Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The spirit of competition

I appreciate that the name of this blog could quite possibly sound like one of the characters that was tragically cut from A Christmas Carol, but since it is still November, unlike the rest of the world I don’t intend to think of Christmas again for at least a fortnight. Humbuggery.

What I am actually going to talk about is how many selfish dicks there are out there in internet gaming land and how the quality of online games nowadays relies far too much on the people you play with.

It seems silly that the enjoyment of a really well made and put together game can actually be completely hinged on the hope that the people you play the game with, aren’t the kind who shout abuse at old people and stamp on new born chicks at Easter.

I’m finding at the moment in Left 4 Dead 2 that about half the games turn out to be epic, where as the others sort of fizzle out and die, a bit like what happens when you are enjoying a flickering candle, only for someone to come along and piss it out.

The main problems I am encountering are the very lovely breed of rage quitters that seem to turn up in just about every game I start to win. Whilst I don’t win very often, as soon as I have played a successful run as an infected the majority of the enemy who just got trounced will quit. At this point I will say that I have the utmost respect for those of you that stay in the face of defeat, you are a true gamer and I hope that you are spared (somehow) should the world end in flames or meteor showers.

The problem is though that having this stance makes me feel compelled to stay when the shoe is on the other foot and my team mates abandon me, meaning the game becomes one versus four, with the odds of me standing any chance being similar to that of an elephant achieving geo-stationary orbit from a running jump.

It just becomes less fun when people put their ego and in game stats before simply playing the game and having a good time. Of course now I probably sound like a nursery school teacher telling you that winning doesn’t matter and it is taking part that counts.

Whilst I don’t necessarily agree that winning doesn’t matter, the great thing about L4D2 is that even when you are not winning, you get the chance to make the other team go through hell whilst they crawl to victory. I very often hope that the enemy team will recovery from the serious zombie assault just so that they have to face it again in twenty seconds. That may sound far too sadistic and probably borders on cyber bullying, but it is great fun doing it.

Now I know that the mighty podium of an online gaming blog in a darkened corner of the internet, probably tucked just behind an amateur foot fetish gallery isn’t the most prominent place to request a bit more sportsmanship in games, but I will try it anyway.

We play games for fun, and win or lose, they usually still are fun. If the pixelated number on your screen is slightly lower than that of your opponents and it makes you feel angry, just after you quit, please follow this advice. Go to your nearest canal, weight down your legs, and see how long you can walk around the bottom for. You might be surprised what you can achieve once you black out. I wish the most un-christmassy of thoughts to those who rage quit.

Monday, 16 November 2009

What is the future of games retail?

As soon as Steam kicked the door off of my internet and let me download my games as many times as I wanted on to any computer, I started to believe that boxed retail copies would face a similar fate to bees, a slow and mysterious disappearance.

Thinking such things made sense at the time. High street game retailers could not compete with online stores like Amazon and Play, but even they were being trumped in many cases by digital download distributors, such as Steam and Direct 2 Drive.

Then Modern Warfare 2 reared its big chunky brute head and made a lot of people upset with the marked up recommended retail price that the developers thought was justified. You can still just about hear the screams of anguish echoing around the ozone layer of gamers who though such a price hike was unacceptable. Then Sainsbury’s happened.

On the day of release the supermarket giant sold Modern Warfare 2 for the lovely sum of £26, just about trouncing everywhere else in value for money, and caused stampedes not too dissimilar from that of a free JLS concert.

The really sad thing is that high street games retail, the way I see it now lies in the hands of supermarkets who can afford to take the price hits on offering cheap new games. They do this because when people visit them to buy a game, very often the punters will stop and buy other luxury items such as bread and milk, which GAME and HMV do not tend to keep in stock.

Of course this generally means good news for gamers, but not necessarily for traditional games outlets. Supermarkets are starting to catch on that selling games in some of their bigger stores is actually quite a nice piece of business pie that they are eager to stick their massive corporate thumbs in.

Placing games in super markets might also possibly snag a new market of games customers, when you get mum, dad, grandma, granddad, Uncle Bob and Auntie Jane wandering around, who may spot Christmas and birthday presents when trying to find the couscous.

It really got to me though when I realised that the best place for me to buy games locally was ASDA, even though I have a high street full of shops. There was a time when we had a dedicated games shop, as well as a Virgin store and a Woolworths. Unfortunately, my town seems to be the place where shops come to die, with the only things really thriving being greetings card, charity and mobile phone shops these days. Perhaps this is typical of the times?

So who can really say where the future of games retail lies? Digital distribution has the advantage of no box and printing costs, where as supermarkets have the advantage of being dead, emotionless, hollow businesses who will happily stamp on the little guys when it comes to undercutting them. It is up there with the big mysteries of life, like, do yetis exist? Is there a colour we haven’t discovered? And how would Jordan really look if her cosmetics budget was limited to £50?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Politics meets gaming again

Isn’t it nice when you are sitting at the dock, with everyone calling you a rapist just because you looked at a waitress slightly funny, perhaps inappropriately, but still innocently, when suddenly, a member of the jury stands up and defends you.

This is how I perceive what happened in the House of Commons yesterday when the very worthwhile and justified subject of Modern Warfare 2 was raised in the same place that also creates fundamental rules for the country.

As you have undoubtedly heard by now, there is a bit in Modern Warfare 2 where you shoot up an airport full of innocent people to help maintain your cover within a terrorist group. This prompted the sleeping, noble, giant that wants to protect our children from everything, the Daily Mail, to do the morally right thing and say that games are the root of all evil.

In the house with the plush green seats it was Labour MP Keith Vaz who decided to launch an attack on Infinity Ward’s latest Call of Duty, saying it was irresponsible of them to release such content and that won’t they please think of the children!? Of course in this situation it seems to fly over everybody’s head that games are given strict age ratings and it should really be the parents who should learn how to read, rather than letting their children potentially get scarred and blame it on whatever game they were playing.

It was at this stage though that I decided I have a favourite member in the Labour party, MP Tom Watson, who took this opportunity to stand up for the games industry and completely knock Mr Vaz off of his high horse that was busy sniffing the clouds.

When addressing Mr Vaz’s concerns, he said, “Does the minister agree that it would be better for the members of this house to support the many thousands of games designers and coders, and the many millions of games users rather than collaborating with the Daily Mail to create moral panic over the use of videogames.”

He is even starting to set up a gaming lobbyist group called Gamers’ Voice which is currently finding its roots on the very respected and professional platform that is, a Facebook group.

I must say, it is very refreshing to actually hear some positive words about games coming from the system, which is enough for me at least to not lose complete faith in the people that hold the country together. If only they were all as reasonable and all made an effort to actually know what they were talking about half the time. I must admit though, I do think it is just a little bit silly that an issue about computer games made it that far.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the over used argument that violent games don’t influence violent people, it is there very anti-social tendencies and desire to kill real breathing things that is the problem. The game link is just an unfortunate coincidence. I think we can only really be concerned when we start finding people with big bushy moustaches jumping on turtles, screaming, “Mamma mia!” (and even if that happens I’m sure we could follow the Daily Mail’s mentality and blame it on catchy Abba lyrics).

Thursday, 5 November 2009

What makes a good sequel - zombie edition

Nothing beats the feeling of removing a zombies head with the surgical precision of a shotgun. Well, actually, a roast dinner and glass of wine would top it, or a cooked breakfast with a cup of coffee, and perhaps even eating a Ginster’s pasty in the front seat of a car. To be quite honest there are probably quite a few more joyous things than putting a zombie down with violence, but that is besides the point.

Over the last week I’ve been enjoying Valve’s very brilliant Left 4 Dead 2 demo whilst eagerly awaiting the release of the full thing that should be squeezing itself down your internet pipes in less than two weeks now. Can a sequel to zombie horde culling really add much more to the formula? The short answer is yes.

The longer slightly more interesting answer is yes, it can. Obviously being a sequel to the first game it has to stay firmly tied to its roots. The sceptics out there would possibly say that L4D2 is largely a re-skin of the original. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, when you take Fern Cotton and turn her into Keira Knightley, there’s nothing to complain about. It’s simply gone from nice to nice. And in the case of L4D2, it appears that Ms Knightley has also brought several new dresses along with her.

Whilst the game experience is instantly familiar there are some pleasant new additions, such as more boss zombies and melee weapons. At first, pummelling everything with a frying pan or guitar is really great fun, but when you come to crank up the difficulty and realise that closing the distance between yourself and the murderous, raging mad men is a bad idea, it can be more appealing to have the pistols that melee weapons replace.

They have also gotten shot of the four original, loveable survivors in favour of four new strangers who at first caused a bit of a stir in the community because their personalities were not leaping out of the still screenshots. This seemed like a bit of a pointless argument as when I look through photos I don’t tend to judge the people before my eyes as boring because they can’t move or speak when immortalised on paper.

Now the demo is out and the new guys are great fun. You have your hick mechanic, the ironically large football coach, a news reporter and a gambler come conman. Just listening to the characters interact with each other during the short demo fills me with confidence that the same effect in the first game will be pulled off here.

Then there’s the opening sequence. The first L4D had a brilliantly done, tension building introduction that nicely explained how our survivors got where they were. It introduced most of the boss zombies you encounter and had quite a climactic finish. The new intro sequence plays more like an action packed movie trailer showing a montage of the game’s different locations played to a rocking sound track. It has everything, guns, zombies, explosions and chainsaws.

All of this adds a huge amount that makes the sequel feel like a lot more than a simple re-skin. Personally I can not wait to see what happens in two weeks when Steam slows down to a halt as it fails to cope with the demands of everyone and their baseball bat trying to get the new game. It’s nice to have a sequel that stays true to the original, but improves on it in everyway.