Gone Home

I played ‘Gone Home’ tonight, an interactive ‘not-game’ thingy from some of the guys who made Bioshock.

I super enjoyed it, which I wasn’t actually expecting. For the longest time I’ve been in the mindset that good game storytelling is all in the mechanics, and  if a not-game has no gameplay, does it have mechanics?  I guess somewhere along the line I got kinda corrupted in my approach to how I consider game design and what’s important, and that bugs me so much, what have I been missing out on?

I still kinda stand by my feelings on game narrative and interaction, but how I define that really has to change. Something like Journey is mindblowing interactive experience- there’s not much actual ‘game’ there, but the ..journey…it takes you on is something that you could not get from a movie, or a book, or whatever. Same goes for ‘Gone Home’, which felt very much like an interactive movie, but not in that cutscenes-and-QTE-and-then-a-bit-where-you-shoot AAA extravaganza way which tends to be incredibly hit and miss for me personally ( I cannot stand QTE ). All the little things that surround the interaction, how the music changes, how the lighting sets up a scene…these aren’t mechanics in the sense of ‘do this to win’ but they’re..well, they’re designed moments, right? It’s a weird one. Someone un-warp my mind from the bad influences still swimming around it please!

So all of this has got me thinking that my attitude to games has been kinda stinktacular over the past couple of years. It makes me wonder, as a result do I really have any idea of what’s really contemporary now? I’ve been swimming around in my own back-catalogue clinging to my kinda outdated tastes for a while now, partly because i’ve not really given myself much time for games, partly because this horrible cynicism snuck into me from somewhere and It’s been hard to shake it off. It’s not even my own cynicism, but it clearly taps into things which I find important, else I wouldn’t be as arsey about videogames as I have been.

As much as I’ve experienced new things, I’ve been a little too up myself to really expand on that and maintain a passion that can keep me in this industry and keep me eager to push things beyond some misguided notions on art style, Or a generalised drive to want to make something good without knowing what ‘good’ is in a broader context .

I mean I guess I’m kinda fortunate that the current generation has stretched on for so painfully long that most of what’s out there now is iterative shooty shoot, which I can ignore, but me turning my nose up at something like Gone Home for so long because it’s a weird not-game thing? Man, who the heck even am I?

This seems to happen a lot to me in games, now and then I’ll be sucked into some peer group or other and get a little cliquey about my tastes, and eventually end up kinda cynical out the other end of it. Except this time round I’ve not even been sucked into a group, I’ve done it to myself and now out the other end I realise I know absolutely nothing.

But hey, I do still keep buying these weird little games and not-games the moment steam shoves them in a sale, or the moment they’re in an indie bundle, and that’s something pretty important. If Gone Home was a console game, even on XBLA, I’d have vague intentions of checking it out but never get round to downloading it because that’d involve clearing space from my console, and then I’d have to mess about going through all the pages to find the thing even after its installed. If it was a disk game? Even worse, I’d have to wait for amazon to send me a copy ( because GAME would never stock it ) and then I’d have to store it in a box somewhere because I have no space left on my shelves currently, then I’d worry if my aged 360 would red-ring on me and the entire fuss would put me off ever trying something slightly different.

And that’s me speaking as a console gamer whose remit is ‘slightly different’. I still have ‘slightly different’ console games in their shrink wrap because I’ve yet to get round to trying them. But on PC? Shoving the ones I wanna try right there on my desktop, a click away, on a laptop which can handle anything I throw at it? Heavens, it’s almost entirely too convenient. And maybes that’s exactly what I need to get me looking at games with eager curiosity again instead of flecked with this weird unwanted ‘making games//worrying so much about industry direction and issues of gender or violence or whatever the heck is the hot topic atm has made me a little tired of games’ cynicism.

 

-S

 

 

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf

I’ve been meaning to write something about Animal Crossing: New Leaf (ACNL) for a while now, it’s rather strange that I’ve chosen to do it on a sleepy Friday evening while my head is quite peaceful and not full of the fire which usually gets posts like these chugging off to a crispy start, but then perhaps that’s befitting a meandering post about a game which on its surface is a relaxation simulator. ( Note that some of this will probably make no sense to you if you’ve never touched an Animal Crossing game, I’m just kinda spilling my thoughts/observations here )

Early days. I accidentally sold my shovel. My Producer decided to dig holes around my exit so I couldn't go buy a new one. THANKS DUDE.

Early days. I accidentally sold my shovel. My Producer decided to dig holes around my exit so I couldn’t go buy a new one. THANKS DUDE.

