Category Archives: FEATURE

What Are You Afraid Of?

What is the future that you see, scared male gamer?

Is it an apocalypse? Are you there, huddled amongst the ruins? A fire weakly crackling at your feet, your faces lit by the light of a PS Vita, struggling in vain to eek out the last few moments of battery life before the wandering bands of feminists descend upon you to tear you from this mortal coil for your crime of gaming?

Are you afraid that the scary skeletons of social justice are going to take away your precious games? Because if so, let me tell you that your fear is fucking nonsense.

Let me lay out a couple of basic facts. Firstly, feminism is a movement aimed at getting equal treatment for all genders. It is not about denigrating men, it is not about promoting women above men, it is about giving equality to all. Men benefit from feminism greatly as it works towards taking away the stigma attached to things associated with women. When a man is insulted for not liking sports, when a man is ridiculed by other men about being sexually assaulted, when a man is insulted about not conforming to societies views of men it is a result of misogyny. It is a hatred of what is considered “feminine” and not “masculine”, it is a result of the inherent sexism running throughout our society. That is not to belittle the men insulted, but to point out that feminism erases those stigmas, feminism helps those men and ALL men by making the world a better, more equal place for everyone.

Secondly, no feminist is trying to take away your games. Applying basic critical analysis on a game, in Anita Sarkeesian’s case from a feminist viewpoint, is not trying to destroy games. Hell it’s not even controversial. It’s an obvious, easily viewable fact that women and people of colour aren’t well represented in games, to deny it is literally just denying reality. All that feminists want is for people to be better represented, for games to have a wider, more informed viewpoint, which can only lead to deeper, more interesting stories and characters.

Thirdly, female developers and critics are already gamers. They love games, they’re making careers out of loving games, they’re as keen for games to continue to exist as anyone CAN be, they are not enemies!

There is no terrible endgame to this. Games will continue and, if they embrace feminism, they’ll be better than ever before. Your identity will not be sacrificed; you’ll be the same person you ever were. So why are there so many men out there willing to send violent rape and death threats, even terrorist threats, to women in order to “defend” their games? If you’re truly not misogynistic, if you don’t hate women, what is there to fear?

There is nothing.

Now Gamergate is, purportedly, a consumer movement that thinks games journalism is subject to corruption. Not from big publishers, not from proven sources, but from small indies and, especially, women. Despite the proclamations to the contrary this is an easy conclusion to come to. Gamergate began with an ex-boyfriend posting claims that his ex-girlfriend, independent developer Zoe Quinn, had slept with some other men, at least one of whom was a games journalist. This ignited a campaign against her, with some people saying she did it to get favourable coverage for her game, which was entirely disproved. She was subject to threats of assault, rape and murder, there were some who organised together to discuss how to attack more efficiently, some in those chats discussed how great it would be if she killed herself. Gradually the narrative shifted from attacking her to suggesting that games journalism was corrupt thanks to friendly relationships between writers in this enthusiast press and small indie devs.

Of course it’s hard to find that corruption. It’s easier to uncover corruption by large publisher who hold sway over the access to games that writers have, but that’s not what is being talked about. When I asked gamergate supporters directly what they wanted they said they wanted all possible relationships between writers and devs exposed. This was then instantly, without prompting, followed up with an attempt to paint Zoe Quinn as dishonest using her retweeting some of the hate she was being sent as evidence, because previously she’d said she wanted the whole ordeal to go away. The instant connection to Quinn, along with the continued harassment of female devs and writers and the origins of the movement paint a much more obvious picture, one society shows in abundance, and that is the fear of female sexuality. Women are routinely shamed and attacked over expressing their sexuality, the most common and obvious double standard being that a man with many sexual partners is seen favourably and a woman doing the same is a “slut” and a “whore. Even the most hated men in the industry, such as Bobby Kotick, don’t get the level of vitriol and campaigning that many, many women have had to endure. Zoe Quinn’s sex life is not a public matter, it never was, and it never will be for any women in the industry, the reactions to it are all too familiar.

Gamergate has picked up some followers who believe there is a real problem in games journalism and while it’s clear the corruption at the core of gamergate is false, there could be merit to looking at genuine ethical concerns. Gamergate is not how to do it, it is a movement born of hate and is using the moderate supporters to hide the insidious and awful actions at its centre. Even it’s most vocal supporters can’t provide any real issue that doesn’t rely on lies and sexism. If you want to look at corruption then create a new group, a group actually focused on that, not one that exists in mire of feculence

I’ve been struggling to articulate my thoughts on this. The actions of the men involved are so horrific, so disgusting and yet so fucking typical that keeping calm while writing this has been a genuine challenge. But here is a final thought:

If you have sent these threats, if you have thought “Well she deserved it”, if you offer support or feel that this harassment is at all justified then please, please, go fuck yourself.

