Everything stops for Destiny.

Life-blog-post-header

As per usual, a long period away from my blog usually means I’ve gotten my head buried in a new game, and so it has been this time around. The release of Destiny in the early part of September has seen my tenuous grasp upon the idea that doing something productive with my day is probably “a good idea” finally desert me, and all I have left is the bewildered mental haze I now find myself in. Thankfully, just as I was about to decide that playing Destiny at 7 AM whilst my children were getting ready for school was something I could totally do, I realised the danger I was in and pulled back. Currently I’m using the fact that bounties don’t refresh till 10 AM to stay off the game until a reasonable time, and over time, I will kick this habit.

But I didn’t want this post to be exclusively about Destiny, so I’ll move on to the tiny bits of my life that haven’t been consumed by Bungie’s latest game. A few months ago, I stopped writing for The Game Jar. The seed for doing so was planted during E3, during which time I paid absolutely no attention to what was going on there. Man oh man, did it feel good. For that short period I wasn’t thinking about games. I wasn’t pouring over coverage hoping to find inspiration for my writing. I even started to wonder whether I gave a shit about gaming culture at all. When I did eventually get back to paying attention to gaming, I did so knowing my heart wasn’t really in it.

Part of that was because of the pressure I felt under to produce content for the site. Admittedly it was pressure that I stupidly placed upon myself, but it was still there, and just I couldn’t find a way to stop worrying about it, no matter how hard I tried. Then, when it looked like the site was going to go through some big changes, I asked myself whether I still enjoyed writing about games, and the answer was a pretty convincing no. I’ve never been one to do things hard-heartedly, and once I’d combined that with doubts about whether anything I’d written was at all interesting, to anyone, my decision was made. I felt like I didn’t have anything interesting to say.

But I’d be lying if I said it was all about my own confidence in my work, other hobbies were calling out to me. You may have noticed that over time the content on this blog has shifted, and that’s because it reflects how I’m spending my time now. Modelling – a pastime I’ve indulged in for a very long time – has returned to me, and I now find that I want to spend the majority of my days painting toy soldiers! I do miss writing about games from times to time, and I certainly miss being part of the Game Jar crew, but I’m reluctant to swap my paintbrush for a keyboard. Hopefully, when I feel like I have something to say again, I’ll figure out how to spend time on both things happily.

So that’s where I am today. Stuck between my desire to play Destiny, and paint little plastic men. With my bingeing period over, things on my blog should get back to some sort on normality. Already I have updates to projects piling up, awaiting  photographs and other such finishing touches. Over the next few weeks I’ll get caught up, and we can all pretend this whole sordid affair with a certain game never happened. Until then, thank you for reading, and please keep visiting my tiny little corner of the internet. I’ll get lonely if you don’t :-p

 

 

The Game Jar Files: The smoke and mirrors of E3

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 12/07/2013

———————————————————————————————–

If you spent any amount of time following what happened at E3 this year, you’ll no doubt be aware that a rather embarrassing photo from what appears to be the Xbox booth surfaced on the internet, not long after the show finished. The photo depicts a demo station with its doors open, and within we can clearly see that a gaming PC is being used to run the games being demonstrated. On a personal level, I wasn’t at all surprised. This kind of thing is always going on at E3, but usually we don’t get to see it. What I did find interesting, was the reaction to the photo, and how opinions differed depending on which side of the divide you were. Those within the industry broadly saw nothing wrong with the picture, and that’s what worries me.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that I’m not at all bothered about PC’s secretly squirreled away in demo station. I don’t think they should have Xbox One written above them, but beyond that? If the specs of the PC are comparable to the final hardware, then whatever. I do have a problem with some of the reaction coming from those within the industry though. Based on what I read in the aftermath of that photo going live, there seems to be a healthy amount people working within the games industry that don’t understand the reach videos games have now. They don’t seem to realise that the smoke and mirrors of old have no place in today’s interconnected HD world, and that gamers are more switched on than ever.

Those within the industry argue that E3 is a trade only show, and that all attendees are well aware of the smoke and mirrors that goes on. Within the confines of a closed conference hall, this is a valid argument. Once you’ve seen behind the curtain of E3, you know how things work. The trouble is E3 isn’t a closed shop any more. It’s streamed directly to our consoles in high-definition. Gaming websites cover every inch of it. Gameplay trailers, shown in an amphitheatre “for the trade only”, are on YouTube for global consumption within hours. The consumer has intimate access to E3, and most of them don’t know what standard industry practice is. If platform holders and game publishers want their E3 presentations to go beyond the trade show flow, directly out to consumers, they need to be much clearer about what they’re showing us. I have no problem with using PC’s – so long as they tell me that they’re doing so. The same goes for carefully scripted gameplay demo’s and pre-recorded demos. I want to know what I’m watching.

