Time is on my side

I’m fifteen. I spend an entire Christmas break off school playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. Two glorious weeks of murder, carjacking and ramping dirt bikes into the back of a cargo plane mid-take off, killing everyone aboard with a samurai sword and then parachuting to safety from the plane as it explodes above me.

Those were the days.  As a snotty-nosed teenager with time on my hands, I really had nothing better to do. And tell you what, I played the shit out of that game. There wasn’t a corner of Los Santos, San Fierro or Las Venturas I hadn’t left a mountain of corpses in.

Fast forward to last September. I’m ten years older. Grand Theft Auto V arrives in the post.

What no one ever tells you is that time is the first casualty of adulthood. I’m twenty five. I have a job now. I have a holiday allowance.

I have to make time for games now. After I’ve gotten home from work, had dinner and done any other bits and pieces of life admin (no one ever tells you about that, either), I can maybe squeeze in a couple of hours of GTAV before bed.

GTAV’s game world is enormous, a limitless playground filled with a pantheon of wonders to discover. It’s wasted on me. I can’t dedicate the fifty or so hours it would take to satisfactorily explore it.

I have, as the kids say nowadays, shit to do.

Fast forward to March this year. Dark Souls 2 comes out. I don’t normally go for that kind of high-fantasy RPG, but people raved about the first one, so I want to give the sequel a try. I read somewhere that a playthrough of Dark Souls 2 can take anywhere between sixty to eighty hours.

Rewind to a few years ago. I start playing Just Cause 2 and the size of the game world makes me anxious. It takes thirty real world minutes to get across the map in a super-powered rocket plane. There’s no way I’m going to see even half of what this game had to offer.

Fast forward to last Christmas. The Steam Sale is on. I pick up a bunch of games I know I’m not going to have time to play. I justify this to myself by saying I’m supporting the indie gaming scene, even if I’m not actually playing their games.

Rewind to October 2012. Borderlands 2 has its hooks into me. I leave work at 5.30pm on the dot to maximize time spent playing the game. I’ve been doing this pretty much all week, bending the routine of my life to support my constant need to play Borderlands 2.

Fast forward to the other day. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is announced. I already know I’m going to need to clear the three weeks after the release date of social engagements. I love the Borderlands series, but playing it is like being addicted to crystal meth.

Rewind to four years ago. I’m twenty-one. I use a week-long gap in lectures to get stuck into Mass Effect 2. I don’t think I’ve loved a game so much the whole gaming generation.

For an essay at university I read about the Ouroboros, the serpent depicted eating its own tail, disappearing inside itself.

Fast forward two years. Mass Effect 3 comes out. I come home from work on a Friday night and lock myself in my room to play it. On Monday when my workmates ask me what I got up to over the weekend, I say, “not much.”

Fast forward to now. I’m thinking about playing Mass Effect 2 and 3 again, but I don’t really have the time. There are too many other games I’ve got to clear off my backlog, too few hours to dedicate to playing games.

I need to finish this so I can go and play more XCOM.

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Wish You Were Here: An Ode To Great Videogame Vistas

I often give game graphics a hard time because I believe the dogged technological pursuit of hyper-advanced visuals can be harmful to gaming’s attempts as a medium to grow in other meaningful directions. Videogames, however, are essentially about letting you explore new worlds, and it’s no good if those new worlds look like ass. Remember what I said about glitter? Well, in some cases, the glitter helps. With the staggering abundance of great-looking games at the moment, it can often be easy to forget that games are so damn pretty sometimes. There have been many occasions recently where my eyes have wept orgasmic tears of joy taking in the impressive landscapes games are now capable of. So, finding myself in an unusually charitable mood, I’m going to talk about some recent videogame vista loveliness. Continue reading

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Videogame Auteurs: Will Wright

There are some games that resist explanation, eluding our impulse to define or categorise them. Obsession with genre is an affliction that the gaming world shares with pretty much every other art form around, and when a game or a film or a book comes along that defies our strict notions of what it should do we often turn to generic classifications to help us decipher what it’s trying to be. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, but isn’t a duck, then what the hell is it?

Will Wright’s games have often appealed to this human propensity to micromanage and manipulate, offering virtual playgrounds where it is possible to control even the smallest minutiae of the game world. Wright’s seminal enterprise-em-up SimCity, for example, was a sandbox game in the truest sense, tasking you with constructing an entire urban metropolis out of nothing, maintaining its infrastructure, providing electricity to its residents, and plausibly, defending it from alien invasions. There was no real victory condition in SimCity (though there were certain scenarios where you had certain targets to hit), the satisfaction in playing came from the pure joy of meticulously tweaking every single detail of your bustling megalopolis. SimCity would go on to spawn a whole franchise of simulators, from the country bumpkin animal husbandry barndance SimFarm to the downright bizarre tunnel-em-up SimAnt.

Calling your town Volcano City is kind of asking for trouble in this game.

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Some of Them Want to be Newsed by you: The Weekly Round-up

Black Ops 2 misunderstands the meaning of the phrase “Cold War”

So it turns out my predictions on what the next Call of Duty game was going to be were wrong. Yes, Activision have truly broken the mold and announced the tediously inevitable Black Ops 2. Be still my beating heart. For all the talk of innovation, what they’ve essentially done is taken Cod Blops, the only Call of Duty game not set in the present(ish) day, and made it exactly like a Modern Warfare game. I’ll concede that Blops 2’s trailer gave off some futuristic vibes, but all the robots and cool LED side tools in the world can’t shake off the sense of déjà vu I get seeing the footage. It’s the same war-ravaged urban environments that we’ve seen countless times before. Speaking of which, in what universe is this is a “cold” war? The whole point of the Cold War was that the two main antagonists never engaged in full-scale open conflict, choosing to fight their ideological battle through a hush-hush series of proxy wars, using foreign nations like pawns in a chess game. Blops 2 just looks too much like the all-out international hoedowns we’ve become accustomed to with Modern Warfare. To be fair, it does sound like Treyarch are experimenting a bit with more open-ended gameplay and narrative structure, implying you can fail to stop the main baddie if you fail certain missions, which sounds like it could be pretty interesting. Either way, until I see more of the game I’m going to take any talk of “breaking new ground” with a pinch salt.
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Casting Call: Max Payne 3

Making a movie out of a videogame is pretty much always going to be a terrible idea, as anyone who remembers the Max Payne film of 2008 can verify. But with the return of the gritty noir shooter series to consoles in a few weeks time, it is perhaps only a matter of time before Hollywood reboots the film franchise and pretends the original never happened. Rockstar, who have inherited the game series from creators Remedy, have taken the story of Max Payne 3 into some bold new territory, first by upping sticks and plonking the action in sunny San Paolo, and second by giving the titular Max a shaved head and a beard. This will narrow down the casting opportunities for the main role in the inevitable film remake, and I’ve helpfully included a list of actors who would fit the bill.

Bushy.

Brainy.

Travolty.

Melony.

Starey.

Thespy.

DeVity.

Flo Ridy.

No need to thank me, Rockstar.

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8 Videogame Characters Horrifically Unsuited To Their Jobs

Sometimes the fates must call upon a chosen hero to fight the battle against the forces of darkness. History is full of stories about men and women destined for greatness, people have been training their whole lives to accept the mantle and fight the good fight. When assaulted from sides by the dismal tide, the people you want beating back the unrelenting hordes of evil are the ones who have spent their entire existence preparing for the fight. This article is not about those people.

Mario (Mario)

Job: Fighting dinosaurs

Previous Experience: Plumber

Mario is like the Robert Muldoon of the Mushroom Kingdom, and unlike Muldoon, who is dispatched with embarrassing ease by the raptors he is the supposed expert on, we actually get to see Mario stomp the shit out of some dinosaurs. A history of plumbing might give you a pretty good feel for swinging a wrench, but even so, I’m not sure Mario’s day job really qualifies him for socking a T-Rex in the mouth. Undeterred by his worrying lack of lizard-mauling experience or skills, however, Mario proceeds to wage unrelenting reptile genocide with only a bag of mushrooms, flowers and feathers, and after thirty years of these games, he’s clearly proven his aptitude. Princess Peach does keep getting re-kidnapped by Bowser with astonishing frequency though, so maybe to avoid further royal mishaps Mario should I dunno, learn how to use a hunting rifle or something. His life would be a lot easier is Bowser would just stay down.

Every single character in the Pokemon games

Job: Blood sport trainers

Previous experience: Being 12 years old

If you think about it, the Pokemon games probably have the grimmest premise of any franchise. Consider how people capture wild animals, train them to fight, and then set them lose on each other in glorified cock-fighting matches as the crowd bays for blood. Then consider that all the characters taking part in this shocking blood sport are pre-pubescent boys and girls. Some of the monsters in the game world are ferociously violent and generally quite dangerous; I’m genuinely surprised the Pokemon games aren’t full of stories about little tykes that have been set alight by disgruntled Charizards or electrocuted by rogue Pikachus. This is the real-world equivalent of letting toddlers pit wolves against each other in cage matches, then letting the toddlers cuddle the wolves afterward.

Isaac Clarke (Dead Space)

Job: Slicing up alien deathbeasts, hallucinating

Previous Experience: Engineer

I’m unsure if they had a strategic dismemberment module on the engineering degree at the university Isaac Clarke went to, but I’m sure that even if iClarke had taken it, it probably wouldn’t have been enough preparation for a terrifying army of alien parasites. The engineering application of a tool that fires sword lasers is debatable, but either way I guess iClarke is pretty glad most of the engineering tools he’s familiar with are handily adept at dicing limbs too. That said, carving through metal girders and carving through snarling alien fleshbeasts are two very different things, so we must perhaps give credit to Clarke that he really does make the best of a bad situation and works with what he’s given. If I were as untrained in combat as iClarke, I would have to hope the Necromoprhs were repelled by urine, because wetting myself is pretty much the only defense I would be able to muster against them.

Gordon Freeman (Half Life)

Job: Revolutionary war hero, Alien botherer

Previous experience: Theoretical physicist, severe speech impediment

There’s no more damning a slight on your physical competence than if your job title has the word theoretical in it. With earlier entries in this list, like Mario or Isaac Clarke, at least their jobs provided them with some kind of practical abilities that could conceivably be adapted for murder, but Gordon Freeman is an academic: he’s basically a nerd alpha-male. The fact that Freeman manages to defeat an interdimensional alien invasion and then lead a revolt against a later alien occupation can thus only be testament to the impressive size of his cojones, because nothing he every studied for in his PhD would have been of any use to him. The fact that he manages to incite a violent, popular uprising in Half-Life 2 is also pretty spectacular considering he never says a damn word to anyone. I thought that charisma and rhetoric were necessary to lead a revolution, but clearly all you need are dorky glasses and a crowbar.

Every female character in the Dead or Alive games

Job: Bare-knuckle boxers

Previous Experience: Swimsuit modeling, possessing enormous breasts

It’s hard to imagine the twisted career path that would lead you from Maxim covergirl to professional fighter, but it’s an unconventional job-swap that sees the Dead or Alive character roster filled with buxom babes hilariously unsuited to brawling. In a totally mature and in no way masturbatory manner, the DoA series celebrates the female form by endowing all its ladies with cartoonishly huge busts, lovingly rendered and available for close inspection by zooming in from all angles. And as non-objectifying and totally empowering for women as that is, I have to wonder whether having two torpedoes strapped to your chest would kind of get in the way of fighting. It’s not as if the women in DoA even wear sports bras; no, to express their femininity they choose to let their busoms bounce freely in skimpy swimsuits as they thrust and punch and grunt and…sorry, what were we talking about, again?

Dante Alighieri (Dante’s Inferno)

Job: Slayer of hellspawn

Previous job: Poet

Like Gordon Freeman, Dante Aligheiri is man whose skills are intellectual rather than practical, what with him being a poet and all, and while it’s true that the real Aligheiri did have some combat experience, picturing him as an unstoppable demon slayer is a bit of a stretch. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem in the original La divina commedia, where all Dante does is wander around hell chatting with some of his dead friends, but in the hack-and-slash videogame interpretation of the epic poem Dante is a full-on beastie-bashing badass capable of killing Death itself, and it stretches the limitations of believability. I can’t really see a Florentine poet having the stones to take out the armies of Satan.

Ecco the Dolphin (Ecco the Dolphin)

Job: Defending earth from an extraterrestrial invasion

Previous Experience: Swimming, being adorable, happy-slapping porpoises

We often forget how trippy videogame premises can be, and the aquatic space defender simulator Ecco the Dolphin puts you in the shoes (flippers?) of Ecco, a bottlenose dolphin who has to battle aliens attempting to harvest all marine life. I’m serious, that’s actually the premise of the game. Dolphins are supposed to be smart, I get that, but I think that Ecco was biting off a bit more than he could chew when he took to job of repelling an alien attack. Ecco’s main strategy to defeat enemies is to ram into them really hard, which as invasion defence tactics goes is the equivalent of throwing babies at an oncoming tank. And how is he supposed to chew cigars and exclaim, “wahlcome to Earf” atop a smoking alien carcass like Will Smith if he’s under the bloody water?

Old Snake (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)

Job: Old genetically modified super soldier

Previous Experience: Young genetically modified super solder

To be fair to Solid Snake, he used to be one of the best in the business, the perfect combination of ninja and black ops soldier. He could take down gunships, tanks and giant robot dinosaurs like the best of them, dispensing gravelly-voiced one-liners like the consummate action hero. But time wounds all heels, as they say, and by Metal Gear Solid 4 Snake is starting to show his age, due in no small part to the aggressive virus secreted into his bloodstream that is prematurely aging him, turning Snake into everyone’s favourite octogenarian superspy. In spite of the pains and aches and the coughs and the splutters, Snake refuses to be put down, and insists on being dropped into the middle of wars and conflict zones the world over. If arthritis is a pressing concern in your daily life, then maybe you shouldn’t be fighting in a war. Just sayin’.

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We Bought A News: The Weekly Round-up

Valve are the Google of shooting dudes in the face

It’s perhaps fitting that the creators of Portal would have an employee manual that reads like a document from Aperture Science. Valve’s Handbook for New Employees surfaced the other day, and it’s pretty engaging stuff: working for Valve sounds like living in a hippie commune that makes genre-defining games franchises in its spare time. According to the manual, which gives the impression of being as much a piece of recruitment literature as it is a guide to those already working for the Valve family, employees are free to sit where they want, work on what they want, and approach senior members of staff with all the informality and camaraderie you would extend to a benevolent uncle. It’s an astonishing insight into one of the most revolutionary game developers in the world, and what comes across most is the sense that Valve believe an open, encouraging, fun work culture is necessary to make great games. I think the evidence speaks for itself.

 Activision have announced they’ll be announcing a new Call of Duty

It’s a sign of how bloated and overblown games marketing has become that even an announcement of a game’s announcement is a big deal. The unyieldingly popular Call of Duty is set for another inevitable sequel this year, and the main CoD website has transformed into one big teaser page for an imminent May 1 reveal. Word on the street has it that the next installment in the franchise will be the oft-rumoured Black Ops 2 (or CoD Blops 2, as I like to think of it), but we’ll have to wait till Tuesday to find out for sure. In absence of any concrete details, I’ve jotted down what I reckon the next CoD title will be:

  • Call of Duty: Hack Ops – you play one of a crack team of News of the World journalists battling your way through waves of celebrity voice messages to find a juicy front page headline.
  • Call of Duty: Black Octopus – you play one of a crack team of marine biologists battling your way through a wave (like, an actual wave, in the sea) to find a rare tentacled seabeast.
  • Call of Duty: Snack Ops – you play one of a crack team of London commuters battling through waves of rush hour human traffic to find a tasty sandwich deli.
  • Call of Doody: Crap Ops – you play one of a crack team (sorry) of plumbers battling through waves of – you get the idea…

No need to thank me, Activision.

The ZX Spectrum is 30, Google celebrates, Eurogamer gets nostalgic

Monday saw the 30th anniversary of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, commemorated by a charming Google retrodoodle that also paid tribute to the console’s English heritage. The brainchild of entrepreneur Sir Clive Sinclair, the machine’s affordability spawned an entire generation of bedroom programmers, nurturing an irrepressibly inventive and dementedly inspired cottage industry of British game development. Oli Welsh wrote an affectionate, impassioned love letter to the console over on Eurogamer, which is well worth a read, painting a warm, tender portrait of the irrevocable effect the Spectrum had on one man’s life, as well as the life of this country’s gaming culture.

Dead Space story producer slags off Gears of War’s writing, then takes it back

Chuck Beaver (seriously, what a name), the story producer of the creepy lateral limb-slicing Dead Space franchise, recently gave an official EA interview and used it as an opportunity to tear Gears of War a new one in the writing department. He called the scripting for Gears “atrocious,” “offensive,” and “literally the worst writing in games” before turning the figurative gun on himself and slagging off the story of Dead Space as messy and convoluted. EA, probably sensing they might have dropped themselves in the shitter with that one, have since removed the interview from its site, and Beaver has hastily recanted his earlier comments, issuing a statement dripping with hyperbole about Epic Games’ contributions to the games industry. There’s nothing worse than seeing a man with his foot stuck in his mouth forced to eat it, and the EA retraction (followed swiftly by grovelling brown-nosing) probably means that Beaver got a slap on the wrist from the powers that be over his comments. For what it’s worth, I’ve always preferred the story of the Dead Space franchise; I like the way the wider mythology lurks at the edges of the games. If the writing of Gears seems a little “weaker,” then it’s probably because it has a more functional role: it expertly gets the job done, propelling you through the action with nary a wasted word. Either way, I wish I had named this story “EA needs to keep a leash on its Beaver.” Sorry.

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