#egmr » Duncan http://egmr.net Let's Talk Games — Videogame News, Reviews & Opinions Mon, 17 Aug 2015 15:37:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.3 A Gamer’s Perspective: Hey, Triple-A: Your Characters Suck http://egmr.net/2014/02/gamers-perspective-hey-triple-characters-suck/ http://egmr.net/2014/02/gamers-perspective-hey-triple-characters-suck/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 09:00:12 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=140305 If you hooked me up to one of those MRI brain scan hoo-hahs and made one of them kaleidoscopes out of my brain while I played any one of the […]

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If you hooked me up to one of those MRI brain scan hoo-hahs and made one of them kaleidoscopes out of my brain while I played any one of the Triple-A releases we’ve had in the last year or so, you’d probably conclude that I was some kind of psychopath. An extremely handsome, mostly functional psychopath, granted, but a psychopath nonetheless. Most of the decisions I make in games these days tend to be quantitive and analytical, outcomes-orientated as opposed to emotionally driven. Sure, the characters whose stories I’m following aren’t actually living, breathing human beings, but often events in their lives allude to relatable events in the real world.

Take, for example, Helgen in Skyrim. If we heard of some peaceful village in the countryside that got decimated by a natural disaster or a town in South Sudan that was burnt to the ground by militants, most of us would be saddened, empathising with the pain of those who were affected. Even though this event was far removed from us, we react emotionally to it.

We don’t exclusively become emotionally invested in reality, either – no true Game of Thrones fan can honestly claim that they wouldn’t sock Joffrey stukkend if they saw him on the street, or that they didn’t cry when *that thing* happened in Season 3. Similarly, we all know you screamed like a thirteen year old who just had Justin Bieber’s sweat fall on her when you heard Season 4 was coming out. I know I did.

Particularly in the last few years, we’ve seen a massive upswell in the number and popularity of open-world survival games. We don’t need to dig too deep to think of examples, either – Minecraft comes to mind, a game that not only put indie on the map, but showed it was possible for non-mainstream games to find themselves on a level with big-name releases in a way never previously thought possible. On a completely opposite end of the spectrum, but still in the genre, we find DayZ. Mods have always been popular, but very rarely popular enough to spur on a standalone release that crashed a website when sales for it went live. Along with the likes of Minecraft and DayZ come a whole host of spin-offs and heavy borrowers, too – Terraria, 7 Days To Die, Starbound, to name but a few. Open-ended survival has made huge waves in the gaming world, creating a whole sub-genre for itself in the process.

It’s not just the popularity of these games we need to look at, though – they inspire levels of rabid dedication that very few mainstream releases can boast about. Sure, we’ve all got the stories about how we spent a week building a floating tree fortress in Minecraft, or didn’t go to sleep for an entire day trying to find the last components we needed for our vehicles in DayZ, but I put it to you that this is due to far more than the superficial immersive nature of the games: I would argue that we become emotionally invested in the characters we play in these games. This is not investment how we usually understand it in reference to character – these avatars have no personality quirks or sob stories to latch on to, but they do have hopes, dreams, aspirations and purpose – all of which we project upon them as we play. Now, we’ve started speaking quite abstractly, but stay with me here: the two things which cause a person to become interested in the development of a character are the direction that character is going in – whether or not their goal is an interesting one – and the conflict which arises out of that character’s pursuit of their goal; the obstacles which stop them achieving it.

When we play an open-world game, we define the goals for our character (assemble a car, build a tree fortress, genocide the Ewoks – whatever your heart fancies), and as such become implicitly invested in the goals of that character. We care about achieving what we care about achieving (it makes sense, I promise), and so are eager to see our character realise their goals. At the same time, in survival games (particularly multiplayer survival, games like DayZ and EVE Online), conflict is an intrinsic part of the gameplay. Everything from resource shortage to other players trying to kill you can prevent your character from achieving his or her goals, and as such we become more interested in seeing our character remain in a state of well-being.

Let’s bring it in before we get even more philosophical and abstract. The essence of what I’m saying here is that, by virtue of the nature of the game (which I just lost), I care more about my character in Minecraft making it back to my homebase with the three diamond I spent five hours trying to find than I do about Jason Brody’s (vague Far Cry 3 spoiler ahead) dead girlfriend or brother or whoever the heck it was.

Some would argue that that’s more of a testament to the deceptive simplicity of creating immersiveness and consumer investment in a survival game than it is an indictment on how well characters are brought across in linear storylines, but that gives far too much credit to how high the ceiling for emotional investment in a character in an open-world game is. Sure, I get frustrated when my character in Minecraft dies, and an adrenaline rush when I manage to escape a bandit encounter in DayZ barely clutching onto life, but that’s about the length and breadth of the sort of emotional rollercoaster I can go on. It’s not particularly deep, nor is it particularly wide, and yet it captivates me far more than the majority of big-name releases we’ve seen recently. Given that games with linear storylines have the capacity to make that rollercoaster higher, wider, deeper and far flashier in general, I’d say it’s definitely an indication that they aren’t at the moment – that’s an indictment in my books.

As with anything in life, there are a myriad of factors contributing to why characterisation in the majority of games is so weak – the pressure of meeting release goals, focus on elements of gameplay as opposed to story, writer’s block, whatever. For our part in this, though, I think we as the gaming community set our expectations for releases too low. Take StarCraft 2 for example. I absolutely loved Wings of Liberty (the game’s first instalment) for it’s multiplayer, and so didn’t mind that the singleplayer was a tad average. Fast forward to the much better campaign mode in Heart of the Swarm, though, and you bet I preferred the game that offered the better package.

When it comes to games, often we get so excited over something – a particularly good plot tie-in, a well-executed gameplay mechanic or even a shiny new graphics engine, that we forget we shouldn’t be purchasing the game just for that one thing: instead of having an average game with really pretty fire animations (here’s looking at you, Far Cry 2), rather have a really pretty game that also engages people with an interesting story and stimulating gameplay mechanics. Uncharted 2, take a bow.

I put it to you that interesting, engaging characters that make for a worthwhile singleplayer experience irrespective or whatever gimmick is used to try and generate sales should begin to be something we expect out of all high-level releases – character shouldn’t be the monopoly of RPGs. FPS’s could only gain from spicing up their massacre of America’s enemies with some insight into the man behind the M4, and for the love of goodness I will give a Bell’s to whoever decides to make a Need for Speed game where your driver actually exists.

Many game developers seem to think that because they’re developing a release for a genre that doesn’t tend to have character as one of its main selling points that they should overlook it entirely. That’s retarded. No, Forza, I actually don’t exclusively care about the location and humidity of the track I’m doing my next career race on. Tell me about the drama and intrigue between the team members, the player character’s desperate struggle to find meaning and identity apart from the life as a racing superstar that his parents bred him for.

Hell, give me anything except for that damn announcer’s voice telling me to start my next session of gameplay.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: Hearthstone: A Poor Man’s Survival Guide http://egmr.net/2014/01/gamers-perspective-hearthstone-poor-mans-survival-guide/ http://egmr.net/2014/01/gamers-perspective-hearthstone-poor-mans-survival-guide/#comments Mon, 27 Jan 2014 09:00:22 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=139152 A brief disclaimer before we get started: while this article is mainly aimed at newer players, particularly those considering playing with the open beta having released recently, I will (for […]

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A brief disclaimer before we get started: while this article is mainly aimed at newer players, particularly those considering playing with the open beta having released recently, I will (for the good of humanity) be assuming that you’re familiar with the basic terms and concepts of Hearthstone – things like it featuring micro-transactions, what gold is used for and what the Arena is. It’s all fairly intuitive, but if you feel like you need a primer, feel free to take a glance at our preview, which explains much of that with artful depth and brevity, and at Reddit’s New Player Guide, which also provides an introduction to the terminology and mechanics, as well as a bunch of useful links.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get to it.

 
I managed to worm my way into the closed beta a little over a month ago, and even in that relatively short space of time, I’ve completely fallen in love with Hearthstone. I love TCGs and CCGs (naturally, I’m a huge Magic: The Gathering fan), and I’ve found it refreshing to play something that is (superficially at least) slightly less mentally taxing and, more importantly, free to play.

I’ve started to enjoy Arena (if only that meant I was getting good at it, too), and competitive constructed play seems like a bunch of fun as well – I, along with pretty much the entirety of South Africa, will be playing in the Do Gaming League for Hearthstone (registrations are sitting at just shy of 300 – the largest entry for a singleplayer game league in DGL history). While both the Arena and constructed really excite me, I’ve found myself starting to hit a wall that many newer players who don’t invest money into the game seem to – my gold balance is far, far lower than it needs to be for me to play the way I would like to. Being on a gap year and having to spend all my money on petrol and my Magic habit (not necessarily in that order) means that I really don’t have the extra cash to sink into a game like Hearthstone, especially when I know some elbow grease can get me to the same place that a couple hundred rand would. So, I’ve had to adapt the way I play and spend my gold, to find workarounds for this problem – trying to mould myself into a vaguely competitive Hearthstone player, at the same time as making sure I don’t break the bank.

What is to follow is the brief outline of my current ‘keep Hearthstone free to play’ guide – a few brief tips to help you along the way, if you’re in a similar position to me. This is by no means an exhaustive guide – I don’t presume to be in a position to be able to write one of those – but hopefully it can point you in a direction and get you thinking about how you can adjust your own play and spending to help you not only spend as little as possible on the game, but also become a better, more skilful player as you do so.

 

Quests Are Your Friends:

To get cards, we need packs. And to get packs, we need gold. And to get gold, we do the quests.

If you’re a new player especially, listen up. There are a bunch of quests you can do to boost your gold balance if you’ve just started your account. First things first, head over to practice mode and take on the Basic AI’s to unlock the decks you haven’t already – once you beat all 8, you should net 200 gold. Once you’ve done that, go take on the Expert AI’s – you’ll get another 100 gold for that, and then another 200 when you level all of the classes up to level 10 (unlocking all the basic cards for them). If you need help deck-wise along the way with any of that, this deck should get you past the Basic AI pretty easily, and after that you can use these basic decklists to take on the Expert AI, and once you’ve beaten them all, real life players in play mode to level up your classes faster.

h2Phewf. Now that we’ve done all that, we don’t touch our gold. I repeat: DON’T do a thing with your gold. The temptation to buy packs is strong, I understand, but future you will regret it big time. Next on our agenda is the daily quests.

There are three different types of daily quests – most are for 40 gold, some for 60 gold and some, very occasionally, for 100 gold. A feature which is disabled at the time of writing (but should be patched back in soon) is being able to ‘reroll’ a quest (click the red cross in the top right corner of it, and get a new quest in its place instead). Why do this? It doesn’t get worse than a 40 gold quest, so if you get one of those you can only win if you reroll – you could get one worth 60 or 100 instead. Given that you only get dailies once a day, those higher value ones can speed your progress pretty significantly.

Let’s assume we’re doing all the dailies we can – it’d be pretty dumb not to. Worst case scenario, that’s 120 gold over three days. Plus, to finish dailies you usually have to win games, so let’s say you win 9 games in Play mode over those three days – that’s 150 gold right there. Question is, what do we spend that gold on? That’s almost 2 packs, right?

Wrong.

 

Never Buy Packs:

This probably seems counter-intuitive. How the heck are we planning to get cards if we never buy packs? This is where we need to take a bit of a step back and think about things. If we’re on a budget, we don’t just want to be using our gold to get packs – we want to use our gold to get value. Essentially, taking our 150 gold, and turning it into something worth more than a pack and 50 gold.

That’s why we’re going to use our gold on the arena instead. If you’re a newer player, this can sound like quite a daunting undertaking, and spending the initial gold you get on a few packs to get you started is extremely tempting, but as soon as you do start getting into Arena (which you inevitably will), you’ll regret it. At this stage, you don’t need more cards to play constructed – you can easily gain 8-10 ranks using only the basic cards.

Trust me on this: you want to hang onto your gold until you’re ready to play Arena.

Why play Arena? First and foremost, even if you completely whitewash you’ll still be netting a pack as a prize. So if you go 0-3 and win nothing besides a pack, the actual price of your Arena was only 50 gold. For that 50 gold, though, you got a bunch of experience with cards and classes you wouldn’t have otherwise, on top of being put in a position where you had to think seriously about weighing up how good cards really are in comparison to one another – all of that goes into ultimately making you a better player. In my opinion, that’s easily worth 50 gold. And that’s not even taking into account the potential to make a profit on that 50 gold you invested, if you manage to get enough wins.

But, but, but what if Arena is scary and you suck at it? Don’t worry, I do too. Luckily, though, we aren’t alone, and there are some good resources out there you can use to improve your abilities in Arena – both as a player and as a card-picker.

The best thing you can do for your Arena play (and play in general, in fact), is to start watching streams – far and away, I’d recommend giving Trump a look. He’s one of the best Arena streamers out there, has a huge Youtube library, and will change the way you playh1 the game in the best way possible. One of the things I have to stress, though, is if you want to improve (in picks and play), you have to watch actively – that means engaging with the video in a meaningful way. Don’t just watch him make amazing decisions, pause the video before a decision and figure out what you would do in that place – once you’ve decided, watch what he does and how it differs to your play. I’ve learnt a tonne already simply from using a technique like that to expose the flaws in my thinking and card analysis.

Watching Trump is great and all, but if only he could be by your side, helping you make those picks as you create your Arena deck. What’s that? With his Neutral Minion Pick List, he can? Well, that’s awfully convenient, isnt it?

Pick lists have been hugely helpful for me – it puts the difficult decisions in someone else’s hands, and reminds me over and over again that consistency in card draws is way more important than that retarded combo the optimistic side of me wants to try and draft. Like I said, Trump has one for neutral minions, and Vivafringe has not only a pick list for class-specific minions, but also an entire guide on Arena – giving that a read through will also completely change you the way you play for the better.

Once you’ve done some stream watching, read some guides and you’ve got those pick lists handy, you should be feeling prepared (if not quite confident) to try out an Arena run – go for it. You probably won’t go 12-0 (or anything close to it) on your first one, but with all the resources I’ve listed here your improvement curve should be pretty quick, and Arena is the sort of thing it takes practice to master. That’s why we haven’t spent any of that gold you’ve been saving up just yet – the more you pour into Arena, the faster you’ll improve at it, and the faster you’ll start making a profit.

