Friday, 16 December 2011

Lancaster's E-Sports Group


The Lancaster University E-Sports Society Group hosted their first public drop-in and game session on the 7th December 2011 (last week at time of writing) in the newly refurbished Bowland college bar on the Lancaster University campus. This energetic and promising new society took over the social area of the bar and... well just look what they did!  
The new bar sports: Dominoes and darts had better up their game.

Now I do fancy myself as a pretty good gamer but when it comes to multi-player gaming I'm of the mind that I prefer to either know my opponents personally (winning or losing against a snot nosed ten year old from Wisconsin isn't my idea of fun) or at least be able to see have them in the same room as me so it can still be a fun social event if I'm outclassing or outclassed. The above picture is evidence that these guys know how to compete in a fun way. These guys aren't locked away in some forgotten seminar room wishing they had girlfriends nor do they engage in the kind of frattish cocking about that befits the stereotypical competitive PC gamer. They're a nice bunch as well as being a bit pro. You can be both!

Anyway, these guys had themselves a little bit of a Starcraft tournament and this is how it turned out.

Seems like The Terran race reign supreme in Lancaster. Congrats to Tim Seabrook!

This is just the tip of the iceberg as well by the way. I'm expecting that the replays from all of the above matches to go live (with commentary) on their group page any time soon. Also, they are currently pursuing circuit competitions in not just Starcraft but a whole plethora of other e-sports games to boot. There are matches suitable for the whole range of skill levels.

I'd re-iterate that you will find, as I have, that this group are very well organised and are making impressive efforts to make group gaming a more open and accessible experience without losing their competitive edge because after all, what's a multiplayer game with nobody to play it with?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Versus Mode: Skyrim versus COD for Game of the Year

   ---- THE ARGUMENT FOR SKYRIM ----

I got into a discussion the other day with a friend of mine about Game of the Year awards, I was so certain that Skyrim would win, and in my view deservedly so when he turned to me and said “Don’t be stupid Katie, Call of Duty came out this year, no other game wins game of the year when a Call of Duty game comes out.” Firstly he is wrong, thank you Wikipedia! And secondly it made me think of why Skyrim SHOULD be game of the year.  So after hunting around my group of friends I finally found one who had played Call of Duty (yes most of my friends have taste, or are too poor to afford it but they have TASTE damnit TASTE!) and he agreed to fight the corner for CoD:MW3 in this joint article.

Why is Skyrim so great? Well firstly because you can go anywhere and do anything. I played on Xbox, but if you really want unlimited freedom you can play on PC and get mods for the game to allow you to do the things Bethesda thought were a little overboard. See youtube “Skyrim – Don’t talk to strangers” for an example. The space is amazing, you can run or ride wherever you want very rarely hitting into walls that are impassable, and there is usually a way around them. You can put as much as yourself as you want into the character, playing as a douchebag if you’re feeling grumpy or as a kind and helpful hero if you’re in a good mood. It is a game that I truly am expecting to play for the best part of a year if not more before I even get close to being done with it, and since that barely truly happened with Oblivion I very much doubt it will happen with Skyrim.



Secondly the amount of platforms you can play it on, Skyrim might not have an online ability but it doesn’t lack a sense of community. After just one week of Skyrim being on sale I met up with some other gamers and although we used different platforms we were all able to share experiences of Skyrim both good and bad. (Thank god Xbox has a rolling 4 auto save otherwise I too would be continually falling off a cliff to my death.) The controls for Skyrim are perhaps not the best, though the levelling system has improved since Oblivion I miss having the magic skills on the D pad, I know most Xbox players found it unresponsive and difficult but I never had that issue, and having a few spells on easy to reach and quick to use buttons would be a lot better than having to open a pause screen to scroll through your options. Having said that it does mean you have to plan your battles more and adding some strategy to RPGs is never a bad thing. I also benefit from the pause screen so I don’t completely panic when thrown into a battle situation (I get a little jumpy at times).

Graphically Skyrim is amazing, I have lost count of the times that I just stand and look at the aurora in the night sky. I love how when a dragon flies overhead you know about it, and if you ever get one twisting above you, not attacking just enjoying the ability to fly you’ll feel it as your screen shakes and you get thrown around in the slipstream. I really feel a part of Skyrim, the only thing dragging me out of that world is when I have to move since gaming from your bed isn’t always the best thing.
Emotionally I have grown attached to Whiterun like no other place, I feel guilty and still visit the lesser settlements to try and help them out, but Whiterun is where my home stands. Though I am not entirely sure why a servant thinks she can sleep in the nice bedroom, when told by Ben to kill her as punishment I realised I couldn’t, she was my first companion, and though I prefer to run things solo I still care about her more than the guy from Dawnstar with the crazy accent, (seriously was that guy trying to be English?? What WAS that accent?)

Whilst Skyrim and all Bethesda games are famous for not having a tight main storyline each of the mini plotlines are great fun to play through. I have seen people wax lyrical about the thieves guild plot, whereas I so far have preferred the Winterhold College plot, perhaps because I have a soft spot for mages, and a fear of the guards.
All in all I think Skyrim deserves to win GotY because it’s a popular, graphically amazing, enthralling open world that you can pick up anytime and will always struggle to put down again. It’s a game I am sure I will continue to go back to and I am sure RPGs will be compared to it for year to come. My only worry is that in the fantasy genre nothing I can think of trumps dragons, and so I am not sure how Bethesda will improve on Skyrim.

                                                        -- Katie Highnam (Skyrim Fan)

---- THE RESPONSE FROM COD ----

Hello, I am the 'tasteless friend' Katie referred to. I feel it necessary to state pretty early that I don’t disagree with Katie’s GotY predictions. Though there have been many incredible additions to the gaming market this year, I am told that Skyrim contains all the necessary components that qualify it for such lofty appraisal: freedom, moral decisions, dragons etc. But to instantly dismiss one of gaming’s highest grossing and popular franchises would be a disservice to Infinity Ward and its hordes of loyal fans.

Now I’ve not played Skyrim. As such I won’t make disparaging comments about a game I’ve never played because doing so would render all my accusations unfounded. In fact, Skyrim seems incredible; the amount of freedom and the wealth of content seems mind blowing. This, however, is also one of the reasons I have avoided it.

I like my concise narratives. Perhaps controversially, my favourite game of this generation remains Splinter Cell Conviction. It allowed you to start and finish a game in a relatively short amount of time without missing out on any narrative. The reason I can’t play Skyrim is that I’m a completionist. I would never face that final boss for fear I’d missed a dungeon or dragon or subterranean village filled with insane citizens.  But despite my hesitancy, I must admit Skyrim seems impressive.
MW3 doesn’t have this freedom; instead you are gently led by the hand through warzone after warzone with one eventual conclusion. No moral decisions make you stop to consider your actions. You may consider this a negative characteristic of the game; I disagree.

Games are an incredible source of escapism, allowing you the ability able to flee the monotony of your own lives and submerge yourself in the consciousness of another. Skyrim’s freedom, to me, ruins that fa├žade of immersion. I understand you can create another life within Skyrim; make friendships, raise families, love. But the idea of offering me these decisions just reminds me I’m playing a game. I have to make decisions every day. My life is nothing but decisions. The idea of making more in my free time is exhausting. When I get home from work I don’t want to be Josh the Dragon-born. I want to be Soap MacTavish, aiding Yuri and Capn Price to try and end a war. When I play games, I don’t want to be me. I want strong characterisation and narrative. I need an external sense of self. COD allows me to embody a pre-determined badass and, essentially, live through my own film. I equate COD, somewhat controversially, to a great novel. I’m led through a narrative and presented with situations with only one eventual outcome. Skyrim’s a ‘Choose your own Adventure’ story. And that’s great if you enjoy that. With a narrative structure like MW3 life becomes simple, which is precisely what I look for in my games.



Though you may not believe it (potentially because you have never played the series) but the Modern Warfares have provided me with some of my most emotional responses from the video game medium. I won’t divulge any spoilers as I genuinely think it is a series that should be experienced but in all 3 instalments there have been instances when I have become genuinely emotionally affected due to my investment in the fully rounded characters. Critics of the series will fight me on this point but the trials of Soap, Price, Roach, Ghost and Gav engaged me far more than that of any other series.
I’ve avoided discussing multiplayer as Skyrim doesn’t include one (nor does it need one) but I understand this is a major draw to the MW series. Such modes add a lot of gameplay hours to the primary narrative. Not to mention added co-op missions and a horde style mode provide a FPS menagerie that will appeal to most fans of this genre.

The foremost accolade I can attribute to the MW series is that it helped the gaming medium. Its initial popularity brought so many new gamers to the past-time we held close to our chests for so long. We talk about wanting gaming to be more socially acceptable, regarded as art and accepted as the latest form of narrative storytelling. We want people to love gaming and accept it as an active part of their lives. But we become snobs as soon as games attract the “wrong sort”. This is obviously not a comment about Katie’s argument but more a wider social observation from discussions with gamers. MW along with Fifa brought in “the Jocks”. People who used to tease us for being gamers are now becoming the hypocrites we always knew they would be and picking up a controller. Though we may feel this degrades “our” medium we need to support anything that encourages people to engage in gaming as an art form.

The main issue with this discussion is that these two games are completely different. Comparing them is like comparing the Batman mythos to The Dark Knight (2008, Nolan). Skyrim and MW3 share a common factor, both being from the FPS genre. But, like the aforementioned comparison, one offers a wealth of narrative that you can choose to immerse yourself within as much as you wish whereas the other presents a succinct, interesting and fun narrative in a creative way.
Fact is, they both have as much claim to the title as each other and help in pushing the medium’s boundaries to interesting new heights. Additionally, they both have the same chance of getting beaten by Gears of War 3.

                                              -- Josh Roberts  (COD Spokesperson)

-- If you would like to engage in a Versus Mode of your own here at 103%, please find a sparring partner and an argument that needs settling and email jkmrshll88@gmail.com . Cheers!                     


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ocarina Of Time: The Best Game Ever Made, Just Not The Best Zelda Game

Yes, I admit it; I do sometimes write articles just so I can give them appropriately controversial titles, and whilst the above isn’t (necessarily) entirely how I feel about “Ocarina”, I think my point still stands. I’ve played a lot of Zelda games, and I’d say I’m at least broadly familiar with all the main titles (with the exception of some of the more recent releases and those god-awful CDI games). Therefore, I think I’m reasonably well qualified to talk about the Zelda franchise as a whole in a critical way.


We never talk of the "Unholy Triforce"

Now, my first Zelda game, as luck would have it, was “Ocarina of Time”, which is undeniably a difficult act to follow. Don’t get me wrong; I love Ocarina of Time. It blew me away as a kid and it still blows me away now. It does everything a video game should do. Well, aside from a multiplayer, but as a single player experience it’s got it all covered. A protagonist who is simultaneously distinct and an everyman. A strong balance of story and gameplay. Some damn fine gameplay variations and some truly ingenious puzzles. Furthermore, it is arguably the best 3D adaptation of a 2D franchise. When people call it the best game ever made, I can see why, as it really does showcase everything a video game can do. If you need to show someone completely unfamiliar with video games an example of one, this is certainly one of the best to choose.


Despite this, there is one very big “but”. And no, it’s not the general problem one has with Zelda games and those unfamiliar with them, where you have to explain that Zelda is the princess, not the hero, nor is it the 3D problem of having to explain that there isn’t a jump button. No, the but I have is that “Ocarina” has all the best aspects of Zelda games, but few original aspects of its own.


You see, if you look back at “A Link to the Past”, or even the original “The Legend Of Zelda”, you can see how many ideas were just directly lifted from these; the enemy designs, the structure of the games, the dungeon/item mechanic, even the characters are pretty much the same. In fact, this is actually becoming a problem for Zelda games, as people get sick of playing the same thing over and over again. 


I would argue that you have to give the most credit to any original, and any subversions of said original. After all, refinement is one thing, and whilst it is not necessarily an easy thing, incremental refinement cannot be equated to true revolution. For me, there are 3 games that distinctly play with the formula.


It's not this.




Firstly, we have the underrated and still very good “Wind Waker”. At first, it may not appear to be a massive deviation from other games, but there are a little of small changes that help make it a unique addition to the Zelda canon. The most obvious example is the reworking of the visual style, but there are also experimentations with playability, where you play as a support character, exploration, via the sailing mechanic, and an increase in the self-aware humour of the franchise.


Secondly, we have the criminally underrated “Zelda II: Link’s Adventure”. Whilst not the best game in itself, a lot of people take for granted how much it did. Due to the side-scrolling perspective, it meant that the combat system had to evolve past “bomb everything that your sword can’t kill”. There were a variety of sword moves, and with hindsight it is possible to see a lot of these ideas being mapped on to the 3D games, though “Ocarina” purists would probably dismiss such a claim.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have “Majora’s Mask”. Ah, “Majora’s Mask”, it seems you are destined to always be the misunderstood genius of the franchise. You see, a lot of people write the game off as a self-consciously “weird” clone of “Ocarina of Time”. But what “Majora’s Mask” is is much more subtle than that. The whole game is a dark parallel of Hyrule; the name “Termina” distinctly apt for a game so preoccupied with death. Instead of simply Ganondorf (again), we have a faceless evil, an evil with an uncertain past that hides behind a mask; an evil that, ironically, defines itself by giving the faceless a face, in the form of the ever-approaching moon.


But the parallels are much more subtle than these overarching themes. The peace-loving shopkeeper in the Haunted Wastelands from “Ocarina” is now a master warrior. The runner who requires the bunny hood, defined by his free spirit, is rewritten in “Majora’s Mask” as a desperately lonely individual whose life is ruled by a job he hates.


I would be very reluctant to call “Majora’s Mask”, or indeed any of these other games, an overall better game than “Ocarina of Time”. It is, however, important to see just how clever, how dark and how innovative a rewriting of masterpiece can be. Think of it as “Wicked” to “The Wizard of Oz”. Except with more hookshots.


Still shit.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Feminism and the representation of women in video games

by Ben Winterton

There is a general problem with pretty much every field of human achievement, in that women, despite being just as capable as men and normally achieving just as much, are overlooked due a latent gender bias that exists globally. One medium in which this particularly prevalent is the field of video games, which not only has a male-orientated focus in production terms, but also in the narratives and  stylistic decisions that feature in the games themselves.

In case you hadn't guessed, I consider myself a feminist, and I would be more than happy to write a book on the relationship between gender and video games. In fact, if any publishers are reading this, you’re right, that first paragraph would look great as the opening to a textbook, or even as a “to camera” piece for a 15 part documentary series written and hosted by me. Why, thank you, I am rather handsome. Yes, you can come back to mine and show me your screw attack.

Ben: "I could always present 'Coast' if needs be, check me out!"
I don’t think any gamer would deny the absence of a female presence in the world of video games. In fact, Jak and myself struggled to think of more than a few prominent female protagonists. Off the top of our heads, we managed Lara Croft, Bayonetta, Samus Aran, Jill Valentine, Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII, Chell from Portal and various characters from fighting games. This is, in itself, a pretty poor showing. Subtract all the characters from the above list who are marketed largely on their sex appeal and the problem becomes even more apparent. At least Valve aren’t hideous misogynists.

Now, games being sold on sex appeal is not intrinsically wrong. Just because something is marketed on that basis does not stop it being good (although I am not defending either Dead or Alive or any pre-2013 Tomb Raider games). Bayonetta is a prime example; a near-perfect action game that happens to be ludicrously sexualised. A slightly bizarre (and, perhaps, distinctly Japanese decision), but one that does not reduce the quality of the game. However, as Jak pointed out in his article on sex appeal, this does not carry over to male characters; whilst rugged, the male characters that star in Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto can hardly be said to have sex appeal.

Don't get body image worries looking at these sketches... they're physically impossible wet dreams.

Yes, I know that there are female characters in ensemble games, such as RPGs and fighters, but it is rare that the central character is a woman. At least developers are now allowing players to create a female character, such as in the “Fable” and “Mass Effect” games. However, for every gender-balancing “Dragon Age” there is a lads-only “Brink”.

I have two problems with this. Firstly, the assumption that, because there is a tendency for hardcore gamers to be male, that only male characters would appeal. This presumably means that I cannot enjoy “Pride and Prejudice” because, as a man, the life and thoughts of a woman would be so alien to me I would simply walk away in disgust. Moreover, this isn’t even mathematically true; apparently around 50% of female avatars in World of Warcraft are played by male users. Seriously, visit this study page when you have the time: http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/001369.php).

Another issue here is that this promotes the idea that men are just the standard. Like a lot of people, I played through Dead Rising 2 in 2010. Can anyone give me a single decent reason why Chuck, the game's protagonist, needs to be male? It is an anarchic zombie-killing sandbox, with very little in the way of narrative. Why couldn’t the central character be female? The answer, of course, is sadly absent.

It is easy to make broad comments about both gender and gamers, but if you can find me a single gamer who likes Metroid Prime for the inclusion of boobs rather than it being an exceptionally well-crafted exploration game then I will eat my hat.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A Journey into Modern First-Person Shooters


A Journey into Modern First-Person Shooters
by Ben Winterton

                The other day a rather good friend of mine asked me why I play so few first-person shooters, to which I indignantly replied that I am in fact an avid FPS player, and that indeed some of my favourite games are of that distinguished genre. He then examined my Microsoft Gamertag, which yielded rather different results.

                Apparently, I have played “Bioshock”, “Bioshock 2” (sigh…), “Halo 3” and, for my sins, “Brink”. That’s it. Hardly the raging plethora a hardcore shooter fan can where on his chest with pride. Especially since these games are, respectively, amazing, horribly disappointing, pretty good and infuriatingly shit (Okay, maybe a little harsh on “Brink”, but it was boring and unfair). I realised I was suddenly and unexpectedly ill-equipped to give my two penn’orth on the modern FPS scene. Yes. My two penn’orth.

Rareware! See Look! I'm cutting edge! Right? Right? RIGHT!?!!?

                Gone were the days where “Timesplitters” was a current franchise and reflecting on how underrated “Perfect Dark” was demonstrated a current gamer, rather than the ramblings of a man who covertly collects N64 games. Rather, I realised I needed to…“Blastcorps”, that’s another Rare game people overlook. Sorry. Ahem.

                I realised I needed to get back “into the scene”, as it were. So, I’ve set myself a goal. I’ve purchased a whole bunch of FPSs that have seemingly been pretty big, either in critical terms or as sales successes. So my next couple of gaming months will most likely consist of: “Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood”, “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”, “Halo: Reach”, “Borderlands” and “Crysis 2”. Yeah. I was starting to worry that there were not enough one-dimensional, gruff, stoic, male protagonists in my life. I guess I have Square-Enix (or, as I think everyone should call them, “Squenix”) to blame for that.
Borderlands? Don't you mean "Bored-of-la.." It's shit just play Fallout 3

                So, what do people think? Have I made the right call here? As part of this, I played through “Bulletstorm” and found it enormous fun. Regrettably, however, it was enormous fun in the “lasts a week and you never play it again” form, and I worry that’s what might happen. I think one of my big reasons for avoiding these games is the fear that they have left me behind. Multiplayer can now consist of hundreds of players, rather than up to four. My rivals’ skills are not just the level of my immediate gaming social circle. Also, when did inverting aim become the exception, and not the rule? I feel like I’ve turned up to military school with a pike and a musket, and the drill sergeant is laughing at me for not understanding how things work nowadays.

                I want to know what FPSs people think it is important I should play to get back into things. I should make it clear that possess “The Orange Box”, but that the 360 servers are dead for “Team Fortress 2”,that I’ve beaten “Portal” innumerable times and that “Half Life 2” makes me feel physically sick. No, seriously, it gives me massive motion sickness. I don’t know why. Yes, I am gutted I can’t play what is widely considered one of the best games of all time. Screw you body; looks like it’s another night of pizza and poor hygiene for you as a punishment…

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

New Timeshitters Series - Super Metroid

Hi All

While Ben is wowing you all with his Bastion skills I'll be chugging along with another SNES classic.

Enjoy Super Metroid Part 1! More to follow.

Cheers

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The High School demographic of gaming

Well here's a bit of tenuous superficial social analysis that I pulled out of my ass today so check it out. Now anybody that's familiar with shallow but infinitely popular high school movies such as '10 Things I Hate About You'  and that other one with the pies in it will also be aware of the very caricatured range of cliques that are always portrayed in these movies. Now although the temptation is to tar all gamers with the same 'Nerds' brush (and I'm not denying that gamers can be very nerdy) I feel that within the population of people who play games there is definitely a spectrum of personality types that conveniently conform to these archetypal high school tropes.

The Jocks of gaming don't half love a good bit of 'pwning some n00bs' and delivering some good old fashioned punishment whether it be with a meaty submachine gun or a big ol' bludgeony melee weapon of some kind. Through sheer brute force repetition and sheer hatred of being the loser these action gamers are the dead lifting, all-american football playin, muscleheads of the gaming universe. Often abrasive and trash talking the analogy is complete. Jocks aren't traditionally good with menu screens other than upgrade screens which say 'Make Gun More Gunnier' and 'Buy More Gun Points' and God forbid they ever come across a puzzle segment.

I typed 'shooty games' into google images for an FPS image... I got this. 

The Cheerleaders of this high school metaphor are not merely 'casual gamers' as you might expect but more a special type of (possibly casual) gamer who goes above and beyond the call of duty and makes gaming cool so like y'know cool people who do cool things enjoy playing. I'm talking about that one cool girl who can get everyone playing with a dance mat, balance board or karaoke microphone. They're the one's that wear hipster clothing on the London Underground playing Pokemon White on their custom coloured Nintendo DS that makes you want to get out your bog standard model and gesture it in their direction from your scruffy triforce hoodie as if to say 'Look me too! Let me board your ark of social acceptance!'. Forget it man, the dream of gaming being cool has arrived but not for the likes of you. Might as well just go home and build that effigy of yourself crying in Minecraft and finish building that scale model of GLaDOS.

You have to be at least this cool to be a Cheerleader.

The Future MBAs and Preppies know how to take gaming to the next level. They're going places and no one can stop their ruthless advance to the upper echelons of society once they graduate. They've got plenty of Flash and Actionscript under their belts and you've probably spent a little bit of time playing that indie game they made that one time. They go to all the big gaming conferences and rub shoulders with big hitters like the guy who designed the artwork for the cover of Deathspank and the guy who leaked the first Skyrim trailer way back when. They're well connected and have got in their foot in the door of the industry. Watch this space for their name in the credits sequence of the next Meat Boy game.  Mark my words.

The Nerds were always going to make an appearance in this article and it took me some degree of thought to select the gaming demographic that best fits the mould of what actually classes as a nerd among nerds. We're talking pretty nerdy here so it's going to have to be an amalgamation of those people who are full-time shift workers on the factory floor of the MMORPG sweatshops and those who roleplay in such games. I mean that's roleplaying within roleplaying so it makes perfect Inception-sense to pair that up with nerds within nerds.

Is this the top of your wedding cake? Nerd! (and awesome)

The Band Geeks are probably the best of the bunch. They are also probably the most easy to get along with and should be nurtured and protected against the malevolent forces surrounding gaming. Like a true band geek they don't even think to check themselves before declaring their enthusiasm for a particular thing casting all fear of vilification aside. They wouldn't necessarily memorise the weapon stats for Final Fantasy 11 but would probably have a Silent Hill 2 T-shirt tucked away somewhere and would probably put a decent amount of effort into a single cosplay outfit for a night out. They enjoy the games they like and as long as you avoid rubbish movie tie-ins and 50 Cent Blood in the Sand, they probably won't be too judgemental about your own choice of games as long as you return the favour. In my opinion, the ideal student of this school.

That's it. Go away.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

“The only thing good to come out of the past is history”- Things that gaming is glad to be rid of


As with most things, aficionados of gaming often have a tendency towards an overly strong fondness for the retro. Hence the reason everyone still loves the original “Super Mario Bros”, why people continue to lament the decline of Sonic, and why people still punish themselves with the hideous difficulty of early “Castlevania” games.And I, for one, am most certainly a part of this dewy-eyed nostalgia, although if I’m brutally honest those games were not my personal “golden age”; rather, the N64 and Playstation were my generation’s console of choice. But I was still very familiar with those styles of games as a child, and I’m surprised to see the hangover of that period still having a strong effect on video game design today.

Admit it, getting a game over screen after getting to the boss of labyrinth zone is a kick in the nuts.

Given how often (particularly older) gamers lament how gaming has lost its way, and become a charmless,
homogenous corporate predictability, I find it strange how often people forget many of the more annoying aspects of older games. So as a counterpoint to this moaning, I’m going to try and remind people how much gaming has improved.
Firstly, save features and save regularity. Many older games do not have a save feature of any kind; you simply had to complete the game in one run, or if you were lucky got a password system. Do you know what’s great? Autosave. Been playing “Oblivion” for 2 hours without saving and it crashes? Sorted. And on a related note, respawn points in general are a massive plus. If I have proven I can reliable do a section of a game, I probably don’t want to have to play five more times just for another crack at the harder section that follows it. Everyone likes a challenge, and I would not want games to be toned down, but involuntary repetition is not challenge, just boredom. This next one may seem a little petty and irrelevant, but the normalising of wireless controls is criminally underrated. I am as guilty as anyone for taking this for granted, but the jump between Wii and Gamecube becomes painfully clear when I trip up passing dogs with my attempts to sit more than 3 feet away from the TV. Wireless controllers are tidier and simply more convenient, not least when you lose you rag, as you can throw them that much further.

Gamecube Wavebird Wireless Controller - Platinum
This wireless gamecube controller fetches $130 dollars these days. I can see why!
Removal of lives systems. I’m only going to try again, so unless there is permanent limit on lives for the entirety of that games life, it ain’t gonna work. And probably the biggest complaint I see from hardcore gamers is that games have become too easy. My first response to this is, quite simply, that they haven’t. You played “Super Meat Boy”? “Bayonetta”? Have you forgotten that they still make “Ninja Gaiden” games? My second response is that, even if they have, it is probably a good thing, as games were stupidly unfair at points. I also think that truly hardcore gamers should seek out and create their own challenges. The quote in the title of this article is from “Bastion”, a relatively easy action rpg, which contains so many optional difficulty modifiers it is possible for any gamer to modify the game to their skill level. Games like “Castlevania” and “Contra” just came with one mode; hard. We still have these difficulty levels, they are just buried behind the more welcoming aspects of games. And I refuse to believe gaming being more accessible can ever be a bad thing.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Donkey Kong Country Playthrough Finished!

Hey gang. The Timeshitters' Donkey Kong Country playthrough videos are finished! Why not watch part one right now? It's only 12 minutes or so...


A platforming gem which is essential in any gamer's vocabulary. The pre-rendered graphics were the most innovative graphics of the early nineties and arguably some of the best platforming gameplay you are likely to see in a game. The music and characters also just happen to be a dream to boot. The classic track 'Gangplank Galleon' remains one of the greatest pieces of  game music and is arguably the game's biggest reward. Play it if you can get a hold of it.

Donkey Kong Country
The cartridge will set you back $180 at today's prices. A sign of quality.

View the playthrough from start to finish by starting with the first video or visiting our channel

Friday, 29 July 2011

Deaths of the Salesmen: Why everyone will be disappointed by Mass Effect 3 - Ben Winterton

The following post is a completely untouched prediction Mr. Ben Winterton made prior to the release of Mass Effect 3. I can't speak for Ben but I can safely say that the man they call 'Spoon' called this one pretty much dead on. - Jak

I’m aware talking about marketing strategies may not sound like the most interesting of topics, but here me out. Remember my article on pause screens? It was a zinger. To be fair though, I think me showing why Mass Effect 3 will be disappointing is probably a little more interest than the article I was going to write on "contact damage". Yes, really.

Now, I try to stay relatively clued-in on what's going on in the gaming world, and as such I inevitably end up encountering various gaming marketing strategies, some of which really annoy me. And that's before Robin Williams
has entered the picture.


When Robin Williams was playing this, he was also voicing the Genie in Aladdin's Math Quest.  True fact
Now, before this turns into a rant, let me say first off that I actually quite like gaming marketing. It’s interesting and different. I think demos of games are frankly brilliant, and it’s very easy to take such a luxury for granted. Furthermore, games offer way more insight into the development process than any other medium, and even offer opportunities to shape the product itself, via beta tests and the like. Therefore, I find it very disappointing when companies sink to lazy marketing techniques, particularly in relation to sequels.

One of the most cynical of these is blatantly inappropriately branding. I've moaned about Bioshock sequels before, but I think Bioshock Infinite is a prime example. It doesn't have any of the hallmarks of a previous Bioshock game; it's not a survival horror, it takes place in a different time and place, it has none of the same characters, it doesn't even have a silent protagonist. So why call it a Bioshock game? So gullible idiots like me buy it in the hope that it somehow resembles one.


.
BioShock Infinite
The next Bioshock game will be a flight sim. Mark my words.

Another thing that developers keep doing is insisting that sequels will "appeal to everyone" and that "you don't need to have played the prequels". Now, I recently played through Resident Evil 5 (I'm still not racist), and whilst I did enjoy it, I had no clue what was going on. I clearly did need to play the prequels to find out why Wesker was basically just Neo. Don't lie to me again Capcom. You already told me I could beat Megaman games.

But I've been dancing round the seductive title. You WILL be disappointed by Mass Effect 3, for three reasons. One, the massive hype is impossible to live up to. Two, it is a sequel to an already brilliant game, and as such either has to stick to the formula and not really develop, thus being disappointing, or somehow miraculously innovate and improve on a near-perfect game, and in the process lose the Mass Effect-iness.

Mass Effect? More like Mass Marketing! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!


But the big problem is it having to wrap up the story. I'm not going to lie, I shed a silent tear at the end of number 2, and honestly didn't know how I was going to wait for the conclusion. However, no matter how well written the ending is, it is still an ending, something which will never be as exciting or invigorating as a cliffhanger. Don't get me wrong, Bioware are doing the right thing to have a well-crafted trilogy over an endless spate of sequels, but that doesn't remove this insurmountable obstacle.
Oh yeah, and sorry for being absent for the last few weeks, I've had some technical issues. Will be back into the "every Friday update schedule" now. So next week you can look forward to an article on title screens or, if you're really lucky, navigation of memory devices*.


*This closer was a joke, based around the inanity of some of my former articles. However, if people interpret it both literally and positively I will use this as an excuse to write thos two articles.



Friday, 22 July 2011

Anatomy of an LP (Let's Play) Video Channel

I may as well shamelessly write an article about Let's Play videos this week since Ben and I have started our own channel of such videos under our witty moniker of the Timeshitters and just in case I haven't plugged it enough I'll do it twice more to get it out of my system. Watermelons.

Okay so for those who don't know what Let's Play videos are (they usually referred to as LP's for short) are basically footage of the video-makers (LP-ers) playing through games that they like and then providing commentary over it. The commentary's content is usually related to the gameplay footage and the game in general but you will find that many LP'ers will tend to drift off on tangents and tell you about their feelings about their life and all manner of irrelevant musings.

Nintendocaprisun is well known for his frequent spells of off the wall style of commentary. This particular LP'er records his commentary as he is playing/recording and is one of the few such LP'ers who can do it well. Your average simultaneous LP'er will lack the mental faculties to be able to provide coherent commentary whilst playing their games. This is why, to avoid uploading videos containing nothing but intermittent dribble, many LP'ers will record commentary post gameplay recording. The downside to this is that the LP'er has lived through the game already so is never genuinely surprised or affected by the action onscreen as it isn't happening to them concurrently. It gets to the point where LP'ers of this type will resort to other innovative methods to get around this.

Super Mario World
Probably one of the most commonly Lp'ed  games ever, ever.


Some post-commentating LP'ers will try to infuse their commentary with feigned emotion, acting surprised when things would have surprised them and simulating annoyance when they make mistakes or fall foul to a cheap death/failure. I won't name names, but there you are. You get those who will add extra post-production titbits to the video such as Protonjon to name just one for extra flavour and interest, which simply wouldn't be practical for a simultaneous LP'er to do as well. A happy medium between the two worlds is for to do post commentary with a guest co-LP'er who hasn't seen the footage yet. Bonus points awarded if the guest hasn't even played the game before because they will be able to react in a natural way to what is going on. As well as our own channel doing this, the folks at the Runaway Guys and Brain Scratch Comms provide good examples of how collaborative commentary can work and kudos to those guys because they don't exactly live near each other like Ben and myself do.

But there's more. Some people aren't merely satisfied with a run of the mill playthrough nosiree. Among the many varieties and species of LP videos there are these particular phenotypes worthy of mention:

The Tool Assisted (TAS) LP: -- In which the LP'er will make use of every dirty trick available to them to accomplish some pretty sick looking footage. The tools such as save states, slowdown, plenty of known bugs and glitches and occasionally debug modes allow LP'ers to do stuff like complete Mario 64 with no stars (quickly) and finishing Ocarina of Time in under one hour and don't make the mistake of thinking that TAS LP's aren't impressive. Sure the pure gaming skill isn't intact but the optimisation of the game, the knowledge of both the game's inner guts and the science of pushing a game to breaking point is a game all of its own. Just type 'TAS [name of game]' into Youtube to see some eye-popping stuff.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Collector's Edition)
It can be beaten in less than an hour if you completely shatter the game to shreds.
The Hardcore LP -- whereas many LP'ers are content to bumble through their games of choice and make all kinds of errors like failing a level the first time, failing to get 100% of the collectibles or even take a hit from an enemy even once, not so for some challenge videos. Whether it be blasting through a game without taking damage, or exploiting the game to finish it without using all of the key items, these people don't mess about. You'll see footage of people running Zelda games without using any heart containers, and endless amounts of speed runs and boss rushes. Complete showboating but can be impressive. Not to be confused with TAS speed runs, as that is dark magic.

The Race -- here we find that multiple players compete to finish a game first. This is a prime example of such a video.

The Boat Race -- I've only ever really seen this infamous one by the Great Clement who promises to drink a shot of some nasty stuff each time he dies in a run of Super Meat Boy. It does not end well. 

Get stuck in and discover the colourful and varied world of LP'ing! Seriously it can be as addictive as anything but as passive as a Radio 4 talk show marathon so be warned. It may swallow up a lot of your time.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Josh Roberts Vs Videogaming Stigmas and People in His Office

I’d be horrified if my child spent all his time playing video games
That was the phrase that met me one day at work whilst researching the latest releases. Though initially I didn’t feel this statement to go against any of my own beliefs (As much as I’d like to, I can’t play games every second due to weak human needs; sustenance, basic hygiene etc), I did feel I should ask my co-worker to elaborate further.
“It’s not healthy being inside playing games” they said.


This seems to be a common misconception regarding the video game medium by those who have never played one. Despite the potential benefits to reaction time, hand eye co-ordination and puzzle solving skills; video games appear to the masses as the pastime of darkened room dwelling recluses. Though this can be the case for some (often myself included), most gamers fit this aspect of their lives around a healthy social lifestyle. 
My main concern with my co-workers argument was the hypocrisy of it.



Seriously, would this scene be improved if they were watching Britain's Got Talent?


Most people’s lives include/revolve around some form of entertainment, be it television, film, book etc. For some reason it is only the video game that is attached a stigma.
Why? It was recently researched that we, as a society, spend an average of 12 hours per day staring at a screen. Granted, this could involve a work computer; but even if we subtract the average 7 hour work day from this total, 5 hours of screen time remains. For most individuals this would involve the television. Why is this thought of as a healthier past time than playing a game? Both often require hours of involvement in a seated position.


My co-worker remarked that watching television is a social experience. I found this statement confusing. The vast majority of my video gaming experiences have been “social”. I often play multiplayer and co-op games with friends and of the times when this option is unavailable, I chat to friends through the console as I play. I know people who use there XBoxs like phones, using the free, inbuilt headset communication option to keep in touch over hundreds/thousands of miles. 



Portal 2
It's mentally stimulating and it can also be played co-op. What's the problem with that?

The game is the ultimate social platform. Taking McLuhan’s “Global Village” argument, employing modern technology such as online gaming, you can have meaningful social experiences with like minded individuals, regardless of physical boundaries.
Not to mention the benefits of online gaming’s removal of social, physical or racial boundaries that may impact upon an individual’s everyday life. In online gaming, everyone is the same. Everyone is kin. Brought together by love of the experience.

Parents encourage their children to read; it helps to re-enforce a necessary life skill the child will need to excel in life. But reading itself is a solitary experience. Concentration is required. One cannot engage with the narrative of a novel whilst simultaneously continuing social interaction. Yet the book is seen as a more constructive allocation of time than the game. This could be connected to my previous observation about the importance and reinforcement of reading skills. Though clearly this is a valid point, it insults the gaming medium by claiming they do not offer intellectual stimulation. As a long time player of games I feel I have consistently benefitted from my time, especially in regards to problem solving. Any player of “Portal” or the “Monkey Island” series will be able to tell of the frustration and eventual unequivocal joy of critically engaging their minds to complete a task. A mentality that should be encouraged; not regarded by parents with disgust.


The BFG
It may be a children's classic, but you can't play international 4-player deathmatches  nosiree

This, as every argument does, revolves around ignorance. People who have never played games will always distrust the medium because their relationship with it originates from what they hear in the news; Video game related attacks/killings, addiction and its “constant attempts” to corrupt the youth. Gaming is an entertainment that should be regarded in the same way as that of television/book/film. It displays all the same ability to inform, educate and entertain as any other of the nation’s favoured past-times.
If nothing else can be gained from this argument, then at least I have proved that I am a nightmare to work with.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

What would you do if you were Team Sonic? - Ben Winterton

So, let’s be honest; Sonic has become a complete joke. I’ve never been particularly big on Sonic games, as for me the concept of combining high speed gameplay with precision platforming seems destined to fail. However, there are still legions of gamers who bore me with tales from the glory days of Sonic, before he started contracting lycanthropy and fighting Monty Python characters 
Sonic and the Black Knight
I'm not saying the Black Knight isn't a decent villain, but I bet he doesn't have a Death Egg.
You see, my rule of thumb with most things in life is that they are probably flogging a dead horse when their genuine ideas are worse than my joke ones. To be honest, I think “Sonic Adventure” was pretty stupid (Taking a game franchise built around the appeal of one character and only putting him in a small fraction of the game? Brilliant. Maybe Team Sonic should start making “Devil May Cry” games), and that’s considered to be one of the better ones. I mean, seriously, who thought a game based around the Olympics was in dire need of a dated 90’s hedgehog?

On reflection, I think we can therefore all agree that things aren’t going well for Sonic. The best game he’s been in of the last 5 years was “Super Smash Bros Brawl”, and even then he wasn’t the star of the show. You know things are bad when you get overshadowed by obscure Kirby villains. So, the question is; what should Team Sonic do?

Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Seriously, The Sandbag has more of a fan base in this game than Sonic does.
Your first thought is to stop making Sonic games once and for all. Will this stop bad Sonic games (tautology?) being made? No. It just means an even crapper developer will buy the rights and give us “Sonic: Turbo Alpha”, “Tails vs Rapelay” and “The Clone Wars, featuring Sonic”. No. Just no. [

A lot of people would suggest a return to Sonic’s roots, which is something Team Sonic seem to be tending towards of late. Personally, I think this is both cynical and naive, a combination of traits I had previously thought impossible to simultaneously possess; cynical, as such a manoeuvre is a blatant attempt to make a cookie-cutter game that will please fans, and naive, because the idea of re-running former glories is destined to fail, if only due to the law of diminishing returns.



Sonic Generations
Although we're promised a return to the classic style Sonic, are we really that bothered?
You see, despite all the jibes, I genuinely admire Team Sonic for repeatedly trying to take Sonic in a new direction. Granted, the ideas they go with seem to be the product of the managing director deliberately asking designers to come up with the worst ideas possible and then surprising them by shouting “That’s the one!”, but it’s still a step in the right direction. I think Sonic should really push that intense, flow-inducing experience, and create a game that breeds a demanding, high-concentration, but eventually rewarding, gaming experience. Sort of like “Bejeweled Blitz”, but maybe with more platforming.

Ultimately, yes, Sonic has gone in some stupid directions. But it has experimented way more than reliable franchises such as Zelda, and in that regard, if in no other, I think that is a victory for Sonic.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Ross Iain McCaffrey Takes a Shot at Guns Guns Guns in Games

I’ve finally realised what my qualms are with games today.

Firstly, this isn’t going to be a rant about ‘the good old days’ of gaming. Games have always had their strengths and weaknesses, and I am merely going to point out what I see as the major problems that surround today’s gaming world. Sure, maybe I’ll include a bit of nostalgia, but it’s not the main point. The main point is that, intentionally or not and particularly in action games, developers have put far too much influence on guns.

 -->   I was going to write some sort of joke here, but this picture’s from a pretty brutal film where Charlize Theron kills loads of dickheads. Either way, guns DO come in pretty handy if you want to kill men that rape you.              

    Now I understand that games such as Call of Duty would be pretty redundant without guns, especially if the game has some sort of historical basis in which lots of guns were used. You can’t have a realistic WWII game without guns, unless of course the game was centred on a civilian protagonist living in London during the Blitz who has to make tough choices and sacrifices based on the internal conflict brought on by the horrors of war, but who would want to play that? Games like that unfortunately do. Not. Sell. And unfortunately we have to remember that games are a business. But with a business constantly swept up with mindless violence, explosions and general immashootyouintheface-ery, surely a developer somewhere has thought of taking an event shown thousands of times in different games and shown it from a different perspective? I know I’d get it, just to see what they’d done with it. But no doubt someone, somewhere would be firing a gun.
        
                          ‘Take that, Space baddies!’  <--

    Guns don’t solve everything. They just don’t. To be honest, they barely solve anything, unless your problem is ‘how can I shoot this person in the face?’ Even in war, a huge catalyst for games, guns don’t always solve things. Take the Somme; lots of shooting and bombing from the Brits and French, over 700,000 Brits or French wounded or killed. I don’t hear anyone talking about the Somme as ‘a victory for guns’, nor do I feel like taking a gun to the first person that says a sarcastic comment to me. So why is it that for games, many of which try to be as ‘real’ as possible within their concept, there is such a heavy importance places on guns? Is it laziness? Probably.

            
 An example; I saw an advert for the new Red Faction game that’s out. From the ones I’ve played (mainly ‘Guerrilla’), the Red Faction games are fun, a bit of mindless destruction, mainly with a hammer. They set a challenge within this simple usage of construction tools and as a primary weapon and it arguably makes you think about how you can go about the mission of destruction you have been set, because running in all guns blazing will get you killed. Plus it’s not nearly as fun as running round the back and slowly taking apart the building with a sledgehammer like you’re fucking Thor. 

All that seems to have changed when watching the trailer for ‘Armageddon’. Mars has been reclaimed from the evil Mars-company-folk, but shit’s gone down and they’ve had to go underground*. It does sound interesting. But, halfway through the trailer I saw, all the action previews happen. Now imagine my disappointment when all I see is different coloured ammunition spraying around. No handheld weaponry to make a challenge, just a shit ton of guns. Now, imagine my FURTHER disappointment when the GIANT HELLBEAST comes on the screen. Here I’m thinking ‘holy what!?’ and I wonder how they’re gonna show the challenge that you’ll have to face when you meet this lovely creature.


The answer was a lot simpler than I thought. Fire 3 seconds of machine gun rounds into it ("Shoot it til it dies!" - Ed). And that’s not even as if they’ve shown you a little clip of the game play. A hellbeast appears, a man pulls the trigger for 3 seconds, the hellbeast blows up.
           
    

    This is apparently how games should work now, which is incredibly disappointing. There is such a scope within games that is hard to recreate in any other medium that you’d think that we’d have abandoned the whole idea that mindless violence solves everything and therefore should be the forefront of every game that is created. Don’t get me wrong, I do love mindless violence in video games; I bought GTA 4 the other week with the sole intention of typing in all the cheats and shooting a rocket at every person that looked at me the wrong way. However I still think that those kinds of games should be few and far between, and games like Heavy Rain, LA Noire (which I haven’t played yet but respect the fact they’ve done something different), Arkham Asylum, Assassin’s Creed and even to an extent Red Dead Redemption, although all bestsellers, should not be at the sidelines of the gaming idea world, desperately dodging gunfire. 

To play you out, a little poem.

I mean, glorifying guns
Is one thing
But I’ve fired a rifle before,
It isn't as easy
As holding a trigger button (Jak Marshall, 2011)


* I will be accepting my award for ‘Game summer-upper of the year’ when they create one.