Saturday, 8 December 2012

Put that one there; the plague of backseat gaming

Games are a great way of testing you mentally. Obviously they're good for many other things, but I’m glad that we can all agree that most games are at the very least an intellectual challenge. However, most games offer a single-player challenge. Now, watching other people play video game is great, but the chances are the people you are watching don’t want your help.

To highlight my point, let’s take a quick look at Mr Tom Dransfield. Tom enjoys nothing more than spending his evening grinding away at some new challenge. I personally enjoy nothing more than telling him where he is going wrong. I can’t help it, I’m not saying I’m any more intelligent than he is (I am) but often when watching a game without the added stresses and tensions of playing the game, you tend to figure out the big picture slightly quicker.

You should totally turn right at the next puzzle block

Combine this with the obvious limitations caused my brain's inability to vocalise a solution any sooner than 1.5 seconds after I figure it out, my advice coming at the same moment Tom has figured out the problem for himself is a common occurrence; not to mention my advice will often consist of nothing more than the meaningless phrase “Push that one”.

What I’m saying is that I’m surprised I've yet to be punched in the face with an Xbox controller.

The first step is admitting that your have a problem

So if like me you can’t resist the challenge of a puzzling game, please just play it yourself and if you have to watch someone else playing video games, remember to give them the courtesy of your silence; nobody wants your advice, because not only does it ruin their fun, but your advice will often be late, useless or just plain wrong.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Tricking Perverts into Playing Great Games

I'm going to go out on a limb here and I won't be disheartened if nobody backs me on this, sexuality is a confusing place, for everyone. I don't mean the often misconstrued and badly represented, do you like boys or girls kind of confusing; I mean the weirdly repressed, suppressed, untalked of, ever present and just ocassionally terrifying world of individual sexuality that exists in everyone behind this thin veil that we call society. Now I'm not going to try to weigh in on this and try to solve any of society's problems, sexuality is difficult and tricky for everyone all the time, that's a fact. What I will say is this though, a lot of people complain about sex in the media, usually on the grounds of decency, exposure or simply just 'think of the children'. But I have come up with what I think is a much better argument - everyone is a bit fucked up and money grabbing ad men aren't exactly helping the situation.
I typed 'Sexually Confusing Advert' into Google. Here's a tip, don't do that

Now, before I creep any readers out by mentioning the word sex again, I'd like to steer this neatly into video games. The depiction of alluring women in video games is a subject that has received a lot of coverage over the years, many essays, news articles and research proposals have attempted to delve into the heart of the problem, proclaiming that it's wrong, exploitative, emotionally damaging, potentially dangerous and perhaps worst of all, largely ignoring the sizeable heterosexual female gamer market. But here's the thing, I didn't care. Not because I disagreed with any of these points, or just loathe reactionary news stories by 40 something journalists who never picked up a control pad, but simply because most of the games that were being lambasted totally sucked noodles. If they want to use Lara Croft's pixelated assets to sell more copies of Tomb Raider, fine, the gameplay is still dull and the platforming is horrible to manage, I ain't buying it. But recently the problem of using sex to sell games has washed up on my prudish shores and that's because of the recent trend of genuinely excellent games that are steeped in sex and perversion for pretty much no reason at all.
Well of course it's an article about Bayonetta, look at the title

 Two titles that I've recently devoted a lot of time to are the games Bayonetta and Catherine, both fantastic games for very different reasons. Bayonetta is one of the best god of war/devil may cry type beat-up-demonic-monsters games that you're likely to find. And Catherine is an intensely complex, multi-faceted and unique puzzle game....uh, and a disturbing dating simulator. And there's the problem, every time you pull off (wahey) a successful move in Bayonetta you are 'rewarded' with pretty much all of her clothes coming off - her clothes are made of her hair, which is also her main makes sense in some weird way if you play - and equally in Catherine, every time you reach the summit of another challenging level you are 'treated' to a (no joke) twenty minute interactive erotic story about a detestable, pathetic protagonist and the ludicrously proportioned women who throw themselves at him.
Sorry Zeta Jones, first Google result goes to cartoon Catherine
For the record, I have nothing against dating simulators, I think they're boring, but so is Tiger Woods Golf and nobody gets given grief for enjoying those games. And perversion is also nothing I'm against, morally or otherwise, in fact as I alluded to in that disturbing opening paragraph, I think we're all perverts in our own individual ways, like lots of precious dirty snowflakes. I wouldn't even call these games perverted, that would be to wrongly marginalise the people who enjoy that content within them. The problem is simply putting sex where it seems completely unneeded, in every sense of the word, simply because, hell, both of these games happen to be incredibly difficult. When I manage to perform a seamless combo in Bayonetta, I'm not pleased because I got a glimpse of arse, I'm happy because the fight itself was an incredible challenge. Even if arousal was something I was looking for from my Xbox  It'd be like trying to maintain an erection whilst solving a Rubik's cube, it can't be done (submit your videos directly to YouTube and link me).
Why are you so happy? Your other hand had better be on another rubik's cube
Sex and terrible games go hand in hand, and rightfully so, companies love selling them, people love buying them. But sex and great games have no place in bed together. The worst thing is, I'm now in the horrible position of loving both of these games uncontrollably; the conversation is always the same: "Man, have you played Bayonetta?" "ooohh Yeah, isn't that the game where she..." "Yes! Fine! But it's also really really good despite that, please try it" I have to spend the first 5 minutes trying to explain that I don't sit at home sweaty palmed and drooling; sometimes I even try writing an incredibly long article about it. But as I find, time and time again, the harder you work to convince people it isn't true, the worse you end up looking by the time you're done.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Living with the consequences; a love affair with auto-save

Back in the days of the arcades, gaming failure carried a real world incentive; when you died, you paid up. In the transition to consoles the measure of failure remained in the form of the lives system, albeit now without the financial hit. As gaming has evolved over the last decade or so, there has been a clear shift away from this outdated system towards new ones that punish failure in more sophisticated ways.

Bankruptcy was common for gamers in the 1980's

From World of Warcraft’s degrading armour to Diablo III’s perma-death mode, there are many ways in which a game can punish you for failing, but one feature all the best punishment schemes have in common is that they are irreversible. If you die, you can’t just reload to 5 minutes earlier and make everything ok, you have to live with the consequences of disappointing the game. And here we see my favourite way of enforcing punishment on a player; forced auto-saving.

See, you didn't just waste 25 hours, your deeds will be remembered.

The main role of autosaving is taking the responsibility of remembering to save completely out of your hands, though many games will also let you create other ‘back-up’ saves; for the purposes of getting to my point let’s look at what happens when there is no back-up.

Consider Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream’s dramatic thriller, in which you only have one save file per playthrough. One thing I should mention about this game is that it is pretty darn tense, and as a result you are prone to sudden (often stupid) reactions; combine this with constant autosaving and what you have is a game where you have to deal with every mistake you make unless you want to start over.

You overlooked a key clue at a crime scene? Deal with it.
You stood on some crisps and alerted nearby threats? Deal with it.
You missed a punch and took a sledgehammer to the face? Deal with it. Also that nice detective is now dead because of you, you dick.

These will forever terrify you.

I reserve no modesty in telling you that I managed to keep all four characters alive during my first play-through  however knowing that they could (very easily) die at various points in the game added to both the tension of the game and my commitment to the characters, and I don’t believe Heavy Rain would work if you could simply undo your last move with a quick-load.

Obviously, Heavy Rain a very stylised game, but that doesn't mean this model can’t work elsewhere. Some examples of games that use auto-save successfully include X-COM’s Iron Man mode, Dark Souls and Minecraft; these games bring fear and consequence back to failure, and whilst at times this can be frustrating, I’ll never find avoiding losing a life as rewarding as avoiding losing my team-mates  my soul or my giant golden statue of Megaman.