On A Rail

 

 

On a rail is a level from Half-Life that has received mixed reviews over the years but is most generally less liked for a number of reasons that I’ll broach on later. I say broach, because today’s article is less about the actual level, or overall game itself and is probably only tenuously linked to video games, I promise you it’s a link nonetheless though!

For what I intend to do is to reiterate to you, the musings I’ve been having, on a life lesson I feel I learnt partially from gaming. A statement on life which I wish to proclaim to you, using this particular level as some kinda segueing analogy.

So now that’s out of the way I shall digress.

 

Why On a Rail?

The title is a play on words regarding the ‘rail’ aspect of video games in general and the starkly obvious fact that you are on a literal railway line, do you geddit?

If you think about it, for the most part, what are games but predetermined tracks for you to traverse and triumph over? Even beyond the most obvious and extreme examples of these, such as rail shooters and platformers you cannot escape this element anywhere. In games with the highest level of autonomy afforded to the player, to actually play the game, you’re still confined to the encoded conditions of the rail that’s set before you.

I’ve learnt many a thing from the time I’ve poured into gaming, from history and politics to the more niche facts of life like, Tails of sidekick fames real name is actually Miles  or violence is actually okay and I should shoot up schools (kidding it’s just what yank politicians and the media would have you think.) There are a myriad of lessons about the real world we can find through gaming, alone or with others.

I’ll give an example of one I learnt with others;

My Dad got to the last level of Sonic Spinball and paused it whilst he went to work. I came home from school and excitedly ran over to our Megadrive when I saw it was on, firing up the screen to see what was on it, instinctively and stupidly I unpaused, in awe of a new part of the game I hadn’t seen yet – immediately dying and getting a game over.  I was frightened he would be mad at me, as I would be if someone screwed up my attempt to finish the game.

However, when he got home and I confessed it to him, he merely smiled and told me – ‘I only paused it so you could see the last level.’ If that don’t teach you something then I don’t know what does! I’ll let you come to the conclusion on what it taught me. To put it simply, gaming is a mirror from which we can learn about the real world, life, ourselves and others.

Whilst I could spend hours talking about the teachings to be had in the satire and political commentary aspect of games, my introduction to the Cold War virtually being through Red Alert 2, what I’m going to focus on is a little more abstract and quite personal.

 

 

Off-Track and Turning-Tables

Over the last year or so of my life I’ve had a lot of deep dark troughs and some lofty peaks, as you do. With my mental health suffering I had stopped writing and allowed not just my blog, but my life to stagnate.

It felt to me like I was on a rail of someone else’s design, trapped in a level I couldn’t beat. When I analysed the game of life like that, I realised I was ignoring one vital element and lesson gaming had taught me; every level is beatable if you persevere.

You may not be on a track of your making on a path of your choosing, in a world that’s hostile. You may be on a rail ride you didn’t plan for you, but in life, as in games, you have the agency to make all the difference that you can in the parameters you’re dealing with. You can progress to the next level, get past the bit you’re stuck on, with determination you can learn how to beat it.

So I’ve decided to pick back up the controller so to speak, I had given up but I’m back in the game and I’ll always come back to it. Even if I need to hit pause for a bit, I’ll be back, because I know I’ve got some dope cut-scenes ahead, or at least some disappointing credits that I can bitch about.

Doing a spot of research before I began writing, I came across a Steam forums thread that furthered my resolve to write this piece. Let’s look at some of the criticisms of ‘On a Rail’ I found there and see just how applicable they are when applied to life;

 

On a rail crit

 

Life is confusing, sometimes it’s unclear what you’re supposed to do, it can be daunting. In this event, you just have to move about a bit and explore to figure it out. On a Rail, like life makes you face things head on but as in the level, sometimes you can stop the train and prepare yourself by dealing with the area you’re in. And then lastly, sometimes you have some great nights where you set off fireworks… SEE WHAT I MEAN! These criticisms of it spoke to me as both valid points regarding this level and life.

 

On a rail crit 2

 

This sentient journey you’re on is always gonna be a mixed bag and it’s definitely tedious at times and fraught with risks. Sure perhaps you’d enjoy it a lot more if you could predetermine what’s around every corner and counter it. But that’s not life, it’s a beautiful difficult journey where you can grow and learn how to be more effective. It’s unfair at times but you can find ways to level the playing field.

And that’s what I am going to do, because as I love games, so do I love life even if it’s always on expert mode.

So, I am going to be better at it.

EA Are Wide Of The Goalposts With This Gaffe

 

 

 

 

I know, I know, this is the second article in a row bashing Electronic Arts, my apologies. But how could I not stick the boot in when they make it so easy? And let’s face it, it’s not like it isn’t deserved!

So, not being content with the recent hatred garnered from their endeavours to cash in on the corpse of the legacy of one of the finest RTS games. EA true to form and right on track have decided they needed some more negative press.

 

 

Having recently lowered the bar for how much you can physically detest them, free-falling beyond the depths of the abyss in which it previously resided. It seems the cretinous company has sought to create their very own EAbyss if you will. And oh my how they’ve succeeded. Having pushed effortlessly past the 3rd and 4th circles of hell completely skipping the 5th and landing just smack dab in the centre of the 6th. They have achieved pure heresy since their evil machinations regarding the sullying of Command & Conquers great legacy.

So what have they bloody well gone and done this time eh?

Not satiated by their never ending ethos of lust, greed and gluttony they’ve seemingly gone and licked the shitty boots of the American establishment from heel to toe, in a move that can only be described as pathetically petty, if deliberate. Regardless of whether intended or not, this potential foul up has given ammunition to those who hold them in disdain. For EA have only gone and censored Colin Kaepernick’s name from a song used in the soundtrack of their latest Madden title.

The verse from which his name was censored in YG’s song ‘Big Bank’ (quite a tune as it goes) is as follows;

 “Feed me to the wolves, now I lead the pack and shit. You boys all cap, I’m more Colin Kaepernick.”

