Category Archives: Games

No more NES

A few outdated circuit boards in a grey plastic box shouldn’t mean so much but last Saturday I sold all my NES and SNES stuff in a bid to clear some of the clutter from my house and I felt pretty down about it. I had been kidding myself that when my wife and I moved I would set up a little den with all the old consoles in a sort of mini-museum. Then I would be the coolest dad around when my son brought his mates round to show off all the retro classics that his old man had. Of course, this was never going to happen. I had not played these games in years despite many being readily available in-browser on sites like virtualnes.com. Actually, my first clue should have been fruitlessly reaching for cool dad status because as we all know, trying to be cool is not cool (neither is using the word cool but I don’t care, I’m not cool, my wife told me so).

I don’t regret getting rid of all those clunky cartridges and naturally it makes logical sense to take the cash but I am still a little sad, like a part of me has gone. I spent a lot of hours with those games and they became a part of my gamer identity for a long time. Games defined me but to a lesser extent, I left a part of me with them too. I don’t mean all that spit blown on the cartridge slot or all those saved Super Mario Kart lap times but something more intangible like Sauron’s magic ring or Voldemort’s snake. It’s hard to get across but when you spend so much time with something then losing it can be hard, even if you did neglectfully dump it in a hot loft for 20 years.

I am not a man prone to nostalgia or sentiment but it’s hard not to feel a bit wistful about getting a NES for my 13 birthday or completing King Arthur’s World or reaching that final level of Battletoads or finally pulling off that Spinning Piledriver or so many things. But those are just memories and trying to recapture them is folly. Leigh Alexander wrote an article about how gamers were over, an outdated relic, but while I disagree with some of her sentiment (as long as there is passion, even misguided, there will always be people attending that midnight launch or getting their ninth Mario tattoo) I would have to agree that this gamer is definitely over. I no longer want plush mushroom hats or posters.

Saying goodbye to all that stuff is an acknowledgement of change. I now accept that it’s not that I can’t, but that I don’t want to play Battlefield until 5am (although I may want to want to in my more pitiful moments). I would still say that I enjoy video-gaming but I am not in love with it any more. It’s like seeing an ex-girlfriend once the glow of love has burned away. You can’t quite remember why you felt so strongly back then. It’s a second loss but one that pushes you forward instead of keeping you in a room crying onto old photographs. I now play Trials HD with my 2 year old son on my lap, he pushes the accelerator and I do the balancing. It’s wonderful (and very difficult).

In some ways I have become the gamer that real gamers hate. I play free-to-play fodder like Ace Combat Infinity and have no interest in displacing the old Xbox 360 from it’s dusty home under the TV with a shiny new Xbox One or PS4. I don’t even care about which one is better and have no opinion about console wars. It’s unthinkable. I am now a casual gamer and I am not even disgusted with myself. It’s quite freeing really. I am a born-again noob. Besides, if anyone doubts my credentials then I can produce a PSOne memory card with a Bushido Blade save with Katze unlocked. It makes that tenth prestige look like a penny you found on the street. Oops, they are pulling me back.

So goodbye old friends, we had some good times but now it’s time to move onto fresh experiences. Well freshER. I just started Gears of War 3 which is 4 years old so I guess I am a de facto retro gamer anyway. Oh look, I am cool. Damn, almost made it.

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This Weeks Addiction: Hitman GO

Hitman GO is a puzzler where you have to guide Agent 47 from one side of a small grid to another without being apprehended by guards who are also prowling the level. Hitman fans may get a bit of a shock when they see GO but the series’ core elements are all present in its strange tablet-based second cousin. Purists would point out that deep-down, Hitman is really a puzzle where observing and memorising enemy movement and behaviour is a much more powerful weapon than a pair of silenced pistols. GO has taken this central idea, added a turn-based element and presented it in a board game style that is both stylish and clean.

The point of each small level is to get to the other side. After each swipe Agent 47 moves one space in the desired direction and then each guard takes their action too. Basic guards may move along a prescribed path, spin on the spot or just stay facing the same direction. If you are in a space in front of one of them they apprehend you and it’s back to the start. In the early levels you can try to sneak around or dispose of guards but later levels let you throw rocks as a distraction, get access to one shot sniper rifles or fire the iconic silenced Silverballers.

Enemies get more complex too and there are dogs that chase you down or snipers that stare down lanes in the grid but the incredible visual design means that you easily remember what each does. The soundtrack is simple too and the gentle background music is replaced by Hitman favourite Ave Maria in levels where you have to assassinate key targets. Other sounds are the gentle toppling of pieces and the swish after each movement. It’s wonderfully pared down.

In addition to just getting through the level there are a number of extra objectives that you can attempt which give you extra stars that unlock new bundles of levels Angry Birds style. These add an extra layer of playability to each level but if you don’t get them then you will not be able to play later levels which could be frustrating for those that want to see everything. Naturally there is the option to pay real money for hints or unlocks but such painful wallet-wringing is a bit unpleasant and I can’t see many going for it.

