Category Archives: Gaming Universe

Downloadable content: A money-grabbing scam or the evolution of gaming?

Intro

Let’s start with some ‘Fate facts.’ I don’t like, condone or – on some days, tolerate – games asking me to pay real world money for anything in the game once I already own the disk. You can have your own theory about why I’m like this, and by all means feel free to let your imagination run wild, but for the sake of condensing it for this article it boils down to two very simple things:

  1. DLC splits the user base. You have a game, so does your friend. Everything’s great, you can have fun together. But because you got the expansion pass, there’s a chunk of content you can’t play together unless he pays another £10. Essentially, DLC has become a class divide between gamers that has terrifying similarities to Victorian England, and it’s getting worse. If you have money to burn and can afford a pre-order, special edition with digital deluxe and the expansion pass, you are burning close to £70 for some games. Say for example, your friend who, unlike you, has a family to support, only buys the regular edition for £40. Even if you disregard the massive advantage you are going to get with all your in game items, it puts a clock on the playtime you have together. Eventually, after you’ve done all the content you have, he will either have to pay extra to rise up to your level, or you will have to do that content without him.
  2. DLC offers developers the opportunity to sell you a half-finished product. This is the cynic in me talking – that’s a given – but I don’t think anyone who’s played a game post 2012 can disagree. Day one patches are just a commonly accepted fact, and that doesn’t bode well. Not to mention, some games seem to be such a step backwards from other titles in the same genre, only for the DLC to introduce new modes and mechanics that you’re pretty sure should (and probably would) have been in the initial game. A DLC shouldn’t be there to bring the game up to the level of its competitors, it should be the icing on the cake of the game that blows all its rivals away.

Now, I want to say that I understand that gaming has evolved in the past few years. That we’re no longer in the age where if your game had a fatal crash bug, it can be fixed without a full product recall. Sometimes, based on user feedback, patches and fixes are necessary and I have no issue with these if they are delivered quickly and are available for free. This, I feel, is an acceptable use of the technological advancements we, as a society, have experienced since the late ’90s

I remember gaming on the Sega Megadrive, Nintendo 64 or even on some early PC releases when the thought of downloading something to supplement your game was laughable. Sure, we had screechy 56k dial-up connections at that time – if you were lucky – and the graphics and file sizes for games were essentially what you could fit on a CD-ROM or three floppy disks, but we made it work. There’s not too much of me that’s nostalgic for that time anymore.

The pros of free DLC

In my opinion, no game was a bigger disappointment in 2016 than No Man’s Sky. Hello Games’ epic space adventure promised so much, and delivered on so little. It’s hyped up exploration system and procedurally generated universe made gamers and coders alike froth at the mouth in anticipation, only to receive what can only be described as a repetitive sequence of glitches, crashes and one of the shallowest gameplay experiences that ever existed. Just over 12 months have passed since then and No Man’s Sky has received several big updates to its core gameplay. Mechanics which were not present upon release, bug fixes and quality of life improvements all came later in a series of hotfixes. Furthermore, larger patches inserted new and improved elements to the world which made playing the game slightly more fun. Over time, this has culminated in No Man’s Sky being more of a 5/10 than a 2/10 that it was on release. If the team keep this up, they may yet salvage the game and any future sequels, and that can only be a good thing. Just like people, developers who learn from their mistakes will always get a second chance from me. Those who keep throwing out the exact same thing with a different coat of paint however…

Swiftly moving back on topic, all of these updates cost me nothing. Yes, I would have felt cheated and disgusted if they had asked for money for these improvements, but in today’s gaming climate that wouldn’t have been out of the question.

“You want this new feature where you can get a space buggy to drive around planets? That’s £5 extra”

And it would just be par for the course. However, Hello Games didn’t do that, and a year later No Man’s Sky is a better space-survival game than it was upon launch, and if you own a copy and dropped it down the back of your sofa the day after launch, come back to it, it’s worth revisiting (November 2017).

This is a great example of how you do customer service, but at the same time there’s no way in hell a company should have been allowed to put a product like this onto the market in its release state. No matter how you try and defend it – and there’s a lot of people who will try and defend it – if I have paid between £40 and £50 for something, anything at all, I expect it to work.

The cons of free DLC

Let’s look at a different game for the cons of free DLC. I could have stuck to No Man’s Sky for this bit, and maybe I’ll put up a post with more ranting later, but for now I’m keeping it as concise as I can (and failing). Instead, let’s focus on games that are fine upon release, games that need only small bug fixes or minor tweaks to stuff that goes on behind the scenes. Aside from general housekeeping a few days after release, once the game hits the stands and sells a decent number there’s really no financial incentive for a developer to go in and give players free DLC, even if it’s just a patch to fix bugs. They don’t NEED to do it. Regardless of how these entities may present themselves to the public, they are a company and in their most primal form exist to turn a profit. If they’ve already got your money you’ve no power or leverage to request anything of them FOR FREE. Some bug fixes and serious game crashes are treated to preserve their image of course, but after that they don’t need to do anything.

As much as it may make sense that developers need to protect their image, and service the fans of their products, or even just do damage control ahead of any sequel or other Intellectual Properties they’re thinking of launching in the future, there’s rarely going to be a backlash from the gaming community so large that it can turn a game from profitable to not. It’s just not going to happen with the size of the gaming industry and how well most things are marketed (exception: EA, Dice & Disney, 2017).

