Interview – War For The Overworld

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War For The Overworld is a new isometric, real time dungeon strategy game by Subterranean Games. A Kickstarter funded project, the game may seem like a very familiar one but this group of super fans are working to make a new game that is better than the one that drew them towards the project in the first place. Sean spoke with Josh Bishop, the CEO and Creative Director of Subterranean Games in Shoreditch, London to find out more.

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How hard is it going to be for people not to call it Dungeon Keeper HD? You’ve got a lot of inspiration from a lot previous games that are very good and you seem to have brought that well in to this game. How have you come about that?

To be perfectly honest, that’s what we set out to do. We started as a group of fans of Dungeon Keeper on a Dungeon Keeper fan site and there hadn’t been a Dungeon Keeper game released in 10 or so years when we first wanted to do this. We liked it so we thought let’s do this.

[It's hard to tell if it's a dungeon or a night club. They're the same thing though... Right?]

[It’s hard to tell if it’s a dungeon or a night club. They’re the same thing though… Right?]

A lot of people say things like “holes in the market” but there hasn’t really been any dungeon games or building games in this vein for a while. That must have been quite an attractive proposition for the community when you started your Kickstarter and getting everything together.

Kickstarter certainly has seen a big surge in games like this. In the past two or three years there’s been a lot in those genres that hasn’t really existed for the past ten years and suddenly it’s all come back. Which is cool because we love those games. So we’re happy.

And you’re managing to do it on a PC platform rather than having to bastardise it for any kind of mobile platform or anything else. Which must be quite good as a programmer.

Yes. It is nice. PC first always. PC, Mac and Linux.

How did you go in to the design process for this because obviously you had a pretty good inspirational template?

We’ve all been playing Dungeon Keeper for a very long time. We know what we like about it and what we don’t like about it. We’ve played plenty of other games that are similar to it, other God games and other RTS games. So for the longest time we’ve thought” Dungeon Keeper would be so much better if… this.” And that’s where we started. We use that as our ground work and we went through and anything we felt could be improved upon, we improved upon it. We didn’t start somewhere else, we started there and we didn’t want to change things for the sake of changing things. We wanted to improve.

It’s going to be very hard for people to disassociate the two games as they are very similar, despite the time difference, but this is a very different that’s almost an homage. You’ve got Richard Ridings for the voice narrator, you’ve got the stylistic choices in the way the game operates and in the humour… How difficult was it for you to separate and create your game?

It wasn’t too difficult. We wanted to build on the gameplay that had been laid out. We weren’t really looking to copy from a stylistic standpoint, legally and because it’s dated. From an artistic standpoint we started with the gameplay and followed from there from the ground up. So the visuals more than anything is where we differentiate at face value. The deeper you go, there are quite a few mechanical differences like the tech tree.

[Excuse me, Dungeon Master, but I didn't order the "Flaming Prince"]

[Excuse me, Dungeon Master, but I didn’t order the “Flaming Prince”]

A lot of God games can give you those kind of options on a plate, so the tech tree allows more strategy to be involved.

That’s because we wanted it to work in multiplayer. Traditionally God games aren’t multiplayer things so it’s kind of ok to just give people everything in a sandbox. But we wanted to bring that RTS angle in to it so there’s some sort of strategic choice and so it can work in multiplayer.

Quick fire questions. Favourite Minion:

The Chunder

Favourite room:

The Arena, that’s pretty cool. The Crypt also looks pretty cool.

I just saw The Archive and that looked cool. Especially close up when you’ve possessed someone, looking at the book and the writing on it. How much attention to detail do you pay to the little quirks and humours touches that people may not necessarily notice?

Quite a lot, the thing with this over other RTS and other top down games, is that they don’t have a first person view. We do. So we have to design everything from a birds eye and a first person perspective. We’ve had to keep things relatively efficient so the character models aren’t as high poly as you might see in other things but we scale that quite a lot. But the texture are made at a high resolution so if your PC can handle that then you can go and look at how cool it is. We did have a play with an Oculous Rift just to try it. It isn’t in the game and isn’t supported, but it did look really nice when we played around with it.

So when you’re in your remote offices, what do you do to get to your inner evil designing mode? Do you put on some thrash metal and sacrifice goats at an alter?

We all have cats on spinning chairs so we can turn around with crazy laughter.

[In the Tavern you'll find your minions getting hilariously drunk, talking about the time they were extras in Labyrinth.]

[In the Tavern you’ll find your minions getting hilariously drunk, talking about the time they were extras in Labyrinth.]

You have to have a sense of humour to work on a game like this though, right?

I guess it’s different from person to person. I know our writer can zone out for days before he comes back. Sometimes people communicate a lot, it’s quite a varied bunch of people we have. I don’t know if there are any teams that operate entirely remotely that are our size. There’s 15 of us from Australia, Hong Kong, Russia, to Europe and the US, all the way around the world.

So that goes to show that there is a worldwide desire and demand for games like these?

Especially in Germany. Germany is such a huge market for this type of game.

Where do you see yourself post-release with the game, as you’re all community based so you know what kind of things the community would expect?

There’s a couple of things we’re already planning. Firstly there’s the early adopter bonus so anyone who buys it in the first month of release will get the first DLC for free. We’re doing that as an alternative to pre-order bonuses as we still want people to buy the game early and at full price but we don’t want people to commit to it without seeing a review or whatever. And we don’t want to feel like there’s content being held back for people who don’t pre-order the game. We’re hoping that’ll be out in June but we aren’t great with deadlines. The second is the flex goal content. So during the Kickstarter campaign we had our milestones and for every one after our main goals, we were going to allow our backers to vote on what content they wanted. That vote is still going so we’ll see what content will be next.

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War For The Overworld is due to be released on April 2nd 2015 for PC, Mac and Linux.

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Evolve – Review

Evolve preview feat

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Having played Evolve back at Gamescom, I had a few worries. Come the Alpha and the recent open beta, I still had them. Come release day, I still had them. The thing is, I’ve heard a lot about Evolve. A lot of people have talked to me quite passionately about how good it was and how excited they were for it. Yet whenever I combined those conversations with my worries over the game, the answer was always something like “it’ll be fine come the release” or “it won’t be an issue.”

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[Satirists predict 2015’s Black Friday Sales]

Evolve is an online multiplayer team hunting game, or an asymmetrical multiplayer game. The idea is that you work as a team of four to hunt a monster, or as a monster to defeat the team. You do this across a variety of maps, which are essentially alien landscape arenas with some vestige of humanity.

As the monster you walk around these arenas eating things so you can evolve your powers of destruction, and kill your hunters/destroy objectives. As the hunters, each of you has a dedicated role: Beat the crap out of the monster, trap it, shield everyone and call air strikes, or heal the idiots who just charge far away from you. You then stop the monster by death or by preventing it from completing its objective within the allotted time.

The problems I had are these: I worried that the game was too reliant on its online component (something that was a complete failure during the PS4 alpha for various reasons) and that not enough people would be interested. I was worried that the game wouldn’t have enough to do in it for it not to become ultra repetitive. I was also worried that the console versions would become very redundant very quickly. Leaving the game to the PC market only, and even then to dedicated people, and that it didn’t have the longevity of the Left for Dead series, Turtle Rock’s previous ventures.

What I have found when looking at other reviews is that people have completely misunderstood a lot of the information surrounding the game. There are massive criticisms from users on Metacritic and Steam over microtransactions. This needs addressing, as at present there is absolutely nothing in this game that is behind any kind of pay-wall to allow you to play it fully. The only thing that could be counted as such is a special edition monster only available to certain packages. There are many downloadable skins available for the game. That’s it. That will undoubtedly change with further DLC but the game isn’t requiring it in order to play, nor is there any pay to win solutions.

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[“Do you think this’ll make the Hunters Calendar next year?”]

From what I can tell so far, the problems for the PS4 that were apparent in alpha have been resolved. The game has some pretty decent matchmaking that doesn’t leave you hanging around too long. It was the top selling game in the UK last week too, so there’s obviously people playing it. There are offline elements but the need for people to be playing the game, so that you can get the best experience, is evident. However there are ways that the game tries to overcome this people quota issue.