 

Disenchant For Greater Value:

h31 Hearthstone, like most other CCGs, features a form of card-swaggification; much like foils in paper card games, Hearthstone features gold cards, which can be unlocked or randomly acquired from packs. There are only two things you need to know about gold cards: they perform exactly the same as their non-swaggity counterparts, and they disenchant for more dust.

Practically, what does that mean? As soon as we can (usually post-patch, when we have an idea of whether or not a card will be changed), we disenchant them for the dust. Worst case scenario, you decide you actually want the card you disenchanted, and you can use the dust to craft a normal version of that card again – no harm no foul. Otherwise, we can use that dust to craft staple cards that we haven’t already opened, which we need to fill out our constructed decklists. The same goes for more than two copies of a card, too – when you get a third copy of any card, disenchant that as soon as you know it’s safe – a third copy will be entirely useless to you, but we can always find uses for dust.

 

Conclusion:

At the end of the day, making Hearthstone free-to-play definitely isn’t easy – it’s going to take a bunch more work to crack that first Sylvanas unlocking packs through the Arena than it would just by dumping cash into the game. At the same time, though, I can guarantee that it’s going to feel a whole lot better cracking it after you’ve put all that work in for it – plus, by the time you get there you’ll almost certainly be the kind of player who can actually use Sylvanas (or whatever legendary you pull) to her full potential.

Are any of you guys playing on a budget? Got any tips you think I missed out here? Let the world know in the comments below – also, shout if you’ll be playing the DGL. If you’re good, it gives me a chance to try and avoid an embarrassing defeat at your hands.

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Balling With Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z http://egmr.net/2014/01/balling-dragon-ball-z-battle-z/ http://egmr.net/2014/01/balling-dragon-ball-z-battle-z/#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 11:00:02 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=138828 I’m always filled with a giddy, boyish excitement whenever I see a new Dragonball release looming – I don’t think I’ll ever forget counting down the days and the hours […]

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I’m always filled with a giddy, boyish excitement whenever I see a new Dragonball release looming – I don’t think I’ll ever forget counting down the days and the hours until 5:30pm on Tuesday every week, when the latest episode of Dragon Ball Z would air on SABC 2. I shudder to count how many fillers I sat through waiting for the conclusion of one of the many pivotal fights, but every single one was worth it, because when the conclusion finally came it was everything eight year old Duncan had hoped for, and so much more – pure, unadulterated, awesome.

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is a game that, whether through ridiculous 8-player free-for-all melees or 1-hit-KO Spirit Bombs, attempts to cut through all the facade and appeal to the childish madman inside us all.

Name: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z
Genre: Fighter
Players: 2-8
Multiplayer: Online, no splitscreen
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita
Developers: Artdink
Publishers: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 28 January 2014
Price: R699 (PS3, Xbox 360)

We know from gameplay footage and the demo that this latest addition to the Dragonball game series will return to its Budokai-esque roots, moving away from the (in my experience, at least) frustrating system of QTE-combo stringing found in Ultimate Tenkaichi. Thank goodness for that. Like many of its predecessors, the game boasts a fairly impressive array of playable characters. Marketing would tell you that there are 70 characters to choose from, which technically is correct (the best kind of correct) – the catch, however, is that the game will no longer feature in-game transformations – that is, you cannot rank a character like Goku up during an actual match by taking him to Super Saiyan 2, 3, and so on. Instead, the player will have to choose a certain form of Goku from the selection screen to play for the duration of the match – given that this system is used for most characters with multiple forms (Buu, Frieza, most Saiyans), you’re really looking at a character selection of around 41 characters, plus 3 DLC characters. Which is still formidable enough.

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It is up to you how large a factor graphics is in the games you play, but the definite reality in Battle of Z is that they could certainly have done more not only with the graphics, but with the engine as well. Side by side, there doesn’t seem to be too great a difference between some of the older Budokais and this game – personally, I would say it does justice to the graphical style of the anime, and stays true to the artistic themes of the previous games, though those who say that more graphical detail should be coming out of a game released in 2014 wouldn’t be too far wrong. Engine-wise, the environmental destructibility certainly looks disappointing. Not that it is lacking, necessarily, but we are taken back to the comparison I made earlier – one would like to have seen more work done on the aesthetic improvements which can be made between early games like Budokai, and current releases.

Now that we’ve got all that out the way, let’s talk about the good stuff: game modes. Game modes all day.

A big part of what Bandai Namco are going for in this release is team and multiplayer gameplay. That doesn’t by any means write off a singleplayer campaign, but it does mean that the campaign they’re putting in place will be rewritten slightly in some parts to make team battles and co-operative boss fights a possibility. The missions themselves will span from way back in the Saiyan Saga, all the way to the Buu Saga and beyond – it’ll include missions based around the recently released Battle of Gods movie, and based off an alternate history of the Saiyan race. For each saga, the player will be able to play as either the heroes (Goku and co) or the antagonists (for example, Frieza and his various forms in the relevant saga) in order to complete the saga.

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Character customisation returns, giving players the ability to edit a particular character’s stats, such that any character of their choosing can effectively be the strongest character – you aren’t shafted into playing Goku for every match. We don’t know for certain if this feature will be present in singleplayer, too (and thus have your edited singleplayer character carry over to the multiplayer portion of the game, but we know for a fact that it will be present in multiplayer. Personally, that’s a feature I’m quite excited for – watching my brother squirm as I beat his Goku’s face in with Krillin will be a moment I’ll savour, no doubt about that.

Seeing as we’re already there, let’s get our gumboots on and head into the multiplayer – knee-deep, of course.
Apart from the co-operative multiplayer, there are four game modes available in multiplayer. The first is your bread-and-butter team game, the crux of what Bando are pushing with this release; the aptly named Normal Battle. Two teams of four players each are pitted against each other, with the winning team being the one which manages to team-kill the other team until their ‘retry’ options run out. Score Battle is a slight variation on this first mode – also a 4v4, but instead of aiming to eliminate the other team enough to knock them out, the aim is to score as many points as possible in the allotted time, by knocking out as many characters as possible from the other team. Battle Royale is an eight player free-for-all; essentially, a cage match between eight immensely skilled fighters with the powers of demigods – casual stuff. The last game mode is an objective-based 4vv4, the Dragon Ball Grab. 7 Dragon Balls are scattered around the map, with the first team to collect all 7 being the victor.

One interesting thing to note about team battles is that the team will have a shared energy bar – players can deplete that bar to cast their more powerful spells, but might be incentivised not to – when it becomes full, one player in the team can cast an ‘ultimate’ attack. Think the nuke in Modern Warfare 2, or, more relevantly, the Spirit Bomb – if a team manages to get that puppy off, it one-hit KO’s players on the other team. This aspect of the one hit KO, as well as the other game modes and team gameplay add a level of depth to the multiplayer which one could argue was lacking in previous iterations, making the game itself far more interesting to play, and potentially the sort of game one could get far more drawn into than in previous releases.

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The question remains, however: Should you get it? Some Japanese reviewers have been given early access to the game, and rated it quite highly – one site gave it a 32/40, meaning four of its reviewers gave it an 8/10. While some veterans of the series held reservations, too, the common consensus online appears to be that if one has reservations or pre-emptive criticisms, the best thing to do is jam some of the demo and see if they remain after that.

 

Suspected Selling Points
  • Team battles add interesting depth to a historically one-dimensional multiplayer experience
  • Singleplayer mode is co-operative playable, and adds non-canon missions for more diverse story
Potential Pitfalls
  • Graphics/environment engine more outdated than expected from a 2014 release
  • Some fans of the series may not support the removal of in-match transformations
  • No PS4/Xbone release may discourage those switching consoles from investing in the game

 

If you’re a longstanding fan of the series, especially one who is friends with other Dragon Ballers, I would say go for it. Even if you don’t have friends, there’s always online matchmaking. If you’re on the fence about Dragon Ball Z as a whole, it might be worth your while to pick it up anyways – February tends to be one of the slower times for game releases (with only Castlevania and a new Final Fantasy slated for release), and the multiplayer especially seems like an enjoyable way to kill time at the very worst. If you’re not such a fan of the series, perhaps pass – but then again, why would you even have read this far anyway?

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Have you pre-ordered the game? Looking forward to it, played the demo, or just a huge Dragon Ball lover? Let us know in the comments below what you think about the game, and where it could be taking the series.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: Release Dates Aren’t Rocket Science http://egmr.net/2014/01/gamers-perspective-release-dates-arent-rocket-science/ http://egmr.net/2014/01/gamers-perspective-release-dates-arent-rocket-science/#comments Mon, 13 Jan 2014 09:00:59 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=138062 Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but the purchase of games — especially physical copies — has taken on something of a religious significance for me. There’s […]

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Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but the purchase of games — especially physical copies — has taken on something of a religious significance for me. There’s the rush of danger as you leave the speed limit in your dust on your way to play your newest purchase as soon as humanly possible; that never-gets-old smell of fresh game hitting your nostrils for the first time as your rip the plastic off and, if you’re on a PC, anticipation built to such a crescendo by the end of the install that it takes you three tries to open the damn game after an install that went only slightly faster than your average glacier.

This was the cocktail of emotion I, like hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world, was dealing with when the Battlefield 4 logo first hit my screen. The first thing I did, naturally, was pump the graphics as high as they would go and fire up a singleplayer level.

My word, the pretty. At last, I had something to do justice to my latest grapics card upgrade and 27″ purchase. Once my tears had drained enough of the moisture in my body that hospitalisation was becoming a legitimate concern, I decided to jump into the multiplayer.

This, of course, was the big stuff. I’m a multiplayer addict – CoD4, StarCraft 2, DayZ, My Little Pony Online, whatever. Can’t get enough of the stuff. Multiplayer, as we all know, was also far and away DICE’s main selling point for the game.

Pretty soon, it became apparent that the multiplayer was — excuse the pun — a bit dicey. It started small, with getting randomly disconnected and messed around by the queue system while trying to connect to a server. That was fine, though — I was willing to endure what I had to if it meant getting into the game. Unfortunately, though, that wasn’t where the issues stopped. Performance drops, server disconnects and a sound engine that, for all I could tell, existed only when it wanted to (which wasn’t often). Top all of those issues off with loading times that gave you enough time between maps to finish doctoral theses, and you had a multiplayer package that, on release, was functionally unplayable in any meaningful or convenient sense.

Battlefield 4’s release issues are, unfortunately, not an outlier in the current triple-A market. I could rattle off a list of games, but everyone reading this will probably have any number of anecdotes of release-day frustration mirroring the one I’ve jut shared.

It doesn’t take a genius to identify the fundamental issue at work here: whether for profit or fear of consumer backlash, publishers are unwilling to postpone their release dates — even when it means releasing a product as bug-riddled as some of those we’ve seen in the far-too-recent past.

Contrast the on-time, bug-ridden release we’ve just spoken about with that of the recent release of Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall’s ARMA 2 mod turned standalone: DayZ.

DayZ Standalone’s path to retail release has been a tumultuous one, to say the least. Development was announced in 2012, with the alpha slated to be available by the end of that year. Much to the horror of the DayZ community, though, Rocket announced that the game wasn’t far enough into its development to be released in 2012 and postponed DayZ’s release — indefinitely.

Most publishers and developers look at this scenario and see a bad business decision. In their eyes, a million sales this month are worth more than a million sales in six month’s time, you sacrifice customers who would have been willing to buy on your initial release date by moving it later and causing them to lose interest, and postponement of a game is a bad marketing decision, because it lessens consumer confidence in the developer.

All of these reasons are, of course, horribly out of touch with the reality of what developer postponement of release does for a game — let’s look at how reality actually plays out, using the DayZ Standalone as a case study.

For many of us, hearing Rocket announce that the game wasn’t yet at a high enough standard for release was when we really started paying attention. Developer delays don’t reduce consumer confidence in a game — it sends the message that the people you’re thinking of investing your money with are committed to delivering you a quality entertainment experience. In an age of copy-pasted Call of Duty clones which could as well be produced by computer algorithms, developers taking personal interest in their games is going to swing the market in your favour, not against it.

The second product of a dev delaying a game in order to polish it for release is fairly intuitive – the more time taken to test and perfect the final product, the better the play experience will be on release. Anyone who has played the DayZ Standalone early access will know exactly what I’m talking about here – excellent performance, stable servers and a relatively intuitive, mostly functional interface makes DayZ’s alpha on par with an embarrassing amount of triple-A releases when it comes to functionality. There are plenty of gamers out there who wait for the reviews to roll in before making their purchases — if a publisher wants to attract their business too, it is unquestionably in their interest to ensure that their release is a bug-free one. If we’re talking about losing business because consumers become disinterested in your product, there is no surer way to achieve that than have a new release steal a consumer’s attention while they were waiting for you to patch your game out of beta-level issues.

Last and most interestingly, there is the effect that having to wait longer for a game than consumers initially expected has on release sales figures. Let’s take the example to the furthest degree here — when Half Life 3 is released (for it surely is a question of ‘when’), I’m willing to put myself out there and say that its sales figures are going to be through the roof — even people who’ve never played the Half-Life series have heard so much about Half-Life 3 that they’ll probably go out and buy it, if for no other reason than they’ve seen so much anticipation and hype for it that they assume it must be worth their money.

The DayZ hype train didn’t have quite as much inertia as Half-Life 3, but that’s hardly something we can hold against it. In its year-odd postponement, though, the DayZ hype train — particularly fuelled by communities like Reddit — did become the stuff of internet legend. Not only were so many people so excited about the game that their enthusiasm spread to people who would not otherwise have bought, but it created an organism of crazy conspiracy theories and educated, astrology-fuelled guesses about when the release would be that was so hilarious to keep abreast of that not only did it retain the vast majority of those who intended to buy on the initial release date, but it attracted many, many more who had no intentions at all of doing so.

The end result of all of this was that when DayZ finally did get released, purchases started happening within the first few seconds of a portal going live on the Bohemia Interactive website. A few seconds later, the Bohemia Interactive site crashed, overwhelmed by the amount of purchase requests for the alpha version of a game that had no advertising, no triple-A sticker, and no physical release.

Once downloaded, the only factor stopping people from playing the game was that finding a server was almost impossible — every single one was full. As in, I spent an hour refreshing the South African server list the night after release night and didn’t manage to get into a single game kind of full.