Free DLC also suffers in either quality or quantity compared to it’s paid counterpart. Take Final Fantasy XV. Every so often there are little pop up events, like Festive or Assassin’s Creed which are for everyone, regardless of whether or not you got the Expansion Pass, but most of these are just different skins or graphics in areas, or a few in game items that have a minimal effect on progression. The paid DLC, Episode Gladiolus and Episode Prompto, lets you play as different characters and features voice-acted campaigns, even if they are quite short. They say you get what you pay for, and that’s quite true a lot of the time, and be honest with yourself: you’d try harder at a job if someone offered to pay you real money upon completion rather than just saying ‘Thanks.’

The pros of paid DLC

The pros here are almost the same as the cons of free DLC. More financing means more resources go into development, which should equate to a higher quality product than a free once. Paid DLC also extends the lifespan of a game, rather than games just being done with a month after the release date, you get reasons to come back to it, new content to enjoy and quite importantly, it keeps the game relevant – which helps when devs announce their next project.

Another pro is that paid DLC can often be a showcase of what a company can do with increased capital, particularly smaller companies who might not have had a lot of resources to start with. Once they have their windfall from the success of the original release, they can reinvest some of that into their DLCs and improve on the quality of the game. A great example of this – if I’m being liberal with the phrase ‘smaller companies’ – is The Witcher 3, a great game, made better by its stellar expansions, and you can tell some of the money they got from the game’s early success went into the subsequent releases, and that money is likely to come back around to us as just something spectacular in Cyberpunk (at least, we hope it does).

The cons of paid DLC

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that the first con of paid DLC is that you have to pay, It’s right there in the name. Paying for a game you already have just feels alien, redundant almost, like as though somehow you’re being tricked, even if it’s clear that you’re getting something new and different.

Even if I tell myself over and over again that I’m helping the developers fund future products I still find it difficult to buy DLC packs, in fact, I can only say that I’ve bought four in my lifetime, and all of those are for games I truly loved. I bought the first DLC pack for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on my Xbox 360, I bought the Expansion Pass for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the Expansion Pass for Final Fantasy XV and the Expansion Pass for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m not counting Borderlands: The Handsome Collection as a DLC, even though it is a collection of DLC, for the simple reason that I paid £30 and got everything all in one, no download necessary.

In my opinion, these games showed me with their original product that they DESERVED more of my money. They set either a really high bar, or an impeccable foundation for things to move forward from, so much so that I took the risk with those games. Three out of four turned out to be great investments.

This leads me to the second con of paid DLC: Paying up front. In order to get a good deal with most DLC you have to decide almost on release day whether or not you’d be sticking with this game for the long haul. No longer is it worth it to buy the game and wait, then buy DLC one for £8 when you can get the Expansion Pass with three DLCs for £15. This isn’t helped when most retailers also do their own deals where if you get the Expansion Pass on the day you buy the game you get £3 or £4 off the RRP. What’s worse now, is the dangerous precedent set by Breath of the Wild (and I assume other games I’m unaware of),  for which you can’t get ANY of the DLC unless you get ALL of it. So you can’t pick and choose your packs.

Regardless of Zelda‘s cheek, it’s a common fact that the second or third DLC packs aren’t even detailed or even finished when the game gets its retail release, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a teaser or a slight inkling what will be on the first one. Seriously, guys who bought Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Battlefront II Expansion Passes recently, tell me what’s going to be in the second and third DLC packs you already paid for?

In essence, this is gambling. You’re putting money down for something that is a complete unknown, of unknown quality or quantity until a few weeks before it’s released. By which time they already have your money. Again, excuse me for being the cynic in the room, but if they’ve already got your money there’s no incentive to get things right, to produce something that’s better than average. They just need to hit ‘acceptable’ so people don’t feel like they’ve been had. The standard of the DLC needs to be barely passable to get most casual gamers on board, so the brief to dev’s might as well just be ‘Kick something out, and don’t kick up a fuss.” That’s even when you fail to take into account that paying an amount of money upfront for something you don’t yet know the result of is the very definition of gambling. If you’re a 16-year-old gamer who’s gone out to buy Battlefront II (a PEGI 16+), and bought the expansion pass, you have committed a crime, because gambling is only legal for over 18s. Of course, if you’re an average gamer on the street and you can tell me pixel-for-pixel what’s going to be in DLC One, two and three for Battlefront II, I’ll retract this.

Finally, and I promise that I mean that, the worst part about paid DLC is that it is becoming WAY too common. It’s not just a few games here or there, it’s not just your big FPS games which drop new map packs anymore, as it was in 2007 – 2011. It’s every single title worth buying. Whether you call them Triple A games, blockbuster releases or just ‘Big games’ they all have a paid DLC option, which is essentially increasing the price of these games from £50 to £70. Soon it won’t be an optional DLC, it will be a mandatory surcharge for a game service. What’s next? We have to pay for the DLC and then an extra subscription to connect to the internet and game online? Wait…

Conclusion

Paid DLC is bad, stop it, stop buying it. Paid DLC should be a privilege. To earn the right to put something like this into your games you should have to be a developer in such high standing in the gaming community that there’s a reasonable expectation that what we get from you is of an acceptable quality. Essentially, so that we can safetly assume we’re getting value for money. I’m sick of DLC being map packs or new characters which are just re-skins of old ones, or having to pay extra to hear the backstory of one of the main characters – I’m looking at you Final Fantasy XV (even though I already paid and played it and it was perfectly fine).

