Articles tagged with blog


 
 
Leap of Faith

Sep 03
Posted by Ben at 13:50

When Uncharted 4 came out I wrote a piece about its disconnect between narrative and gameplay. Itís well-storied so I wonít retell the whole piece here, we all know it. Uncharted suffers from a form of Ludonarrative dissonance, itís practically the poster boy for it. Nathan Drake quipping his way through a blood bath. Joking as he murders countless people just because he wants to steal shit. Not for peace or to save the world, he just wants treasure, and for that heíll snap necks and kick people to their deaths. Really Uncharted should share more tone with Max Payne, but as I said, this is well covered, I should move on

Uncharted The Lost Legacy is kind of a spin-off from Uncharted 4. It started out as lengthy dlc that began to justify a retail release and a higher price, and it does. I finished it last week and itís good. Iím not going to write a full review for it because I donít have time, and itís not the sort of game we usually review, but itís is good. It feels less bloated than Uncharted 4 was, more gamey and light-hearted, but plays down the jokey tone. Actually itís the moments where it plays up to that tone that feel the most out of place, itís not something you associate with Chloe, she always felt more mercenary than Nathan. Teaming Chloe up with Uncharted 4ís Nadine, a hardened soldier, then having them bantz about, it feels like Naughty Dog still a bit afraid of making a Drake-free Uncharted game.

Before I move on, Iím not sure that Naughty Dog have retconned Chloeís nationality, possibly more that they just never dwelt on it before. It does, for those of us who arenít buried deep in Uncharted lore, feel like theyíve tweaked her a bit, but I like it. Iím not ordinarily too keen on characters being altered, just make a new character rather than have them not mention something that is now hugely important for years (like a brother youíre guilt-ridden over for example), but I do feel like theyíve done a decent job with Chloe. Itís also nice to play as someone who isnít another white guy. Iím not against playing as a white guy, I am a white guy, but Iíve been playing games for a very long time and playing something that stands out is a rarity. I want new experiences, new stories, not everyone cares I guess, but Iím bored and am not going to turn my nose up whatever novelty I can get.

Anyway, to the point, finally. Something Uncharted has always been guilty of, and itís far from the only game, Tomb Raider does it too, any number of games do. In Uncharted the characters throw themselves in to the unknown all the time. Iím not quite sure how to condense it in to a single word or phrase, but to explain: Thereís an obstacle, you could tentatively try to puzzle it out, inch your way through it, but instead the solution will be to climb to the top of it, past the point of no return and hope for the best. In Uncharted 4, particularly the Scotland sections, you climbed sheer rock, certain death below you, with no way of getting back if it turns out thereís no convenient footholds beyond a certain point. In Lost Legacy Chloe will swing across gaps with no way of getting back, she never gets stuck, thereís always a way up, over, or under.

I get it, itís a game, itís just jarring. Itís the Deus Ex Machina of platforming. As Iíve said, a lot of Unchartedís problems, the disconnect it suffers from, are due to it trying to make the characters grounded, likable, and human. Them also being bullet sponges, mass-murders, it shines a giant spotlight on it. Same with the climbing, Iím not sure if itís infinite luck or dumb action movie, but it doesnít sit right. The only way I can see to fix it would be to shrink down the environments, rather than climb a mountain you need to get over a fence. Not really that exciting is it?

My other gripe, and itís on a similar track, the people who built these giant elaborate puzzles, why didnít them make them simpler? I can understand the puzzles where youíre really just supposed to rotate something, but the arm has broken or a mirror has shattered, so you need to climb up and move the final piece yourself, thatís not too bad. Thereís a particular puzzle in Lost Legacy though where the solution is to climb up the giant structure, make leaps of faith, and turn some water on. Itís the only way of solving the puzzle. Why did the long dead civilisation make it so difficult? ďTo keep people out!Ē, yeah, sure, how do they get in though? They might know the solution, but they still have to go through all the leaping and climbing

I know both of these complaints are minor, itís just a game, excuse the gamey aspects of it. I know, and fair enough. Why do I need to single Uncharted out for it, Iím not sure, I think it might be the worst for it, or just itís the one that shines a spotlight on it. Maybe itís the series that feels the most like it could move past the gamey side of gaming, it has the budget, Naughty Dog have the talent. Who knows, I donít, but I do feel like, if we get another Uncharted it might be the game to move things on.
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Angels on the
Sideline
13-01-16
Posted by Ben at 16:58

There's something that's been bugging me for a while, years probably. It's something that comes up when I'm talking to friends but I don't think I've ever put in a review. It's also something I'm not sure I can explain, so bear with me as I stumble around it.

I don't think I like choices

I finished Shin Megami Tensei 4 today, it's a fantastic game with a slow middle. I also started Until Dawn, Sony's slasher movie homage designed around the premise of the butterfly effect. Until Dawn really lays it on thick too, the game opens with an explanation of the term, has butterfly symbols in the UI, then even has a couple of characters talk about it, it's a game about choice. When it came to the first meaningful choice, or at least consequence, I, well, I didn't like it. Iíve scratched around for words to end that sentence, I didn't resent the choice or having to make the choice, I didn't Ďhateí it, it just stirred an Ďoffí feeling in me that I can't place.

I donít want to spoil too much, but Iíd seen a warning of what was going to happen and based my decision around that. It didnít go well, and immediately I wondered about the other choice, should I have taken it, what would have happened if I had, would it have been worse for the character, worse for me?

I think a big part of it is that the rules of a videogame donít reflect the rules of life. We make an immeasurable number of choices every day, whether to just sack off work is usually the big one, but before Iíve even clocked in Iíve made hundreds of decisions, trivial things about breakfast, what to wear, which order to get ready in, which route to take, what to listen to, when to cross the road etc etc. Granted, I could have picked a different route yesterday morning and stumbled on to a gang war, altering the course of my life immeasurably, but I didnít. I didnít because thereís a consistency to life that isnít reflected in games. I generally know the consequence of my choices because I generally make the same ones every day. Even when it comes to interactions, Iím an adult human, Iím experienced at social interaction, I more or less know what to say to someone, and even if Iím trying to antagonise them how far to go

Thereís grey areas in life that canít possibly be covered in a game. Think about that vague moment in Until Dawn I mentioned earlier. Before that life and death decision how many decisions didnít I get to make? We ran when maybe I wanted to face down whatever Ďthatí noise was, and we ran in a direction maybe I wouldnít have done. I think a big part of my problem, and the problem with choices in games, is that itís a forced hand. Iím left with either, effectively, no choice, or a consequence I couldnít have foreseen, and the game shrugs at me and says ďdunno what youíre complaining about, you chose it mateĒ

Itís why I mentioned Shin Megami Tensei 4 before. I donít really want to spoil the end of that game, but while thereís lots of choices along the way, ultimately it comes down to an all or nothing choice. Thereís a character I agreed with, but his methods were essentially ďkill everyoneĒ, I canít get behind that, but nor can I talk to him and suggest some sort of middle ground. The choices are binary in a way life's choices are only if you're trying to win an argument. It's frustrating as a player who's invested so much into the game (Shin Megami not life), I was making choices based on ďfuck itĒ rather than picking what reflected my feelings and thoughts. I think even if your character had muttered a word of protest it would have gone a long way.

The other area where choice in games falls down is consequence. While I finished it, and did enjoy it to a point, one of the reasons The Walking Dead lost me was the schizophrenic reactions to your actions. Suggest that someone might want to calm down so as not to give away our position and 3 people get shot in the face. LA Noire suffered from it massively. The text to set up what you are about to say would imply a gentle prodding against a statement, what actually happens is Cole screaming at a 5 year old accusing them of murder. Mass Effect and Fallout suffered from it too, it's a disconnect between the rules of the game and what the player experienced in the real world expects

Maybe this is part of a bigger topic, but I think the nature of gaming and of being a gamer is the introduction of competition. Even when you're told there's no wrong answer, that it's about your experience, but there's usually a 'better' outcome. And that's all it takes, a difference, and all of a sudden you've failed. Add to that your ideal scenario not being available, the setup not matching the conclusion, and options not being available to you, and maybe choice isn't always a good thing
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The Shadow of the
Shadow of Mordor
26-10-15
Posted by Ben at 18:42

I donít think itís an exaggeration to say that literally every game released in the past 12 months has been an open world game, literally every single one. In some ways I don't really mind it, I get the appeal. Take something like Gears of War, we've all done it before, that linear cover based shooter, there's very little you can do with it. I played The Order 1886 recently, it's not bad, it doesn't deserve its reputation, and had it launched last generation I think it would have been received more warmly. As it is it's the most linear of linear games, at times entirely focused on narrative. Which has its place, but it's so easy to tear apart for what it is and what it isn't. I do wonder if Ready at Dawn regret not opening the game up a bit, assuming they had the time.

The problem is that an open world for open worlds sake isn't a good thing. I regularly claim that I'm not a big fan of open world games, certainly I'm not a fan of the GTA games, nothing against them in particular they just don't click with me. The truth is though that I really enjoyed Sleeping Dogs, Skyrim, Infamous Second Son, Witcher 3, and, despite myself, Shadow of Mordor. So why am I bringing all this up, because I've been playing Mad Max and it's a boring game.

I'm not sure I hate Mad Mad, that's too strong a word for my ambivalence towards the gameplay, but there's a level of cynicism that grates me. The truth is that with the not terrible (though not great) car combat, and Batmanís fighting system I should like it more than I do. Where Mad Max falls over is with its world, beautifully desolate as it is. Mad Max shares the same structure as Shadow of Mordor, something different from your standard open world game.

Take Assassin's Creed, there's tons of periphery bullshit in that series, but your play is also very directed. Climbing the towers has a benefit,and there's reasons to do the side missions, but often they'll be done on your way to the next story mission. Same with Skyrim, you don't decide to abandon the story quests, you just tumble endlessly down the rabbit hole because you're near that cave, because that dragon isn't all that far away. You're like Sam Beckett, always striving to get back to the right thread. If Skyrim clicks with you it's compulsive, same with Infamous,same with any open world game, you'll stop after you've done one more thing.

What Shadow of Mordor did that's different from most games was just drop you into the world and tell you to fuck off and leave it alone for a bit. It's something GTA does, but then your phone will ring and you'll start a new story mission. In Shadow of Mordor the side quests are the game. That's what it's telling you to do. It's undirected and aimless, and it very nearly ruins the game. The reason it doesn't is the Nemesis system. It adds a compulsion, that Ďone more thingí feeling, you're never far from a General to kill. It keeps you playing when samey missions and locales would have already out stayed their welcome, and more importantly, spreading your influence is a benefit to the campaign, it's not wasted time.

Mad Max on the other hand is too loose, too open. Fairly early on there's a story mission that involves scoping out a gate, a gate you aren't ready to break through. You're then tasked with going out in to the open world to find the car parts you need to take on the gate mission. There's nothing special about the locations of these car parts other than them having the car parts, they're the exact same scraps or earth and huddle of bandits that house water, parts to equip the safe houses, and memories of the old world. It reduces the story missions to busy work, there's literally nothing different about them from the scores of filler that litter the game

And that's my worry with this trend of genres setting their games in open worlds. It works with some, being a Witcher and taking contracts makes sense, giving a superhero civilians to save makes sense, and amazingly even the stealth of Metal Gear works. These experiences need to be directed, there's very little difference in locations between story and side quests in Fallout and Skyrim, but you can tell the difference from the tone and the setup. Just dumping your mechanics in to an open world isn't enough. Mad Max feels like a game built on telemetry, like someone saw how people played open world games and decided they didn't need the core experience, it's design by maths, it's cynical, and it feels it
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Money For
Nothing
14-06-15
Posted by Ben at 15:47

For most of us the news that Steam had changed their refund policy from "no" to "yes" is welcome news. Granted living in the EU as we do, until a combination of the Conservatives, UKIP, and the Daily Mail ruin it for all of us, we should in theory have had some protection anyway. Anyone who's ever tried getting a refund from Steam will tell you that despite that, it was like pulling teeth. So it was a pleasant surprise that Valve have provided a fairly no-quibble policy, although not everyone is pleased.

Essentially Steam's refund policy is this; if you bought a game and want a refund within 2 weeks, so long as you've played it for less than 2 hours, you're almost certainly going to get it. In fact even if you don't meet those requirements you can still ask and Valve will have a look at it. If you're a developer that isn't quite such good news. It's one thing for the likes of Activision, Warner Brothers, or Ubisoft who will sell tens of thousands of games on Steam, it's another for smaller developers who might just sell tens. That's not to say they should get a free pass, only that you can see why just handing the money back no matter the reason might feel a little unjust.

There's also the issue of game length. An increasing number of games on Steam that could be completed in the 2 hour refund window, theoretically turning Steam in to a deposit down gaming library. It's a concern shared by a number of developers including David Szymanski. It's worth noting at this point that Valve have stated that if they think you're gaming the system then they will stop giving you refunds.

Again another important point of clarification, the developers in the Twitter reactions don't seem to be against refunds in principle, no doubt they're also customers and gamers themselves,only the way it's been implemented. One suggestion was to cut the gameplay time allowed to 15 minutes. While I sympathise, 15 minutes is far too short a window. I've talked before about my issues with Rage, a game I really enjoyed, but had huge troubles getting to run. Starting the game, struggling with it, editing ini files, booting it again to test it. I quite quickly got to 2 hours before I'd got close to getting it running correctly.

As another example, think of your typical AAA game. From the moment you boot the game how long does it take to actually start the game properly. You've got the developer logo, probably a couple of them, the publisher logo, the video codec logo, Speedtree, then the start screen, then the menu screen. Great, now you've got a load, then a cut scene. Now you're in to the game, but it's the tutorial so it's hard to judge, and after that you've got another cutscene and a load. Now you're in to the game and you've been playing 30 minutes. You need time with the game.

That's not to say there isn't issues with the system. put it to the test by purchasing the soundtrack to The Moon Sliver, then simply requesting a refund. Soundtracks from Steam are drm free, so he made a copy and requested, and was given a refund. This is where the warning that Valve give regarding abusing the system should come in, but how many times could you get away with before Valve call foul.

Again the counter for this is that, would you really go to that trouble for a soundtrack you could just Google and find. Same with the games, why risk the wrath of Valve on your Steam account when you could just search the net for a pirate version of the game. I'd also argue that we're at the point where people kind of know what they're getting on Steam. Dear Esther might have been in trouble, as might Gone Home, but now 'walking simulators' are a known concept, same with visual novels and any number of indie genres. They cater to a subset of gamers, the kind who probably don't begrudge handing over money for an experience, and aren't likely to claim an unjust refund.

Of course that's all speculation, and it seems that the refund system might have had the unexpected result of encouraging sales now there's less risk. And I'm not about to start lecturing developers, I've never made a game but I do know from experience that customers are arseholes. It also seems to be the case that there's a huge surge of people taking Valve up on their offer of refunds. Hopefully this is something that will die down, and judging from forum chatter there's a lot of people claiming legacy refunds

Still, I do think it's right that Valve have addressed this, and I'm pleased it's erred more to the consumer side than not, hopefully that sets a precedent.
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03-04-14
Posted by Ben at 08:42

Iím not some old grizzled reviewer, I wasnít around at the time of the crash, I was 2 at the time of the crash, no one was taking my portfolio seriously. However, I have been reviewing games for Bitparade (and its previous forms) since the back end of the PS2 days. In fact I think my first reviews were Dreamcast games, Radirgy and Under Defeat, with the first game I was sent to review being the first Family Guy game (2006). I remember getting Dynasty Warriors 6 on the PS3 along with G1 Jockey 2008 when I got my PS3.

My point with this preamble is that I know what itís like to review games, I know the pressure of it. It should be easy, you play the game then write your thoughts. If you didnít like it thatís fine, if you did, great! All you need to do is concentrate your thoughts in to a number and then post it on the internet. Itís not that easy though, itís great when it is, when I can say that The Brigmore Witches is great, or that Naruto Shippuden 3D: The New Era isnít. The reason I can do that with those games is because I understand them, I understood Dishonored and loved it, I didnít understand Two Worlds 2, not the way a fan of the series would, same if I was asked to review Dark Souls 2, I could give you my thoughts, but for most people they wouldnít be worth much.

Things are changing though, just because I have the game to review, be that on my hard drive or on a disc, it doesnít mean itís finished. Hell, just because a game is out doesnít mean itís finished. Betrayer, a game I reviewed last week and didnít especially like, got an update the other day. I hadnít quite finished the game when I reviewed it, something of a rarity, but I lost my save in a resolution setting accident and playing through the game again wasnít doing it any favours, so I thought it was better to review it on what I had played. I was most of the way through the game, many hours played, I donít feel guilty nor do I feel like finishing it would have changed my opinion at all.

Anyway, with the patch reducing the difficulty I decided to go back to Betrayer, grit my teeth and finish it, which I did. Iím not going to re-review the game, but I will say that most of my thoughts still stand, itís a fairly interesting story with great atmosphere, I think some people will enjoy it, especially if they never get past the first hour. What I found was that even with the reduced difficulty I still didnít like the combat outside of the early uses of the stealth. The thing is, given that one of the things thatís changed is the loot dropping on death, my review is out of date. Anyone who played Betrayer when I did will have encountered the same game I did, they might have liked it more, some liked it less, but they would see my complaints. By the time a host of people pick it up in the Steam Christmas sale, Iíll look like an idiot.

Sometimes the games we review are different from the retail version, Football Manager 2014 would be one. I was talking to someone about how I was glad Sports Interactive had cutdown the in-app purchases only for them to correct me, that they were very much still in the game. The thing is they werenít in my copy, ĎFootball Manager 2014 Reviewí doesnít have in-app purchases. Itís understandable why, itís one thing leaving it in for reviewers to play about with, a lot of games do, but the version of Football Manager 2014 we reviewed was basically the Early Access version.

If patches and updates are one factor that is going to make launch reviews outdated, Early Access is only going to make it worse. Itís not just that sending reviewers a beta code will substitute for a review copy, but that because Early Access is essentially releasing the game and patching it, why would a 2nd release date be expected to act as a hard cut-off? Youíre in a situation where the game is both available and being worked on, thereís regular patches responding to feedback, on release youíre going to get more feedback than you know what to do with, of course itís going to be acted on. Once it is all those release day reviews are going to be out of date.

I have toyed with writing something about Early Access a few times, I donít like it, I think itís a flawed concept, however as Iíve never really participated as a paying customer Iíd be talking out of some degree of ignorance. Bear that in mind as I start talking about it. Godus sat extremely uncomfortable with me, a crowd funded game that then got an Early Access release, charging people for an incredibly early version. Godus still isnít out yet Iíve seen it on sale a couple of times for as much as 50% off, that seems like the early adopters were ripped off. Itís not just Godus, Neo Scavenger is part of the current Weekly Humble Bundle, and thatís still in Early Access.

Iíve also got the sense from the Early Access games I have played that theyíre made for, or skewed by their die-hard fans. I donít mean this as any kind of slight, but if you take a game like Blackguards, another Early Access game I (sort of) reviewed, it felt very much like it catered to fans of that world, those same fans would have took part in the Early Access and so guided development. Things that a new player might need they donít, they donít need the handholding even I did, and I play strategy rpgs.

Betrayer was a prime example of this too, I took a look at the Steam forums for the game when I was reviewing it, and they were amazed by the low scores the game had got at that point, they simply couldnít see how anyone could not like the game. Thatís fair enough, I had the same thoughts with Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 and Thief, but they were simply blind to Betrayerís problems. I donít think it was anything malicious or even fan boy-ish, I think it was simply that they didnít have the distance from the game reviewers did. To tie things back around, reviewing a game when people have already made up their minds, itíd make things a lot easier if you liked the game as much as they do.
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14-03-14
Posted by Ben at 07:12

I can be relatively cynical when it comes to the gaming press. I feel bad for them in some ways, theyíre on to loser, where no matter what they do thereíll always be someone saying theyíre wrong. Thereíll always be someone watching them, quoting them, misrepresenting what theyíve said, and never, ever forgetting that one stupid thing they said or did.

On the other hand though they donít half do some stupid, questionable shit. I think most of it is without any ill-intent, they just donít think how things will look. Take for example a little iOS game called Threes, out on Android this week. As I understand it Threes is a game where you aim for a high score by finding multiples of 3 (I havenít played the game, so excuse my ignorance of it), and Iíve been told by someone whose opinion I respect that it is a good game. So why have I brought it up?

If you havenít heard of Threes then itís because youíve not been watching and listening to the Ďrightí podcasts, nor following the Ďrightí people on Twitter. It has taken the gaming press by storm. My first encounter with it was it being mentioned on Giant Bomb, where Patrick Klepek mentioned that one of the developers worked out of the same office he does, the Cards Against Humanity office. I donít mind Klepek, I know some donít like him, but at least he was open enough to mention his connection to the game. However it does sit ill with me that heís talking about, and praising publicly a game he is so closely related to. He even says in the original podcast that heís had an early build for a while. Thereís a certain amount of irony to Jim sterling being on this episode, as he recently talked around this subject, due to his appearance in Jazzpunk, in a video about the trustworthiness of Youtube

This is a problem Giant Bomb have bumped up against repeatedly. They have a core selection of guest, who were even pitted against each other in a competition for the best Giant Bomb friend. Giant Bomb themselves have countered criticism by saying that they would like to get all kinds of developers in, but itís only the ones theyíre personally friends with that agree to come on. Unfortunately it doesnít solve the problem that Double Fine, Harmonix and the like get heavily featured on the site, even directly showing off their games. I shouldnít know who Dave Lang is, and that they were involved in a Kickstarter to track Harmonixís PR man John Drakeís air travel is disgraceful.

Again I want to stress that Iím sure that it is all done unthinkingly, Jeff Gerstmann, whatever his views on NiGHTS, has earned himself a chunk of credibility, but it still looks bad. That I can hear them talking about Broken Age, flagellate themselves in to a sweaty mess over Divekick, and recently heap praise on Threes, and not be able to take what they say at face value is a problem of their making.

Itís not just Giant Bomb though, if anything theyíve been the focus because they are a site I like, and are also fairly open. Iíve got a lot of time for Garnett Lee, but his crush on all things Pixel Junk ended up gaining him a voice credit in Pixel Junk Sidescroller. Even before that, knowing he had become such good friends with them meant I had to take his opinions of their games with a pinch of salt. Similarly 8-4 Play, how many other translation houses could you name? When I hear them being singled out for praise I canít help but question why, is it because 2 of the staff used to write for an American gaming magazine?

Thanks to the incestuous nature of the games media, particularly the American side (as it seems to all be based around the same area), everyone seems to know each other. People have worked together, or at least are friends of friends, I suspect this is why Threes seems to have caught on so much with the press. Itís a problem endemic in the industry, Telltale Gamesí staff members got singled out for praise, some of them worked in the press, now those people have left itíll be interesting to see if that trend continues.

Iím starting to sound like a tinfoil nutter so Iím going to wrap this up (not in tinfoil), but that darlings of the games press such as Gone Home and Bastion had ex-members of the press working on them, itís hard not to question whether they would have got the attention they did otherwise. Itís not just an American problem either, the developers of Sir, You Are Being Hunted and Gunpoint are members of the British gaming press, and both games have found support on British gaming sites.

Now, please let me stress something. In an industry where the press is made up of enthusiasts, where theoretically the only thing stopping you from becoming a developer rather than a critic is learning to code, itís hardly a surprise that thereís crossover, and thatís not even factoring how many people end up in non-developer roles. Thereís nothing malicious about it, I doubt thereís even anything deliberate about covering the games, at worst youíre just helping a mate out.

Only thatís not really true, at worst youíre convincing people to part with their money for your friendís game without letting on that you have a vested interest in it, that you arenít as objective as you should be. Youíre also not giving the same attention to similar games, Dear Esther didnít get anything like the attention Gone Home did and itís the better experience. I do believe that itís more naivety than anything else, but itís still a problem, not just an ethical one, but also for how you, the journalist look.

Thereís a simple solution to it though, if youíre in a position where a good friend of yours is putting out a game, maybe he even works in the same office as you, donít cover it. Play it sure, and if someone else, a guest for example brings it up then chime in and acknowledge your ties to the game, but have the integrity to not start the conversation. If half the staff on your site are drinking buddies or ex-colleagues with someone who worked on the game, take a step back, have a think about why youíre about to spend 30 minutes talking about it, but only 10 minutes on everything else. If itís the only game everyone on the team has played ask yourself why that is. I get that itís a difficult balance, but itís one the press need to start getting right.
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17-02-14
Posted by Ben at 14:07

Depending on your view on Titanfall I might be about to add to the noise, the cacophony of people going on and on about it. And while I will be writing a First Impressions piece for it tomorrow (donít hold me to that), this is a bit different, this is me putting across your point of view, you, the person who is sick of hearing about Titanfall and thinks itís incredibly over-hyped.

Thereís no doubt that a lot of the hype for Titanfall is press generated. Cast your mind back to last yearsí E3 and the Titanfall footage. Iím not about to suggest that no one except members of the press were excited, thatís nonsense, of course some people were, but the press were particularly enthused. Again, not all the press, and to be fair to the ones that were excited for Titanfall they saw more of it than any of us, they might even be huge Call of Duty fans. A new game from the developers of Modern Warfare, why wouldnít they be excited?

The problem is that itís been relentless. Whenever the game gets shown we hear how good it looks, how it plays even better, how we should all be excited. The VGX awards is basically just a series of adverts, it always has been and Iíve never understood why it commands any reverence, but even by the VGAís low standards Geoff Keighley really wanted us to know how great Titanfall was going to be, by christ he was looking forward to it. Respawn even popped along to reveal that there was going to be a different Titan type!

As the end of the year podcasts and award shows came around so did the question ďwhat are you looking forward to next year?Ē The answer was of course Titanfall. Bought yourself a new console? Sure there isnít a lot to play on it at the minute, but soon Titanfall will be out on the Xbox One. Xbox One sales are lagging behind those of the PS4, well Titanfall is out soon, weíll see if that makes a difference.

Itís been omnipresent, and particularly with the statements that came out of E3, itís got people wondering about the pressí role in game promotion. I had an issue myself this past week, I posted a story about a collectors edition of a game going on sale, why, itís not news? I posted it because I thought it was interesting, but thereís no doubt that the only thing it could ever do is promote the existence of the game. Itís like the sites that do unboxings, who the fuck does that benefit? Sure I bet they get hits, I bet thereís people that eagerly watch them, but all it does is feed in to the hype, youíre learning and gaining absolutely nothing else.

I was complaining to a friend the other week that if American Football ever takes of in this country (the UK) itíll be through sheer brute force by the TV companies and NFL. We donít care, we barely care for our own sports that arenít football. But with the NFL bringing more and more games over here, and with the Superbowl being more and more hyped every year because terrestrial TV has less and less sport every year, itís easy to see a future where itís a popular sport here. Itís what I call the ITV Piers Morgan Technique. No one likes Piers Morgan, no one, but unless he ends up in prison he will continue to be on our screens until all resistance is eroded.

Itís the sense of inevitability, thatís my problem with the hype surrounding Titanfall. Now, Iíve played the beta and at the risk of spoiling the feature Iím almost certainly going to write tomorrow, itís not bad. But even if the final game had just 5 maps, 3 modes, and a handful of classes, with server problems from day 1, the game is destined to sell. Itís also destined to review well but letís imagine for a minute that it doesnít, that wonít affect the sales. Between Microsoft and EAís advertising budgets, and the pressí obsession, Titanfall will not fail. If youíre one of those people who likes to hope things do die on their arse, give it up, itís not going to happen, and that is troubling, not just with regards to Titanfall but to all games.

