We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Goodness, how far they have come!

Computer games are evolving at an astonishing rate, acting as the primary driver of desktop computer development (after all, how many people actually need a 2.5 GHz CPU, a 128 Mb graphics card and 512 Mb of RAM to do word processing and spreadsheet work?)

Back in the Paleolithic age of computers (the 1980’s), computer games looked like this…

Wolfenstein: Shoot! Mild fun… but not for long

Mildly amusing but crude in the extreme. By the early 1990’s however, came the advent of the ‘FPS’: the First Person Shooter!

Wolfenstein 3D: Shoot! Great fun… but not for long

They seemed astonishing at the time, actually putting you inside the gun wielding hero. The graphics were rather basic, to put it mildly and after a while the lack of multifaceted interaction tended to make the games rather tedious after the initial ‘gee whiz’ factor wore off… other than opening doors, the only way to interact with things was to shoot at them.

My goodness how things have changed!

Wolfenstein 3D begat Doom, which begat Quake, Hexen, Marathon, Unreal, Duke Nukem, Tomb Raider etc, etc… all worthy ‘shooters’ of steadily increasing graphic quality.

Sudden surges came with games like Half Life, released at the end of the computer games neolithic era (1998) and yet still playable now…and featuring not just excellent graphics but Artificial Intelligence which actually shows a bit of intelligence, rather than just a desire to commit virtual suicide… Half Life & the spin-offs Blue Shift and Opposing Forces brought also the ability to ‘talk’ with the computer generated denizens of the game as opposed to just shoot at them.

Half Life: Don’t shoot, he is on your side.
Great fun… for hours on end!

Then games like No One Lives Forever (NOLF), a spy thriller set in the 1960’s with frequent plot specific cut scenes came along, and suddenly the story line of the computer game actually started to matter.

NOLF: Cate Archer, at the grave of her ‘dead’ mentor

The next generation of releases saw the success of story intensive NOLF and soon games of almost cinema grade plot and characterization started appearing, such as the conspiracy ladened Deus Ex and then the gritty darker than dark Max Payne.

And so yesterday the new Gamespy PC Game of the Year was announced, and it is the excellent No One Lives Forever 2.

As well as being superb graphically (caveat: you do need a high spec computer to get the best out of this game), it is just down right funny! Set in the 1960’s, this ‘spy shooter’ owes more to the wonderfully camp ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ than James Bond or Smiley’s People. Although slightly more ‘serious’ than Austin Powers (but only slightly), it provides endless entertainment by allowing you to eavesdrop on the all-too-believable conversations of other people.

NOLF2: This Indian H.A.R.M. agent has a sword…
but Cate has a Kalashnikov

I look forward to continuous progress in computer games… pure distilled essence of capitalism married to explosive creativity. Within a few years, interactively with the virtual environment will be almost total, opening up steadily more ambitious story telling possibilities whilst at the same time the holy grail of photorealism comes closer to realization. The future is so bright, we are going to need shades to see it. I can hardly wait!

11 comments to Goodness, how far they have come!

  • slak-

    You’re forgetting some important games. Currently out is “Battlefield 1942” which is pretty slick, especially now that they’ve released a new MOD which uses weapons and vehicles from the first gulf war.

    Then you have Doom 3 which is truly incredible.

    Also, First Person Shooter games aren’t the only thing with exceptional graphics. Some time ago, you mentioned EverQuest (and its virtual economy). EverQuest2 (www.everquest2.com) is comming out with even more spectacular graphics and gameplay. By the time its released, the system specs you refered to will be almost a requirement.

    It’s a good time to be an asocial computer nerd / gaming fanatic, like myself. I don’t think I’ll ever grow up, now.

  • slak-

    Oh, and the MOD is called “Dessert Combat”

  • Ralf Goergens


    if you are interested in creating some 3D graphics and animations of your own you can use gmax. It’s a powerful program and free:


  • slak-, I have not forgotten them, that is why I said “etc, etc…”

  • The older games were credibly more creative in the sense that it took a lot more imagination to write software in 6510 for instance than it does in C++.

  • Perry, visually speaking, your “progression of computer gaming” screens would’ve been perfect had you included the latest Wolfenstein in place of Half-Life, although I agree that HL permanently raised the bar for 3D games, and few subsequent offerings have met Valve’s challenge, other than the quite swanky NOLF series.

    Slak’s comments made me wonder: what do people think about the role of the mod community? If commercial computer gaming represents the pinnacle of capitalism paired with creative genius, what can be said about the folks responsible for Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, Natural Selection and so on? The freeware spirit of these mods is not quite capitalism, but since the coders usually claim copyright, it’s not communism either . . .

    On the other hand, what are we to make of the America’s Army game? It’s socialism, to be sure, but damn if it isn’t a fun and interesting game. Will the apparent success of the gamel establish a precedent for other playable propaganda games? Will the FBI sponsor a G-man simulation in the future? Will the CIA pay Valve to make a “wetwork” game? How about the British SAS?

  • Good comment, Matthew!

    Capitalism in the shape of the games designing companies (particularly the engine makers) provide the ‘implements’ form which the amateur mod-makers will do what they do so well… and since the huge ongoing success of Half Life was in no small way a result of the stream of new mods that kept Half Life ‘current’ and still playable loooooong after most games have gone the way of the dinosaur, it is no accident that mod makers are now well liked and well supported by games companies with have at least half a brain. Hell, some games now actually have an SDK on the CD with the game!

    Just as capitalist incentives have created better and cheaper musical instruments, people can take those instruments, make music for free and release it as mp3’s on the Internet if they wish… like many of the bands on MP3.com and elsewhere. Doing something because you love it, rather than for the money, is not ‘anti-capitalist’ because the owner of the means of production (i.e you) are the one in change of your mod making endevour… and it is certainly not socialist, for the imperative of some collective’s needs are irrelevant to the mod makers desire to apply his means of production (labour) to what is pure art … No, the mod maker (and amateur musician for that matter) is just a sign of civil society working the way it should without care of the state or even company.

    I regard people like mod makers as libertarian poster boys in fact… they are doing what THEY want to do, expressing themselves creatively for their OWN gratification and doing so using tools that show the astonishing heights to which our civilisation has ascended. Unlike a Mozart concerto, computer game mods may be as transient as Tibetan sand ‘paintings’, but that does not make them any less remarkable.

    Things like “America’s Army” are very interesting to me… particularly how easy it is to subvert such things. I have long mused over creating a Deus Ex like game set in the near future in which Freedom Fighters in Britain resist the dark forces in Brussels. How is that for a meme factory?

  • LuminaT

    The conversations in No One Lives Forever between the enemy bad guys made me feel bad for having to shoot them. I eventually did, of course, but I always stopped to listen to their banter–usually complaining about their wages or asking someone for a cigarette.

    Deus Ex, on the other hand…I will never forget the moment I used an elevator lift to smash a robot after I had depleted my ammunition. I never expected that to work in a million years–I thought the thing would just morph through the lift, like in everything other game. But this time it was crushed, a la Terminator. Brilliant!

  • Felonious Punk

    While we’re on the subject of MODs, let’s not forget the excellent Half Life mod “Day of Defeat” – it’s amazing and easily beats many recent commercial titles, and considering it’s a free mod made by hobbyists for a game that’s nearly 5 years old…

    Day of Defeat is a Team Fortress like game set in World War 2. So far, only the US and the Germans are represented but the next version will have Brits.

  • Fred Boness

    The beta release of Predator code named “Afghanistan” did not allow for direct combat but, did test the game engine fairly extensively. Version 1.0 of Predator, “Yemen” added the ability to engage two ground targets. Version 2.0 “Iraq” will allow engaging ten ground targets and two air targets.

  • I would agree re: RTCW over Half-Life. RTCW looks and plays so well, much better than Half-Life ever did, especially in solo play. I am currently playing NOLF, for review purposes, and it is pretty good. I found the parachute level to be tedious in extremis and a bit lame. Overall the game is pretty good and runs flawlessly on a new Emac.

    The trouble with Doom III is that it looks really good but there is a slight problem. There is no machine capable of running it at anything like optimum levels of performance. It will be a machine crusher like Deus Ex, which pretty much had to be played on V5 to be decent either in graphics or playability. Once I got the 64mb V5 card I have in this machine Deus Ex became one of the best FPS I have ever played.

    There are some damn good non-FPS out as well like Stronghold and of course the truly awesome Tropico (the best god-game ever imo).