I think the key here, is that we, as gamers draw a line in the sand, and here’s my line:

  1. Any paid DLC should progress the main story of a game, or provide an alternate campaign or play experience that acts as a prologue to the game or as a direct continuation. DLC should not be used to fill in gaps created in the timeframe during which the existing story takes place.
  2.  Any paid DLC should be completely optional, and should not interfere with the gameplay experience of someone who hasn’t purchased it, or enable a player who has purchased it to gain, a significant advantage over players without – other than in the terms of narrative progression.
  3.  All companies planning to attach paid DLC to their title should have to announce the content of each and every download in the series PRIOR to the sale the game itself. Anything added subsequently must be a FREE download available for all players. – This would nullify my earlier point about DLC being gambling, as we’d know what we were paying for.
  4. The price of any individual DLC pack should not exceed 15% of the RRP of the game itself on release.
  5. The price of any Expansion Pass should not exceed 33% of the RRP of the game itself on release.

I thought of roughly 20, but some of them were impractical – such as:

  1. Ensure that the game, upon release, hasn’t had any features or modes deliberately removed and packaged into DLC to increase overall profits.

That would be ideal, but I see no way to properly enforce it, particularly since everyone who works for the company would have lots of interest in keeping their mouths shut.

Advertisements

Why do we play Video games?

Intro

It’s one of life’s little mysteries. Why do people like video games? My parents always thought they were a waste of time, a waste of my potential. Why would someone who was in the top 10% of their class all the way though school – someone who was smarter than the both of them – want to spend so much time sat in front of a screen watching animated pixels go back and forth? What made exploring a virtual world more enticing that the real one? Gaming for me started as intrigue, a source of imagination on a CD. However, before long it had twisted into an obsession, eventually becoming a compulsion so great that it mangled my right hand.

I originally thought it was a generation thing. People of my parents’ generation wouldn’t have had such universal access to technology and computing, they were raised on words and actions, not numbers and ideas. No one categorised them, tried to fit them into boxes – make them a statistic. Yet, there are those of my generation who are equally as baffled by the appeal and allure of great games. This post isn’t a review, it’s narrative. It’s my brain poured out in one long narcissistic drone detailing why I am enamored with the colossal entertainment sector that is video gaming – some people will call it an ‘about me’ page.

The Story

I was reading stories before most of my classmates. Not only was I aware that I was unusually gifted, but I tried for a long time to pretend that I wasn’t. Around the age of five, many of my peers were struggling to read basic words, I was enjoying sentences, paragraphs – languages. By the age of seven I knew that to every rule I had learned there was an exception, to every action there was an equal and opposite reaction, to every choice there was a reason to walk away. Video gaming was the first exposure I’d had to an unorthodox narrative – an appealing prospect for someone already bored with the predictable format of children’s books. With novels, the story only happens one way. In English, books are read from left to right and from top to bottom, songs are heard in a time signature which often counts to no more than four and pictures and paintings are static, these limitations were something I had started to accept as a given, so the only way to show progression, not repetition,  was to move faster through the linear works. Then came video gaming, which was the first form of academic rejection I experienced. At seven, I played a MS-DOS version of Tomb Raider. It had come with the first computer my family purchased. Experiencing it was a revelation. It was control, it was a story that wasn’t force fed, that wasn’t fixed in both its pace or eventuality, it was brand new, so new that even my father had no idea what he was supposed to do. As has become common with gaming, an incorrect move costs you any progress you’ve made. This effect has been diminished over the years as gaming became more… forgiving, with checkpoints to make any set back less harsh. But the first time I threw Lara into a spiked wall (a mistake of my own making), I felt failure, drive, a desire to do better. It was the first time I hadn’t been perfect, the first time something hadn’t just worked for me.

Imagine if you’ve spent your entire life running on a straight road, only for someone to throw up a wall. If all you know is going forward, the concept of going around the wall is so foreign, it would be scary, confusing and frustrating. A year or so later, I would come to call this learning.

Escapism

I think it’s safe to argue that most gamers would agree that games themselves are a form of escapism. Like the bookworm who reads Beckett or Hardy, the film-junkie who idealises Spielberg, or the artistic types who put pen or pencil on paper to create an awe-inspiring array of colour, we all need a break from the reality of life. The first time this occurred was before I entered my teenage years. I had engaged in escapist activities before then, but I wasn’t aware that that was what I was doing. But awareness came shortly before my 11th birthday. I needed a break from the parts of society I didn’t understand – as shocking as this may sound (!) interacting with other people was difficult  – regardless of age or gender. I didn’t understand people, I was naive and immature, equally aware and unaware of the dangers that awaited in the world. But I could escape.

Social aspects

In what I now understand to be a deep-seated concern about losing control, I started playing Pokemon Blue. As a portable game I could use it wherever I wanted, for the first time this meant I could game anywhere, escape anytime. This was particularly useful in circumventing my parents’ imposed limit on time spent on the computer, but it was less so about that than it was about seeing my time and dedication pay off in real life.

Based upon my previous experience with games, you’d play for you. You’d finish the game, and that would be it. I couldn’t go to school and tell all my friends that I’d finished it, because they would have no idea what I was on about. Gaming back then was a very intrinsic thing, it wasn’t cool, commonplace or all that multiplayer in design. At this point I’d played some Unreal online, using a 56k dial up connection, my first true multiplayer competitive experience. No doubt as I was only nine at the time, I was facing off against people much more tech savvy than I was. But Pokemon changed that. On school trips, there would be two of three of us all playing the same game on the coach, we’d be able to talk about what we chose for a starter Pokemon and eventually trade between games using really long and thick cables – in the days before everything had gone wireless. No longer was gaming something that you did only in your home, alone at a computer like some social pariah. Rather, any time I spent playing the game alone made me the envy of my classmates. Lonley nerd with no friends? Not when he can trade a level 80 Ponyta to someone who couldn’t even catch one on their game. While it would take the world a while to move from this to the fully-fledged multiplayer experience that currently exists on Xbox Live and PSN, it was the first cross over I experienced between gaming and the real world, and one of the first successful social interactions I’d ever had.

