Disastrous DiRT Daily Ep2.

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.

Fractured! ArenaNet reveal their latest Living Story update

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on The Game Jar November 22nd 2013

Whilst Guild Wars 2 players are currently dealing with the threat of the Toxic Alliance, ArenaNet has revealed the latest instalment of the Living Story. Following up on the Cutthroat Politics update from July, captain’s council election winner Ellen Kiel is returning to make good on her election promises. Her seat on the council has allowed her to sponsor new research into the Fractals of the Mists dungeon, and from November 26th, players will get to experience the fruits of that labour.

The product of those shady characters The Consortium, Fractal of the Mists is a dungeon made up of three, randomly selected mini-dungeons from a pool of nine. Introduced to the game just over a year ago, it’s the only dungeon in the game that has an increasing difficulty scale, and players have been fighting their way up through the levels ever since. Due to its modular nature, players have long since speculated that the Fractals could be used to replay past temporary content, and with the Fractured update, it looks like becoming a reality.

The first mini-dungeon added is the one promised by Kiel during her campaign. Currently, in-game, the Thaumanova Reactor is a bit of a disaster area. A past explosion within the facility has caused a significant amount of disruption to the magical processes within, and players have been dealing the aftermath since the game’s launch. Whilst we knew the explosion was due to an Inquest experiment gone awry, we’ve never really known much more. The new fractal remedies that, as it takes us back to the moment of the explosion, and promises to reveal the mysteries surrounding it.

As far as I’m aware, the other two new fractals being introduced are a complete, but welcome surprise to the player base. The Molten Furnace fractal, and the Aetherblade fractal will both take players back to those temporary dungeons introduced during their relevant stages of the Living Story. Players lamented the loss of these enjoyable bits of content when they went away, and now, with the Fractals dungeon, ArenaNet has found a way to bring them back permanently. Almost as exciting as these additions is the precedent set by this move, as it looks like ArenaNet are moving towards using the Fractals dungeon to revisit iconic moments from games past – something that would be much welcomed buy the players.

If that wasn’t enough, ArenaNet have even more new shinys to shoehorn in to the dungeon. Two new Boss fractals are being added, bringing the total to three. Even-numbered difficulties have always had a fourth Boss or ‘Bonus’ fractal, but in the past it’s always been the same one – The Jade Maw. After a year’s worth of play, players are now well familiar with how to beat The Maw, so a fresh challenge is much-needed. Aetherblade captain Mai Trin and the two Molten Alliance champions from the Molten Facility join the Jade Maw as bosses, and if our previous encounters with them are anything to go by, they’ll be a firm test.

Also added to the game with this update are various Fractals-related tweaks. Agony Resist is getting reworked, and Agony Infusions drops are being added. Players will be able to collect these drops and combine them to further increase their Agony Resistance – essential for anyone venturing into the higher difficulties. Fractals leaderboards are also being added, and the overall difficulty curve is being adjusted with difficulty levels above 30 gaining special challenges. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ArenaNet is updating and improving the rewards!

The Fractals of the Mists was a great addition to the game, so I’m really pleased to see it get some love in this update. An already interesting dungeon is getting some nice new content, and the rewards are being improved! A win-win as far as I’m concerned. Some of the adjustments have got the a few of the more ardent forumites hot under the collar, but they, as always, are in the minority, and it’s my opinion that most players will be eagerly looking forward to this update. In the main, ArenaNet have done well with the Living Story, and the Fractured update looks like continuing that trend.

Guild wars 2 – The Launch: Smooth sailing or choppy seas?

The-Game-Jar-post-header

Originally published on TheGameJar.com Aug. 31st 2012

Launching a brand new Massively Multi-player Online game is a notoriously tricky thing to do. Many games have had rough launches in the past, regardless of how well-regarded the developer is. The sheer brute force of hundreds of thousands of players all hammering on game servers, all at the same time will often make a mockery of the best laid plans. Nobody really expected then that the Guild Wars 2 launch would be flawless, but after three relatively smooth running beta tests, would some logging in congestion be the only issue?