Clearly, Rocket did something right.

We’ll probably never see a situation in the industry where big-name publishers are willing to get out of the way and allow developers to produce the game they want to in the timeframe they want to, to a quality and polish they are happy with for the sake of preserving developer integrity. Looking at DayZ’s release and Rocket’s part in it, though, there are clearly some fairly persuasive arguments to be made for delaying unpolished games. Maybe, just maybe, someone at EA will have a thought intelligent enough to justify the degree they claim to have and bring our traumatic release-day experiences to and end.

Until then, I’d just bet on the horse that we all know has already on. Do yourself a favour and go buy DayZ.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: Waiting For GTA http://egmr.net/2013/09/gamers-perspective-waiting-gta-v/ http://egmr.net/2013/09/gamers-perspective-waiting-gta-v/#comments Mon, 23 Sep 2013 08:00:26 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=132810 If you’re reading this column, then statistically speaking you’re either a PC gamer, clinically insane a console gamer who doesn’t own GTA V, or Cavie. That’s because Cavie has to […]

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If you’re reading this column, then statistically speaking you’re either a PC gamer, clinically insane a console gamer who doesn’t own GTA V, or Cavie. That’s because Cavie has to edit my column, and the rest of us are alone in a world where, in case you haven’t guessed it, the rest of the human population is off playing Grand Theft Auto’s latest instalment.

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It’s probably fair to say that Rockstar’s latest release was something of a focus of attention during the past week, with even our very own noble eGamer staff taking time off their hooker-massacring binges to make sure we would be constantly reminded of the fact that we still don’t have the game. We can hardly blame them for their enthusiasm, and there’s certainly no harm in being kept in the loop, but I’m sure you’ll agree that that doesn’t in any way prevent us from hating them out of jealousy. Even when we indulge that hatred, however, it doesn’t seem to be enough fill the emptiness we feel after watching Conan attempt to blow up a strip club.

With my exams drawing to a close last week, the question of how on earth one goes about filling up that emptiness has consumed much of the free time I’ve had since then. I’m not about to say that I’ve got definitive answers for how we as the Master Race can survive this time of trial, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t tried.

Odds are that we all started off pretty similarly. “GTA V released today?” we scoff, so puffed up on our hubris. “That’s cute. I suppose I’ll get to it eventually, but for now I’m taking some time off to work on my backlog.”

And so work on our backlogs we do. Me, I started with Metro 2033, throwing it onto Ranger Hardcore mode because it sounded synonymous with how badass I was feeling at the time. Six hours in, I’m stranded on the surface with nothing but half an air filter and one of those crazy-ass flying demons for company. Screw that though, right? The apocalypse is for pussies. Real men fight dragons. That’s what I thought too, until I had the intense misfortune of trying to tackle Alduin after a speedrun of the Skyrim campaign. My papery level fifteen mage wasn’t able to even tickle his health bar. Hacker.

Presented with the kind of obstacles one starts to face, it’s not unconscionable that certain thoughts – like, maybe that demon would be easier to kill with an RPG, or I’m sure Alduin would sneeze once or twice at an attack helicopter – start to enter your head. What is unconscionable is entertaining the idea that we need GTA V to be happy. GTA needs us!

gnZUjji Intent on proving just how independent I was, I decided to take to the internets and planned to dive right into the thick of the most heated GTA-related debates, because I sure as hell don’t need to play a game to be able to shout at people over the internet about how wrong they are about it. My fingers were itching in particular to tear apart this rabid feminist reviewer from Gamespot we’ve all heard so much about… then, I actually read the damn review. Turns out the internet was having a freaking hernia because of two throwaway paragraphs at the end of one of the most classy online reviews I’ve read in a while.

[Quick aside: When exactly did furthering the ‘feminist agenda’ become a crime? As far as I understand it, feminism is a movement what aims to place women on an equal social footing with men. That sounds like a pretty freaking legitimate agenda to me, to be honest.]

Right, so, the whole opinionated paragon thing didn’t work out too well. You know what, though? Win some, lose some. “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

That’s Teddy Roosevelt, bitch.

I’ll be honest, here: despite the uplifting influence of BrainyQuotes.com, I was feeling pretty down. Not only that, but I was still feeling empty, with that awful feeling that it was because there was a serious lack of gangsterish badassery in my life. Knowing that I was fated not to find it in GTA V, I resigned myself to that insatiable wanderlust of the internet, doomed to forever hit the refresh button on the Reddit front page and be constantly reminded of how much GTA I was missing, in increasingly witty and interesting posts.

Then, I found it.

The very definition of ‘swaggity’.

Knowing that the only thing that could ever bring me the kind of satisfaction I needed now that GTA V existed was something at least as thug, gangster and badass, that is exactly what the internet brought me to.

PokeMMO.

Damn freaking straight, you read that right. Damn freaking straight I’m talking about a modded emulation of FireRed that lets you play online with thousands of other people who aren’t playing GTA V, but don’t give a single care, because they’re too busy flushing out the shinies of Pokeland instead.

squirtleglasses Sure, maybe you can parachute off a mountain in GTA V, but PokeMMO lets you hop over medium-sized ledges to avoid the tall grass concealing the bloodthirsty, buck-toothed Rattatas and string-shooting Caterpoodles (Caterpies?) within. Anyone can fly a plane across Los Santos, but it takes a proper kind of badass to traverse the skies of the Kanto Region on the back of a jacked-up mutant eagle that you personally, indirectly fought into submission. Grand Theft may let you play as bat-ass crazy Trevor, but I think we can all agree that if we’re talking about stone cold killers, Squirtle comes out tops every time.

By now, I’m almost entirely convinced that I’m sacrificing my sanity by holding out for a PC release of GTA V. If you’re struggling with the wait too, hopefully you can take solace in the knowledge that you’re not alone. And catch a Dragonair while you’re at it. At the end of the day (year, more likely), though, it will all be worth it.

For even though there’s no official release date for a PC edition of GTA V just yet, Rockstar will surely deliver.

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Review: StarCraft II: Heart of The Swarm http://egmr.net/2013/03/review-starcraft-ii-heart-of-the-swarm/ http://egmr.net/2013/03/review-starcraft-ii-heart-of-the-swarm/#comments Thu, 28 Mar 2013 08:00:08 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=118925 Visit review on site for scoring. Heart of the Swarm is the first expansion to be released for Blizzard’s StarCraft II, unless you’re one of those people who considers Wings […]

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Visit review on site for scoring.

Heart of the Swarm is the first expansion to be released for Blizzard’s StarCraft II, unless you’re one of those people who considers Wings of Liberty itself an expansion – then it would technically be the second, but technically you’re a bit weird for looking at it that way, so we’re just going to call it the first. In case you missed the word ‘Swarm’ in the title and metric butt-tonnes of Kerrigan-related marketing Blizzard inflicted upon the world (see: the banners of this very website), the game is very much focused on the Zergy side of things. Protoss players feeling hard done by need not fret, though – the next instalment is going to be all you! Which probably means you’re going to be seeing it around 2020.

When talking about a game like StarCraft II, you can’t go particularly far without making a very important distinction in terms of who you’re actually talking to. That’s because there are two pretty distinct markets which the game appeals to, namely casuals and ladderers. Generally speaking, you’ll know if you’re a ladderer. These are the sorts of people for whom the game is all about the 1-versus-1 multiplayer ladder. Symptoms include (but are not limited to) direct correlation of league classification and self-worth, involuntary spasms when presented with a “Find Match” button, ability to quote Day[9] and/or Idra verbatim upon request, and tendency to become verbally aggressive when rushed. Casuals, by contrast, are people who play the singleplayer campaign, arcade maps, team games, or Terran.

Naturally, these two groups consider very different factors when considering whether or not to purchase the game, so I’m going to structure my review accordingly. Casuals, most of what you’re going to be looking for is to be found in the Singleplayer, and the first half of the Multiplayer sections. Ladderers, you’re going to be looking mainly at the last half of the Multiplayer section.

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With that distinction out of the way, I think the first factoid of substance I need to communicate is that I’m really, really freaking excited to be doing this review. After starting my StarCraft career off in 2011 with a run-through of the campaign on normal (wouldn’t want to strain myself, after all), I made the mistake of hitting the “Find Match” button I mentioned earlier. Eight months and a transition from a trashy Bronze-leaguer to a trashy Platinum-leaguer later, life commitments decided to put an end to my laddering career. To this day, though, the only thing more overpowering than my passion for this game is my love for the Zerg race. Suffice to say I’m eager.

One last disclaimer before we get into the meat of this review: as you’ve probably inferred, I’m pretty liable to fanboy the crap out of this game. At the same time, I’ve written pretty extensively on how reviewers can often let their personal preferences get in the way of doing a decent review. As such, while I’m certainly going to be channeling my fanboyism to get across the good aspects of the game as best I can, I’m definitely not going to be skimping over the negatives of the game. After all, what we really want out of this is for you to buy the game so that Blizzard makes more RTS titles make the best purchase decision possible – not for me to hype you into buying a game you aren’t going to enjoy.

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[Public Service Announcement: Wings of Liberty spoilers ahead. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want your life ruined.]

Some would say that Wings of Liberty ended on a cliffhanger. That’s definitely one way of looking at it. I prefer to say that Bobby Kotick is an asshole. At the end of the campaign, after all, we had just spent twenty-five real-time-ass minutes fighting to defend the Xel-Naga artifact which Jimmy Raynor eventually manages to restore Kerrigan back to humanity with; then it just ends. Suffice to say, after having to wait two years to find out what on earth actually happens once Kerrigan’s all re-humanified, the first thing I did when my five-day download finally finished was jump into the campaign.

From the moment you open it up, the singleplayer story hits you like a tonne of bricks. I’m not going to speak too much about what the plot is actually about, because the game literally starts engaging you that quickly, but what it essentially comes down to is Kerrigan’s quest to murder the crap out of Mengsk. If you’re a StarCraft fan, if you finished Wings of Liberty and/or if you don’t hate small, furry animals, this is without a doubt a story you’ll want to play. As ever, the CGI cutscenes take brilliance to a whole new level of mind-numbing, pants-wetting prettiness – they really became what I looked forward to in the game.

Most of your play is going to take place through the perspective of Kerrigan as she works to try and bring more and more of the zerg broods which fragmented when Raynor humanified her back under her control. The campaign is structured in a similar way to how Wings of Liberty’s was, in that you are given a choice as to which planet you go to first, out of a choice of two (with new choices between two every time you finish playing through all the missions on the previous pair). Completing missions on a planet will earn you numerous different types of rewards.

New units are usually introduced mid-mission as part of the main objective, and are available to you thereafter. Kerrigan is a controllable unit during the missions themselves, and you can earn her levels to increase her powers – these are either gained by completing the main objectives, or through doing secondary objectives (such as collecting research data or genomes which can be assimilated into the zerg DNA structures to make them even more awesome). You also receive unit upgrades. These are acquired when you complete evolution missions; short missions not related to the main storyline where you have the opportunity to choose between two different unit adaptations for a particular unit after having an opportunity to get a bit of play-time with each. This means that you get to make an informed choice on which you want to pick, which is really good seeing as this choice is non-reversible, though try not to let that reduce you to a snivelling heap of human being surrounded by a fortress of discarded pros/cons lists, still unable to decide after hours of struggle whether you’d rather have three zerglings per egg, or zerglings with a leap attack. It isn’t as fun as it sounds – trust me.

Between missions the game offers dialogue opportunities between Kerrigan and her slaves companions. I highly suggest you make sure to get into every new conversation available to you. Not only are there in-game benefits to this – achievements for finding out certain pieces of information, for example – but this is also a huge way in which the writers develop and establish the character of Kerrigan.

In fact, let me take a second here: Kerrigan’s character is one of the best I’ve seen in gaming in a long, long time. The writers really put effort into establishing a character who is clearly conflicted over the clash between her newfound humanity and desire to get revenge on Mengsk through the zerg, and then making your heart bleed as they not only develop the crap out of her character, but put her in some really, really intense situations. You will laugh, cheer, cry tears of both joy and sadness and want to rip your heart out in frustration by the time you’re done with this campaign, and the rollercoaster you’re taken on with Kerrigan can be likened to very few others in gaming. Her humanity is brought through so powerfully that you can’t help but identify with her. Which is quite ironic, seeing as she’s only partially human.

Alright, I’ve sung this game’s praises enough to make Ed Sheeran jealous. What am I hiding from you? Where’s the dirt?

Apart from the occasional awkward dialogue (which doesn’t even come close to messing up the story), the only real criticism I can lay against the singleplayer is one inherent to most RTS singleplayers. The gameplay of the missions themselves can quite often straddle the borderline of tediousness.

This isn’t a product of repetitiveness in the levels or objectives at all: the development team really did a great job of making sure that no two missions could ever be called similar. There are constantly different objectives to achieve and hindrances to face, which have been made as varied as they can possibly be. The game spices things up even more by letting you control different hero-characters in the course of the campaign to break the monotony of constantly playing a macro-styled zerg game. My favourite level of the whole game was probably one where you spend most of the time controlling only Kerrigan, and have to take on three vastly different bosses using her particular skills and powers (along with some very limited reinforcements which are supplied to you). It goes without saying that this sort of thing would deviate hugely from the bread-and-butter building blocks of the singleplayer, and for the most part the variety which the development team has added in this way manages to make the missions themselves about as interesting and engaging as they can possible be.

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At the end of the day, though, I found very much that I was trying to get through the missions as fast as possible to advance the story. This was entirely worth it, given how amazing the storyline was, but if you’re thinking of getting this game (which you probably should be) then be prepared to have to haul a bit to find out what happens next. Which, as soon as you get into the storyline, I’m sure you’ll have no issue with doing.

Many would criticise the game for its length seeing as at twenty normal missions and seven evolution missions, it comes up at roughly two-thirds the length of its predecessor. Personally I think the shorter campaign was an excellent decision: they definitely don’t sacrifice the story for it (although it can feel a tad rushed at times), and as I’ve stressed, you’ll be playing this one for the story – not the singeplayer gameplay.

