Monday, November 29, 2010

The 10 Things I've Learnt About Video Games This Year

I'm a University Student, but more importantly I'm a creative writing and arts student which implies I am the laziest of the higher learning crowd. So when it comes to being incredibly lazy, video games are a great form of wasting time or more importantly wasting time with friends, but this year I've been watching over myself and learnt a few things about video games. So here are a few things I've learnt about video games in 2010:
1. Everything is better with zombies (or other creatures)
The amount of video games this year with zombies, rival that of the alien invasion films of this year. They're everywhere and I for one are quite happy with the change. Of course, I am specifically only talking about Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption and CoD Blops, but the sheer amount of fun I've had this year tracking down Sasquatch's, Unicorns, The 4 Horses of the Apocalypse, hearing JFK and Nixon shouting at one another hilariously, finding secret codes, playing with bro's and blowing zombie brains all over walls, has been an incredibly enjoyable experience.
Kennedy! That kid is trying to hand you something...
However, with that said, you can have too much zombies. I get fairly frustrated quite easily as a gamer (much like real life) and I've always felt that variety was the spice of life, I think the truly next step for zombie video games is to go all out and make a survival zombie game, not unlike a mash up of the Left 4 Dead series and S.T.A.L.K.E.R, make it as hard as the latter, but as fun as the former. You can team up with friend's in-game and NPC's, but the majority is just you, your weapons and the open-road.

So much fun, so much potential
  1. Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better
    This year, I've probably seen more movies and played more video games than I have before, or I've just noticed more what I've watched, and the thing I've noticed is that the hype machine doesn't do it for me any more. The game's themselves are always the true experience and that they always don't seem to come through for me. I'd been hearing and playing Halo on and off for a while and I'd heard with Halo:Reach that things had become different, that they'd worked on the story line and the characters a bit more, but when it came down to working on them they turned out mainly to be stereotypically driven with a few minor plot points that you'd probably already know playing the previous game.
War....War never changes
      Of course, you can say, I don't play video games for story line or characters, that's true, I personally have had the most fun this year making my own storyline (which we'll get to later), but the story/series Halo often tries to portray is often character based, whilst Master Chief isn't the most characterised or interesting character, we still often follow him on his journey. I do have to give props to Bungie for going out as they did, I feel that the final level of Halo:Reach is a visual metaphor for the unyielding outcome of what corporations often do with executive meddling and an onslaught of what must done sometimes to leave a legacy. Bungie reminds me of the author Frank L. Baum, the creator of the Wizard of Oz series, which he hated. He wrote only stories based around the universe mainly because he had to pay the bills, his publisher had him under contract and he knew that it was the only thing that could sell. Paying for a life in which his creativity would be stuck in a void and would sadly pay off in it's own way. If only he did what Hemmingway did with a book contract and wrote the Torrents of Spring or had Dorothy enter a gang bang with the rest of the group.
      Boo, you whore.
  1. Sometimes don't waste your time on the obvious or the ordinary
    I've found that my tastes are a lot like my writing and are often like a shotgun when fired. The amount of times I've played something I like or thought I'd like only to be disappointed, sigh, finish it and then move on with my life, is a greater worse than finding something I hate, analyse why I hate it and then move on with my life, at least with the latter I learn something, but I've found that most games I've paid/bought/enjoyed this year have often been out of my comfort zone of first person shooters, puzzles and third-person action games and I whole-heartedly share the experience.
    The most recent enjoyment (and best example I can give) of mine has been Poker Night At The Inventory by Tell Tale Games, a company who has the heart and soul of a young boy but the mind and wit of an old man. Whilst I'm a fan of poker, I'd always kinda seen poker games as sport games, as in if I was gonna play the game, I might as well play the sport. The game itself was something I bought on a whim a few months ago and had been eagerly anticipating it's release since the word November popped up beside it in the Store. The game itself is hilarious and it's hilarious because of the details and the sheer amount of dialogue -even when repeated – is still something which makes me smile and often forget I'm playing Poker, but more importantly it's all about the surprise. Sure, you can know as much as you know about Strong Bad and Max from Tell Tale's series and their respective canon, but Tycho from Penny Arcade and Heavy Weapons Guy are essentially blank slates. Of course, the original premise just sounded like the way most cross-overs sound in my head.
GUY 1: You know how we can make money and please the fandom
GUY 2: How?
This has worked well in some games/movies/TV shows etc., but the heart or joy has rarely been there and of course the fandom has conversations like I did.
NERD 1: You know and they'll all be together
NERD 2: I dunno man, they could really screw it up.
NERD 3: It's not even gonna be apart of the canon
NERD 1: What? No?!
NERD 2: Told 'ya
NERD 3: Have you seen this pic of Dorothy Gale?
But the characters play off each other well enough to be straight men and funny guys, to the point where they will often have sessions of talking where I wish I could butt in with a joke and then realise I'm merely in my bed, in my underwear and I've been playing Poker with fictional characters for four hours...
A Narcissistic Dilettante: An Artist's Rendering
  1. Never forget the classics
    Being only 19, my nostalgia has basically consisted of a decade where a President got a blow job, the greatest musician blew his head off and the game which was most loved was essentially kids performing glorified cock fights and whilst I try not to be cynical about any of it, I have found nostalgia or a want of the past useless. The fact we reminisce and the memories themselves are repeatedly recounted and things are bought and played and you become disappointed and you prefer to live in that blissful state where you can sleep at night and remember that Overboard didn't look shit and was fun and not at all annoying or has poor gameplay
    But there have been a lot of games which have been trying to cash in on my memories but the most creative of all has been those trying to cash in on my memories but with original properties. Whilst I'm not a fan of beat'em ups (I often toss them into the same genre as MMO's for OH GOD THE REPETITIVENESS), I have found Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game one of the biggest treats of my gaming year. Combining my enjoyment of sprites – from a simpler time – but also bringing the comic story to life in a way only barely passed by the Edgar Wright film. The amount of emotion and humour derived from the
And the game is fucking hard. I've finished the Mega Man series up to 3 (kinda didn't bother with the rest) and Scott Pilgrim has been one of those games that has shown how hard games used to be, or I suck or I just need to use Ramona or Kim instead of Scott all the time. The point is, games need to be hard. I understand certain games and demographics need to tone it down but it's good when a big game company like Ubisoft can just take a game and run with it as far as they can. I think that nostalgia is still worthless, but I know that the future for it is brighter...unless it turns out to be shit, but at least I'll still have my memories....and this:

  1. Music games are probably dead
The music game hit it's peak some time around last year when the real world and the video game world hit each other in the face, like an old boxing match, and Beatles Rock Band was born. I loved this game to death, from the visuals, to the gameplay and most importantly the music, and then everything kinda went to shit. I could rattle along about DJ Hero and how music games are just getting shitter and just follow formula than real music, but to be honest, without DJ Hero I probably wouldn't have delusionally sought out a career in doing competitions or house parties or fund raisers, and apparently I'm sorta doing it (Psst, Expect a summer album next month).
DJ Hero, a saviour and a
But more importantly this year the two biggest players in the series Guitar Hero and Rock Band let fly their flagship games for the year, Harmonix going with Rock Band 3 and Guitar Hero going with Warriors of Rock. With Harmonix, the creators of Western Music Games (Konami had a huge foot in the door with Guitar Freaks, Drum Mania and DDR before anyone in the US even thought Carry on my Wayward Son could be in a game), have basically bought the final frontier of gaming to the consumers with the creation of 'real' instruments for the game.
Often the intention of most art is to create something and for it to be real or considered real, often creativity and proper thought gets in the way, with the fact we hate reality to the point where we'll probably grind a quest in Azeroth rather than grind our teeth through a dinner with our parents-in-law. But with the REAL instrumentation, you can plug it into a REAL amp, play with REAL friends and ultimately look like a REAL twat trying to impress friends with a few songs they've heard a million times before and sounds REALly shit.
Now on the other side of the uncanny valley of music games, we have Activision/Blizzard, the Disney-like belligerent elephant of the gaming company universe, have gone with a more comic approach and I've actually played some of it. Whilst I can''t say too much about the game being great I can say Activision have definitely got the fun side of the music games down. The unrelenting visuals of the usual coloured buttons flickering, burning and disappearing have just become crazier as they've gone on and I'm not sure if the creators have merely thrown their hands up in the air and gone, “Fuck it, we can do whatever we want, look at all this money” or they've simply laid down for a few hours instead of doing work and just chopped something up for the motion-capture people to plod around for later on.
The point is, music games have stagnated and I cannot see anywhere for them to go after this. I think it'll be a long time or a hit of nostalgia before these games become popular again or much like last year, unless they release either Rock Band: The Doors or Rock Band: Queen
  1. Independence rules and iPhones are not evil
    This year I've had the most fun, made the most of my time and hated myself and scared myself more than with a few bricks, some ambient music and me saying “Come at me bro”, the second anything tries to attack me, pissing off my friends and family in the process. The game is, of course, Minecraft and has shown the true power of word-of-mouth publicity and that independence is alive and strong, especially online.
    Notch's Bed in PayPal Money

Whilst I wasn't so hot on the idea of Apps for iPhone's and iPad's and iSuch, I have found that a lot of Indie Developers have gotten a lot of money, experience and help from developers such as Steam and Apple, making them not-so-bad guys. It's healthy for developers to get their games out their, for free or a price, because supporting them may lead to them supporting you one day with a job. Of course, my strange karmic idea is something of a fantasy which often and probably has no semblance in the real world, especially of independent gaming.
The importance of independence is the fact that it's existence is shrouded in a sense of mystery by companies who wonder if they can bring them to the dark side, Notch, the creator of Minecraft, has helped in showing that the player's experience is much greater than most scripted stories. The amount of stories I've told online and with friends about playing the game and what I've done and what has happened has been monumental with me coming back and always finding something new. I was recently at a friend's work and she told me that her brother had the game installed on their family computer and he would sometimes be cursing, screaming and crying under his breathe at the game to which I told her the mechanics and monsters and the point of the game, which she was confused and could instantly understand the terror in her brother's eyes.
I only started playing on Normal about a month ago and the fun and strategy I've had has increased 10-fold. Sure, I haven't been mining as much, but when that sunrises, it's killing time. The helpfulness of people like Notch have shown that games can have a small price, an incredible play time and can be a lot more fun than Triple-A titles. Of course, this is a personal experience and if you have fun playing CoD Blops, Halo:Reach or Other M, I'm glad you enjoy it and keep supporting the games industry in general, but remember one thing:
  1. Never trust the critics
    I'd never given much thought to game critics, despite wishing I'd be a critic (of some kind) one day. I'd given up on music a long time ago, because a shared experience of music often comes down to taste, rather than worldly appeal, much like I am not a fan of Dylan, but I am of Dawn Landes, not saying, their both in similar genre's but they do harbour many different people's taste unlike video games, which is a shared experience, well in single-player linear experiences. I will often take note of any nit-picks or problems a writer will bring up and will often line them up with my own pet peeves of games and hope that they're fixed in a patch or at least I can brush over. There have been a few heavily buggy games to come out this year, which shows a lack of care, but some idea that game companies don't care about their audience or their craft and will often pay off game critics just to make sure they get a good first week. For example, CoD Blops shattered records for the entertainment industry with having a 650 million dollar opening, for the first day. Not week, not weekend, not midnight screening, DAY. With that, the following week saw a dramatic drop off of about 85% in Britain, which means the game maybe only sold you know, a few hundred copies. But with that, the total cost of the game is still over 650 million dollars, which is far more money than I could accumulate in my remaining life time. The point is, that critics can be bought, and so can you. The hype machine is always turning with blogs, forums and obviously advertising on gaming websites. The next time you see a review for a game on your favourite gaming website, look in the top bar, or on the sides and think who's playing who.

  2. Never trust the fans.
    With the above point, I think that a greater say on the industry is not only the people who make the game, but also the people who buy the game. Remember that when you slam down $100 bucks (AUD) for a game that you're funding their products and that if you keep paying for a game or a game series, they tend to keep it going because that's what people want. Now, I'm not saying pirate those games, I'm saying don't give into pressure from other gamers to like what they like. You know you or at least you should have an idea of yourself, you should be able to find at least two games in your collection right now you can pull out, play and enjoy and if you can't...there may be something wrong with you.
    The power of the internet and more imporatantly online peer pressure is something we've all succumbed to and I've learnt a long time ago and is proven time and time again, just because it's popular doesn't mean it's good (exceptions to this rule: include Toy Story, The Dark Knight, Minecraft, The Beatles, Harry Potter, Daft Punk, The Doors and Bioshock).
    Not that I'm saying most video game companies are not thinking of you, particularly, when they're creating a game, but they are creating for an audience and mainly an audience that buys a lot of games. Nintendo have been using this strategy for several years now to further the new market of casual, mum or older gamers.

    Or combine all three....

    9. Learn from the best and the rest will follow.
      But remember to make your own mind up about a game, if you like a game, props to you, if you can defend a game with good reasoning, then even more so, but the point is to have fun for you, as selfish as that is, unless you're online on a team and you keep TK-ing till you're down on the ground, whilst there is a Boomer hanging around a corner, just so when you're down they can shoot the boomer and it'll explode all over you, making your death even more tragic....Fuck You Lt.PoonNZ69  I cannot stress how helpful the internet is in finding intelligent and insightful people online who can teach you about the most newest medium in the world. So here are a few people you need to listen/read/investigate into: Anthony Burch: Co-Creator of Hey Ash Watcha Playin' and now working for GearBox Software (Borderlands), his incredibly indepth knowledge of almost everything pop culture and proving time and time again, games need more humour and wit into their plot, Anthony Burch has made me open my eyes to video game storytelling and how this generation's popular myths need to be constructed better or at least personalised: Robert Chipman: Also known as MovieBob, Robert Chipman, has opened my eyes up to video game analysis as a genuine interest and form of critical work, with beautifully composed short videos on particular subjects and one of the only people I respect online for film reviews other than and Roger Ebert. Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw: Also known as Zero Punctuation or Yahtzee, this British-Australian critic has shown that nit-picking and perfection can be rolled into one. Despite his voice patterns and attitude can be attributed to our final contestant, Yahtzee has made being an intelligent or at least, a critically observant gamer is important to being a good gamer. In fact, the man is so popular, typing his name into Google won't even come up with the classic Milton Bradley game as the first post. The man is incredible and my father has always said you can never trust a critic until they have done and know how hard it is to create something before they tear it down. Yahtzee being a gamer and a game maker, almost shows his credentials. Charlie Brooker: An incredibly funny and smart Brit who's lifelong interest into video games as well as media studies has created an underground following into TV studies and has probably made some of the best and funniest analysis on any medium I've ever seen. I'd link to the bastard, but you can use Google, you twats.
     10. Share the love 

      Again, not advocating piracy, but just be nice to one another and have fun. Games are essentially big toys, so just play with them, don't worry about what your friends say, but do listen to your family, coz you need a job and you need to stop mooching off them, said the 19-year-old Uni student without a job and still mooching off his parents.

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