Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Good and Evil

Choice is something that more and more games seem to be granting us these days. Upon making the initial choice of whether or not to pick the game off of the shelf, and then the following choice of whether to pay for it, or knee cap the shop assistant and run off with it, some games still continue to give you decisions to make at every turn. They do this in very different ways as well, but more often than not, there usually only tend to be two extremes. Left or right, good or evil, skirt or trousers, chainsaw in the face or walk around, we are getting some freedoms in games to do whatever we want, but within preset boundaries.

In Bioshock for instance, the choices here involve liberating, and therefore helping little girls, or violently punching your hand through their chest to recover a parasitic sea slug. The more you save or slaughter depends on the outcome and ending cut scene of the game. Whilst this seems like a bit of a good or evil choice, if you ask me, if you even decide to brutalise one four year old girl with your bare hands, and let the others go free, you are still rather evil. Killing a child to see if it tickles your fancy, only to spare her siblings still gets you the good ending, rather than the grey one that the players state of mind would suit.

Lately I have been playing about on deity simulator, Black & White 2. The basis of the game is that you advance through various lands helping the Greek people flourish. You can do this by nurturing your people and making the other nations see that your race of people believe in the one true god, and so they come under your banner of impressiveness. The other method of doing this is by becoming a wrathful god of war, who will destroy all of those in his path. With a name like 'Black & White' you would have thought that best way to get through the game would be to take one extreme over the other. I set out trying to be an evil over lord, oppressing my people and making sure that they respected me through fear. I also decided that they need a ready supply of food so that they could stay alive to follow me. The creature, my physical tool on the Earth was supposed to be my doom bringer. I had to stop him from eating my followers though, as without followers worshipping me, I was not really a very effective God. I also trained him to water crops and build houses for my people because he did it a lot better than they ever did. Before I knew it, my evil disciple of hell who I envisaged would be Hitler in animal form turned out to be as soft as a bunny, and that the village children liked to hug him. In then end, the extent of my evil was that I built my followers a lot of shoddy accommodation and I flattened the occasional opposing army.

The trouble was, the best way to get anything done was not to go black or white, but stay a boring shade of grey. This meant that my harbinger of doom was as soft as a puppy to my people, but about as friendly as a hornet having it's period to anything else. In ways this was good, but it did not really identify me as being good or evil, only as neutral, occasionally dipping either side of the line.

The best choice driven games, in my opinion, are the ones that funnel you down certain routes depending on your actions. House of the Dead 2 for example, relied on how quick on the draw you were, as to whether you get in the building through the door or the window. Decisions that the player makes in that split second that can define how you play the game are fantastic. There is no neutral decision or outcome, you either do it or you don't and then play with the cards you are dealt.

I have never played the Silent Hill games extensively, but they have multiple endings, some of them crazy, and which one you get depends on how you get through the game. Most of them are plausible, and help tie the answers up, but others were clearly thrown in as a joke. This ending for Silent Hill 2 for example is my favourite because it is so obscure compared to the rest of an, already very odd game.

Giving the player more choice than 'kill the bad men or get killed by them' is still a relatively new concept to games. It is still in development, and a game that offers significant levels of differences based on all of the player's actions is yet to come about. No doubt that in time however, this will come into its own and might even become a mainstream mechanic in gaming, rather than following a single story line on one track.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

What will Wii do?

The Wii is currently grazing in its second year in the UK and I have really enjoyed the time that I have spent with it. I enjoyed the long rides across Hyrule field, the drives through Moo Moo Meadows, the fun we had playing board games with Mario and decapitating the zombies with headshots, side by side in Racoon City. Many a good time have been had, and I am looking forward to June the 27th when hopefully, Nintendo will allow me and my Wii to kick seven shades of God knows what out of Luigi in front of the Shadow Moses facility with Kirby when Super Smash Brothers Brawl finally reaches our shores. Beyond this however is a very dark shadow and it suddenly hit me, I can not think of a single title coming soon that is exciting me.

Trying to think of new Wii games coming out that sound mildly epic is harder than Rambo sealed in steel reinforced cement. I will admit that I have been a tiny bit out of the loop as of late doing those things that get in the way of games. What were they called again? Oh yes, exams. Despite this however, I am not a complete Luddite when it comes to knowing about stuff I want and so as I sit here tapping away, I need to reach quite deep in my skull to find excitement for any new Wii related gaming snippets.

The lack of news might mean that some big secret is in the pipeline, as has recently been speculated about by the folks at Gamesradar, but it could just be that the big N has been enjoying rolling in the bundles of cash that it is generating from DS and other sales.

If there is something new coming on the Horizon, it might be a truly amazing title that is being saved for a Christmas release. This would make sense as facing the Christmas market with anything less impressive than gold dust and super hi tech wizardry is like taking your company's reputation to a pig farm, cutting it up in to bite size chunks and then calculating how many pigs you need to eat and digest it in a single sitting. A console without a big Christmas pitch is one which will not last much longer. This might mean that something truly amazing like a new Zelda or a brilliant original title could be just around the corner. At the moment however, there is not much in sight.

One title that did manage to catch my attention was MadWorld which looks like the love child of Frank Miller's Sin City and Manhunt. The recently released trailer may give you an idea of what I mean. All I know is that a game that glorifies mutilation, and has a feature called 'Man Darts' must have some entertainment value. The chief concern that I have for this game however is that it might just turn into a case of walking up to person A, pressing a button which prompts an animation to kill them. I really am hoping that the controls offer depth and more choice and involvement in the bloody murder fest coming soon. Whatever happens, those people who sit by their phones ready to complain about anything slightly raunchy happening before the watershed, could possibly have a bit of a fit from the random violence this games looks to offer us.

The new Star Wars game, The Force Unleashed could also prove to be a worthwhile purchase, as the Wii version sounds promising. The lack of sexy graphics that the PS3 and XBOX 360 will enjoy is made up for by allegedly decent motion controls and a two player light sabre duel option. Being a fan of the later Jedi Knight series and their light sabre slashing action, carving things in half and instantly cauterising the wounds is an unpleasant, but very satisfying thing to do. Hopefully this chapter will get the evil Jedi controls and gameplay perfect allowing for bad guy carveries in the near future.

Whilst the future is not looking amazing at this current moment in time, Nintendo are never completely out of ideas. There are a lot of franchises that they can breath new life in to from previous consoles that have so far gone untouched on the Wii. There could even be some new ground breaking games which do not feature characters that are by now burned into our retinas through repetition. The industry is forever evolving, and so something big could be closer than we think.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The evil that men do

The more eagle eyed readers amongst you might have spotted that the title of this post shares its name with an awesome Iron Maiden song. Being a website devoted to the gaming world, this title does have some relevance to a topic that has been plaguing my mind and the world wide media as of late. It tends to resurface every now and then when a fantastic new and violent 'maim 'em up' game is released. It is the forever raging argument that computer games are the reason for murder, theft, World War II and the kidnapping of Madeline McCann.

When Grand Theft Auto 4 came on to the horizon it would be very easy to predict that anti-electronic fun campaigners would jump on it like a wild dog going for your cat's jugular, mercilessly and likely to concern you. Mr buzzkill himself, Jack Thompson even went as far as sending a letter to the Mother of Take Two chairman, Strauss Zelnick. The goal of this letter was to bring to her attention the 'murder simulator' that her boy was inflicting upon hoards of easily brainwashed children who were on the edge of going postal. Instead, the letter found itself splashed all over the internet for ridicule from just about everyone who lay their eyes on it. It seems so mad that it would have been interpreted as a joke by everyone, if Mr Thompson did not have such a reputation for wanting games out of shops and people below the age of 30 indoors before 6:30.

Resorting to this level of playground politics seems like a very low point to stoop to, but it is just one of the many attacks that games such as Grand Theft Auto have had to endure over the years. The main argument that these anti-video game lot tend to take is that children see the character in a game kill the pixels on the screen, and decide that it would be a good idea to obtain a gun, steal a car, and shoot up random pedestrians. The idea is pretty laughable to anyone with half a brain, but it is the lengths that people are going to in order to try and justify this argument. The Virginia Tech massacre has even been blamed on the influence that computer games have. Personally I think this is just a sick thing to even hint at.

Games don't kill people, idiots do.

This blog seems to have taken a bit of a grim turn, but some of these anti-game enthusiasts need a firm kick in the backside, which I say not because a game made me think it, but because I strongly disagree with them.

The video game industry does seem to get picked on a lot just because it's different. It's the last one to be picked for football, and didn't get invited to Popular Music's birthday party, and so all of the flaws it has are pointed out by the bullies. Games really are not an evil new media, and do not deserve to be accused of murder. Films that portray shootings, beatings, burnings, lawn mower massacres and other common features go untouched by those with the vendetta against gaming. These have been around longer than the dead pets buried in your garden by the previous owners, and have faced nowhere near as much flak for their content. It is simply because this industry is a new one that not everybody understands or respects.

If there really is a problem with young people picking up games and beating each other to death with the boxes, then maybe parents should be a bit more wary about the age ratings on the side of them. It is in my opinion that if someone has managed to navigate their way safely through life for 18 years, then a video game would not play a significant part in their decision making process. Age ratings are there for more reasons than messing up box cover art.

The media is as much to blame as anyone, as it highlights this kind of thing, and gives it the publicity that it really should not have. Before anyone points it out though, I do realise the irony of broadcasting a message which has as a closing statement damning the kind of message that it has just broadcasted.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Villains

I'm not going to lie. The only reason I really wrote about heroes last week so that I would have an excuse to write about the bad guys. They clearly have more fun than the heroes. I am fairly sure that causing a huge city engulfing explosion is a lot more satisfying than seeing a child's face contract its cheek muscles when rescuing a puppy from a tree. Lets face it, if being a hero was really that amazing and impressive in films, they would stop the big crowd drawing, award winning explosions before the villains made them happen. Its the same in games. If Solid Snake could take out Liquid with a headshot from a sniper rifle (if he can get within 15 metres of him, surely 300 isn't a problem) it would do the job nicely and your game would be crap. Lets take a look at the villains that really make the cut shall we?

Bowser is the easy one to start with. He's the misunderstood dinosaur who can not go five minutes without kidnapping the princess of a fungal kingdom. Seriously, if you want to kidnap a fictional princess, why go after the one protecting mushrooms? Is it a matter of principle? He failed once and so he just needs to keep going back to the place, like a masochistic golden retriever, to take the bimbo and just hang on to her. He never seems to do anything once she is captured apart from taunt a fat plumber who could probably earn a decent wage instead of chasing after mushroom royalty. I know that the Mario games are aimed at a younger audience, but some more plot for the 85% of us who buy the games that can tie our own shoe laces would be nice. Maybe there is a played down sexual angle that the crafty dinosaur is trying to move in on. He certainly doesn't hold her to ransom!

It is that tenacity and determination though which keeps him as a good villain. No matter how many times he is defeated in easily avoidable ways (seriously, why are there anti-dinosaur bombs around the arenas in Super Mario 64!?) he just dreams up another situation he can put himself in with a high risk of defeat. At the end of the day, he is by far the coolest character in the Mario galaxy, and he has my support in his next crazy scheme to kidnap and possibly introduce princess peach to things that she is too naive to know about.

The next villain that I will talk about places an opposite role to one of the heroes I have already mentioned. Revolver Ocelot from the Metal Gear solid series is quite frankly an awesome character. He's a crazy gunslinger who, instead of being practical, and pointing his guns at his enemies, he takes the opportunity to spin them on his fingers. This over confidence has and probably will cost him the fight on quite a few occasions, but it is damn cool to watch. The interesting thing about this character though has been how he has changed over the course of the games. In MGS3 you get to see him when he is 19 years old or so, and it is here when he develops his disturbing fetish for revolvers. Move on 50 years, and he is now some insane hippy look a like who has an alternative persona trapped in his left arm.

The last villain in a game that I will mention here has scared me on many, many, many occasions. Sorry, that was meant to be 'scarred'. The random brutality of this beast is incredible. It can go from a caring father like figure to a charging ball of concentrated rage in half a second. Big Daddies from Bioshock are the stuff that Darth Vader has nightmares about. For a massive clambering abomination, they can move very fast when the little child that they are assigned to guard faces danger. The lights on their helmet go from a calming green to an angry red quicker than a traffic light with tourettes. The first encounter with one of theses nasties shows him absolutely thrashing an unfortunate NPC to pieces as if he were a teddy bear with a £10 note inside. Something that violent, but only when provoked, is a smart villain in the world of lawsuits. If a Big Daddy could apply himself to rob a bank in self defence just think of all the things he could do with the cash. You can never have a drill that is too big for mauling people.

Bad guys are destined to fail. Its a sad truth, but in this Hollywood style world where everything has to work out for the best, there is just no place for evil to prosper. Instead, we tend to get these grey characters who are not good, but not that evil either, and in the end they accomplish things for the greater good. If Grand Theft Auto teaches us anything though, it shows us that it is fun to go on a rampage and be a complete bastard.