In fact, it takes a leaf out of classic PC FPS gaming. I feel the game becomes quite similar in this regard to things like Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament, although given the developers PC pedigree it’s hardly surprising. If there isn’t enough people then the game will put in bots – AI controlled characters – to fulfill the roles. It’s quite clever in that it will help keep the online game alive even if it hasn’t filled up with actual players. It also makes up the majority of the solo play as well. Plus the AI isn’t ludicrously stupid for either you or the monster. It’s nowhere near the excitement of playing with other humans but it will do while you’re waiting for them.

This is where Evolve is at its best though. When you have a full party of people who know their roles and can communicate via chat, this game is a tactical masterpiece. The monster is a wild card and getting things exactly right is incredibly rewarding as an experience. Sadly it is rare that it occurs at the present moment. I’ll come on to the characters themselves but the way that people have been playing the game, in my experience, is very console specific in the run-and-gun style. Which can make games a tactically inept cat-and-mouse chasing simulator. If the console audience is ready to adapt their style of play and ability to communicate better then this game would truly be revolutionary. Unfortunately I still haven’t fully experienced that yet.

The positive is that Turtle Rock has given the people all the right tools to do it. In this regard they have a created a fantastic game, even if it is slightly limited by the built-in desire for online play and future DLC. The game modes are very simple and easy, yet are challenging enough to not become dull and repetitive in a short space of time. The Evacuation game mode is the highlight here. It’s masked as a solo campaign option but the five mission stages that you can complete (win or lose) is best played as a night event online in a party with friends. It’s amusing if you’re all together chatting and it is a separate enough entity that you could just do that once every few nights with your mates without ever leaping too far ahead.

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[And here we see one of natures most homicidal, sociopathic creatures… And what they’re hunting]

Graphically the game runs very well and with stable frame rates. The art design is excellent and creates some incredible alien worlds that science-fiction filmmakers would kill to have. My only criticism of the level design is that it can be very Monster-centric, making the early level hunters struggle to get around.

I’ve not seen many issues relating to Internet connection but there are certainly things that the game could patch like the in-game volume. It’s incredibly loud, louder than any game I’ve played, straight from the intro video. The in game sounds are also so loud that it eclipses the party chat in volume, which is a pretty key element. But these are all patchable things that can be easily addressed.

The characters or Hunters all have a different element to them. There’s four classes (Assault, Trapper, Medic and Support) and each of them have an important role to play. Which is where the need to play tactically really becomes necessary. The characters individually don’t have enough attacking power to just spray the screen with bullets. So you have to actually work together to get in to the best position to use everyone’s abilities. It becomes tricky when the environment starts working against you due to your failings and you realise that some kind of balanced personal weapons for each character is not only useful but completely non-existent. It’d be nice to have something that can tackle animals and such without your team having to bail you out or leave you for dead.

The rub of this is that more characters and monsters unlock the more you progress in the game. They are very typical of a 2K game release; slightly humorous and cliché meatheads/rednecks/smart-asses that come complete with occasional funny dialogue and cut scenes brimming with banter. They aren’t original at all, especially the first medic Val who could have been stolen straight from Resident Evil, but they are all entertaining enough in the short term that you rarely feel they make much of a difference to the game. Their weapons however do. The Assault character’s guns obviously occupy the role of a tank. The Trapper has some excellent things to help the hunt without being offensively anemic. The medic is very poorly equipped for a fight but essential to keeping your team alive, so smart monsters tend to target that role first. The Support or the buffer role is a bit weak but has a powerful yet cumbersome air strike ability. Together they work very well but if someone gets too far ahead then it can get very lonely and very deadly incredibly quickly.

Evolve 3

[Maybe he should try some Listerine?]

The monsters all have different attacks and abilities with the Goliath, Wraith and Kraken (Ed – every game has a bloody Kraken now, is Lovecraft out of copyright or something?) heading up the available line-up, unless you are rich enough to buy the special edition with the Behemoth. I personally love the Goliath’s fire breath that satisfies the inner need for me to be a dragon. The Kraken has enough lightning for me to scream Return of The Jedi Emperor quotes.

The only tricky thing with the monsters is finding a safe enough place to evolve and unlock more powers. Generally you are already on the run at that point and it feels like birds are everywhere. But you find yourself playing, again that key word, tactically. You know you’re one monster so you have to adapt, learn the map, work out how to separate the team and who to target.

The thing is that the game provides a lot of satisfaction as long as the right people are playing it at the right time. It’s like when you play an online FPS mode and come up against a clan. You are obliterated, utterly embarrassed and become incredibly jaded with your experience. For the most part, Evolve is an incredibly successful attempt at a complex style of game that challenges gamers to be better gamers and rewards them for doing so. It also is incredibly well designed, balanced and well thought out for the style of game it is. Normally the word “hunt” would go in the same sentence in gaming as Cabela or Duck. The only thing that lets it down is that it is reliant on communication, good teamwork and the collimation of that to create its online experience. Which is something that console gamers (I’m sorry for pigeon holing us but its true) so often lack. But it will challenge you and if you have a group of friends that all have the game then you will definitely have fun and if you’re willing, it will make you a better, more tactically thinking, gamer. After all, it’s evolution baby!

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Evolve is a very good game that certain audiences, in my opinion, aren’t ready for. The PC market should love it as should parties of gamers. There’s a lot of noise about DLC and things that aren’t included in the game, as well as it’s longevity. But the game itself is an excellently produced “asymmetrical” multiplayer game. The weapons and characters are all interesting to play as and the environments are great.

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– Excellent gameplay that challenges gamers

– Interesting weapons and character roles/monster abilities

– Not totally dependent on Online availability

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– Potential DLC costs a big factor

– Hard to find a good team of people regularly

– Even with bots it does have a limited longevity on console

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For all the noise surrounding the games content issues, it needs to be pointed out that they are not the game. The game itself is excellent and if there was more to the formula that could survive outside of the multiplayer design, then it would be one of the best. Whilst there are short term solutions to that, the experiences I’ve had on console haven’t been showing the game to its best ability. Maybe that will improve as a core group of fans develop. But the vehicle itself, the game, is great despite its limitations.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

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The Wicked and The Divine – The Fade Out

This may shock you, but I’m not a comic book guy. Never have been really. There’s no real reason for it, I did read some comics of TV shows I liked when I was young that were in the show’s magazines like Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and Star Trek. But mostly I just wasn’t a comic book person. I couldn’t access them in the same way my friends have. The universes of Marvel and DC were as alien to me on a page as Kale currently is. I could possibly in retrospect put it down to my complete lack of any artistic ability.

I can’t draw. At all. Not above a crude level. But when I was young I could barely write properly, had a very tough time with maths and was creatively impotent… In retrospect I mean. I read though. I read a lot. I absorbed the meanings of things very quickly from fiction and reference books and that has stayed with me in the accumulation of knowledge only befitting relevance to certain pub quiz rounds.

In fact my interest in comics, which probably won’t surprise anyone given the relevance of the past 12 years of cinema, has come from the Alan Moore graphic novels. These also seem to be a part of a lot of reading lists on literature/writing degrees now in relevance to the art of writing, the conversion to cinema, the mystique Moore has around him and his creations; so it’s all been quite convenient.

I know a lot more now about the universes thanks to the popularity of the film and television franchises that have come from Marvel and DC, but 10 years ago I would have been clueless. Which is why I wanted to talk about two comics I have been reading lately.

The first is a comic by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips called “The Fade Out.” It’s a noir thriller that channels the setting of post-war, post-depression Hollywood and the myths and legends around the time and centres them in to a multi faceted whodunit. I ashamedly am not a guy who will sit in a comic shop for long enough to peruse these things so I was caught by seeing it on Comixology. The first issue has a cover of an old typewriter with a water colour blood stain dripping down over it. That obviously captured me.

What caught me after that was the sample that showed the beginning, and the sense of things that play in the mind and haunt you with the scene of the LA Blackouts after Pearl Harbour. It’s something that, if you read the letters at the end of the issues, the writer says was something that stuck with him and enabled him to access the story, the time and the emotions behind it. Given the incredibly complex emotions of guilt and trauma that our most viewed protagonist, screenwriter Charlie Parish, has it’s something that ties him to his current situation. Which is solving a murder of a Hollywood starlet that has been covered up in to a suicide by unknown parties and him trying to recall the events that led to that moment.

It’s incredibly well written and from my experience, noir can be overly pastiched. Especially when you look at the cinematic impact and the written works of Chandler and Hammett in regards to later imitations. But the style and unfolding of so little and the introduction of such a varied and all equally culpable dramatis personae has kept me rivited. Along with the artwork which evokes a great sense of the world of Old Hollywood but also has such a cinematographic eye that the right emotion on a characters face is equally as important as the balance of light in a frame. This isn’t a first for these guys but this is my first experience of their work and I’ve been loving every page of it.

The second is a comic by a man I’ve always respected and admired for his work as a video games critic. Many people will cite Charlie Brooker as a big influence on their writing style and I do too. But I came to Brooker long after he had finished writing for PC Zone. I was a PC Gamer guy and my writer was Kieron Gillen. He has since transcended his work there and for Rock, Paper, Shotgun by becoming a comic book writer, with some great work reinvigorating franchises for Marvel along with Jamie McKelvie. Again this comic isn’t their first independent work but it is the one that I’ve come to first and has gripped me.

The Wicked and The Divine tells of a pantheon. Twelve God-like figures who come in to existence every 90 years (a few generations) and manifest themselves in late-teenage people. But after two years they are gone, sacrificing themselves until the time is upon them again. This time it’s 2014 and their appearance and God-like abilities has become entwined with the rise of popular artists, celebrity culture, underground music scenes, socialites, sub-cultures of fashion and social groups, and cultural youth icons. All fuelled by dedicated fandom in the fiction the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Bowie in the 70s and the modern connectivity/hysteria of the Internet and distanced-reality only inflates these obsessions. The heroine Laura enters a world of illusion, confusion and admiration as a fan of these Gods and becomes a part of something much bigger and deadlier.

Gillen makes no apologies that this is kind of a love letter to his youth and the desire to create art. Gillen, like myself presumably, grew up with the stories of parents and other elders who had seen these immortals that we saw on little screens and on the covers of our families vinyl collections. It inspired our own research and our own dedication to something we had never experienced. When that experience suddenly became open to us, we grasped it and threw ourselves in to it in our selfish search for immortality that we didn’t ever understand. For him I guess it was the golden age of the early 90s through to the end of the decade and beyond. For me it started with the popular punk renaissance of the early 2000’s along with the reappearance of heavy angst driven rock. Something that reflected my utter confusion and inability to know who I was, what I wanted and how the fuck I would ever get such a thing even if I knew what it was. Us lost souls would gravitate to the churches that held these bands and their music would unite all of us, make us whole and allow us to try and order snakebite as soon as we’d seen that someone else had one.

The Wicked and The Divine is colourful, flamboyant, unapologetic and yet shows a latent innocence that any 16-17 has and still does feel. The parables to the UK’s music scene of all generations is clear (along with a few further afield). Everything from Bowie, Bush, Prince and Daft Punk is thrown in to the mix of these modern day underground music pantheon performers, but the story always centres around Laura and her dealings (not literal) with one of the pantheon who goes by the name of Lucifer. A tom girl with all the echoes of Eurythmics-era Annie Lennox but with a mystique that combines that with Patti Smith, Chrissy Hynde, and their 90s equivalents like Kenickie, the presenters of The Girly Show and many other alternative music/youth shows like The Word.

Both of these comics are available on Comixology for the technologically inclined (or those wanting to hide their comic books from prying eyes/judgmental room cleaners) and of course from any good comic book retailer. The Fade Out is coming back this month after their first four issues and The Wicked and The Divine is on their 8th issue this month, with the first five available as a compendium called “The Faust Act”.

How Video Games Tackle My Misanthropy

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The closest words I could find to describe myself in regards to this article was ‘misanthrope’ and ‘nihilistic’, and yet that’s still not entirely accurate. Technology has progressed to a level that can propagate genuine fear in the human psyche. Not the ‘50s sci-fi death robots or the ‘70s Bond movie machines-of-destruction fear, but the Phillip K. Dick-esque psychological fears. The warnings of a futuristic society broken by humanity, like those played out visually in Charlie Brooker’s inspired dark satire, Black Mirror. Which is why when I see the Microsoft Hololens that was announced a few weeks back, I can’t help but imagine then bad things that it could do. The kind of salacious things that someone like Paul Veerhoven would put in a movie as an aside like a virtual, holographic erotic dancer, being viewed by a Dad of three at breakfast – living the subterfuge of the happy families lie.

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It’s not that I don’t trust the technology, but I don’t trust the operator. Which is why you could call me a misanthrope. But my opinion is that the human species are survivors and work to create the best things under the pressures of extinction and unity. In an age where I can walk 300 yards and pick up a box of Strawberries in mid-January, I feel more removed from any kind of human condition than I suspect I ever would have in previous generations. Which is why there is an escapism that I practice in video games. The escapism of the open-world dystopian/fantasy role-playing game or the escapism of a destroyed earth that you must walk to survive. Heading from realm to realm regardless of if its fiction is magical or futuristic.

If I were to list my favourite games of all time I would be sure to add Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption and Halo to that mix. Halo has a futuristic science-fiction world that borrows from many of the genres greatest tropes and presents them in a way that, while militaristic and brimming with bravado, creates the impression that there is more out there. The impression that there is more history to uncover, more secrets to be known and things more important than just throwing our DNA out to every planet with an excess of oxygen. Red Dead Redemption places itself in a changing world that operates like a Cormac McCarthy book. Its turn of the century gentrification and modernisation of the Wild West puts in to perspective how the elements of human greed and corruption have created such fallout that to live a simple, rewarding life is no longer possible and to survive in the 20th Century, some elements of the past must be destroyed to forge that.

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It’s this kind of connection I make to these games that makes me invest in the character I’m playing. Not because of divine or fatalistic consequence but because a situation has made this person rediscover what it means to be a human in some way. With Skyrim the free nature of how you can create your own story, whether it is through emergent gameplay or in an intertextual way through the game’s fiction, completely places you in that world. It’s a world at war with political allegiances astray all over, the threat of large creatures destroying everything and ancient history restoring or upsetting the balance by placing you at the centre of it. The same can be said for the way that Fallout 3 operates within its own fictional world.

To bring this in to a more recent context, the same can also be said for the Dragon Age series and the latest title, Dragon Age Inquisition. Dragon Age allows you to create someone who is fatalistically placed in the centre of a predicament but the way you make choices in this world is a lot purer, if you will, than your modern day life or even many similar games. When you make choices to peruse a relationship with another character in the game, it isn’t because their dowry will be rather large or because moving in together will save a lot more money in rent. It’s because you’ve decided that particular person is someone you want to get to know, to invest in, to discover. Like love and the forging of relationships should be. When you make the decision of which members of your party should come with you, it’s because they bring the best chance of survival and the best talents to that situation.

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It’s much more meaningful and dramatic compared to working on a PowerPoint as a team which you end up having to cover 75% of anyway. This is why so many people have replayed all of these games. Especially Skyrim and Dragon Age. Because there is the submission to playing the role presented before you that allows you to rise above the day-to-day postmodern nihilism that we live in. It’s the same reason people read books or view masses of DVD box sets and Netflix series. It’s even the same reason that people follow, attend and submit themselves to sports and the vast arenas they are played in; to be part of something bigger.

This is obviously escapism but because I write about games and have a passion for them, much like people do for movies, music, and other hobbies (for lack of a better word), I feel I have a much larger investment intellectually in them. So that I can see what parallels they have to our current human condition, or more to the point how the evolution of that condition has robbed us of the simpler, more honest notions in life. This misanthropy may be borne out fear but in the current context of cyber crime, viral news cycles, click bait and the anti-humanistic oppression that interconnectivity can bring, it is video games I turn to in order to remind myself of what humanity truly can be at its best and sometimes its worst. I think that is something we all need, even if video games aren’t the way you get it. Books, drama, theatre, however you remind yourself, anything is equally valid as long as you take away something human from it.

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