Have a listen to the scrubbed name version here;

 

 

For those who are a little lost by all this, let me do some quick explaining.

 

Who Is Kaepernick & Why Is This Significant? 

Over the last two years protests during the singing of America’s national anthem have taken centre field in the world of American Football’s NFL, but why?

Since 2016 some players (in some cases entire teams) have been protesting racial inequality and police brutality in the USA in a way that has shocked reactionaries in the land of the free. For these players have dared defy angry right wingers, the political establishment and NFL officials by kneeling silently during the national anthem.

Elements of the harbinger of democracy have massively overreacted to this valid and necessary form of protest by banning players and threatening other such sanctions against them. Kaepernick, having lead the charge as the first to sit then kneel during the anthem whilst playing for the San Francisco 49ers is the man who has borne the brunt of this backlash. Having effectively become persona non grata in the sporting world. Instead opting to become persona grata in the hearts of socially conscious people everywhere.

Here he is speaking on the importance of the protest and his reasons behind it, at a speech he made after accepting Amnesty International’s ambassador of conscience award;

 

 

Could this be EA’s own politics at play? Capitulation to pressure from the NFL, an organisation they must work closely with in the creation and development of the series which makes mega bucks? Or is it as their statement responding to this incident claims – simply the fuck up of a simple minded group of employees?

Let’s take a closer look at that statement.

 

 

EA’s Explanation, Credible Or Nah?

I’ll post the statement below so I’m citing my sources and all that, but EA say it was nought but a simple dropping of the ball in interpreting the law regarding rights. See, EA do not have the rights for Kaepernick to be in the game as a playable character and apparently members of the team took this to mean he couldn’t even feature as a lyric in a song….

 

 

EA’s Statement;

“Members of our team misunderstood the fact that while we don’t have rights to include Colin Kaepernick in the game, this doesn’t affect soundtracks. We messed up, and the edit should never have happened. We will make it right, with an update to Madden NFL 19 on August 6 that will include the reference again. We meant no disrespect, and we apologize to Colin, to YG and Big Sean, to the NFL, to all of their fans and our players for this mistake.”

I can’t be the only one to think this but … really now, seriously? I know that of course not every employee outside of the legal department is going to be well versed with the laws and ins and outs of them. However thinking his name couldn’t even be mentioned in a song he knows his name is in and which he doesn’t own the rights to, seems a tad overzealous for those who would be responsible for the soundtrack right?

So what do you think? Is this just a fumble or a political statement? Either way EA could do without the negative press, not that it’s going to stop them making oodles of money or carrying on their less than ethical business practices anytime soon. Sigh.

At worst this was deliberate but in my eyes, at best this was born out of the climate in which Kaepernicks name is mud to officials in the NFL and beyond. With that being so, those in charge of the soundtrack thought best to remove him all together. Let me know what you think or if you agree!

 

 

 

Fear And Loathing Of Fallout 76

 

 

 

The world of Fallout has rightly earned itself a place in gaming popular culture and in the hearts of a passionate following of fanatics. A category I feel I fall into personally, as I love to explore all things Dystopian and post-apocalyptic, so to me discovering Fallout was a godsend. This aspect is something the series has delved into in a way that is exquisitely spot on, time and time again. Crafting wonderful single player RPG worlds out of the nuclear wastes of the USA, along with well written stories to match. It’s truly a gripping game you can happily lose yourself in, even with all the misery.

 

Naturally, there is much debate amongst fans over which of its games are better and which makes the franchises bottom fall out, you know, the usual my favourite is better than your favourite type stuff. Now to me, up until the most recent release in the series developed by Bethesda, the games studio has hardly put a foot wrong (sorry New Vegas diehards.) To others I’m a heretic and a fool, it’s a really rather hotly debated topic. To be expected, as anything gains passionate fans so too does it gain their impassioned opinions which are often voiced vehemently. Something which Bethesda’s most recent announcement has caused no end of, falling foul of angry and hesitant  fans at the first hurdle. As well as the customary surrounding hype, the heralding of this game has caused a lot of fear and loathing across the internet, when very little has actually been concretely revealed despite unverified leaks.

 

So let’s take a look at what has been announced before we move on to dealing with what us fans are causing a ruckus about whether positive or negative. After a 24 hour stream  which was watched by 2 million and displayed nothing much beyond their customary ‘standby’ screen this announcement trailer dropped;

 

 

Oh god it says so little but makes me feel so much and personally I don’t care what it is, just give me it already it’s a bloody Fallout game (as long as it’s not a mobile app game!) Well, to wait for more concrete facts on what the game actually is planned to be we will have to wait for Bethesda’s announcement at the upcoming E3 event. However there is much speculation and rumour as well as apparent insider anonymous tips basically confirming what it is. But before I get on to discussing that let’s take a wee look at what this teaser trailer reveals to us.

 

First thing you notice is the music, a cover of  John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and so immediately it’s pretty obvious where this ones gonna be set. West Virginia I suppose, if the lyrics are anything to go by, but perhaps Virginia reunified after the bombs dropped? We will have to wait and see. Which brings us to the next significant point in the video of Vault 76, the poster stating 1776-2076 marking the USA’s tercentennial year. 300 years from the date it didn’t want to pay the taxes it owed to the British government for protecting them from their new neighbours they managed to piss off rather quickly. Ungrateful I know.

 

Next comes a TV clip which states ‘When the fighting is stopped and the fallout is settled, you must rebuild.’ This makes sense as in the lore of Vault 76 it was to be one of 17 control vaults of 500 residents compared to the other experimental ones and was programmed to be opened 20 years after the bombs of nuclear war dropped. Setting this particular Fallout game way earlier than any we’ve yet seen, which is one of the worries I’ve seen voiced online. What will be in the wasteland besides waste if it’s so early after the bombs dropped? To me I don’t feel like this will be an issue as there will still be plenty of options to fill the wasteland with points of interest, story and dangers even if civilisation hasn’t started rebuilding as fully as it has in previous games. Perhaps as suggested by the fella on TV, that will be your job anyway….