The Vertical Slope: NBA 2K13 – Part 1

I really can’t stand the weird instant disdain that a lot of gaming culture has for sports titles. They’re still seen as outsider titles, popular primarily with people who aren’t “real gamers” which is, of course, horseshit. They’re as valid as anything else and have been a part of the gaming landscape from the very beginning, considering Pong was a simple abstraction of tennis. It’s especially horseshit when you look at the kind of culture that’s built up around MOBAs and Fighting Games, which contains the same style of secret vocabularies and insider knowledge, only gamers seem to do this in a much more exclusionary and aggressive manner than any sports fans I’ve met.

But in my life I’ve been a somewhat typical geek. Team sports have held little-to-no importance to me, either in playing or following and, as such, I’ve had little experience of their games beyond the more “arcade” style titles such as Sega Soccer Slam. It also means that I know nothing beyond the absolute basics of most sports, so it put me in a strange position when trying to pick a game to get into. FIFA was where I had the most knowledge, simply due to the omnipresent nature of football in the UK, its damp musk hovering over the nation at all times, but that’s also the reason I actively cannot stand it, so that game was out of the question. Madden was where I had the least knowledge, the sport appeared to me as a sweaty puzzle of meat and I’d not ever looked into solving it and didn’t feel an inclination to. This left NBA 2K as the game where I had a very basic knowledge of the sport, but found some appeal in music culture and a vague sense that my interest could build.

So I picked up NBA 2K13, probably the highest regarded sports title in history when it was released, and settled in to play. First creating my custom player:

MyPlayer

Then I headed straight into the rookie showcase match of the career mode, thinking it would be a good place to start.

It turns out I was wrong because, unfortunately, I am the worst NBA 2K player in the history of the world. My basic knowledge of the sport is as follows: Ball go bouncy to one end, no holdy the ball while running, throw ball in hole in air before angry beep tells you that you are a bad person for not throwing the ball. This, it turns out, is not sufficient to play the game. Rather than doing anything useful Lord of the Skeleton Horde meandered about the court, waved his hands, jumped to swipe at invisible bees and sometimes collapsed for no reason I understood. His rating plummeted as he completely ignored the man he was supposed to be covering who lead The Stars to a 92 point victory.

So I quit and went in search of a tutorial mode. After fumbling about in the menus for a little while I discovered it and proceeded to run through all 101 moves it wanted to teach me. This tutorial was, in procedure, fantastic. It had an excellent controller diagram that showed you exactly how things had to be done; it was quick, responsive and extremely thorough. Sadly I was still too stupid to actually get a lot out of it because while I now knew what buttons to press I had no idea where or when to do it, and thanks to the inherent vocabulary fans already know some words were still utter gibberish to me. Not that I blame the game for this, their audience is people who already know and enjoy basketball, not the brainless arse that I am.

So imbued with this knowledge of buttons, sticks, triggers and bumpers I restarted my career. This time I tried to cover the guy the game was BLATANTLY POINTING AT, which I had somehow not noticed the first time round, and it went a little better. We still lost miserably to The Stars but not quite so stunningly and I occasionally score points myself! There was one moment where I lost track of my guy and had him resolutely running into the stands but I’m chalking that up to colour blindness because I can.

Next came the pre-draft interviews! The draft is something I had heard about more as a concept in a non-wartime sense, mostly from social media friends, and I knew it had something to do with picking rookies for new teams. I hadn’t expected to actually play through interviews, which handily simulated the bluffing I was being forced to do. I gave milquetoast answers to questions I barely understood to scouts from teams I only knew existed thanks to renting NBA Jam for my Mega Drive. I must have said something right to the Boston Celtics since they drafted Lord of the Skeleton Horde as the 21st pick.

That’s as far as my journey into NBA 2K13 has gone so far. I’m determined to keep at it, but right now I’m still terrible enough that I’m surprised my player wasn’t dribbling entirely with his arse. What will become of me and Lord of the Skeleton Horde? Find out next time!

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Original

Gabriel Knight 1 is being remade, a 20th anniversary celebration of a highly-regarded adventure game. Its creator, Jane Jensen, is at the helm and her new studio seems to be doing a good job of bringing the old pixel art to life in 3D.

Sadly, according to Jensen, she’s keeping the gameplay identical. That, I feel, is a hell of a lost opportunity and a blockade to her desire to see the franchise resurrected.

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I’ve been a big fan of adventure games throughout my life starting with my early experiences of Monkey Island and The 7th Guest. I understand the love for the genre and the fervour it creates in fans who feel frustrated that it fell out of favour as a top-budget endeavour. Still, I also understand the frustrations that those classic adventure games bring out. Good stories and characters were often locked behind absurd puzzles and inane invisible triggers, forcing players to twist their minds to the fragmented, distorted logic the designers employed. Even the best games, those that had clever-but-tough puzzles, often fell prey to cheap bottlenecks or poor communication. This issue was most famously discussed on the long-dead site Old Man Murray in this article written by Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszeck where they chronicled one of the worst puzzles in, suitably enough for this piece, Gabriel Knight 3.

There was a lot of bluster in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s about the death of adventure games. It was overblown and needlessly dramatic talk because the genre never died; it was just forced to evolve. Budgets shrank and the focus shifted, but the games stayed, and they improved. Arguably the end of the golden era of adventure games was the release of Tim Schafer’s Grim Fandango; a sweeping, ingenious tale of corruption in the afterlife influenced by the Mexican celebration of Dia De Muertos. This hit the shelves at the end of 1998 and while Lucasarts had one final adventure up its sleeve it was, unfortunately, the disappointing Escape from Monkey Island. It was around then that people declared the genre dead and many people believed this was the case until fairly recently. Truthfully, it was only a few years, in 2001, before the release of the first part of one of the best adventure game series of all time, the original Gameboy Advance Japanese release of the first Phoenix Wright title. Granted it wasn’t until 2005 that the game was officially released in English for the Nintendo DS, but the genre was still out there and supported by a huge company, in this case: Capcom.

Over the course of the first three titles Phoenix Wright fixed some issues with the genre, while bolstering the strengths it already had. You play the titular Phoenix Wright, a defence attorney who must defend a variety of people against murder charges while discovering the truth in each individual case and an overarching story in each game. It focuses on interviews and interrogations of a wide range of interesting and hilarious characters, as well as investigating locations to look for evidence. The game relies, mostly, on simple logic and spotting contradictions in testimony and proving it with evidence. It’s not perfect, suffering from issues of needing to hit unknown triggers while out investigating and the most pressing issue, knowing what you want to prove but not which piece of evidence the game expects, which can get you penalised. Despite this Phoenix Wright took huge steps towards taking the frustration out of adventure gaming, solving puzzles relied on logic you could understand, and while situations were often surprisingly complex you could see and figure out what was occurring. The mental gymnastics and psychic powers that were needed to solve older games weren’t present.

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Other series have arisen, taking a variety of approaches. Another that is iconic to the DS is Professor Layton, games that separated the puzzles nearly entirely from their setting, making it a strange cross between a puzzle compendium and a regular book that rarely interacted but seemed to resonate with audience in a compelling way. LA Noire took a Phoenix Wright-like approach, only a lot more guided and forced, but again its solutions weren’t impossible to predict (though the need to always kill people on the side quests felt utterly bizarre). Amanita Design released Samorost 1+2 and Machinarium, strange games of exploration and interaction that were often abstract but were much better at communicating information to players, making them much more understandable.

So, back to Gabriel Knight. I have, just this week, played through the original title in its CD-ROM fully-voiced incarnation and enjoyed it quite a lot. The story and the way it was told through gradual investigation was engaging and interesting; talking to characters and gathering information and conversation topics felt natural and believable. The research that clearly went into Voodoo and its history made the plot genuinely fascinating at times and the passion for interesting belief systems came through strongly. Sadly these strengths and hooks were often fighting back against the inclusion of bizarre and frustrating puzzles that block your way with annoying regularity.

One that stuck in my mind happened fairly early in the game. You need the services of an artist at one point but he’s not interested in helping so here’s what you do: first you have to leave, then walk back into the scene and wait for the picture he’s working on to blow away and land behind a fence where he can’t reach it. Gabriel also can’t reach it so you have to get a $20 book token from his store, give it to a hotdog vendor so he’ll give you ONE dog, which you can then give to a tap-dancing child who will reach through the fence, grab the picture and allow you to take it to the artist who will finally agree to help you. Some elements of this puzzle are fine and make sense; others are unnecessary steps that are just odd. You could eliminate the hotdog vendor entirely and just have Gabriel ask the kid for a much more straightforward approach that didn’t feel so silly.

Throughout the game there are moments like this or worse. It’s far from the most heinous offender, especially in the Sierra catalogue, but they are bad enough to be frustrating in the middle of an engaging and interesting game. Now, twenty years later, the game is being remade and none of these issues are going to change. I’m sure the more die-hard fans of the original will be happy to hear its gameplay will remain identical; but ignoring the developments in the genre and the possibilities that exist for remaking the game in a less frustrating manner means its audience will be limited. Many people will run afoul of poor choices and frustrating design, likely giving up on the game, then where will the audience be for the mooted fourth title?

remake

I’m sure people would see this as me calling for the game to be “dumbed down” but that isn’t what I want. I want the game to actually make sense to the player, not just to the designers or people who already know the answers. You can make a tough puzzle without resorting to awkward leaps of logic or obscure connections and it’s those puzzles that feel the most satisfying. It’s a souring experience when you either look up a puzzle or stumble upon the solution by brute force and are left with the answer-less question of “How the hell was I supposed to know that?”

I wish Jane Jensen and her studio well with the remake, truly I hope they are successful, but at the same time I feel this kind of remake, especially when the original is still easily available (and artistically still good to look at and listen to, it’s just the limitations of the time) doesn’t add much to the package. It wastes an opportunity for tweaks to give the same story to a wider audience, in a smoother way, which is a shame.

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs – Talking about the Story with writer, Dan Pinchbeck (Spoilers throughout!)

I recently played through Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs and I found it a captivating experience. While certainly different to the original it was a focused and disturbing game that portrayed a driven story of very dark and interesting ideas. I wanted to know a little more about and the man behind the story very generously agreed to answer some of my questions! These questions and answers are very much a post-mortem so if you’ve yet to play the game, and want to experience the mystery as intended, it’s best not to read this yet!

Otherwise read on and enjoy!

A Factory for Pigs 

1) The first Amnesia title owed a clear inspirational debt to H.P. Lovecraft, a favourite of games developers, while A Machine for Pigs seemed to keep some elements of that it had a different feel. I felt the story and visuals were reminiscent of Clive Barker, particularly his work in the Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser were they an inspiration? What other works inspired your horror exploration in AMFP?

Dan: Barker wasn’t specifically – haven’t read books of blood for years! I’m quite a big steampunk fan, so there’s a lot of that in there. Specifically G W Dahlquist’s Glass Books of the Dream Eaters trilogy, plus Lavie Tidhar and Stephen Hunt mainly. Hide Me Among The Graves by Tim Howard was quite influential as well.

A Lunch for Pigs

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Conjawa’s Top 10 Point and Click Adventure Games

Today’s feature is a guest post written by our very own site architect, Conjawa, an avid adventure game fan she wanted to put out her top ten titles. Clicking on the art will take you to a place to buy the game, unfortunately some are not easily available.

10: Space Quest VI

Space-Quest-6

The only Sierra-developed game to make the cut. While I did enjoy some of their other games (most notably Torin’s Passage and some installments of the King’s Quest series) the writing of your typical Sierra game is pretty lacking, many puzzles are tedious or impossible to solve, and you can die. While Space Quest 6 doesn’t solve any of these issues, not by a long shot, it is a vast improvement when combined with the humor this makes all the difference. True to Space Quest tradition, the narrator is snarky and never hides how much he dislikes Roger. The puzzles, while still occasionally tedious, are much easier to get through. Plus the settings you visit in 6 are a hoot, from Polysorbet to inside Stella’s body.

9. Night of the Rabbit

NightoftheRabbit

I was first introduced to Daedelic from playing the Deponia series. With the dissolution of Lucasarts the nostalgia for point-and-clicks games really kicked in and I stumbled onto Deponia. While scoring major points for being a visual delight (and 2d animation to boot) it was really lacking in the story and character department (re: DIE RUFUS, DIE!!) Still, the art was incentive enough to give Night of the Rabbit a chance and I was pleasantly surprised. Besides the bonus of the main character, Jeremiah, not being painfully obnoxious, the art style lends itself very well to the fairytale-esque story. The puzzles can be a bit tedious at times, but thankfully we live in an age where hints are readily available.

8. Myst

Myst

Myst was a visual treat that you never really forget. My dad and I joined forces to explore the island and solve some pretty well-crafted puzzles (save for the underground train system… that was a pain.) The fact information is kept to a minimum is a real credit to how well Myst was crafted – it isn’t overly complicated so that people automatically get frustrated and quit right away (unlike Riven.) Right off the bat you have no idea what’s going on, which can be a gamble, however, the developers overcame that with the world they created. That alongside the simple game play that provides an experience that’s challenging, but not impossible to complete, made it a memorable game.

7. Fate of Atlantis

FateOfAtlantis

The adventure of Indiana Jones was my first point-and-click. Having revisited it recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it still holds up. The story keeps true to the spirit of Indy, especially compared to some more modern interpretations like, say, The Crystal Skull. The highlight for me was the multiple story paths that cleverly integrated different elements into the gameplay –an approach that Lucasarts surprisingly chose not to try again. Some of the puzzles are dull and rely on picking up tools you’ve already used, but beyond that there isn’t much to complain about.

6. The Neverhood

Neverhood

Save for the damn 30 screen-long wall of exposition, this is a solid game. Major kudos goes to the art design – the claymation was an awesome touch that gave the game a very distinct look while still making the game play smooth. The world being slightly off from the get-go with absolutely no hints about the plot definitely compels you to explore the sucker. Augmented with the soundtrack by Terry S. Taylor the Neverhood was one strange, but fun, game to play.

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