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One of the main challenges new players face when trying their hand at StarCraft’s multiplayer mode is overcoming the enormous learning curve involved in ceasing to be utterly useless at the game. While Blizzard hasn’t done anything to change the intensity of the curve itself (for the better, I think we’ll all agree), they have done quite a bit of work in making the barriers to entry for newer players lower, and taking the focus off the 1-versus-1 ladder somewhat.

The arcade mode returns for players wishing to avoid the competitive aspect of StarCraft’s multiplayer entirely. I didn’t spend an enormous amount of time in this section of the game, but most of what I gleaned was that there is very little functional difference between this arcade mode and the one found in Wings of Liberty. For those not in the know, the Arcade mode is a section where custom-made maps with alternative objectives and plots can be accessed, downloaded, played and voted on. The old classics are all still there, with maps like Marine Arena, Poker TD and the like all making strong returns and continuing to occupy their Top 10 spots on the Most Played list. Those looking to play Peepmode or King of the Hill game modes may run into some trouble, as there don’t seem to be any which have been produced for Heart of the Swarm at the time of writing (though with any luck the community will rectify this speedily). The same holds true for the Unit Test map from Wings of Liberty.

The main change present in Arcade is a user-interface one: after a bit of getting used to I suppose its alright, but I do prefer the simpler one from Wings of Liberty. The most frustrating aspect for me was the search function – there were numerous instances where the friends I was playing with and I would turn up different results with the same search phrase. For all intents and purposes, though, the mode still functions more or less as one would need.

For those who are interested in playing the vanilla Heart of the Swarm multiplayer, the options of 1-versus-1 and team games are still very much open to you. Not much has changed in terms of either (though I will go into unit changes and additions a bit later), but Blizzard has put hard work into making these styles of play a lot more accessible and less stressful.

In terms of accessibility, they’ve scrapped the Practice League (thank goodness), opting to replace it with a Training Mode. Believe it or not, this thing is actually pretty decent. If you’re a new player looking to understand how to play a particular race in a 1v1 or team game setting, I would strongly recommend it to you. It’s split into three stages, where the AI gradually takes you from learning a basic understanding of production, economy and army-management through to more advanced unit production and control, with more complex offensive and defensive strategies.

The first thing you’ll notice once you’ve completed a training mission is that you’ll be awarded experience points. A bit weird, I know, but it actually sort of works – you level up with each race individually, to a level cap of 30 with a particular race. Thus, your total level (and e-peen size) is 90. Experience is awarded for spending resources and destroying enemy structures, with bonuses awarded for factors like game length, whether or not you played with friends and so on. Each level you gain earns you a different reward, ranging from decals which you can choose to display on your units, additional display pictures for your profile, alternative skins for your units and even unlockable dance animations for select creatures. As a reviewer and devout StarCraft gamer, I really feel as if this is a clear message from Blizzard that issues like the lack of dancing overlords in the original are not ones which they intend to tackle sitting down. Bravo, indeed!

Right. You’re trained up, and ready to dive into some true-to-goodness multiplayer action. “Crap!” you yell to no one in particular, “real people are too scary!”

“Worry not, gamer,” replies a disconcerting and rather obligatory disembodied voice, “you can always take on the AI! If you’re too much of a pussy to do that on your own, you can get some friends to do it with you!”

Once you’re past a random dialogue interlude like the one above and have completed a few matches against the AI, you might just feel ready to start taking on some real human beings. A big turn-off for many players in the last game was a ladder anxiety – the feeling of there being way, way too much pressure on the games you played because the league you’re in and your ladder standing within that league could and would be affected by a loss. In order to combat this, and give players looking to play some more stress-free matches a way out, Blizzard is now giving players the option to compete in either unranked or ranked matches, with the difference essentially being that ranked matches will affect your league and ladder standing, while unranked matches will not.

Many players find this a really useful addition, as the fact that your performance in unranked games has no effect on your standing on the ranked ladder means that unranked games can be used as opportunities to warm up before a session of laddering, a chance to take games less seriously than you would were they for those sweet, sweet points and – as many players will no doubt enjoy – a place where you can practice with a race other than your primary race of choice without having to worry about getting demoted as a result of how rubbish your Protoss or Zerg is. Terrans will not need to worry about this issue.

There have been a number of improvements in terms of gameplay and functionality. I’m a pretty big fan of them, because even though the game would still be totally playable without them, it represents a pretty high level of polish and attention to detail from Blizzard. I respect that. We’re talking about stuff like how bases (hatcheries, command centres and nexuses [or is it nexi?]) will now display a worker count over them, showing how many workers are needed for optimum efficiency, and how many are currently working at that base (there are separate ones for mineral and gas miners).

The post-match Score Screen has had some nice additions: a ‘Performance’ tab has been added which gives you information pertinent to your mechanical performance in the game – the time you spent supply blocked, your APM for the game, things like that. In addition, it also tracks your ranked and unranked averages for these statistics, and tells you when you did better or worse than that average.

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One of the biggest changes to the multiplayer, eagerly anticipated by ranked and unranked players alike, were the unit changes and additions promised in Heart of the Swarm. Instead of going into what each of those changes and additions were (they’re all available in the preview if you’re interested), I’m going to be looking at what the relevant ones are – what changes to the metagame have been created so far, and what sort of stuff you’re actually going to be expecting to run into on the 1v1 ladder.

[Mad disclaimer: Remember, I am a scrub, writing this mainly for the benefit of other scrubs. This isn’t meant to be a definitive guide to the game; rather, I’m trying to give the mid-tier player a realistic insight into what they can expect to have changed from Wings of Liberty at this point in the metagame.]

From the Protoss there’s a definite tendency towards having a more air-based army, what with the addition of the Mothership Core, Oracle and Tempest (though the Tempest isn’t seen particularly often, on account of it being a late game unit akin to the Carrier). This is a shift in focus which has been coming for a while, so it’s good to see Blizzard recognising that and giving Protoss players more options in that regard. What you will probably be seeing a lot more of is the Mothership Core in the early game – a lot of Protoss harassment and push-buffing takes place with it, and it is probably the new ‘Toss unit you’re going to be seeing the most of for the early metagame development.

The Terran early game has had a pretty significant buff with the changes made to Reapers – a Barracks no longer needs to have a Tech Lab attached to produce them, and they now regenerate health, making them a viable and powerful early-game mineral line harassment unit. Hellions can now transform into firebats walkers, which have slower movement speed but a conical area-of-effect attack which deals more damage than the Hellion’s attack in its car-form (source: my mountains of dead zerglings). To the bane of drop-victims everywhere, Medivacs now have a temporary speed-boost ability, which they often use to get away from static defence and slow flyers after a drop targeting your mineral lines or tech. Lastly, Widow Mines are also a thing now – these guys are sort of like robotic banelings. They are activated by enemies being in proximity to them, but can only attack when they’re burrowed into the ground. Once activated, they launch themselves at a clump of ground or air units, dealing blast damage upon collision (about as annoying as it sounds).

The additions made to Zerg have had very little effect on their overall metagame – in two weeks of multiplayer games, I have yet to see a Zerg player make use of a Viper, mainly due to how situational its usefulness is. What you will see every now and then is a Swarm Host – a unit which burrows into the ground and then spawns weak broodling-esque creatures with timed life and a small ranged attack. Every now and then you’ll find one burrowed just outside an expansion or at the bottom of a ramp to annoy you, but they’re overlooked by most Zerg for now. Mutalisks have had their health regeneration rate increased, meaning that for the time being Zerg-versus-Zerg matches have swung even more towards being enormous Mutalisk races, as Infestors are even less effective against them now, even when they do manage to catch up to a clump to fungal them.

Naturally the metagame is still in its very early stages, and we should see more and more new units being incorporated into ladder builds as strategies and build orders start filtering down from the professional scene. One thing that can be said even at this early stage is that Blizzard have definitely managed to get their unit modifications right – this is definitely a big step closer to perfecting the unique ‘feel’ they’re trying to achieve for each of the races.

You’ll probably notice that I haven’t managed to find that much bad to say about the game – that’s because there isn’t. This is through and through one of the best offerings we’ve seen from Blizzard, one which definitely manages to do justice to its prequel and the original StarCraft itself. A purchase you’d struggle to make as a mistake.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: What We Really Need From Next-Gen http://egmr.net/2013/02/a-gamers-perspective-what-we-really-need-from-next-gen/ http://egmr.net/2013/02/a-gamers-perspective-what-we-really-need-from-next-gen/#comments Mon, 25 Feb 2013 09:00:53 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=115077 Even if you were sane enough to get a full night’s sleep instead of watching Sony’s super secret, what-could-they-possibly-be-announcing press conference last week (it aired at 1am local time), you’ll […]

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Even if you were sane enough to get a full night’s sleep instead of watching Sony’s super secret, what-could-they-possibly-be-announcing press conference last week (it aired at 1am local time), you’ll probably know by now that the PlayStation 4 has been revealed. If you didn’t know, spoiler alert: Sony just announced the PS4.

This is a pretty big announcement for many hopeful columnists and gamers alike, most of whom will have been more than willing to give you an extensive analysis of just what Sony and Microsoft need to do with their next-generation consoles. Most of the aforementioned parties now have enough concerns and questions to keep the Reddit gaming community engaged in self-contained debate and speculation for at least a month, on issues ranging from the pricing of the console itself, to how effective its streaming features will be, to where on on earth the console itself was. By far the most popular question on everyone’s lips, however, is how Microsoft is going to respond to this.

Now, you see, that’s where the problems start.

What many gamers don’t seem to realise is that the Console War is, in reality, the gaming industry’s equivalent of cancer – and by buying into it they only make it worse. When terminology like ‘war’ starts getting applied to any market, alarm bells should start ringing. For those who can’t remember much from their High School Economics classes (let’s be honest, who can?), competition between producers and suppliers is the key ingredient in any healthy economy. As long as retailers are competing for your patronage, prices are kept as low as is sustainable, and quality and customer service are givens – after all, if Clothing Store X is too expensive or has dickish staff, you could always take your business to Clothing Store Y across the street. Clothing Store X doesn’t want that, and so they do their best not to give you a reason to switch.

If you’re feeling slightly detached from just how devastatingly retarded a non-competitive market can be, take a look at your ADSL bill for a second. Feel like you’re being robbed? If you’re on Telkom, it’s probably because you are. Want to know why that is? Because the majority of you are on Telkom – even if they aren’t your ISP, your ISP most likely buys their bandwidth from them, because no one else is in the ADSL market competing with Telkom’s service provision. That’s why they can charge exorbitant prices and stifle the development of the South African internet infrastructure while still commanding your business. That’s why you need competition in a market.

At this point you’re probably doubting my sanity – after all, the console market is competitive, isn’t it? In the sense that we aren’t being robbed utterly blind and that is isn’t a monopoly, maybe (although the point about robbery will surely be contested by some). But a competitive market doesn’t just consist of both sides trying to not utterly fail – it is dynamic. There’s forward progression, one-upmanship and both sides trying to give you as the consumer more reason to buy from them than their competitor. In that sense, the console market far more accurately represents a warzone than a field of competition.

After all, what really distinguishes the consoles apart from their identically zealous followings of indoctrinated fanboys who’ll spend their dying breath telling you that their choice is better because Xbox is just cooler, ok?

Seriously. I bought a console over the holidays, and my deciding factor was the controller. I think the 360 controller looks nicer. When we’re at that level of similarity, with neither side making any real attempt to distinguish their console from the other, I think it’s fair to say that a small injection of competition wouldn’t hurt things.

What console users need from the next generation is not nearly as tangible as something like increased processing power or live streaming, no matter how nice those things are. What they (or, I suppose, we) need is for the Microsoft and Sony to stop worrying about falling behind because they don’t have a particular feature (and so constantly stagnating the market by incessantly copying each other) or losing their edge by implementing an unpopular feature (and so never introducing any features drastic enough to make consumers want to switch to them).

Features and functionality aren’t the only way they can do it, either – some business-level badassery could definitely do some good, too. Cast your minds back a few years, to when MWeb made the ridiculously bold move of offering uncapped internet for under R200 – while the rest of their competition was still working on an overpriced pay-per-gig basis.

I’m sure those who were around for that will agree that saying South African internet was revolutionised by MWeb’s decision. Sure, their profit margins weren’t quite the same, but they got so damn much business that it honestly didn’t matter a whip – and there’s no reason Microsoft or Sony can’t do a similar thing.

Either through lowering royalties (and thus decreasing the sale price of games) or through lowering the profit margin on the console itself, they can take a short-term financial hit and get a whole tonne of new, loyal business from gamers whose craft has just become a whole lot more affordable.

Naturally I’m taking a rather simplistic view of economics and the corporate machinations of console producers, but the underlying point is what I’m trying to get at here: no matter what new feature you want to see in the next generation of consoles, it won’t compare a whip to the kind of change in industry we’ll see if Microsoft and Sony start to actively try and attract your business, as opposed to just keep it.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: There Are No Girls In Gaming http://egmr.net/2013/01/a-gamers-perspective-there-are-no-girls-in-gaming/ http://egmr.net/2013/01/a-gamers-perspective-there-are-no-girls-in-gaming/#comments Mon, 28 Jan 2013 09:00:40 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=111235 Apparently the issue of girls in the gaming world is becoming a pretty big thing nowadays. I suppose that makes sense, in the same way that when you belong to […]

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Apparently the issue of girls in the gaming world is becoming a pretty big thing nowadays. I suppose that makes sense, in the same way that when you belong to an Amish community raising a barn is a big thing. Seriously, you’d think people with some of the world’s most sophisticated and engaging entertainment mediums at their fingertips would find something better to do with their time.

Evidently not.

The topic of girls in gaming is certainly not a big thing, and it isn’t even a medium-sized thing. In fact, it’s a pretty freaking small thing. As in, the state of Israel could pretty easily dwarf it kind of small.

A lot of people (mostly male, mind you) like to make quite the hullabaloo about how girls aren’t represented enough in the gaming world and we need to bring more girls into gaming communities and all that sort of stuff. Personally, I couldn’t really care less what proportion of gamers are girls, and when it comes down to it I think it’s pretty arbitrary to put so much weight on an issue like gender representation in gaming. Just because there aren’t as many girls as guys who actively game doesn’t mean that there’s anything we need to change, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the gaming community is inherently sexist.

