Destiny: Crota’s Cheesy End

Video-Games-Blog-Post-Heade

Sorry about the title, I couldn’t help myself.

Cheese. Bungie does not like it apparently. Not if the content of their latest update is to be believed, anyway. If you’ve been following Destiny’s progress, you’ll probably know that the new Raid – Crota’s End, has been suffering from a particularly cheesy odour since it’s introduction as part of the Dark Below expansion. Tales of Guardians using various cheesy methods to run through the raid easily, hoovering up loot, were becoming commonplace, and it was only a matter of time before Bungie stepped in.

Not cheesing this time round.

Not cheesing this time round.

Now that they’ve at least begun that process, I thought I’d talk why I’m glad they’re trying to de-cheese the Raid. Firstly, I’d like to say that I’m not against cheesing per-se. As someone who’s crimes include hiding beneath the stairs in the Cerberus Vae Strike, I’d be a massive hypocrite for a start. But mainly it’s because the whole thing is a massive grey area. Where does cheesing end and exploiting a game bug begin, for example? If its possible (although highly unlikely) to be killed whilst hiding in a “cheese spot”, is that cheesing? There’s no right or wrong answer in my opinion.

So why don’t I like it in the Raid? I’ll explain. Destiny is a strange game when it comes to challenge. Unlike similar games within the genre, its possible to replay the entirety of Destiny’s story mode content whilst being hugely over-levelled. The gear and weapon levelling mechanics eventually render the game’s “normal” difficulty curve meaningless, and beyond the odd Heroic stipulation on various Bounties, the game never really insists you turn the difficulty up. The vast majority of Destiny’s PvE content therefore, relies upon the player choosing to be challenged to remain meaningful, and that’s why I have a problem with Raid cheese.

Definitely cheesed this one

Definitely cheesed this one

Players solo-cheesing their way through Crota’s End are rendering the most meaningful content in the game meaningless. They’re rendering the achievement of earning Raid gear meaningless. And in a game that relies upon the player to keep content relevant, I don’t understand why you’d do that. What is the end game anyway? You cheese your way to a full set of Raid gear, and then do the Raid as intended? That doesn’t make any sort of sense. Destiny is all about the gear you’re wearing, and the guns you’re wielding, and I personally don’t know how you can take any pride in that when you’ve cheesed your way there.

As I’ve said, cheesing is a ridiculously grey area, and something I myself have partaken in, so I don’t want you to go away thinking I’m making a judgement here, because that’s not my intention. This is an expression of bewilderment at the specific issue of soloing Crota’s End to short-cut your way to Raid gear and weapons. So by all means, feel free to ask me why I’m not also questioning whole Raid groups cheesing bits of the Vault of Glass, or to tell me I’m taking a bunch of pixels way too seriously. I won’t mind. Yes, its ridiculous the Raid can be solo-cheesed. Yes, Bungie should fix it PDQ. But also yes, I think the players have a responsibility to resist the cheese, no matter how fragrant.

 

The Obligatory Festive Blog Post

Life-blog-post-header

it only does offline

Seasons greetings!

As we’re all in that weird period of stasis – between Christmas and the New Year, I thought I’d bore you with some words. Hopefully you had a great Christmas and enjoyed all the traditional seasonal things like turkey, too much chocolate, and PSN outages. Personally, having spent Christmas Eve night throwing up, I spent the holiday gingerly eating things in an effort to work out what made me sick in the first place.

Obviously from a gaming point of view, the big news of the holiday was the attack upon Xbox Live and PSN. Both services went down at one point, and rather predictably, Xbox Live recovered quickly whilst PSN stumbled around for days until users patience had run out. I know a lot of people got hot under the collar about the outages (probably justifiably so), but I simply can’t bring myself to be angry.

Maybe it was the Christmas cheer, or maybe it’s my time spent playing Eve Online (where the best way to beat the griefers is to just ignore them until they go away), but my response was to simply play Far Cry 4 offline and ignore it all. The ONLY time I got slightly fretful was when I realised Xur had the Hawkmoon upgrade for sale, and even then my panic was quickly alleviated by PSN coming on for long enough for me to buy it.

Apart from that, my Christmas was spent either sighing at the sight of all my children’s presents spread across the living room floor, or wistfully glancing at my unfinished modelling projects, and wishing this could all be over so I could get back to doing them. Pretty much the same as usual then! Hopefully you enjoyed your festive period as much as I did. Come the New Year normal service (whatever that may be) will resume, until then, have a good new year!

The Game Jar Files: Cutting Costs; The Xbox One price cut rumour

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on The Game Jar – February 19th 2014

A few weeks ago, a rumour popped up on the internet regarding a potential Xbox One price cut, and ever since then I’ve been considering just how likely that would be. Well, to be honest, I spent a fair amount of that time rolling my eyes at the notion, given that a price cut at some point is almost inevitable. But today I’ve started to take it a little more seriously after reading the news that Sony’s PlayStation 4 is still outselling the Xbox One. I know that sales between the two consoles are reasonably close, but as I noted a little while ago, I don’t think Microsoft knows how to ‘do second place’ any longer. Leading the race is where they’re most familiar, and I’m sure a price drop is one of the things they’ve talked about to get them there. What I want to know is; what does a cheaper Xbox One look like?

The discless option

Removing the Bluray drive was one of the things being guessed at by the internet hive mind, and I guess it kind of makes sense given Microsoft’s push towards a digital future, but to me it seems a little contradictory. ‘Welcome to the all-in-one, Xbox One’ is the tagline encapsulating the multimedia pitch for the console, but doesn’t removing the disc drive mean making it a little less all-in-one? The thing I think that people forget is, you’re not just removing the capability to play Blurays. You’re also removing the capability to play DVDs and CDs, and that is a big deal. I know we have iTunes and Netflix, but just imagine saying to every household with a large DVD collection ‘here’s a box that will do everything except play all the movies you’ve spent years collecting’. Its insanity. Removing the disc drive from the Xbox One would only be viable if Microsoft fully committed to the digital delivery only model, and as we all know, they’ve already pulled back from that.

The kinect-less option

Removing Kinect from the box is perhaps the most obvious option when trying to reduce the cost of the Xbox One, but to my mind it’s also the least likely. If you watched the initial Xbox One reveal, you’ll no doubt recall how much of that presentation was given over to demonstrating how Kinect was central to the Xbox One experience, and as such it makes removing the peripheral a massive PR disaster. Kinect is absolutely integral the console’s design. It’s why they couldn’t launch with a cheaper, Kinect-free hardware bundle. It’s why they redesigned an operating system that didn’t need redesigning. Admitting they got those decisions wrong by removing Kinect (which is essentially what they’d be doing) would be a step too far for Microsoft, and that’s why I think they won’t do it. Kinect is a game-changer as far as Microsoft is concerned, it’s what separates their console from the rivals. To abandon that just a year in after selling it so hard? Inconceivable!

The suck it up option

Assuming that Microsoft haven’t reduced manufacturing costs for the One by the end of the year, the ‘suck it up’ option is the most likely route to a price cut in my opinion. Having ruled out removing either the disc drive or Kinect, Microsoft is left with no other choice than to simply swallow the loss on each unit sold until costs come down. I know that sounds drastic, but it’s not unprecedented, and it doesn’t dilute the integrity of the Xbox One’s offer either. For all my criticism of Microsoft’s original pitch, I do believe they’ve got a good console on their hands, albeit one that costs too much. By leaving the console as it is and cutting the price, they could fully support the hardware – Kinect and all – whilst competing with Sony on price. For many people, the only thing preventing them buying an Xbox One is the price. Temporarily making a loss on each one sold is the quickest way to solve that problem

Whether Microsoft drop the price of the Xbox One is a question that doesn’t need asking. There’s absolutely no way they’ll want to go into a second holiday period with the most expensive hardware – especially as they’re already being outsold. How they go about it is the real question. All consoles get cheaper to manufacture over time, and usually these cost savings get passed on to the customer, but will Microsoft wait that long? In the end, I’m only making educated guesses here, but of the options I’ve listed, only making a loss in the short-term makes any real sense to me. No doubt time will tell how wrong I am, hopefully I’m not too far off though, as I have an Xbox One-shaped hole under my TV that needs filling.

The Game Jar Files: What will the next Gears of War game look like?

