The Game Jar Files: Game of the Generation

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 02/10/2013

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In a few months time, a new generation of consoles will be with us. Our Xbox 360’s and our PS3’s will become the past, and we’ll be boldly marching on into the golden dawn of the next generation. But before we go, I wanted to take a look back over the games we’ve played this generation, in a rather foolhardy attempt to try to pick out one game above all others. It wasn’t easy. To make sure this piece wasn’t four times the length it is now, I had to be ultra picky. I genuinely feel guilty about not having a much larger short list, there were so many great games to consider. But to pick one, I had to be brutal. My choice is not the obvious one at first glance, but I believe my reasons for choosing it are sound. So here then, is my take on the game of the generation, and the two games that came close.

I’ll start my short-list with the newly released Grand Theft Auto V. What Rockstar have done with GTA V is nothing less than a minor technical miracle in my opinion. They’ve created an incredibly detailed, and vibrant open world that pushes the current generation of consoles to their absolute limit. They’ve refined the controls to the point that you no longer feel hampered by them during tense moments, and done away with the frustration of restarting a mission after failure. Simply put, it’s the best GTA game they’ve ever made, and the finest open world ever created on a console. Despite all the improvements though, GTA V doesn’t quite have enough to take the title. First of all, I rather suspect that Red Dead Redemption might be the better game overall, and secondly, it’s very much as expected. GTA V isn’t a game that surprises you with fresh gameplay, or shows you anything new.

The next game I had on my short-list is another recently released game, The Last of Us. At a time when the linear gameplay experience seems to be unfashionable, Naughty Dog steps up to show the world that linear game experiences can still be awesome, if it’s done right. The Last of Us is a masterpiece of storytelling. It sweeps you up, and engulfs you totally. So much so, that you simply don’t have time to stop and consider whether the game would be better if it you had more than one path through it. I honestly don’t believe that anyone can compete with Naughty Dog when it comes to story driven games, and yet The Last of Us isn’t my pick either, and for similar reasons to GTA V – it doesn’t feel like the start of something new. The Last of Us feels like the ultimate distillation of what Naughty Dog have been doing with the Uncharted series. It feels like the end of the process, not the beginning.

And so we come to the game I have chosen, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. To understand why I’ve chosen Call of Duty 4 as my game of the generation, you have to go back to the beginning. Way back in 2005, Call of Duty 2 made its début on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and became the first ever Call of Duty game released on the current generation of consoles. Being a launch title, it wasn’t perfect, but it did go on to sell around two million copies on Xbox 360, and just under six million across all platforms. As is the norm for Call of Duty games, Treyarch were in the hotseat for the next game, and in 2006 Call of Duty 3 was released. Despite the fact it had to contend with gamers in-built prejudice regarding the developers perceived lesser abilities, it still sold a very well. Across all platforms, this time including PS3, Call of Duty 3 went on to sell just over seven million copies.

As you can see, sales figures for the franchise were slowly creeping upwards. At this point, Call of Duty is a popular game, but it’s not the Goliath we know and love. It wasn’t until 2007 when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released, that the franchise truly started it’s journey toward becoming the gaming juggernaut it is now. Game sales exploded, and Call of Duty 4 would go on to sell nearly sixteen million copies – more than double the previous game. But Call of Duty 4 didn’t just set a new sales benchmark for the series. The game also popularized many concepts now commonplace in other first person shooters, and it laid down the blueprint for all Call of Duty games going forward. Every Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare has been built on the foundation laid by this game; the customisable loadouts, the killstreaks, the perks. They all began with this game.

I’ll admit, if you select your game of the generation by any other criteria than commercial success, then Call of Duty 4 probably won’t be your winner. Other games have surpassed it technically on almost every single level now, but none of them, not a single one, has had the kind of impact upon the market that Modern Warfare has had. When a new title in the franchise is on the horizon, games move out of its launch window. When the weekly reports on the most played games over Live come around, Call of Duty dominates them. Call of Duty is a behemoth of an IP, and only giants such as Grand Theft Auto can hope to replicate its money-generating powers.

During the Call of Duty Ghosts reveal event in August, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg reeled off a simply astounding array of statistics related to Call of Duty. Over one hundred million players have played Call of Duty. More than twenty-five billion hours have been played. More than ten million players per day, and in August when the event occurred, more than forty million players that month. Call of Duty is the biggest name in gaming right now, an in my opinion, that domination can be directly traced back to Modern Warfare. No other game this generation has been as single-handedly responsible for launching a global phenomena as Call of Duty 4: Modern warfare has, and that’s why it’s my game of the generation.

The Game Jar Files: I know that voice!

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 17/04/2013

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I’m slightly reluctant to write this article. The voice acting in video games has improved immeasurable over the years, so complaining about it feels somewhat counter productive. Not entirely though, because I have a very specific problem with today’s voice acting, namely the overuse of certain actors. Nothing breaks my in-game immersion quicker than hearing a voice I connect to another character in another game, coming out of a different pixelated mouth. So how big of a problem is it? Only you can tell me that. It’s entirely possible that I’m the only gamer that gets hung up on this sort of thing, but, with the move towards games with stronger stories, I very much doubt it. If we as gamers are to buy into the characters presented to us, doesn’t the voice delivering the lines need to be unique?

Last week or so, I was enjoying the very excellent Tomb Raider. As I’m sure you know, the latest game is a prequel, and attempts to tell the story of how Lara Croft became the girl we all know and love, and by and large, it does a very good job of doing so. I did however, have a slight problem paying attention to it, thanks largely to some of the voice acting. One of the first cut scenes up, and I’m doing a double take. Conrad Roth, he sounds familiar! A little further in, and the penny drops. Brynjolf from the Skyrim Thieves Guild is in my Tomb Raider! A bit further on from that, and I pick up one of those journal collectable things that contains spoken dialogue. Mercer Frey from the Skyrim Thieves Guild starts coming out of my speakers. From that point on, the Conrad Roth character was broken to me, whenever he said anything to Lara, I was right back in Riften, imaging he was calling me laddie before sending me off on another thieving  job.

The troubling thing is, if the sharing of voice talent is any indication, that developers seem to constantly relying on a small group of voice actors. If you played Dragon Age: Origins, Simon Templeman will be familiar to you as arch villain Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir. If you played Mass Effect 2 or 3, he’s Admiral Han’Gerrel. In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, he’s Gabriel Roman. Star Wars: The Old Republic, Dead Space 3, Jade Empire, Kingdoms of Amalur: The Awakening… his list of voice credits in video games is immense. Continuing on the Bioware/Naughty Dog crossover theme, there’s Gideon Emery. He’s another actor with a distinctive voice, that’s easily recognisable when you hear it. His role as Fenris in Dragon Age 2 is probably the biggest, but he’s also been in a variety of other Bioware games.

Perhaps the biggest culprit though is Claudia Black. Now, there is no doubt that she’s a very attractive lady, or that she has a very appealing voice, but damn she’s everywhere. The first time I heard her dulcet tones was playing Dragon Age: Origins, she voices Morrigan in that game. Next time I heard her voice, she was Chloe Frazer in Uncharted 2. After that she was Admiral Xen in Mass effect 2, followed by Samantha Byrne in Gears of war 3, then back to Chloe Frazer in Uncharted 3, and finally, Admiral Xen in Mass Effect 3! Talk about immersion breaking. Ironically, it’s the quality of her performances that causes the problems. Chloe Frazer is a well realised character, thanks mainly to Ms Black’s excellent work, and it’s that level of performance that makes hearing her work elsewhere harder.

Not so long ago, I was crying out for some decent voice acting my games, so I shouldn’t complain to much now that we’ve finally got some, but the familiar voices are jarring now. Nolan North is Nathan Drake. He just is. So when his voice comes out of the mouth of my Human Necromancer in Guild Wars 2, it feels odd. I find it very hard not to picture CSEC officer Armando Bailey whenever Colonel Saul Tigh is on screen in Battlestar Galactica. Having written this article, it’s become clear to me that good quality acting can be a double edged sword. Actors such as Nolan North or Claudia Black bring a high level of believability to Nathan Drake and Chloe Frazer, and that believability solidifies those characters in our minds. The voice is the character, and therefore it’s very hard to hear that same voice in another virtual body without connecting it to another face.

Now that developers have (finally) managed to attract a selection of quality voice talent, their next challenge is to widen that pool. If the voices coming out of your favourite characters isn’t to become jarring in the future, they need to be used sparingly, and that means having a wider selection of actors to begin with. I don’t want to be rolling my eyes at Lara Croft’s mentor because I’ve spent so much time with him in another world, I want Bryjolf to sound like Bryjolf, and xxxx to sound like xxxx. Overly familiar voice actors breaks my immersions, and in an entertainment medium like gaming, immersion is king. Story telling in games is getting much stronger, and as a result, the demand for skilled voice actors has grown. The talent pool needs to grow if all our heroes and villains aren’t to sound the same.

Vita Wallpaper Attack!

Not much writing this week, instead I offer up these wallpapers I made for my PS Vita. I really enjoyed creating these, some came easier than others, and the West Ham Utd one was a bit of an obvious choice.

Enjoy!

 

Wait, what? It’s a new year…?

Yes, January is nearly over still no new blog post on here, time to remedy that then. First order of business is my game of the (last) year, the TL;DR is it’s Gears of War 3. I was fully expecting it to be either Uncharted 3 or Skyrim, and though both of those are fine games Gears 3 has taken a vice like grip on my gaming time and still doesn’t look like letting go.

Next up: what I’ve been doing. Playing Gears 3 like a maniac and Photoshoping logos for the new gaming team I’m part of, The Monkey Dogs. Formed mainly from the remnants of LoX Gamers, the Monkey Dogs have risen from many nights of Locust slaying on Xbox Live with friends. My fingers are crossed it lasts, because right now I’m loving having a forum to post on 😛

Finally, before I show some of my workings on Photoshop a little list of things to do on here this year;

  • Work out how to change the colours on my blog theme
  • Resolve to blog every week, probably Friday’s
  • Finish off my Hall of Fame posts

That’s enough to be going on with, see you next week!

Uncharted 3: No such thing as too much awesome?

Trying to sum up my thoughts on Uncharted 3 is a perfect example of why I’m not a professional games writer, I simply cannot objectively judge this game without comparing it to the previous game in the series. Right from the start I want to say this; Uncharted 2 is one of the best games I’ve ever played. It sets a very high bar for its successors and when I compare Uncharted 3 to the previous game I’m comparing it to something exceptional. With that caveat in mind…

So it’s not as good then? Well no, not in my opinion, but the is difference tiny. Oddly, Uncharted 3’s biggest problem is Uncharted 2’s level of near-perfection. Naughty Dog nailed it with the second game, and faced with the fact that they simply couldn’t make the same game again they did what a lot of developers do, take what worked before (which in Uncharted 2’s case was pretty much all of it), and do lots more of it.

Uncharted 2 was a fantastic balanced meal, with Uncharted 3 the portions are larger and the whole meal ends up feeling richer as a result. Instead of being nicely satisfied you end up feeling stuffed having over eaten. Maybe that’s a bit of a tortured metaphor, but it’s the best I can come up with to explain the feeling of “too much” I had whilst playing. I never thought I’d write it, but there’s too much spectacular in this game for my taste.

By no means is Uncharted 3 a bad game, it’s a fantastic game worthy of your time and money, it’s only problem is the game that came before it.

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