After all, gaming is the sort of hobby which appeals more to guys than girls. FACT. Not sexism, the recognition of a non-arbitrary distinction. It follows, then, that there would be more guys than girls doing it. There isn’t much of an uproar about the lack of male crochet classes, and personally I’m perfectly alright with that. I think most of society is, too.

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons why we are encouraged to make a fuss of girls who game. Firstly, to make more girls start gaming, and in doing so make the gaming world less ‘sexist’, and secondly, to make gaming more hospitable towards the fairer sex.

Naturally, both are wrong.

The first one, when you put a bit of thought to it, is actually a tad ironic, in that it itself is sexist. If we’re really passionate about gaming, doesn’t it make sense for us to try and bring people into the community irrespective of their gender? Non-biologically speaking, what makes girls so different that we want more of them specifically in gaming? If your approach is from a biological standpoint, well, you’re just being creepy.

How is this sexism? On basic principles, sexism (or any ‘-ism’, really) is when you let a contextually arbitrary factor (like gender) affect the way you view and relate to people. Not to mention that we might well be pissing off the feminists a bit here by presuming to be make a place for them in the gaming community, instead of allowing them to create their own.

(Did I just commit arson on my own column? This ought to be fun!)

Making girls more welcome in the gaming community sounds a lot more reasonable, until we examine the specifics of how that actually works out. Make no mistake, I’ll be the first to condemn the bigoted idiocy one sees far too often online whenever a girl (well, ‘a girl’) logs on to a Call of Duty server or shows her face in an unsavoury comments section, but I don’t think that making a huge fuss of all the girls who have managed to survive online gaming and game discussion is the way to overcome the aforementioned bigoted idiocy.

Said idiocy only exists because girls are regarded as different and uncommon, after all – if seeing girls online were the norm, they wouldn’t be exposed to even half the amount of abuse they are currently. The best way to bring an end to the bigoted idiocy, then?

Well, there are two. First and most obviously, call out the puerile offender for the prick he is. Hurl abuses at him like unmanned American drones hurling rockets on Afghan villages; that way, if you don’t shut him up outright you at least shift the focus to you instead of the original victim.

Secondly, we need to focus on making being a female gamer less of an anomaly. This means that bringing special attention to girls in the gaming world is probably going to slow the process of assimilating the fairer sex into gaming – after all, we only make a fuss of the unusual, right? “Male gamer wins DoGaming’s StarCraft 2 competition” would make for a pretty uninteresting title, because what the hell else would you expect? By extension, then, why on earth would we care about his gender?

This is the place common opinion needs to reach for girls to truly have a secure place in the gaming community – not that they should be helped, idolised or ostracised, but rather that we honestly don’t care about whether they’re male or female as much as the fact that they’re a gamer.

Disclaimer: Yes, this column was inspired by a recent article posted on LazyGamer. Yes, I am disagreeing with an aspect of their ethos, which inspired that article. That doesn’t mean I’m firing the opening barrages of a flame war with them – goodness me, anything but. This is civilised society, we’re all adults here (well, not really, but roll with it). If I can’t contribute to a rational discussion by presenting an opposing point of view, the gaming scene in South Africa must be in a truly alarming state.

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Preview: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm http://egmr.net/2013/01/preview-starcraft-ii-heart-of-the-swarm/ http://egmr.net/2013/01/preview-starcraft-ii-heart-of-the-swarm/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 11:15:27 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=110403 When we last left Jim Raynor, life seemed to be going pretty well for him. The alien horde was defeated, he’d just popped a game straight into the face of […]

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When we last left Jim Raynor, life seemed to be going pretty well for him. The alien horde was defeated, he’d just popped a game straight into the face of Tychus Findlay (that slimy bastard) and he’d even managed to get the girl. Not long after that heroic walk into the sunset, though, the honeymoon period ends and Kerrigan decides that instead of thanking Jimmy-R profusely for rescuing her like the ridiculous badass he is, he’ll have to find someone else to walk into the sunset with. In a classic show of female gratitude she breaks out of the Hyperion, nullifying pretty much everything Raynor did in Wings of Liberty in the process, and leaves him to twiddle his thumbs while she heads off to murder Arcturus Mengsk. These events set the stage upon which the main events of the Heart of the Swarm campaign take place.

Bitches be crazy.

Name: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Players: 1-8
Platforms: PC
Developers: Blizzard Entertainment
Publishers: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: 12 March 2013
Price: $40 (R300-R350)

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Heart of the Swarm is the first expansion (not counting Wings of Liberty, because that’d be weird) released for Blizzard’s sequel to the roaring success which was Starcraft: Brood War. On those grounds, I’m going to write this preview under the assumption that you’ve played the first game and have the vaguest idea of what on earth (or, in Korpulu, as the case may be) is going on in the series. If you haven’t got any idea what’s going, and aren’t sure if you should buy StarCraft II to get one, let me make it simple for you: do it.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how this preview is going to go down. I’ll speak briefly about the singleplayer to start off with, but the majority of my attention is going to be on the multiplayer, seeing as that’s where the majority of the game’s focus is going to be. I’ll also touch briefly on the community reception to the changes in Heart of the Swarm, as well as the reactions from the professional community.

For those not quite in the know, Starcraft II is going to consist of three installments: Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void. Wings of Liberty was, as we all know, the first one released, which featured a Terran-focused campaign. Legacy of the Void is going to be spotlighting the Protoss when it gets released, and in the interim Heart of the Swarm is (you guessed it) giving the Zerg a time to shine. As a committed member of the Swarm to the point where I have taken the initiative of making myself the self-appointed King of the Roaches, it goes without saying that I’m more than a little excited for this one. Let’s get to it, then.

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It seems as if Kerrigan is going to be the focus of the HotS campaign, as Raynor was for its predecessor. When Jimmy de-infested Kerrigan at the end of the first campaign, the zerg swarm fractured into numerous smaller factions, each ruled by a different Queen. Step one of your mission as Kerrigan will be to reunite the fragmented zerg swarm under your leadership as the Queen of Blades. Presumably, step two will be something along the lines of ‘use your stupidly large alien army to try and murder the crap out of Arcturus Mengsk’. It isn’t clear quite yet to what extent Kerrigan lost her powers when she reverted back to what appears to be humanity, but hopefully Blizzard will bless us with some shiny special abilities to make use of when we do get to take control of her.

Those who played the singleplayer for Wings of Liberty will remember that to keep things interesting (and perhaps make sure that the newbies didn’t get too overloaded at the start of the game), players were able to unlock new units and upgrades for their army. In a similar fashion, players will be able to unlock ‘evolutions’, which serve essentially the same purpose in that they allow you to upgrade the existing units you have (for example, one can evolve their zerglings into the infamous ‘grasshopperlings’) and get access to new units entirely (presumably the zerg units higher up their tech chain).

In terms of length, Blizzard has announced that Heart of the Swarm will consist of just twenty missions, which makes it about one-third shorter than WIngs of Liberty, which had twenty-nine. Some might look at this as a reduction in value-for-money, and while I didn’t think the first game’s campaign was particularly long, I don’t think a shorter campaign would detract from the overall quality of the game altogether that much. Starcraft isn’t the sort of game which would suffer from a shorter story (not all the missions from Wings of Liberty were essential to the main story – many were fluff), and may actually benefit from one. Real-Time Strategy games are, after all, not quite the same as other genres in that their singleplayer campaigns can become extremely monotonous as a result of the RTS mechanics which can slow the game down. The development team refers to the cutting of the story as “condensing the cool”, and I’m inclined to think this may be one of the rare occurrences where it could turn out for the best.

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Even if that wasn’t the case, though, I still don’t think you should let it dissuade you from taking a serious look at Heart of the Swarm, for the simple reason that this isn’t a game which you buy for the singleplayer. Nay, the reason the majority of Starcraft players buy the game (myself included) is for the multiplayer. So, let’s cut the nonsense, and get on to talking about that.

In terms of functionality changes, Heart of the Swarm will now feature a levelling system (?). In terms of changes we actually care about, players will now have the ability to resume a game from a replay file – if you want to play out a specific part of a game differently with a friend, or the connection drops in the middle of a game which you want to finish, this feature ought to come in mightily handy. The game is also trying to make itself more appealing to socially and casually-orientated players, through the use of both clan and groups features, making interaction and communication easier, as well as unranked matches, which pit you against players of the same skill level as you without giving you a ladder ranking, removing a significant amount of the ‘ladder stress’ which discourages many new players from keeping at the game.

What people are really looking forward to, however, are the new units and unit changes featured in Heart of the Swarm. With the Beta now out and new changes flowing in at a constant rate (and Blizzard’s ability to provide actually useful information being as stalwart as ever), it is quite difficult to find up-to-date, collated information on the upcoming unit changes. The best resource was (of course), the Wikipedia page, which combined information from a number of different Blizzard press releases, developer’s diaries and Dustin Browder blog posts. So, to save both of us the headache, I’m going to quote directly from the page:

Terran:

The Terran race was originally expected to feature two new units: the Shredder, and the Warhound. Internal testing revealed the Shredder was too flexible and powerful, and it was therefore replaced by widow mines, mobile spider mines that fire missiles at the target, causing splash damage. The Warhound had an autocast ability which launches missiles that target mechanical units. During the closed beta, Blizzard agreed with pro gamers that it does not work in its current state, and the Warhound was removed from the game. The Hellion will have a new battle mode added, which allows it to transform into a heavier and more powerful unit. In battle mode the Hellion will do increased damage but in an arc in front of it instead of in a line. The Ghost will have its “Cloak” ability changed to be a one-time cost for a time-based duration rather than a constant energy cost over time. Reactivating “Cloak” while calling down a nuke will not interrupt the nuke strike. The Battlecruiser gained a “Redline Reactor” upgrade which acted as a cooldown-based speed boost, instead, it will get an increase from 8 to 10 damage against ground. Lastly, the Reaper has its special building attack replaced by a passive health regeneration ability when out of combat, and also gains high-ground vision.

Protoss:

The Protoss Replicant has been cut due to its tendency to stifle unit diversity, but the Oracle and Tempest remain. The Oracle provides several abilities that are useful for harassment such as slowing time in a circle preventing units from escaping, granting vision of enemy buildings and stopping buildings from researching or producing. The Tempest’s role has changed since Blizzcon. While originally designed to provide large amounts of air splash damage, it is now an extreme long-range siege unit capable of hitting both the ground and air. A new caster called the Mothership Core has been added. The Mothership Core is a slow moving, flying unit that has three abilities. Purify allows a targeted Nexus to gain a single target, long range energy attack, similar to the Photon Cannon. Mass Recall targets a group of Protoss units anywhere on the map and teleports them to any one of your Nexi. Envision grants the mothership core detection. Once the Fleet Beacon has been constructed, the Mothership Core can transform into the Mothership.

Zerg:

Since Blizzcon, the Overseer has been re-added; the Viper and the Swarm Host also remain. The flying Viper has several abilities: “Blinding Cloud” which reduces all units’ range to 1, “Abduct” pulls a unit to the Viper’s location, and the “Consume” ability allows the Viper to regain energy by siphoning health from a friendly structure. The Swarm Host periodically spawns slow-moving units called Locusts when burrowed. Locusts have a ranged attack, and only hit ground. Ultralisks gain a “Burrow Charge” ability on a cooldown allowing them to quickly reach battle sites and the Hydralisk will have a researchable speed boost when traveling off-creep, once the Lair is built.

One piece of information not mentioned under the ‘Protoss’ section there which many gamers will be happy to hear is that the Carrier will be staying a part of the Protoss arsenal, despite Blizzard’s earlier plans to scrap it.

This clarification is indicative of the problem one encounters when commenting on the new units for Heart of the Swarm: very little (if anything) is set in stone. There have been innumerable balance changes during the Beta, and many, many deviations from the original unit announcements, to the point where it is clear that Blizzard mean what they say when they tell the community that the proposed changes aren’t final.

As such, it is difficult for anyone to make some sort of commentary which they consider valuable with confidence, because one word from Dustin Browder can make their entire expertly-argued case completely irrelevant. That said, the general consensus throughout the reveals and the Beta has been that (as EG.Machine explained in an interview regarding Heart of the Swarm a while ago) Terran is not being given diverse and viable enough options if the changes continue to go in the direction they appear to be. Strategies employed by Wings of Liberty Terrans (like Medivac drops), are still the better options over strategies which make use of the new Widow Mines, while the Hellbat is basically a glorified Hellion.

starcraft-2-heart-of-the-swarm-new-units

In terms of community response to Heart of the Swarm, it is difficult to say whether or not it will catch on in the long-term over Wings of Liberty, but we can certainly expect a surge of popularity in it in the short-term, and whether that surge becomes a sustained support-base will depend significantly on the quality and balance of the final release itself.

In terms of the professional circuit, one must remember that pro’s are motivated by opportunity as well as interest. It is impossible to say for the moment whether Heart of the Swarm will win the definitive popularity contest over Wings of Liberty when it comes to tournament play, but we do know that if the fans demand HotS tournaments and the sponsorship exists (it has already begun, with Blizzard partnering with MLG to run Heart of the Swarm competitions) then the pro’s will go where the support and money is.

Regardless of what happens in the community and professional scene, this is a game you definitely don’t want to miss out on if you’re a Strategy fan, and will most probably not regret playing even if you aren’t. The Beta for the game (read: multiplayer) is currently live, and you can obtain a key if you pre-order the game. If you aren’t sure whether or not it might be your thing, check out some of the live streams over at TeamLiquid and some of numerous YouTube videos out there showcasing the game.

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Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm will release on March 12 of this year, for PC only (you need a copy of Wings of Liberty to play it) and will be priced at around $40 (~R300-350). It is currently available for pre-order, and if you order you will receive a key for the Beta, redeemable immediately.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: 2012 Retrospective http://egmr.net/2013/01/a-gamers-perspective-2012-retrospective/ http://egmr.net/2013/01/a-gamers-perspective-2012-retrospective/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 09:00:24 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=109084 2012 was a pretty memorable year no matter whose pants you were wearing. I’m not entirely sure how the ownership of your currently-employed pants would change your experiential perspective, which […]

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2012 was a pretty memorable year no matter whose pants you were wearing. I’m not entirely sure how the ownership of your currently-employed pants would change your experiential perspective, which is probably why that sentence made sense (if you’ve got any suggestions, do feel free to keep them to yourself).

Osama Bin Laden got shot in the face, life was discovered on Mars, Half-Life 3 still didn’t get confirmed and the only thing hit harder than Japan by a wave was good literature everywhere by the explosive success of EL Stine’s Fifty Shades of Grey. At the same time as all of this (well, roughly speaking – that didn’t happen that slowly), the barely recognizable remains of My Life emerged from below the wreckage of nigh-on a year of intensive* StarCraft, dragging the mangled remains of my social life behind it in a very Triangle Head-esque fashion, all the while slurring “Aah aynt durrn weeth yew yeht,” in an extremely convincing yet completely incongruent Southern accent.

*Some would say ‘excessive’. They should go back to collecting stamps and reading Jane Austen novels.

Much to my parents’ delight and my dismay, it was a battle I lost. Listed under the Terms of Surrender (which I could nothing but assent to) was my transition from a self-styled ‘hardcore gamer’ to low-class, impure-blooded, misled, uninformed, puppy-killing, common, all-around degenerate, SIXAXIS-wielding*, peon-esque heathen. Also known as a *shudders* casual gamer.

*I didn’t, and still don’t own a Playstation of any description, but if I don’t take a swipe at the consolefags at least once per column people are going to start thinking I’ve gone soft.

Circumstance forced me down from 10-20 hours of gaming per week to an average of the same amount every month. And that was in a good month. Those who followed my columns last year will know that I spent many of them talking about the mechanics of entertainment: what affects how much we enjoy the games we play, and how we can get more out of them. Stuff like the conversion ratio between time spent and enjoyment attained, psychological factors (like preconceived notions of a game) affecting how much we actually end up getting out of a particular game and other such nonsense. These were all the brainchildren of me being forced to fundamentally reconsider what I needed to do in order to get the most out of my now significantly diminished gaming time.

This re-analysis of the fundamental principles underlying how I went about one of my favourite pastimes was the first contributing factor to me having such a damned good time with the games I did get the chance to play this year. The second was more circumstantial than deliberate.

Because my gaming sessions became so much fewer and further between (with me hardly playing at all during the first half of the year), when I did get the chance to sit down, put my records headphones on and jam, my sessions were inspired by a never-before-experienced sense of wonder. Not the childlike wonder of initial discovery which takes place the first time you ride a bike, taste your favourite food or see Cavie’s head photoshopped onto a picture of Master Chief; more the wonder which comes of rediscovery, and often during my unadulterated thrill at one barely-believable feature of a game or another I felt likened to the wizened old man who thought he’d seen it all exclaiming in stuttered disbelief to his grandson: “You’re telling me I can point this thingamajig here, click this doo-uh-muh-hicky and sever multiple limbs from his torso?”

Yes, I came to realise, yes I bloody well could.

Counter-intuitive though it may seem given how little time I had to play, 2012 was (despite my initial presuppositions) one of my personal best years in gaming to date, and for that reason I’d like to share some of my personal highlights from it with you. As ever, I more than encourage you to respond in kind.

Dead Space

This game first caught my eye in a NAG review a few years back when they gave it a 90/100. This was before Azhar converted me to the Engineering Honours Student’s review creed (no numbers), so I figured that meant it was pretty good. Needless to say, when I saw it go on sale on Steam I got a little bit more interested and then, well… we’ve all been there.

This was my first outing into the horror genre, and as such I was about as sceptical of a game’s ability to be ‘scary’ as you might expect (that is, too sceptical). I closed the door, shut the blinds and donned my headphones, eager to put myself out of my comfort zone.

About fifteen minutes in, I was walking the ghostlighted (ghostlit?) corridors of the Ishimura like any good engineer would be doing in my situation, yet to encounter anything even vaguely resembling an enemy (outside of a cutscene, that is). I distinctly remember thinking “Hey, this isn’t too bad. That reviewer must’ve been a pussy!” precisely three seconds before a necromorph burst out of the wall behind me and took a healthy bite out of my collarbone before I even had time to yell, “That’s an unwelcome invasion of my personal space!”

Pants were shat and curtains were swiftly opened. I kept the door closed, though, to muffle my screams.

It’s difficult to fault a game where you get to shoot, hack and otherwise part the limbs off of such undeniably deserving creatures as Necromorphs, with heavy industrial ordinance. And I’m not about to try. Apart from the sheer gore-tastic awesomeness, the scene construction was the other aspect of the game which really stuck out to me. The game doesn’t just use events and narrative to put you on edge and scare the crap out of you; musical score, lighting and ambient noises are combined in a truly artful display of scene-creation genius to make the audible and visual environment significant contributors to the game’s (already significant) scare factor.

All in all, Dead Space is a pretty frightening game. Despite that, I think you could get away with playing it by yourself – perhaps even at night. You should be able to rationalise away fear of Necromorphs alright if you’re on planet earth, after all. If you’ve got a trip to space planned any time soon, however, don’t flipping touch it unless you want to be soiling your pants all the way from here to Mars (that would create the wrong kind of curiosity, if you know what Amien).

Borderlands 2

Suffice to say, the relationship between the original Borderlands and me was comparable to The Notebook on steroids. Sure, it had about as much story as a $2.99 erotica eBook, but what is love if not the ability to be blind to the faults of another? The addictive shoot-and-loot gameplay, Lilith, excellently integrated drop-in/drop-out multiplayer and, of course, Lilith provided more than enough glare for me to be able to be blind to those faults. When Borderlands really caught my attention, though, was when Gearbox released the first pieces of DLC. What blew my mind about them was the fact that, contrary to popular industry practice, Gearbox had listened to their community and actually tried to fix their mistakes. The Secret Armoury of General Knoxx was probably the crowning achievement of their DLC offerings, giving the consumer not only a legitimately interesting story which still retained the quirks Borderlands was now renowned for, as well as bazillions upon bazillions of guns (DAE dat armoury?).

By setting a precedent which already puts them head-and-joystick above the rest of their competition, Gearbox had my interest from the announcement of Borderlands 2, so much so that I actually pre-ordered the game (my first and only pre-order to date).

It didn’t take long for me to realise I was in love; as soon as I got the call from Handsome Jack telling me he’d named his horse (Butt Stallion) after me, I was besotted. Those who’ve played the game will know exactly what I’m talking about, and those who haven’t, well, what the hell are you doing not playing it? I don’t care if you have to sell an appendage on the black market to do it, don’t come back until you’ve played that game.

Borderlands 2 was a memorable experience for me from beginning to end, but what really made the game for me was the multiplayer. Seriously, good multiplayer interfaces are depressingly few and far between these days, but Borderlands 2 has one of the most user friendly ones I’ve come across in a long time. And you’re definitely going to want to use it – Borderlands 2 is pretty freaking good on its own, but with a co-op team it becomes, well, about a bazillion times better (a notable example which springs to mind was me unwittingly driving myself and a friend off a cliff into the sea which served as the border of the map. We died, and for the next five minutes all that could be heard in the TeamSpeak channel was our distorted, frighteningly girlish laughter).

Overall, Borderlands 2 was probably one of the best (in terms of being the most ideal) sequels the gaming world has ever seen. It stayed true to the original game in terms of keeping the good gameplay aspects (excellent multiplayer design, addictive lootgrabbing, crazy enemies and its own unique brand of humour and insanity) and improved on it where necessary (adding a freaking storyline, adding a freaking storyline and adding a freaking storyline). When you think about it, that’s pretty much everything you need from a sequel.

The only criticism I can raise against Gearbox’s second instalment to their flagship series is the one seriously implausible aspect of the plot [SPOILER ALERT!]: Lilith would never get with Roland. She’s already engaged to me.

DayZ

If you’re searching for more proof that the rest of the eGamer staff are full-blown psychopaths (though I don’t know why you’d need it, to be honest), you need look no further than the fact that none of them have played DayZ.

Arma II (the game on which DayZ runs) has been on the Steam Top Selling list for pretty much forever (well, since DayZ released, at least), so I don’t know how on Earth you wouldn’t have heard of it. In case you’ve had your head in the dirt for the last six or so months, here’s how it works:

You log on to the server. You spawn. It’s the Zombie Apocalypse. You have to survive. There are zombies. Many zombies. Occasionally, you find other players. You pick up weapons for when you need to murder the anus out of the aforementioned players and zombies. If they happen to murder the crap out of you instead, you die. When you respawn, you’ve lost it all – every single bit of gear you’d collected on your previous character. Sound harsh? You’re a pussy.

Some would criticise the game’s lack of an overall objective – they’d be idiots. The freedom to do whatever the hell you want without worrying about lost experience points or quest progress is probably one of the game’s greatest assets. Whether you’re going solo or are part of a group, you get completely sucked into whatever it is you want to do. Maybe you’ve decided you’re going to find a vehicle and raid one of the Northern Airfields for better weapons; maybe some prick murdered your last character and you’re on a vendetta to murder him sideways, or maybe you just wanted to help bambis (new players) learn to get by in this dog-eat-dog world of zombie-infested fantasticness. Whatever it is, you will find yourself immersed in it like no game you’ve played before (immersion being the mother of true entertainment, as we all know). In addition to that, the game’s harsh, unforgiving nature is a breath of fresh air in the hand-holding, checkpoint-saturated world of contemporary gaming we now live in, and the game thrives all the more for it.

If this is all sounding like an inventive way to emotionally torture yourself, you haven’t spotted the converse yet; sure, defeats suck in DayZ – losing all your hard-earned gear when you die is bleak, being betrayed by players who originally told you they were ‘Friendly’ sucks and sometimes the amount of time it takes to find a weapon convinces you that the game is intentionally torturing you, but all the high stakes really mean is when you do achieve something your mind is blown by the savour of your victory. A seamless airfield raid where you’re rewarded with that oh-so-elusive AS50 makes you feel like the most unequivocal badass in all of known history; finally giving that son of a gun bandit what he had coming is the sweetest taste of justice you’re ever likely to have, and the feeling of sheer accomplishment that comes of driving away in the vehicle you and your friends spent the last six hours finding the parts to fix, dying three times each in the process is one I’d take over winning the lottery without hesitation.

As a friend reminded me during the draft stages of this column, DayZ is the game I turned to when I was bedridden for a week after tearing the ligaments in my ankle, and after forty hours of play over three days all I wanted was more. I was sure of it before, but with that anecdote in mind I’m twice as resolute on the fact that DayZ is the most deserving choice for Game of the Year, 2012.

2012 may not have been of the same calibre as 2007, or as ridiculously triple-A filled as November 2011, but it was a year I’m extremely glad I didn’t die during nonetheless.

(Does it look like I care that DayZ is a mod?)

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A Gamer’s Perspective: Why Treyarch Is Getting It Wrong http://egmr.net/2012/12/a-gamers-perspective-why-treyarch-is-getting-it-wrong/ http://egmr.net/2012/12/a-gamers-perspective-why-treyarch-is-getting-it-wrong/#comments Mon, 17 Dec 2012 09:00:37 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=106300 Treyarch and I met at a special time in my life. By the time Call of Duty: World at War (Treyarch’s first release in the CoD series) came around, I […]

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Treyarch and I met at a special time in my life. By the time Call of Duty: World at War (Treyarch’s first release in the CoD series) came around, I had just discovered that I could play its predecessor, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, online. With other people. Needless to say, it very quickly began to get pride of place in my heart, as well as in my daily time allocation. Before long, it had become a far better love story than Twilight could ever hope to be, and when November of 2008 arrived there was only one question on my lips: how on Earth would Treyarch be able to top this masterpiece?

The answer, of course, was that they didn’t. World at War was the inferior game in almost all aspects. It did have one thing which its forerunner lacked, though. Namely: mothertrucking innovative genius, which came in the form of its Zombie Mode. Initially meant as a simple post-credits, “Well done for completing the game” minigame, it quickly became the centrepiece of the game for many fans, serving as the sole motivation for more than a few gamers’ purchases of the product (mine included). The addition of the Zombies Mode was undoubtedly what made World at War into the legitimate addition to the series which it was (as opposed to a simple World War 2-era Modern Warfare clone), and was also responsible for giving Treyarch the near-superstar status which it attained as a studio.

That’s when things started to go wrong.

Developers need to be kept on short leashes. Very short leashes. Not even those winch-type leashes where you can let a little bit out at a time and then pull it back in later, either, ’cause if that mofo starts running away from you, you don’t have a hope in hell of bringing that shiz back in. That’s a bit of a digression, though. The point is this: sure, we can rewards devs with a compliment here or a pat on the back there, and maybe even a a favourable review somewhere else, but we mustn’t start idolising them, because the way they respond to that kind of praise is they start to think that they know what they’re doing.

“Hang on a sec’,” you think, “don’t they kind’ve know what they’re doing? I mean, isn’t that what they’re paid for?”

Wrong. Developers are paid to construct games. They code, they design, they write, they playtest, they refine and, eventually, they release. Don’t think for a second that that means they have the faintest idea of what works and what doesn’t in a game. That’s something only the consumer (well, the majority of consumers) understands.

Think about it: did Infinity Ward know how big an impact Call of Duty 4 was going to have? Of course they spoke positively about their expectations of and hopes for the game (balls. I just lost it), but that’s more bravado for marketing’s sake than anything else. The question is, did they really comprehend just how big a splash CoD4 was going to make in the gaming world? Blizzard also spoke positively about their expectations for Diablo III (which is probably more evidence for my case that devs really don’t know what’s going on), and we saw how well that turned out. So, sure, IW said they thought their game was going to be kinda okay, but Vince Zampella wasn’t exactly standing on tables yelling: “GET THE CAMERAS ROLLING, MOFO’S! THIS THING’S GONNA SELL SO WELL IMMA BE ABLE TO PUT A DIAMOND-STUDDED SWIMMING POOL INSIDE MY DIAMOND-STUDDED SWIMMING POOL!” Which I wager he would have been if they’d known how great an impact it was going to have. Heck, I’d have been pretty excited.

Similarly, I would argue that Treyarch had very little idea just how popular their Zombie Mode was going to be. To them, it was just a tacked-on extra, not worth mentioning in any pre-release interviews to try and generate more pre-orders or anything like that, because it wasn’t what they saw the game being about. To them, you would buy World at War for its engaging singleplayer and holistic multiplayer experience.

Lol.

Broadly speaking, then, if developers produce something which is received extremely well by their communities it is for one of two reasons: either, they took the community’s advice to heart and used it to discern which aspects of their game to refine or leave out, and which aspects need to be added (as with Borderlands 2 earlier this year), or they unwittingly created something which the consumer really freaking digs (Zombie Mode). That isn’t to say that they aren’t trying to make a good product – of course they are – but I’m talking about the kind of success that breaks sales records and has gamers crying at developers’ feet. Developers don’t see that coming, and don’t know the formula to get to it (unless they’re told by their communities, of course). Why? Because the game’s success is based on whether or not the community likes it, and because the developer’s judgement is hopelessly impaired, most of them don’t have a hope in hell of putting themselves in the shoes of their community.

Problems develop when devs stumble upon something successful and start thinking that they have a clue what’s going on. Their logic is that if they made something which the community likes then they must know what the community likes. That’s flawed, because it was more accidental success than a deliberate action taken as a result of deep insight into their communities, but it exists in numerous developers nonetheless – Treyarch being the example I’m highlighting in this particular column.

This false perception of their own insight on the part of the developer gives them the confidence to take steps in game construction which they would usually only take if they had the assurance of the community that they want Feature X or Option Y in their game. It is important to remember that developers are usually cautious when it comes to changing the functionality of a game unless they’re confident that the community will like it – either because the community has told them so, or because they’re deluded enough to think they know what the community wants.

Usually when adding a new feature (as with Zombies) and not entirely certain about it, devs will throw it in as an optional. A, “Hey, the main game’s over there, but if you’re feeling adventurous there’s this cool thing over here too. Not forcing you into anything though, bro. Your call,” sort of thing. Incidentally, Google is also really good at this sort of thing. Most of you – certainly those who use Gmail – will probably know what I mean. When they’re trying something new – interface, connectivity, functionality, whatever – they give you the option of using it, or the option of using the pre-existing system which you’re used to. Then they ask for feedback – did you like the new one? Why are you still using the old one? Anything we could or should change? They don’t force you into anything, and certainly don’t presume that they know better than you what’s best for you.

The problem, dear reader, is that somewhere along the line Treyarch came under the illusion that they had a clue, and now their community suffers for it. The issue I want to highlight in particular is that of the PC-based multiplayer. For some reasons unknown to anyone but Bobby Kotick, Call of Duty started moving away from dedicated server-based multiplayer with Modern Warfare 2, and Treyarch thought it would be a good idea to follow suit.

Interested in the game after reading Cavie’s review, I did a bit of research on the multiplayer (wary of having to deal with another fiasco like Modern Warfare 3) and to my horror found that Black Ops 2 would use a very similar matchmaking service for its multiplayer (and no publicly available dedicated server software). Beside myself with rage, I set out to find what possible justification Treyarch could have for such idiocy. Their main reasoning was to provide a more ‘fair’ playing experience: with all of the server control in their hands, they could more easily deal with cheaters and clamp down on hacking. Sounds like a noble undertaking for a developer, right?

Wrong.

You see, Treyarch made the fatal mistake of thinking that they had a clue. They heard vague whisperings of complaints about hackers, cheaters, campers and the like and somehow got it in their skulls that it was somehow their responsibility to deal with that. Protip for developers: don’t overstep your boundaries. You provide us with the tools of entertainment (a game), but you don’t decide how we use it. If we hack, we hack. If we cheat, we cheat. Stop being so damned bitchy over your intellectual property, and if hacking and cheating becomes an issue then give us the dedicated server tools and admin commands to deal with it ourselves. [/rant]

The bottom line: Treyarch got overconfident to the point where it thought it knew what gamers wanted so well that it was bold enough to slash a huge part of the multiplayer experience away, only to leave their community with a lot of animosity and a much worsened multiplayer experience with which to justify it. We don’t want developers to come to that point, because it means we have to endure more such idiocy. A good developer, a developer we like never removes functionality without the go-ahead of its community, and adds features tentatively and only optionally.

Merry Christmas.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: The PC Vs Console Rant http://egmr.net/2012/12/a-gamers-perspective-the-pc-vs-console-rant/ http://egmr.net/2012/12/a-gamers-perspective-the-pc-vs-console-rant/#comments Mon, 03 Dec 2012 11:00:51 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=105074 As some of you are hopefully aware, this column marks the end of my month-long period of absence from the wondrous internet-oasis of critical gaming discussion that is eGamer. As […]

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As some of you are hopefully aware, this column marks the end of my month-long period of absence from the wondrous internet-oasis of critical gaming discussion that is eGamer. As you can no doubt guess, my absence from the site was a product of the dreaded life, universe and gaming-sink which is the fourth term final exams. My return from the already overly graphic bowels of this abhorrent has two distinct implications: firstly, like a stream of bat piss in a cave, my youthful exuberance comes as a shining beam of gold to inject new life into the tired shell of eGamer (as well as mix together what would appear to be a minimum of six metaphors in the space of a single sentence). Secondly, I have enough pent-up angst and frustration to serve as the inspiration for at least two full-length My Chemical Romance albums. Though not nearly as poetic as the first, it is the second implication which is going to be most directly relevant to us, because this column is going to be my primary outlet for that angst. Along with a veritable host of soon-to-be-dead virtual, humanoid things, of course.

My intended victim for this week was to be Treyarch (don’t you worry, they’ll get what’s coming to them next time), but in going through a few of the articles on the site from the last few weeks I found an issue which is not only equally as deserving of my critical attention, but which is also significantly easier to deal with (an important factor to consider, given that my brain is still attempting to recover its functionality after The Physics Exam [*shudders*]). The issue at hand is, needless to say, the emergent rivalry between PC(rack)-heads and console fanboys.

Here’s the problem: by all faculties of logic and reason, there shouldn’t be this rivalry in the first place.

It’s an unfortunate byproduct of our inherently flawed human condition that we want so desperately to deal in absolutes; we struggle to accept that something can occupy an ambiguous grey area between good and bad. By and large, we like things to be quantifiable (that is, we want to be able to connect it to some kind of concrete understanding of value which we have). Review scores are a marvellous example of this in that they allow us to connect something rather arbitrary and subjective (the quality of a game) to something far more concrete and absolute (a number scale). In theory, absolute value judgements like review scores have their uses in that they make comparing two different things far, far easier. Can’t decide whether to get Medal of Honor or Call of Duty? MoH only got 70, whereas CoD got 90. Let’s pretend that you can actually numerically quantify a game’s quality numerically, and that that representation is a fair one (pretty big assumptions about issues that both I and other eGamer writers have dealt with extensively, but roll with me here). If this were the case, clearly you can deduce that CoD is the better game because it got 20 more points than Medal of Honor.

What happens when you want to compare Call of Duty to, say, StarCraft 2? You could go and look up review scores for both of them, and you would obviously find that StarCraft scores 5 points higher than CoD (because StarCraft is amazing), but can that comparison really be a guide for which game you’re going to buy? Comparing MoH to CoD is relatively fair, because they’re both shooter titles and the score will thus reflect (to a greater or lesser extent) which is the better shooter. StarCraft and CoD, however, come from two entirely different genres: if you aren’t an RTS fan, StarCraft may only seem like a 70 to you, while CoD could easily have been a 95. And vice versa, if your tastes are less shooter-inclined.

See the problem? Just because two things are comparable doesn’t mean you can definitively state which is better than the other. You could definitely attempt it and arrive at some sort of conclusion, but that conclusion isn’t going to be a very valuable one because your comparison is inherently subjective as a result of your personal biases and predispositions.

In the same way, PC and console should definitely be compared (after all, how would we make informed decisions about which to get if we didn’t?), but as soon as it goes to the point where we’re trying to say that one is objectively better than the other, there’s a problem.

The reason for this is that your reasoning behind gaming on a PC is very different to your reasoning for gaming on a console. Sure, at the end of the day you want to play games, but there are huge differences in upkeep, usability, customisation, community, game availability and a whole host of other factors which influence your decision making. A competitive gamer looking to get into the clan scene might opt for a PC, whereas a more casual gamer who just wants to shoot zombies with their mates every odd weekend would be far better suited to a console.

It goes without saying that a PC is better than a console in some areas, and that a console easily bests a PC in others, but hopefully you’re beginning to see the implication here: that is, if you try to claim that one is objectively better than the other, you’re utterly retarded.

So, with me having now established that the consolefags will begin leaving the PC Master Race in peace (I kid, I kid), the only other approach to this conflict which I need to deal with is the attack not on the system itself, but on the community which swears by it.

PC gamers suck because they all whine, consolefags are all noobtubers; you know what I’m talking about. I don’t have much to say to this side of the debate, except to wish those who partake in it luck at the ethnic cleansing in Darfur and hope they enjoy the witch-burning next time they catch a woman out of the kitchen.

Seriously, people. There are whiners, dicks and newbies in every community. You’re severely deluded if you think your powers of perception are at all remarkable because you have the capacity to point that out.

The point of this column is not to get us all sitting around the same campfire, holding hands and singing kumbaya. I’m as much a fan of debate as the next guy (probably more so, to be honest), but there comes a point where we need to start drawing lines about which debates we actually have. This is such a point, and the line follows thus:

Just because PCs and consoles are comparable doesn’t mean they’re competitive. Stop having the PC vs console debate, because it doesn’t exist.

Ktnxbai.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: Vault Hunters: Like Friends, Only Cooler http://egmr.net/2012/10/a-gamers-perspective-vault-hunters-like-friends-only-cooler/ http://egmr.net/2012/10/a-gamers-perspective-vault-hunters-like-friends-only-cooler/#comments Mon, 22 Oct 2012 09:00:44 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=100902 Some would say I’m only writing on Borderlands 2 because I’m a shameless view-whore. That’s not true at all — my literary promiscuity brings me enormous shame. On a serious […]

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Some would say I’m only writing on Borderlands 2 because I’m a shameless view-whore. That’s not true at all — my literary promiscuity brings me enormous shame.

On a serious note, though, I’ve been wanting to do a Borderlands 2-inspired piece for ages. Seeing as it’s pretty much the first game this year that I’ve actually looked forward to the release of, I figured it should occupy some kind of place of honour in my ramblings. I had originally planned to speak about what made Borderlands 2 an utterly mind-blowing sequel, but Cavie (that devilish bastard) beat me to it. He probably picked the idea up through our hive mind while I was busy defending his views on achievements.

That’s all good, though, because not only am I benevolent with my forgiveness (if I wasn’t this would probably be quite awkward for him to edit), but I also have the perfect excuse to talk exclusively about the aspect of gaming that Borderlands 2 really drove home to me: the awesomeness inherent to social gaming.

I should make clear from the outset that Borderlands 2 certainly wasn’t the first game I played with other people — not even the first game I played with the group I co-oped it with — but for some reason, it was the game that really opened my eyes to what I scarcely hesitate to call the power of social gaming (that is, playing games together with friends, for the purposes of this column).

I’ve spoken a lot recently about what we can do to get the most out of the time we put into gaming, and I’m honestly surprised that I didn’t bring this up sooner. When you think about it, being part of a group can have an enormous impact on how entertaining a particular experience is. Movies that when watched alone would bring only misery and a particularly nasty existential crisis brought on by the profound realisation of just how much your time is going to waste can suddenly become conducive to you and your friends enjoying your evening significantly more as you collectively rip it off and laugh at how painfully appalling it is. The sword cuts both ways, of course — by the same merit, being in a group can turn things like making fun of someone, which you’d never enjoy if you just did it on your own, gratifying and entertaining.

We aren’t going to be focusing on that side of things, though. There’s enough to be depressed about in the world already.

The point I’m getting at here is that we’re social beings. Introvert or extrovert, there is an enormous amount of gratification which comes when you feel as if you are being accepted into a group and both strengthening and creating your emotional ties and bonds with others.

So, what happens when we combine our innate reward mechanism for social interaction with the already immensely entertaining experience of playing a game like Borderlands 2? Ridiculous amounts of awesome, that’s what.

As someone who played their first few hours of Borderlands 2 solo, and was pretty dead-set on getting through the campaign on my own before I went on to co-op, I can’t thank my friends enough for doggedly harassing me into joining them on their Pandoran adventure. It turned what would otherwise have been a mildly entertaining evening of singleplayer grinding (culminating in an appropriate, proper bedtime, of course) into a brolationship-solidifying sting of pure gaming-centric epicosity, filled to the brim with crippling bouts of laughter triggered by events as trivial as accidentally driving a car over a cliff which extended long into the early hours of the morning.

Gaming socially allows us to experience a game in dimensions of depth that would otherwise be entirely unavailable to us, the presence of the disembodied voices of our friends in our headsets creating a sense of immersion which the game on its own could simply never achieve.

My encouragement, then, is as simple as this column is short: satisfy the innermost cravings of your being. If you’ve done it before, don’t forget to keep reminding yourself how it feels. If you haven’t and don’t know where to start, us eGamer guys would be more than willing to supply you with the company you require. Just as long as at the end of the day, this isn’t a stone you’ve left unturned.

And yes, I was still talking about social gaming.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: The Achievement Debate http://egmr.net/2012/10/a-gamers-perspective-the-achievement-debate/ http://egmr.net/2012/10/a-gamers-perspective-the-achievement-debate/#comments Mon, 08 Oct 2012 09:00:04 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=99527 There’s been a lot of back and forth recently around the issue of achievements in games, centering around the question of whether or not they should really be considered achievements. […]

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There’s been a lot of back and forth recently around the issue of achievements in games, centering around the question of whether or not they should really be considered achievements. It all started when Cavie made an argument for why simply completing a game should be considered an achievement. Imran responded in a subsequent column, arguing that not only are achievements in games meaningless, but perceiving them any differently can actually cause tangible harms as well. I haven’t quite decided what the absolute answers to any of the questions raised by these arguments are yet, so instead of providing you with the gospel truth of Achievements, I’m going to further the debate not only by playing devil’s advocate, but also provide some clarity and context for the debate to take place in.

As pretty much any female hip with her RomComs and chick-flicks can tell you, clarity is always better sooner rather than later, so we’ll start there.

The first thing that’s been pretty lacking in this debate so far is a recognition of some characteristics intrinsic to real-life achievements. More specifically, I think Imran failed to recognise that achievements are both scalar and contextual.