 

 

The next point of focus in the trailer doubles down and emphasises on this, a shot that pans out across the atrium showing the remnants of a celebration that has been held for what has been billed as ‘reclamation day.’ The day the vault dwellers head out to recolonise their now irradiated country – however those with a keen eye will see that the date on the pip boy featured in the trailer, states 27 OCT 2102, a whole 5 years out from the 20 year programmed reopening date of 2097. Did someone oversleep? Did something go wrong? Is this just a lore error on the part of Bethesda (wouldn’t be the first time,) again we will just have to wait to find out why.

 

pip boy

 

Now for the real atom bomb that’s got a large portion of the community up in arms (honestly looking at comments on social media and YouTube it seems it’s 50/50 at this point.) The reason why? Anonymous insider tips has it that this game will be the franchises first furore into online multiplayer and not only that, but it may be an MMORPG or shock horror even a stinky awful survival game, which now has people referring to 76 as a Rust clone, which I think is cute. As if every survival game is just Rust over and over again, spoiler alert, they’re not. Here’s just some examples of the hate and hype it’s getting –

 

Fallout mixed reviews

Featured fallout 2

Fallout mixed reviews 3

 

To many Fallout fans it seems that it’s not only war that never changes, to them their beloved game doesn’t or shouldn’t really much either and change is something that they feel should be avoided. I can understand that people may not want a multiplayer Fallout game with potential survival game and MMORPG elements however there is probably just as many that do and haven’t yet ever received one. So basically they’re being pretty selfish and I’d suggest they learn to share or something I guess or that not every game is going to be tailored to their exact wants and needs. To me, as I often say, variety is the spice of life and I welcome taking the Fallout world in other directions, I just hope there is a single player option for those who do not wish to play online, that it does the namesake justice and that more classic Fallout games will be made in the future to satisfy those poo-pooing this one already.

 

Change, change always changes (or happens rather) but in all seriousness, it’s the one constant in life and though we may cling to the nostalgia of what we feel a game was, is or should be, we must remember that diversity can add freshness alongside the classics if done right. I have wanted a Fallout game to be multiplayer and co-operative for so long now and I am really excited for more concrete evidence on what exactly it is, stay tuned for more on this as it comes in, I’ll be sure to write about it. In conclusion Fallout 76 should not be feared and loathed, even if it’s not exactly what you hoped for. It should be judged on its own merits, so let’s wait and see if it rises like a mushroom cloud or nuclear bombs. Topical jokes haha.

 

What are your opinions on the announcement of this new game? I’d be interested to hear.

 

State of Decay 2; Making Good On An Old Promise

 

 

State of Decay was a god send for fans of both open world games and zombies in general. I remember the excitement surrounding it at the time of its announcement, amongst me and my zombie loving peers. Developers Undead Labs in conjunction with Microsoft Studios released their offering in the summer of 2013 receiving many positive reviews from critics and players alike. But man, was I to be in for a personal let down, I was a victim of my own internal irrational hype machine with hope for the peak open world zombie experience in my heart. I couldn’t wait to play this game with my friends and this was the main reason I pre-ordered it, to play it with them.

Well as always with most things in life, the proof was in the pudding and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I’m not going to say it was a bad game, objectively it’s a good game and to many it was even greater than, it just left me wanting more and I feel had so much more missed potential.

However I’m not exactly fully qualified to give a proper critique, as I gave up on it early on owing to how 2D it felt to me. It was a good enough game, ran well, looked nice and was pretty damn smooth, with some good mechanics. Where it was lacking meant it was not enough to hold me there as a player, I didn’t feel the urge to invest my time into it. The campaign seemed short as from what I know I’d almost finished it even with my lacklustre playing. What progression there was, felt almost pointless to me beyond my own personal progression I hadn’t seen any real fruits of my labour. Despite my fading memories of my 2013 gameplay I’ll try and explain what it did well but why that wasn’t enough for me personally.

 

 

Stumble Beginnings

The concept and story was all there and done extremely well. The zombie apocalypse survival fantasy was the best aspect of it, creating homesteads for survivor companions you rescue. Scavenging to feed and equip yourself and all those extra mouths you accumulate, even down to keeping the group happy with a morale system as well as upgrading your base to help raise their skill levels. That was pretty neat and something I liked very much, but to me it felt like it had little bearing on my game except for having an AI squad which could and should have been some of my human pals. I’ve been told if you died as your character it meant perma-death and you have to choose from one of the survivors for who you will play as next. I like that aspect of it thinking about it retrospectively, the problem was I never died. I played it long enough to know I wasn’t fully enjoying it despite it being decent but I didn’t play long enough to die, even though I completed quite a few missions.

The map was quite small and the game therefore felt quite limited in scope, it wasn’t very big for an open world map, although big enough for what the game was I suppose.  It was overall so limited that it almost made the great selection of vehicles seem a tad overkill when you consider the wastelands of say for example, Fallout, with their vastness and varied areas all traversed on foot. Take a look at the map below and you’ll see what I mean. Well if you agree with me that is…

 

state of decay map.png

 

There was some great horde mechanics although sometimes at the beginning they would be already forming at areas you needed to go, which made it quite difficult at low levels. The special enemies were varied and fun to fight. Such as the Feral zombie and the Juggernaut pictured below. I think you can guess which is which, the feral was the highest threat in the game if you fell foul of their ambushes. The Juggernaut relies on brute strength and high health, naturally, slow but powerful. Some good variation there. Adding some nice variety in fighting style and tactics.

 

Feral zombies.jpgJuggernaught.jpg

 

To get to the point my humble opinions is, it was a good game with an even better concept that was squandered owing to not being wider in scope and depth, failing to deliver on its potential as well as one major promise. The promise of multiplayer and co-op was the very reason I had purchased this game so eagerly. Now I understand nothing about game development except it’s costly and difficult so I can forgive the developers, of course. However when I read the news that they had scrapped the multiplayer we were told would be a part of the game, it became terribly apparent there wasn’t enough to hold me there to play on alone. I had other multiplayer games to play and frankly far more engrossing solo campaigns. I personally enjoy living out a games experience with friends and it all felt a bit hollow from that point forward. It was just a few brains short of a zombie picnic without my friends and co-op mode in general.

 

 

Undead Redemption

That’s where state of Decay 2 comes in, set to be released on Xbox and Microsoft this coming May the 22nd. It really looks as if Undead Labs have set out to fix the issues I took with the original. To put things back on track (in my eyes) for the series, in a way that fulfils more of its potential and redeems itself for the hurdles its predecessor fell at. It’s a game where the survival horror fantasy aspect is once again key but most importantly, it’s going to be multiplayer, for real this time! Check out the video below, this game is all about co-operation with the games host controlling their own base and those who join their game having the incentive to help build up this hosts world as they get to keep items and resources that they scavenge. Meaning this game will have a mutually beneficial community focus and just add more dimensions to the experience of gameplay with a team of humans, as well as the option to solo play of course.

In the words of Doug Williams, Art Director at Undead Labs speaking on the upgrade in platforms and engines says this meant they could achieve more with this game overall as compared to the first;

“new maps, more characters, more cars, more zombies, more simulation everything was a huge bump up.”

Jeff Strain who is the Studio Head added;

“it does give us the ability to create a smoother richer more graphically pleasing world for the players to play in.”

Overall from what I’ve researched this is true, it is definitely going to be bigger, better and more of what State of Decay could have and should have been! There are three more areas than before all the same size as the original, widening it in scope and giving more to the exploration, scavenging and base building aspects. You can build outposts that work in tandem with your main base in the area, base upgrading now requires you defend it from hordes as the noise of the building work attracts the wandering undead. So it seems there are some cool development in mechanics that add to the survival simulation aspect of it all which was already pretty decent before although there was definite room for improvement. There are also enclaves of other survivors that you can meet, trade and garner influence with, which allows you to get access to drones and other such aid by radioing them. Further developing the necessity for interacting with the world around you where before you felt able to skirt around that aspect, now it seems too rewarding to ignore. Also the new night mode looks pretty damn terrifying and will surely add more to the horror side of things, something I welcome as it seems to have been done so well that perhaps I won’t even be able to go out from my base at night without a human companion, the big scaredy that I am.

 

If you’d like to see a more in-depth look at these mechanics check out these videos below on the base-building and new survivor system aspects;

 

 

 

It seems like it’s going to be an all-around improvement this time round so if you were a fan, you’re going to be a bigger fan. If you weren’t a massive fan like me, then perhaps this will satiate your ungrateful and unquenchable thirst for more to fulfil the hype in your head. Here’s hoping, as they have stated they are aiming for a less canned experience and more of a unique one chosen by the player and moulded by them and their peers. Something I believe the original would have benefited from massively.

Undead Labs have really taken on board a lot of feedback from fans on what has worked well and what hasn’t worked or was missing all together. It really feels like they’ve listened and are going to bring out a game that will be an even bigger hit, although I’m going to refrain from over hyping it until I get my first bites of game play. We’ll see if I gobble it up or spit it out and I’ll get back to you all on that one come its release. I’m definitely looking forward to it albeit in hesitant anticipation.

Spyro; Reignited But Not Rebooted

 

 

 

Jurassic Park and Star Wars reboots? A Crash Bandicoot remaster?  It seems the latter half of the second decade of this millennium has been a very lucrative time for cashing in on childhood nostalgia. Especially considering fans of the originals which are getting said treatment have in many cases spawned the next generation of consumers.  This trend has only snowballed and is set to continue, so it seems.

As well as bringing new generations to the movie and games franchises that have been relaunched or touched up for a new age this usually makes a large sector of older fans very happy. I’m going to look at and voice my opinion on why it possibly shouldn’t.

The latest announced game to get a makeover in the video game world came with the remastering of the old Spyro The Dragon trilogy aptly named Spyro Reignited. Making large swathes of childhood fans giddy with glee at the prospects of recapturing those happy memories of our younger years with a cosmetically new recycled adventure. To be released exclusively on PlayStation (of course) on the 21st of September published by Activision.  Here’s hoping it too follows the trend of Crash Bandicoot and ends up available on other platforms as my now Xbox owning childhood nostalgia senses are tingling and I’ve already got my wallet open in anticipation. Though, empty as it is I don’t know what good that’ll do anyone.

 

 

What can we expect from this upcoming remastering of the trilogy and what do I think of this announcement. Let’s take a look at both to find out.

Old Flames Rekindled And Remastered

I was slightly disappointed when I realised this wasn’t going to be a new game. But that soon subsided and turned into excitement when I remembered that I can only hazily recall the stories and would love to relive them as I fully know that they were great. Then after riding that wave of excitement, I was straight back to disappointment when I clocked that it was a PS exclusive.

So what can we expect to glide onto our PS consoles from this old classic?

 

  • Memorable characters and good story driven gameplay – From your companion Sparx the Dragonfly who offers you protection, whether he’s simply buzzing or talking (as in Spyro: A Hero’s Tail) he had bags of attitude and was mischievously endearing. Speaking of bags of stuff, that reminds me, Moneybags, one of my first lessons in why the filthy rich kinda suck. He exploits you for your hard earned gems instead of aiding you out of the kindness of his heart, this memorable bastard is another great example of the characterisation that was a huge part of what made this game great. The story-lines were very nicely done too and engrossing as a child, I cannot for the life of me remember them well enough to truly critique them but generally the cut scenes and story progression was a quality of this game that made it very endearing. Especially rescuing the dragons and scuppering Gnasty Gnorcs violent plan for the dragon realms and thus restoring peace. That was lovely.

 

MoneyBags
Just look at him, the pompous sack of wealth and human waste!

 

 

  • Humour – The world of Spyro games always had more than a touch of humour, such as in the aforementioned character of Moneybags, however my most favourite example is the cowardly and cheeky soldiers from the level Peacekeepers Homeworld. I always loved charging headfirst at them and making them quiver and cower  in their tents before scorching it to reveal them. I also sniggered most profusely when they insultingly moon you in a half-baked taunt. They amongst many other examples add enjoyable and funny elements making the game so much more entertaining.

 

 

 

  • Interesting worlds and gameplay – The world of the dragon realm and all that lays beyond was simply mesmerising as a child, often brightly coloured and always varied these were a delight to explore and play through. Another element that was very varied in these games were the enemies, creatively imagined minions that fit into each world thematically and nicely. Also the gameplay was a mixed bag of goodies. Part platformer, part fire breathing head bopping combat, part flying levels all based around a central home-world through which you could access the many interesting areas, through the aid of portals. Check some screenshots from the original trilogy;

 

Spyro world 1

Spyro world 2Spyro world 4

Spyro world 5SPYRO UNDERWATEr

 

 

Some great variation in level design, always interesting to play through and lovely to explore. That’s without even showing the flying levels or bonus stages, or the true scope of the underwater levels (what a dragon is doing underwater I’ll never understand.)

All this and more (cliché alert) will be what you should expect if you’ve never played the game before and if you have and know what to expect already from that aspect. Then you will probably realise that the main deliverance we can expect from this remastering is a massive upgrade in graphics as well as some new creative flair to character and level design details. Just take a look at this difference, much more going on and highly polished too, the comparisons look absolutely stunning and mesmerising. On this merit alone I would buy the trilogy.

 

SPYRO GRAPHICS

 

 

From this ….

 

Spyro comparison.png 

 

To this …

 

spyro.jpg

 

 

A remarkable improvement, but why no new adventures for our scaly pal?

 

Fear Of The Hype Machine

Maybe if the hype surrounding the remastering holds true upon release, perhaps developers may see a potential new spark for an old flame with an original Spyro reboot? Perhaps a new trilogy or a singular game in the works. That’s what I’d really want to see despite being psyched for the updated old trilogy, I want something new.

However with any new take on an old anything, there are always going to be those fans who over-hype and those who dismiss the notion outright owing to the sanctity of their childhood being possibly ruined. Then there’s those like me in the healthy middle ground, that would realise both ends of the spectrum are  valid and that we must wait in nervous but optimistic  anticipation to judge on the results as the proof is always in the pudding. So why is a new game not being announced, when there are fans who would eagerly await one?

Well, with such potential negativity and room for failure surrounding reboots, owing to the effects of what I call the hype machine increasing the chances of a prospective new reboot being disastrously received, remastering is the easy answer. Perhaps that’s why developers and publishers alike opt for the safer gamble and are remastering rather than rebooting. It seems they are happy to take the easy route to guaranteed money bags and are all too often too afraid to take a leap and create an all new game.  I feel they need to have more faith in themselves and respect for fans, but that ultimately fear of the hype machine holds them back.
 

 

UNLIMITED HYPE.gif

 

Whatever happens after this new remastered trilogy, I hope they don’t drag-on announcing a new release (Har-har) that is, if they do plan for one at all.  I can’t wait to pick up a controller and catch up with my favourite purple scaly pal (sorry Barney I got no love for you) for a new adventure or just to relive the old ones. I can still be pleased with some old hat with new ribbons on it even if I hold it out and say ‘please, can I have some more?’

In short the milking of the nostalgia cash cow is a lot easier than hunting for the big prey of a new hit game. Rinsing and repeating with the old formula is nothing short of a lazy cop-out in my eyes, it’s just a safe bet if it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Enjoyable though it may be.

 

Trumps Roundabout Round-Table Talks

Recently I begrudgingly felt I had to write about video game violence in the news, writing an article in which I mentioned Trump wished to meet with games company executives to discuss the perceived issue of violence in games (you can read that here.)

Well he certainly followed through on this talk, bigly. Holding a bizarre and rushed get together with a handful of execs at a round-table meeting that was held on March the 8th, it was closed to the press but what we do know doesn’t do the stunt any favours. The current commander in chief followed in the footsteps of Joe Biden who did the same in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. A meeting that lead nowhere then has once more been staged, and I hazard a guess it will lead nowhere once more again. Another massacre, another meeting with little to show for it other than the illusion of action as a distraction piece.

The meeting was started with the president showing a heavily cut and out of context edit of video game violence. Which the White House laughably later posted to their official YouTube account, spawning a lot of comedic responses and disdain. It went viral before later being taken down, having become something of a laughing stock. If you wish to watch the out of context reel of ultra-violence taken mostly from the Call of Duty series, check out the video below;


After this ludicrous video which he obviously thought would come up top trumps, the Donald stated ‘this is violent, isn’t it?’ He could have literally had the same effect and message by pointing at the screen and repeating ‘BAD’ over and over again as it played.

Video game execs, such as the CEO of Rockstar who was present, must have felt something positive could have come from the meeting, being that they even entertained the thought of attending – let alone following through and going to it. However, I feel and say that nothing positive can come from circumnavigating the real issues just to simply point, hiss and boo at a political and media scapegoat. You can rarely, if ever, get something from nothing – let alone empty gestures.

The mainstream media itself once again has escaped the spotlight and gladly shone its own upon the gaming world, as well as the killer. How about we talk of the treatment of mass shooters and killers in the news, which lets face it, feeds into this mentality and the desire of killers to make a name for themselves. Always focusing on body count, immortalising the perpetrators and their name with 24/7 sensationalist coverage. Showing all to bare to those would be killers how easy it can be to achieve the same disdainful acclaim. The media makes them infamous and feeds into the vicious cycle;


Inaction or even worse, the illusion of action, cannot and will not save the lives of innocent Americans. It is the equivalent of doing nothing disguised as something – a dangerous game to play when there is a human cost at stake.

The dodging of the real issues at hand must stop. It has become nothing but a perpetual carousel in the violent act of flogging one of the deadest of horses. Wheeled out once again to be beaten like an empty piñata. Politicians who employ this diversion tactic lack the will, backbone or desire to rethink the second amendment and so attack the first outright. Gun ownership trumps freedom of speech and the lives of American children in the land of the free. With so much political power coming from lobbyists such as the National Rifle Association will the spotlight ever fully turn inwardly?

Lest we forget the current leader of America received $30,000,000 in presidential campaigning funds from the NRA. Perhaps games will be left out of the firing line if games company lobbyists put up the dosh, to make him shut up.

Alas, I remember the days when games lobbies were a simpler thing, a place to gather players before the start of the match, now they have become more than that. Games industry lobbyists are becoming much more commonplace. Perhaps to combat the political force rallying against their portrayal of violence, perhaps they have their own sinister political agenda too. In a world where games execs are looking to push micro-transactions and extort gamers in ever new ways I’d wager to bet it is both. To me it is a worry that these even began to exist, rising from ashes of this dumpster fire debacle of a debate. I doubt they are about protecting players, focusing rather on their pockets and looking to protect profits.

If you’d like a more in depth, colourful and hilarious look at the meeting check out this vlog by Jim Sterling who as always is putting the world to rights;

 

On Video Game Violence And Addiction; Something Old, Something New

Video games have once again been in the firing line of headlines recently, something that we’re all used to, especially in times of violence. But as well as a recurring debate, there is an unprecedented decision in the headlines this year.

In the wake of the horrific and most recent US school shooting in Florida, which left 17 dead, 16 wounded and many more traumatised, politicians and pundits have wheeled out the old cliché that violent games are the chief culprit. Alongside this, it has been announced that the World Health Organisations’ (WHO) 11th International Classification of Diseases has decided to include a condition called ‘gaming disorder’ as a major public health issue.

One of these pieces of news should be treated cautiously, whilst the other has become a farcical age old argument, yet is still given traction in media and political circles, when it should be outright dismissed by now.

Video Game Violence

Societal issues, especially horrific events such as the most recent school shooting, are the cause of moral panic, more often than not, a moral panic that seeks to scapegoat rather than solve the issue at hand.  Whether it’s comic books in the 50’s;

Or whatever new music is prevalent, it seems politicians look to blame popular culture rather than deal with actual causes, because realistically speaking – that would be difficult and requires real action. It’s easier to point the finger and blast hot air when you lack the political will to enact real change.

Donald Trump has suggested in a timely fashion that perhaps we should provide parents buying games a handy rating system to know what kind of game they might be buying their child. No further comment on that one, it speaks volumes on how much he really knows and cares about the matter. A Rhode Island politician has even gone so far as to seek a tax on violent M-Rated video games, which states lack the power to legislate against the sale of. He states that this extra money should be funnelled into mental health care. Should this not be something that is provided for without punishing consumers of video games? Especially considering that less than 20% of school shooters partake in violent games. Perhaps politicians could foot some of that bill with the money they receive from pro-gun lobbying groups, like the National Rifle Association. I think most rational people would agree that video games have more place in the home than weapons.

Choosing to look the other way or bury our heads in the sand when it comes to facing down the myriad of actual reasons that leads to violence, is traditional of our society. If we are to  actually face up to the real reasons, we might just shine a light inwardly and see that beneath the glossy veneer we present, our societies are often broken in so many ways it becomes overwhelming when trying to hone in on the factors that cause young men to commit such violent acts (I say men as statistically speaking this is the case.) This circular argument which takes us nowhere seems to have no end, as if the 90’s never happened and the diversionary tactics will work this time. We must outright accept that violence is not caused by games. It is embedded there to begin with, even if at the very least, these people play violent games to act out their fantasies.  If we as societies sought to actually be communities and look out for our fellow humans, these kind of events could be more easily avoided but there is so much inequality and alienation that people with these tendencies often fly under the radar until it’s too late. Or in the case of the Florida shooter, the signs are completely ignored by those around them. Politicians lack the backbone and will to do the right thing because it goes against the very ethos of our individualistic and capitalist societies, as well as the gun loving culture of the United States. Until we force them to face up to the many factors, they will keep trying to feed us a pill we just aren’t swallowing anymore.

It is time to end the debate and focus on the real meat of the matter.

Video Game Addiction

Most anyone who loves gaming will be able to recount times when pursuing it has somewhat negatively impacted on their life. Whether it’s the thirst for achievement and enjoyment that drives us to not put the controller down or walk away from the keyboard, making us get less sleep. Or the desire to own the best skins and other such loot hurting our wallet, it’s a simple fact we cannot ignore. Games have a certain addictive quality that needs addressing one way or another on an individual basis at the very least. After all games do have the potential power to affect lives and to change the world. But to what extent is the desire to pursue this hobby habitually a mental disorder? According to the WHOs’ recent classification, it is now considered to be the rule and not the exception.

Whilst I’ll be the first to admit my gaming endeavours have sometimes been slightly detrimental to my life. However the WHO needs to be careful not to view gaming as an inherent evil, as like anything people love and enjoy it can become a hobby people are passionate about or can even be a coping mechanism for other underlying mental disorders. Many psychologists are calling the decision to classify ‘games addiction’ as a mental disorder premature. Even if the WHOs’ heart is in the right place, they risk ‘pathologising behaviours that are normal’ for millions upon millions of young people, something that could do more damage than good. If games are treated as the issue and the true underlying problems are ignored, they have once again become simply a scapegoat.

Whilst the discussion and research of this topic are welcomed by me as a conscientious gamer who would gladly level justified critique at my hobby that would help people. This  classification would put gaming on a similar footing as gambling, which wreaks havoc on peoples lives and destroys families. Putting gaming on par with such an addiction is simply absurd, unless of course we are talking about micro-transactions and how it’s introducing children to gambling, which is much more of an issue than heavy gaming. What is clear, is that we need more solid scientific research and not to succumb to moral panic in lieu of facts, as the WHO potentially jumping the gun risks missing the real issues.