Hitman GO is an excellent title. The basic gameplay makes for a solid puzzle title but the Hitman skin and tabletop presentation make it something special.

This Weeks Addiction: Crossy Road

Ace Combat Infinity has still been occupying way too much brain space this week but another little game has managed to get under its radar and score a direct hit on my free time. Crossy Road is a simple cross between the gameplay of Frogger and the endless style of Temple Run. It’s a straightforward score attack game where one mistake sets you back to the beginning. Thankfully the levels are randomly generated so you never feel like you are having to repeat the same thing over and over. In fact sometimes you lose track of your progress altogether until you realise that you are getting close to your high score, panic, and dive under a car.

The game has over 60 characters to unlock which you can either pay for with real money or wait to earn with in game coins which is a little addictive tug that will have you coming back to it very few hours. This trickle of rewards and score attack gameplay pretty much sums up what a lot of free mobile games offer at the moment but Crossy Road’s simplicity and just-one-more-try pull make it a lot of fun.

This Weeks Addiction: Ace Combat Infinity

Let’s get the bad stuff out the way first. Ace Combat Infinity’s payment model is as miserly, exploitative and cynical as you can get. If you want to play a lot then you are going to have to continuously pay to increase the amount of ‘stocked fuel’ you have on your account. This includes the fairly average single player campaign. You are going to have to dip into your pocket time and time again unless you are happy to wait for the three units of ‘supplied fuel’ to regenerate at the rate of 1 every 4 hours. There is no option to just buy the game. You can earn bonuses with additional contracts and challenges but these are time limited meaning they won’t really make much of an impact unless you are willing to put in a consecutive chunk of time and the money to go along with it. Credits you earn at the end of each mission are fairly paltry if you want to unlock the better planes further down the tech tree but naturally, these unlock at the same glacial pace as your credits accrue. In addition, if you splurge your money early on and open up the tech tree too wide then the randomly assigned research needed to unlock further branches is spread so thinly that you are going to have to play even more to lock it back down. Ouch.

So why do I like this so much? Because it fills an online gaming niche that I have never seen before. A kind of sportsmanlike competition. There is only one game mode which is a competitive co-op where two teams race to try and destroy more targets than the other. You can’t attack other players or even really hinder them aside from the odd opportunity to steal a kill, but seeing as the cumulative score of both teams goes towards a better grade and extra credits you probably won’t want to anyway. I have played a few rounds where I was bottom of the scoreboard but the pair of T-50s on the other team tearing around the map secured us all an S grade in no time. I lost but still kind of won. It’s liberating. The antagonism and frustration that lead to me abandoning competitive online shooters is just not present here. I don’t even mind the fuel issue. Snatching 15 minutes of gaming time used to be a problem as I couldn’t really get into a game but with Infinity the game doesn’t want me hanging around anyway. The missions may be a little repetitive but a relaxing 15 minutes in the skies is actually kind of nice. It’s like reading a couple of chapters from your favourite book before bedtime.

The irony is that if I could buy this game outright then I probably would. I bought the campaign only unlock and at £11.99 for 8 missions I don’t think it’s too bad but double that and let me play online as much as I want and I would gladly play. I am always surprised that the pay-to-play model works as a lot of gamers won’t pay on principle but I think that a very small user percentage must pay huge sums to compensate which seems a little unfair. Still, I am happily grinding my way towards that F15 that I will probably never reach and I still get a little thrill at the start of each mission when my team soars away, destroying enemy fighters and tanks in their wake. I get a great view from the cockpit of my Mirage 2000 dawdling towards its first target. But I get a nice cruise out of it. Sometimes I even do a little roll.

Rainbow 6: Vegas Retrospective

It’s 3am. How did it get that late? You realise you are shivering cold, it’s January and the heating went off hours ago. The buzz from those beers you had is long gone and has been replaced by a sudden urge to pee. Did you fell asleep in front of the TV? Quite the opposite. You have been in a state of advanced concentration for hours, absorbed by the online world of Rainbow Six: Vegas.

Vegas was the first game I ever played online. It was a tough initiation. That guy in the balaclava and MP5 could be just down that corridor, or right behind you, or next to you on the sofa! It was important to entertain a certain level of paranoia, every corner was a threat after all, but get too spooked and you would panic fire a ragged outline around the guy taking steady aim around the corner as he coolly slots you in the head. It had a very unique pace which mostly came from its excellent cover system.

Leaving cover was a risk but then so was staying there

Primarily, Vegas was a first person game but if you ran up to a corner and held the left trigger the camera would pan back into third person giving you a view of your soldier pressed against a wall as well as the space in front of them. You were constantly moving between these two viewpoints, one which gave you a wider field of view and the other which let you react faster to threats directly in front of you. Cover gave you the chance to get the drop on opponents but if they were concentrating on your location then they could shoot you before you got your weapon to bear. It was tense, sometimes excruciatingly so.

Game modes had the usual deathmatch and team deathmatch as well as a survival version (where you only got one life before being dumped out) but by far the most popular was Attack & Defend where the attacking team had to take a package from one point in the map to an extraction point at the other and the defending team had to stop them. When searching for lobbies you could be sure to see Attack & Defend in Calypso Casino in the first 5 spots at least and at one point I knew that map better than my own house. Let’s just say if I got a job there I wouldn’t need to ask where the toilets and fire exits were and I wouldn’t be surprised by the big hole at the bottom of the escalator.

The background music in this pre-game screen still makes me feel tense

My personal favourite mode was survival. As the match started all mics were turned off and all the chatter gave way to silence, then BOOM and the first guy was out. Once killed you could hear and be heard by all players which meant the game would grow more and more tense as downed players starting giving hints (and false hints) to the remaining players. What would start out as a silent stalk would descend into chaotic direction and misdirection. It was exhilarating.

An interesting take on team survival was the ludicrous Mike Myers variant where one player would take on the rest armed with a shotgun. The other team only had pistols and could only use them in the last minute of the match. Mike would usually win but sometimes the heroes would live to see the sequel.

I have plenty of good memories of this game. Talking to strangers online went from awkward to normal and even pleasant. Game hosts would generally require all players to have their mics plugged in even if it was to test them with a friendly hello in the game lobby and any annoying behaviour was given a swift boot. Maybe I was lucky but I don’t remember coming across any discrimination, bullying or vitriol. However I do recall the laughter at my lucky from-the-hip pistol headshot in Casino Vault and the guy with the lazy Southern drawl telling me he should have waited to get married and was there really any rush for me to?

The casino maps made for an intense backdrop

Nowadays I don’t have the opportunity or desire to play shooters online. A lack of skill and patience and a reluctance to buy the latest games means I am well behind in terms of ability and friends so I will never get the same experience again but that’s OK. Rainbow Six: Vegas was a game that came early in the 360 life cycle and was part of the online boom for console players. It felt like a special time and it was a great game. I loved it.

Defining Gamergate

A few months ago a disgruntled ex-lover of game developer Zoe Quinn (Depression Quest) wrote a snarky blog which included 5 names of men that she had allegedly slept with. At least one of those names was a video games reviewer. Some came to the conclusion that Zoe had bought positive reviews for her game with sexual favours. The gamergate hashtag was created.

Claims of backhanders and nepotism are not new amongst the video games community but the above was taken as proof of collusion. There will always be a number of comments under every review for a big name release that will either claim that the developer/publisher either paid or should have paid more depending on which side of 8.9/10 the game gets. Events such as when Jeff Gerstmann left Gamespot or the recent revelation that many high-profile Youtubers were receiving sponsorship for featuring certain games on their videos seem to support this bribe culture. From the outside it does seem that reviewers cosy up to developers but the gaming press say that, yes, it is a small community but a journalist is only as good as the contacts they have made.

On the surface, gamergate seems to be about the ethics of journalism and the need for a clear code of conduct between the creators and distributors of video games and those that make their living reporting from them. In this regards I could say that I am pro-gamergate. As a consumer I feel reassured knowing articles are written without any conflict of interests.

However, if you have never been involved in internet forums on major games websites (and others I am sure) it’s hard to describe the petty point-taking and plain nastiness that they can descend to. Users will insult each other in ways that they never would if they were face to face. Any original point is lost and that’s if there was even a point in the first place. In this environment, gamergate spiralled out of control and now we have reached the point where game writers are having to move out of their homes due to the death and rape threats that seem to have become depressingly predictable

Outspoken female voices are receiving the nastiest of online harassment and the writers that are fleeing their homes in police care are women. Would this have blown up if Zoe Quinn was Zack Quinn? Probably not. However it’s worth noting that this isn’t a reflection solely on the gaming community and I think that many have taken offense at this misunderstanding.

So it appears that pro-gamergate = hates women. To be sure about this you would have to check with the gamergate movement to see what they say but you can’t because there is no such thing. There is no gamergate HQ with a gamergate president who is consulting the gamegate manifesto. It’s a macguffin that you can use to push your own agenda whether that’s the ethics of journalism or threatening women. The latest hashtag I have seen is #stopgamergate2014 but once that gains traction then it becomes the new #gamergate as we all try and push our point out through the fog.

To me gamer gate isn’t a movement as a movement has common ideals and goals. Instead gamergate represents online behaviour and our responses to it. Gamergate is howling trolls and the personalities that can’t keep quiet for fear of being seen to condone them. It’s anonymous bullies that make death threats and those that think it’s bad to do so but accept it as part of life online. Worse of all it’s feeling that ignoring it will let it die but still writing 7 paragraphs about it. We are all gamergate.

Just Good Friends?

I love this picture by artist Bob Dob. Just the idea of these two as actors on set getting ready for the next person to put 20p in the Donkey Kong machine is amazing. Mario looks absolutely drained from having to run up all those girders knowing that even if he does rescue his love, he will instantly have to start all over again. Worse is that the original arcade Donkey Kong had a glitch that meant that on level 22 Mario would hit a kill screen and that would be it. He couldn’t win. Ever. No wonder DK looks so pleased with himself.