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

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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: The scandal of Skyrim on PS3

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 06/08/2013

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Mention the words “Skyrim” and “Award” to me, and you’re liable to see my head explode. I’m like Chief Inspector Dreyfus when someone mentions the name Clouseau, my face starts twitching and I break out into a lunatic rant. I simply cannot be within earshot of praise for this game, without exploding with gamer rage. Why? Because I made the mistake of buying it on PS3, that’s why. Since it’s launch I’ve had to sit back and watch it win award after award, all the while suffering through the indignity of timed exclusives and broken code. The final straw came a few days ago, when Bethesda tweeted that Skyrim needed votes in Amazon’s “Generations Greatest Game” competition, and I had to let the rage out.

Just so that there’s some context to this rant, I’ll give you a little potted history of what it’s been like to be a PS3-version owner of Bethesda’s fifth  entry in the Elder Scrolls series. Being a massive fan of both Morrowind and Oblivion, I was eager to lose myself in Skyrim for an extended period of time. Long sessions behind the joypad when playing a Bethesda RPG is not unusual for me, and that’s when the first problem reared it’s very ugly head. You see, long play sessions can cause your saved game file to exceed the 6mb mark, something which causes problems on the PS3. I won’t bore with why, all you really need to know is the result is that your framerate slows to an absolute crawl. I tried muddling thorough, but eventually it got so bad I literally stopped playing the game completely and waited for it to be patched.

Eventually the framerate issue was fixed, which was good, because there was an entirely new bug on the horizon and dealing with both of them together probably would have led to me snapping the disc in half. Unbelievably, this shiny new bug was even worse than having an unplayable framerate, as it crashed the entire game when you entered the water. Walk into to any bit of deep water in the game world and the game simply stopped working. Whole sections of the world were off-limits, quests that involved swimming of any kind were uncompletable. Bethesda eventually fixed this bug too, but the damage was done by this point, I’d practically given up hope on playing a game that simply worked.

Having struggled along with what I considered to be a broken game for some time, I didn’t take the news that all downloadable content would be delayed on PS3 thanks to a timed exclusivity deal with Xbox at all well. I hate timed exclusive in general anyway, but after all the problems with the main game, I flipped out. You see, as far as I’m concerned when you say to your fans “we’re not going to sell this to you just yet, we’re only selling to these people over here”, you immediately tell those fans they’re not as important to you. Dividing your fans up in this way is always likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth in my opinion, so why Bethesda chose to do it to already pissed off PS3 owners is beyond me.

I am willing to give credit where credit is due – Skyrim is a fantastic game in many respects. I’ll even admit my issues with the game are rather specific, but I’m not going to change my stance, ever. If you own the game on Xbox 360, and have spent many untroubled hours enjoying the game, I’m genuinely pleased for you, I really am, just don’t ask me to agree with you that it deserve its multiple accolades. It pains me to say it, but at this stage I’m probably never going to love Skyrim they way I should. The state the PS3 version was released in was shocking in my view, and the only thing more scandalous is the free ride its been given by the gaming press so eager to throw awards at it.

PS3 owners were treated shabbily by Bethesda. I feel so badly let down by the company I’ve supported over many years, that I’m seriously considering never buying another one of their games again. Watching Skyrim garner award after award, or win fan poll after fan poll is a kick in the teeth for us PS3 owners, because the game simply doesn’t deserve it. There is no justification for pushing us to the back of the DLC cue, or for leaving us with a broken game for so long as far as I’m concerned. In general, I try to avoid ranting in my Game Jar pieces, but I can’t with this one. My hope in writing this, is that I can bring an end to Bethesda hiding behind a working Xbox version, because to my mind, they’ve gotten off far too lightly so far.

The Game Jar Files: Dead or Alive: Did Sony resuscitate the Vita at Gamescom?

