effect, Halo, Starcraft, Warhammer 40k

The stories are pretty much the same:

Mass Effect: Human must build an intergalactic team to fight off the Reapers who are going to wipe out all life in the galaxy…again. (Reapers use husks, infected like zombies)

Halo: Lone space marine Master Chief must fight first the Covanent, a group of aliens on a space crusade, and then the flood, infectious spores with a hive mind that tries to wipe out all other life in the universe. (Halo rings designed to kill all life and starve them out)

Starcraft: Terran (humans) fighting Protoss aliens from time to time, but then the Zerg, a ravenous swarm controlled by a hive mind, tries to kill everything in the universe

Warhammer 40k: (Ok, this is a lot more complex, but in Dawn of War II, the space marines were fighting advance aliens, Eldar, and then the Tyranids (almost exact copies of Zerg) show up.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these stories, they’re fun, but for crying out loud, can we mix it up a bit? I’d like to see some other threat besides a giant swarm of infected/bugs moving through space and/or an advance mysterious group of aliens, otherwise known as space elves. (Have you noticed that? They’re always space elves! Sleek and beautiful, often relying on ranged attack and cloaking.)

I understand why space elves and bug swarms are so popular, they’re easy to do and to give them a motive for destroying everything, just play the religion card (hey, works here on earth) or say “because they’re hungry and they need to feed….on everything”. Done, motive set, hero can swing into action. What else could you save the universe from? It has to be something living is. For example, it wouldn’t be much of a fun game if the thing threatening the universe was a natural phenomenon.

But maybe there in lies the heart of the problem. “Save the universe!” limits you to only a hand full of things that could possibly threaten an entire universe. Maybe the games need to lower their sights a bit in order to open up more possibilities. This would in no way be less interesting. Drama is drama, whether it is played out on an inter-galactic stage or between 2 people. If done right, it can be interesting regardless of the scope. What about sci-fi politics? We have plenty of games about past wars, why not make some up about future wars? How about stuff like colonies breaking off from the home world for their freedom; space civil wars. What about evil corporations in space? Space trade wars? If we brought it down even smaller, space bounty hunter games, space mafia, etc, there are as many possibilities in space as there are here on earth, regardless of the scale. The possible content is endless, unless you go for the ultimate “save everything” story that’s been done to death.

Hell, here’s an idea, why not play as space bacteria on an asteroid, battling other space bacteria while trying to burrow deep enough into the asteroid so you don’t burn up in entry to a planet? That might sound boring, but use your imagination, you could turn it into an RTS or a first person shooter. That’s drama on a microscopic scale. Throw in a bacteria love story and you’re golden. ^_^ (Don’t worry, the idea will grow on you)……..sorry.

Oh, and one last thing about scale. I understand that levels in a game can only be so big before they become very impractical, but why is it that events happening on one small part of a planet decide the fate of the entire planet? Think about this. One of my favorite tv shows, Stargate SG-1, had this problem all the time. They would travel through the stargate to another world, billions of light years away, and never go to far away from that gate. While in that one spot they’d make blanket judgments about the planet, including climate, people, politics, religion; everything from one little town. Could you imagine someone trying to generalize the earth from one small town? What if it was a town in Morocco? Japan? Sweden? China? Mexico? Any change in location would give extremely varied results. Yet despite this, sci-fi games continue to generalize an entire planet from one location. Take starcraft II for instance: On the last mission I land on a planet to confront the boss. Of the entire planet, I manage to land in exactly the right place despite being ambushed and all the ships going down in flames.  How does the battle that takes place on this one spot of the planet then decide the outcome on the rest of the planet? That’s like coming to earth, coincidentally landing exactly where  you need to be to do something, say a small town in Idaho, and then after completing whatever you needed to do in Idaho, declaring victory over the entire planet…. <facepalm> I understand that it’s like this because of TV show set limitations, or the limitations of a game level, but it still bugs me.

Archetypes

11 Feb

This post will differ completely from the normal topic of my blog. This post is about game/sci-fi/fantasy archetypes. Now I’m not a hardcore gamer, nor do I play World of Warcraft, or Dungeons and Dragons, so forgive me if I over simplify your favorite race/whatever.

It seems to me that there are usually in fantasy three main classes, with lots of differentiations flowing from those classes. I’m talking about elves, wizards/mages, and fighters. Elves usually are all about stealth, speed, agility, and ranged attack. Wizards/mages usually just have ridiculous colorful spells that defy the laws of nature (it is magic after all), and fighters usually beat the shit out of things. Here are some typical representations:

legolas_logo2mage2the-blessed-paladin

You see variations of these three archetypes everywhere. I personally LOVE the third. I love a fighter, covered head to toe in armor, charging into the center of the fight causing as much damage as possible, and just soaking up the damage in return. It’s manly and a force to be reckoned with.

Elves and mages piss me off, and so do their variants. To me they’re just a bunch of wimps.  I’m not a real man so I’m going to dance around over here with my tights and my bow, hiding in the bushes shooting arrows at you! Or the mage who is the over educated nerd that can’t build muscle to save his life. All he has is a cloak and if you hit him with a stick you’d probably break his arm. Instead he just waves his staff and does something messed up with pretty, colorful magic. He has to rely on that to fight his battles for him.

Two games that have sort of these dynamics are Starcraft and Warhammer 40k. (regular Warhammer would fit better, but I haven’t played those yet)

As for Starcraft, we have Protoss, Terran, and Zerg. Protoss are basically advanced space elves. Along with the Eldar in Warhammer 40k:

protoss1eldar2

The Zerg bring up another archetype that I hate, the gooey, spikey, organ like thing. It’s just a disgusting bug covered in spikes.

zerglingYes, it might be a bad ass bug, but it doesn’t fit my personal tastes. Along the same vain (pun intended) as the spike theme are things like Chaos from Warhammer 40k:

chaos-marineThese guys bug me too. I’m just not into the whole dirty, demonic, spikey horde thing. This includes Orks! The idiots in haphazard armor with shit that’s practically duct-taped together. Sorry. It’s just barbaric spikes, blood, and more spikes. Yet luckily for me, in both games there are human like bad asses covered in armor.

40k_011terran2

These guys are well armored, carry a shitload of firepower, and are clean. (well, clean in the sense that they don’t have spikes and shit) I just love the imperial/knight aspect to them.

I guess this bias towards this type of archetype is the combination of me growing up doing 100 years war living history, where I was building a suit of plate armor, and watching Gundam Wing Zero as a kid. I just love Gundam. The mech suits just seemed to exemplify the archetype that I love.

wingzero1The Armored Core serries is also kick ass for this reason.

armored-coreIt’s just something about the raw power behind these things. It’s extremely hard to explain. If you ever get to wear a full suit of plate armor, and I’m talking real armor, not wussy plastic, leather, or rubber, you just get this feeling that you can take on anything. You’re a juggernaut. I guess that’s the word I’ve been looking for, juggernaut.

There are a few things in real life that I think this archetype draws its inspiration from:

knightsbattleshipfiring2

tank22f-22