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on The Game Jar – February 24th 2014

I have a pretty special relationship with Gears of War. It was the game that convinced me to buy an Xbox 360, the game that showed me what Online Co-Op could be like if done right, and the game that encouraged me to venture out in the world of gaming communities. I’ve had a lot of fun playing these games. So when the news broke that Microsoft had acquired the rights to the franchise, and also revealed that there would be more Gears of War games on the way, I was slightly surprised to find that my reaction was one of trepidation. Having followed the development of multiple Halo games, I’m of the opinion that Microsoft aren’t really a ‘hands off’ type of publisher, so what would a new Gear game look like now that Microsoft have direct control of it?

In 2013, Gears fans got a taste of what a non-Epic made Gears of War game would look like. The People Can Fly developed Gears of War: Judgment arrived with much fanfare, but ultimately failed to capture the same spark the previous games had. For whatever reason – the lack of Horde mode, a changed multiplayer, or revamped mechanics, fans just didn’t take to the game and now they’re quite rightly wondering how the next game will shape up. Fans can be somewhat reassured that the studio responsible for creating the next Gears game – Black Tusk – is being headed up by series veteran Rod Fergusson, but how much freedom will they have to make the kind of game the series desperately needs?

If we’ve learnt anything from Halo 4, it’s that Microsoft doesn’t appear to like taking risks with their premier IP’s. There’s a set formula for making successful Halo games for example, and I don’t doubt for a second that Microsoft made it very clear  to 343 Industries they were expected to stick to it. To give 343i their due, Halo 4 was a pretty good game, but it came after five other Halo games and had no ambition to be original whatsoever, and as a result it was never going to be a truly great game. Playing it safe held Halo 4 back in my opinion, and I fear the same will happen to the next Gears game. Having witnessed PCF’s failed reboot of the series, will Black Tusk be given license to stray from the Gears of War formula? I think not. So I find myself asking; is that really what Gears of War needs right now?

Personally, I like to think the reason Judgment wasn’t that great was because People Can Fly would rather have made Bulletstorm 2, and as a result their heart wasn’t quite in it, but that’s just me being mischievous. Very probably Judgment’s lack of stellar quality arose from the studio being unable to fully unleash their creativity. I say that because I’ve played both Bulletstorm and Judgment, and I find it difficult to reconcile to two games. The former is a brilliantly fresh take on the genre that doesn’t pull its punches, and the latter is a game that never feels confident in the changes it’s tried to make. It’s almost as if someone was looking over the developers shoulders, constantly telling them ‘you can’t do that in a Gears of War game’

The trouble is, Gears of War’s particular brand of meathead combat has already been perfected over the course of three games, and it’s hard to see where the franchise goes next. The most obvious option is to explore the Pendulum Wars, but with the storyline never really being the series selling point, it’s difficult to think of a scenario that won’t simply be Gears of War with different weapons. In my opinion the game needs to start with a blank piece of paper, perhaps one that does away with single player all together, and focuses solely on Co-Op modes and multiplayer. Whatever direction they go in, one thing is for certain; the next Gears game needs to be a triumphant return to form.

Whether Gears of War can ever be the system seller it once was, I’m not so sure, but to stand a chance, Microsoft need to allow Black Tusk the kind of creative freedom that gave birth to the franchise to begin with. If the studio is given the freedom to tear up the Gears blueprint and start afresh, the next game could be truly special. After a lacklustre last game, the last thing the series needs is a publisher determined to play it safe by holding on the hand brake. As much as we love chainsawing Locust in half, we’re also ready for something new. Whether Black Tusk are allowed to give it to us, only time will tell.

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 problem with RPGs

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on The Game Jar – February 10th 2014

With the amount of cross-pollination going on in the games industry, it’s no surprise that genre boundaries are softening. First person shooters are borrowing elements from RPGs, RPGs are borrowing elements from FPS’, and all sorts of other genres are borrowing from both. Whilst the sharing of ideas is nearly always a good thing in my opinion, I do wonder if this process has some unwanted side effects to it, particularly in the case of RPGs. You see, to my mind, RPGs seem to have forgotten how to do the role-playing bit of their name over the years, and I’d like to know why.

