Hi, I am Dan, I am 31 with a full time job in IT support and a wife. I also do not have what is known as a 'Pile of Shame'. For those who don't know what I am talking about, the Pile of Shame is a collection of games/movies/books/albums that are considered classics or must haves that you know you should play/watch/read/listen to but simply haven't and that brings about a shame you apparently cannot escape.
Well you know what? You can escape it, and very easily. All you have to do it forget the concept of the pile of shame altogether and realise an inscrutable fact: There simply isnt enough time. Great works come out on a nearly daily basis - games, books, albums, movies - there is already a ton of these this year that will be great things that should be enjoyed, but you do not have the time to consume them all and that is no bad thing at all.
Life is a complex thing where everything is competeing for your time and attention. The things I have already mentioned, plus wifes/girlfriends/boyfriends, regular friends, family are all wanting to grab some of your attention, eating away at available time in any given day. How you deal with life relies your ability to juggle all these attention seekers and carve out your own way of dealing with each.
I spend time with my wife cuddled up on the sofa watching various TV shows, current favourites are The Walking Dead, Dexter, Arrow, Hawaii Five-0, Glee, NCIS: Los Angles. Some great things in there, some total fluff, but those are what I am into at present. They all allow me to spend time with the wife while also consuming some TV, killing two birds with one stone. Are they the truly important TV shows on at the moment? Hell no. Well maybe one is, but I dont have time to consume those shows, and I haven't seen anything in recent memory that fits anyway.
Those shows I miss out on would count towards my pile of shame. I haven't seen some of the truely great movies ever made: 2001, Apocalypse Now, Blazing Saddles, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Exorcist, The French Connection, again all adding to the pile. Movies I have seen include Space Balls, BASEketball, Die Hard 1-5 and hundreds of others including some of the big names. These are movies I can receit lines from off by heart but get no credit for, I just get crap thrown for not seeing the other ones.
I haven't listen to Dark side of the Moon, The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, Achtung Baby, Off the wall - great albums that haven't graced my ears before due to either a lack of interest or, more likely, a lack of time. My musical tastes are probably not worth going into in much since I am fully aware my affinities are not to everyone's taste, but those albums would make the pile.
I haven't played To the Moon, Psychonaughts, System Shock, Super Meat Boy, Katamari Damacy, Call of Duty 4, Nights Into Dreams and any Castlevania title. Do I still consider myself very knowledgable when it comes to games? yes I do. Looking down the list of 100 games to play before you die that I took the above examples from, there are just as many games I have played if not more, but because those are the cult classics, thats ones that people can trace most of moden game design back to they would go on the pile.
However, I chose to not have a pile of shame. I have limited time, and if I am ever graced with kids, that time will go down even more. If my job, like the good folks here at Gamespot, were games journalist, then it wouldnt be so much of a problem and I would be able to see many more great games than I get to at present. My job isn't that and it isn't for lack of trying, but I just accept that some things slip through the net.
These are things that will not radically change my life had I actually consumed them, and I can live happily in the knowledge that I have limited time and cannot see/hear/read/play everything I probably should. This because I consume enough for me, to make me happy and feel satisfied, and therefore I do not have a pile of shame.
My hope, as idealistic and futile as it is, is that people reading this editorial will say "Ya know, that dude is right. I don't need this pile of shame I have in my head or even physically in my room. I just need to be happy in what I do consume". It is not going to happen, but I hope I have at least given you some food for thought.
Augmented Reality is an interesting thing. The potential for amazing things is almost unchecked, offering a world where every day life can be seen in a whole new way, allowing access to data you didn't even know you needed, and of course, a brand new way to play games.
Ingress is one such game, using AR to present a fairly unique experience. I have to say the interface does look very cool, NianticLabs@Google presenting a way to make a GPS interface look slick and futuristic, while also adhering to the world and fiction they have created. Said fiction, is that Higgs-Boson research has created a strange side effect, a substance called Xotic Matter that is both energy and matter. This is seeping into our world via portals, and two factions are vieing for control of those portals, so that they may have control over the minds of people.
Ok, so its a bit hoaky, but it works in the context of the game. The interface presents a GPS view of your current position, and a blue circle surrounds your arrow. Floating dots are scattered around you, and any thay enter this circle are sucked to your arrow. This is XM, and powers a lot of your abilities in game. You must then find 'Portals' that can be hacked, attacked and linked to gain items and other goodies.
To find these portals, you must walk. A lot. In a noble effort, however, portals are generally located on either art projects or post offices scattered around various towns and cities around you. This is all well and good, but at present, at least in the UK, there simply isn't enough of them. I don't live in out in the sticks, my town, Birstall, is pretty central to no less than 3 large cities, all in easy communting distance, but I can only collect XP locally. There is a large statue of Joesph Priestly in Birstall (he discovered oxygen), but that doesnt count as a portal. Neither does the post office or anything in a 3 mile radius.
I understand that the point is get you to seek out art in your local area, but first starting out with the game can be confusing and with little do if you don't live in a major city the game becomes boring. This is a shame, because despite some GPS lag that means your arrow never, ever, appears to be on a road, the game is very cool.
All of these things can be addressed as the beta progresses, and I personally think the look of the game is awesome and so doesn't really need much improvement. The problem is the lack of things to do if you don't live in major metropolitain areas, and Ingress unfortunatly falls down here, with even the cities I do go to not having enough to do within the game to warrent the battery drain.
I you live in a major city, give the beta a go, its free and can be fun. If you live anywhere else though, give it a miss, you just won't make any real progress at present, try it again later in the year.
Christmas is here, almost, and the game of the year lists are showing up already. I don't normally do such lists, but I have decided that this year will be the first time I will partake in the festivities. So, presented below are my Top Ten games of 2012!
These are games I played in 2012, though they may have been released earlier and I was only able to get around to them during this year, but I really enjoyed them so here they are. I doubt you will be surprised by the number one, but hey, I thought it was the best so monkeys!
10. Rayman Origins (PS Vita)
I don't play a lot of Platformers, but when I do I try play the best ones I can find, and Rayman Origins is certainly that.
Challenging, but not overally so, it controls really well on Vita and that screen really makes the absolutely stunning artwork pop. I had no idea what was going on and why I was running around the levels, but it didn't matter, the game is just a joy to play and provides everything you would want from a platformer. The sequel is due sometime in 2013, and I am very much looking forward to it!
9. Pullblox/Pushmo (3DS)
Pullblox (Pushmo in the US) shows the genius of Nintendo, plain and simple. That last word is actually very apt, as the game itself is easy to pick up, but boy, it can be hard to master.
You control Mallo, who has to save kids trapped inside puzzles made up of push and pullable blocks, each of a different design. The objective is to figure out what to pull/push and when, to allow Mallo to ascend each puzzle and rescue the kid. It sounds simple, and to be fair a lot of the puzzles are, but some are an absolute nightmare. It really tests your spartial awareness, and, more importantly, the 3D actually helps the game and you to solve the puzzles.
I haven't finished it yet, because I am stuck and get very confused on the particular level I am on. I must finish the whole game though, I am addicted to it, and that is why Nintendo are geniuses.
8. Mark of the Ninja (XBLA)
I have played all of the Splinter Cell games, most of the Metal Gear Games, along with many others that were considered Stealth titles. I recognised that some constraints of what that word means had to be made in those titles but the core idea is still there. Mark of the Ninja is better.
It shows that being seen isn't an automatic game over, and that if you give the player all the information needed to set up their run through a level and how to sneakily take out enemies, stealth can be a hell of a lot of fun. The fact that the game looks gorgeous, like a saturday morning cartoon, and sounds great only adds to what turned out to be one of the best downloadable games ever made, and the best stealth game ever imagined.
7. Trials Evolution (XBLA)
The first game I ever reviewed semi-professionally was Trials HD. It was great, though I recognise now that I had an abusive relationship with that game and unfortunately, I was the one getting getting the abuse.
Knowing this, I still went ahead and bought the excellent sequel Trials Evolution, and once again started getting a beat down. However, Evolution does improve on HD in every way, from more varied enviroments to an easier learning curve and greater length. I did get to a point where I just had to walk away before I killed myself, but I enjoyed it up to that.