Even though the official launch date was the 28th, all pre-purchasers had the option to begin questing three days early from the 25th, thanks to ArenaNet’s head start event. Judging by the numbers they released recently, a lot of people chose to start early. Not only did they reveal that they’d sold over one million copies by launch, but that the tally of concurrent users (the number of players on-line at the same time) had already hit a peak of four hundred thousand! I’ll just say that again to put the rest of this article into some kind of context. Four hundred thousand players. All trying to log in to the game, create characters, fight monsters, all at the same time. No small wonder then that things that appeared to be working fine in the beta no longer worked come launch. The Guild Wars 2 twitter feed soon lit up with tweets say roughly the same thing every time; “We’re aware of the issue and we’re working on it right now. Please bear with us.” I really do feel sorry for the community reps at times like this, because as a general rule us gamers aren’t a patient bunch, we want things fixed straight away and we don’t mind telling you so! Thankfully, despite having to reply to the odd angry tweet, they kept us updated via social media sites, and the bugs started to slowly get squashed.

Not everything is fixed though, and there are a few things still blotting the game’s copybook. Concern No.1 is that there’s some account hacking going on. I can’t work out the exact cause of this one, mainly it seems to be gamers falling for phishing emails, but Guild Wars 2 has launched with… let’s be generous and say “less stringent” security checks in place. Other games have authenticator key fobs to combat hacking, and Guild wars 1 required you to enter a character name to beef up security. GW2 has neither of these things. I want to stress, this appears to be a tiny number of players falling foul of phishing attempts, but the lack of authenticators has been noted before now. Concern No.2 is less worrying from a security point of view, but in a way has a bigger impact on the game; the Trading Post isn’t working. So I can’t sell my loot? Not a big deal surely, until you realise that no one can sell anything to any other player. This has had a huge impact on crafters wishing to sell their excess materials, and buy somebody else’s. When the Trading Post does make a brief appearance, prices are through the roof. Crafting is supposed to be a viable profession, right now a major part of it is missing. Concern No.3 is the general buggy state of Guilds. I haven’t experienced this first hand, but my guild leader has told me of at least two problems preventing reliable recruiting and building of upgrades. Personally it hasn’t impacted my game-play at all really, but I can’t help thinking that a game called Guild Wars probably should have a fully working guild system.

What isn’t in doubt however is the games overall quality. Having played all three beta weekend events, I had a fair idea of how the game worked, but come launch a few things have really sunk in. The first thing that hit me is the sheer beauty of the world. Exploring the environment is an absolute joy, around almost every corner is a stunning vista. Castles loom on the horizon, tempting you to come closer. Caves dare you to explore them, pools of water hint at hidden tunnels beneath the surface. I spent almost two whole days just wondering around and not once did I worry about doing quests or leveling up. Exploring the world leads me on to my second realisation; the whole world really is a viable place to quest. Thanks to the level scaling system guild wars 2 has, going to a much lower level area is still a rewarding experience, the game drops your effective level to one more appropriate for zone, and as a result you still gain XP and the monsters are still challenging. The last thing to sneak up on me was the achievements. Somehow, in my mind at least, achievements are something Xbox games do, never in a million years did I think I’d be utterly hooked by a little progress bar in an MMO.

Despite all the teething troubles, Guild Wars 2 is still worth the price of purchase. ArenaNet have been very active in communicating with the fans regarding technical issues, and as frustrating as it is to have trouble logging on, or having no trading market, we players do at least know they are working round the clock to fix things. As I said at the start, launching a brand new MMO is a tricky thing. The game isn’t running perfectly right now, but that doesn’t change how good it is. Suffering a few snags early on is worth it to play the game in my opinion, so do yourself a favour and go buy it!

The Game Jar Files: The problem with free-to-play

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 05/11/2013
———————————————————————————————–
Of all the things I discuss with fellow gamers, absolutely nothing make my head hurt more than trying to pin down what free-to-play is. I mean, I know what the individual words mean, and I understand the term when they’re combined, but when the industry tries to attach it to a genre? That’s when things go wrong. It’s little wonder when you consider that the developers can’t even agree amongst themselves what free-to-play, but what’s the actual problem? Why can’t I define what free-to-play is? In an effort to unravel the mysteries of free-to-play, I decided to break the whole thing down in to manageable chunks.
Problem One: The perception of poor quality. There is a feeling, particularly among the MMO community, that free-to-play = poor quality. For why that is, you have to go back a few years. Broadly speaking, it stems from a difference in design philosophies between east and west; Western developers, who were developing games more to our tastes, tended to charge a monthly subscription for their games, whereas games from the far east tended to be the opposite. As a result, free-to-play became synonymous with the kind of games that western audiences never really took to – Korean-made titles that usually involved a fair amount of grind to progress in, and so the idea that quality was relative to payment model took hold. Of course, it isn’t at all true that all free-to-play games are poor quality, but there are still gamers out there that will immediately write off a new game (particularly a non-western one), once they find out it’s free-to-play. It’s unfair, but it exists.
Problem Two: The perception that switching to the model means failure. When a game switches from subscription to free-to-play, fans of the game usually fall in to one of two categories – those that are happy with the switch, and those that are not. In the happy category are the realists. The gamers that know the alternative was very probably an outright shut-down, or the gamers that were coming close to unsubscribing because the model no longer fitted their lifestyles. Those in the unhappy category are the gamers I mentioned in problem one: the ones who equate quality with payment model. To them, the switch to free-to-play is the first step towards an inevitable decline for their favourite game, and any change – no matter how small, is an unwelcome one. Games do change after they switch to free-to-play, but not necessarily in a bad way. Sadly, there are plenty of gamers out there that wont accept that fact, and thus free-to-play continues to have a bad name.
Problem Three: Nobody can agree on what should be in the cash shop. Most gamers it seems are fine with purely cosmetic items, stuff like cool looking armour sets, or exclusive racing liveries, but that’s about as far as the consensus goes if the conversations I’ve witnessed are anything to go by. Everything else, from quality of life improvements, right up to directly buying gold seems to be a free for all when it comes to deciding whether you should be able to buy them with real money. A lot of the tension over what’s sold in the cash shop can be eased by providing players ways to earn cash shop currency in-game, but not all developers do this, so finding the right balance can be a very tricky proposition for even the most conservative of developers. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with the cash shops in any of the games I regularly play, but that’s because the developers responsible have never added anything that could be considered essential to playing the game normally. Not every developer gets this right though.
Problem Four: Nobody can agree upon what “pay to win” actually is. This perhaps, is the thorniest of all subjects when it comes to discussing free-to-play, as virtually everyone draws their line somewhere different. The main sticking point seems to be just how convenient your convenience item should be, and it’s such a grey area, that even the act of me trying to describe it now is making my teeth itch. Lets use a racing game as an example. Restricting the very best cars to a cash shop that only accepts real money payments is very clearly pay-to-win. But what if you could buy the best cars with coins, earned either in-game through gameplay, or bought with money from the cash shop? Essentially you’re still buying the best cars for real money, only now they’re also available to those willing to grind out the coins via regular gameplay. Is this still pay-to-win? For some gamers, the answer will still be yes, and that’s what makes the pay-to-win question so difficult, where do you draw your line?
Problem five: Nobody can agree what free-to-play actually is. If you take everything I’ve highlighted so far, and combine it all together, you’re left with the biggest problem of all with free-to-play, and the title of this piece – nobody can decide what is actually is. Is it an indication that a game is not of sufficient quality to justify charging some sort of fee for playing it, or a way to enable gamers to play great games for free? Is it the saviour of games with a shrinking subscription base, or the last death throes of a game that should just go quietly with dignity in tact? Is it merely a mechanism for greedy developers to nickel and dime it’s player base, or a brilliantly adaptive system that offers a la carte gaming to a group of players becoming ever more demanding? The truth is, free-to-play is all of these things at the same time, which leaves developers in an impossible situation. It’s no surprise that haven’t settled on one single formula.

If you conclude anything about free-to-play after reading this article, it should probably be that you should just walk away from anyone who’s determined to tell you what free-to-play is or isn‘t. It’s such a nebulous subject, that only you can decide what good and bad is. I’ve had many an hours worth of fun playing Real Racing 3 for example, and yet user reviews would seem to indicate that it’s business model makes it impossible to do so. When it comes to judging good value for money, I don’t rely on someone else to tell me what that is, so why do it with free-to-play? If you want my advice, ignore all the preconceived notions about free-to-play games, and play as many as you can get your hands on. There are some real gems out there, and finding them will cost you nothing.

The Game Jar Files: Fallout 3’s 5th Birthday!

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 31/10/2013

———————————————————————————————–

As game announcements go, being greeted with fan reservations probably wasn’t the kind of reception Bethesda might have anticipated when revealing Fallout 3 for the first time, but it was what they got. Having bought the rights to make the game from the ailing Interplay Entertainment, the Elder Scrolls developer soon found out just what the game meant to its fans, who began to express their doubts as to whether the new owner could do the series justice. Whether that minority would go on to be reassured, only time would tell, but Bethesda didn’t have to worry too much. Fans of the Elder Scrolls series were incredibly excited about the studio branching out into to another universe, and were eager to know more.

Despite using the Oblivion engine, Fallout 3 was more than just an Elder Scrolls game dressed up in a post-apocalyptic outfit. The game had a new levelling system that was far less convoluted, weaponry and equipment would degrade over time, and supplies could be scare. In short, Fallout 3 was about as far away from Oblivion’s rolling hills as it was possible to get, which was a relief, because Fallout’s universe demanded it. From the start, Fallout’s world has been one of decay and destruction, and Bethesda respected that, whilst at the same time making their own game. What the diehard fans of old ended up thinking of Fallout 3 I don’t know, but I think they would’ve had to try really hard not to like it as Bethesda’s Fallout turned out to be a sympathetic update to the franchise.

Unlike the Elder Scrolls games, Fallout 3’s main storyline had a very definite end for players. Where previously players could expect to wrap up the main and move on to other things, in Fallout 3 the game ended, and left players to reload an earlier save if they wished to continue playing. This finality was typical of the games main theme – the end days of humanity, and the desire to survive. The tone may have been dark, but it wasn’t without its levity. All manner of twisted characters could be found right across the wasteland, from super villains commanding mutant ants to elderly rich men wanting their apartment view improved with a spot of mass murder. There was always just enough comedic relief to ensure the game never overwhelmed you with its bleak subject matter.

As post-apocalyptic wastelands go, Fallout 3’s world is a pretty interesting place. Megaton, the very first town you visit, is a glorious hodgepodge of scrap metal and vehicles, all built around a still live nuclear bomb. Tenpenny Tower is a run down high-rise block of luxury apartments, inhabited by people desperately clinging to some semblance of the high life they once lived. The star location in my opinion though, is Rivet City. The broken-in-half aircraft carrier is a wonderfully realised microcosm of human interaction within confined quarters, and the air is thick with the quiet resignation that they’re all stuck there, together. It’s a common theme in Fallout 3 in fact, and one you immediately become familiar with as you witness your character growing up within the confines of the vault.

But to me, nothing exemplified the overarching theme of mankind’s fight to survive more than the buildable weapons. These Heath Robinson contraptions, made from all kinds of scrap and salvage, really evoked a sense of having to make do, and using whatever you could lay your hands on. My particular favourite was the Railway Gun. Made from a steam pipe and various other items, and loaded with railway spikes, this little beauty made a delightful “Whoo-whoo” sound as it pinned your enemies body parts to the wall. Bethesda have always brought their own brand of black humour to their games (just ask anyone familiar with the Elder Scrolls dark Brotherhood quests), only this time they applied it to weaponry.

It’s game engine may have been a bit creaky, but Fallout 3 was every bit the epic RPG Bethesda fans have come to expect. The vast open world was begging to be explored, your character was as malleable as ever, and absolutely nobody helped you out of the goodness of their own hearts. Being a Bethesda game, Fallout 3 wasn’t without its bugs, and on more than one occasion, DLC was released in a broken state. Despite that, it still had enough charm to be counted among the best games of this generation, and today, on its fifth birthday, fans of the game will be hoping there’s news of Fallout 4 some time soon.

The Game Jar Files: Game of the Generation

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

———————————————————————————————–

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: The Next Gen Games I Want to see Happen.

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 06/09/2013

———————————————————————————————–

The older gaming gets, the less original it feels. Almost every genre has been done a dozen different ways already, and it’s getting increasingly harder to find some new way of entertaining the masses. This state of affairs is only exacerbated by the big publishers unwillingness to take risks on new and unproven IP’s, instead relying on yet another sequel to keep them going. But with a new generation comes the hope of fresh thinking. The old, jaded gamer me is replaced by a cherubic, fresh-faced optimist. In this article, I let my imagination run riot. I pretend that the accountants are no longer in charge, and game developers make all my dreams come true. Here are the games I want to see on my next-gen console.

Spelljammer. If you were to ask me which role-playing game I recall the fondest, the answer wouldn’t be a video game. I’d go all the way back to 1989, and tell you about an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting called Spelljammer, and I’d probably get all misty eyed whilst doing it. Introducing the concept of fantasy astrophysics to AD&D, Spelljammer allowed players to explore the stars on special galleons, equipped with “spelljammer helms”. These ships had their own atmosphere and gravity, and could travel between Crystal Spheres and visit other worlds. I loved playing this game. There was a certain kind of romanticism in sailing the stars, finding adventure wherever you went, and I’d love to do it again. Only once has Spelljammer been converted into a video game, and that was in 1992, so I think a new title is well overdue. Please game developers out there, make my dream come true – make me a Spelljammer MMO. Please?

Discworld. Unsurprisingly, the wildly popular Discworld universe has made the transition to video games several times already, but none of them, in my opinion, have ever done the obvious thing, and gone down the open-world RPG path. Think about it; a fully realised, open world Ankh-Morpork that you can wander through with your own Discworld character. You could join the City Watch and hang out with Commander Vimes. Or enrol in the Unseen University and visit the library to meet The Librarian. Or join the Assassin Guild… There are so many iconic places to visit in Ankh-Morpork and the larger Discworld itself, that an open world makes perfect sense. Discworld is a massive franchise that’s been mechanised in almost every conceivable way. All that’s left is to let the fans create their own virtual character, and explore the world they love.

Band of Brothers. Lets face it, a decent story is not something most FPS developers bother with these days. Single player mode has been reduced down to twelve hours of Hollywood cheese, and is much more likely to be the last part to the game a gamer plays. But why can’t we an FPS with a decent story? I realise making a game based on historical events involving real people would need a sensitive touch, but haven’t certain developers already proved their capable of doing so? Naughty Dog demonstrated with The Last of Us, that it is possible to tell a gritty, realistic story with emotional weight via the medium of video games, so I think it could be done with the FPS. In the right hands, the story of Easy Company could be sensitively told, without glorifying real human loss. Hopefully, in the future, a developer will come along with the courage to do so.

Knightmare. A bit of a tap in, this one, as the TV series was practically a video game to begin with, but it still surprises me that no-one has had a proper crack at bringing it to our consoles. With today’s internet technology, four-player co-op gaming is a walk in the park. Three players could view the dungeon, and via party chat, guide the fourth player safely through each room. We also have fairly decent camera technology now, so projecting the player into the dungeon wouldn’t be a problem. Obviously, it goes without saying that the hardware is powerful enough to render an environment better looking than the actual show, so why don’t we have this game yet? I guess the answer is that, outside of the indies, gaming isn’t really doing new and original IP any more. That doesn’t stop me dreaming though, and I’d rather have this than all that Kinect/Move shovelware.

The reality is, these IP’s are probably never going to transition to the world of video games, but a bit of dreaming never hurt anybody, did it? The eve of a new generation of hardware is all about optimism in my opinion, and if you can’t dream big now, when can you? All of my above suggestions are perfectly suited to becoming a video game, and I can only hope that somewhere, a developer is secretly working away on one of them. Preferably Spelljammer.

The Game Jar Files: Guild Wars 2 – A Year in Review.

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 26/08/2013

———————————————————————————————–

Roughly one year ago, I was bouncing around the house like a kid waiting to open his birthday presents. The weekend beta tests were DONE. The stress tests were DONE. Nothing now prevented Guild Wars 2 from releasing. During launch week I had a hard time containing my excitement. Years of waiting was finally over, and the next time I logged in, I would be creating a permanent character. August 25th 2012 couldn’t come soon enough. Thankfully, launch day arrived, and it saw me embark upon a journey across Tyria that I’m still enjoying today. So as Guild Wars 2 first birthday approaches, and while the players speculate as to what ArenaNet might give us by way of celebration, I take a look at my personal highs and lows from the games first year.

The Highs…

The Living Story. Recognising that their game world didn’t quite feel as alive or dynamic as it could do, ArenaNet introduced the idea of a Living Story to Guild Wars 2. Each update brought its own particular story, and by its close, the world would have changed in some way. After a slow start with the Flame and Frost update, ArenaNet have now hit their stride, and have even confirmed that the two-week release schedule they’ve been on recently is now official policy. Concerns about temporary content aside, the Living Story updates have been of a high standard. The story has progressed across the various updates in an interesting and fun direction, and they’ve given us some truly beautiful new environments to play in. With a healthy looking portfolio of seasonal events now built, players are looking forward to where the Living Story goes next.

Super Adventure Box On April 1st, ArenaNet hit us with a complete and utter curve ball. Taking advantage of gamers natural suspicion of announcing updates on April fools day, they released a comedy commercial that, upon first glance, seemed to be a joke. It wasn’t until people started logging in that they realised that the update wasn’t a prank. An Asura named Moto had built something he liked to call the Super Adventure Box, and was rather keen for us to try it out. What ArenaNet had added to the game, albeit only for the month, was a brilliant Guild wars 2-flavoured take on the 16 bit platformers of yesteryear. Players loved the SAB. They loved the retro difficulty of it, they loved the 16bit weapon skins and mini pets, and they loved the fact that when it comes to mixing things up gameplay-wise, ArenaNet weren’t afraid to think outside of the box (sorry!). The only thing players didn’t love, was the fact it was going away again. Right now, speculation is rife that Super Adventure box is due to return imminently, I for one hope that its true.

The Account Achievement Reward System Bundled in with the Bazaar of the Four Winds update, no other quality of life addition has rocked my world like this one. Guild Wars 2 has always had achievements. Previously, the system was little more than a running score total, a number that gave some indication to how much you’d done in the world. After the update however, it became a source of competition, and a fountain of sweet, sweet loot. ArenaNet have introduced a series of achievement milestones, from 500 points, right up to 10,000 points, and each one offers some sort of cool reward. Some give you gold and a chest full of boosters etc, some give exclusive weapon skins and permanent account boosts to XP gain and the like. And as the game’s achievements cover almost every aspect of the game, there’s no shortage of ways to earn the rewards. This change is, in my opinion, the best quality of life change ArenaNet have made to the game since launch.

The Lows…

The Lost Shore event. Back in November, before ArenaNet had settled on their regular two-week release schedule, they were trying out the one time event model with the Karka Invasion on Lions Arch. The event would have a series of stages that happened only once, at a specific time and date. Players who couldn’t make the events were understandably unimpressed, and those that could make it had to contend with the server meltdown that occurred when everybody tried to pile into the same area. I, like many players, was plagued with all sorts of connection and lag issues throughout the event, and was more than happy when the event was over. Afterwards, multiple forum threads would reveal how lucky I was to have seen out the Ancient Karka boss battle on my own server, without a disconnection and then reconnection to an overflow server where the battle was over. ArenaNet have never repeated the format of the Lost Shores event, much to the pleasure of the playerbase.

Living Story Temporary Content. By and large, the Living Story content updates have been pretty darn good. Often there’s a new area of the world map to play in, or new mini-games to play, and always there’s an exclusive reward of some kind. There has always been one sticking point however, and that’s the fact that it’s temporary. Players who’ve been playing the game since launch are crying out for new, permanent content, and they’re not really getting it right now, and as if to rub salt into the wounds, ArenaNet are only making it worse. Every time they add an awesome, but temporary, location like the Zephyr of the Four Winds to the game, they re-ignight the question “what could they produce if they had more time, and weren’t taking it away after a few weeks?” For those players longing for permanent additions to the game, the Living Story has been like the slow agony of  water torture.

Black Lion Chests. To begin with a short explanation, Black Lion Chests are locked boxes that drop from dead enemies randomly, and offer a very rare chance of containing weapon skins in amongst the usual XP boosters and the like. Opening them requires the use of Black Lion Keys, which can be bought for real money on the in-game cash shop, and what you find in them is completely random. Most players recognise these lockboxes for what they are – gambling, and avoid them accordingly, but that doesn’t stop them from being contentious. Every time there’s a new promotion involving Black Lion Chests and new weapon skins, at least one thread pops up on the forum describing how they were ripped off by the developer when they chose to gamble on buying one hundred keys. Despite ArenaNet’s attempts to adjust drop rates, and find a happy medium, Black Lion Chests remain controversial.

So it has been an up and down year for Guild Wars 2, but in my humble opinion, the number of highs has more than exceeded the lows. I’ve often thought that new MMO’s need a while to settle down and find their groove, and Guild Wars 2 has been no different. Sure, the game has its detractors, but I’ve never been able recognise they game they often describe. At it’s core, Guild Wars 2 is still a fantastically fun game, that has as much charm now as it did when it first launched. So happy birthday Guild Wars 2, I can’t wait to see what your second year holds.

The Game Jar Files: Guild wars 2 celebrates the Queens Jubilee (No, not that one)

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 05/08/2013

———————————————————————————————–

As Guild wars 2 first anniversary gets ever closer, ArenaNet continues to avoid the subject of a full-blown expansion by marching on with their Living Story updates. The latest content addition, dubbed Queens Jubilee, centres around the celebration of ten years of Queen Jennah’s rule. Arriving August 6th, the celebrations will focus around the Human capital city of Divinitys Reach, and will see players taking part in the various activities to honour the Queen.

Every Living Story update has brought along a selection of temporary activities and mini-games, and this one is no different. Highlights include players being able to find hot air balloons out in the game world, and then take a ride directly to the party, a race around Divinitys Reach lighting the Beacons of Kryta, and an arena-style challenge, where players take on increasingly difficult bosses in single combat. If the current Candidate Trials difficulty level is anything to go by, the arena challenge will be tough to finish, so I expect much gnashing of teeth on the official forums.

A whole slew of new time-limited achievements, related to the festival will be added, and completing them will unlock a new Watchknight minipet, which as far as I can work out is some sort of sort of mechanical robot guard, in miniature form. Also being added as a reward are the new Watchwork recipes and parts. Players will be able to trade parts for new rune or sigil recipes, or for the new Sovereign Weapons. No doubt my rifle-wielding engineer will get the shitty end of the stick with these new weapons, as ArenaNet has yet to add a new, cool looking rifle to the game.

Permanent updates to the game include loot upgrades to champion NPC’s, the addition of a PvP solo queue for those who don’t have an organised group, and the previously promised introduction of the mini-game rotation system. My favourite addition is the new account wide wallet, which will gather up all the various forms of currency in the game, into one central place. Finally I’ll be able to clear out all those dungeon reward tokens from my bank.

Once again, the question of temporary content versus permanent is being discussed by the community, but I don’t think we can really complain. ArenaNet are spoiling us with constant content updates, and if there is a criticism to be made, it’s that there’s maybe too much new stuff coming. The two-week update cadence takes some getting used to, but once you do, there’s no lack of things to do. My main character, a Charr, doesn’t really venture into human lands too often, so I’m not sure how much I’ll play of Queens Jubilee, but I’m sure it’ll be great all the same. Long live the Queen!

%d bloggers like this: