Monthly Archives: February 2015

Bearing Bad News.

Dragons aren’t real.

I hate to be the bearer of terrible news but Dragons aren’t real, nor are Elves and Orcs. Magic isn’t possible. Giants aren’t out there herding woolly mammoths. I can’t hike a continent in half an hour and people do get mad if I jump on their tables and kick everything onto the floor while waving a knife and wearing only ragged underpants and a helmet.

Are we clear on this? Fantasy is fantasy? Shit, the name kind of gave it away. We accept that video games are, in the vast majority of cases, a complete fiction don’t we? We’re on the same page there right?

Though I suppose we can’t be because I keep seeing people cry about “accuracy” when it comes to video games. Inevitably they’re crying this in response to things like people suggesting that perhaps a game doesn’t need rape or could use some non-white characters. “Accuracy!” they cry, referring to history as if the fact that women and people of colour were treated even worse in the past somehow must be represented in their game of LEARNING TO SPEAK DRAGON AND SHOUTING GOATS OFF CLIFFS.

“It’s accurate to the military!” they cry about not having women soldiers, despite the fact we do and their game involves remote controlling a dog through a war torn future United States.

Of course when you suggest that massive breast-revealing armour isn’t accurate to history suddenly artistic licence reappears. It’s ok to do that because it’s not real!

It’s almost as if their arguments aren’t based on anything beyond being spiteful little bigots who want everything their own way. It’s almost as if their core hatred for people different from them informs their arguments and their crusades are nothing more than outlets for the pathetic wet fart that constitutes their personality.

Who’d have thought eh? Who’d have thought?

Dark Forces and the older FPS

Dark Forces lured me into the recent Star Wars Humble Bundle sale. In the last couple of years I’ve grown to appreciate the older era of FPS games, those which followed in the wake of Doom’s release. It’s hard to believe it now but at the time FPS games were often referred to as ‘Doom Clones’, regardless of what unique qualities they possessed. True, many games companies were following in the enormous wake of Doom but there was a lot of variety and some truly great games.

Dark Forces stands up as a fun, ambitious game even now, some 19 years after its initial release. It has the swift movement and “kill anything that moves” arcade element of Doom, but it has a story and style straight from its cinematic progenitor. The Star Wars theme isn’t just a coat of paint to the game; it feels like it informed every part of the development. Weapons look, act and sound like their film equivalents, the blasters lack of accuracy over distance feeling almost comically loyal to the nature of Star Wars fire fights. Some levels are set within places seen or mentioned within the films, yet the story doesn’t overreach like the absurdly out of place yarns spun by The Force Unleashed, it is a small side story that lets you be a part of the wider Star Wars world.

What I appreciate of older FPS games, that I feel has been somewhat lost to the genre, is the freedom to explore the space. The genre has become better at driving players forwards, better at giving them thrills and delivering story beats in bombastic spectacle, but it has, in some ways, given up the wider spaces to multiplayer gaming primarily. Exploration is now mostly given to games that are parts of hybrid genres, like the FPS RPGs, and the pure shooter doesn’t see as much allowances for explorative freedom. Shadow Warrior (2013) was a great game for trying to stay true to the play elements of old FPS games while bringing in modern refinements and attitudes (especially ditching the absurdly offensive racial shit of the original game) but it’s a rare one in the midst of a more current standard approach. I don’t think that we need to really lose either type of play in the genre, but as the market stands games are still driven by adhering to popular trends and since the FPS has, from Doom, been synonymous with advancing graphics tech the indie space has a harder chance to break in.

There are downsides to explorative freedom. All Metroidvania titles hits the point where you aren’t quite sure where to go to continue and that can easily lead to player frustration. A frustrated player is one that quits and that’s a very real danger I acknowledge, but what we gain in freedom is often worth it. Take the titles in the Zelda franchise for instance, the main quest is usually guided very directly and obviously, which is great, but the most satisfying moments of play tend to come from what we discover ourselves. Finding the side quests, noticing somewhere that might lead to a heart piece, they’re treasures to hunt and it’s that moment of freedom that creates the sense of triumph.

It’s not an easy equation and I don’t fault designers for following the trends that have proved popular, but I do cherish the moments where I can play an FPS that gives me freedom, allows me to play within the space they’ve designed.

Reminiscing on why I bought a PS1

I was trying to wait to buy an N64 when choosing a console to follow the Mega Drive. As much as I loved Sega, and still do, the Saturn had such a terrible looking lineup and I remember seeing videos of BUG! and Clockwork Knight and wondering why I’d bother when the Ultra64 promos looked so damn good.

I even played the N64 at Tomorrow’s World Live months and months before it came out, queuing for over an hour to get 15 minutes on Mario, which was fantastic. In the end though the lack of a launch date for the UK forced my hand and the PS1 looked mighty impressive, so I saved up and got one on launch day.

The N64 wasn’t released for another year and a half which was absolutely ridiculous. Sony took the UK market in that time, using their teenage-focused campaigning and games to push Sega to the fringe. When Nintendo finally arrived with expensive cartridges, blurry textures and no room for the kind of flash that CDs were showing for they couldn’t make much of a dent.

That set the stage for the UK market for a long time. Where before it had been a roughly equal bout between Sega and Nintendo here (unlike the US) the UK became a Playstation place. The Dreamcast died miserably, helped along by Sega Europe’s fucking atrocious ad campaigns that did things like advertising Soul Caliber, at that time the prettiest game on anything, by showing a woman writing an e-mail. The Gamecube and Xbox did decent business but not nearly as much as the juggernaut that was the PS2. It was only partway into the 360’s life that the market opened up again, thanks to Microsoft selling the 360 for the converted price as opposed to Sony who just replaced the dollar sign with pounds.

Nintendo resurged with the Wii, and the gameboy and DS line ensured they were never truly gone, but I’ve always wondered what the market would have been like here if the N64 had released when the PS1 did. On the english-language side of the internet the realities of the UK market are often ignored, or assumed to be the same as the US, but it’s been quite different.