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3)
I knew Skyrim was a great game when I was playing one night and I heard a rustling from upstairs. I carried on thinking my wife was just restless, but shortly afterwards she appeared at the living room door and said 'Get to bed!' I looked at the clock, and it was 3am. Oops.
Skyrim sucks you in like nothing that came before it, thrusting you into a world of dragons, vikings and magic. Even though the PS3 release was plagued with problems, and still hasn't had the DLC releases enjoyed elsewhere, it served me well for the 100+ hours I put into the game. Whats depressing about that is that I have barely scratched the surface of the content in the core game, let alone expansion packs. I just had to walk away at some point, my wife was getting seriously annoyed.
5. Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)
Mass Effect is about as close to the Star Wars films as gaming is going to get. That might be controversial, but its true, and I for one am very happy about that.
The beauty of the series is that each game is a continuation of your sheperds storyline, the choices from previous games carry over and you build up your version of the story. Of course, major plot points will always be there, but friends might be killed or survive and your abilities will improve. Its great, and while Mass Effect 3 had its fair share of controversy this year regarding the series finale, I for one enjoyed every second of it. Roll on with the next game and a new character to build up!
4. Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron (Playstation 3)
"Metroplex heeds the call of the last Prime" with those words, I knew I had to play Fall of Cybertron. I am a massive Transformers fan and this game didn't disappoint from a fiction stand point.
It did, however, have some technical issues on the PlayStation 3, but I forgave it due to the great story and the fact it had a) Metroplex and b) you can play as Grimlock. I was sold. The fact that it was actually pretty good really helped. I ended up buying a Metroplex G1 figure from Ebay after playing this, and he now stands pride of place in my computer room, surrounded by all my other Transformers.
3. Borderlands 2 (PlayStation 3)
I didn't play the original Borderlands, but I kinda wish I had after playing 2. Its fun, silly and awesome at the same time. The variety of guns and abilities on offer, as well as different characters to try, make it cool to just tool around in the world, and Pandora is a big place.
Admittedly the story is stupid and can be pretty much disregarded, but everything else, from art style to how the weapons feel make it a very special game. I liken it to Skyrim in terms of tooling around in the world, but its sense of humour really helped take any pressure off and let you just enjoy, the fun in Skyrim tended to come accidently.
2. Halo 4 (Xbox 360)
343 Industries officially took over the reins of Halo this year with the release of Halo 4, and what a release it was. Halo is my favourite franchise in gaming, the universe is so rich with lore and stories to tell that I cannot get enough of it, especially the expanded universe books.
Halo 4 looks awesome, the details on everything are amazing and when it manages to make even the lowly Covenant Grunts look menacing you know it is on to something special. It feels like Halo, but fresh and modern at the same time, and while the story has a few missteps, it is still probably the best in the series and really shows that an old dog can learn new tricks. I am also pretty good at multiplayer, which is nice.
1. The Walking Dead (PlayStation 3)
What can I say about The Walking Dead that hasn't already been said? Quite frankly, it is one of the best games of this generation, let alone this year.
The story is truely gripping, and the fact it can play differently depending on choices you make allow for those 'Water Cooler' moments where you discuss with friends about what happened in their game compaired to yours. It isn't based on the comics storyline or the TV show storyline, so is free to tell its own tale, and it does so with aplomb.
It looks great, sounds even better and plays like a point and click adventure. The story is the stand out here though, Telltale crafting a yarn that is terrifying, pointant and exciting all at the same time. Each episode has its twists and turns, and though some are better than others, they combine to make a truely stellar game.
So there you have it, my top ten for 2012. As I said at the start, you could probably predict the number one slot going to the Walking Dead, but you can also do it with a lot of professionals lists too. If you take anything away from this list, can I request that it is an desire to go play The Walking Dead? It is special for so many reasons, but I genuinely believe it is a landmark moment in the mediums history, one that even if you dont like how the game plays, you should see to the end so you an appriciate what it does for gaming. See you in 2013!
So the modern military shooter has pretty much taken over the world. Call of Duty's recent instalments have certainly proved that, busting sales records over and over and providing millions of gamers with millions of hours of entertainment. The 'hardcore' are getting tired of them, as are some members of the gaming press and, to be fair, saturation point is fast approaching, some say it has already been exceeded.
It is getting increasingly difficult to tell these games apart and for these titles to carve out their own niche in such a crowded market place, but one game from 2009 dared to try something different, to take a risk and tell the story of one of the most brutal battles of the modern era, it was called Six Days in Fallujah and to say it was controversial is a bit of an understatement.
The battle of Fallujah, of which there are two, focuses on the battle for control of the Iraqi city ofFallujahin 2004. I wont go into all the details of the event, but need less to say it was bloody and brutal. Sometime there after, members of the Third Battalion First marines who took part in the conflict asked Atomic games to create a title based on the event. Those marines helped the team at Atomic create training tools for theUSarmy, and asked them to create Six Days, even lending names and likenesses to the title.
The game was announced in April 2009 and immediately caused a stir, and not due to its amazing graphics engine, tight gameplay or gripping story. This controversy was caused by the fact the game was coming just a few years after the actual battle occurred and everyone saw it as an entertainment product. It wasn't.
Atomic games themselves described the game as a 'survival horror but not in the traditional sense', meaning that they wanted to show the horrifying nature of the battle and the tactics the insurgents used and how the Marines reacted to them. This game was trying to portray a real and devastating conflict in a way only video games can, and was ripped apart for it.
The publisher of the game, Konami, became scared of the controversy surrounding the game and pulled its publishing deal with Atomic later on in 2009. This was a mistake. As I have said before, games need to mature, and having a game that tells a real life story, based on something as raw as the Fallujah battles, would have gone a long way to help this cause. Konami became worried that the issues that arose after the games announcement would have too many people boycotting the company and not buying future titles, but I believe this wouldnt have happened.
If they had had the stones to stick to the publishing agreement, and let Atomic release the game they envisioned, sure some people would have boycotted them but not enough to cause a major problem for a publisher as prolific as Konami. After all, this is the company that gives us Metal Gear and other well known titles so while they would have been in the dog house for a while, it wouldnt have caused an issue.
Gamespot's own Tom Mcshea had an issue with the game, stating that it shouldnt feature regenerating health if it wanted to be the 'most accurate and realistic military game ever made'. To be fair, I do agree with this statement, however I also know certain liberties must be taken when creating a game - players need both a win and loose condition, on the whole.
The point is that Six Days explores what it would be like to be in that conflict. Movies do this all the time, The Hurt Locker for example told a story about bomb disposal units inIraqand had no such issues even though those units were operating, and still are, in the country.
Its a double standard, purely because films have been around longer. The interactive nature of Six Days meant everyone saw it as a game first and its actual status as almost a documentary of the battle not worth considering, which is stupid, and if Konami stuck to its guns and released the game, maybe they would have been hailed as the most forward thinking publisher, and a true force in the future of gaming.
Such issues need to be told through games, as well as books, movies and TV shows. The medium is a legitimate way of expressing personal opinion, historical facts, autobiographies and more. It needs to mature and grow and stupid decisions by scared business men hold it back.
Six Days in Fallujah may have been a rubbish game with something interesting to say. The rubbish game isn't the issue, its what it had to say and what it was trying to do. Carving out your own little bit of such a crowded market, especially one as saturated as modern military shooters, is hard to do at the best of times. Six Days would have done this with aplomb and helped move games along. Yes it was a risk, but it is one that more developers and publishers need to take.
Hopefully one day, someone will have the stones to release a title documenting a recent conflict and it will show the world just what gaming can do. We can but hope.
Video games are fairly violent, I think that is a statement all gamers can agree with, if not totally then at least partially. The medium was built upon games that had you destroying enemies in order to win. When games were first around, this was mainly due to a level of technology that allowed for only a few things to be on screen at once, and an understanding of basic gameplay tropes.
Well its 2012, and games are starting to mature, and along with that comes high tech consoles and PC's that can deliver almost photo realistic visuals. The same tropes exist today, and killing enemies as a means of progress is so engrained in the medium that games that dont have it are relegated to the indie scene, the problem I have, though, is that no one is taking a risk with the violence in games.
This might be a controversial stance, but the whole world, and especially game critics such as the fine folks at Gamespot, are talking about how games need to move forward, to mature and grow as gamers mature and grow, and find it's own niche as entertainment, instead of trying to copy movies. The thing about that argument is that only AAA blockbuster games try to copy movies, and even then it is action movies with tons of inconsequential violence.
The movies that deal with the cost of violence, what actually happens to victims, their families and the emotional trauma of the ordeal they are put through are never, or rarely, given a video game make over. Take the movie Irreversible, for example, there is no game version of that. If you dont know the movie, look it up on IMDB (dont watch it, unless over 18 and have a strong stomach), done? Good, as you can see, there will never be a game about the same themes, but there should be.
When all the controversy over the new Tomb Raider reboot occurred earlier this year, I think I must have been the only one on earth who thought that Crystal Dynamicsshouldhave put the supposed 'rape' scene in the game. This is not because I condone the act, of course I don't, but I would have applauded the developers for having the stones to put something so brutal into a 'gritty' reboot of a title led by a female protagonist. At the end of the day, in that situation, that act of violence would have been a very real threat for a young women alone on a island full of gun toting criminals.
People talk about how video games need to mature, but no one seems to have the stones to do it properly, to take the risk and say "Our game deals with this stuff". The Last of Us, another game where such themes and acts of violence would make sense given the world around the characters, wont push this envelope either, despite high praise for how meaningful the combat in the game is right now.
This all stems from the fact that games are still considered as a past time for kids, and as such, developers and publishers are unwilling to put extreme violence into their game worlds because they know that kids will play those games because their parents refuse to pay attention to content warnings on game boxes. It will be those same parents that go crazy and say games are the devil when they discover what is actually in the game and what they are letting their kids play, despite clear warnings that only those over 18 should play them.
Game creators need to take risks with the violence in games, there is room for it. The medium is growing so fast and so many people are wanting more mature stories within the titles being created that by necessity the violence must also mature. I am not saying women should get assaulted in every game from this point onward, but if it makes sense in the context of the world the developers are trying to create, then why shouldn't it be a thing that they can put into their creation?
This is a controversial subject at the best of times, and it is true that not every game needs violence of any form in it, let alone highly sensitive and mature acts of brutality. However, creating titles that create highly violent worlds, but leave out the more brutal acts is not helping the medium, and is keeping it back from reaching the same level as movies or books.
I am fully aware that this post is the same as putting a crosshairs on my back, but no one else seems to asking why such acts of violence are left out of 'mature' games, so I guess I had better do it. If you think I am wrong, agree with me or are unsure, feel free to let me know.
It's an interesting title that isn't it? Why would one of the best spy movie/book series equate to one of the best sci-fi epics in gaming history? Let me explain, and also state this post contains massive spoilers of both the Bourne movies and Halo games and books.
First of all let me say that I know that The Bourne series is a book and movie affair, while Halo is a FPS video game and book series. However, this is about the lore, the core tenant of both that makes them so compelling to millions of people around the world. I watched the latest movie, The Bourne Legacy on Tuesday night, and I really enjoyed it. It was a really good action movie, not the best in the series by a long shot but very cool. However, one part of the lore got me thinking about Halo.
Aaron Cross, The Bourne Legacy's protagonist, is part of a shadowy CIA intiative to create the ultimate agent, much like Jason Bourne before him. Both were subjected to behavioural modification and enhancements, with Cross having his IQ and body chemistry altered to make him the perfect Assassin, however this also resulted in a dependancy on chems to keep him both controlable and alive.
Now lets look at Halo. The protagonist is Master Chief John-117, a Spartan - the next generation super soldier created by Halo's version of the CIA, ONI, which also had its version of Operation Treadstone (the program that created Bourne) called Section III.
A member of ONI, Dr Catherine Halsey set in motion the Spartan-II program to counter a growing civil war across the galaxy, and the UNSC was getting desperate to over come this threat, long before the alien enemy of the Covenant was encountered. So ONI, after a careful screening process, kidnapped children from different worlds, took them to Reach, robbed them of thier identity (apart from their first name) and started training them from the age of just six.
Now the protagonists of Bourne were not trained from such a young age, however, they were robbed of thier identities, Jason Bourne was originally David Webb and Aaron Cross was Kenneth Kitsom. Both also had Army careers before being recruited into the programs that created Bourne and Cross, so were heavily trained before being dramatically altered by Treadstone and Outcome (Treadstone without the 'inconsistency').
At the age of just fourteen, the Spartan candidates were given biological enhancements, along with augmentations to allow for advanced communication and battlefield awareness. Thier skeleton's were heavily augmented, and this resulted in 33 of the final 75 actually surviving - including Master Chief.
In the Bourne series, no one is quite sure exactly how many 'program participants' Treadstone and Outcome used, but it is more than just Bourne and Cross.
Now I am not saying that Halo was directly influenced by the Bourne books, but it is easy to see why they could have been, the similarities between the two are certainly compelling. The genetic and biological enhancements, behavourial modification and 'living weapon' ethos covers both universe's, and it could be argued that hundreds of years before Dr Halsey came up with her Spartans, Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross were the first tentative steps towards true super soldiers.
Could they be the same universe just at different times? Well sure they could. The reality is somewhat different, but what if during a future Halo title you come across ancient ONI files that make mention of the CIA and a strange program called Treadstone and its successors? that would be very cool. It won't happen, we all know that, but it would be cool.
The Bourne Legacy and Halo, not as different as they first appear are they?
So E3 2011 is here and Microsoft kicked off the event in style. Here isa run down of some the stuff they unveiled at the event and my thoughts on it, along with a conclusion, enjoy!
New Dashboad Exeperience
Frankly, this should have come with Kinect from the start. But, programming cool stuff takes time so I am going to give them a pass on this one. Especially since it looks so dam slick.
NDE will bring all those wonderful Kinect voice controls into focus, letting you navigate the dashboard using your vocal cords and maybe a few gestures. It also combines Bing, Microsofts search engine, to hunt Xbox live for all content related to your query. Saying 'Xbox Bing Harry Potter' is a bit cumbersome and should really be changed to just 'Find Harry Potter' to make the Bing stuff less instrusive, but hey marketing is marketing and so this is what we get for now. It may change, you never know.
Some cool looking changes to Avatar's so that they actually look like you are coming too so that rounds out the NDE, which will be with you this fall/Autumn.
Kinect support in Mass Effect 3 and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Now this really got me excited for the future of Kinect. Yes, it is optional and yes it is obviously gonna make you feel like a total dumbass, but dam does it look cool and shows what Kinect is Capable of.
Mass Effect was shown to have voice command support, letting you speak what you want Shepard to say during conversations and actually call out commands to squad members, making the combat more fluid and dare I say it, immersive.
The Ghost Recon Kinect demo was for a feature called Gun Smith, which as the name implies lets you customize your weapons, allowing for up to 10 million combinations. Voice control can do this, but gestures make you look like something from the Iron Man movies, spreading your hands to open out a weapon to its component parts, then clapping them together to combine it again.
IPTV and entertainment features
In the UK there is a version of this already in that Sky Player lets you watch live TV assuming you have a multiroom pass, but more channels and voice controls could really make this stuff worthwhile.
Exactly what partners would be adding thier TV line-up to the 360 wasn't announced so this could just be something and nothing, but here's hoping, especially for the way my console is setup - the spare room on a TV with no aerial - that it works well.
The Halo Games
Belittle me all you want, Halo is my favourite game franchise of all time. I devour everything I can on it, the books, comics, games and movies (assuming that ever happens!).
So we have Halo Anniversary coming soon which is a very neat bit of fan service, but lets be honest, that is all it is. If you have played it on the original Xbox, you know what your getting here. Microsoft are a sneaky bunch though, and end the conference on a high: A sneak peek of Halo 4!
It was just an FMV, but Halo fans are anxious for a new trilogy and this will set off a brand new adventure for Master Chief and with no Covenant threat to speak off, 343 studios can go buck wild with new enemies and locations.
I am excited for the next year of Xbox 360. Kinect might actually come into it's own, the set top box ideal MS have been chasing for years could become a reality and Halo 4. Let me say that again Halo 4! Can Nintendo and Sony compete? lets find out!
I don't want to get in a war of words of TechnologoDoom, please understand, but I have more to say on this subject than a simple comment would really allow. The jist of their blog is that they do not think the term 'fun' is appropriate to games, and represents a slightly lazy way of describing how a game affects people. While there is some truth to this statement, I do not fully agree, I believe TechnologoDoom is taking the meaning of the word fun too literally and in the process over thinking how it relates to games.
Fun is more than the literal meaning of the word. Like so many terms these days, it is used in more than one way by many people. I wouldn't necessarily call Heavy Rain fun because it is trying to push the mediums story telling forward and create a unique game experience, one that affects people on an emotional level. Indeed, the games director, David Cage, has stated that he wants to make a game that makes people cry, and that is a very noble goal.
Now, Heavy Rain is a great game, one of my top ten of 2010, but while it affected me with its gripping story and great characterization, I played it for two reasons A) the story, I simply wanted a great story that held my attention and B) I wanted to see exactly what can be done with game narrative. Notice I did not call it fun.
Heavy Rain is not fun because it is a serious, adult/mature title trying to show games can be more than 'See how many AI enemies you can kill in the next 5 minutes'. A game that is fun however, is Vanquish, a title I received as a Christmas present and played through twice in just over a week.
Vanquish is fun because it has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, the story is total hokum, the characters spout some of the most ridiculous dialogue ever conceived and yet there is a level of polish and love in it on a par with Heavy Rain. Fun doesn't just describe how a game makes you feel, it can describe the sheer ridiculousness of a title that it puts a smile on your face when you play because it is like your in on the joke the developers had while making it.
That might seem a little stupid, but I don't really care, to be honest. Fun is a perfect way to describe games that know they are bit on the daft side, yet play great, with some great mechanics, characters and stories. When developers make a great game and have fun with it you know, because it bleeds into the rest of the game, as it has with Vanquish.
To put it another way, it is like the difference between Saving Private Ryan and the new A-TEAM movie. One is a serious and dire portrait of what war is really like, and how saving a single man in the middle of aconflict can provide hope to the world. The other is just a fun, dumb action movie, where all involved had a great time making it and everyone knows it is more than a little bit ridiculous, and the viewer is in on the joke.
So sorry TechnologoDoom, I will not remove fun from my gaming vocabulary, there is nothing wrong with it. Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a very light and stupid story line, but the game is immense fun not because it affects me on an emotional level, but because it is a great game with inventive levels. I am not being lazy describing it as fun, because I am happy and smiling whenever I play it. Again Vanquish is fun because it is so stupid, but it is stupid in a way I can get behind because the developers know it is stupid and embraces that fact.
In conclusion, if you think a game is fun, describe it that way. If it makes you smile, if you know that it makes you happy when you play it and you always enjoy your time with it, it is fun and should be described as such, then when pushed on why it is fun, talk more about the details. Not all games suit the word, but 'Fun' is a great way to describe some.
Back when the original Super Mario Galaxy was released, someone asked me what I thought of the latest game to feature everyone's favourite mushroom-eating plumber. My response was simple: "It makes me happy."
Fast forward to the present, and the first numbered Mario sequel in over 15 years sees a return to the formula that made the original so great – yet with some subtle improvements, new friends, and some of the most fiendish puzzles ever devised in any medium, let alone videogames.
Every level is unique in some way. This was true of the original, but here it feels more refined and more varied. There are your typical ice and fire levels, but what about the level in which you spend half your time floating on clouds? Or the one where everything is pitch black apart from a small spark of light coming from Mario's hat? Then there's the level where everything is three times larger than you are.
Boss fights, too, are some of the most inventive yet seen in a Mario game, and while they do still require the learning of attack patterns, none are unfairly challenging. The basic core of these fights is always the same – find weak spot, attack, repeat – but they are never a chore, and are varied enough to ensure that each is a pleasure to play through. It simply has to be played to be believed.
And that's the true crux of why Galaxy 2 is so special. Describing it to you will only serve to whet your appetite, and nothing will compare to playing it for yourself and seeing exactly how the gorgeous art style, fantastically cheery music and tight, well-conceived controls combine to create one of the best platform games ever made.
At the beginning of this review, I said that the first Super Mario Galaxy was brilliant simply because it made me happy. Its sequel does that and more, and just goes to show that when Nintendo set out to make a truly great game, they go above and beyond the call of duty at every turn.
Christmas is just around the corner, in case the massive list of games you absolutely must have before the end of the year hasn't told you, and so I have begun my christmas shopping a bit early, today in fact.
When looking around for presents, I went into my local Gamestation. For those who don't know the store (mainly our american friends), think Gamestop without the annoying pre-order questions, (for the Britains - GAME but how that store should be run!) and I discovered that they had started promoting thier own reward card, a first for the chain.
I know I probably shouldn't get yet another loyalty card, since I have one for GAME, HMV, Tescos, Sainbury's and at least one other, however Gamestation's effort intrigued me. Now for some time, the company has been billing itself as the 'gamers game store' one that only employ's gamers and therefore it's staff can inform it's customers much better than competitors, which I have generally found to be true. Thier reward card has taken this concept to a new level, and made the idea of earning points a meta game of sorts.
I am not trying to big up Gamestation or anything, I dont work for them in any form (though I used to work at GAME before leaving after being particularly annoyed at the BS politics that company has), but this idea seems to be a cunning one. It is simple, rather than earn points to be redeemed in store, you earn XP - yes that XP, just like you have earned in a thousand RPG's over the years -as you buy and trade in games.
It's strange that simply renaming the points system to 'XP' has me so intrigued, but they have also come up with a surprisingly cunning reward system to get your coveted trade-in's. Accolades as they are know, are essentially achievements but ones that you can actually get something with, as they earn you bonus XP for completing them. They are a title stupid at this point - trade in one game within 14 days of it's release nets you 500 XP, or buying your first pre-owned game for an extra 250 XP - but the possibilities for such a system are endless.
Imagine in-store competitions where you earn extra XP just for taking part, or incentives that earn you extra XP for buying T-shirts when you buy a new release. Obviously, this encourages you to spend more money than you initially wanted to, but from a business stand point it is a great system, and one I have noticed is becoming more and more common.
Turning relatively mundane tasks into a meta game is slowly starting to become a bit of an underground hit, with the iPhone app Epicwin, from what I hear, proving to be very popular with those that have tried it. If this continues to grow, who knows what we will see, and taking it to a fairly logical extreme, could we each have an XP pool for everything we do?
Think about it, a small app on your PC and other devices that earns you a minimal amount of XP for everything you do. Open a web browser - 5 XP, check email - 20 XP, fix a problem with your PC - 100 XP (andmakemy job - I work as IT support - a hell of a lot easier!). The work place could encorporate it too, setting every employee up with certain goals to reach by a certain point in the day, as well as letting them set up thier own daily to do list in the vein of Epicwin, which can then be used to single out those striving to meet or exceed those goals.
Of course, in the work place it could back fire and show those that really don't care and are half a**ing their jobs, but essentially the idea is sound. It wil be very interesting to see where this concept will go, for now it is just to-do lists and reward card schemes, but the possibilities are endless and the ones I have listed above just the tip of the iceberg. The XP system can be used to grant rewards with retail partners as well, imagining being able to buy 360 or PS3 game from play with XP earned just for actually going to work and doing your job!
What do you think? Could these meta games hold the future for rewards and incentives? are they just a passing fad? discuss!
It's been awhile since my last post on the beloved Gamespot, and after the response I got from the fantastic community here for my last post, and with a little help from Brendan Sinclair, I have decided to give an update on my progress since my last post.
For those that haven't read it, my last post was about my attempts to get into the games industry, which failed miserably, and you can read it here. Well since then I have started trying once again, with mixed results, but my confidence has been boosted and I will hopefully achieve my dream before September 2011 which is when I turn 30. That is my new goal, it is just down to me to make it happen.
So first of all, let me say again a big thank you to everyone's comments on my previous post. Most were positive and some really helpful and I got a mention on the Hotspot with both Brendan and Kevin saying that I am not too old so I shouldn't give up. A special thanks goes out to user Drmikeready, who's information on an Open University course on games design really helped, and I took that course and passed with a quite a high mark. I believe the OU is a UK only thing (though I could be wrong) but if your interested in the course it is couse number T151 and does ask you to create a game at the end using Game Maker.
In other news, I have also started writting for a video games website called beefjack. It's a small site with a great staff and some really helpful editors and other writers, the biggest problem with that is that I don't have a degree in English, so my grammar can be a little off at times, but then thats what editors are for, I just hope I am not annoying them too much!
I have also downloaded Microsoft's XNA platform and have started trying to figure out how to create a game with it. I have quite a good idea (I think!) I just have to figure out how to actually code and implement it. Some level of artistic skill would be good too, though I figured a way around that, and potentially a way around my lack of musical skill too!
So in all, I am still not a part of the games industry proper. My writing is not a paid position because the site simply isn't big enough yet (though I am hoping some of the fine folks here will check it out), and I have actually made a small crappy platform game with a better one on the way assuming I get the time to sit down and figure XNA out.
There are several things to take away from this: 1) despite what I said previously, there can be time to change careers and do what you really want to do, you just have to have a little encouragement and be willing to put the effort in, 2) there is more than one way into the games industry, 3) you have to be willing to except your limitations and 4) the Gamespot community is awesome.
If I ever do end up with a proper job in the games industry, either writing about or creating games, I will let the Gamespot crew know, because, at least in part, I will have got there with your help! Thanks again!
This time next week I will 28 years old. Shortly there after, I will have been married for the some total of 2 months. So I am getting older and being all growed up, and now have a wife to think about as well as myself.
Like many people, I am searching for something though. Not happiness in love or anything as cheesy as that since I have already found it, but rather contentness in my job and career. I have never really thought of myself as particularly creative until the last few years, when I have been unable to scratch a growing creative itch, and it is getting annoying.
So, like a lot of people reading and using this very site, I have decided I want to go into the games industry and here is a short account of my attempts thus far. I have to point out at an early stage though, so far, I have not been successful, I am still working as an IT support analyst and not particularly enjoying it anymore. It's a good job don't get me wrong, but it is not what I want to do for the next forty years.
So for the last couple of years I have been applying for jobs as a QA tester for various companies, trying to get into the industry on a low grade footing and work my way up. Unfortunately, this has gone quite according to plan. The first interview I ever had I was suited and booted and ready to go, and I walked in immediately felt over dressed, since everyone else, including other interviewee's where in jeans and a shirt or t-shirt. Also insulted a game one of the interviewers made, so that wasn't so good. Alas, that job, at Kuju in Surrey, was not to be mine.
So I continued applying for other studios, eventually having a interview with Outrun 2006 developer Sumo Digital. Having learnt from my previous attempt, I attended the interview with a shirt and trousers, which I felt was a lot better and meant I wasn't as out of place, especially when one of the guys interviewing me walked in still wearing motorcycle leathers. The interview seemed to go well, though I still wasn't to get the job.
At this point I got more than a little bit determined, and started sending my C.V. into various Yorkshire studios on a regular basis (one to two month intervals). Eventually, this scored me a second interview with Sumo Digital, which again went well and the guys recognised me and we had a great informal interview. They told me they had a new round of tester roles coming up and I would be high on their list. I am still waiting to here from them, and that was coming close to 2 years ago now.
From that point on I have been scanning games industry job sites on a regular basis to find a suitable position, even taking the tactic of sending my c.v. in once a month for a as long as the QA position was listed on the studios site (sorry Rockstar leeds!). As you can probably tell I am getting a bit desperate here.
The reason I chose to tell you about this so far unsuccessful venture is because on Saturday, I had a very nice chap come round to my home from a company called Train2game. For those of you who don't know about them, train2game offer TIGA endorsed game programmer and game designer courses on a work from home basis. The idea behind his visit is that they only offer the courses to a select few individuals in a given post code area, and after a 2 hour interview about my gaming habits, what I want to do in the industry, why I want to change careers and various other things, he said that he wants to offer me a position on the course and that he needs to know by 10am Monday if I want it.
Unfortunately for me, £135 a month for three years to be able to pay for the course is too rich, so, being unable to get any decent help from the government or parents or anything, I had to decline the course, effectively ending my dream for at least another year. I am still trying to find that dream job but the current economic climate isn't making it any easier.
The morale of the story is this: decide what you want to do with your life quickly. In school I wasn't much of an academic, and the only thing I really decided on was that I wanted to work with computers when I got older. If I had decided I wanted to work in games a lot sooner than I had, I may well have put more effort in, knowing I had to get the grades to get onto a decent course at university to be able to leap into the industry. Alas, I only realised what I really want to do in the last five or so years, which is just about the right time to be way too late.
So kids, decide what you want to do quickly. Take a week out of your life and really look at yourself, what you like to do, what interests you, what makes you happy, and decide to make that career a reality. Hell, if you genuinely want to become a real life pet detective, do it, but decide soon because even though people say you can always re-train, the reality is an expensive and time consuming process that at a point, just isn't viable anymore. Don't make my mistake, take the advice and figure out what you want do soon.
I hope my story has helped and you take away more than 'this guy is a looser' from it. And if anyone from a games studio is reading, I am looking for work right now so please contact me for a copy of my C.V!
So for the last few months I have been contributing to a smaller gaming site as a writer. I wont say its name cause I am above shameless self promotion. Honest. Anyway for this site I have been writing news, reviews and features and though it isnt the holy grail of actually being a paid games journalist, it is as close as I can get at the moment.
An interesting thing happened yesterday though. While I was going through my emails from the site, the boss of the UK guys who contribute said that the site has thier first review copying coming in the next couple of days. Naturally I was excited for the site, as it is a fairly big deal, but most important of all, he wanted me to review it. Colour me excited.
I havent received the game yet, which will be this weeks summer of arcade release, Trials HD, but my excitment has so far gotten me out of a real funk (life sucks and all that, despite the fact I got married to the love of my life two weeks ago), excited about a game I really wasnt that bothered about before and even more infused to become a bona fide games journalist.
So I cant speak to the quality of the game as yet as I havent played any of it, but I do want to discuss another issue that this impending big event in my life has had me thinking about, that is of reviews in general. Now, the issue of games, movies and even book reviews, are, at best, controversial, with some people saying that ratings shouldnt be given to mediums that are, arguably, very personal, while others say that it is invaluable to steer them from the rubbish to the great, and is the seed of another post all together, but I have something else I want to discuss on a more personal level.
From listening to the Hotspot and other podcasts, professional reviewers seem to be generally always having a pop at movies, books and, of course, games. Now, to say that I have watched the same movies and read the same books and played the same games and had a different opinion is kinda mute, as everybody knows that everybody has a opinion and that it is thiers and thiers alone. However, it worries me that as I review more games, I will become as, well, frankly, cynical as the professionals, and things I have enjoyed when I haven't been a reviewer I will no longerlike, making me only fullfilled when those great movies or books come along.
I like to think I can switch off my reviewer mode andsee bad movies (I count Guyver: Dark Hero as one of my favourites, butappreciate it is rubbish atthe same time), but thismay beme fighting tooth and nail against the envitable. I have played and enjoyed games lots of people say suck, theoriginal Matrix game being one of them.
It makes me wonder that if Brendan, Tor, Tom and the rest of the gamespot crew werent reviewing games and playing alot of them all the time, would they have more of an appriciation of movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or even Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li?
If they are truely going into everything they can critque with the mindset of a reviewer, then surely thier enjoyment of that piece will be marred by them looking for flaws, and mentally taking notes as to what they did and didnt enjoy. I loved Revenge of the Fallen, though it wasnt as good as the first, and this is because I just sat back and enjoyed it, and didnt even notice half the bad points the team talked about on the hotspot a few weeks ago. This is either an alarming warning about ADD, or the difference between a review mind engaged and a review mind disengaged.
As I get closer to my dream of becoming a professional in this most heralded of industries, I worry that I will become jaded, as so many of my one day peers have become. I dont know if that is a risk I have to take, and whether it is a bad thing or not is questionable, but I would like to think I can buck the trend, and only review when I need to. I hope some of you will go forth and read some of the reviews I have on this site, and see what you think.
What do you think about reviews and reviewers? are they all jaded, or just more precise in thier enjoyment habits?
As previous readers of my blog can tell you, I work as an IT support tech (and if I haven't mentioned that before, now you know!), and that is in a call centre for a insurance firm. The atmosphere is really good and generally the staff are a good lot, and every week, like many places, we have a dress down day where we pay £1 and that money goes to charity just so we can wear jeans and a t shirt to work, which, I am sure you will agree, is a nice thing to do.
Every so often, we have specific 'fun days' for the larger charities, such as red nose day or children in need, where we have a range of activites throughout the day along with cake stalls and other nonesense. Over the last couple of years I have taken it upon myself to introduce my beloved hobby to the workers there, and have decided to run tournaments on those big charity days so I can a) feel like I am helping and b) get people to play games they normally dont. Its a good thing, not just an excuse to toss off work for a day. Honest.
Each time I have run a tournament I have messed about with the formula a little bit, but have now come up with a few concrete rules on how to go about running them, which I thought I would share with you, the lovely people of Gamespot, just in case you too decide to run such an event. So here are my rules to running successful tournament at work:
1 -Keep the matches short
Remember, you are still at work, so pick a game where the matches are short and can be finished within five minutes. I prefer to use fighting games for this, such as Street Fighter IV, but Fifa or a racing game could work too. This will have the dual effect of keeping players interested and not annoying any managers.
2 -Pick a straight forward game
You dont want anything too complex as people will not be into it, and the win conditions need to be clear. Again fighting games are good for this, and since people can pretty much just button bash and you dont have to really tell them what to do, then it saves on stress for all involved.
3 -Keep the whole thing small
The last time I run a tournament, its was Street Fighter IV and I had unlocked every character, so I decided to make it a boys vs girls tournament (in the first round at least) and say that people can only pick one character and once they had that character is gone from the list. This was a bad idea, as too many people meant I found it hard to get people to come and play and keep it going through lunches (a particular problem in call centres). So keep the tournament places small, with 12 being the absolute maximum for a decent running game.
4 - Open registration well in advance
Give it at least a few days before the tournament so that people can get thier names down and make sure they are actually in on the day, and keep all involved up to date on any changes, the venue and game.
5 -Play yourself
Dont be afraid to put your own name down, as alot of people, especially work friends, will want to take you on. This is mostly so when you walk around they can take the mick, but hey it works, and ifyou trounce them then you can do it instead, which lets be honest, is always a good thing.
6 -Dont make people look daft
Unless they are drunk, which I hope they arent if they are at work, people will not play anything that makes them look stupid. So a singstar tournament, unless you work at a music label or something, is probably not the best plan as we are all aware (those of us who are over 18 at least) that karaoke is best done intoxicated to the eyeballs.
7 -Make sure you have all the right equipment
It may sound stupid, but you can't run a gaming tournament if you dont have a TV and a few spare power sockets, so make sure the venue (often a meeting room) has all the right gear. Oh and check the TV for sound play back, as thinking every TV has speakers built in has proven my downfall in the past.
8 -Make it fun
A bit of a no brainer, but if you can get some sort of prize for the winner, do so, and dont be afraid to trash talk, even if your not playing. Commentate, and after each match consider sending an email around the office announcing the winners and loosers (especially fun if a very manly man gets beat by a girl lol) and even update twitter as a laugh.
9 -Keep a list of participants handy
Again a no brainer, but also arrange into a tournament structure on a spreadsheet and print it, so that you can easily work out who isplaying who next. This will save you having to remember and be an easy reference for people who ask who they are playing. If its a fighting game your running, put down peoples characters too, so those who do know about the game can think about it in advance.
10 -Get the payment fee's early
Remember the tournament is for charity, so if you are charging an entry fee (£1/$1 is a good start point) collect it before the people play. This will mean you can concentrate on running the thing and not have to remember who has paid and who hasn't on the day.
So there you have it, my top ten hints on how to run a smooth tournament at work. Admittedly, most are provided by common sense, but some are lessons learnt the hard way. Thanks for reading, and I hope your tournaments go well. If you have any other tips. please let me know!
Many people say that video games will never be art. Personally, I think that is a load of rubbish, and games already demostrate a level of artistic expression vastly above most 'old school' artists, its just that the detractors cannot see that it is a different type of art. Some people also say that emotion cannot be delievered well in games or at least not in the same way as movies, and it is this that I am going to discuss because I am torn between the two sides of that arguement.
You see on one hand you have memorable gaming events like the death of Aeris or the majority of Mass Effect, ones that tug at your heart strings in one way or another or provide a gripping story throughout. But movies do this better for one reason and one reason alone: Actors.
Both games and movies use actors, in games it is for voice and sometimes motion capture, while movies use the actual person in a live way. While anyone who read my last blog will know I believe that games can convey some the best tales ever created, one area that really lets them down is voice acting.
I have recently played and completed Ghostbusters: The Videogame, and once I had I then watched the Blu-Ray of the first film I got with it and I noticed something, something that prompted this post. That something was Bill Murray. Now we all know he is a great actor (Lost in Translation not withstanding) but his performance of the same character in a game and in a movie is telling of why movies, to me, will always be that little bit better (but not more creative).
The animation of a videogame, while widely superior to anything that has come before it at the present time, is still unable to create a truely photorealistic human. This is mostly due to the small movements and twitching a human does, games simply cannot replicate to produce a truely believable human being. This became apparent because I was laughing at Bill Murray's lines in the film but not that much in the game.
Its an interesting point, because actors are being used more and more in games, with some significant voice talent being brought in for major games. The best the medium has to offer, games like Mass Effect or Alpha Protocol do this and do it well, but the cinematic human interaction feel they are going for always feels a little flat, and another reason for this is fluidity.
If were to actually pay attention to the way people talk to each other, you will see there is a fluidity to, one is saying something while the other is thinking what to say in response and continues pretty much as soon as the other person has finished. While I do not deny the best the medium has to offer do a fairly decent job of replicating this, it still falls wide of the mark due to how voice acting is recorded.
Again this is the fault of the medium, as voice acting isnt recorded using the voice actors being in the same room (generally), instead each actor records thier lines and then an editor splices them all together to create the conversation. I am not denying that the method works, but it rarely replicates the true fludity of a conversation as you can hear where is line is stopped and the next started, with very few interuptions or talking over another person.
Now this can have great results, but it depends no what your trying to do. In Ghostbusters, it didnt work because the animation couldnt replicate Bill Murray's ability to conduct himself, and his quick witted lines do not transfer well to the gaming medium. In something like Halo for example, it works because the tone is more serious and comedy is at a minium, letting the voice acting convey what is required well.
I guess its what your trying to accomplish that ultimatly affects what you need to be able to do with voice acting and animation as Ghostbusters was trying to be the third film in the series, though it was a good game, it was still a game and simply couldnt compete on the level the actual movies can. Halo, conversely, is a game through and through, and emulates movie action and science fiction but knows exactly what it is.
So what is the one valid reason why games will never replace movies? Actors plain and simple. Until some figures how to truely make an interactive movie, combining the best of both mediums so that photorealistic actors (or even actual actors) can be used and still give the player all those bad ass powers gamers want then movies are always going to be the superior way to show off subtle acting and get that 'real' feel.
As I have said, I am not having a real pop at gaming, this is just an exploration of a limitation of it. My previous blog showed that I believe games can provide experiences that surpass even the best movies, and I stick by that, but that comes with a certain suspension of disbelief about the way characters have converstations in games.
What do you think?
Ok, let me be straight up from the off: this is about my reasons for gaming, what I like and don't, and is generally more about me than anything else. I will ask the question of you at the end, but please, if your going to comment on my thoughts, at least be polite.