Speak to a game developer about that photo, and they’ll probably tell you they’re wondering what all the fuss is about. Their point of view is that they’re demonstrating the game, not the hardware, so why does it matter what platform it’s running on. Using high-powered PC’s inside the demo station is standard practice at E3, everyone who goes there knows it, and as a result this is a non-story. I have to be honest, I have some sympathy with this argument, but I think it falls down when you consider that photo in particular. It clearly says Xbox One above the monitors. There are controllers laying in front of those monitors. The whole stand is awash with the green and white colour scheme synonymous with the Xbox brand. People are going to assume they’re playing an Xbox One, regardless of any kind of standard practice. When the usual suspects are being interviewed in front of the pods, the gamers watching will, in all likelihood, believe that it’s Xbox One’s running those games.

When an industry insider defends the smoke and mirrors with something like  “…well technically we never said it was running on a console” I roll my eyes. It’s a pathetic answer in my opinion, it’s what five-year olds do when their parents are telling them off. It’s the kind of answer given by people who know they’re morally in the wrong, but haven’t broken any actual rules. The point is, they’re not being wholly honest with their customers, and they know it. Previously, when E3 really was a trade show, they could get away with it. Now, with the whole world watching them, they can’t. Publishers and platform holders can’t continue with the same old sleight of hand if they expect to maintain consumer trust. Gamers want to sit down and watch these press events without having to worry about what they’re seeing. They want transparency, and personally I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

I’m sure that if you’re on the inside, E3 still feels like a trade show. To everyone else on the outside, it clearly isn’t. E3 is a global event that reaches out beyond the walls of the conference centre it’s in, and everyone within the industry needs to come to terms with that. The games industry has built a massive hype machine that allows gamers to scrutinise up-and-coming titles in greater detail than ever before. Pulling a fake-out is getting tougher and tougher, and in future, if they continue to use the smoke and mirrors, we’ll be seeing more company’s  getting caught with their pants down. Every time one of these photos appears on the internet, it erodes the goodwill gamers have for developers. I for one just wished those industry insiders understood that.

The Game Jar Files: Bye-bye 2012! Don’t forget to write!

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 08/01/2013

————————————————————————————————-

I have mixed feelings about 2012, half of me feels glad to see the back of it, half of me remembers it fondly. So before I get too settled into the shiny new year, I felt it only right to turn around and bid 2012 a bon voyage as it heads off in to the distance by recalling some of the good and bad of the year gone by.

E3 2012, I am dissapoint. At their respective press events, both Sony and Microsoft looked like they’d ran out of ideas. There were no new motion devices to reveal, no new hardware redesigns, no new blockbuster franchises from trusted studios. E3 2012 was almost a carbon copy of the year before – “look at all these wonderful Move/Kinect games that you’re not interested in. And look at all these sequels to games you’ve already played…” After watching the livestreams I looked down at my Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and for the first time in their lives I thought they looked old and tired. I was in fact, reminded of that oft-repeated Arnold J Rimmer quote from the Red Dwarf episode Queeg; “Look, Lister, no point feeling sorry about Holly. It’s a kindness. Like a blind old incontinent sheepdog, he’s had his day. Take him out to the barn with a double-barreled shot-gun and blow the mother away. And I’m only saying that because I’m so fond of him.” In my opinion it’s well and truly time that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were taken out to the proverbial barn, purely to make way for the next generation of younger, fitter, cooler machines. Nobody wants the space under their telly smelling of old, incontinent console, so hopefully 2013 will be the year that Sony and Microsoft load up the old shotgun, and do the decent thing.

Talking of disappointing E3’s…

Despite some promising signs later on in the year at Gamescom, 2012 wasn’t very kind to us PS Vita owners. My overriding memory from last year will be the confirmation (were it needed) that Sony doesn’t know how to support a handheld gaming device. For those hoping for more than one “must play” game that year, E3 2012 offered no crumbs of comfort. Just five months after launch, the Vita was already in a gaming wasteland. Sony’s press event later in the year at Gamescom did go some way to lifting the gloom, right up until one of their big three holiday titles – Call of Duty Black Ops Declassified, turned out to be an absolute dog that is. As 2012 ended, I held out little hope for Sony’s brilliant machine in the forthcoming year. Media Molecule’s Tearaway was a most welcome surprise, but since it’s initial reveal at the German gaming convention, nothing really substantial has been forthcoming. Now I’m not saying that work has ground to a halt or anything, but the Vita needs some positive spin, and talking about Tearaway more often could have been it. Guerilla’s Killzone: Mercenary is unlikely to get non-Killzone fans interested in the flagging system, and as much I love the series, the game is unlikely to be a major hit for the Vita. Technically polished? Yes. Hardware seller? No. As 2012 came to an end, weekly sales figures revealed that the Vita was outsold in Japan by its predecessor the PSP in November, and at this point I really don’t think Sony have the first clue about how to turn the flagging console’s fortunes around. Will 2013 be the year that we all say goodbye to Sony’s excellent machine? I don’t know, but it does make me sad that I’m asking the question.

But 2012 wasn’t all doom and gloom, last year was also when I really fell in love with a PC game. Announced way back in 2007, Guild Wars 2 finally arrived at the end of August 2012, and when it did, it crushed every single other game I own beneath its MMO feet. Not even the years of game time I’d invested into other MMOs like Eve Online or Lord of the Rings: Online could stop it, all I wanted to play for the rest of the year was Guild Wars 2. Just over four months later and the initial shinyness is gone. I’m familiar enough with it now to know that it isn’t quite the genre game-changer ArenaNet were touting it to be pre-launch. I recognise its problems. I note the features still missing (Server guesting, ArenaNet, I can haz nao?). I understand all the criticisms the game gets from those that don’t like it, and I don’t care. I love this game still, and even though I might not play it every single day like I used too, it’s still the game I play most. Even now, whilst writing this, I’m thinking that I’m cutting into my Guild wars 2 time. I have this feeling, that ArenaNet have laid the foundations for one of the best games ever made, and that by the time its first anniversary comes around I’ll be playing that game. And to know that I’ve been on board since day one? Well, that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, and puts a massive smile on my face. Thank you 2012, for giving me Guild Wars 2.

And finally, this year I’ve learned that writing about games isn’t quite the utopia of free stuff I imagined it to be. Well OK, I never really thought it was utopia, but the free games bit did sound pretty sweet, so it must be all good. Right? It wasn’t until I’d written my first review that I realised how hard being objective about video games really is. Simply stating “this game is shit, don’t buy it” isn’t good enough, you have to be precise with your criticism, and your praise come to think of it. I’m sure absolutely nobody based their purchasing decision on my Hitman: Absolution review, but it doesn’t make the whole process any easier, people were going to read my words! Oh and for the love of God don’t get anything factually wrong either, because the internet is an unforgiving place. I don’t want you to think I’m moaning though, because I’m not. Writing for the Game Jar this year has been an awesome experience, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I do have a new-found respect for those writers on here that can regularly turn out interesting articles on a regular basis, I simply don’t know how they do it.

The obligatory E3 post

I’m sorry, it’s in the local blogging by-laws. During E3 every blogger is legally obliged to give us “there take” on the big three’s briefings.

In general, all three briefings weren’t very good. Nintendo’s was marginally better than the other two, but both Sony and Microsoft were clearly treading water until their next console turns up. A quick trip around the various major gaming sites reveals pretty much the same thing, reheated franchises that are all too familiar, and a presser almost identical to last years. I’d like to propose a new rule for next year, Microsoft cannot mention Kinect and Sony cannot mention Move until I personally have seen proof that Kinect-playing Mrs Casual Gamer, and Move-playing Mr Casual Gamer are actually tuning in to watch the live stream. Core gamers don’t care about these devices, so just who do Sony and Microsoft think they’re talking to? Were the casual gamers really tuning in to the live streams?

And before you say “they must be”, you know a casual gamer or two, ever seen a gaming magazine on their coffee table? No, you haven’t, have you? 😛

But my real ire, my furious anger is saved for Sony. Three games. Actually scratch that, two games. Two games and a game logo. That’s the best showing you can muster for your brand new handheld gaming machine, Sony? Yes OK, they’re busy saying right now that they’ve got “25 games on the show floor..”, but they sent out a terrible message at their press briefing. After the failure to properly support the PSP, and no real content on show for the out going PS3, this was a golden opportunity to put the Vita front and centre in it’s launch year. Instead they dropped the ball badly, and many of my friends and fellow Vita owners are now left wondering whether we’ve bought another PSP, doomed to early abandonment.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: