Sympathy for Call of Duty: Black Ops

I don’t have any talent to make titles.

This entry was intended to be the third part of the last two posts (12), but I just dropped the idea.

If you read carefully the last entries you would notice that I didn’t mention a particular game of the Caracas Game Jam, I just talked in general about them. And there is a reason for it: It’s kinda stupid to point out flaws or achievements of games in an event that wasn’t a competition. The whole meaning of the Game Jam will be ruined if I say something like “this was the best game” even when I do have an opinion regarding that  matter. The point is, I need and example to illustrate this entry and using a game related to the last Game Jam is not a option.

That’s why this is another entry. Related to the last ones, but not attached to them.

And this is the example I want to use.

I don’t like Call of Duty: Black Ops (CoD: BO), at all. It’s not a bad game, but I think it’s just another iteration of a formula.

A product in an assembly line.

And even though, that particular scene, when the team sneaks into Laos and Sympathy for the Devil kicks in the background, is one of the finest experiences I ever had in a videogame.

It just feels right. In every way.

Why? well, the on rail experience is quite a tool these days, a well understood one. It focuses the player in the targets, not in the driving, so a fast paced target recognition – aiming – shooting  (and resource use if you add the heat that locks the machine gun or the RPG temporary limited ammo) mechanic can be assembled easily. The duration and timing of event is suited to a very well balanced ascending-descending pacing curve, both globally and locally: the whole scene and each individual action. The graphics and visual effects are compelling. The sound effects are great. The background music is awesome.

This scene is so well created that even the song gets a whole new dimension in it. And not only in this particular scene, but in the previous ones when is also used.

We call something a formula because when used properly it gives us the same result every time.  CoD: BO is that result in this case of this particular formula. And there is where the merits of Activision/Blizzard and Treyarch reside. No matter how much money or talent you put in a game, applying a formula is not necesarily easy, and you have to give those guys some credit for that. CoD: BO actually had a lot of problems and flaws, but when analyzed objectively is a good installement of the Call of Duty franchise. A formula, but a good applied one.

And that’s the point: even when we can argue that CoD: BO is a disposable experience, there is a sequence that at least for me it is worth the price of the entire game.

What your player has at hands to dicover the pattern you stablished as your gameplay solution is a lot of sensory information. It’s what players feel what tell them how the pattern need to be discovered and used afterwards. A game, and specially videogames, is about what players feel, and how we can drive those feelings towards discovering a pattern.

As I said, players follow the game design process in the opposite direction. We have a set of initial conditions that lead us to a pattern solution, which help us to create challenges that we need to teach/communicate somehow. Players, on the other hand, feel something the game is trying to teach/communicate, and then they decide whether or not they follow those sensory clues in order to discover and learn the pattern. In order to have fun while doing it.

From graphics to sound (or the lack of), from human to haptic feedback; everything the players are feeling is what drives them to play. And is not only restricted to sensory information, it is powerful enough to go deeper than that, to intuition, instincts, volition and cognition.

It’s so powerful that an overused and simple mechanic on a assembly line product can create very climatic moments, as the above example shows.

So, the third part of these shorts comments on game design is completed by: at the end, it’s all about what your players are feeling.

You not only could, but should focus your problem solving an teaching skills on that, in every way possible.


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2 Responses to “Sympathy for Call of Duty: Black Ops”

  1. Rafael Polanco (@animetronic) Says:

    La serie CoD no me da ni frío ni calor, no la odio, tampoco creo amarla con locura. Las campañas de single player son experiencias entretenidas (al menos las de MW y MW2), pero Black Ops, por alguna razón, me causó serios problemas.
    Había algo de la estética del juego que me parecía muy forzada, aunque no pueda determinar exactamente que (lo jugué un par de tardes en casa de mi padre).
    Por otro lado, detesto este modelo (que seguro tu sabes su nombre técnico) en el que los enemigos siguen apareciendo hasta que cruces cierto punto del mapa.
    Sin embargo, viendo este vídeo, veo que en efecto, es una experiencia bien lograda. No creo que valga los 60 piedrolares que costaba el disco, pero si está bastante bien.

    • nicolailobachevscki Says:

      Ciertamente exageré al decir que esa sola escena vale los $60, sin embargo son varios momentos con las mismas características que en general resumen una buena experiencia.

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