Friday, 18 January 2013

Winterton’s Fridays: A Heartfelt Discussion about Gaming Addiction

by Ben Winterton

Hello, my name’s Ben, and I’m addicted to video games.

As you have probably guessed, I think video games are great. Listen to me gush about “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”, “Bloons Tower Defence” or, hell, even pause screens. But I think they can also have a dark side. They can be horribly addictive. Jak has spoken about how to deal with binge gaming, but I want to talk about my own personal experience of video game addiction.

As flippant as the topic may sound, video game addiction is very real. Whilst it doesn’t quite have the same intensity as alcoholism, drug addiction, or indeed sex addiction (see Chuck Palanuik for more), video game addiction is a manifestation of the same issues; namely, the desperate need for escape.

Not this.

For me, video games have often served as a crutch. Speaking as someone with persistent depression and anxiety problems, video games have often been my only escape from what is in my head. But a reliance on this escape is not at all healthy. In my last article, I talked about how I had got every achievement on “Ninety-Nine Nights” (the use of the word “achievement” is one of the most constantly hilarious ironies of the current gaming generation). What I didn’t say was that I got each and every achievement on “Ninety-Nine Nights” during a 2 week long depressive episode, spent predominantly in dark room, alone and miserable. It was this moment that I realised I was addicted to video games. I wasn’t playing for fun, out of intrigue, with friends, or any of the other reasons people normally play video games. I was playing because I did not know what else to do.

Since this realisation, my relationship with video games has been a troubled one. On the one side, they are a huge part of my life; on the other hand, I am constantly in danger of slipping back into an addictive phase. During these phases, I play games obsessively, not realising my needs to wash, sleep or eat. It comes as no surprise to me that people have died playing videogames.

Last week I could feel myself sliding into one of these phases. I had a huge pile of post-Christmas video games, and I was starting to let other aspects of my life slide. And what saved me? Nothing short of the frustratingly mediocre “Resident Evil 6”. A game that consistently taunts you with promises of a good game, but then breaks your will with innumerable frustrating elements. I rage quit so hard I started going to the gym again.

Better than Prozac?

This blog is dedicated to all the beautiful, funny, stupid, entertaining, enjoyable and pretentious things that there are either in, or around, video games. 103 is enjoying rather modest success at the moment, and I would personally like to thank Jak for letting me write on it, and everyone who reads our articles. This article has been an honest, open discussion of my own feelings. And my conclusion? If you find yourself slipping, play “Resident Evil 6”, and die twenty times to an unfair QTE. Oh, and you should probably speak to a doctor if you are depressed.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Ambiguity of Game Trailers: CyberPunk 2077 Trailer Edition

by Ed Colley

Here’s a problem with cinematic game trailers. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s a link to the new trailer for CyberPunk 2077. Give it a watch, I’ll wait. Done? Now put aside the very impressive visual aesthetics for a moment. What have you learned about the game itself? Is a real-time-strategy, a first-person-shooter or even a MMORPG? Can you tell me anything about the characters involved? The chances are you can’t if your only information about the game is that trailer. But how come game trailers (and only game trailers) are allowed to get away with this? You couldn’t away with this for a film. Imagine if the trailer for the King’s Speech was just a freeze frame of Colin Firth in his lingerie to a brooding, indie soundtrack. You’d just think it was a poorly cast advert for a strangely named aftershave.

Search result for "The King's Speech". He must really like steam-punk, he's got cogs and everything.

Ambiguous trailers frustrate me. They frustrate me because you come out them feeling as if you know less about them than when you started. However, it frustrates me less if the trailer is also a standout piece cinematography (see the Dead Island trailer for details). The perfume analogy from the first paragraph is apt for this type of cinematic game trailer. It’s a short and vacuous advert which attempts to entice you into a sale without providing any real information. Now there are reasons for this of course. A perfume advert can’t describe a smell to you and hope to maintain its flimsy veil of elegance. In the case of CyberPunk 2077, it’s 3 years from being released so a large portion of the game hasn’t even been designed yet. They don’t even know what they’re selling really. 

"Okay, it's kind of like a really strong orange-y smell with a bit of petrol. There's possibly a Mentos in their too."
Regardless, I feel can’t let this level of ambiguity in marketing go by without calling it out and trying to smugly take it as out of context as possible. So without further ado, here is a list of adverts and trailers that the CyperPunk 2077 trailer could also apply to. Feel free to join in in the comments.
1.       A game where you play as a special police task force that is designed to take down a uprising of robotic, lingerie models.
2.       An advert for bulletproof make-up.
3.       A game in which you play as a freelance news Helicopter trying to film stories in a futuristic city where you get high scores for good composition and framing. Points will be deducted for every news headline which reads “News helicopter crashed again due to the pilot being too concerned about the lighting in his shot to concentrate on flying a god-damn helicopter”.
4.       A game in which the claw from a grab the cuddly toy machine in an arcade becomes sentient, gains human form and goes on a killing spree in search of vengeance for all the cuddly toys that have been cruelly taken from them over the years.
5.       An infomercial that goes along the lines of “Has this ever happened to you? Some bullets just can’t cut it with today's new super-cyborgs. Try Branson’s Bullets. For all your on-the-go cyborg exterminating needs. Also try Branson’s new make-up piercing rounds. ”
Having done some research, CyberPunk 2077 is meant to be an open world RPG from CD Projekt RED, who are most notable for producing the Witcher series. I was surprised to find out that the original CyberPunk game is a moderately successful 80s’s pen and paper RPG. To produce a trailer of such scale and quality for such a widely unknown brand definitely shows dedication. The basic premise follows the citizens of Night City, where humans are able to augment themselves with cyber-technology but at the cost of their humanity. Now that sounds like a good premise.
Don't worry, only 22 years to wait and then Spider-man can sort everything out.  
Developers feel the need to release these early trailers to build more interest and following in the hope of achieving more sales, such is the current state of the gaming industry. The problem remains that they are still tasked with marketing an incomplete and interactive product in a non-interactive medium. Therefore the only remaining features you can show your audience is the world you hope to immerse them in and the human element. Both of these can be demonstrated with strong story telling. If the trailer had shown the horrors of the process of augmentation followed by one citizen's descent into insanity, that would have been more compelling than watching a minute of bullet-time.
Still, those of you looking for irony will say that the trailer got me to research the game in spite of how much it annoyed me, so it has served its purpose.  In which case, aren’t you a clever clogs Mr. Marketing. I hope you enjoy your profitable career writing terrible dialogue for some pretentious perfumes, you ponce. It looks like I’ve been tricked by the internet again. Or in other words, I’ve just been Cyber-Punked.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Winterton’s Fridays: The First 40k

(I know this is being posted on a Sunday, but I didn’t want to wait another week before posting an article)

A few weeks ago, I cleared the 40,000 mark on my Xbox Gamerscore, and thought that now was as good a time as any to reflect on the games that I earned those achievements from, since 10K marks just bring that out in people. I must, however, firstly apologise to those who do not own an Xbox 360, as you probably don’t share my enthusiasm for the system (actually, you probably don’t even if you do own one). I’ve never really rated the trophy system on the PS3, and I think Jak has conclusively proved that Nintendo couldn’t pull such a system off.

I find it quite nostalgic to look back through my accumulated Gamerscore, as it reminds me about some of the best gaming experiences I’ve had over the last few years. I remember quite vividly that the first game I got every achievement on was good ol’ “Bioshock”, which felt like a big achievement at the time, and for which I was desperate to show off about. Since then, I’ve managed to get all the achievements on a further 12 games, those being:

             - Rayman Origins
-          - Assassin’s Creed II
-          - Shadows of the Damned
-          - Plants vs Zombies
-          - Bayonetta
-          - Bastion
-          - Ninety-Nine Nights
-          - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
-          - Fallout: New Vegas
-          - Brink
-          - Fallout 3
-          - Deathspank

Also, honourable mentions go to “Dragon Age II” and “Resident Evil 5”, whom I cleared save for the DLC. Dishonourable mentions go to “BulletWitch”, “The Last Remnant”, “Worms 2: Armageddon”, “Dungeon Defenders”, “Enslaved”, “Guitar Hero World Tour” and “Beyond Good & Evil” for all appearing on my played list and not yet yielding a single achievement.

Not pictured: terrible controls.

As I think we can all agree, that’s a bit of a mixed bag, although generally I’ve found that if I enjoy a game I make the effort to get the achievements on it. A lot of people often see achievement hunting as a bit of a waste of time, and whilst I can’t really disprove something so subjective, I find achievements often motivate me to see aspects of a game I might never do. Now, this may well lead to something horrible and repetitive (I challenge anyone to get all the achievements in “Ninety-Nine Nights” and enjoy it), but it can also lead to some cool stuff I may never have seen before. “Portal 2” invites the player to use the most devious ways of playing the game to discover some great Easter Eggs. “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” sets up some great tactical challenges, such as clearing maps with one soldier or psychically possessing one of the powerful Ethereals.

If Sheeva bred with a Ringwraith.

So that’s why I love achievements. Since this is a bit of a retrospective, I thought it would be nice to reflect on some of the more memorable achievements I’ve seen, and give awards accordingly. Here we go:

Hardest Achievement- Although there are numerous achievements that are glitched or rely on long-dead multiplayer servers, I’m going to give this to the “Mr Perfect” achievement on “Mega Man 10”. You have to beat THE WHOLE GAME without getting hit. Yeah.

Easiest Achievement- “The Birth of an Assassin” from “Assassin’s Creed II”. I may be misremembering here, but I swear you get this 20G achievement for starting a new game and pressing no buttons. Runners up include achievements for watching the credits, appearing in both “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” and “Duke Nukem Forever”.

Best Name- Again from “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”, we have “Balls”, with the rather brilliant description of “Seems you like playing with balls, eh?”. For a game that strives to be mature, something this childish is brilliant.

Most dickish- I think this is going to have to be a tie between “Dastardly” and “Manifest Destiny”, both from “Red Dead Redemption”. One involves hogtying a woman and watching her get run over by a train, the other involves wiping out the buffaloes. Wow.

Best Image- By which I mean the icon used to represent the achievement. I’m going to go for “Episode 1 cleared!” from “Deadly Premonition”. I mean, just look at it.

Even if you've played the game, this has no relevance.

Biggest Achievement- There are 2 achievements in “Ninety-Nine Nights” that are worth 200G. Are they worth getting? No.

Worst Achievement- “Seriously 2.0” from “Gears of War 2”. Involves killing 100,000 enemies which, by my maths, would require you to play the game for 3 hours a day, every day, for about 3 months. Fuck. That.

Best Achievement- I’m going to go for “Against All Odds” from “Mass Effect 2”. Without spoiling anything, this achievement, whilst not too difficult to get, just makes you feel awesome.

Oh, and finally, I would like to apologise to Warhammer Fans, as this article has nothing to do with Warhammer 40k. I probably should have said that sooner.