Before I go any further, I’d like to set out what the term RPG means to me. Many many years ago, before video games were as ubiquitous as they are now, gaming meant something entirely different to me. Now and again, it meant moving little metal soldiers about on a table, but mostly it involved sitting down with a group of friends, with a sheet of paper and a pencil, and rolling dice. Advance Dungeons & Dragons was my first proper taste of a role-playing game, and ever since then I’ve been hooked. Thanks to the way it’s played, AD&D gives you access to a world that allows the player a tremendous amount of freedom to become their character, thanks largely to the fact that a human being is running the game, and not developer code. This freedom is at the heart of what a true RPG is to me, and it’s also what’s missing from a lot of games.

The Mass Effect series of games is a prime example of what a watered down RPG looks like. Because despite all of it’s choices, Mass Effect is a game that allows the player very little freedom. Instead of being free to take your character in any direction you wish, you’re constantly funnelled in the direction the game wants you to go in. Even the skill system rigidly binds you to the path set by the developer. Of course, being free to simply ignore the story unfolding around you has massive implications, but forcing you to pay attention to it also has its consequences. Knowing that there’s always a hand on your shoulder, constantly guiding you, means that Shepard never completely feels like your character. He or she will always partly belong to someone else, and I don’t think that’s what an RPG is about.

The reason developers are slowly watering down player freedom, is that they have far more control over the quality of our experience. In theory, that sounds like a good thing, but along with that control comes the restriction to fully role-play your character. Going back to AD&D, the very best Dungeon Masters know that part of creating a great gaming session means being brave enough to allow players the freedom to fuck things up by being stupid or reckless. If my Rogue is the kind of guy willing to risk his life by smuggling a dagger into a tavern that doesn’t allow weapons, the DM needs to have the flexibility to allow me to play him that way. The moment he tells me my character wouldn’t do that, he’s not wholly my character. If developers want their players to fully immerse themselves in the character they’re playing, failure – intentional or otherwise – has to be an available option.

Whether we’ve ever had an RPG game that truly offers the same freedom as AD&D, I don’t know, but I do think some have gotten close. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was the last video game I played that came closest to emulating the freedom of a pen-and-paper role-playing game, mainly because of the things I’ve already talked about. Apart from a small section at the very beginning of the game, the story left you alone to get on with things. The moment you left that sewer, you could be anyone you wanted –  a hero, or a villain,  or even a drunkard and a wastrel. And yes, I could even fuck things up by murdering key characters, or intentionally being bad at wielding a sword. I know it sounds counter-productive to suggest developers should allow their players enough scope to go astray and miss out the story they want to tell, but to me that freedom is essential to great role-playing.

To be fair to developers, they have gotten much better at telling us awesome stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but at the same time they do seem to have lost the ability to tell them without holding our hands all the damn time. They’ve become far too obsessed with the concept of every player being the chosen one with a carefully scripted special destiny. One of my favourite P&P RPG’s of all time is a game called Call of Cthulhu. In that game there are no special snowflakes, only ordinary human beings – human beings likely to wind up either dead or mad. How quickly the player ends up there is entirely in the hands of the player. The creators of the game aren’t obsessed with ensuring players get to see the entirety of everything they’ve created, and the game is better for it.

If we’re to go back to having meaningful role-playing experiences, developers need to be braver, and set us free. They need to accept the fact that abject failure is also a viable option. They need to come to terms with the idea that creating a truly unique character also includes the possibility of making mistakes when creating it. When they narrow the choices down to ‘Correct’ and ‘Slightly less Correct’, when they refuse to allow us to create an average and flawed Commander Shepard, they place an unwelcome limit on how much we the players can develope our characters. In their relentless pursuit of the ‘great gameplay experience’ they’ve taken away our freedom, and that dear readers, is the problem with RPGs today.

The Game Jar Files: The gaming clichés that need to die

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on The Game Jar – February 7th 2014

Clichés are funny old things. Usually they sound kind of right, and if enough people repeat them often enough, we all convince ourselves they must be right. The thing is though, most clichés are nonsense, and once you stop repeating them out of habit, you soon come to realise they simply don’t stand up to logical scrutiny. The world of video games is no stranger clichés, our hobby has a fair few of them, but I think it’s time to shine a light on some of them. Below I’ve listed the five gaming clichés that irk me the most. By exposing them, I hope to drain them of their powers, thus removing them from our collective conversations. So buckle up everybody, as I take some gaming clichés down!

The PC Master Race.

Apart from being mystified as to why you’d want to use a term like master race given its historical connotations, I can’t work out what PC gamers are trying to say with this one. That they’re some sort of superior gaming life-form perhaps? Or that console gamers are of sub-human intelligence maybe? Whatever it is they think they’re saying, I’m willing to bet its nothing like what everybody else hears. Because here’s the facts when it comes to PC gaming versus Console gaming; they both have their pros, they both have their cons, and one isn’t vastly superior than the other. It’s that simple. Trying to pretend you’re part of some special elite because you use a mouse and keyboard doesn’t make you look cool or special, it makes you look like a jerk. So instead of trying to insist your part of some special group with a vaguely fascistic sounding name, why not celebrate the fact that we all get to play cool games, regardless of the platform we choose.

I can’t use that controller!.

If you’re staunchly loyal to one brand of console or another, you’ve probably (at some point or another) declared that you simply cannot use the opposing brand’s controller. If you have, I won’t judge you, but please, allow me to illustrate just how silly that statement is so that you can avoid future embarrassment. Homo Sapiens have roamed the Earth for approximately two hundred thousand years now, and during that time, our very survival has depended on our ability to adapt to our surroundings. We’ve gone from flint tools to outer space, all because we have the mental and physical dexterity to overcome the challenges that lay in our path. And yet, despite all the evolution that has gone into producing us, some of you are flummoxed by a small piece of plastic. Do you have similar trouble with unfamiliar door handles? Or perhaps you take your own cutlery to restaurants? No, of course you don’t, you get used to it because human beings are infinitely adaptable. Not liking a controller is perfectly fine, insisting you absolutely cannot use it? Not so much.

Publishers are EVIL.

There’s a reason small independent shops are dying out and giving way to major chains. It’s because we as a society don’t care enough about keeping them open. As much as we might complain about yet another Starbucks or Tescos opening up on our doorsteps, we continue to give them our money. That nice little coffee shop on the corner closed because you never went in there. Your favourite game studio closed down because you didn’t buy their latest game. It’s simple, brutal economics. Games publishers are businesses, not empires of evil. They’re not trying to seduce mankind with their corrupt wares, they’re entities that respond to our buying habits. If we stopped buying games containing all the things we claim to hate; the micro-transactions, the on-disc DLC, and the Online Pass codes, they’d be gone tomorrow. If you really think EA or Activision are evil organisations out to ruin gaming, I have a solution for you: Stop buying FIFA and Call of Duty.

Gamers want a multimedia box.

No, they don’t. They want a games console that also delivers other forms of media in a convenient way. A games console first, a media device second. I realise some of you are probably shaking your head right now, but be honest with me here, can you name a single person that told you they wouldn’t be buying an Xbox One because it launched without an iPlayer app?When choosing your next-gen console, were TV and music streaming apps top of your shopping list? No, of course not. No gamer looks at the available media apps before they look at the games when deciding whether to buy new hardware. We’re gamers. We want to play video games. Media apps on a console are a great addition. They’re the sweet topping on an already awesome cake. But what they aren’t is the reason to buy a console. That would be the games, and no amount of PR spin is going to convince me otherwise.

Making games should be kept artistically pure.

One of the biggest gaming clichés doing the rounds today is that fans are having an increasingly worrying level of input into game design, and that developers are starting to pander to our every whim. ‘Leonardo da Vinci didn’t have to put up with this kind of shit!‘ they cry, upon reading about the latest assault on a developers artistic integrity, before going on to tell you how it doesn’t happen with films or books. The thing is though, that’s not quite true. Film directors will often re-cut a film, or even re-shoot scenes, based on audience feedback at test screenings. Authors don’t proceed straight to the printers after finishing their latest book, they hand it to a publisher who will give feedback and recommend changes based on the target audience. Creative changes happen in all these industries, all the time, and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. So yes, Leonardo did indeed ‘have to put up with that kind of shit‘, as do film directors, and authors, and game developers.

So there we go, my least favourite gaming clichés debunked for all time. From this moment on, you are no longer allowed to perpetuate these clichés, and must correct all those that use them. Well OK, you’re not actually duty-bound to do any of that, but hopefully I have made you think a little. We should question these things from time to time, because if we don’t, they start to develope a weight they really don’t deserve. So do as I do, and laugh in the face of clichés everywhere.

