Can't Wait

Right now, I'm most looking forward to Brutal Legend, Trine, MadWorld, Alpha Protocol, Flower and Outrun: Online Arcade!

2009 could be the year of the underdog...

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Trivia

I've been doing some Trivia today, and it's a great idea. It works pretty well, but there are some definite issues...

First is that many of the questions are geared towards Americans, so anyone else will struggle with things relating to, say, North American sports. I simply don't have a clue which of these five basketball players has never had a game named after them.

Second is that there appears to be a lot of detailed questions referring to Tales of Vesperia. I know someone may be enthusiastic about their game, but damn, there's no need for a billion questions about parts of it that even people who have played it may not have seen.

I don't want to sound annoyed, it's a great addition to the site and these are very minor issues that may never sort themselves out. Just my two pence (or one at the current exchange rate)!

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The Short Answer

It's been no secret that since the beginning of the century, the length of the average game's single player has taken a nosedive. This is most likely due to the speedy rise of online gaming, with many developers placing a greater emphasis on the social component of a given title than the solo campaign. At first, many bemoaned this trend, cursing the likes of GRAW, Darkwatch and King Kong for their truncated efforts back in the latter stages of 2005 through early 2006. By the time Gears of War hit the shelves that Christmas, there was a small backlash regarding its length. Last November, with Call of Duty 4's 6 hour blazing salvo of constant set pieces, nobody batted an eyelid. Five years ago, gamers would have demanded a futher few months of development time if they could ace a game at anything under a day's work (possibly because they needed to be amused if they pulled a sickie).

How things have changed. Now we accept it without question, rarely even mentioning time spent nailing through a single player mode. It's seen as heresy if we aren't able to beat a game the day it comes out so ludicrous amounts of time can be poured into fragging our friends, and this has become the norm. However, I'm not lamenting the loss of some of the solo experience to multiplayer, far from it. Although I always have and always will prefer playing alone to tolerating twelve year olds insult my mother during a game of Halo, of late I've increasingly been searching for games that I can finish in a week or so without trying too hard. I simply don't have the time to become invested in massive RPGs anymore, so I'm perfectly happy with a five hour experience if it means I don't need to pour all of my leisure into it and lose sleep just to complete it before next Summer. Length may still be an issue for some, but the landscape has changed as the gaming demographics have grown older. There's nothing wrong with a short game, and with the wealth of releases we're being treated to this month, for me they're perfectly welcome.

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Why do we play videogames?

Aside from the elite few, gamers don’t reap any discernible, real-life rewards from play. Infact, in many cases it has an adverse effect on social lives, fitness levels, relationships and in extreme circumstances, can be a cause of death (as demonstrated by the unfortunate and/or moronic Korean man who played Starcraft online for fifty hours straight); yet still we play. Is it to achieve a sense of victory, to progress a compelling story, or to explore new and interesting ideas through a medium ripe for experimentation? Is it all three or is it something different entirely?

Perhaps the deceased Korean demonstrates the most obvious answer to the reward we receive from games. His unfortunate example simultaneously alerts the gaming hardcore to the dangers of overdoing it and provides the first of the reasons for play: winning. Whether it’s finally getting the better of that boss in Zelda, sniping that noob in Halo, or nudging your friend off the cliff in Mashed, we love to win. This is possibly why serious gaming is perceived as such a seemingly male dominated interest; the whole basis of most videogames, from Pong right up to Crysis, is besting an adversary and that is something that we with the Y-Chromosome have excelled at, for better or worse, since the dawn of time. Arm wrestling is uncomplicated and can be played anywhere, yet we still experience a euphoric sensation in the knowledge that we’re better at something than someone else. In the context of videogames, this has been most evident when coupled the phenomenal rise of online gaming. Now we can win on a massive scale, co-operatively or competitively, with other human beings; the traditional goal of videogaming taken to a level that we couldn’t comprehend fifteen years ago (Achievements being the meta of this, the overarching quest to triumph over others). There is no doubt that many play games exclusively to win, particularly the swathes of alpha males that populate the servers on Madden and Call of Duty, gamers who would never venture into uncompetitive or more cognitively challenging territory. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, we all need to disengage our thoughts from time to time; blockbuster shooting games and annual installments in sports series’ are equivalent to reality television and typical Summer Hollywood fodder, not exactly clever, but enjoyable for the instant sugar rush they reward you with.

However, I digress. Shadow of the Colossus is technically a game you can “win” at, but upon playing it one realises it wouldn’t sit comfortably with the description. Did you really feel a sense of victory when you defeated the colossi in turn? Who is the villain of the piece? It isn’t as black and white as Mario versus Bowser, and the game attempts, rather successfully, to challenge the player, to question their motives, to feel remorse for their actions. This is another type of reward for playing games, those emerging as leaders of the “Games as Art” debate that demand something more of the player. In this instance, Killer7 can be cited as an example. It asks questions that Shadow of the Colossus never could; the gameplay is obscure and stilted, often requiring the player to second guess the events and consider it as less of a game than an artistic experience that enriches the mind, packed with bizarre and utterly inspired artistic content. Of course there are those who don’t “get” it, but it wasn’t produced to satisfy everyone’s tastes. These examples and their ilk reward the player through enrichment of the mind and inspiring them to think or create, like many a good album, film, or piece of art or fiction. They are there to be appreciated by those who wish to do so, and it’s refreshing to see quite a number of such titles emerging in today’s often bemoaned sequel strewn landscape.

Shenmue was mindblowing on its release. Sega’s epic created a believable world with interesting characters and sumptuous production values and is oft considered an early proponent of gaming as an art form. Although there is a crossover to an extent, it is largely a story driven game, unfolding just like a novel, except all the more thrilling as the player literally lived the experience through Ryo. He became more than just a vehicle for gameplay, beyond the standard expectations of an avatar. He may not have had a custom haircut or shoes, but he was the player. Or, more to the point, the player was Ryo. This made Shenmue and its sequel compelling and unique experiences, and two of only a handful of games in which the storyline has engaged the player to such a degree. The reward was seeing it to its finish (something we haven’t yet been able to do with Shenmue, and likely will never be able to), savouring each step along the way, interacting, brawling, being kidnapped, searching high and low for Sailors, playing a Sega Saturn, listening through what seemed like hundreds of tapes, collecting figures and becoming so engrossed as to mix up real time with game time. Rarely has a game crafted a situation in which you care so much about the central characters. Some felt a similar sensation playing through this year’s Lost Odyssey, one of the better examples of RPG storytelling. Often, an RPG can sink or swim based on its plot and to what degree the player cares about the fate of their characters and the world around them, and this is the reward derived from the hours of level grinding and random encounters, the unfurling of a good old yarn.

Overall, a player’s choice of genre can occasionally determine what type of reward they seek from games. Many will pooh-pooh Virtua Fighter, with its complex fighting system, or Ikaruga, for its unrelenting difficulty, but ultimately, those games were not created for them. They were made for players with patience and dedication, who take the hard road to victory. These players on the other hand would look with similar distaste at Tekken for its accessibility, however, rarely do you find gamers who play just one type or grouping of games; it’s usually a good spread, showing that a large proportion of us would like to derive different rewards from each game we play. Some games serve to cover all aspects of rewards, for instance World of Warcraft, which accommodates large scale PvP battles alongside story elements and social aspects. The next time you play a game you dislike, try to think about what you were looking to gain from the experience, and who knows, your perception of that game or perhaps an entire genre may change. This isn’t a plea for everyone to love all games, that is never going to happen and it’s not the point of this article, it’s for you to accept that what you want from a game is maybe not what your friend wants and that is perhaps the greatest reward gaming can give, the knowledge that we’re unique in our tastes, that if just a single person enjoys the most derided game and gains something for it, then it has served its purpose.

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