However, as rotten as the press building hype and blurring the lines between PR and news is, can I just make a request? Please donít just hate Titanfall because itís been hyped. If it doesnít look like your kind of thing then fine, be indifferent too it, be tired of hearing about it, but it doesnít mean that Titanfall, or any other game hyped to death is bad. Call of Duty isnít a terrible game, Last of Us isnít a terrible game, Gone Home isnít a terrible game. They may well all be overrated, Gone Home certainly is, but the quality of the game is independent from the gaming mediaís love of it.

I get it though, really I do. One person saying ďTitanfall is alright actuallyĒ isnít a problem, even a handful of people saying ďTitanfall is literally the best game I have EVER played!Ē isnít a problem. The problem comes when you get a lot of people saying ďTitanfall is goodĒ, not because of the uniformity, but because the games press and gaming enthusiasts can create a very strong echo chamber. It amplifies one viewpoint, be it right or wrong, positive or negative, and is incredibly frustrating if youíre a dissenting voice. You arenít being heard.

Itís a trap Iíve fallen in to myself, I dislike Bastion more than I probably should. I also hate Oasis far more than I would had I not had my teenage years not been during the mid-to-late 1990s. I loath Zero Dark Thirty, in my head itís a terrible film, it is a terrible film, but itís one Iíd have forgotten about had it not been up for an Oscar.

To be blunt what Iím saying is, donít be ďthat guyĒ, and donít be the accidental fan boy, try to imagine a world where the game, or any game, is being played completely out of the spotlight, without any of its baggage, would you be so down on it? And if you happen to be a member of the gaming press reading this, ask yourself if what youíre posting is actually news, if that trailer really needs to go up, if maybe you should wait for the full game before enthusing that something is destined to be a classic.
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29-07-13
Posted by Ben at 07:20

Maybe I was just unaware of it at the time but it seems one of the major differences between the end of this generation and the last is how many people have picked up gaming PCs. Perhaps Ďgaming PCsí is the wrong term but weíll come to that later. Purely anecdotal but it does seem a lot of gamers, or at least more than previously have bought gaming capable pcs and laptops over the past couple of years.

Maybe it's bias on my part, after all the pc has been my go to gaming machine in the back half of this generation. If I'm banging on about how great the pc version of something is and someone agrees with me it's going to stick out. It could be, of course, that I'm talking nonsense and the trend is the same as it always was, the difference being that I'm older now. Not that pc gaming is for old people, but to buy or build a decent pc takes money, something you don't have a lot of in your teenage years (not that I was a teenager at the end of the last gen, depressingly).

Of course consoles cost money, I ended the last generation with all 3 consoles and a newly bought DS and I'm ending this one with all 3 consoles and a 3DS. While the desktop I had access to at the time was pretty basic my laptop, that I was bought to take to university, was capable of running Max Payne 2 and Return to Castle Wolfenstein better than the xbox could. None of those things were cheap.

I think that's part of the difference, at the end of the last generation having your own computer was something rare, you had a house computer you all shared as a family. Now it's not that strange for a kid to have their own desktop or laptop, at the very least for school work stuff. And if you're buying a new computer, even if it's just for school or uni stuff, you're going to make sure it's decent just in the vain hope it's something resembling future proof.

Then there's the performance issue, buying a brand new computer is all well and good but it needs some grunt to play games. Well when you see the upcoming adverts for PC World and Argos take note of the specs, all the laptops will be dualcore with at least 4 gigs or RAM, that's more than most games require. Sure the graphics card, or chip in modern laptops, is important, but that's where the unique thing about this generation comes in; how long it's been.

The release of DMC Devil May Cry earlier this year brought in to stark contrast the relative power of a 'decent' pc and the current consoles. My Graphics card is getting on for 4 years old, it plays everything, plays most things at 60fps, but DMC was running at around 180fps. If you were to buy a £350 laptop today it would run DMC, to what standard I donít know, but it would be playable. Games being built for 8 year old hardware has its problems for those with high-end PCs, but for everyone else itís a bit of a blessing, you donít need a beast of a PC to run console games at better than console levels.

Probably the most important factor, but also potentially the most controversial, is Steam. Steam has its problems, maybe one day weíll go in to them, but for good or bad it does a few things that might encourage PC gaming. For one, everything is in one place; thereís a lot of places to buy games for the PC, a hell of a lot of them offer Steam codes. Iím not suggesting this is a conscious reason for people, only that if it werenít the case it would be a barrier. This is especially true when it comes to indie games, nowhere has the quality and variety of indie titles that the PC does, having access to all those games is enough to get people playing,

Then thereís that thing Steam is pretty good at; sales. Anyone who plays PC games will have raved about Steam sales, got excited knowing one was only hours away. Itís hard not to see that from the outside and want in. The recent Xbox sale was good, probably as good a sale as Iíve seen for digital games on a console, but even that is dwarfed by what Steam offers. Itís not just the prices, although thatís obviously a big factor, itís how recent the games are, and then the quantity of games on sale

So the question then, will this continue in to the next generation? While I think thereís a segment of the market who will keep their computers up to date, sticking in a graphics card at the start and halfway through the gen, I canít see the swell of gamers staying. Weíve got a perfect storm at the minute, technology being somewhat stagnant, people needing PCs, and people wanting something new, all those things will come to an end in the next year or so. Consoles will be able to outperfom capable gaming machines such as mine, that new thing itch will be scratched by the new consoles, and sadly tablets will continue to eat in to the PC market.

Still though itís opened some peopleís eyes to PC gaming and the benefits thereof, and with the current gen looking like itís not going anywhere for at 12 months itís not quite a ticking clock until PC gaming Ďdiesí all over again
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18-02-13
Posted by Ben at 17:45

I donít usually go back to topics Iíve already written about for God Mode On, Iíve never really felt the need to, but a quote from Jason Jones, co-founder of Bungie, has changed that. Building hype for their upcoming game ĎDestinyí, Jones talks about how influential Halo was, and is quoted as saying ďWe limited players to two weapons, we gave them recharging health, we automatically saved and restored the game -- almost heretical things to first-person shooters at the time. We made the game run without a mouse and keyboard.. And now nobody plays shooters the way they used to play them before Halo 'cause nobody wants toĒ.

I donít really want to read too much in to that quote, I suspect, or hope at least, that he didnít mean it quite as bitingly as it comes across. In responding to it thereís kind of a case of ďwhere to start?Ē. After all, I still play, and prefer, first person shooters with a mouse and keyboard. I still want to be able to quick save, although do appreciate check pointing. Recharging health means you shouldnít run in to an unwinnable situation, but also means you sit out the game sporadically. The 2 guns thing, I could probably write a piece about how thatís actually a very bad thing, limiting gameplay. Restricting weapons for ease of navigation you can make a case for, particularly on consoles, but having only 2 means your options are limited, especially when the gun balance is off; like how often do you choose to carry around a shotgun in a modern shooter?

Itís the issue of control that I want to talk about. The responses to Jonesí quote last night, when it wasnít focused on the linear level design, generally descended in to arguments about controls, about aim-assist, and about how much more precise keyboard and mouse is. This is something I talked about in a blog post called ĎWASD The Matter Youí, the title of which is still my greatest ever achievement.

In ĎWASD The Matter Youí I talk about the difference in control between console and PC, fortunately reading back I donít say anything too stupid, but what is apparent is that it was quite a while ago, it was written roughly 5 years ago. At that time the Wii was my go to console, I would have owned both a PS3 and 360 at that point, and that post was likely prompted by me getting a new PC (which I finished paying off late last year incidentally). I was, back then, primarily a console gamer, now, 3DS aside, I very rarely buy console games, just look at how many PC reviews Iíve written in the last year or so.

Thereís a few reasons for my apparent switch from consoles to PC, one possibility is that PC and console gaming might have merged. Regardless the shift has happened and my preferred method of control is mouse and keyboard. Not for everything obviously, not for Hotline Miami, not for Ys Origins, not for Sonic Generations, nor Devil May Cry or Driver San Francisco. But for plenty of games, games that many people will use a controller for, like Spec Ops, Max Payne 3, Borderlands 2, Skyrim, Deus Ex Human Revolution. Something like Rage, the thought of playing a game that fast with a controller, not a chance.

My complaint in ĎWASDÖí was that using a keyboard for long periods is uncomfortable, having your hand in that position, fingers close together is slightly unnatural. Itís not agony or anything, nor is it completely alien, I mean my fingers almost fall naturally on to W, A and D, but all day sessions on something like Skyrim or Fallout have left me with some pain. Where I think I went wrong however was suggesting that an analogue stick for movement was quicker, more precise. It certainly has its benefits, analogue movement for one, but the instant movement of a key isnít to be sniffed at.

I complained about weapon placement, the use of the number keys is still less than ideal for me, but outside of Torchlight and Diablo I canít think of too many games that have required heavy use. Rage did a bit, it was better than going in to a menu to use more than the 4 set guns, and I used 1-4 on Borderlands 2 quite a bit because the scroll select wasnít as precise as it should be, but thatís about it. Well done Bungie I guessÖ

I still think the keyboard is less than ideal, but Iím not sure an analogue controller is the solution. The use of the fingers for movement, plus the extra options of more buttons, theyíre huge advantages over a controller. Add to that everyone with a PC has a keyboard, there may be a better way but itís never going to be standardised.
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Now that weíve reached that stage, we can confidently say a monthly fee is not needed, which deserves a double WOOT! WOOT!

No, unnamed spokesperson for OnLive, just no. [OnLive blog]
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