Originally published on the Game Jar – Aug 28th 2012

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E3 2012 for Vita owners was a disaster, plain and simple. With this current generation of home consoles in their twilight years, and no imminent announcements about the next generation, Sony had a golden opportunity to really go to town on shouting about their brand new handheld. What they chose to do instead, in the interests of keeping their briefing brief apparently, was totally overlook the twenty-five Vita games on the show floor to fit in announcements about well-worn franchises on the outgoing PS3. For the first time in my Vita owning life, I was genuinely worried about my investment, Sony really did look like they were going to blow another handheld launch. Fast forward a few months and I and many other early adopters were hoping that Sony would pull something out for Gamescom. Maybe somebody high up at Sony took the criticism seriously, or maybe it was always planned this way, I don’t know, but in Germany they gave the kind of press conference many of us Vita owners had been waiting for. Maybe talk of the console being dead is a little over the top, but there’s no denying that it’s in a bad place right now. What would Sony bring to Gamescom to show they were still serious about the Vita?

After giving virtually no insight into future releases for the Vita at E3, there was only really one way to go at Gamescom, and that was all out. They kicked off their charm offensive with Little Big Planet Vita and Playstation Allstars, the latter being used to introduced Cross Buy, a new scheme that allows you own both PS3 and Vita versions of some cross-play titles, but only pay for one of them. Then came an “exclusive new look” at Assassins Creed: Liberation and another mention for Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified along with the announcement of a special edition Vita bundle. Rounding off the presentation of already known future releases were FIFA 13 and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. No game-play footage, but reassuring to know they’re still on the way. A quick pause to slip in the news that certain PS One classics would be playable this month, and then on to the new games. First to break cover, and the stand out game of the briefing in my opinion, was Media Molecule’s delightful looking Tearaway, at last a brand new AAA IP for Vita owners to get excited about. To wrap up the Vita section, Sony started with a teaser for Killzone Mercenary, and finished by revealing that PS Plus is coming, and showing some in-game footage of Call of Duty. The PS Vita love-in was over, and suddenly it all seemed so simple for Sony – show a little flesh and get gamers interested again.

So, did Sony save the Vita at Gamescom? On the whole, just about I think. I came away from the stream feeling much happier that some big games are actually on the way, and reassured that there was a real plan in place to turn the console around. My only gripe is that it’s all in the future. There’s no meat today. If you’re like me, and your Vita is currently little more than a mobile YouTube player, games launched for Christmas are not soon enough. If I was to guess, I would say that Sony’s plan was that new owners would tide themselves over by downloading PSP games until the real games hit. Not a bad idea, but I had a PSP, I’ve already bought and played the PSP games I’m interested in. I want new games, built from the ground up to harness the Vita’s horsepower. Post Gamescom the Vita is out of intensive care. It’s sitting up in bed, eating regular meals and receiving visitors. If Sony wants it to leave gaming hospital permanently it needs to start delivering on what it promised, and not by Christmas, right now. If we get to 2013 and more big titles are not on the horizon, if I still can’t remote play big games, if 3rd party apps aren’t turning up in numbers, the Vita really will be in serious trouble.

Five things developers should be banned from doing

Originally Published on The Game Jar – 20th July 2012

As much as I love gaming there are some things that really bug me. Mostly it’s because I’m old and I remember a time when video games were made by a small group of friends trying to do something cool, but it’s not always that. You see, I believe that some developers have started to become lazy, their creativity has been stifled by the publishers pressure for a profitable game. We need to free these people, brothers and sisters, from the tyranny and oppression of boring game mechanics. So when the revolution comes, and you have wisely made me your glorious leader, I shall ban all game developers in the land from doing these five things.

Oh and obviously I’m doing this for the good of gaming, it’s in no way a selfish attempt by me to eliminate the things I’m no good at or hate doing…

Collectables. Ever play the first Assassins Creed? Enjoy collecting all the flags did you? No? You know why? Because it was FUCKING TEDIOUS. Seriously, who enjoys running around, all over the game world, collecting stuff that has no bearing on your objective? I’m simply not interested is shooting every pigeon in Liberty City, I’m Nico Bellic for christ sake, I’m a criminal and I care about the money and the ho’s, I don’t give a damn about city sanitation. In Bioshock,  I just want to escape from Rapture whilst shooting people in the face with bees, I don’t want a potted history on how every thing went to shit. From now on, if your game hasn’t got Lego whatever written on the box, you are banned from putting any sort of collectable in your game.