The Game Jar Files: Assassins Creed IV – The crisis of identity that works.

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on The Game Jar – January 6th 2014

So, did Ubisoft Montreal think they were working on two different games? I start with that question because it’s the one most pertinent to how the game plays. Never in my time as a gamer, have I come across a game with such a split personality. It simply never makes up its mind what sort of game it wants to be. Ordinarily, I’d think this lack of direction was due to a massive error on the developers behalf, but the more I play this game, the less I’m sure. Having played Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag almost exclusively since the middle of December, I beginning to think the game is the product of a deranged, but brilliant mind.

My first moments within the game were largely spent cursing myself. Once again, I’d relied on other people’s recommendations, and ended up buying a game I didn’t like. The problem is, AC IV begins by showing off the least interesting of its multiple personality’s first – the Assassins Creed one. I know it’s a massive franchise now, but to me, Assassins Creed is a series that’s never fulfilled its potential. In 2007 the concept of using technology to explore past lives was just about interesting enough to get you past the flaws and keep you progressing through the story. Today, five games on, they’re still relying on the same trick, only now it’s wearing exceedingly thin. In my opinion, Assassins Creed is a game with iffy controls, and a story that’s so convoluted, it’s nigh on impossible to understand. Small wonder then, that I was wondering what on earth my friends were talking about when they told me it was good game.

As the opening moments of the game came to a close, and it finished trying to reassure me it was still an Assassin Creed game, I took to twitter to have a little grumble. What were people talking about I cried, to which the reply came ‘wait until you get your ship’ And so I waited. Many words were eaten as this point, as the game decided to introduce me to the most interesting of its multiple personality’s – the pirate game one. This is the part of the game where you get to drink rum, pick fights, and sail the Caribbean, and it’s so good, you can’t help but wonder what the hell it’s doing hanging around with the Assassins Creed bit. Being a pirate is so much better than being an assassin, the first question I asked is ‘can I just not bother with that other part?’ As I said in the introduction, did the studio making this game think they were making two, separate games? How can one part of it be so much cooler than the other?

Having a split personality could have been a major disaster for Assassins Creed IV, one part is awesome, one part isn’t… The whole thing would end up in a complete mess. Luckily, the game has a third personality, and its the one that glues the whole thing together. Personality number three is the bit of the game that’s been lifted directly from Far Cry 3 – the open world exploration and crafting. Think of this guy as the friend that brings two people together who don’t like each other very much, so that they can all have an enjoyable night down the pub. Sounds crazy I know, but without Mr Far Cry, the Assassins Creed part would become a workaholic that never went out, and the Pirate part would end getting over excited, blowing its load early, and never lasting the course.

Somehow, don’t ask me why, these three parts come together to create one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played. It’s not seamless by any means, but this Assassins Far Cry Pirates Creed game they’ve created is a work of maniacal genius. The lunatic destruction of Far Cry has been tempered down by Assassins Creed’s discipline. The character of Edward Kenway is more of a free spirit than Altair or Ezio ever was, and thus does away with the feeling that you’ve spent the entire game being told what to do. Your ship – the Jack Daw – offers you a fully explorable game world to play in. It is, in many ways, the very essence of three disparate parts coming together to form a greater whole. As much as I try, and despite my aversion to Assassins Creed, I can’t help but love this game.

Don’t get me wrong, Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag has it’s faults. When the game takes your open-world toys away and bogs you down in just Assassins Creed, it feels like going back to the gaming dark ages, with the promise of being a pirate again being the only thing pushing you forward. The Animus sections are as jarring as ever, and the plot makes even less sense. And, at times, the game does make you wonder whether Ubisoft hasn’t just inadvertently signalled the end of the Assassins Creed franchise as we know it. But despite all that, it’s fantastic fun to play. Whether you’re roaming the high seas blowing English and Spanish ships to match wood and stealing their cargo, or destroying sea forts and swashbuckling your way to the fort commander, you are a pirate king, and you do rule the high seas. Being a pirate has never been so cool.

The Game Jar Files: My crimes against gaming revealed!

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on The Game Jar – December 17th 2013

With the Christmas spirit in full effect, I thought I’d take advantage of you all. Whilst you’re all feeling warm and fuzzy about the prospect of spending time with your loved ones during the festive period, I’m going come clean about my crimes against gaming in the hope you’ll go easy on me. In the spirit of truth and reconciliation, I’m going to unburden myself of all my biggest gaming sins in the hope that I can begin the new gaming year with a clean conscience. So settle down dear readers, as I take you on a journey through the seedier end of gaming.

I’ll begin slowly by confessing to a crime I don’t really have a problem with – I’ve never owned a Sega console of any kind. I’ve played on family and friends consoles plenty of times, but never actually owned one myself. When The Gameboy was first released, I coveted Game Gear for its colour screen and TV tuner, but there was absolutely no way I was going to convince my parents to buy me one. During the great war between the Megadrive and Super Nintendo, I was firmly on the side of good, righteousness, and more controller buttons. From there I spurned the Saturn for Sony’s fledgling machine, quite rightly in my opinion, and so my Sega boycott continued. The closest I ever got to owning a Sega machine was the Dreamcast, which looked ultra-cool with its chiselled lines and special memory cards, but I never quite got round to turning to the dark side. I don’t really regret never owning a Sega machine because I thoroughly enjoyed the consoles I did have, but I do feel a little responsible for Sega pulling out of the hardware market. Perhaps if I’d had been willing to settle for an inferior console, Sega would still be making them. So I’m sorry Sega fans, it was all my fault.

I’m not proud of this one, but I did say this article was all about truth and reconciliation, so I will come clean: I have played through, and finished Too Human on more than one occasion. For those of you who that don’t know what Too Human is, it’s an action RPG game based around a futuristic take on Norse mythology. Now before you start to think that doesn’t sound too bad, let me give you a potted history of its development. Originally slated to be a PlayStation release in 1999, development moved to the Gamecube in 2000. Five years later, the rights were sold to Microsoft and it became an Xbox 360 title. Finally releasing in 2008, Too Human had spent nearly a decade in development hell, but the saga wasn’t over. Approximately a year before the game’s release, Silicon Knights and Epic Games (creators of Unreal Engine 3 – the game engine Too Human was built upon) became entangled in legal action. Silicon Knights eventually lost, and were ordered to recall and destroy any unsold copies of the game. Given its difficult birth, there was no way Too Human was ever going to be a good game, and so it turned out to be. During a third playthrough of the game, my 360 chose death by Red Ring of Death rather than play any more of it. Yes, that’s right; so bad, even the console wouldn’t play it.

Lastly, this is the one I’m genuinely not proud of. The rest of this article is fairly lighthearted – I don’t really think Sega consoles were bad, for example – but I do feel slightly bad about this. I knowingly traded in a broken Crackdown disk, and bought the rather excellent Dead Rising with the proceeds. Knowingly traded because I was the one that broke it. I’d thrown it across the room in a fit of gamer-rage, Frisbee style, and the result was a tiny, barely visible crease in the leading edge of the disc which rendered the disc unreadable. Having turned my game disc in to little more than a shiny coaster, I hatched a sinister plan. I removed any signs of damage from the disc, placed it back in its case, and took it into a game shop that I shall not name here. For one tense moment, I feared I’d be rumbled as the assistant examined the disc, but no! He smiled, declared how much it was worth, and rung up my new copy of Dead Rising, which I got for free. A month or so later, after I’d finished playing Dead Rising, I picked up a second copy of Crackdown during an Amazon sale, and picked up where I left off. Occasionally I felt the odd twinge of guilt about my deception, but not for long, because… well, Dead Rising was a great game!

So there we go, my deepest darkest crimes against gaming laid bare for you entertainment. I hope I haven’t shocked you too much, and hopefully my confessions have given you the courage to step forward, and unburden your gaming soul too. During this season of goodwill to all gamers why not indulge in a little group therapy, and get it all off your chest, we can even hug it out if you want. Come on, confess your gaming sins. You know you want to.

The Game Jar Files: What does Microsoft’s vision of the future mean for the Xbox One?

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on The Game Jar – January 9th 2014

One of things I’ve found most interesting since the launch of the Xbox One, is reading about, and listening to, gamers reaction to some of the changes made to the console’s operating system. As you may know, Microsoft have made a few changes to the OS during the transition from one generation to the next, and not all of them have been welcome. We can all have our opinion on whether these changes are good or bad, but what’s more interesting to me is whether Microsoft are either interested in, or indeed capable of, altering their design plan for the Xbox One. I’ve felt for a long time now, that the company has a very definite idea of where they’re going to try to take gaming in the future, and I wonder what that means for the future of their latest console.

I never went to an Xbox One midnight launch, but I can take a pretty good guess as to the kind of people standing in those lines; they were gamers. Hardcore gamers. I know that’s not a fashionable term for Microsoft these days, but they are the people who buy your console on launch day, and evangelise about it through the lean launch window. On the other hand, the people most unlikely to be present in those lines would have been the kind of users the Xbox One seems to be mostly aimed at – parents familiar with technology, and looking for a way to get the Windows 8 experience on their televisions. In other words, not the kind of consumers willing to part with a large sum of money, whilst putting up with a slim selection of worthwhile games.

What this means is, that even if we accept that a ‘multimedia entertainment box’ of some kind is the future, and that there’s a significant number of families out there desperate to use Skype on their plasma TV’s, whilst being utterly fed up with pushing buttons on a grey plastic box to change channel, the Xbox One still needs the support of hardcore gamers during it’s infancy. The trouble is, every signal from Microsoft seems to suggest that they now consider gaming as ‘something the Xbox One also does’ as opposed to it being the reason for making a console in the first place, and that gaming needs to develop in a direction dictated by them.

When the Xbox One was first revealed, the level of negativity surrounding some of their more controversial design choices shocked Microsoft I think, but not to the point that it demanded a change in philosophy. Reading interviews with prominent Microsoft employees, it’s my opinion that internally Microsoft genuinely do not believe they were wrong. I’m convinced that were you to be on the inside, you’d hear talk about how it was the consumers fault that they didn’t get the One’s original design plan. Despite what they say publicly, I’d argue that the company has lost touch with what their core base wants. Instead of questioning their own ability to listen to, and communicate with their customers, they’re repeatedly telling themselves that we weren’t ready to hear what they had to say.

To my mind, the root of this problem is the fact that Microsoft aren’t used to being in second place. Last generation, they never really had a serious fight on their hands. Sony launched the PS3 much later than the Xbox 360, and at a higher price, which gave Microsoft a lead in the console arms race that they never lost. Having spent nigh on eight years leading their rivals, the temptation to assume that they could do no wrong with the One’s design must have been hard to resist, and perhaps they weren’t entirely successful. How else do you account for the fact that they’ve taken Xbox Live  – something which was pretty much perfect  last generation – and gone backwards with it?

Given that the Xbox One needs retain it’s base of  hardcore gamers then, the decision to remove or alter some of Xbox Live’s core functionality seems absolutely crazy to me. The Friends List system worked. The party chat system worked. Why touch those things at all if they didn’t need fixing? I’ve heard it said that it’s almost as if Microsoft have deliberately made the Xbox One’s UI awkward to navigate with a controller to enhance the appeal of Kinect. I don’t know if that’s true, but if users feel that way, it’s not a good sign. It tells me that Microsoft isn’t really invested in providing an efficient alternative to using Kinect, or that they want you to be free to use your console in the way that you want, and in the long-term, that’s a problem.

This generation, Microsoft are facing a totally different kind of Sony. The PS4 has launched at the same time as their console and for a lower price, it’s more powerful, and perhaps most crucially, it’s much easier to program for than it’s predecessor. For the first time in eleven years, when the original Xbox went up against the all-conquering PlayStation 2, Microsoft are up against a strong opponent, and I don’t think they know how to cope with that. At a time when their biggest rival has built a totally inoffensive machine, focussed on being the best games console it can be, Microsoft is busy trying to sell us features we never really asked for in the first place.

The Xbox One is not a bad console by any means, and many owners out there are happy with it the way it is, but not all of them are. Quite a few owners have been asking why familiar functionality has been changed or removed, and all they’ve had in response is vague assurances that things will get better. The Xbox One is at the beginning of its life-cycle, and as such, it will change over time, but will that change be for the good? With Microsoft still smarting over the initial reaction to the Xbox One, I don’t think they’re in the mood to compromise. In the long-term, if anything is going to hamper the Xbox One’s success, it won’t be things like a lack of pixels. It’ll be Microsoft themselves, and their inability to admit they got things wrong.

%d bloggers like this: