The Illusion of Choice

Choice (noun):

1. An act of choosing.
2. The right or ability to choose
3. A range from which to choose.
4. Something chosen

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Illusion (noun):

1. A false idea or belief.
2. A thing that seems to be something it is not.

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The illusion of choice is something that gaming truly thrives upon. Open world genre is a specialist of following through with that illusion. But I will come on to that with more detail. What do I mean by this statement?

Well the word definition above from the Oxford English Dictionary would suggest that in gaming terms I mean it is the false idea or belief that you have the right or ability to choose.

Gaming is built on this very illusion and sometimes, only sometimes, a game comes along that is clever enough to address it. Most times, we don’t even think about it or very occasionally the game surprises us by blatantly providing the illusion.

gta4Grand Theft Auto 4 is my first example of the latter. Of course Grand Theft Auto 5 is littered by choices but its predecessor provides the best example of the illusion. The final mission is a consequence of the choice you make before shortly before. But this choice is an illusion. The character may change that is affected by this choice and the end game of this might be slightly different as to who is still available to socalise with, but essentially, exactly the same thing happens.

A character close to Niko’s life dies at the hands of a betrayl starting a multi layered end mission filled of gun blazing revenge. It is essentially the same drama and this later choice isn’t really a choice that changes anything in the game except who dies. Arguably the dramatic choice is the revenge on Dimitri rather than Jimmy but the outcome is the exactly the same.

So the choice that you make at that later stage is in fact an illusion because you’re not really choosing anything except death and before that, you have no knowledge that the choice defines who dies.

That may sound like I’m clutching at straws but if that decision was placed earlier in the game and the story went on a different tangent of associates depending on that choice then I would be more convinced that it is a choice. Compare it to Grand Theft Auto 5 where your final choice redefines your accessibility to the world and the characters reactions to you.

fallout 3 1Games like the Elder Scrolls and Fallout present you with the massive illusion of choice. It is possible to survive in the world and just live in it without completing a single mission. Of course it severely limits your ability to enjoy the game and eventually you will have to succumb to completing missions so that you can buy things, survive and defend yourself. Which is where the illusion comes in. You are presented with a completely free world open to wherever you want to go. However eventually, you will have to do something that the game intends you to do. You have a lot of choice as to how and when you go about it (apart from Fallout 3’s ending stopping your game).

For example a friend of mine booted up Oblivion on his brother’s computer. Never played it before and after the prison escape, he walked around, found a cool looking gate and when through. What then happened was that he completed the Shivering Isle add on, completely unaware that it was such and hadn’t even touched the main story and to my knowledge still hasn’t. Whilst there has been a choice the game still drive you to complete its missions regardless of how linear it isn’t.

Watch_Dogs on the other hand has practically zero choice. You go through the game in an incredibly linear fashion and you have very little to do in the end game except collecting things. It is in a way antithetical to the genre as there is so little that you can do, compared to other examples in the genre. Alan Wake for example and many other games will force a repeat play through to find the things that you’ve missed which is fun sometimes because you get to relive the bits that you enjoyed and pay more attention to the world around you. These games, first person shooters especially, of course do not even bother with the illusion of choice…

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Except one. Bioshock.

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Bioshock Infinite Burial At Sea 1 featMuch has been written and lauded about the genre defining moment in which that you have been the willing pawn in a sick and twisted game. I mean you specifically, not your character. The universe of this franchise eventually ends completely destroying any illusion of choice by bringing the world into an infinite paradox. But its stand out moment way back in Rapture fully broke the fourth wall and opened up the illusion of choice in both story and gaming mechanics. It’s an amazing moment with some far reaching dramatic consequences. But it is also video gaming’s Magic circle moment where the tricks where shown and explained.

I’ve spent a good hour or so writing these thoughts on choice and I’m completely glossing over lots of games, moments and gaming theory. But I’m stuck trying to think if I can think of a game that is truly free of this illusion. Minecraft instantly comes to mind along with its building contemporaries like Terraria, Starbound and the like. Maybe some city builders too, although games like Sim City and its younger contemporaries still don’t feel completely free of direction. But one game I think really takes away all notion of illusion is a strategy giant.

If I can think of one game that completely rewards your choices, and punishes them too, gives you objectives only and leaves you to the devices of its AI and allow you to glory or failure. That game is Civilization. Arguably the mark of any good strategy game is one that gives you that illusion of your own choice and consequence to succeed how you want to and any iteration of Sid Meier’s classic franchise gives you the option to dispense of the scenario based win and allow you to sink hours and hours in to your choices. It, along with Minecraft maybe, answers as an opposite to the earlier supposition.

[author]

Alan Wake – Returning to Bright Falls

alan wake 3

Every six months this happens to me. Pretty much like clockwork in fact. Everyone has their go-to game that they pick up and play again; in fact everyone probably has several. I myself have several but this one game in particular keeps surging itself back in to my psyche like the darkness in it is making me one of the Taken.

Maybe its because I am a writer by occupation and am often enthralled by Stephen King. His book “On Writing” is possibly one of the greatest self-help/autobiography/training manuals on writing out there and I implore anyone to read it, writer, fan or otherwise. Alan Wake somehow finds that element in me that King and others evoke to pure enjoyment and amazement at their craft.

There is something very multi faceted about Wake as a character that draws me to him, although you could be forgiven for missing it. Sam Lake’s character creation is a good lesson of how to embrace the cliché and go running with it. Max Payne is a very obvious one, the self-destructive cop/former cop, driven by remorse, self-loathing, painkillers and booze. His inner monologue reads like some of the most prevalent pulp characters. Wake is different in how he is driven by anger, frustration, impatience and hubris, which ultimately disguises his own self-loathing, his fears and his nightmares, especially so early in his inability to protect Alice because of his temperament.

alan wake 1In literature terms, we would call Alan Wake a product of intertextuality, something you could also say of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and even Max Payne. It is a piece of work that takes elements from other previous works and is directly inspired by them. Not copying at all but certainly Alan Wake feels like an homage.

The tropes of things seen to be evil but aren’t, messages hidden in plain sight, memory loss, fear of the dark, clinics, backwater towns… Twin Peaks and its surreal setting and happenings play a big part in the inspiration of the game. As big a part as Scarface and Miami Vice does for Vice City and it’s so enjoyable because of it. But not overbearingly in to a complete copy or pastiche of it, like Vice City effectively is. The setting especially brings more to Alan Wake than a setting does to most games.

Mainly because even four years on, using the Xbox 360, it still feels beautifully atmospheric and seeing the visuals in the PC version it is even better. Sure there’s a few niggles with the characters face animations but given you spend 90% of your time in a third person over the shoulder view, it’s very excusable.

Bright Falls has that magical sense about it that keeps you returning to a game environment. It is beautiful and scary. The decision to scale back from the original open-world intention is one to be lauded as you could see how the element of limited exploration heightens the suspense.

Being a regular consumer of boxsets, Netflix or otherwise, the game’s episodic format is especially refreshing and definitely one that works for the type of game it is. The cliffhanging suspense, the cinematic moments and the beautifully soundtrack and original score lifts this game above the more resource gather shoot and run style horror games that occupy most of the genre. You feel like you’re taking it at the right pace, whether or not you actually are. You get that feeling that it’s ok to put it down, go make a coffee and do some actual work. You’ve reached a natural point to stop and resume another time… You don’t actually do that but you get that feeling.

So why am I writing about my love for a four year old game? Well, and let’s excuse American Nightmare from this equation for a moment (it was a nice enough game which embellished the story of Wake’s inner battle, if not a bit repetitive), it really deserves a sequel. A sequel it is sadly not going to get. As Sam Lake himself said in a recent interview with Polygon, Alan Wake was not profitable enough to justify making a second, especially with it being next-gen and with Quantum Break being Remedy’s primary focus.

However I could see a time, given that the Microsoft exclusivity deal on it has surely or will surely run out rather soon, that a sequel could be touted and crowdfunded. There is enough die hard Wake fans that it could happen and we definitely want to explore the ocean that Wake is trapped in a little more. We’ve read the novelisation (and by the way, kudos on the strategy guide that reads like a book. It really reminds me of good old school game manuals that had care and artistic impression in them), and we are hungry for more.

alan wake 2

Sadly that doesn’t look like it will happen and whilst Max Payne 3, despite the lack of Remedy’s involvement, satiated our appetite for their archetypical droll characters it didn’t relieve the fear of the dark for us Wake fans.

The scary dark nightmare we played through that makes up Alan Wake’s novel ‘Departure’ got us to sit up, get excited and take note of how horror and thriller genres aren’t just the realm of indie games or Japanese franchises. I hope sometime soon we get to play through its sequel ‘Return.’ Until then, back in to Bright Falls I will go.

Do you have fond memories of Alan Wake? Why don’t you discuss them here, on Facebook or via Twitter.

[author]

Why All The Doom 4 Anti-hype, Bethesda?

Trying to read between the lines when it comes to gaming news can be tricky at times. My current brainpower is currently attempting to decipher the news coming from Bethesda/ID over Doom 4.

When I first got in to writing about games, Duke Nukem Forever was coming out. In fact I reviewed it but the news and the hype that Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford managed to generate around it without shedding so much as a peek of gameplay was quite impressive and deflected from the truth that… There’s no polite way to say this. It was disappointingly shit.

At present though, with the beta release of Doom 4 around the corner and the reveal of the game at QuakeCon (a self imposed deadline admittedly), there seems to be a lot of stories that is designed to (industry speak) manage expectations.

Being a purchaser of Wolfenstein, which coincidently is slowly being recognised for being one of the year’s best and most fun releases, I have access to this beta along with a few other GameJar people. I can imagine we will be furiously fragging things with a BFG and waxing lyrical about it.

But all of these sound bites that are appearing like “Don’t assume it will be awesome” do make you worry.

If you haven’t heard, there is a lot from Bethesda warning against people assuming a game will be good due to the legacy of the franchise. Which if you are a relatively sane human being you would know not to believe. But Bethesda’s Marketing guy Pete Hines… Yes, marketing guy, is saying to remember how good Wolfenstein was before we got the current iteration in the franchise.