On rails driving and shooting bits. I want to be specific on this, having full control of a vehicle is fine, driving a tank in Halo or Battlefield for example is perfectly OK with me, because I can control where the thing is going, I can try to avoid incoming fire, and I can get out if needs be. What I hate is the on rails vehicle sections, the bits where I’m stuck in the back of the truck with the heavy gun with no control over where we go. It’s always the same, I, the poor mug in the open and who’s woefully unprotected, have to be a crack shot with the slow moving, slow firing heavy machine gun (or whatever) while the AI behind the wheel has absolutely no idea about evasive manoeuvring. And he’s safe in there, tucked up nicely behind all that armour. No, from now on I’m behind the plexiglass and the damn AI can get shot at on the back.

Day one DLC. Also known as “stuff that should already be in the game but is being held back for no good reason other than making more money” Once upon a time, games were released with only one version, there were no retailer exclusive weapons or characters, no DLC codes in the box. Everyone went out out bought the same game, my copy of Killzone was exactly the same as your copy of Killzone, neither of us had a special gun because we bought it at a certain shop, and neither of us had extra mission or maps. We had the same game. I’m so sick of this segregation of gamers, and it’s got to stop. Everyone gets the same game, end of.

Using the words Elite, Special, and Forces. Seriously, If I read one more game box blurb that starts with the words ” You are part of an elite special forces team…” I’m going to vomit. Can we all just agree now, that like the World War II setting previously, the modern day special forces setting has been done to death, and it’s time to move on? And while were at it, can we also throw in that other FPS staple, killing off the character your playing? It was shocking and immersive when Call of Duty 4 did it, but not any more. Making a first person shooter? Just follow this handy guide to sure fire profits. Got evil terrorists in it? Check! Got some sort of desert/middle east level in it? Check! Kill off the character whilst the player is playing him? Check! Be honest, I could have described any one of the more recent shooters out there, couldn’t I?

Not including split screen. Split screen seems to be going the way of the dodo sadly, so from now on, any developer contemplating not putting it in will be made to sit down with three friends and play Mario Kart until they understand why leaving it out is a crime. Ask anyone who played Goldeneye 64 for their fondest memories and invariably they’ll talk about the hours spent playing four player co op. The thing is, for gamers my age, multi player meant going round a mates house and playing split screen, there was no Live to hide behind. You took your controller round to his place, you sat in the same room, and you had fun. Nobody who’s played Mario Kart, Goldeneye, or Micro Machines with a room full of friends will tell you split screen doesn’t matter, it’s that simple.

So that’s my vision, under this blueprint gaming will move forward to a glorious future! Granted I may have to build my own Rapture under the sea to become supreme overlord, and developers might not be too keen to come live down there and make games, but a boy can dream can’t he? Have I missed anything? What overused gaming mechanics would you like to see banned? Can you not get enough of playing a special forces soldier, and secretly wish that every game was Call of Duty. Let me know in the comments bellow.

Ashamed to be a Gamer.

I’ll start this post by up front with you, I don’t really want to write this one. It really depresses me that in 2012 I’m blogging about racism, anti-Semitism , and homophobia in gaming. And not just from 12 years old looking to be shocking on Xbox Live either. But here I am, a not far off forty year old gamer, wondering whether I’m crazy to think that the next generation of gamers are just a bunch of racists. Rewind to last year, I’m looking for a community of gamers to hang out with. I find what looks to be a solid bunch, sign up to their site and have a nose around. All looks well. They have a podcast too, it has an explicit tag but I’m a big boy, I can cope with swearing, so I give it a listen. Three quarters of the way in, someone makes a “joke” about getting gay men to have sex with women and I switch off. Obviously not the community for me. Return to the present and I’m listening to another gaming podcast, also tagged explicit, this time containing a “funny” quip about Jews in gas chambers.

Am I going mad here? Is homophobia and anti-Semitism in your podcast perfectly OK if you slap an explicit tag on the front? Do gamers really exist in a bubble, one where they don’t know right from wrong? Maybe they skipped school the day tolerance was taught. I’m grasping a straws here because this genuinely makes me want to cry.

For the first time in my life, I understand why some people are ashamed to admit to being a gamer, because in future I will be to.

 

Move along, nothing to read here.

There was a post here, it was me moaning about Battlefield 3’s terrible campaign mode. It wasn’t pretty, and Moderator Kitteh made me delete it*.

Here’s a cat meme instead, normal service will resume next week.

*Moderator Kitteh doesn’t really exist, it was me that deleted the post, mainly because I realised nobody wants to hear me moan about a game. Not even my wife.

Why I’ll quit gaming.

With my Hall of Fame blog post taking longer to type than I anticipated, I thought I’d better break the post drought with a quick blog. Having a rant about gaming is something that comes easy, so what better way to get going again? The focus of my ire this time round is the increasing use of “Online Pass” codes, and the way that they control what I do with my game.

For those unfamiliar with the dreaded codes, an Online Pass is a code first introduced by EA (and now used by others) that you need to redeem in order to play the online portion of the game. The idea of them is that the publisher makes some money from the second-hand market, with the second buyer having to buy another code to replace the original used by the first owner.

On the face of it, it doesn’t seem that bad but lets examine what happens when you want to share the game with family or friends. Want to take your copy of the latest FIFA round your mates house and play online? Can’t do that unless you mate buys the code. Want to share your copy of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit with you brother who lives in the same house? Can’t do that without your brother buying a code. And lets not forget, you’ve already paid £40+ pounds for this game in the first place!

I may have singled out two EA published games there, but it’s Codemasters apparent use of an online code system on Dirt 3, and my decision to not buy it because of it that’s triggered this post. If this trend continues eventually all games will have some sort of code attached designed to stop me from sharing my game legitimately, and when that time comes I’ll be done with gaming.

I have to what…?

Not impressed with Microsoft today, it seems that if like me you want to change your automatic XBL Gold renewal from On to Off you have to phone support. I can go into my account via Xbox.com and change a whole host of things including adding another credit card, or spending as much as I like on the Marketplace, yet when I want to stop automatically giving them money  I have to call their unhelpful staff in India somewhere for additional “security verification”. Sorry Microsoft I don’t buy that one bit, your sole purpose is to make unsubscribing as difficult as possible. So after Christmas I will no doubt have to spend 20 minutes on the phone to Support, and by the end of the call will probably have gone from someone who just wants to turn off the auto subscribe to someone who will never sub again due to the frustration of dealing with Support.

Well played Microsoft <.<

Take your DLC and shove it…

Today I am having one of my “depressed at the state of the games industry” days, and on days like these I find it increasingly hard to justify continuing playing games at all. The source of my irritation today is downloadable content and the way it’s now being used to milk ever more increasing amounts of money from us. Once upon a time it was a decent trade off, developer earns some extra money from an older title, the gamer gets some new content for a well loved game, a fair trade off in my opinion. What happens now is content (that could and should have been on the disc to start with) held back for DLC, or content that’s on the disc already but locked and sold as DLC, or three versions of the same game with differing “bonus content” just so that a retailer can call their version exclusive. Honestly I’m sick of it, and at some point I’m going to stop buying new games altogether.

Take your DLC and shove it up your ass!

/Rant over 😛

Luddite.

Sometimes technology really pisses me off. My 360 is in Germany because MS can’t make a console properly, and I’ve just spent two hours trying to get a WiFi PCI card to work. My head now hurts and I’m looking forward to cracking open my first cold beer of the evening. By trade, I’m a car mechanic, and I can cope with things going wrong with them very well, but a script error? Gah! I think it’s because I can’t actually get in there and fix it with a spanner.

I have noticed an interesting phenomena recently, the increase in my grumpiness seems to correlate with the length of time without my 360. And I seem to going on about it rather a lot. OK so I admit it, I am hopelessly addicted to gaming and I can’t live without my Xbox. I must admit, recently I’ve been wondering just why I continued on with 360 gaming, and now I know why, I’m an addict.

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