Catch fish, hunt for bugs, shake trees, dig up fossils. It’s all so innocent, so charming. When you first enter your new town, ACNL feels like what I’d suspect most Animal Crossing games feel like…ok, I’ve only played Wide World, but bear with me. It’s a bit of a childhood simulator, you see.* You run around all innocent, not a care in the world. Sure, you have a mortgage, but it’s only really there to drive you to catch and sell.

The more industrious player might take this to heart and spend their time catching and selling furiously, grabbing as many fish, bugs, fossils and such as possible, upgrading their house as quickly as they can, and inevitably becoming bored, as the reason to catch and sell has vanished. I’d say this kinda defeats the point, but the game doesn’t prevent you from doing this. It also doesn’t respond, mind, stubbornly sticking to its own schedule of events.

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You know, because rainbows.

You see, once you get past the bugs n fish childhood stage of the game, ACNL is a bit of a ’1%’ simulator. You are mayor, after all, you’re pretty much the only character who has an endless supply of cash – and with that power comes responsibility. If you spend all of your time and money on biggifying your house as fast as possible, all you’re left with is a really big empty house. Your community won’t grow, and you’ll probably become bored pretty fast. Ultimately the true sense of accomplishment comes from investing in your town, and I doubt its coincidence that most people’s first build project will be a bridge across that damn river cutting your path in two.

What was a mere orchard starts to become an extension of your will as you smash through trees and plant bushes in the shape of rude words, if that’s your thing. Eventually you’re picking out spots to turn into little parks, planning where you’ll place your sweet fountain, hoping a new villager doesn’t move in and claim the sweet real estate you’ve got marked out for a future bench.

It just would not stop raining that day.

It just would not stop raining that day.

The way I experienced my previous Animal Crossing game (Wide World) was one of initial charm, and eventual tedium. It didn’t really grow beyond the childhood simulation aspect. Sure you could grow your house, and sure you could collect furniture and arrange play-dates with your neighbours, but other than that it was kinda empty. Peaceful, almost, but without many motivators to stick around and keep playing after a while, unless you’re REALLY into collecting furniture, I guess.

In ACNL, Public works projects change everything, like little mini mortgages dotted around town, distracting you, keeping you from reaching the end point of a fully upgraded house too early. Suddenly you have a little tension. Do I pay off my mortgage or do I invest in my café? Do I spend these bells on the expensive item Nook has on offer today or do I keep them to invest in Turnips so I can (hopefully) pay off my dream suite? Should I speed up the process of getting my new bench by spending time catching valuable bugs and sharks on the tropical island, or play it cool and just go by whatever fossil/ore/fruit drops I can get today?

 

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Reese and Cyrus, the customization llama, who spends the first month or so asleep.

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Cyrus made me a rainbow bed. It doesn’t get much better than that.

And you know, it’s satisfying to walk around your town and know that you’re making a mark on it, that just a few months past a visitor wouldn’t have seen much that marks your town out as worth a visit beyond a few foreign fruit trees, but now you can show them something different, something they might not have or might not have thought to do with their own space.

Club LOL

Club LOL

 

That’s even before you begin to work on your museum. See, this time round you’re given your own exhibition space- a reward for community service, in a way, and a blank canvas to spread your interior design wings across should they be clipped by your tiny (or stuffed to the rafters) home. It works out cheaper than upgrading your house too, and is another sneaky motivation gateway. For a while I was toying with two big exhibits- one history/culture, one ‘science’- and popping into Nooks on a daily basis to see if he had anything cool for my exhibit was a reason for me to keep coming back to the game, keep collecting those items and spending those bells. I could have paid off my mortgage twice on what I’ve spent on those damn exhibits – and I’m sure that’s the point entirely :p.

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Hugh built his house directly in front of mine, so I ignored him until he left town, noticeably upset. Passive Aggressive Crossing. ( I felt a LITTLE guilty when he said this ;_; )

 

Right now I’m in the middle of funding a trellis which sits in the path between one of my shops and the town hall. Around it are a ring of bushes, neatly dividing the wooded areas from the path. After that I’m gonna upgrade my house again so that I can turn my back room into a version of the library from Beauty And the Beast, which will involve me buying a few more bookshelves and finding a way to place a rose inside a glass display stand. After that, I need to extend to the side, I’m thinking a garden of sorts, I have a lot of plants and some comedy cardboard cutout trees. But before I get to the garden and the house extension, I bet a villager will request something new for the town, something I gotta build, something that for now is way cooler than self-indulgently making my own house bigger.

That sounds like the least exciting paragraph ever used to describe a videogame, and yet I cannot stop playing. They have me hook, line and sinker and I cannot yet find a reason to stop other than ‘I’ve clocked on to what they’re doing to me’.