His logic is sound of course, it’s been an age since Doom 3 and things have changed massively. They will need to go into this game to create something amazing in its own right. But this anti-hype, this reverse psychology against it is a little bit disconcerting.

wolfenstein review 3With Wolfenstein, the game returned a bit to its original simple FPS sentimentalities. Something that (apart from spending ages looking at the floor for armor like a pig sniffing for truffles) was very successful for that game. It had a good story, the gameplay allowed the story to breathe and it was simple enough but challenging to play that you didn’t get left out even as a casual gamer. It was a huge success.

So why, given that the Doom beta was a big ploy to sell the game, would Bethesda start letting people down already? Surely the game already isn’t that bad that they are working on damage limitation? Given that it is a Doom game, I’m guessing the industry hype that will inevitably come from journalists and bloggers alike will shift the units.

So I can’t decide whether they are trying to distance themselves from the success of the Wolfenstein game and let us down early and easy or if this is all a clever ploy to keep their cards as close to their chest as possible.

Given the dominance in the FPS market for consoles with Battlefield and Call of Duty, you could see why they might distance themselves a bit. Quake has always been know for its fast paced and adrenalin filled multiplayer but only on the PC. This has been well and truly usurped by the current trendsetters for console.

If Doom can channel that and create a great multiplayer game that has that speed, especially as these new consoles could easily handle the frame rate for it, then it has the possibility to present a big challenge to the established few. Especially as the taste for those games is slowly diminishing among some gamers, it could be a good time for some Quake-esque Doom multiplayer to strike.

I just can’t tell if this is honesty or a clever way to hype the game on the footage and beta rather than legacy. I can’t decide if this is admission of faults or underhanded hubris. I can tell that I’m probably trying too hard to read between the lines here but, for me at least, I see something either being brilliant or whatever your personal description of the opposite of brilliant is.

[author]

Missing the Obvious: Limited World

Open world games are a fundamental part of modern video gaming.

The technology exists now that vast, incredible, imaginative worlds that a player can explore and find lots of completely ingenious things hidden in every nook and every cranny can be created.

But to quote a line from Star Trek (movie number six if you’re feel feisty) – “Just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that we must do that thing.”

Just to point out to you that during the Xbox 360/PS3 era alone there were no less than forty, FOUR ZERO, open world games. Off the top of my head I can give you both Dragon Age games, all three Mass Effects, both GTA releases, all three Saints Rows, the Elder Scrolls, another two Rockstar games, the Fallouts, the Far Cry’s and the Fables (including the recent HD remake). That’s twenty-one games there alone, and I haven’t even put in the Assassin’s Creeds, the Mafias, the Godfathers and any other PlayStation exclusive games. Or the Batman games! I’ve criminally excluded three Batman games there too. That’s another thirteen on top of the twenty-one. Dishonoured is another, Sleeping Dogs…

Batman-wrong-1Whilst I’m making a point of the vast quantity of open world titles available, the amount of games isn’t what bothers me. It’s that sometimes a much better game is missed because of the decision to make something open world, in my opinion. So my point of missing the obvious here is that we sacrifice something because we create too much. We lose the quality.

Let me give you a few examples of what works and what bothers me. Sometimes you want to go around and explore a vast world where everything is dynamic and the story is well thought out and encapsulating for the player that the vastness and scariness of the world is put aside. In this case I would raise Red Dead Redemption as the pinnacle of that. Over Grand Theft Auto 5, you ask? Yes, because Rockstar actually did something they are normally criticised for which was providing an ending for the game that was incredibly satisfying and well thought out. A well designed linear game.

I’ve mentioned scariness because some games actually scare me because they are too much. The world is so big, so massive and so populated with things that once you’ve completed the main storyline you are left with an utterly bewildering set of options and to be honest, I have enough trouble organising my own life to worry about finding enough to do to level me up past level 25. In this regard, I offer the Bethesda games, specifically Skyrim. If Skyrim has any fault in its beautiful visuals, epic scope and atmosphere it’s that is was too epic, too overwhelming and too lonely.

bioshock infinite 2Come on now Sean, you’re just being particularly picky now aren’t you? Yes. Maybe I am, but some games actually benefit from not being open world and I also think that helps the longevity of a game. Grand Theft Auto online, for example, has a major flaw in that there is no real narrative or direction to be guided in past a certain point. GTA Online suffers from the fact that the levels are designed around the environment, which doesn’t give me, personally, a full enjoyment of a game.

Now, Bioshock on the other hand is something that has benefited very well from the rise of technology without getting in to the open world bracket. Yes it’s a very open shooter that allows you to explore the beautiful crazy art deco inspired environment of Rapture or the steampunk-esque floating Columbia. But they are levels. Regardless of if you can travel around them, they are all specifically designed levels that have an incredibly beautiful immersive environment. Irrational Games’ nuance at storytelling is (or was) second to none. Could that have been achieved if Rapture was a fully open world autonomous environment? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as atmospheric.

A second example of this is a game that was originally open world and still retained some open world elements, but discarded them because it made the game too open, too complex and hard to achieve the narrative exposition that they were looking for. That game was Alan Wake. This wasn’t scrapped because it was too much for the technology to handle after becoming an Xbox 360 exclusive, but because the thriller element of the game could not be delivered with it. Frankly, Remedy made the best possible move there. Thriller games (Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark) benefit more from being enclosed, small and well designed. If the world is too big, it becomes a bit convoluted to program a random scare in to a design with no levels.

Open world games do push you in a directional narrative and you could argue that the Assassin’s Creeds aren’t truly open world compared to the other games. But there are many games that, whilst it is great that they exist, might be better with a scaling back of thought and a better implementation of level design.

south park review 2I’m not saying that open world is becoming an easy or lazy option, not by any means. But there is a tendency I feel to let the world be the level and dictate your moves and personally I don’t like it. I think a good game can suffer because of it.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is an interesting case here and an example of why open world isn’t always the answer. Firstly the town of South Park is small. That makes the open world a bit more limited, but completely able to be explored. Secondly, the narrative of the game does drive you in a quest laden turn based combat game. But to get to these fights, you have to negotiate designed levels. Because of the 2D visuals of the game, this looks like a platform game, but actually it’s quite a designed level as the lampooning of Canada in the Zelda/Pokémon series style neatly shows. Thirdly, everything in the game, the sub-quests and the story, guide you but still allow you free reign to explore and do it on your own terms without being overwhelmed.

Now the game industry has a choice here and I think the rise of independent gaming will make that choice for them. The next two years are going to see heavy lighting/physics based stunning driving games, incredibly smooth and frantically busy first person shooters aimed at multiplayer audiences and vast open worlds full of quests to explore. But would they be missing the obvious if they took a step back from these types of games to deliver a more stable, concentrated and well-designed progressive game?

I think so. But I’m not you so tell me to shut up and go away if you want.

[author]

Missing the Obvious: Strategically Console

I can list the amount of strategy games that worked on a console this past generation on one hand. Shall I list them for you? OK, I will, and just so you know whilst this is also my opinion, it is complete irrefutable fact… Honest:

  • Halo Wars
  • Civilization Revolution
  • Tropico (Series)

Suffice to say that it has not been a popular genre. I am also aware that I’ve missed things that are classed as strategy games like R.U.S.E and XCOM. I’m on about the proper classic strategy games, those isometric games that rob you of several months and – if you’re lucky – several years of your life. Civilization, Black & White, Theme Park/Hospital, Dungeon Keeper, Command & Conquer, Caesar, Anno 1602, Heroes of Might and Magic… Just so it doesn’t look like a Molyneux rap sheet of course.

Civilization Revolution 1I mentioned on a recent review that console gamers, in the least insulting way possible, don’t particularly have an aptitude for strategy in gaming. Maybe patience should be a better word. But to be honest, this has been well known by gaming developers and publishers. Hence why we haven’t really had that many strategy games on console platforms. Even the most recent iteration of Command & Conquer, that 90s powerhouse of strategy gaming, was cancelled.

But it isn’t because the games aren’t popular anymore. Look at the success of Tropico, Civilization V, new indie game Banished and even SimCity. These games are not only successful but still raise the bar in what is considered to be good for the genre, especially in the PC market.

The problem is that developers have never found a way to engage with the console audience with strategy games. It sounds crazy that in this world when SimCity has been released and Transport Tycoon has been remade for iOS that the console market has no way to allow the strategy market to gain a foot hold in the living room/gaming den of your console owner.

That’s because publishers can be quite dumb. Yes, I said it. But they have had, at least for one console, a way to make intelligent forward thinking strategy game with a control method that will suit every Next Gen owner. One of the big problems with this of course is the control method for strategy games being rather elaborate compared to the capabilities of the control pad. Not graphics, audience, IP or anything else except that there isn’t a suitable control method that will allow a console gamer to play a game.

WRONG! There is one. There has been one for the past three and a half years and it has been improved greatly and re-released since. I am of course talking about Project Natal, or as you know it, Kinect.

xbox one kinect feat

Kinect has been utilized in the poorest way possible in the development of games. Its use as a semi-alternative controller or voice command unit in some games is a start, but the controller has basically been used for fitness/dance/sport game tracking and occasional camera use. If we’re honest, that’s it, right?

WRONG! The Kinect has been used for one thing, specifically non-gaming, and the idea and ethos behind it would be perfect for strategy games. That particular thing is the Xbox dashboard. It’s simple. Hand controls on squares to move things select things and now intuitive voice commands that can tell the Xbox what to do.

Let me immediately evoke for you the picture of Tom Cruise from Minority Report. This is exactly how a strategy game could work. If you will, imagine the future world of Command & Conquer on your screen. This time with seven translucent boxes displayed, four each side of your screen except one side which would have three with a mini-map as well, and your isometric view of the world in the middle of your screen showing you the world.

Minority ReportSimple controls: everything you need building wise is in these boxes, you can use iOS style controls to zoom in and out of the world (parting your hands across or bringing them in), movement can be controlled by a hand in one direction and voice controls can tell your squads what to do. You can use your voice to “select all” or “attack” or even “special function”… Do you see where I’m coming from? It’s the most immersive thing to happen to this genre and exactly what it needs to “Kinect” with gamers… PR teams may steal that line if needed.

What I’m saying is that the platforms and tools are there for strategy games to work but they must be based around the controller rather than the controller be adapted to the game. Which is why Halo Wars and Civ Rev especially were so good at what they did. They developed a game around the controller. And with Kinect, people have the most intuitive and free-controlling system around.

Admittedly if you developed a game or pitched such a thing it would not be an easy sell. But as long as you made a good enough game and succeeded in making the controller a vitally useful part of the game, rather than the quirk that it has been marketed as since inception, then there is no holding back.

Not convinced? Imagine playing Black & White or such style of game using a Kinect controller. If you aren’t playing it out in your mind and getting excited by it, then visit your local GP.

[author]

Missing The Obvious: The Next Decent Star Trek Game

The fall of Star Trek in video games is nothing new, although it isn’t really documented properly. What do I mean by that? Well, every time you see a Star Trek game released, or mentioned, budding journalists – who are all my age and have very fond memories of getting in from school and watching The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 on TV, but thankfully were too busy to pay any attention to Enterprise – lament the lack of a decent game to play.

However, journalists and fans, I test you. Do you actually recall the name of the last decent game? Do you even get to look past the fan-boy nostalgia and remember an enjoyable experience playing one? Because I don’t! Let me list for you the last Star Trek games I recall that were actually good.

  • Starfleet Academy (PC)
  • Bridge Commander (PC)
  • Elite Force (PC… Yes I know it was console ported but it was PC)
  • Judgement Rites (PC)

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star trek science phaser

You see where I’m going with this. Sorry, consoles, but you’ve sucked at producing good original Star Trek games. Does anyone remember Invasion? No. Legacy? Maybe, because it was recent-ish. But the two most recent games (a non-tie-in-movie-tie-in and a MMORPG/DOGFIGHTING game) are mostly PC based as well. You can find Anthony’s review of Star Trek here if you need a reminder. I’d certainly argue that there hasn’t been a great amount of Star Trek games that go above an “OK” rating. Probably the two Elite Force games mostly and maybe Klingon Honour Guard.

So your point is, Sean, that Star Trek games have failed because the good ones are only on PC? No. Star Trek games have failed because there is a very limited scope of people that play them, enjoy them and who are ultimately unhappy at the quality so much they tend to not impart their money for them. It’s not just Star Trek but Star Wars and most other space based games.

Arguably, Kerbal Space Program and Eve Online are the most popular and successful space-science-fiction based games at the moment. And the latter being kept that way due to a fanatical community who subscribe to play it. But you wouldn’t say that either are popular in the mainstream sense and therefore in the big AAA console game world, they are unlikely to gross large amounts.

The last Star Wars game that was incredibly successful on console was probably Lego based. Something that the original ten Star Trek Movies would actually really benefit from. Which is why we are missing the obvious. We aren’t looking for the right Star Trek game! Let’s face it, in this world of Call of Battlefield, Forza Tourismo and independent gaming, there isn’t a lot of room for the dogfighting/FPS/RPG stylings that Trek and Wars could do excellently.Lego-Star-Wars-02 Purely because for the longevity of their intellectual properties, they really haven’t produced anything new in ten years. I know the new Star Trek movies have come and new Star Wars are coming and that the Clone Wars was a big hit. But they weren’t really new, were they? They were still that enjoyable science-fiction romp you enjoyed in your pre-pubescent years. Not exactly the core gaming audience nowadays.

So I do see journalists, bloggers and observers remark how they’ve lamented a decent Star Trek game, or that the closure of Lucasarts has left a void of classic space gaming like the X-Wing series (more on that next month) that no one can or has yet filled. But I ask you, given the hammy-ness and nostalgia that Trek has now especially, could you do worse than a two/three part Lego series of games? The Original six movies, the four Next Generation era movies and maybe a nod to the five television series it graced us with for nearly 40 years? No. No you couldn’t.

You want to know the obvious thing everyone is missing here?

A cinematic with a Lego Kirk shaking in anger to a point where he screams “KAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNN” and spontaneously falls apart. I’ve already pre-ordered that game in my mind.

Oh and if you think I’ve criminally missed Mass Effect, you’re right, I have. But for good reason, which you will read soon.

[author]

Missing the Obvious: Easy Money

Note: like most articles on casual games, this article has been created with little research into the subject or my fellow commuters, much to their annoyance of hearing my iPad keyboard tapping.

Video games are the in the business of making money, correct? Well mostly, It’s the people that give you the games, the retailer, that want to make the money. Then it’s those huge publisher entities that distribute those games that enjoy the ol’ green paper. Then maybe, just maybe, the people that actually make the games, the developers, are next in the table. (That was sarcasm in case you thought otherwise)

pokemon red iOS games have changed that. Kind of. Apple still take money as the retailer and distributor. The developers can get more money, unless the studio is owned by one of those big publisher types. Why am I explaining this fairly obvious business and wealth distribution model? Because it baffles me, seeing as how much that piece of paper with the Queens Head/Pyramid with eye/local dictator on it is desired by all of these people and yet, they miss a very obvious easy money.

Retro games have slowly come in to the mobile fold over the past four years as technology has increased. Rockstar are probably the most commercially successful with the releasing of a back catalogue. Sega have released a few things at a far earlier stage in the mobile games market. But here is the one I’m really confused about. Pokemon.

Ok, let me point out the obvious flaws in my plan. This is a Nintendo exclusive and so they never release a game on other platforms really. There is probably a hilariously complex set of rights issues stopping not only a rival release but also a previous game. Also releasing on a mobile platform might belittle the sales and effectiveness of their consoles, most notably the 2DS and 3DS. So why would they want to do it?

pokemon blue red yellow 2

Simple. In the US, UK and Japan combined, Pokemon Red, Green and Blue (the original 1999 Gameboy releases) sold 23,810,000 copies approximately. So the reason to do this would be £47,381,900. I get that figure by working out that almost 24 million sales to the fair and modest figure of £1.99 on the App Store.

A mobile release of the original three games would cause such a nostalgia trip (remember most of these people with iPhone specifically probably had the game on the Gameboy) that you couldn’t resist. I couldn’t and I didn’t even have a Gameboy! The games are old enough not to dent anything that Nintendo are currently doing and it’s a very fat cash-in at a time where the company are arguably going to be on the back foot due to the now current generation’s ‘charge’ attack on the dazed gamer.

But those rights issues and competitor conflicts of interest – Nintendo would never allow a release of a Nintendo portable game on a mobile device at all. They would never… Oh wait. LOOPHOLE!!!

ace attorney 1I present the evidence that the company will allow games to go to competitors for sales by developers. You can sit there in the dock, poor Nintendo; pleading innocence and feigning ignorance, but take this: EVIDENCE!!!!! POW! Alex Wright Ace Attorney. This game has in fact been released twice on iOS, once as a big complete edition and before as an easier package with add-ons for the fairly non-modest price of around £8.

So we’re saying that actually Nintendo could release maybe a coloured upscaled Pokemon Red, Green and Blue? That they could actually charge a more fair and profitable £4.99 as a guess? That’s a possible £118,811,900 in sales. I’m pretty sure once presented with those hastily constructed figures, shareholders would make Nintendo find a way to make this happen.

[author]

Why Can’t We Lose? – A Treatise on Multiplayer Gaming Behaviour

The other day, I was minding my own business, driving a tense 3-lap multiplayer race in a Williams at Brazil on F1 2013. I was running second and my teammate was ahead. I was catching. Turn 4, the Descida do Lago saw my teammate miss the corner entirely, going off in a straight line and promptly disconnecting. Here was my chance for my first victory. No one had deliberately smashed me off the road yet, or missed braking at a corner due to lag. Somehow I was slow coming out of turn 11 and the Lotus of “random number 1” closed in. I held the racing line all the way to the final kink in the start-finish straight. My opponent moved to undercut me using the pit lane entrance. I held the line (which uses that part of the track), making my car wide with minimal movement and blocking his path. I crossed the line, I felt relieved and ecstatic.

Those of you who’ve played a Codemasters F1 quick race will know how infuriating it is and almost impossible to win due to other players. So after I left the game, I was surprised to find a message on my Xbox Live account from none other than “random number 1” which read, quite literally, as such:

“y the f%@k did you block me i was goin to win you d*$k”

Call-of-Duty-Ghosts-Multiplayer 2Far be it for me to rise to this and point out that this person had not only missed his lesson on how to spell but also the lesson on the ethos of motor racing (virtual or otherwise), I simply blocked his communication. But it played on me, why this person was so intent that I’d wronged them, and why the win was so important to either of us. I was reminded of a Call of Duty: Ghosts livestream I watched last week with a well-known YouTube gamer. He’d had a very good game and at the end of the match (which his team won 75-46) one of the opposing team, “random number 2,” voiced his discontent at his other teammate’s kill/death ratio as follows:

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“Really? 2-15 and 5-19, get the f%@k off you guys f@%king suck. You guys are f%@king garbage.”

It occurred to me that the necessity to win completely obliterated the desire to win for these people and as such the enjoyment in playing a game. So much so that people will shift any kind of blame away from themselves, or refuse to concede that luck or skill did not favour them at that particular moment. This isn’t confidence and self-belief in refusing to fail, but more of a childish response with very little concept of failure and over inflated self-entitlement. So what is it about games (multiplayer modes in particular) that make some people revert to a very basic childhood behavioural trait?

As far as I’ve found, none of the psychological studies (and there are some very damning, ill researched and downright deliberately discrediting studies out there) actually take in to account adults in the effects of playing video games, at least not past the age of 21. Most studies revolve around teenagers and children, which to me is quite shocking. As I started searching the general psychological consensus on this kind of “must win” mentality, all of the studies revolved around children playing games. Not video games in particular but all games. A blog I found pointed out “children take great pleasure in their victory – and in our defeat.” With young children, “one typically encounters a fantasised self possessing a staggering array of abilities, virtues and talents.”

superman-kid

I’m sure that all of us at one point pretended we could fly and did so by running with our arm raised in front of us. It never occurred to us that we couldn’t actually fly and were actually just running around. Until someone – probably a maths swot that no one ever liked but in 25 years time became the most attractive, intelligent and happiest person (if stereotypes are anything to go by) – pointed out that we couldn’t fly and just looked stupid. To which we all replied, “No I don’t” and carried on. But the shame and sense of failure we had resonated and slowed our running down to a crawl. We had lost this battle of imagination against reality and suitably picked up our imaginary cape and licked our wounds.

But the key word there when it comes to video games is “lost”. Video games by definition do not reflect winning or losing. Yet the nature of games involves a player having to beat something. A scenario, points, challenge, antagonist… Whatever it is, you feel that you are achieving a landmark victory in the battle against the artificially created obstacles in your way. When you do, you get an endorphin rush that satisfies you. You cannot however lose. You may stumble, you may rage quit, you may even put a game to the side to cook dinner, or get married or something crazy. But you never, ever lose. At worst, you only delay winning. Of course there are a couple of exceptions but for the most part that is the case. So, back to the psychology, how do you teach someone to lose, gracefully or otherwise? After all it is a highly important aspect of our development of maturity and continuation of life, no? The blog I found suggests not “lectures” or “strict reinforcement” but “practice” and “emulation of admired adults.”

MLGSA1-2012-DRG-victoryWhen it comes to video games and especially broadcasted gaming the level of positive role models are extremely low. There are very little examples of dignified communication between players. If you’ve ever watched a competitive MLG FPS tournament or some such event, and seen how the competitors speak to each other and act, dignity isn’t an applicable word. Dignitas is probably more applicable. Unlike the multiplayer days of old which involve two people looking at the same screen in the same personal space, the disconnection of physical players takes away an important factor in your behavioural response, that of being judged poorly by the other person.

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Which is what leads me here to my conclusion in this fairly ambiguous treatise. One of the reasons it is so important to win – to the level of being personally insulted by those who experience defeat with you – is due to the fact that there are little to zero positive role models currently to communicate this important life aspect of how to lose, in an environment specifically tailored to solely winning.

The other reason is that these people are simply tools.

However, until we can teach these players to treat and react to other players as if they are in the same room as them and get them to behave accordingly, I’m just going to have to put up with the constant abuse of my poor online gaming skills and continue hitting that “block” button.

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Links: PsychologyToday

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Minecraft 1.7 Update – The Beauty of Nature-Cubed

minecraft 3

Minecraft has had an exciting time of it lately, at least in the PC market. User modifications have expanded the game to mind bending degrees (a look at a Yogscast upload list will show you how mad this has become). Customised single player adventure games have turned this into almost an indie game-making kit, much like Half Life 2 did for FPS create-your-owns. In the PC market, it’s had new pretenders challenge it like Terraria and Cube World, both of which are equally successful, enjoyably different games in their own right and are still evolving.

minecraft 2Yet even with its own rapid expansion to the mobile market, the merchandise industry, consoles and of course conventions and the ability to make stars out of YouTube gamers, Mojang are still looking out for us – the player. Even though the game is on full release, updates have come to fix bugs and add new content to the game at NO ADDITIONAL COST (read it and weep, EA) and this latest one is a biggie.

“The Update That Changed The World” is no small claim, but Minecraft 1.7 really has done just that. It’s own world that is. Earlier this year, horses were implemented in to the game, mainly because these were one of the most popular/requested modifications and, much like Valve, Mojang noticed this and helped implement it. Now however the biomes you find have evolved, the world is much more sensibly generated than previous versions and the items for construction or “crafting” have become more varied.

Biome wise there have been new areas added; a savannah (no lions yet) with wonderful acacia trees, a roofed forest which contains a brand new, bigger and darker oak tree, Ice Spikes that look like you could build wonderful fantasy palaces in them, a new Mega Tiaga with new dirty toilet-brown Podzol blocks and natural mossy cobblestone and the fantastic (and much requested) Mesa biome. All of which add a lovely and much needed visual touch up to the game, along with lots of new flowers to spruce up your gardens.

minecraft 1One of the big things though with these biomes is how they generate. No more will you skip from desert to extreme snow. The game now makes things a bit more sensible and tries to group things by temperature. If you’re in a snowy area then the next areas around you are going to be colder biomes until you get to the warmer ones, like the plains and so on. And the same goes hot for places like deserts and mesas – the further away you get, the colder it will get.

Another addition is the inclusion of stained glass. Many Minecraft fans have wanted this since it was teased as an April Fool by Mojang, but now you can have different coloured glass and, for the most part, it does look rather lush.

However, if like me you’ve been playing Minecraft for a while casually, or even if you’re someone that makes a career out of it, this does feel like a precursor to Minecraft 2.0. The new live streaming feature revealed at Minecon (where you press one button to instantly Livestream to twitch.tv) is now available, which creates an exciting new possibility for those wanting to share their experiences, although still in testing at the moment. It very clear that Mojang knows the success and survival of the game is catering to not only the fans, but the people who share their experience of it online.

minecraft feat

It’s surely only a matter of time until the game expands to make use of those empty oceans; bringing some new creatures in (friendly or otherwise), introduce multiple uses to some stagnant blocks and find something that makes redstone less technically confusing. But until then, this will quench your metaphorical thirst to explore brave and strange new procedurally generated worlds and admire the beauty of nature-cubed.

[author]

“Don’t message me if you’re a weirdo…” and other chat up lines.

So I’ve been researching a story I’m trying to write at the moment which should hopefully be a part of a novel… Hopefully.

I’ve been looking at Internet Dating (Disclaimer: not partaking in, because you won’t believe me even if I disclaim it anyway so I might as well make that clear). More specifically, internet dating sites. Dating has always been one of those things I’ve never fully understood,  been very good at or has never really been a factor in my life. So for researching this story I’ve been looking at internet dating sites that people use and how they look, operate, what people say on them, or about them. The kind of things you just have to see for yourself. Not that I’m writing them off at all, I’m sure they work very well for some people and are very useful and I mean no insult or anything if you have found special connections that way. Well done, you! But they are definitely not for me and it has inspired me to get to my blog and create this diatribe about why I don’t like them. At the risk of sounding old, sardonic, possibly hypocritical or just plain boring here are the reasons why:

1) Window Shopping.

It is a strange thing that I’ve associated a page like Plenty of Fish or Match.com with something like Amazon or eBay. But they really do feel like it. Unlike social networks where you can even speculatively add someone to get to know them or is based around a circle of people you actually know, these are really just a big old female/male shopping sites. I found myself clicking through tiny thumbnails of women and being quite judgmental. Not specifically on looks, age, username, grammar or anything in particular, but just a general combination of everything. I liken it to browsing on Amazon or ASOS or something where you kind of umm and agh over a pattern on clothes or a DVD cover or a poor review of a food mixer. Of course, as soon as I realised I was doing this, I felt terrible! Absolutely awful. I know that to successfully date or find anything resembling a relationship in this internet age, you HAVE to put yourself out there. But why? Why should you as women or men feel the need to categorise yourself and put yourself up to the scrutiny of judgemental tossers/tossettes? I felt like I was objectifying a person almost immediately and the poor little thumbnails didn’t have a voice, didn’t have the opportunity to come back at me and say “actually, dickface, you’ll find I’m actually quite interesting or pretty or better than you will ever be because I don’t judge people like you just have.”

2) Who you are (in 200 words)

Writing is an art that is impossible to master, really. It’s something you improve on, get better at, study and if you’re lucky become quite successful at it. But you can never be perfect at it. Neil Gaiman says in the introduction for American Gods that a novel ‘is always, at least for the author, a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.’ So how the hell do you expect a person to be interesting, given a short space of words and a few vital statistics. Human beings are the most brilliant creatures because we are so social. We can move in different circles of people, reach out, spot someone across a room and fall instantly in love or just talk and be interesting. For me, personally, there is no magic in finding out about someone in this cold internet way. And I come from a myspace/MSN generation where we always talked to people online, text them, almost pre-internet dating flirted in this way… But that was because we would meet them. We would tell very quickly what did and didn’t work out between people. I’m not saying that people lie, aren’t genuine or anything like that. Because that’s not what I’m getting at. What I’m saying is that sometimes, something magical happens where you meet someone accidentally, on purpose, are set up, or anything that makes an amusing or heart warming story, and a spark flies. Even if it is a flash in the pan, it is still there. I don’t trust my gut, my emotions or anything for shit because their internal vocal advice normally ends up with me getting hurt in someway, but I wouldn’t change them for anything in the world against clicking whether I’m a smoker or not.

3) “Don’t message me if you’re a weirdo…” And other chat up lines.

The quirkiness of people and their idiosyncratic ways is completely lost on the internet. Ever get a text and you can’t tell if it’s flirty or evasive, sarcastic or serious? This is exactly the problem with internet dating is that you can fall in to two categories: Weirdo, or WEIRDO! What’s the difference? Well, lower case weirdo is a person who will say something quirky. Something a bit more than hello. Possible more than three sentences, and their sentence might even get away from them a little bit. But there’ll be something honest there, cute maybe, and definitely relatable if they said it to you in real life. On the internet however, this is a time consuming error for both parties. You may want something a little bit more than just ‘Hello’ or ‘Your* fit’ (*Assumption of spelling capacity of people who say this), but in reality anything more is just a bit too much to handle, hard to understand and not the perfect way you want to enter romantic life. To me, again personally, nothing romantic is ever perfect and that’s one of the most endearing things about it! Sometimes it can be and those are magical times where babies probably get made. Upper Case WEIRDO however is 90% of the male world (I’m generalising and sounding like a bitter person, but really this is actually quite true). The guys who don’t see beyond the boobs, don’t look up to see the brain, have profile pictures of their cut abs from 6 years ago before all the drinking and partying finally caught up with them, or they’re  just the kind of guy girls always go for, end up with, get upset about and end up joining dating sites to find someone new. The cycle just continues. Of course the problem with this and the inability to use your personality (or lack of) to create a first impression is exactly the same problem as in the outside world!

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Personally, as I feel I have to keep pointing out, I don’t get it. I know how it works, why it works, etc. But I’ve always enjoyed just meeting people without any of this internet based message system, categorisation or social advertising. Yes it’s hard to do and sometimes it hurts. More often than not it’s a terrible terrible chore and awfully awkward. For me, that’s half the fun. I’ve always ended up dating someone I’ve met through a friend, through a ridiculous situation or because I was bloody determined to find out who they were and had that gut feeling that this would be brilliant. Although my research will provide something for my stories, it’s inventible that my own feelings and voice in this regard might come through. But it’ll be worth it once the manuscript is written, trust me it will. If you do have any stories of internet dating that you would like to share with me for my research, anonymously of course unless you want me to know who you are, then you are more than welcome to leave a comment or find a way to get in touch. It’s interesting to hear all of these things from people because, if we aren’t acting like people and writing about people, then what’s the point in being people anyway?

Stay safe internet world!

Sean

Currently Reading: American Gods by Neil Gaiman