Tag Archives: Video Games

Consoles versus PC – The Mass Debate

video-gamesHere’s a debate which has been raging for, well, not very long compared with say the history of cutlery, but it is relevant to those of a nerd persuasion ie everyone on the floating citadel.

Back in the mists of time this debate spilled across the playgrounds of the country albeit in a different guise. Back then PCs were crap and consoles weren’t much better. Kids would trade punches and fight real battles to defend the honour of the Sinclair Spectrum against the mere suggestion that the Commodore 64 was a better machine (it was and anyone who says otherwise deserves a slap).

Skip a few years and the rock throwing was between the Nintendo kids and Sega kids. The Atari ST owners looked on smugly, whilst the kids with the Commodore Amigas knew that they were the top of the pile. But any machine was a lot of pocket money and if Santa Claus was dumb enough to bring you anything but an Amiga then you knew you had to justify your choice; that you had an ST for its better midi output which was about the only reason to get one. Cue lots of kids trying to pretend to know what that actually meant in reality.

Moving on to current times and everything is a billion times better than previously. Go back and play a game from yesteryear just to see how bad things were. I installed a C64 emulator the other day to revisit some old classics. It was awful. Gaming now is great. No doubt we’ll look back in ten years from our matrix style immersion tanks and laugh, but for now we are in a golden age.

Significantly, there are no real losers in today’s market. You can buy any up to date gaming platform and get some great games. Sure there are market leaders and some shaky outliers, but its all generally quality stuff.

Fights from the past do remain however to some extent, this time over the decision to play PCs or console games. Notice how I said play. Unlike in the past where gaming was an expensive niche hobby, most serious gamers will own both as relative prices are lower and the technology has more value in terms of use ability.

There are pros and cons to the whole PC versus console decision. A lot of it rides on game availability, the sheer number for the PC gives it a massive edge. Also the types of game, MMOs being a popular format and not widely played on consoles. Personally however I have not played much on my PC all year, choosing instead to spend my game time on consoles. For me currently its the ease of use that wins it, being able to switch on and get stuck in with mates without having to patch this or reconfigure that or upgrade this component to play. Having kids means my game times are few and far between and I want to get the most out of them.

No doubt most people will disagree as PC gamers can be such snobs!

Six Of The Greatest Computer and Video Games Ever

Ever since I could hold a dial contoller and make the lines go up and down on a pong machine I’ve been playing computer games. Not that that qualifies me at all to make any kind of judgement upon what makes a good game or not, it simply shows that I’m getting old and still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

So anyway spambots, I have been thinking long and deeply about some of what I consider the best of gaming… EVER!!! Obviously as I write this in the middle of October 2010 it may not be valid for very long… Indeed I might well have changed my mind by tomorrow, but here goes:

6) Mass Effect 2 – This game truly is a work of genius. Just about the only adventure game I’ve ever played where I actually gave a stuff about what NPCs had to say. I must have sat through hours of dialogue and not got bored, wore out the continue button, fell asleep or went off in search of food once. Remarkable. In addition, I don’t think I got lost in game either, saving literally tonnes of virtual shoe leather. Good adventures? This is how it’s done!

5) Modern Warfare 2 – The second sequel on our list proves the point that video games are utterly unlike videos. For those of you who are 20 years old or less a video is an archaic device used to store films and movies. They were big plastic bulky things, and if you were posh you could put them in covers that made them look like books from the side. Anyway, most movie sequels are about flogging the dead horse in a vain attempt to cash in. Game sequles are about taking a game and making it better. MW2 happens to be just about the greatest FPS game, technically and especially playability wise. Single player – great, multiplayer – amazing, co-operative – a right laugh. Yes PC owners whinge that it doesn’t have LAN support. It’s best played on a console where the playing fields are level and victory cannot be bought at your local PC component store.

4) Grand Theft Auto 4 – I know a guy from eastern europe who happens to be called Niko. He also looks like the protagonist of this great game. Fortunately he has never tried to carjack me or rob a bank. I did pay him to help paint my house and assemble a bathroom though, and I would say that maybe he’d be wise to keep his options open for a career in crime. Regardless, GTA4 is amazing. The attention to detail is fantastic. Even if breaking the law is not your thing you can spend hours watching the TV, going to shows and surfing the internet in game. It’s seriously hilarious. The game proper though is a great high quality adventure into the seedy underworld of Liberty City, with enough freedom to keep you playing for days. It’s the jewel in the crown of Rockstar Games, but also recommended are the similar Grand Theft Cowboy (Red Dead Redemption) and Grand Theft School (Bully).

3) Gears Of War 2 – Want a game with sex drugs and rock n’ roll? Pfff… that’s for wimps! Get up close and personal with one of the most brutal and excitng games you’ll ever play! Once you’ve hacked, slashed, blasted and sawed your way through an excellent single player or co-op campaign, you then have the further fun of brilliant multiplayer options. Gears of War 2 has a serious ace which will keep you hacking, slashing, blasting and sawing for years to come. What? Two words – Horde Mode.

2) Bayonetta – What the heck is this doing at number two? I’ll tell you what, it’s a veritable feast of awesome. Everything about this game is absolutely stunning and I’d say that even if the main character was a fat bloke called Dave who walks around with his wang out. Visually it’s incredible, aurally it’s amazing and it all glues together with such seamless effortlessness and flow to produce the ultimate beat ’em up. Give typewriters to an infinite number of monkeys and eventually they’ll produce the full works of Shakespeare. Give computers and hallucinogenic drugs to an infinite number of programmers and I don’t think they’d come close to producing something this crazily amazing.

1) World Of Warcraft – The greatest game ever made. Seriously. Hmm, I am beginning to doubt my own sanity. But just look at it, Warcrack is so immersive that it’s very hard to find a regular player who hasn’t had some kind of addiction to the game. It’s phenomenal once you get into it, all you need is a PC with GameBoy type specifications and a smattering of social skills and you are off into this crazy world of adventure which can and literally will suck your life away. The repercussions of Warcrack will become apparent in a few years as a generation comes of age lacking in qualifications and suntans, having squandered the best years of their lives holed away in basements doing the safety dance and grinding their Hodir rep. Good? – definitely. Addictive? – dangerously!

Things Not On This List:

1) Old games – Populous was great. Notice the WAS. Resident Evil was incredible. Again notice the WAS. They’ve all been redone, a million times better on far superior hardware. Only a true masochist or someone living at the bottom of a swamp would think that Elite is still the best space opera game ever. Groundbreaking, yes, the best game ever to grace the BBC Micro, sure. Possibly the best game on the planet by a long way on it’s release. Take off your rose tinted spectacles, play it on an emulator and see how it pales in comparison to games you can even get on your mobile phone.

2) Nintendo – Run by plumbers? Never played any of their games in any serious measure (well not since they refused to add blood to Mortal Kombat on the SNES, a bit like doing a wrestling game without the spandex). I do own a Wii, which is revolutionary in terms of game controllers but its a kind of fun thing for social gatherings. I don’t rush home from work to get in a round of Wii Sports Golf. Oh yeah, Goldeneye 64 was the best game of it’s day, but see ‘1) Old Games’.

3) Any Other MMO – Warcraft is far more popular. Admit it, you invested 3 months in levelling a toon in a game people only play when the WoW servers run maintenance.

4) Sonic The Hedgehog – Haha not a chance you spikey freak!

How Many Tauren Can You Fit on a Mesa? – 6 Inch Move Explores Level Design

While we are primarily a tabletop wargaming blog we sometimes offer up other topics, from music to video games and anything else that really falls under the “art” bracket, because really, that’s what all these things are. Now, for today I have something to express that I have been thinking about a lot recently, however, being a lowly IT Manager I am completely unqualified in the arena that I want to talk about. Good job this is the Internet then, where people with no qualifications on the subject matter can offer forth their opinion in a spirit of wisdom and understanding. It’s almost like being a critic, but without the wisdom and understanding part.

Referring back to an earlier post where I talked through virtual worlds, whether literary or audio-visual and their ability to suck us in with an immersive experience. In the video game context that I want to use the primary method for this is the level design. No matter how awesome the story, if the environment around you doesn’t feel right then things start to jar. However, some poor environments can be overlooked if a good story makes use of what is there. I reckon that we therefore need to start off with an example; look no further than perennial MMO giant World of Warcraft, a virtually seamless world where you can walk from one end of a continent to another without seeing a loading screen. Certainly one of the features that has endeared me to the game over the years, I don’t think at the time of release any other MMO allowed you to go through the game world in such a seamless manner, I came from EQ where you’d warn your guild you were “zoning” if they were going to be talking about stuff while you switched areas and had to load.

Even in such a seamless environment with varying climates as you walk around the place there are a few things that stick out to me. Azeroth is a living and breathing world, filled with magical creatures beyond count and home to a vast array of humanoid species. So, let me ask you, do you really believe that each of those civilisations can acutally live in large numbers in their capital cities? Hopefully you can see what I mean, while cities like Silvermoon, Stormwind and Ironforge seem like they could harbour a large number of people, the designs and layouts of the others do not make that impression, at least to me. I cannot believe that the entire civilisation of Tauren can live on such a small pinnacle of rock as Thunderbluff is. I would imagine that there are thousands of Tauren for a world as big as Azeroth, sure they have outposts here and there but none of those look like they are habitable either. I think quest hubs are a great show of bad design, they are there to show a collection of people who never move and just serve up quests. None of the camps that I can think of from the top of my head actually look like people could survive in them. If you look at a game like Vanguard or Age of Conan the cities there really are sprawling and you can imagine a good number of people living in them.

For me, badly laid out towns, cities and villages break my “immersion” I am reminded that I am playing a game and even though these fantasy worlds make their own world I will still apply preconceptions from real world examples when I am playing. If I do not register a place as fitting within those parameters then my suspension of disbelief is broken.

Another game where this comes into relief is Mass Effect 2 that I have been playing recently. Here is a game with a fantastic world with a Codex that breathes huge amounts of background into the universe with believable characters and a moving story. I find it very easy to engage with the Mass Effect series and Bioware games in general. However, at certain times the level design leaves a lot to be desired, while in general each of the places that you visit you can imagine expanding beyond the areas that you can physically walk around, sometimes the way you are guided through specific areas and seem to be “on rails” sours the experience. In ME2 I have recently been completing the loyalty quests for my crew, I only have Jacob left to do, having successfully completed all the others on my first male Shepard, the Paragon option I use. I like these quests because they expand upon the characters history, they are short so they don’t detract from the main mission and you can quite happily spend a little time just hammering these out and seeing what happens and what options you get. Yet some of the levels you go around just seem out-of-place. While you are walked through a lot of areas to get to objectives things you can see in the periphery work in their favour, going through the Migrant Fleet fighting Geth feels like you are on a ship, however, going through the “labs” on Tuchanka doesn’t feel the same.

I put this, rightly or wrongly, down to the quality of level design. As I said before I am not a level designer, I have no creative input into these processes but as a gamer I know what feels right and what doesn’t. Generally not all levels are going to be stellar in terms of their quality but it’s one of the most unfortunate aspects of gaming that you get involved in a story or a world and you come across something that rips you back into your seat and reminds you that you are a fleshy human sitting in a chair in a living room or study plugged into a video game. Not that I have a problem with our world, it is certainly a unique creation filled with wonder, we humans just end up trapped into a very small part of it.

I’m also not espousing that all games should have a huge and open world where you can go anywhere or do anything, I kind of like being walked through things in Mass Effect, it means you are always headed towards your goal and not getting lost. However, I’d like to think that eventually we can get to a point where a world really feels lived in through all its environments, this may be one of those holy grails of gaming when we talk about immersion and there are certainly games that give this a good go.

Video Games – Studios of Renown

As I move slowly through the 4th decade of my life it’s interesting to look back and see the path that I have trod and the things that have happened along the way. I was born way back in the seventies and have therefore seen the rise of the micro-processor and the wonders of the home computer. Having witnessed first hand the changes that have swept through industry during the previous twenty years or so I was enjoying comparing how things used to be when I was at school growing up to how I view things now.

One common theme is that there always seems to be a few stand-out studios that really seem to just own the video game space. While I am sure that there are many that people could list, from my own personal viewpoint I may see things differently. While names like Infinity Ward and their Call of Duty series now own the FPS space I remember back to the nineties when if something didn’t come out of id Software you pretty much knew it was going to suck. The Doom series and then Quake really pushed forwards the FPS market and there were a lot of FPS games around at those times. While there are some nowadays I feel the choice is a lot more restrictive than it used to be, but more than likely it is just that I am not playing those types of games that much anymore.

However, from my dim and distant gaming past there is one name that stands out as a shining beacon of yesteryear a studio that was absolutely brilliant in what it did, a studio that produced games that I actually went and finished in some cases, but I remember my shelves filled with their titles. Let us bask in the glory of…

I spent many an hour trying to figure out exactly what you were supposed to do in Populous. But if you look beyond that first title we see some of what I consider the greatest games of their time. While development and the power of PCs moves ever onward I think we lose out nowadays as many of the game types and the innovation of the last decade of the 20th century are consigned to history. I remember titles like Dungeon Keeper, Magic Carpet and Syndicate blowing me away. Bullfrog were one of the seminal studios of the era, producing new and interesting games that you weren’t seeing anywhere else. Ocean were producing flight-sim after flight-sim, id were the masters of the FPS, Lucasarts were consistently producing good games in-house (Tie Fighter, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, Sam & Max, Monkey Island) and we, the gaming public were awash with a whole heap of games that you wanted to play. Whether I am just less involved with the gaming market due to my advancing age, or whether things really have changed I just don’t see things the same way these days. There appears to be a lot less innovation in games, less of the little gems that you weren’t expecting and turned out to be really excellent.

We seem to have moved from some genre-blurring games to very specific titles, we still have FPS, RTS, RPG and the now ubiquitous MMO, but we lose a lot of the adventure titles and space simulators that I loved. I do think the MMO market has something to do with this reduction in variety as we were very much stuck in the single player and maybe LAN multiplayer as I was growing up.

While Bullfrog stole the show (for me) during my formative teenage years there is a studio today that I have to say excels in nearly all it does. You may also be surprised that I am not picking Blizzard for this accolade, sure they did Diablo, Starcraft and unleashed the world’s most successful MMO from their Warcraft franchise. No, I have another company in mind, and while they specialise in one arena only, they do it with aplomb.

There we have it, for me these guys are probably the premier development house in gaming at the moment. Their vast repertoire consists of the most accomplished (literally and critically) RPGs over the past fifteen or so years. From their beginnings with Neverwinter Nights through the massive selling Knights of the Old Republic through to the current best-sellers Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Bioware have breathed life into a genre that provides alternatives to the current domination of MMOs. While The Old Republic will see them also trying to take a slice of this cake I look forward to their trademark attention to detail.

I am currently enjoying Mass Effect 2, carrying on from the character I used during my first completion of the first game. What amazes me are all the little touches, the vast quantity of information available, not only when visiting an uncharted planet but the wealth of material in the Codex. This was also in Dragon Age, you felt a part of that world, it sucks you in and immerses you. I truly feel that these are like visual novels, they suck you into the story and you are unwilling to put it down, constantly playing just to see the next “chapter” play out. Very few games for me will pull me in like this, sure there is the grinding of levelling in MMOs that I can get into and beat out a rhythm but to actually want to keep playing to see the story pan out, that is a rare treat I feel.

While I still lament the demise of Bullfrog and their innovation I appreciate the supreme skill that Bioware bring to their games, this excites me about the possibilities for The Old Republic, I love Star Wars and having a Bioware tag on it already makes it stand out, Galaxies was a good games before the NGE destroyed it and I know I am not the only one to feel that way. A Star Wars MMO is certainly something I look forward to diving into again. Bioware for me are the current top of the pile for games developement, while we seem to have moved to a place where the studios only develop one specific kind of game now that doesn’t mean we don’t see the bar being raised and I look forward to seeing what the future brings.

Porn Star Punts “Pr0n Better Than Video Games” Shocker

Sorry for going off blog topic again, I know I said I had a lot of posts in mind and I do, but sometimes you come across something that sparks the nerdrage. Today is one of those days.

Now, I tend to try and stay apprised of how things are going out there in the big wide world via following the news. This allows me to stay informed on current affairs but also occasionally I’ll come across something that only following the internet will actually serve up. Hence this article from the BBC. Go ahead and take a gander, I’ll wait here while you digest what is going on there.

Ok, done? Right, hopefully you are of the same opinion as I am and that is that surely there is, at the least, a small conflict of interest going on in this story. I know nothing fits the computer nerd stereotype more than some balding, middle-aged singleton living in their parent’s basement playing video games in their pants while downloading copious amounts of videos involving overly-amorous busty ladies. I know that isn’t really the meat and veg of the article but you have a guy that makes his living out of whipping his manhood out isn’t it rather trite for him to then decry that his main source of income is less salubrious than violent video games? Let’s examine this shall we?

Should little Johnny have access to either of these materials? In my opinion no, pr0n isn’t up there on my list of “Things to do with my Free Time” anyway but I understand how prevalent it is in society these days. The fact that you gave little Johnny a PC and allowed it to be in his bedroom where he spends a lot of time without parental supervision may be a situation that needs reviewing before decrying the evils of various media types. Is one more damaging than the other when we roll out the usual “think of the children” alarmist slogan? In one we have a fantasy environment removed from the law of action/consequence that occurs in real life, most people are perfectly aware of making a distinction between what happens in a game and what is acceptable within the societies in which we live.

Now, seeing two people wrapped together in various states of genital stimulation is not removed from any sense of reality. Even with in the media that these things are performed, whether as a “proper” movie with a semblance of a plot etc.. or photos published. Any person offering their consent can be caught up in performing the same acts that are depicted in this form. I think that pornography reduces the human character into a state ruled purely by the more bestial instincts of our characters. I am a married man and can appreciate the benefits of a sexual relationship to increase the love and bond that exists between two people that have made vows to each other. At its most basic sex is the process by which life is created and that power should never be something that we take lightly, nor for granted. Depicting that act in the manner it is shown in pron is something I find quite disturbing, that is just my opinion though. If people want to recreate these things in their own bedrooms then go for it, you have a choice here. However, little Johnny certainly shouldn’t be viewing this kind of thing. I understand that currently there is a trend to treat all our kids as adults, or that we shouldn’t hide things from them, but surely the rules that we abided by growing up were set by our parents to help us out. Why shouldn’t we do the same thing today?

My opinion is that when children are accessing the Internet or playing their games a good parent should vet what they are doing. If something has an 18 rating it’s a sure bet that it isn’t really suitable for people of a much younger age. I’m not going to get into the argument here whereby “kids will see it even if we stop it at home.” If that happens then there may not be much you can do about it, however, you can police what you do at home and set standards for your kids and let them know what you find acceptable, you have the choice to set those standards and help your kids to keep them and understand why. Both of these artforms can be harmful when viewed by people who will not understand them. I’d be much more tolerant of a video game than my (hypothetical) kids getting access to porn. I already plan on not letting them use a PC unsupervised and with software restrictions. I will set what they can and cannot play, irrelevant of how “unfair” that may be seen.

This article to me is another example of the concept we adhere to these days that someone else is at fault for the problems of my kids. It can’t possibly be anything to do with me, I gave birth to them afterall, surely I shouldn’t have to do anything else with them, school etc.. is the place whereby they should learn what they need? I don’t agree to this, the foundation of all learning is the home, the world does not teach things I agree with all the time. If I want to choose what to teach my kids, what standards and morals I expect them to uphold I have to do that at home. I do not accept that I can palm off that responsibility to other people, should I do that I empower them to mark how my kids will behave and what they will find acceptable. I fully expect to have to take an involved role with my children and let them know what I expect of them. Will they get to play violent video games, well, I did so I’d be hypocritical if I stopped them completely, but I will look at stuff individually and make a judgement of when it is appropriate. Personally I never feel that pornography is appropriate and I will have to educate my children therein, however I do not expect to be told by someone who has made a career out of the so-called “adult” entertainment industry that their smut is not as bad as what can be seen in another industry. especially when that industry is already being hyped as the cause of a lot of the problems young people face today.

Irrelevant of which side of the pr0n/gaming divide you find yourself I do not think there can be any doubt that the real issue lies with people not taking responsibility for the choices and their action/inaction in the spheres they find themselves.

Normal programming should resume tomorrow /rantoff

Computer Games – Now With Added War Crimes

I know what you’re thinking. “Does this guy have anything to do other than sit online blogging?” Well, sure but sometimes you need to get things aired and there is no better medium for finding people who are willing to agree and disagree with you than the highways and byways of the Interwebz.

Therefore, I’d like to direct your collective attentions here. This has the potential to be a highly charged topic. I know this isn’t specifically a video games blog but  every single contributor here spends time playing them and as it’s our blog we’ll damn well post what we want! So, perhaps a civilised discussion about this then?

To be honest, it may be perceived that I have a bias as I’m sitting in the video game playing community side of things, I don’t own Modern Warfare 2, nor do I plan to. However, we see more and more in the media an attack upon video games as a form of entertainment. Just like rock n’ roll in the 50’s we have a new media being accused of the corruption of our youth. I’d like to think by now that humanity would have caught up with that people are free to make their own choices and sometimes they choose badly. This is nothing new but as society has aged and grown we have now entered this amazing era where someone else is to blame. Your kid goes out and tries to car jack some dude on the street? Must be GTA IV’s fault, after all, he’s been playing that for weeks.

Well, perhaps your 13-year-old shouldn’t be playing a game that is rated 18, you could also do some crazy thing like interact with your kids rather than let a console do the job of raising them… outlandish idea I know, I fully expect to be burnt at the stake for such radical and dangerous thinking. However, let’s have a proper look at just what the article linked to is saying.

War crimes are capable of being committed in computer games. You could argue that regular crimes are committed in computer games all the time and yet not all gamers are repeat offending compulsive criminals. I’ve pickpocketed stuff on my Rogue in Warcraft but have never lifted anything (nor tried it) from an actual person. We could also look at real warfare, war itself is a brutal act of destruction and invariably good does not come out of it. I’m not going to go into history and pick specific examples of anything but I do not believe that war is good, we consider ourselves an enlightened species yet we still fight each other over perceived differences. Being able to commit war crimes in a computer game is, to me, no different from the often seen lack of regard for the so-called rules by many parties engaged in armed conflicts. If you want to show through a media such as the computer the true decisions that are faced by a man on the ground then obviously they are doing a grand job. It is even possible that if certain acts are performed covertly enough or with enough like-minded individuals that in real life it is possible to get away with these things. There are many armed forces around the world today that are committing what are defined as war crimes and yet we get all hissy over a game that allows someone to make those choices. Yes, perhaps there could be some repercussions from those choices (more traditionally RPG territory though) but you tend to find that it is only the west that really and truly abides by these conventions in the conflicts going on in the world today.

Now, is this really about war crimes or, more likely, just another attack at the video games industry to create sensational headlines that will help to sell copy? I’ll leave that to your judgement. However, not everyone that plays these games is a sociopath. In RPGs that allow you to take different moral routes I will often play through at least twice in order to experience both sets of outcomes, I personally find it a lot harder to go through the bad as opposed to taking the good. Yet, in video game land, I can be an uncaring, insensitive person without having to face the consequences myself, however, the character inevitably does. Is it really any different than reading certain works of fiction that portray these kinds of things, or watching a movie?

Yet, while these kinds of media are accepted as soon as something appears in a video game everyone is up in arms. Perhaps this is due to the fact that video games are so prevalent in our homes that society feels compelled to yet again cry out with “won’t someone think of the children” well, in my opinion the person that should be thinking of the children are the parents and they should exercise discretion about the media that their offspring are subjected to. This may not be the preferred method of parenting these days but I think we can all see the consequences of that right now.

I imagine this story will have its moment in the sun and then vanish into the ether alongside all the other “computer games will bring about the apocalypse” style stories. I’m just stunned by the fact that people are bemoaning that a game allows you to commit war crimes (something that isn’t new to video games) when so many real life armies flaunt these “rules” anyway. If everyone agreed and fought the same way, then perhaps they’d have a case, by something that is supposed to represent the real world being labelled as bad because it does a good job of mirroring real life… well, I have no coherent answer to that.