Gaming Cubed: Trapped in a Box of Jealousy.

Cube World has arrived.

This annoys me.

Why? Well for one, I can’t play it yet as I’m a Mac user (DAMMMMMMNNNNN YOUUUUUUU!!!!). But two, and possibly the more important issue, my friends are playing it without me. To do so, they have left the other cube behind that we’ve recently started, that of Minecraft. This means I am missing out on a huge amount of fun… Or so I thought.

I’ve been watching videos online of course, especially BdoubleO100 on YouTube, to find out what exactly I’m missing. I’ve also witnessed my friends play (although the heat of a small room with two PC’s really isn’t worth it). So far all I can gleam from it is that I will get very bored of this very quickly. Why? Because it’s a cube version of World of Warcraft, et al. Now, I’m currently playing a few games, am desperate for Maxis to hurry up with the Mac release of SimCity, and have very little money. So affording an MMO fee right now is out of the question. But my friends, who are currently playing the low res, independent and customisable MMORPG Cube World, don’t play MMO’s.

I’ve been a WoW and EVE subscriber a few times. My friends don’t have time to play those, or don’t care. I personally get very bored being the anti-social lone ranger I am when I have no friends to play with. So I eventually leave. Now I’m left out of this new indie gaming revolution and by the time I get round to it, they’ll totally be bored of it. So I’m incredibly jealous because I’ll be missing out on all the fun.

Right now, I want to play F1 2012  online with someone, I need to work my way through the Assassin’s Creed series which I ashamedly haven’t had any time for AND want to do more Minecraft online with friends/curse EA for the inventible continuing SimCity Mac delays.

So you can take your “very good for an alpha release game with the small team behind it” and SHOVE IT! *Cries like being the last boy picked for the school sports teams*

Storytelling 117 – The Successful Narrative Evolution of Halo

It’s no coincidence that many of the writing team from Bungie for Halo have now written novels. Without trying to be condescending or arrogant, anyone can write a book. But to write a good book, imply relationships and create something spectacular requires understanding of storytelling. To suggest that this is any different in video games would be naive. The evolution from a love letter to the science fiction tropes and characters of the 80s, with nods to iconic literature, might have made survived the first game well. But as soon as Halo became more than just one game, the challenge was not to let the rich universe they had created down. Many different series in television for example have the problem of crumbling under their own weight. Without watching it myself, I am reliably informed that Lost is a good example of this.


With the limitations of the technology of the time, compared to now of course, this need to tell something entertaining is paramount to creating an enjoyable video game. It always has been and if we are honest with ourselves with any of the franchise lust/technologically blinkered vision, the problem with modern computer games. Which is sad because we all like games, we all appreciate the ridiculous sacrifice of man-hours to complete such a graphical opus and we certainly want to spend our money on them. But, and I’m going from the traditions of point and click LucasArts mastery all the way to Lego Harry Potter with this one, you need a good story if you want to make a good game. Otherwise the artists, and they are artists, will strive for hours to create a collection of pretty pixels that end up being YouTube clips. Even sports games, let’s take the FIFA series as an example, employ some form of narrative to keep the game entertaining. You have the personal narrative of besting your friends but there are Ultimate Team and Manager modes where you are basically writing your own fantasy football story with you as the great architect of it. In fact any career mode in any sports game is a narrative. Be under no illusions, this is a very interactive narrative device that the earliest of board games employed. Is the joy of winning at Monopoly simply winning? Or is it the recalling of how you carefully planned and plotted where to build your Hotels and how employed tactics to create your own empire?

Halo rose to the challenge of a potentially limited one off premise to create a ten game saga and an incredibly rich universe. Which is ultimately why I keep coming back to it. In fact I will go on record as saying I wasn’t really interested in Halo 4. I am now, having been brought it and completed it for all its worth. But I failed to see how a new trilogy for the Master Chief would benefit the story of the Halo Universe. I was happy to leave this spectre, this hero in the eyes of humanity, tragically floating endlessly in space waiting for a rescue that would never come. Because, by Halo 3, the joy for me wasn’t just playing a good game, it was seeing how it ended. I was happy because the Chief and Cortana were together and they were where they needed to be, as they were right at the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved: On standby. I enjoyed that the games continued though as the obviously rich source of material the Halo Universe had coined was now ripe for the picking. Halo 3: ODST received a lot of criticism due to it being basically an add-on repackaged as a independent title. But I firmly believe it is the best Halo game. The narrative structure of flashbacks, snapshots and detective work was beautifully played against the artistic vision of the game itself. Dark, desolate, broody and above all, lost. Halo Reach answered some questions about why the Spartans were created and how this war started. It could have used the incredible story that Eric Nylund wrote about the Fall of Reach detailing the programme and the growing of John-117. But it didn’t. It used the universe to its advantage to create arguable a better story for video gaming. Everything that has been done throughout the Halo’s has been useful in sustaining and creating this great fiction. Which is why the series has spawned so many sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and live action features and adverts.


Take Grand Theft Auto 4 for example here of useful/non-useful in-game narrative. Girlfriends can be a useful element in its game play. They give you some bonuses when you need them. In the narrative however, they mostly benefit nothing to the overall story of the game. They allow you to play the game with a relaxation on difficulty but to this great American Dream that Niko Bellic is slowly discovering, they become an irritant to the player. It’s your judgement as to if they are worth the investment of time and stress in the game but the fact that they do isn’t because they make the game harder to complete or affect your playing ability. It’s that they take you out of the story and create another one that you feel you don’t need or takes things needlessly too far. Their inclusion is useful to the nuts and bolts of driving down the street being annoying tailed by a policeman but not to what you’re actually invested in, the story of Niko Bellic. Which is why the follow up Halo games are good. Because by the end of Halo 3, also in part thanks to a stellar cast who bring these roles to life and great musical direction, the narrative arc of the Master Chief is done, but you are invested in the Universe it’s created. You want to stretch your legs and know more. Reach out and become a part of it, more than just from behind the amber visor of the super solider. You feel like you’ve been assimilated into the ethos of Halo’s fictional future and that is very a powerful thing.

The successes for this are simple, well they sound simple. They are in fact incredibly difficult and taken utterly for granted. The first is the relationship, dialogue and evolution between the Chief and Cortana. Something that Halo 4 does very well is point out this weird duality between the two of them that one is a machine and one is human, yet the reversal of this is the basis of the relationship. They are in love, partners, paternal, and completely symbiotic. The exciting thing is that this dissolving of their dynamic in the future Halo games will change the Chiefs character exponentially and how 343i handle this. But there is something so natural and endearing between the two that has held the games together where they are involved. Secondly is Halo 2… Yes, Halo 2. This game expanded the universe successfully when, ultimately, it didn’t need to. But it did and we are thankful. The religious nature of the covenant, their society castes, the civil war, the flood, the destruction of humanity, the sheer cinematic quality and scope of the entire game really helped the series, and arguably video games (Half Life not withstanding), out of a hole to really remember how important story is to any entertainment experience. The switch from cheaper alternatives to give a game its full scope (actors, writing, development, concepts, even the inclusion of an orchestra over computer-synthesised music) lifted the console market into a new era and challenged a lot of conceptions on what actually makes a good game. Without Halo 2 being so well produced, in all regards, most of your blockbuster games wouldn’t be as good.


Of course, the universe is still key to Halo, or it is at least perceived to be. It’s not just a cult following of fans like television shows get. It’s an important part of people’s hobbies. For many years in the future, generations will recall how good they used to feel after playing a Halo game and how they don’t make them like they used to anymore. The universe is the most important part of that. Comics, movies, soundtracks, novels (although someone should really re-novelise The Flood. No offence to Mr Detiz but it was pretty rubbish) have all expanded the universe. I’m sure at some point in the future; someone will give a Peter Jackson that blank cheque to create a film trilogy. Because the source material is so rich, it would be very hard not to be able to create a decent script. I could do it and I would do it. I could even see how Halo could become a couple of television mini-series. Halo in the past 11 years has evolved in every sense, not just in narrative. Now it is taking a fresh evolutionary turn with the new trilogy. Everyone is aware that 343i can create a very good playable game. But what we really need is a great story. Halo 4 had some hints of one, but ultimately was quite forced and felt slightly stagnant in how it handled progressing the story compared to the previous games. We have another 2 games, and presumably a new console to launch, with these titles. We only hope, as fans and I as a critic, that 343i will be up to the task of carrying out the audacious narrative arc they are embarking on.

Cheerleaders, Tebowing and Superbowls – It’s nearly Madden Time. (Madden 13 Preview)

In the next few weeks, Madden 13 will grace our lives. When I say “our” lives, I of course mean the fans of American Football. The rest of you will obviously be waiting for FIFA and drooling over how well Rooney’s plugs are rendered.

Now every year, unlike it’s rounded balled cousin, Madden curses whoever they choose to be on the cover with a terrible season/injury/crime. This year, the honour befalls one of the standout players of the past year. The man known only as ”Megatron.” Ok his real name is Calvin Johnson, but Megatron is his utterly deserved nickname.

Image

What’s with the death stare on the left?

The Detroit Lions wide receiver had a career best season last year with 96 receptions for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. But before you Lions fans get the hump with EA for hexing your star boy, the fans in a round robin based system voted for this. So basically, Detroit, no one wants you to be happy. Sorry.

One thing Madden does very well (although NBA 2K12 has risen its game mightily) is emulating the presentation of the game on TV. For years we’ve enjoyed the dulcet tones of John Madden’s replacement, Cris Collingsworth, calling the action. NO MORE! Now the job falls to the CBS pairing of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (hopefully without his trademark magic pen).

Image

Did you hear that? He just farted!

The new kits by Nike are fully represented also and the QB’s have recorded audio to give the game a completely authentic feel when at the line of scrimmage. This also goes along with the standard promised visual improvements (new engine, sun shading, motion blur). It also promises to be as interactive as ever with a new “Connected Careers” mode which lets you share your coaching/playing triumphs, failures, creations and plays via twitter to the real world, NFL insiders, etc.

Where Madden could strike big is by following in the success of the Ultimate Team game mode. This has been in Madden for a while, even before FIFA had it. But it is FIFA’s success that could really make it grow. Already you can take your team out with you on mobile and there is a lot of emphasis on this, especially seeming as 96% of fans (completely made up statistic) are obsessed with fantasy games.

Image

Already the curse of Madden strikes as “Megatron” is now a reserve.

But this could make the difference of when you get bored after 7 seasons as your created character or running a franchise. The online play in Madden has always been extremely fun (much more fun that FIFA and less annoying). So hopefully the MUT as it’s known will add that great dimension to it.

Hopefully, when I get my hand on a copy, I’ll let you know how well it plays and how bad the Dolphins suck. In the meantime, dust off last year’s copy to trade it in, and download a few podcasts to get you ready. Or if you fancy a read, have some suggestions below for both:

Americarnage – www.americarnage.co.uk (iTunes)

NFL Inside The Huddle – www.nfluk.com (iTunes)

Tailgate to Heaven – www.tailgatetoheaven.com (Amazon)

ESPN’s Mike & Mike – http://espn.go.com/espnradio/show?showId=mikeandmike (iTunes)

NFL Rants & Raves – www.nflrandr.com (iTunes)

Will Defiance Defy or Defile?

Defiance.

It seems like a brilliant idea and a brilliant concept.

Here’s a “bring you up to speed” bit. SyFy in the US (the people that have brought you Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Eureka, etc.) are launching a new show called Defiance over Spring 2013. Its premise is that aliens crash on a near-future Earth with an ark of animals and people and begin to terraform and cohabit with the humans.

Fair enough. But they are also releasing a game. Not a tie in, but a constant companion to the series. The game is set in a different city to the TV series (game in San Francisco, TV in St Louis) but it runs side by side with the TV universe. The stories, mythology and events of the series happen at the same time in the game. Characters jump from the series to the game and back out to the series to talk about what’s happened in the game. It’s what they call “Transmedia.” The game itself is a Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter (MMOFPS) that will be on 360, PS3, PC and will have an iPad version. Here’s the website about it that gives you all the info and videos that you need. http://defiance.com/en/

Image

This has been in development for 4 years. In that time, from the TV perspective, SyFy made and cancelled at least two major (costly) series; Caprica and Stargate Universe. They’ve ended Eureka and have given a very big paycheck and primetime slot to Vince McMahon for WWE’s Smackdown. That fact that this isn’t a tie in and the whole duality of both the TV and MMO game makes me nervous because it is completely new territory. The game doesn’t make me nervous at all as a single entity. The game, if it’s a good game, will succeed, regardless of the TV series. Or it won’t (e.g. APB).

This is where my fears lay however, the TV series. For those of you who know anything about how television works you may get this immediately. For those of you who don’t, here’s how it goes:

  • Big series is developed. Lots of money goes into it.
  • Series premieres to rave reviews and large audiences. TV rakes in advertising money and distribution rights.
  • TV Execs immediately commission second series.
  • Series begins to fall mid season where not much happens. Viewer numbers tumble.
  • Series goes on mid season break. Viewers get annoyed with pointlessly long gap and forget series.
  • Series returns with more viewers but less than the premiere. Execs move it around the schedule to get best audience, but ultimately lose it because they keep moving it around.
  • Viewers fall completely with only peak at the end of season inevitable cliffhanger.
  • Second series starts and audiences drop to a third of what they were.
  • TV Execs continue to move the show around, hoping they stumble upon an audience like they’re drilling for oil.
  • Series is cancelled by mid season break.
  • Avid followers begin uproar; execs cite how much money they’ve spent.
  • Series ends and Execs have stirred the fans into such an angry frenzy, they’ll bleed money from the huge DVD sales.

That’s pretty much it. With a show idea like Defiance, it has three major problems that will lose the casual massive audience it needs to prevent that from happening. Firstly, it’s Science Fiction. This is a harsh but true problem. With the exception of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there hasn’t been a successful mainstream Science Fiction show produced in the US in recent times that has kept a casual audience. In the UK, Doctor Who may be the only example of this. But as soon as you start putting in aliens, spaceships or whatever, casual audiences turn off. Secondly, its allure is innovation. This works incredibly well in a movie environment where it is a one off. But once its been done, its old and people will forget it. For all of Avatar’s innovation for example, there is hardly anyone that will argue that the story was more wooden than Joan River’s face. As a TV series, Avatar would have been a very expensive blue turd.

Image

Thirdly, the idea of the computer game will possibly end its appeal. The risk is that the show begins to cater to the universe its in rather than the audience itself. The casual audience will scatter immediately leaving only the gaming audience who will either be a large community that love the game and find the TV show a distraction, or a small community that enjoy both equally but not enough to keep SyFy pumping the money into it.

I really am interested to see how this pans out because it’s a major risk from SyFy. But with great risk comes great innovation. If it works and it’s successful, it will completely rewrite the entertainment industry. Which will probably lead to Fox doing exactly the same thing, only much cheaper and with no care on what the show is about. But I fear that the American big audience, which it is mainly aimed for, will disappear. All that will be left is a core cult of people that the TV execs simply cannot justify spending multi-million dollar budgets on.

Image

This is an intriguing multimedia proposal, but there is one other side note. Near-future alien/human crossover shows never last very long or aren’t very good. Examples being Alien Nation, Earth: Final Conflict, V, Alf… Ok maybe not Alf, but you get my point. Even the Terminator series only lasted for two seasons and those were human looking robots! There is an often mistaken theory in all walks of the entertainment world. If you throw enough money at it, it will be successful. I just wonder if the money spent on this could have been better spent on developing many new series instead of one absolutely mega blow out. We shall see.

Edit: Just discovered Bear McCreary is doing the music. It will be awesome.

It’s Not The Answer: A Look At Digital Distribution

First Published April 8, 2012 via Xtreme Gaming 24/7

The fall of a certain video game retailer has put all of us, players and journalists alike, into a bit of a headless chicken frenzy. On the one hand we really want a shop like GAME, we care that they specialise in our chosen devotion and we are very sad that jobs have been lost and lives affected. On the other, we are absolutely livid that the company let this happen and really want to point some fingers. There has been a complete mismanagement of the retail sector here and in the (apologies for the political rhetoric) current economic climate and times of austerity, this is has been simply a long drawn out suicide. What qualifies me to say that? I worked for Woolworths (and left before the closure of the business) and the similarities of what was happening within the company appear to be uncanny. It also doesn’t take Robert Peston to work out that, in my town at least, three stores, all owned by GAME Group (2 GAME, 1 Gamestation), within 150 yards of each other is absolutely silly.

One of the key factors that many people have raised is that GAME had a prime opportunity to adopt a Digital Distribution model or at least adapt their business to cope with what the Next Generation of consoles were providing. So let me give a very sweeping statement right now.

Digital Distribution is not the answer.

Well at least not for consoles yet anyway. Yes it’s convenient, yes it’s economical for all concerned and yes, it does the job of completely taking out that troublesome “pre-owned” market that game publishers hate. But with the rumours that the next Xbox maybe digital only, this can only mean one thing for you, the humble consumer, and me. Empty Wallets.

You’ll see that, using Xbox Live as a model, I’ve researched some prices of games recently released on the shop as well as their counterpart prices on arguably the two biggest entertainment retailers online. The difference in prices is ridiculous, especially when the model is cited and marketed as passing savings on to customers. The price comparisons will speak for themselves and I have no need to sensationalise them. But the problem here is that the games industry is so completely out of touch with its consumers that digital distribution is just that. Another means of distribution. Where, I argue, is the saving for me as a consumer when I pay nearly £20 more for a game on my console than I do at Amazon? If a gamer core age is teenagers upwards who live in families with fairly middle income, how does that extra £20 sit on their credit card bill? It doesn’t sit pretty I imagine. Where are the savings on production costs and physical distribution?

A few prices for you to compare:

Correct as of April 7, 2012

FIFA 12 – Released September 30, 2011:
Amazon.co.uk (£24.99)
Play.com (£29.99)
Xbox Live (£49.99)

GEARS OF WAR 3 – Released September 20, 2011:
Amazon.co.uk (£21.12)
Play.com (£39.99)
Xbox Live (£49.99)

SINGULARITY – Released June 29, 2010:
Amazon.co.uk (£13.30)
Play.com (£14.99)
Xbox Live (£19.99)

DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION – Released March 2011:
Amazon.co.uk (£17.94) – Note: this is “Limited Edition”
Play.com (£12.99) – Note: this includes a bonus mission pack
Xbox Live (£24.99)

CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS – Released November 9, 2010
Amazon.co.uk (£17.26)
Play.com (£24.99)
Xbox Live (£44.99)

HALO REACH – Released September 14, 2010
Amazon.co.uk (£19.47) – Note: the Limited Edition box is only £25.95
Play.com (£14.15)
Xbox Live (£24.99)

 

I know the argument from studios will be that a game should be fairly priced, and yes, when new, I understand and happily accept this and will plough money into the industry. I know another argument is that the prices are such because of the overheads of distributing your game via Xbox Live of PSN. Which is where this entire model becomes ridiculous. Any fairly sensible consumer will wait for the price to drop or find a cheaper alternative. We’re very savvy people us gamers and we know how to hunt a bargain. The fear is that if a console such as an Xbox successor became digital only, how it would kill the market and monopolise the cost of games. If you have no choice but to pay £40-£50 for a game online, then you do. If you have a choice between a few £20-25 games online, new or recent, then you’re more likely to get both.

This article obviously omits the great work that the model does for highlighting independent developers and innovative gaming. PSN and Xbox Livendue to the nature of their model have been able to release, quite honestly, some of the best games to ever grace us. Limbo being a case in point. But they could be doing so much more for the main studio blockbuster games. I’ve also not got on to the cost of movies and such, especially as now Netflix and Lovefilm (Sky as well to some degree) have provided an incredibly cheaper alternative to the film rental systems that are in place from Microsoft and Sony. The market for releasing high-end big games on the digital console market needs to change and fast.  It’s not broken by any means but it needs to take a reality check. If our biggest video game specialist retailer went under, then what does that say about what we consumers can afford?

In some ways we will always lean towards physical distribution because we like to accumulate things. It’s part of our capitalist state of mind that we must be able to show our status by what we possess. Music has overcome this by making the digital player itself a symbol of status, but games will not be so lucky. Music as well lowered and changed its prices in order to compete against physical distribution and it has succeeded. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to lower the cost of games, or pay less to the overworked souls that toil to make us these graphical extravaganzas. I don’t want to pay over the odds to big publishers when it really isn’t on.

You may think it’s rather British of me and you’re probably right. But let me pose you this dilemma. You want to buy a game that’s been out for a few years. You missed it first time round and now you have the time and inclination to play it. You can pop to a store and find it pre-owned for about £8-10 (“Boooo, Hissss” – Publishers), pop online to a retailer and find it new for £15-20 or download it for £30-40. What are you going to choose? Exactly. Now, same scenario, except there’s no pre-owned option. Go to an online retailer for £15-20 or download it at £17-25. What would you do? Remember the cost of postage and packaging as well as the time it will take to deliver it. I think digital wins hands down, don’t you? That’s all it takes, a little give from the price deciding powers to make us happier and less frugal consumers. Like I said that model isn’t broken at all, it’s just not ready for our pockets yet.

Voiceover, Voiceover, Voiceover

So I’ve been busy planting the seeds of my beautiful voice in to the gaming communities earlobes via XG 24/7. Here is a weekly show I narrated and also I game review I voiced.

 

Also my less than beautiful face with the Evra/Suarez video has been seen over 350,000 times! I’ve now had more views than the repeat showing of Boozed Up Brits Abroad on Pick TV+1.

 

Update: Here’s more of me doing stuff!