Creativity

In terms of media, gaming is a fairly new, albeit rapidly growing, industry. Cinema has been around for more than 100 years, music and photography longer still. Even television has roughly 60 years on gaming. This means that ideas, and inventions are likely to be new and innovative, simply based on a lack of what’s gone before. Just try it, think of a film or a song that is completely original – in which you can find no trace of anything that came before.  The reason copyright laws came into effect in the first place is because coming up with something original is more and more difficult in populated markets. I mean, seriously, how many times are we going to have to sit through a TV Comedy series which follows a group of twenty-something friends as they experience life’s little mishaps?

True, gaming has gone this way a little recently. We’re not always going to accept being stuck in a dystopian world and being asked to survive, but I think gaming still has a little blood to wring from the stone yet. Not to mention, that since 2001, TV has made fairly small leaps forward. Outside of streaming, the only jumps TV has made is the upscaling from 480p, to 720/1080p and more recently, the slow crawl into 4k.

Not only has gaming also made that journey, but it has done so without the direct help of reality. Artists, storytellers, designers, programmers and directors all come together to substitute real people for virtual models and contribute to an interactive experience that really puts film-making into perspective. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. It costs £7.50 to watch a movie at the cinema once, which keeps you entertained for roughly two hours. It costs £40 for a new videogame which can have in excess of 200+ hours of gameplay. And if you want to watch/play it again, you don’t have to pay that cost twice.

Compulsion

My own experiences with gaming may have started out as a combination of my love of stories, order and control but now, it’s much more of a compulsion, a need to experience, a need to complete. Whether or not it’s because I have some form of undiagonised OCD is something that has been debated by friends, family members and one suspiciously inquisitive therapist, but the truth is that ever since achievements / Trophies became a thing, I became a completionist. This is a problem for many other people as well. We don’t see every pixel, every effect on the screen because our desire is only to finish, to put it to one side and move onto the next task at hand.

I’m in my mid-twenties and I may have ruined gaming for the rest of my life. No longer can I look at the art work, the narrative, the concept and say ‘I’m really enjoying this.’ Instead, I’m driven to cross off achievements like boxes on a checklist, regardless of what I miss on the way. Gaming is now a simple matter of A to B in the shortest time possible, and because of that I’m broken. The sad fact is that as self-aware as I am – and that is quite self aware – my attitude has slipped through to my life in the real world. I am intolerant of people who aren’t as efficient as I am, those who can’t sit at a machine for eight hours uninterrupted at work, those who can type only 40 words a minute, those who lack the ability to use even the most basic computer software without step-by-step instructions. I am twisted, warped and maimed. Not physically, but intellectually, emotionally and spirituality. I believe in nothing but logic, order, numbers and statistics.

Knock on effects

These qualities make me a brilliant gamer, but they make me an awful person. I guess I wrote this as a form of apology for all of this behaviour, but also as a warning. I started gaming when I was six or seven years old. There are kids these days who can play games on their parents’ tablets before they can read or write. I can’t speak for everyone, but perhaps it’s time to pull the plug. I know I’m trying too. But it’s hard to disconnect, it’s hard to go offline when so much of your life exists in a virtual space. Not just through my Gamertag, or PSN ID. But because of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Competitivness that started in gaming has leaked over into other aspects of the internet. At what point did it become socially acceptable to post pictures of every meal you plan to eat that week, or to insult someone who uploads a music video online? These are just minor infractions, what started as trash talk between kill-streaks on games has become a vicious cycle of malice floating around the net. It’s not just the so called ‘Trolls’ that are the perpetrators either. If you click dislike on a YouTube video, press like on a Facebook status – and then don’t like the one underneath – you’re effectively gaming online. The statistics change, the algorithms work slightly differently and society changes.

I’m not expecting change, I’m just letting people know. I’m part of the problem, part of the disease – but you don’t have to be.

 

 


Christmas 2015: Xbox One’s Make or Break period

Intro

I’m not an advocate of the term ‘console war’ because I’ve always judged each console as a separate entity, much like I would a PC and a Mac – one is a much better machine for gaming and personal use while the other is a media powerhouse which is better designed for the sort of work I do. However, it’s becoming apparent that there are gamers who strongly support each console and loathe the opposition.

After release

Upon release the Ps4 took a resounding lead in sales, it had more power, better graphical capabilities and the user interface was much better suiting to gaming. The Xbox One, despite being slightly weaker in power, sold itself as a media centre prioritising family-friendly movie-viewing alongside the AAA releases that launched with the console. The problem for most people was that the Ps4 could do most of the same media-centre activities, as could the Xbox 360. For this reason, upgrading was sometimes redundant. However, as we approach the holiday season, more and more games are becoming current-gen-only titles, and making a decision between the two has become an inevitability unless you’re lucky enough to be blessed with great wealth.

In many ways Xbox shot themselves in the foot by prioritizing the media-centre aspects, as the hardcore gamer’s lapped up Ps4s in the weeks and months after release. This was of course helped by the Ps4’s ‘Share’ function, which is incredibly popular and was not available on the Xbox at the time.

Today

Years down the line Ps4 still has a sales lead, especially here in Britain. Microsoft had no doubt hoped that releases of Gears of War Ultimate edition and Halo 5 would boost console sales, and although they did, this Christmas looks to be a severe make-or-break for the Xbox One as a whole. Microsoft are boasting that this is their best ever gaming line-up, but is it?