Sometimes your villagers mention people you've had over for a visit, gets a little weird though when someone hasn't been in your town for months.

Sometimes your villagers mention people you’ve had over for a visit, gets a little weird though when someone hasn’t been in your town for months.

 

But you know, I can’t complain. My town is slowly changing colour now as summer bleeds into autumn, and It feels scary to watch it happen, but I’m curious, I want to see if my trees will go red, I hear you get mushrooms this time of year, and I want to stick it through til winter, if I get to build snowmen I’ll be delighted :).

Game of the year? Easily.

 

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I was Jo Dark for a while. Behold the Nintendo wing of my museum.

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Bargain!

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I cleared space so that the trees would be perfectly aligned and symmetrical either side of the fountain. Oddly satisfying.

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I became Banjo, Also, this is the history/culture wing of my museum.

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See the mouse there, Bettina? She moved to someone else’s village months ago, but I always see her hanging out in my high street. Its a nice touch to see an old face visit :)

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Penguins are good at bug hunts, apparently.

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The writing in this game is something special, I tells ya.

 

 

 

-

*I had an evening of pure joy back at the start when a bunch of us got together in one of our towns and ran around chasing each other, catching fish. I felt like a kid again more strongly than I ever have since actually being a kid. All we could do really as hit each other and do silly walks, but there was a little freedom in that, no expectations for high scores or competition, just the joy of hanging out with friends. Alas, the guys I was playing with got bored of the game soon after that, but that one evening was one of the most memorable videogame experiences I’ve had for a while :).

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Shadows

I am playing Shadow of The Colossus for the first time since 2010 or so. Usually when I re-unite with a beloved old game I go nuts and sing praises and be all irritating and hyper for a couple of hours, to the chagrin of my social media friends and followers. But not tonight.

Shadow of the Colossus I give a nod of deep, deep respect to. I can’t quite put it into words, and I can’t get hyper because this game pushes beyond all of that into somewhere profound. It’s pretty easy to just shove a game into a ‘top 5′ list and forget why its there through haze of PS2-era nostalgia and an over-played always-on-my-iPod-soundtrack.

But SOTC is so much more than that.

Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I ever really loved games, and I’ve been on quite the personal journey RE my entire approach to the medium over the past couple of years. How much of what I think and feel about games is just nostalgia? Should I force myself to finish games which I find incredibly dull, just to see the end of the ‘story’, just so I can have a more ‘valid’ opinion?  Is it my responsibility as a dev to play every genre, even if I find some of them to be pure tedium? Should I play every game in the genre which I tend to evangelise about the most, even if I actually kinda evangelise from a hollow place because at times it feels like I don’t play enough games in general to know what it feels like, to know what I’m fighting for beyond an art style and a vague sense of ‘fun’? ( And who gives one about genre anyway? In the grand scheme is that not just a restrictive marketing kinda way of pigeonholing experience into tropes?) Let’s not get started on the whole ‘casual’ vs ‘core’ or Indie vs AAA thing ( The latter of which is fast becoming the new focus of the oncoming console war, it seems…)

Sometimes you need a little tap to set you off on the right direction, it’s easy to become all words and forget why they’re important, or to forget which words are the important ones and why.

Tension. Anticipation. Love. Glory. Awe. Confusion. Frustration. Relief. Sadness. Desperation. Fear. Helplessness. Guilt.

 

-S

 

 

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Eurogamer Expo 2012

Well, its that time of year again, so lets see what I got up to at Eurogamer.

The Cave – I didnt quite know what to expect other than Double Fine flavoured loveliness, and thats pretty much what I got. Super fun presentation, cute little weirdo characters, and a simple but charming little puzzle.

To be honest, I find it really hard to comprehend something with the style of a Double Fine game nowadays, they basically make things which are exactly what I would love to be making, what I think videogames can and should embrace more often, but as anyone who has read my gamer-angst this year knows, dont really feel exists anymore even though it clearly does, if not in a really small niche.

And thats the problem with niche, really. As a gamer I can appreciate something like The Cave, but one thing I’ve found since joining the industry is that it becomes hard to embrace the niche when surrounded by a more typical ‘hardcore’ crowd, if not only because of peer pressure.

Rayman Legends – One ‘niche’ ( for my peer group, at least) title I’ve been all over in the past year is Rayman Origins. The art style is jawdropping, the music is super fun, and in all it feels genuinely awesome to play a 2D platformer with super high production values, from a disk, on an Xbox. Like its some kind of act of defiance. YEAH, COLOURS AND COLLECTABLES, COME AT ME BRO.

So understandably, I’ve been pretty pumped to check out Legends, as the next in the series. I queued up for around half an hour or so to get to the WiiU bit and check it out. Was it worth it? …Yes and no. The co-op elements were rather interesting (I dug the idea of rotating the wiiU tablet controller to rotate a big platformery wheel on the main screen) , but didnt exactly thrill me. I do wonder how the game will play in solo, but not enough to buy a wiiU for it.

I dont really enjoy narrative co-op, especially in platformers, because it always feels a little too rote. Trying to figure out exactly what the game wants you to do alone is a fun puzzle, with others it can become a tedious chore, like a board game with too many rules. One player always ends up being kinda useless until theres a switch that needs stepping on, and it becomes more of an impatient race to get to the end than something to immerse onesself into.

I much prefer looser approaches, such as Minecraft or DayZ, where part of the fun is personalising how we as a group approach a situation. I picked up Borderlands2 recently and had a similar experience- the game is far more structured than MC/DZ, but is clearly designed to be something of a trip between areas for awesome shootouts, with enough freedom there for it to not feel like an exercise in team management.

The Unfinished Swan- So yeah, it kinda feels lately like gaming is obsessed with multiplayer and co-op. The ‘Sat alone in a dark room’ gamer-cliche is one that the industry has been so keen to distance itself from that at times it feels like its also distancing itself from all of the good things about sitting alone in the dark. Games like Journey and Shadow of the Colossus demand a cinematic appreciation which can only come from being sat in the dark, with no distractions, and a huge TV with decent sound. From what I played of it, The Unfinished Swan is one of those games, a game which is so precious you want to shepherd it away and have a personal experience with it. Its not a game for a party, its not a game of bragging rights or swapping stories with your mates- its the purest of singleplayer experiences- just you, alone, exploring and creating the world as you travel through it.

This blog is one of segues, and as such I’ll drive one in here, because this is a point which I find rather important, because alongside the super cartoony madness which I love to create myself, theres something special about a noble game which isnt afraid to be alone. I was at Women in Games on Wednesday, and attended a roundtable where Louise Ridgeway ( Art Director at Rare. I may have fangirled out a little.) asked us what we thought of motion gaming, wether it was something that would still be around in the future, and how we could make a game like Kinect Sports one which we would be more willing to play alone.

At the time, I said that I would have appreciated online score boards in KSports. One of the other women on the table pointed out that that wouldnt do much for her, as she was in it for the experience, which made my brain do a little fart because …I mean, its sports, sports by their nature are competitive, if not just in a ‘ bettering myself’ kinda way.

But she did have a point.

What ‘motion gaming’ , or, Kinect in this case, is currently lacking is that one game you’ll turn your lights off for and sit alone in the dark, and have that deeply personal experience with. Currently its still seen as a party thing, and it’ll never really break into legitimacy if it only ever sells itself on the kind of ‘fun’ one has when releasing energy, over the kind of fun had when learning new things and provoking curiosity.

Child of Eden was the closest to that for me, that game is more about floating around and seeing cool things than ‘having fun’ – but I didnt have much incentive to stick with it once it was over, it wasnt anywhere near as memorable a trip as REZ, and most of the time it didnt really feel like the action flowed in a way which took advantage of the kind of arm movements one makes while playing a Kinect game. ( Though how much of that was me being rubbish, I’ll never know, because the game was kinda overly forgiving.)

I suppose the ‘sit alone in the dark and soak it in’ thing is what some people mean when they say ‘core’. Its kinda hard to use ‘core’ to describe something like Unfinished Swan or Journey, though. Personally I would ascribe it to something like Dark Souls, which is a game unafraid to bash you around, but I suspect that in marketese ‘core’ means something more like  ‘teenage boys and twentysomethings who like guns and boobies’.

Course, if you sit alone in the dark with a Kinect game, the camera wont see you and you’ll not have much fun at all.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance : Speaking of core…I waited in a queue quite a while to have a go at this one. Ok so, I mostly did it because I saw they were giving away free swag, but when I sat down and gave it a go I was kinda blown away. I want to play more. Need to.

MGSR:R, or, the demo, is basically your action brawler streets of rage kinda thing, with big robots, and slicing things. And OH, the slicing. OH. You hold L1, swivel R to the desired angle, let go, SLICE.  SLICE EVERYTHING.

Now, when you start, you’re slicing watermelons and cubes, which is pretty cool, but does little to prepare you for the horrors of slicing up enemies.

SO the first time I met a bunch of dudes, I disposed of them rather swiftly, playing somewhat haphazardly with the awesome slicing mechanic while I kicked butt. Bad guys apparently disposed of, I walked forwards to my next checkpoint, as you do, but met with an invisible wall. I wandered the area, trying to find a way forwards, when I noticed it. A  mostly limbless torso shuffling around, blood everywhere.

I just. That image horrified me to no end, in an instant the faceless grunts I was disposing of became a little more real. I played further through, limbs flailing, slow mo blood splatters, an orgy of violence in the way where it feels so wrong its right, but still very wrong. I felt like an animal, I felt like I was the most dangerous thing on the planet, being hunted by guys who could kick my ass, and giant weird T-rex footed robots who pursued with glee.

It must be added that I’m nowhere near as familiar with the MGS universe as I should be, so playing this demo was like playing something from another world. Those robot things were so graceful, yet utterly menacing, I wanted to watch them just as much as I wanted to run the hell away and hide, because once I took down ONE, I knew I didnt want to mess with more of them. Except I do want to mess with more of them, I want to know all I can about those things now. Immediately.

Unfinished Swan may have been the game to wow my artyfeelsbrain the most this Eurogamer, and The Cave my cartoonychamingbrain,  but if we’re talking appeals to my ‘core’ gamer soul, the part of me which wants solid mechanics which heighten an experience and make me feel like I’m in another place ( and also want to turn the lights off and sit alone)  nothing beats my experience with MGS.

I really hope that the final thing takes full advantage of that amazing ass slicing mechanic, but even if it doesnt, something tells me I’m gonna have so much fun slicing things up just for the hell of it, and feeling horrified when I do it to people, that I wont really care.

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Gaming in 2012: the state of things.

So I kinda feel like I need to record some of my thoughts on this, because I spew em out over twitter regularly enough to have an idea of where I’m at, but I’ve never really gathered everything together into one place.

Standard disclaimer: These are my views and do not reflect my employers etc.

Gaming has changed a lot in recent years – the world has changed too, those two factoids don’t exist in isolation, though obviously one has more influence than the other. It can be hard to know whether my current attitude to games has came about because of these factors, or because I’ve gotten closer to the process behind games.

Something feels wrong at the moment, and I don’t mean like ‘ I have crazy high standards and the sequels to my favourite games have endings I’m not happy with so imma spit my dummy out’  – this stuff has been brewing for a while.

I guess its easier to show than tell, so I’ll give an example.

Tomb Raider is a series I’ve had an eye on since the PS1, I love me a bit of exploring round, survival, killing T Rexes, being a badass, dying in spiky pits, swan diving from cliffs, aww yeah. When I heard they were rebooting the franchise and doing a new one, I was vaguely interested in checking out what they were going to do with it, but at the end of the day…I’m not really looking forwards to the game. Its not the rapey stuff, the fact that they’ve torn down pretty much the iconic badass female protagonist and turned her into a victim who utters the words ‘ I hate tombs!’. Its not that it looks grimy and gritty and aggressively unpleasant a place to experience.

Its fear.

Its fear of gameplay. Its fear that any decent action will consist of overly cinematic scripted setpieces which might as well be cutscenes with QTE, its fear of cutscenes with QTE, its fear that the meat of gameplay will be reduced to hiding behind a half height wall, shooting some dudes in the face, and an item/weapon system which is rendered useless by pointlessly contrived complexity. Its fear that even if there are lush environments, I’d be rushed through them at a linear pace and miss any opportunity to just stop and stare. Its fear that Lara and whoever she is communicating with or running from will not shut the hell up talking in poorly written dialogue through the entire game.

Its fear that there will be inevitable chunks of DLC and a ‘GOTY’ edition in a years time which renders me buying the game on release useless, its fear that if I dont buy it on release I wont see it on the shelves ‘new’ in a months time.

Its fear that the game will have intrusive UI which cannot be turned off, which ruins any immersion I was looking forwards to, its fear that the game will patronise me with its tutorials and treat the first few hours of gameplay like they’re a chore. Its fear that a cheevo icon will pop up the first time I shoot something. Its fear that there will be an arrow above my head, a squiggly white line, or a box ‘o text telling me what to do next, its fear that those things will never go away, even when I get past the first couple of hours.

Its fear that I will be bored. Its fear that I will have little to really challenge me or make me think, its fear that I’ll give this game my time only to have it wasted by bland, stale recycled ideas which never really charm me. Its fear that all 8, 10, 15, 20 hours of this game will be identical except now I need a bigger gun. Its fear that I’ll actually have to make an active effort if I want to die.

Now, I must add, and very, very strongly add- that this is not me predicting what the game will be, and its not me attacking any particular devs – I’m just using Tomb Raider as an example because it would be easy for me to say ‘ ugh, I’m not buying that thing cuz its a bit rapey’. No, thats not why I would avoid it, thats a strawman, dont fall for it. Its all of this, all of this and a bunch I’ve omitted is why I avoid GAMES.

Wether all games are even like that, I dont know, my perception is such that it puts me off pretty much everything now, unless it can prove to me that its making an effort to do ANYTHING differently.

Dont get me wrong, I still buy quite a lot of games ( Backdated stuff, little gems which slip through the cracks, indie stuff etc), but it is at the point now where it kinda feels like all the fun has gone out of the room, like every new announcement I dont find myself going ‘ whoa a steampunk cat world on the moon! I cant wait to see what this game is like’, I just see the tropes, and with every headshot I just see my big list of all the things which I’m tired of, like all genres have collapsed and all that exists are third person hide behind walls and QTE action, and FPS, and the tropes of each of these seep out into everything else.

I’m not saying this is how things are, I’m sayin this is how I perceive them, this is what puts me off. I can do a whole other rant on what puts me off on the indie/casual side of things, but the things which bug me there tend to bug me a heck of a lot less. (Though IAP is a cause for concern.) The things which bug me there are things which feel like a ‘ oh well, nothings perfect’ kinda situation, while the things that bug me here…they kinda worry me, they seem very wrong.

I really dont like being a bitter sourface , and I should do a follow up to this of the things which enthuse me, the things which make me want to play games nowadays. ( I think I’ve prolly covered that in earlier posts, but its always worth a revisit) – But I gotta play some games for that, I gotta get my head in the positive space.

Not all hope is gone, there are still some pockets of awesome here and there, hiding digitally or in corners of online stores. But you do have to make an effort to find them, you’ll never find them in GAME or HMV outside of their launch window, they’ll rarely be in a preowned section, hell, leave it too late and you wont even find one on Amazon. How people who dont follow blogs or buy magazines religiously actually learn that games like Monster Hunter tri, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, or even glorious Dark Souls exist when theres this kind of situation is anyones guess.

This is where Digital Download shines,  if I want Portal1 I can just go on Steam, I dont have to fruitlessley search dry pre-owned sections for a sniff of Orange Box, I dont have to bid on that one mint copy of Minecraft to get my blocks on. But there are other issues there, which I aint gonna go into now.

Videogames! Lets see where we’re at this time next year >:[

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Why do you play Videogames?

Why do you play Videogames?

For me? I guess its why anybody does anything in life. Its for the moments, happy, sad, exciting – the ones which stick without us ever needing to be reminded of them, because they cut to your core.

That moment when you rescue a chain chomp doggie from M-M-MOBLINS! then have to take it for a walk. That moment when you realise you can go outside the world while transformed to pick up an extra jiggy. That moment when, after 10 or so levels of bleak industrial yellow-green and metal nothing, of cramped tubes and the constant panic for every last breath of air, for every last morsel of food,  you leap into an lush, pink-and-blue tropical lagoon and leap out of the water cackling and clicking with joy, just because you can. That moment when it dawns on you how much irreplaceable ancient beauty you are destroying for the sake of some girl who you barely know much about, but clearly she is very important to you. That moment when you notice that the birds and slugs who are at war with each other are doing just as much pain to the other side, and amidst all of this, a boy and girl from each are unlikely star-crossed lovers. Also a farmer has some cow elephant things, which always creeped me out.

Thats not the half of it, those are just examples which make me swoon and get all super passionate about videogames, because those moments cannot be reproduced anywhere else, you actually have to get to a point where you have been doing the act of play for long enough to realise these things, to know, from personal experience how ecstatic it feels to be able to fly again after your wings have been bound.

I could throw back to the technical now, I could bring reality back into this a bit. I guess what gets me in games is not when I win- winning feels good, but a lot of the time its not really an unexpected outcome, heck, it seems to be a bit of an entitlement thing at times.

Its more about the journey, its feeling surprised, its discovering something novel and being charmed by it, its a moment of relief or a moment of desperation.And those feelings ( and more) can come from many different kinds of games, many different situations, it doesnt always have to be you fighting someone or something. Sometimes I get tired of games being about fighting things. Did you hear about the new game? Its about fighting things! This time with a gun!

 

Thats not to say fighting things is an entirely null point, of course. I’ve played but not yet finished Dark Souls, I love the spirit of determination it invokes. I WILL slay that Capra demon. Eventually. But I kinda need to work for it. And its not about wanting it dead, its about wanting to know whats on the other side of the door its guarding. More demons, probably, Bigger ones. I heard theres a giant wolf and a town where everything is poison. I wanna see those, so bad. Bloody Capra Demon. I should go play more Dark Souls.

It can kinda get a bit awkward though, not Dark Souls, because Dark Souls is special, but those big games like Skyrim, the ones people get super excited over and I just dont ‘get’ it. Because I would much rather be playing a game where I’m exploring a place and then a random guy challenges me to stop turtles from entering his giant soup pot than one where I’m in a photoreal enviro populated by Speed Trees and some guy attacks me for no reason. Or I’m in some ruined place and I have a gun, and if anything moves I guess I shoot it and I hide behind this thing to stop it shooting me.

Not that that can never be fun, but its not like I cant have that exact same experience in like 500 other games. And then it stops being an experience, it stops even being fun, its just a thing that you do because you’re bored, and I guess theres a story. QUICK! PRESS X NOT TO DIE!

And those are the worst experiences, the ones where you’re not quite at the point where you’ll let yourself give up, but there doesnt seem to be much promise of anything interesting ever happening. And it almost feels like you’ve been conned. This isnt a videogame, this is just a thing where you shoot people and sometimes theres money.
But hell, defining what you think a videogame is or isnt is the hardest thing, and theres always this air of ‘ yeah, but your taste sucks’ about it all.

So heres my taste in all its suck.

Shadow of the Colossus, Links Awakening, Spyro2: Gateway to Glimmer, Ecco: Defender of the Future, Portal1/2, Orbital, Digidrive, We Love Katamari, Braid, Banjo Kazooie/Nuts & Bolts, Viva Pinata, Kameo, Spider: Secret of Bryce Manor, Tomb Raider 2, Bioshock, Final Fantasy 7/8/9, SSX, Gitaroo Man, Meteos, Electroplankton, Animal Crossing:WW, Pokemon, REZ, Resi4, Theme Park World, Silent Hill, CivRev, Jet Set Radio, Advance Wars, Pokemon Snap, Phoenix Wright, Wario Ware Inc/Twisted, Sonic 2, GROW series,  Ecco The Dolphin, fuckin’ Dark Souls.

Honourable 3D world rotation mentions to FEZ, Crush and Echochrome. Super Mario Galaxy gets my ‘ I dont know why I dont love you more’ nod. I could add more Rare games. And probably stuff I forgot. Viewtiful Joe! Okami! Psychonauts! Pikmin! How could I forget those?!. Because I never finished em. So many games in my pile. So many I’ve yet to start! You’d think this would make me back down about bitching that the big games are mostly gritty fighty blood n brood em ups nowadays, because I can just play everything I’ve yet to finish from the previous gen, right? But hey mang, I wanna make games, I wanna help make games that show that theres more to the medium than giving people fond memories of playing as a grumpy guy with stubble who shoots people in the face.

UNDER THE SKIN. That one too. I never remember WTF that one is called. I’d love to play that thing in multiplayer, goddamn that game is mental.

 

Vidya games. Why do you play em? What are your favourites? Go!

 

 

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‘Casual’ Me.

It dawns on me, as I sit watching my blob float around in Osmos, a spacey floatey relax em up not too dissimilar to the excellent ‘Orbital’ …that my way of consuming games has changed recently.

And I say recently.. perhaps I mean this gen, and I guess we’ve already entered a new gen – the social/handheld /digital gen.

For the past year I have mostly been buying iOS games. It started as me catching up on everything I missed when the iPhone first got big and I couldnt afford one, but then I got hooked, and it soon became clear that the app store is a wonderland of new ideas, if you know how to look for them. There are a lot of clones upon clones and awful clunky things which makes you wonder how the heck they ever got a ‘pass’ – but – and partly due to the iDevices sole multitouch interface, and terrifyingly broad audience.. a lot of it is new. I’m talking the leap between 2D and 3D new. Suddenly there are games which noone could have done before, not without the multitouch, not without the audience shift, not without the low prices.

Now…I’m mostly a console gamer, with a side in handhelds- the GBA is probably my favourite console of all time,but I have to admit, as much as I love what Nintendo did with its handhelds, that oldschool model is on its legs, at least for me.

See..when you buy games for a console ..your choices are kinda genre-ified. I dont know if other people do this, but for every console I tend to have the racing game, the sandbox game, the shooty game, the platformer, the actiony adventure game, the music game and the role play game. Without fail I will buy the same games every time. Oh, they may have another name, GTA3 isnt the same as Crackdown, but I pretty much bought crackdown to do the same stuff I do in GTA. I pretty much bought Guitar Hero because I dug DDR. I dont necessarily buy sequels to franchises I knew before, but I’ll buy experiences I know, experiences I fancy having a go of again. Fancy shooting someone tonight, guess I’ll go buy Gears. Guilty secret. Never touch the thing again. Sometimes Its just because I cant be bothered with hooking up my old systems- and thats pretty shocking behaviour, tbh.

Now, thats not all I buy, my tastes are far more skewed towards the Katamaris and Jet Set Radios of the console world- those weird games which you dont think will work, but do, inevitably with an awesome art style of some sort, if not just a concept which is really, really hard to describe without sitting someone down with the game and forcing them to have a go.

Dont even ask.

But now…Now we have the App store. iPod Touch. And flicking through my apps I see… The one where you’re a pig with a snotty nose, the one where you flick balls at evil cubes, the one where you put down torches to kill zombies ( while avoiding the damsels in distress), the one where you dig channels in dirt so a cartoony alligator can have a bath, and the one where you go on a sunday drive with your partner and pick up memories of your life together.

I suppose those would be loosely defined as ‘puzzle games’ if the word ‘casual’ wasnt used as an umbrella term for everything without guns n blood nowadays, and I’m not going to deny that thats a genre I dig- especially on handhelds- but the app store isnt the same as the GBA library, its not what we used to be restricted to for mobile gaming- the store isnt restricted to basic 2D side scrollers and puzzle games – they got the unreal engine running on this thing ffs.

And yet I have absolutely no urge to try out the FPS squeezed onto this device. I couldnt give two shits about the racing game, and the one RPG I grabbed lies half played with a big stamp of ‘meh’ and a touch of regret because it was damn expensive for an app.

For once it seems that theres a gaming ecosystem which has trounced the usual rules, mashing together the best parts of handheld, browser and PC indie gaming and giving one enough choice to never HAVE to turn to the GTA just because you’re bored and fancy playing GTA again. (There is a GTA on here, I’m sure its great, but I dont care, its not 2002 anymore.)

Now if I get bored of an app, I can go find another app. And the other app will be another mad idea which I’ve never seen before. And if it doesnt work, if its not as fun as I was expecting?…Well man, it was only 59p, Its no biggy.

Point is..I’m free. I dont have to go back to the same experiences every time, I dont have to buy the newest shooty sandbox because thats what everyone else is playing this week and I guess I want to know what the fuss is about. I’m free to try a game because I like the idea, because I feel like trying something new, not because I feel like replaying something old albiet with a slight iteration ( now the guns have CHAINSAWS!).

And I guess, traditional consoles, plastic boxes with plastic things in them…they cant really compete with that. Dont get me wrong, I dont think they’re dead – especially if you crave a deeper experience – they’re just not really the place for new ideas, not at the moment, not while everyone else is still stuck in the loop of only buying what they know. ( And man, its sad, because I really believe in the potential of Kinect for bringing us something new, but I guess thats being shoehorned into the same old stale genres too now with this ‘core’ push :/)

It kinda brings me back to the days when I’d save what little I had to buy the official Playstation 1 magazine, because it came with a demo disk (And thats why I had a PS1 instead of an N64). Each month I’d have a whole disk of games to play, and the ones which I really, really dug I’d get for Christmas, or seek out in preowned bins. Games which I otherwise may have not given a chance to, genres which I had never heard of, partly because they didnt really EXIST before games went 3D, certainly in the mind of someone whose only encounter with new games was whatever that one newsagents with a pre-owned shelf had that week, or whatever the girls down the street had for the Megadrive.

Thats where it starts. The genrefication. You try something out, and you want to try it again. Thats how you make a gamer. Its not necessarily a bad thing!..but something to bear in mind. Because thats what anyone with an iPhone is doing right now, the ones buying Angry Birds (350 million of em. Thats a hell of a lot.) and then wandering round and grabbing whatever else takes their fancy. New blood. New gamers. New demands. New experiences.

So we have the old guard and the new. ‘Core’ vs ‘casual’, if you must ( though I wish you didnt). Will the core change? Man..I’d hope so..but I doubt it. And thats not necessarily a bad thing, I guess.

Everyone is shitting themselves because of the internet nowadays, it has smashed up all the rules for everything, News, TV, Music, books, the lot, all turned on their heads. Gaming has came out of it better than a lot of other areas, but it has changed. The internet has changed us and our approach to games. Its changed the information we get about games, and its helped some of us find out about games which we never would have known about relying on friends or magazines. Its breathed insane amounts of life into the Indie sector.

We’re not captive anymore, we’re not stuck with playing what we’ve expected in the past, what we demand out of habit, a dose of soylent racer/shooter/RPG. And I can see why thats scary for some…but man, its pretty exciting too. Embrace it. Grab something you’ve never tried before and go with it. You wont even miss the shooting.

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