Games That Didn’t Exist For Too Long: Horde Mode and Valve’s Director

So, the wordpress stats tracker is telling me a lot of people are linking to this article looking for info on a sequel to a certain game about zombies. This article has nothing to do with that game about zombies; but I did recently play a preview of a different Valve game and wrote I about my experience: Check it out. Onto to the original article:

In my first post I mentioned two situations where I felt it took too long for a couple things to officially appear in games. I didn’t elaborate on what I meant citing that you the reader were not sufficiently prepared to read the story. Now I have deemed you are ready. If you are reading this post before having read aforementioned first post then I applaud you on becoming ready before schedule.

Foreshadowing

While lying back on couches, dealing with headaches dealt by playing too much Horde Mode in Gears of War 2, my friend, let’s call him “Phil”, and I were talking about how addictive this type of gameplay was. The repetition of dealing with waves of bad guys in a systematic fashion was almost meditative, and I believe it is through this method that Siddhārtha Gautama discovered the Eight Fold Path. I mentioned to my friend how the basic form of Space Invaders and Galaga worked well in the first person shooter and pondered, like a man in his first threesome, about why no one had thought of this earlier. Phil pointed out that in fact it had existed earlier, in a way. An ancient game called Marathon had the basic elements of a Horde/Firefight mode, 14 years before Gears of War 2. Basically, in any Marathon multiplayer map random NPC monsters roamed around and got all up in your shit. They also got up in your opponents’ shit if you were lucky enough to get some Macs together for some AppleTalk. If you weren’t lucky you could just play by yourself and kill the monsters that kept respawning. This is exactly what my friend Phil did, play by himself, and he said he enjoyed it and ever since that time he wondered why no one created a game where waves of monsters attacked you in a small level. And for fourteen years no one thought of it, it would seem. Maybe the nihilistic undertones of a game where you fight until your inevitable death frightened fourteen years of game developers. But the point is that the technology was there and the ideas were there and no one actually made it happen. Which is the same type of ridiculous as fighting a Crusade in the Middle East and not coming back with spices and algebra.

Barbarians, the original horde mode, predating Epic Games’ Horde mode by 1500 years.

My second example: while the seed of the idea came to me while playing Halo it wasn’t until I was playing Halo 2′s campaign that the idea came to full fruition, probably because there was nothing for me to do while playing Halo 2 except think of ways it could have been better. The idea which occurred involved an enemy General whose AI functioned the way a military commander would, not by filling out paper work, dealing with media relations, but by modifying the composition of the enemy squads it sent at the player, based on the player’s tactics. So, if you used a particular weapon or strategy a great deal then the General would slap you in the face with a counter strategy and then hold a press conference about it to improve popular opinion in the war effort. At the beginning of each level the General would be given a stock of troops and ordinance to use (ex. 10 Elites, 30 Grunts, etc.) and would have to decide on how to utilize them on the battlefield throughout the level. Some areas would always have the same units because they were already stationed there (the story explanation for scripted moments).

In regards to counter strategies, the General could choose from several or there could be randomly chosen AI Generals who had preferences for certain strategies. In retaliation to the player using a lot of long range weapons you could have, let’s say, three different strategies: fight fire with fire and send snipers to counter the player’s sniping; fight fire with water and send targets difficult to kill with ranged weapons; or just dump a bunch of enemies at the player in the hopes that they can get to him before he picks them all off. Or even a combination of these strategies such as waves of enemies being provided cover fire by a sniper. Whatever the case, the General could look at the data on the player, look at his stock of troops, check that area’s stats on preferred unit deployment, and then make its decision. Stealth kills would send no information to the General. You could even, in certain levels, add an element of gameplay in which the AI General was linked to an actual unit in the game and if the player killed this unit it would shut off the AI General’s function and leave the rest of the level’s troops in loose, chaotic bands. This optional task could add depth to the gameplay in that level (i.e. fun). I wondered why no one had thought of this.

“What do you mean you bought a $5 lottery ticket?? You know I always get three of the $1 ones and some beef jerk!”

Then four years later Valve released their zombie game with the Director, essentially an AI that modified the waves on enemies based on how the player was doing. I was obnoxiously pleased that finally someone had gotten on the ball and done the obvious but soon became disappointed. Valve’s Director wasn’t nearly as dynamic nor as detailed as I hoped it would be (compared to when I envisioned the AI General) and maybe this was only because the enemies were zombies and really, how much can you modify a zombie horde based on player behavior. The second reason I became disappointed is that no one seemed interested in following suit.

The point is not for me to brag about how clever my brain is while I’m playing mediocre FP Shooters but to simply give a couple of examples of missed opportunities. The types of gameplay I mention could have easily appeared before they did and could have been spicing up the gaming cuisine and building domes. The end.

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