All this begs the question, if even scientific bodies are joining our politicians in succumbing to moral panic regarding games, what does that say about our society? And what hope do we have about getting to the truth of the matter? This is something that must stop, as in the long run it will only do more harm than good.

The World Changing Potential Of Games Rooted In Reality

Since they have earned their place in pop culture and especially to the outsider, video games have often been conceived as being associated with the fantastic. Imaginary far-fetched worldscapes enjoyed as a newfangled distraction from our boring reality. Whilst this isn’t entirely wrong and oftentimes is the case, to simply assume this at face value would be doing a disservice to the medium. As many gamers will know, there are a plethora of titles and genres which not only dabble in reality, but go as far as to try and replicate it, stick to its truths or influence it beyond the confines of the screen.

The game that is most widely remembered as the first home video-game had humble beginnings. It was an early iteration of Pong created by Physicist William Higginbotham in 1958, which was revealed to the public at Brookhaven National Laboratory open days. In a later interview he recalled that he figured –

“It might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavours have relevance for society.”

Tennis for Two
The game Higginbotham created, he named it ‘Tennis for Two’ and’ it utilised an oscilloscope as a screen to play on.

 The origins of video-games as tools to aid proponents of the computer age is quite telling, in that it shows us, alongside being entertaining  they can be apparatus to inform and sway our opinions. We’ve come a long way from their origins in aids for computer salesmen, now games have the potential to reflect and explore much more, even to change the narrative of society itself.

I am going to look at how and why video games rooted in reality have potential world changing capabilities, as well as explore some of the ways that they have been used as tools to change reality. And most importantly why this should be something we concern ourselves with as a community.

Games As Art And Literature

Storytelling, it’s something our species have done since even before the advent of language – when we left our mark on cave walls to express ourselves, now we leave them on blogs. Like storytelling itself games have come a long way since their creation. In simpler times we had little pixelated avatars doing something for some reason but as what we could create in games advanced so did characters, worlds and the stories being told. It is clear that storytelling and video games have a symbiotic relationship, both have influenced each other, together. This is especially apparent when you look at games such as The Stanley Parable or Dream which have a heavy focus on exploration and narrative, as a way of exploring storytelling itself. Or any number of games that satirise real world events, such as the Command and Conquer; Red Alert series, which satirises the Cold War going hot.

 

ROOTED IN REALITY
A hilarious and far-fetched look at some of the awfulness that could have stemmed from the Cold War.

 

American film critic Robert Egbert is one of the most well-known voices in this old and tiresome debate and is of the view that ‘games will never be art.’ Whether or not academics or critics would argue against this mediums inclusion in these realms, doesn’t particularly matter in my eyes, it is clear to anyone who plays them and experiences them that they have artistic and literary merit. They are works that have visual and mental impacts on us, they are perfectly capable of making us feel and think. Most gamers, myself included, probably don’t really mind how their legitimacy in the world of high arts and literature is viewed by the respective gatekeepers but it does matter that they are art and literature that is developing a new narrative.

Games constantly break the fourth wall, from the tutorial guiding you to press ‘X’, to your characters commenting on your actions or inaction, such as when Sonic gets tired of waiting for you to play after a period of inactivity. They treat you as less of an audience member and more as a character, we are much more than just an audience when we game, we are an influencer, a protagonist on the stage. This is what I believe makes games powerful in the art of rhetoric and discourse, as we can relate even more to them and therefore they can sometimes be even better at influencing us than traditional literature. It is us who live through the story as the protagonist. Combining the worlds of art, literature and audience participation into one little multi-dimensional package makes them proficient at influencing us. It’s a form of storytelling that is interactive and can easily engross us as an audience, this is why it matters.

Sonic Waiting gif
Sonic growing impatient with you making him hang around, he knows you know he’s gotta go fast.

Historic And Current Events

There are historical games aplenty, for some reason nerds and geeks whom game, seem to have an obsession with these settings be they ancient or old. I am going to examine one such example as I think it best represents this fixation on historical games and the potential perils of rooting a game in reality. That example is World War Two games of which there are bloody loads.

One of the biggest triple A games of 2017 another timely timeless timed out ‘Call of Duty’ game set in WW2, showing us that love for WW2 games just won’t die, kind of like the COD franchise. But why is the historical narrative and accuracy so important? Somewhat sadly, simply put it’s because games are one of the primary ways many children and young adults will be engaging with the history presented. Whilst historical accuracy doesn’t determine whether a game is a great game or not, I feel developers and games companies owe it to society to be as accurate as possible when it comes to the historical narratives, at the very least. Where possible all sides should be put under the microscope for criticism. Allied powers committed atrocities in the war too and more often than not it is only the evil of the Nazis that is dealt with. In fact I cannot think of one game that deals with the atrocities of the allied powers and doesn’t treat them as simply righteous heroes [if you can think of one, please comment them as I’d be interested to see.]

Not to say that games should be propaganda, just that we must understand that they can inform us and if they do they should be on the right side of history and the nice side of morality. An example of propaganda in gaming that’s on the right side of history, is the controversy that ensued around the advertising campaign of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, where developers MachineGames and publishers Bethesda used the opportunity to double down on the anti-Nazi rhetoric of the game.

This ability to influence opinions becomes even more worrisome with regards to games that focus on the reality of current events and our future, they have the potential to impact the political narrative of the world. Sometimes this is owing to real world events not being done justice and misinforming those who play at best and at worst, because they are outright pushing an awful agenda.

Atomic Games, are an example of a developer which wanted to capture the truth of a contemporary historical account, yet the game they created remains unreleased. It was a game that Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines of the US army wanted made, to tell of their experiences in the Second Battle of Fallujah during the Iraq War, it was named 6 Days in Fallujah and to be published by Konami. These Marines had originally been assigned to help make training tools for the US army, but after their experience in war they wanted to tell the story of what happened to them personally and approached Atomic Games. The games creation caused much controversy from war veterans and anti-war groups who claimed it to be glorifying wars and disrespecting the many casualties as well as veterans. Ultimately Konami dropped what could have been an interesting look at war through the eyes of those on the ground. A former soldier who fought in Fallujah told the LA Times of the games significance,

“Video games can communicate the intensity and the gravity of war to an audience who wouldn’t necessarily be watching the History Channel or reading about this in the classroom. In an age when everyone’s always online or playing games, peoples’ imaginations aren’t what they were, sadly. For this group, books may not convey the same level of intensity and chaos of war that a game can.”

The fact that these soldiers had originally been assigned to Atomic Games to help develop training tools for the US Army goes to show how games can be used to further awful agendas. Now even ISIS and other terrorist organisations have been utilising video games  for recruitment and training. Even modding their own version of GTA V known as Grand Theft Auto: Salil al-Sawarem (loosely translating to ‘the sound of clashing swords’, artwork for which I used as the featured picture at the top of this article.  An example on the flipside of this issue is the new game designed to train teachers how to react during a school shooting. Games as a medium have become a way to influence the world to the developers’ agenda.

Rooted in reality 3
A screenshot from the recent teacher training resource game.

Video games can be used to teach us about our contemporary world and its past, as well as warn of potential future outcomes. This coupled with the possibility that the game you’re playing is being used to influence and inform your opinion on reality, should be something that you keep in mind personally. And something I feel we should talk about more as a community and society, to explore the ways we can use this as a positive as well as how we can avoid the negatives.

Tools For What And Who?

Games that are rooted in reality can potentially change the world, their usefulness as tools can and should be much more far reaching than learning tools and propaganda.  Alongside games, those who play them should be seen as a resource, a large community of people who dedicate their time and efforts to overcoming obstacles, solving issues and puzzles to advance, often sticking at something repetitively until they crack it and succeed. As such there should be games that are designed to help solve real world problems faced by our society because gaming can make a better world if we so choose to utilise it.

Some of the questions we should be asking as a society is if games can be tools,  for what and by who are they?

I believe games should first and foremost entertain, but if they are utensils to change the world, then they must be tools for the betterment of humanity by those who wish to see social change.

Survival Games; Echoes Of Life And Its Futility

Survival games photo 1
If you stare into the abyss long enough sometimes the abyss stares back and it’s actually just a void full of unfinished early access survival games.

If there was ever an over saturated genre in the video game market, survival games would be in the running for whatever kind of award that can get you. The genres’ undying popularity has spawned great games like Rust pictured above. Of course the sheer number of fans for this game type has paved the way for large piles of early access games, some ending up in the quick quid and never finished heap but still for the most part ending up in gamers’ libraries. We just simply can’t get enough of them, it seems they give us a certain joie de vivre.

We’ve got your dinosaur taming survival games with the likes of Ark: Survival Evolved, of course naturally there is a horde of Zombie survival games such as DayZ and Just Survive, then there’s Sci-Fi survival in space with the likes of Osiris New Dawn and an underwater alien planet setting with Subnauticanot to mention the legions of bog standard potential real world dystopia versions a la HurtworldYou name it people want to survive it, kind of like life itself.

Another way in which survival games echo life, is that they’re utterly bloody futile!

A Dog Eat Dog World

The one thing that ties all these different survival scenarios together is being thrust into a hostile environment and using your wits and surrounding resources to survive. Ultimately there is no real end goal to these games beyond that, unless they’re single player with story progression. For the sake of this article, I’m going to be focusing on multiplayer, specifically player versus player rather than just the environment. This is where you can find the real echoes of life in our society and the sometimes all too easily conceivable pointlessness of it.

Sadly, for the most part the survival game community is a dog eat dog world, where people will kill you on the off chance that you might have some goodies in your inventory even though you look like a fresh spawn. Then there is those who would in fact just end your miserable existence for the thrill of the hunt, even when there’s no sport in it. But there are players who prefer to make friends in this futile existence, I am one of these players, there’s enough pain without a guilty conscience. I remember one friend gaining encounter  in a game of Just Survive;

A real life pal and I were new to the server, we had nothing but the clothes on our back and hope in our hearts. It was night and we were warily making our way into town, when in the middle of the road a creep with a torch silently beheld us. To put it simply we had no fight so we went into flight mode, to put it plainly we were cowards. So as we ran, like an excitable dog he preceded to chase us for a 5 minutes saga of humiliation, freaked out by a torch lit stranger. We took shelter in a house, so he stood at the window flashing us not saying a word. That’s when we made another break for it and bumped into a stranger kitted out with a backpack and rifle, we begged him for assistance to end our fear. Putting our trust in a stranger with a weapon rather than one with a torch. He scared off our light bearing accoster and we teamed up and to this day are still friends.

  A rare occurrence in these worlds of mistrust, what with the nagging paranoia that your supposed newfound friend is just waiting for the opportune moment to stab you in the back, learning your weaknesses and biding their time – we’d be stupid not to strike first right? It’s an infernal pattern with a ripple effect, shit on or be shat on.

In these games you have few options once you’re surviving and well equipped, try to just exist in perpetual defence for the mere sake of it, accumulate to exterminate the competition, to share in their hard work by raiding them, and taking their possessions for your own. Or try to work with people in exchange for mutual cooperation and face the risk of being so easily betrayed. 

So why do we enjoy survival games so much?

Leaving Your Mark And Making A Story

Survival article 1.jpgBase designing and building is one way you can leave your mark.

Throwing yourself into the pattern of destitution, accumulation and loss to someone or times scythe in the form of a server wipe, seems a tedious repetitive task with no end in sight. Almost as futile as cleaning your house, however it is definitely a lot more fun. It’s infinitely more enjoyable to face virtual futility than the actual consequential reality. Like life itself, for all its futility, the goal of survival is to enjoy the ride and thus give a point to it all.

Leave your mark and enjoy the process, whether that be in the form of your creations or the friends you make along the way. That’s why survival games are an important and enjoyable genre, they’re player based experiences that allows us to embrace life in all its futility.