Now, for most of my life I have been a geek. Its an honest assessment, and one anyone who knows me, or indeed, has read my previous posts can attest to. I am cool with it, but this is probably the biggest reason why I game.
As a geek, I have a certain affinity for some material. For some geeks it is swords and sorcery, hack and slash, with the height of your geekdom coming from knowing every line from the Conan movies. For others, and for me, it is science fiction and to a lesser extent, comic books.
As a kid I grew up watching Transformers and G.I. Joe (action force as it was known in the UK) along with M.A.S.K and Centurions. These cartoons really grabbed me, they were surprisingly adult in how they told their stories, despite being 'kiddified' and were brilliantly inspired pieces of sci fi. This followed on into the movies I watched, with the obvious one's being Star Wars, because, lets face it, very few sci fi geeks don't love them.
Gaming original started out as a way to a) shut me up and b) do something else but use my imagination to re-enact great Autobot vs Decepticon battles with my Transformers toys. However, as the technology of gaming became better and better, and more cinematic and intricate story's could be told, I found my self drawn to it more and more.
I started playing space invaders when I was very young on a really, really old battery powered device with a black and white screen built in. Later I graduated to the ZX spectrum and games like Chucky Egg (I think that was it) and Ghostbusters. Then came the PC into our house and asteroids took over for a while.
Shortly there after, stories were added to games. Oh wow, now here was something that filled my head with information, and let what I do best run amuck. Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, the very first Duke Nukem, Commander Keen, all games with stories that I got behind, along with the Seminal Doom.
My imagination was on over load, and it pretty much still is. Gaming, along with movies and to a lesser extend TV, has become my medium of choice to tell intriguing stories with great characters and fantastic backgrounds. I first geeked out over the story in Wing Commander, then moved on to both flavours of Command and Conquer (the installs for those early games were like p*rn for me!!!) before getting to PS2 games like Devil May Cry.
It was this era that really made me game a lot more. The story's and cinematic flair available through the power of the PS2 and its successors (Xbox included) meant that developers came up with stories and universes that appealed to me on a fundamental level.
The biggest game to do that is, and despite the attention I know this will get, Halo. Bungie created one of the greatest science fiction universes ever, its intricate back story, powerful characters and awesome visual scope made it probably my favourite game series of all time. I just can't help myself, it is brilliant.
And now, that is why I game. For the story, the characters and universes developers create. The power of modern computing technology allows for those cinematic cut scenes and powerful story's, and titles like Braid have certainly shown that a story doesn't just have to be about blowing stuff up. Gaming has become more than just a pass time of the bored (though it is still that), it is now a full fledging medium in its own right, with its own rules and boundaries.
These rules and boundaries can be bent or broken, but even if developers remain within them, they can create stories are compelling as the greatest works of literature or cinema and tell them in a completely different way. Do we need a movie based on Halo or Gears of War? Honestly, probably not, though I would go see them.
Games can tell stories just as well as any other medium, they captured by heart and mind years ago continue to do so. I may be a geek, and gaming geek at that, but I have been rewarded for my status with stories I will probably never told better in another medium, and experiences that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Gaming is great, though it may not be your reason to game, the stories and universes that I play through are mine.
So tell me, what are yours?
"The second step that we can all agree on is to invest more in preventive care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place. That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children. It means quitting smoking, going in for that mammogram or colon cancer screening. It means going for a run or hitting the gym, and raising our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside."
- Barrack Obama
The above quote is from a speech President Obama gave to the A.M.A (American Medical Assiociation) and of particular note is the last sentance about video games.
Now, over the last few years there has been alot of information crop up about wether gaming is healthy or not, but read that sentence again. At no point was there any hyperbole about how games affect kids, nor did he pass out any blame for a local shooting to gaming. No, this statement mearly states a fact, and it is a much welcome and very refreshing change.
Lets face it, sitting on your butt and doing very little but playing games isnt particularly healthy. About five years ago i trained twice a week for two hours a week in Taekwondo (big up to any fellow martial artists) and inline skated just about every where to get around. I was very lean back then (though not particularly mean) and was gaming alot as well. I eventually just fell out of skating, and my Taekwondo instructer got really boring (keeping it traditional is one thing, JUST doing patterns up and down the hall is another) so I quit that, and for the next three years i did no exercise at all, save for a brief flirtation with a friends Taekwondo class.
In that time I put on nearly four stone, jumping from a healthy 12 stone to 16 in three years. I decided to try and do something about it two and half years ago and ended up starting capoeira. I started to loose weight but not much, until a little thing called Wii Fit came along. It was a revelation, I was exercising for about an hour every day for about a month, before i decided i should just join a gym, which I did and now I am back to 12 stone (just waiting on the six pack).
The point to this story is that gaming while great, does make you fatter if you do nothing else, no exercise and eat rubbish for a bit. The refreshing thing about President Obama's comments is that he isnt trying to stop you and your kids from gaming, just that you should be encourage, especially the kids, to go outside and run about and play, on bikes or whatever, which from my own experience is definately a good thing.
The latest crazy however, is gaming that exercises you, and again from my own experiences, Wii Fit is a good thing, as Iimagine is EA Sports Active and all the other fitness titles coming out. So maybe, now gaming and fitness dont have to be mutally exclusive, andif you dont want the effort of going to the gym or indeed, theexpanse, then these titles are agreat starting point, and they really do work.
So President Obama, while your comments are refreshing,maybe you should give those titles a whirl and see what happens. But then again, nothing beatsa skate out doors or a playing with your friends on your bikes, sothere should be a happy medium and it is easy to find. Gaming for an hour an night is still gaming,and though it can take you awhile to finish your games, it means youhave time to go to the gym, or out with friends.
ThePresident, in my opinion, wants you to find thehappy medium and that my friends is sound advice.
So inevitably, a slew of lists of games that blew people away at E3 have started to come out. So I thought I would join the band wagon, since I am not above such things.
I watched all three press conferences and I have to say that each one felt more like the companies were actually trying, and had some genuinely new stuff to bring to the table. Nintendo's was a bit lacklustre, but lets face, they did listen to complaints about forgetting core gamers, and you have to give them credit for that.
So here is my list of games and things that got me really excited out of the three conferences, what grabbed you?
I have only just got in to a few Live Arcade games, but dam this looks pretty sweet and I especially loved the robot boss at the end. The graphics looked great and it looked fairly open ended, and dude that foam gun was pretty rad.
I get sick of having to go upstairs to check my Facebook account on the PC, so this is actually gonna be quite useful. Plus I will look like I have some mates on my xbox now, which is always good.
Live Sky TV
Finally a service to rival Netflix in the UK, but more than that it has the ability to let you watch sky broadcasts live. The problem with that, is that I already have sky+, so this is a little pointless, unless it lets me get channels I don't normally get. The On Demand stuff is way more compelling to me, will have to see what the pricing structure is, if I don't have to upgrade anything or pay on a per view basis it should be good.
Halo: ODST and Halo: REACH
Ok so I admit it, I am a massive Halo fan, I just love the universe, it is brilliant. So this brace of games really peaked my interest. I love the fact that ODST had such talkative characters; it really felt like they were real hard nosed grunts behind enemy lines. As for REACH, no knows much about it, but if it centres around the fall of reach, or even the book of that name, this will be ace!
Metal Gear Solid: Rising
So everyone's favourite cyborg ninja returns for his very own game. This could go one of two ways, either it is like MGS 4 or it is more like Ninja Gaiden, only time will tell. If Kojima himself is writing and directing though, it will be a brilliant story and one of the most cinematic games every made, much like its predecessor.
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Whatever they did to change this game around, it worked and it looks awesome. It looks exactly what it needed to be to update the series and a true next gen Splinter Cell game. I also loved the flashbacks of Sam's daughter painted on the walls and the fact he doesn't have any of his gadgets and third echelon is hunting him.
Ok so the big one for last. If this thing can do what they touted in that video, it will genuinely revolutionise the way we play games, but also the way we interact with our consoles. Being able to say goodnight and have your Xbox turn off, or say play movie and it starts with the film, and even recognising who you are and logging you in when you walk into a room is an awesome idea, I just hope it happens.
New Super Mario Bros Wii
Yay a new Mario Bros game for Wii, this time with four player co-op. I am never going to use that, but by myself it could really be fun still, and it is the type of game Nintendo needed to come out with, no complainingabout forgetting the core market this year.
Wii Sports Resort
If this showcases the Wii Motion Plus as well as the first game showed off the Wii, it will be something a bit special. They know they have to make it more of a game, and so they have a cool looking sky diving intro and more gamey elements, I just hope Motion Plus doesn't disappoint.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
The first game just made me happy. Seriously, half an hour of play and I was happy as Larry, who ever he is. If the sequel can bring that feeling back, while improve some the mechanics and add a few new ones, possibly using Motion Plus, this will be a great game.
Metroid: Other M
The Prime games were all great, but they aren't cinematic or massively action or story orientated. Enter Team Ninja, creators of Ninja Gaiden, and we have Metroid: Other M, and though it was only shown in trailer form, it does look pretty dam sweet. The combination of first and third person combat, cinematic cut scenes and viciously fast paced action will probably split fans right down the middle, but to this fan, I can't wait.
256 players and it looks like a probably battle played out before your eyes. Ok so that maybe a bit over the top but this looks pretty cool, even though I am not a huge online player this could be the game to tip me into online heaven.
Assassins Creed 2
All I needed from this was a bit of game play footage showing something cool to get me to want the game. I got some footage showing three very cool things, and those were Ezio (new protagonist) using Da Vinci's flying machine to soar over the city, him killing two sentries at once with his twin wrist blades, and his leaping off a pillar to take a guy out. I WILL be getting this.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
MGS: Portable Ops was a great game, so a non side story, full sequel to MGS 3 should be even better. Plus you get Big Boss and his three clones in there too, so that is pretty cool, so definitely after this one.
PlayStation 3 Motion Sensor
It seems everyone is going the way of the waggle, but Sony and Microsoft have bided their time and learnt from Nintendo's mistakes, building very unique devices in the process. Sony's effort is more like the Wiimote, but uses the PlayStation Eye to track movement, from what I could see about as accurately as Motion Plus. Combined with PS3's impressive graphics abilities this could be a great device.
God Of War III
It looks awesome and incredibly visceral, I mean you actually saw intestines in the demo when Kratos ripped open a centaur. The crazy battle going above and behind the action between a god and a titan was pretty sweet too.
Building on LittleBigPlanet's play create share theme, this looks like it could be a whole lot better than Sackboy's first annoying adventure. The speed with which you can create tracks and the fluidity of the process means I am quite looking forward to this.
So there you have it, my list of what peaked my fancy at the conferences of the big three, but what got your attention?
I was talking to a friend online last night who is at University and He was writing an article on girls in the gaming industry. So I thought I would nick his idea and do one myself.
The simple fact is that gaming is a male thing. Most games are testosterone fueld frag fests and the ones that arent are generally geared towards men, such as fighting games and racing games. It is an unfortunate fact, and many women who make games (Jade Raymond, Carrie Gouskous for example) work on titles aimed at men. Its not thier fault, that is the demographic and is just how it is. True gamer girls though, play those games, and have a love and passion for the medium that can sometimes outmatch the guys.
There is a currently well documented approach by the industry to attract more women into gaming, most notably by Nintendo, and with such titles as Ubisofts Imagine games and other supposedly 'Female Focused' entries on systems from the 360 to DS, but most notably the DS. There is also this tendancy to colour the systems towards women with pink DS's etc, which is a little daft but I guess is what some women want.
I personally think that the game industry attracts plenty of women, they are just much better at hiding thier gaming addictions than guys are unless openly asked about it. That is no bad thing, and I think as the medium grows in popularity and becomes more mainstream then more and more women will game, and this apparent need to cater specifically to a demographic the industry percieves to have a less delicate taste in games will evaporate.
I have read several posts on this very site by gamer girls, and they make no big deal about being female unless it is necessary. I am guessing several of them will respond to this post, which will show that girls game as much as boys, they just dont find it as big a deal. I watched the CGS finals on TV last year, and both teams that ended up in the final had female members, and both of those were absolutly kick ass players. While neither of them competed in Counter strike, and that thier were more guys on the teams, it does show one thing: True gamer girls dont advertise, they prove.
That is the problem I have with the likes of the Frag Dolls. They were purposefully created by Ubisoft to promote gaming to females, which sort of defeats the point as they only seem to offend the women who do game off thier own backs, especially as it seems each member wasnt made part of the clan based on just thier gaming prowess (that maybe a bit cynical, but check a picture of them and will see what I mean).
I cant help but feel such all girl clans that are heavily promoted by the companies within the industry do nothing to promote the hobby/profession to the people they are trying to target. If women want to game, they will game and if they want to make a career out of it they will do that too. Gaming is big enough now that it is very easy for women to get into it with out getting a pink DS and playing Imagine: Wedding Planner.
In fact the term 'Gamer Girls' is wrong in itself. They are just gamers, the fact that they game might be surprising when you first learn of it but singling them out purely because they are female is stupid and doesnt move the industry along in any way, shape or form. I will probably get alot of flack for the this post because I am pointing out things about gaming women that I probably have no business doing, because I am not one of them.
Nobility is an interesting thing, I like to think this post is noble in its intent to prompt a discussion on this subject, hopefully to get the ladies who do frequent Giantbomb to have a say on it and make some new gaming friends out of that. More likely, it will be taken as a bit of a sexist rant and ignored by the majority. I guess only time will tell.
One last thing is that my friend that I mentioned at the start of this post also asked me if I had ever encountered any kind of sexism while gaming. I have to say I havent, but then I am not a female so that is slightly a given. I havent encountered any in lobbies or during matches I know feature women as participants, so I am unsure as to how big a problem this is, though I do bet that most of it comes 10 year old american boys who are too stupid to realise that girl they are slaggin off will kick thier ass from here to next wednesday in the game, then come round to thier house and do the same.
So I went to see the film Crank: High Voltage at the weekend, and it was entertaining in a ridiculous, OTT kind of way, but it also had the interesting effect of making me think about games.
The term 'Popcorn movie' is relatively new to the medium I believe, and is associated with movies like Crank, Transporter and Shoot em up, films that embrace the kind of stupidity that makes them one thing and one thing only: Fun.
These films do not attempt to do anything other than entertain, giving the viewer brilliant action, comedy, and over the top ridiculousness every couple of minutes, with the rest of the film showing the (probably) absurd storyline. A couple of memorable examples are the way the protagonist of Transporter 2 flips his Audi over to knock a bomb off the underside using a crane, and last bit of Shoot em up where the 'hero' shoots a guy three times in the arm, causing him to shoot his colleague.
The reason Crank got me thinking was because this idea of 'Popcorn Movies' have started to bleed into gaming, especially, it seems, over the course of the last year or so. Titles such as Ninja Blade, Wanted: Weapons of Fate and Mad World offer this same sense of OTT fun and it seems a deeply story and high production values aren't a necessity anymore.
These types of games offer game play that requires very little thought to pull off, and are often very short, say 4-5 hours. What they lack in depth however, they more than make up for in sheer balls out over the top and, more often than not, cinematic action. Ninja Blade's protagonist riding a motorcycle down falling debris and Mad Worlds stylish gore and two such examples of this, and while they raise no bars or set no new standards, they have found a place in many gamers hearts.
And that is the point, they fill a nice little niche in the gaming sector. These games will probably sell quite well, and the developers can have some serious fun creating them, which inevitably will bleed into the final product and produce a better game. The developers know they aren't tying to reset a genre or set the sales charts alight, just that they want to entertain in a way only games can really provide. Sure the movies I have mentioned allow a similar kind of entertainment, but they are passive experiences and the interactive nature of gaming lets you do a lot more and entertain in different ways.
So I here by coin the term 'Popcorn Gaming' to be used to describe such titles, where after beating them you are instantly in a good mood because you know you have been entertained by a title that tries to do nothing else. These games can be as great to watch as to play as well, so get some mates round, hand out the popcorn and get some OTT gaming down your neck!