Let’s start with the first of the salvo. Halo was arguably the crown jewel of the original Xbox, Bungie’s FPS was one of the best game’s I played in my youth, and Halos 2, 3, ODST & Reach expanded the universe across to the 360. Since 343 took over, the game is somewhat of an enigma. Halo 5: Guardians is the first one done solely by the development company, and was really an all-or-nothing title. Here comes Xbox’s first problem. Halo 5 lacks the narrative progression and character development that occurred during earlier Halo games which focused on revealing a rich universe in which the Master Chief existed. This instance relies on the players having background knowledge of the Halo Universe, especially with regards to Blue Team. A fine addition for those like myself who have followed the Halo story since 2001, but not for the new generation of 13-18 year old gamers, some of whom would barley have been alive at the time of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s release. The game’s campaign suffers as a result, but the multiplayer shines through and is arguably to the Xbox One what Halo 2 was to the original Xbox.

Still, in presenting a weakened campaign Halo is now pandering to the Call of Duty loving masses, no doubt trying to take a huge slice of the saturated multiplayer market. What could have been a solid strategy, instead will contribute to their downfall.

The next massive videogame releases are: Fallout 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Star Wars Battlefront (3) & Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.

Aside from Rise of the Tomb Raider, all of the above are available on both platforms. Tomb Raider itself is coming to PS4 early in 2016. Regardless of what Xbox thinks they’ve done by securing exclusive rights at least for now, Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t a strong enough title on its own merit to force Xbox One consoles off the shelves this Christmas.

Halo 5 was no doubt designed to sell Xbox One consoles, but to the shrewd observer a game with poor narrative yet excellent multiplayer is exactly what COD is. This puts Halo in direct competition with both Call of Duty and Star Wars Battlefront (3),the latter of which is likely to have sales bolstered by the ridiculous hype ahead of Episode VII’s cinematic release. What’s more, two of the above games are available cross-platform, which is becoming a recurring theme in this piece – Xbox’s lineup isn’t as strong as you’d think.

Looking Back

Take Metal Gear Solid V, until this generation of consoles it was a Playstation exclusive and The Witcher was a PC exclusive. These two games are going to go head-to-head for Game of the Year and I would be surprised if the winner wasn’t one of them. The key point of note is that both are available cross platform. Had Xbox been able to snare either one for themselves the console market would have been a much closer race as we entered Autumn and more people would have been swayed into purchasing Xbox One consoles by the availability of Halo and Rise of the Tomb Raider – I’m a strong believer that no singular game can sway a reasonable and right-minded gamer into purchasing a console.

For those who bought the Ps4 early on, I can’t see anything being written on gaming-Christmas lists other than the titles of Ps4 games. There’s not enough on the horizon to make anyone who already has a Playstation think about picking up an Xbox One. Regardless of the fact that I’ve been in love with the Halo franchise since I was ten years old, it alone is not enough to convince me to buy the console.

Hypothetically speaking

If I were to take an objective look at the market right now, I’d buy a Ps4 without thinking. The price has dropped to within a very reasonable range, the list of exclusive games on the Xbox side is weak and the graphical capabilities of the Ps4 is superior. I even think I’d consider buying a Nintendo Wii-U over an Xbox One. At least the Nintendo exclusives are being bolstered by the remastering of Zelda and the emergence of few Mario games.

In a completely hypothetical sense, if Microsoft wants me to part with the £300 or so it would cost me to buy an Xbox One, then I want all the following games out: Halo 5, Gears of War 4 (provided it’s an Xbox Exclusive), Final Fantasy XV (were it an Xbox Exclusive) and a new Fable game. Even then I’d only just be considering it. *edit* Upon review, and being completely fair to Microsoft,  I believe that were Xbox able to deliver Gears of War 4 and Mass Effect Andromeda as Xbox Exclusives then I would part with the money for a console.

This isn’t a console war: This is a last-ditch strike

Dripping with coincidence, Microsoft’s holiday season reminds me of a scene in Gears of War 3, in which Marcus and co are backed into a corner by hordes of Locust and Lambent with no way out. That is, until Dom jumps in the tanker truck and gives his life to save the rest of the team. Microsoft’s Christmas 2015 feels very much like this moment. They have been battered and bruised by Sony, and you have to wonder just what they had to give up to pry Rise of the Tomb Raider away from Playstation this holiday season – if anyone remembers back to the mid 90s, the original Tomb Raider games were Playstation exclusives before a few of the moved across to the PC. What’s more, is that I don’t think it will be enough. While we can all agree that Xbox won’t fall behind PC gaming in the pecking order just yet, they are a significant step behind Sony in almost every department even two years after the console’s release, and on their own head be the consequences if they don’t find a way to step up their game going into the first quarter of 2016.


Monk’s Game of the Year: 2014

 

Shadow of Mordor made Monk's list

Shadow of Mordor made Monk’s list

First to the Fight, First to the Feast

Just like Fatelighter’s Game of the year list, mine is also heavily biased, you know, since it is MY 2014 Game of the Year list. Likewise, I too have avoided the real big Triple A games in my list like Call of Duty and Destiny, but that isn’t because there are tons of reviews on them by proper game reviewers, but because… well… they just didn’t excite me as much as a Triple A game should. But I digress, let us jump straight in at number three.

Bronze: Dragon Age: Inquisition

I know both Fate and I begin with the same game, but it has got a lot going for it. I was truly taken back by the scale of this creation, especially since I had been let down badly by the likes of Destiny. Dragon Age has kept me coming back with its brilliant voice acting, storyline and ever changing combat, meaning that if I do get bored shooting my arrows, I can quickly switch to a tank and smash stuff up.

The game is certainly a winner with all its features, and as Fate said, it is a sight for sore eyes after what seemed to be the year of average games on our beloved consoles. Dragon Age: Inquisition piped Borderlands The Pre-Sequel to a Bronze medal, thanks to its epic story driven adventure and in game choices which always leave you wondering, ‘what if?’.

Silver: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Now I must say, I am not really a LOTRs fan, I have watched some of the films but I never read any of the books, so this game was a bit of a punt, and boy was it worth it. This Lord of the Rings game surprised me with its intense combat and awesome Chieftain mode and it helped get me through a week were I was feeling pretty ill.

Silver Medalist: Shadow of Mordor

Silver Medalist: Shadow of Mordor

The story isn’t the greatest I have ever seen and can be quite easily forgotten, but the sword fights more than make up for it. I just love find a large menacing group of Orcs and just butchering every last one of them with brilliantly worked execution moves.  On top of all the hacking and slashing one does to progress the games story, you also get to play a sort of mini game with the Orc War Chiefs. This little additional created some fun moments as you try and get your scrawny little Orc to become one of the 5 War Chiefs, hacking down all who stand before him whilst letting him take all the glory. (For anyone interested, you can read Fate’s review of the game here)

This game could go on to have an epic sequel. If they improve the storyline, further enhance combat and touch up the mini game… wow… just thinking about the end result. GOLD.

 

Wooden Spoon: Total War: Rome II  Destiny

I think the Wooden Spoon should go to Rome II, yes I know it came out in late 2013, but it really only became playable in 2014. But even so, it is still a HUGE disappointment of a game… Listen CA, spend more money on the game rather than your marketing… oh… and test your games before you release them, okay?
Moving on, mostly because Fate was adamant that it was a 2013 release, I’ve had no choice but to give the Wooden Spoon to Destiny. Fate summed it up pretty well, so all I can really add is what every person who bought Destiny asked themselves… Just where in the game did that £500million go?

Gold: Banished

Banished? Never heard of it.

Not surprising since it is a game made by a lone dude and a computer. But this little indie game just filled me with frustration, anticipation and then the inevitable joy (so long as you succeed) when your little village turns into a sprawling mass.  This is not a game about fighting, it isn’t even a true city building game, it is a survival game.

I feel I should do a full on review to give this game the full credit it deserves, but for now you will have to make do with the quick overview. In this game, you start with a few citizens and some resources, there is no end game, no final objective to strive to, just the goal of making sure your citizens survive whatever mother nature throws at them. My first few attempts led to my little villagers dying of starvation, which truly angered me. But when I finally mastered the game, it rewarded me with and huge sense of satisfaction, knowing my village was surviving and growing.

Gold Medalist: Banished

Gold Medalist: Banished

I could go on about my trials and tribulations, but what I will say is you must try this game, you can pick it up for around £15 from Steam. As I have stated, Banished is a survival game, and it has done just that, it has survived attacks from the big hitters and dark horses to emerge as a Gold Medalist.

 


FTL: Faster Than Light – High praise, low maintenance

FTL Main Screen

Intro

I’m going to use a word that I really hate using here, but this game is a real indie gem. FTL might not look like much, but the game is one of the best time killers around and deserves some praise.

Myself, I’ve been playing it on and off since it was released. It’s one of those little games that sticks in your head, sort of like when you play Dark Souls and you have an epiphany regarding how to get past a tricky boss. Although, you’re unlikely to need one here as the concept is fairly simple.

You are the pilot of a ship carrying important documents and need to reach the other side of a galaxy. ‘Chasing’ you are a group of rebel ships, and you only get a certain number of moves to make it to the other side of each system.

Concept

Each time you enter a system it’s randomly generated, so no route will ever be the same, and along the way you have to make decisions which affect the status of the ship itself and the lives on board. Each scenario is random, but most of them are tough decisions which could go either way.
Ship ChooserTo start with, you get a ship and enough crew to make it function. From then on you have to earn your upgrades through the currency, scrap, which can be earned from blowing up other ships. Or doing favors for some of the nicer people in the galaxy.

As you progress you come across merchants of all kinds of races and can outfit your ship with all the usual trinkets and toys, while managing their power consumption. It’s all about finding the perfect upgrade curve. You need to stay ahead of the rebels, but not rush through the current area so fast that you won’t survive the next one.

A game can take from between 15mins and an hour and a half. Plus, you can pause during combat to buy yourself the time to make the next move.

What’s brilliant?

It will become your own little addiction. Plus, because it’s fairly low-wearing on your GPU, you can run it on a laptop without any trouble, probably even some netbooks. They’re even exporting it for tablets, so if you’ve got an iPad you can get the mobile version now. Android users like myself are still in port-limbo. But I’m hopeful for a resolution sometimes soon.

FTL is a game in itself, but where it really excels is the FM Gap. Back when games had really long loading screens, I’d get easily bored, and would have to switch to another device while it loaded. The best example was when waiting for a level to load on SSX on Tour, if anyone can remember back to the PS2?FTL victory

While a level loaded, i’d pick up my laptop, click a few buttons on a game of Football Manager and set a match going. Then, around halftime I’d have another loading screen and could give the team talk and a few tactical tweaks and resume both games without having to be bored for longer than a split second.

Dragon Age Inquisition brought back the loading screens and although they are so much shorter on the Ps4 than on the Ps2, I’ve still been flicking back and forth. FTL is perfect for this short window of time mostly because of the in game pause button. It also excels because you’re only a little bit ‘connected’ to your ship. Unlike some massive RPG’s where you can get emotionally attached to the characters, you’re very aware that it’s unlikely that you’re going to get a perfect game. or indeed have a full crew survive to the end of the game; simply based on probability. Therefore, you’re not overly invested and can close the laptop lid if you find yourself getting distracted.

Brilliance indeed.

Conclusion

Now, as an ‘indie’ and not really a full release, FTL won’t be getting it’s own page, or category. What it will be getting is a whole load of praise from me and from anyone else that plays it as well, especially if you’re one of those gamers whose brain just won’t stop for a second.

 


Fate’s Game of the Year: 2014

Game of the Year 2014 heade

Lara didn’t make the list – it’s just a cool image.

 

Clearing the way

I’ll admit that the picture may be slightly misleading. Tomb Raider is not the Fatelighter Game of the Year 2014. However, it was the first review I wrote as a fully-functioning adult with a proper salary and a job in journalism. Admittedly, now that you know that you may start to expect better sub-editing on these articles. But 2015 will not be the year for that because I generally have about 10mins a week to come up with posts and write them. If I’m focusing on my writing I can’t play any games, and that would be a crime in itself.

Now, to business and I’m automatically disqualifying all the big hitters of this year as contenders for two reasons. The first is that if you wanted to hear someone raving about Destiny or The Last of Us, you could go to any other blog, or gamespot or IGN or another of the big tech/gaming websites. But this is the BIASED approach to gaming. Biased in my favour.

So really, these aren’t posts about what were objectively the best games. Unlike my reviews, which I’m as close to neutral as humanly possible (because it’s not actually possible for something with opinions to be neutral), this is a rant about what I enjoyed playing the most this year.

Bronze: Dragon Age: Inquisition

I hate starting with a game that was released towards the end of the year, not least because I’m over 80 hours in and still haven’t finished it. For some reason I get these strange compulsions to collect everything and farm herbs and metals. Not to mention all of my character’s companions are fully upgraded with crafted armour and weapons – something that is a real time drain.

But I can’t deny its class, depth and sheer star power. Some of the best voice actors and actors came together to make this one of the best narrative-driven games out for the current generation of consoles, and was a welcome end to the year after the disappointing amount of ‘okay’ games that populated the market between January and September.

Deserving of third place in the list, certainly, but it was very close to being edged out by The Last of UsIt’s at the top of many lists for a reason, and the remastered version is just a piece of art.

Silver: Infamous Second Son

The first ‘surprise’ entry on the list. This is a title that I didn’t enjoy the first playthrough, but its amazing what happens when you embrace the evil side of having powers are ramp the difficulty up to Hard. It’s your standard RPG with superpowers, there’s nothing fancy here. But that’s why it’s so fun.

Infamous Second Son 3

Silver Medal Winner

It never pretended to be the bastion for the intellectual, or the ground-breaking release of the year. In fact, it was looked over by most gamers who were waiting for a shooter to come out. If memory serves the next one out after Infamous was Wolfenstein. A solid pick, but it wouldn’t make round one of the draft.

If I’m buying a game for a great story, I’m looking at Bioware or Square Enix to do that, not Sucker Punch. Just in the same way that if I’m looking for a the least serious FPS I’ll ever play, then I’m going to shake Gearbox until they kick out Borderlands 3.

There’s just so much that is right with this game, and yet so much where they could improve. It was the perfect first installment of the Infamous franchise on new hardware, and not to mention it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Wooden Spoon: Destiny

Sorry all you Bungie fans, but I haven’t switched over to the dark side. I have not crossed over and become a slave to the EA or Activision sides of the FPS market. What I have done is taken an objective look at every game I played this year and found that many of them I didn’t even review. Some, like the Halo collection, were never meant to be amazing remasters. They were clearly just a stop-gap between Halo 4 and 5. Others, like Assassin’s Creed delivered well across the board but lacked anything outstandingly good or bad. Far Cry 4 and Alien Isolation were also up for the award, but ultimately the honor goes to Bungie’s shared-world shooter. Also, calling it a “shared-world shooter” didn’t do it any favours – it’s an aesthetically pleasing, yet ultimately shallow, MMORPG. Just get over it.

Full rant available here.

Gold: Madden 15

What? He’s got to be kidding!
No, seriously. Madden is the Fatelighter game of 2o14, and here is why.

Never before in my entire life have I got incredibly frustrated playing a video game, not since I finally finished Spyro: Year of the Dragon in 2001. An incredible 13-year-old dry spell of violence-free gaming was fractured while, unsuccessfully, guiding that Falcons to a Championship title. I’m not a massive NFL fan – yes, I will be watching the Super Bowl, but purely for the half-time show – and aren’t that big on sports games. But Madden 15 is the first game I’ve seen where I have legitimately thought:

Gold Medal Winner

Gold Medal Winner

I could just put two really good teams on exhibition mode, switch the camera to the TV position and order pizza. So good are the graphics and detailed the analysis that you could be watching the game on television. They even cut away to adverts in the same annoying way they would during real coverage.

If you look at games in a fairly simple way: They are either really fun stress relief, or are interactive video-entertainment with a story that’s better than the latest Tyler Perry / Katherine Heigl movie. Plus, I’m paying £40 / $50 for a game which eats up 40 hours of my time, as opposed to around £7/ $10 for a movie which lasts two hours and I have to pay ridiculous prices for snacks.

Essentially, that’s a ratio of £1 to 1 hour of fun in gaming, and £3.50 to 1 hour of fun at the movies.

Not to mention that in the UK you don’t really get any NFL coverage at all. Who needs it? With a fluid frame-rate, excellent graphics and stellar commentary I don’t need to pay a ridiculous price to get the latest action  because I can just relive all the plays as they happened on Sunday. And like any other EA sports game, they update the rosters and you can connect straight to your NFL fantasy team. Rather than a simple sports game, Madden connects you to the whole world of NFL.

So, that’s a gold medal for Madden 2015 in 2014. And all that was before the Seahawks v Packers Championship game. Super Bowl XLIX is going to be one for the ages.

– Do I need to say biased again?


Commentary on Croft: Sexism and Sexuality in videogames

For clarity’s sake

I’m a heterosexual male. I have known this since I turned 11 years old and, like many male teenagers and adults, I have found women attractive.

If you can remember back to ’98/’99 then you’ll know that society was less openly sexualised. Before the internet became the primary source for pictures of attractive women, ‘lads’ mag’ culture was the dominant form of female objectification.

Then came the rise of the internet and videogames.

Playing the most recent Tomb Raider, especially in the graphical detail available on the Ps4, lead me to a weird train of thought. Has the male dominated world of video-gaming de-sexualised Lara Croft?

Lara Falling

Maybe Not…

Back during Lara’s days on the PS1 and PC, she was this tall brunette with a massive chest and a tiny waist who had physical strength beyond what would be considered normal for someone of her build. Assuming of course that within the realms of the game she had to have this strength and agility to complete some of the acrobatics she could pull off, we can see the use of parts of this character. But did her oversized breasts serve any purpose other than to give male gamers some weird gratification while looking at a VERY pixalated woman? – Perhaps more importantly, how did we cope with those sort of graphics!

Off the top of my head:  look at games like Tekken, Street Fighter, Final Fantasy and Soul Calibre and tell me that they don’t feature female characters that conform to this weird ‘idealised’ stereotype.

Are times changing?

Looking at Lara’s latest outing has made me somewhat optimistic that the gaming community hasn’t just created female protagonists simply for male enjoyment. Rendered in some of the highest detail possible for a home console, Definitive Edition showed Lara as a younger and more innocent version of herself, and while some may argue that her figure is still an unrealistic target for real women, it is certainly dialed back from the renderings of years past. First off, she isn’t some Amazonian warrioress of six-feet in height with spine-busting sweater puppies. She’s shorter, represents the modern woman slightly better and has only the physical strength and ability that an athletic woman of her age would, which is a double positive for gaming realism and sexism.

But even though she’s no longer pushing blocks of solid rock to climb up ledges, and has considerably less cleavage to get in the way, the question remains: is she still a  model rendered to do ‘something’ for the male gamer?

Unfortunately, I think the answer to this question is as inevitable as the sun rise. The current gaming market is saturated with men, most of whom do not fit the stereotypical ‘gamer’ image the mainstream likes to push upon us, but at the same time are likely to be heterosexual – simply based on sexuality statistics.

By comparison, gaming’s biggest rivals in the entertainment industry – the music and film industries – have become so saturated with sex that I can’t really remember the last time a female ‘pop’ artist became absolutely massive without using some kind of ‘sex sells’ ploy, regardless of how much talent the starlet has.

Following the example laid by its competitors in the entertainment world, I think it’s safe to say that videogames on a whole represent women in a much less offensive way than the alternative sources. There are lots of strong women in videogames – Lara included – and there is no denying that sex sells. However, if you look a little closer, it’s nice to see that there has been some progress in creating a little more realism rather than idealism when it comes to rendering female characters.

Modern Lara may be a petite, girl-next-door looking woman with a more accurate representation of physical strength and ability than her Amazonian glam-model predecessor. However, she’s still anorexically thin and has almost perfectly defined features. The world is worried that overexposure to porn is ruining the adolescent male’s expectations of women, but with gaming now very much the biggest entertainment industry in the world, perhaps it’s time to cast a female protagonist who is occasionally sat around in sweatpants watching TV. No matter how realistic we can make virtual women look on the screen, they wont be able to – at least in my lifetime – enter the real world and think for themselves.

Tangent – has anyone made a modern version of Weird Science?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no moral compass

I’m not trying to leave my cynicism behind, or pretend that this blog will be read by intellectuals and Women’s Studies students, but I think it’s something the gaming community is just starting to dip their toe into.

I recently played the Remastered edition of The Last of Us, a game which received a great deal of press for its portrayal of characters by the LGBT community. Admittedly, it wasn’t completely obvious to everyone. Characters such as Bill, only had their sexuality hinted at ever-so-slightly; although Ellie’s dalliance with Riley had a little more bite to it.

Perhaps the best thing that happened in relation to gaming’s attitude towards the LGBT community comes from society itself. Gaming was once a very controversial thing to do, I know my parents thought I was weird for wanting to stay inside and play games rather than go out with my friends. But less than 20 years later, there are children as young as three playing Angry Birds on their iPads. Reluctantly, we admit that gaming wasn’t always as cool as it is now, but has gained acceptance from society. It doesn’t take a genius to see how someone concerned about society’s response to their own sexuality could retreat into the, often introspective, world of gaming.

Does Ellen look like Ellie?

Does Ellen look like Ellie?

A final anecdote while I’m on the subject. The Ps4 version of The Last of Us brought back the mutterings about Ellen Page being responsible for the mo-capping of Ellie. This is nonsense, but I’ll admit that the character bears a striking resemblance to the girl who shot to international fame with her role in charming Indie flick Juno. Now, not only has Page herself provided the voice acting for other video games (Beyond: Two Souls), but rather than deciding to sue the development company for stealing her likeness, she merely laughed it off.

As if that wasn’t enough, the actress recently made a public announcement about her own sexuality. The gaming world obviously drew on Ellie’s relationship with Riley and said that ‘virtual Ellen’ foreshadowed the event, but whether intentional or not some credit has to go to Miss Page, whose likeness and actions may have combined to create one incredibly powerful supporting statement for the LGBT community that find comfort in gaming.

All that and she’s not even 30 yet? I really have to get my own life in order…