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!