If you’ve heard of physics, you’ll know that if a measurement is ‘scalar’ it has a magnitude. You’ll probably also know that I’m bastardising the term mercilessly, but let’s ignore that. Essentially, if something has a magnitude it means that it has a value. So, to bring that home, achievements are not created equal. Some achievements are extremely impressive, while others are barely noteworthy. This is why self-mustardisation (the act of drowning oneself in mustard, as introduced to the world by Imran Amien. I lol’d) actually can be considered an achievement, for exactly the reasons he cites — it requires extraordinary self-control and, quite frankly, sourcing that much mustard is an achievement all on its own. It is an achievement, just not a particularly worthwhile one.

Now, Imran did say that (Immo, my brother, feel free to correct me if I misunderstood you here) for something to be considered an achievement, it needs to be worthwhile, but I’m not sure if I buy that, either — climbing Mount Everest, for example, has very little practical benefit to make it worthwhile (perhaps with the exception of frostbite, and an AMAZING conversation-starter), and yet can’t be considered anything but an achievement.

In addition to their scalarity (flip, that sounds cool), achievements are contextual. If I were to tell you that I typed this column, you probably wouldn’t be too impressed (at the fact that I physically typed it, that is — of course you’re impressed with this column). What if I told you that I didn’t have arms, though? Suddenly, I become a lot more hypothetically badass. Why? Because typing a column when you have hands is flippen easy, but typing one with your nose? Not so much. The same end product — a typed column — is reached by hypothetical armless Duncan and normal Duncan, yet it is significantly more of an achievement for my hypothetical counterpart than me.

What is difficult for one person may be a walk in the park for another (and vice versa), meaning that making generalised statements about what can and can’t be considered an achievement is very difficult.

With clarification out of the way, and (hopefully) some light shed on and questions asked around the criteria for what does and doesn’t constitute an achievement and Imran’s criteria therefor, let’s move on to the main question I was left asking after being presented with Imran’s harm argument; namely, “What’s the difference between being an achievement whore and a gamer?”.

Before you kids start rattling off a list along the line of “good looks, a winning personality, altruism” and “amazing hair”, let me explain. His argument was that by chasing what are (according to him) meaningless “achievements”, we spend time doing something worthless instead of worthwhile. But isn’t that what we do when we game anyway? If I play Borderlands 2 to get through the story, is the time I’ve spent any more worthwhile than if I’d been chasing achievements instead?

I would argue that it isn’t. Different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes. At the end of the day, we play games for entertainment (which is inherently worthwhile), and some people enjoy themselves by playing through an engaging story, while others enjoy themselves by getting another thousand points added to their Gamerscore. The same end goal is achieved, with negligible difference in the means of getting there. So, why is achievement-whoring dangerous when gaming in itself isn’t?

Like I said, I don’t have the answers (yet). I’m certainly not trying to pick a fight here, but it is a very interesting argument, and I can’t keep myself away from a good debate.

One thing is certain, though — the team still owes me the money they were going to use for my ticket to rAge. I’m not entirely sure what happened to it, but the answer probably lies in how Dean must have funded his booze for the weekend.

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A Gamer’s Perspective: How To Bugger Up a Review: Borderlands Edition http://egmr.net/2012/09/a-gamers-perspective-how-to-bugger-up-a-review-borderlands-edition/ http://egmr.net/2012/09/a-gamers-perspective-how-to-bugger-up-a-review-borderlands-edition/#comments Mon, 24 Sep 2012 09:00:42 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=97742 Gaming may be a harsh mistress at times, but she always gives a little when she takes. That’s why when I first heard that Borderlands 2 was delayed I didn’t […]

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Gaming may be a harsh mistress at times, but she always gives a little when she takes. That’s why when I first heard that Borderlands 2 was delayed I didn’t give up hope completely. I did a lot of crying, had some very intense conversations with inanimate objects and reached some even more frightening lows that not even I am prepared to share, but I clung to hope like a Midget Bandit to his disproportionately large shotgun, knowing that my faith would be rewarded. And, by the grace of Adam Najberg from the Wall Street Journal, it was.

You guys read my last column, right? Right. So you will, of course, know that in there I spoke in a highly theoretical sense about the potential for reviewers to bugger up their reviews by misconstruing the purpose of their review (that is, focusing on their own net experience of the game instead of the tools of entertainment which the game provides) and by letting their own opinions get involved. With my point pretty explicitly made, I was ready to drop it without pointing any fingers, and move on to whichever topic came my way next. Naj (we’re pretty much on nickname-basis now) just wouldn’t have it that way, though, so he went ahead and published this gem.

Bad, bad move, Naj.

You see, our dear friend would probably have gotten away scot-free had Borderlands 2 been delivered on its initial release date. Sure, he would still have desecrated the sanctity of the internet with one of the worst reviews in the history of FOREVER, but I would have been too busy playing Borderlands 2 to notice. As it happened, however, I did notice. And it made me mad. This so-called ‘video game journalist’, this scrub has the nerve, the audacity to tell me that I’m sitting knee-deep in an ocean of my own tears FOR NO GOOD REASON? Oh hay-ell no.

Stupid people are a serious issue in society, but usually we leave them to try and interlink the bumpy ends of the Duplo, and eagerly await the next CoD game, but when they start straying onto our turf is when the law has to be laid down.

To prefix all of this, I’m going to be doing a lot of shouting at Naj, which I hope you enjoy (I know I will), but I’m also going to be supplementing my previous column by analysing what he did wrong in this review so that we can get a fuller understanding of what we don’t do in a review.

Firstly, stop assuming you’re intelligent. Some of Naj’s first criticisms of the game are that its story is confusing and it has a disorientating amount of guns. The problem is that Naj is telling you about his experience – he was confused – instead of telling you about the game. Some people can do calculus during the flasback scenes in The Witcher 2, while others need to pause and take notes during cutscenes in Battlefield 3. A game that appeals is sold to a broad market, of which you (Random Reviewer X) probably aren’t in the elite of. The game has a complicated storyline which some might struggle to keep track of? Great. The vast array of guns mean that flavour is never lacking, but could be a bit overwhelming? Ten points. But please, don’t tell us that the game was objectively confusing, because all you’re really saying is that you were too dumb to follow and we should thus stop reading your review.

Secondly, don’t compare. The only time it might be a little bit acceptable is when a game has set itself up explicitly against another game – like Battlefield 3 did with Call of Duty last year. It isn’t the reviewer’s job to draw comparisons, because the reviewer’s interpretation of the game is only one of many. Some people play Borderlands for the looting, some for the graphical style and some for the action and shooting. Depending on what you’re playing a game for, your scope of comparison could differ enormously to another potential scope. By this merit, one type of comparison could portray a game in a much worse, or much better light than it otherwise would be. How does this relate to Naj’s review? Well, OF COURSE IF YOU COMPARE BORDERLANDS 2 TO COMPETITIVE SHOOTERS IT’S GOING TO LOOK LIKE A BAD GAME. Because it isn’t a competitive shooter. Call of Duty, incidentally, is a horrific point-and-click adventure game.

Thirdly, try not to make yourself look dumber than you already are. Saying that you had to look up the story of the original Borderlands on Wikipedia already makes alarm bells ring about your intelligence, but he also complained that he spent a lot of time looking in chests for ammo and money which he didn’t need yet. Take a second to think about that. He deliberately took the time to look through chests knowing full well that he didn’t need any of what he would find, and then blamed the game for his time wasted. That’s like blaming the lion at the zoo for eating your arm off after you stuck it through the bars, fully marinaded. Only dumber. It is unfortunate that the AI must be less impressive than he made it out to be, because it isn’t too great a surprise that this genius struggled to figure out how to outsmart a gaggle of bandits.

In terms of trying not to make yourself look stupid, I’d also suggest making sure that your conclusion lines up with, I don’t know, reality? Hang on, I’m actually going to quote this for you:

As a $30 impulse buy, priced about the same as games like “NASCAR Unleashed,” I wouldn’t have a problem recommending Borderlands 2 as a fun diversion. At twice that price, though, I think it’s fair for players to demand the whole magilla – cutting-edge development, engrossing campaign gameplay, scads of downloadable content, a rich social media/community experience, sharing of loot and gear and online multiplayer modes that keep you and your friends coming back until the next version of the game comes out.

Okay, cutting-edge development is actually so vague it’s retarded. That doesn’t relate back to anything he said in the review, and even if it did, what does he mean by it? Are only games with teams like Infinity Ward considered “cutting-edge”? Can indie games not be cutting edge, then? Not to mention, WHEN THE HELL DID GEARBOX STOP BEING AT THE FOREFRONT OF GAMES DEVELOPMENT? That aside, engrossing campaign play might be fair – after all, having a brain isn’t for everyone. It is generally agreed, though, that Borderlands 2 had a fairly decent campaign, certainly enough to rival most military shooters of the age. So that one falls awkwardly flat.

As soon as reviewers start talking about social media, you should get really worried. That’s probably the Number 1 sign of a reviewer trying to be tell you where they think video gaming should be going. Not only does that have no place in a review whatsoever, but I honestly don’t see how social media can impact on your game experience. Unless he’s talking about services like CoD Elite, where the sad reality is that they fail laughably.

I’m not even going to deal with the fact that, actually, you can share loot and gear in Borderlands 2.

And I’ll pretend that he didn’t even say that last part.

Last and most importantly, though, what you really need to remember with any review is that as soon as you say anything even vaguely smacking of criticism in the direction of a game involving Maya, I will hunt you. Your capture will be swift, and your death long, agonising and more deserved than you can even comprehend.

She’s my babz, yo.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — How To Bugger Up A Review http://egmr.net/2012/09/a-gamers-perspective-how-to-bugger-up-a-review/ http://egmr.net/2012/09/a-gamers-perspective-how-to-bugger-up-a-review/#comments Mon, 10 Sep 2012 09:00:43 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=95288 Reviewers the world over are getting very confused about how to do their jobs, so I’m going to spend the next thousand-odd words telling you why they’re buggering up and […]

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Reviewers the world over are getting very confused about how to do their jobs, so I’m going to spend the next thousand-odd words telling you why they’re buggering up and what’s causing it, so that the next time you see a stupid review you can hop in the comments section and shout at the idiot who had the audacity to post that trash on our beloved interweb in order to ultimately create a utopian society free of imbeciles, ending world hunger in the process.

Sound good? Too bad if it doesn’t. You and I both know you’re too lazy to close this article now.

“Look, Duncan, all that about a utopian society and what not sounds great, but what on earth are you actually on about?”

Great question, Disembodied Voice Employed For The Purposes Of Furthering This Column!

The problem I’m highlighting here is the growing trend towards absolutism by reviewers. Absolutism (at least for the purposes of this column) is the tendency to state that something is objectively one way or the other. So, in the context we’re dealing with, absolutism would be saying that a game is without exception either good or bad. Absolutism isn’t too bad when you’re stating that a red jersey is red or that lasagne is delicious, but when it comes to less objective things — like games — it becomes problematic.

There are two reasons I’m going to posit for why we’re seeing a tendency toward absolutism in reviews, and as I do so I’m going to explain why each of them is backwards and probably largely responsible for the crisis in the Middle-East and DRM.

Firstly, there is a lot of pressure (especially online) on reviewers to be as brief and concise as possible. The problem here is that — as I hinted above — games are multi-faceted things, often occupying the grey area between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, which means that drawing a brief conclusion often entails cropping a lot of the analysis around the issues which bring a game into the grey area, so that you can avoid making a convoluted conclusion. The thing is, by giving in and letting stupid people dictate the length of their reviews, all reviewers do is produce stupid reviews, which doesn’t do anything to help the progression of video games journalism or help people make truly informed purchase decisions.

“Yeah, okay, so maybe the reviews aren’t as good as they could be, but aren’t people still getting pretty much the same advice they would anyway — buy this game, stay away from this one and so on?”

Another highly opportune question — you’re on a roll today! The problem with that argument, though, draws on what I said above. The quality of a game (or, in other words, the entertainment a game ‘provides you with’) isn’t an objective thing. In fact, a game doesn’t provide you with entertainment at all, so measuring it by that metric is just destined to fail.

Stupid Popular opinion would have you think that the purpose of a game is to provide you with entertainment, and thus that if you aren’t entertained it’s a fault on the part of a game. This doesn’t really stand up in practice, though, as the fact that two people can watch the exact same movie or play the same game and have polar opposite opinions and experiences of it tells us that entertainment is taken, not given. Thus, games don’t magically provide us with entertainment — that’s impossible. Rather, they provide us with the tools with which we can entertain ourselves.

Not only does this mean that to truly enjoy a game we need to take a far more active role than many of us realise, it also helps us understand why games simply can’t be objective issues of good and bad. If our enjoyment of a game is dependent on how we use the tools we’re given, then we realise first of all that we can use many games below the threshold of a pitiful few hyped-up triple-A titles getting multiple 9/10 scores from review sites we won’t point fingers at to entertain ourselves. Secondly, it becomes clear that the issue at hand doesn’t centre around how good or bad the game is, but rather around analysis regarding the ‘tools’ the game gives you — what are they? Are they effective? What sort of person would enjoy using them?

For a review to be effective, then, it needs to focus less on the overall experience of the game, and break it down more mechanically, so that the reader doesn’t have the reviewer’s subjective opinion shoved down their throat, but rather emerges with an informed idea of what the game entails, a position from where they can make a decision about whether or not they personally would enjoy the game.

By focusing more on absolutes and overall experiences, and less on individual mechanics or ‘tools’, reviews fail in their most basic purpose — that is, to inform the purchase decision of their reader.

So, the next time you see a reviewer skimp the details or give an absolute analysis, falcon punch them right in the comments. And, for goodness’ sake, if you’re one of those people who complains about length when someone is helping you spend your money well (inb4 innuendo), go jump head-first off a tall building.

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Preview: Resident Evil 6 http://egmr.net/2012/09/preview-resident-evil-6/ http://egmr.net/2012/09/preview-resident-evil-6/#comments Wed, 05 Sep 2012 11:15:24 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=94934 Resident Evil is facing more competition than it ever has in the past for the title of King of the Zombie Shooters, but Capcom is bringing out the big guns […]

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Resident Evil is facing more competition than it ever has in the past for the title of King of the Zombie Shooters, but Capcom is bringing out the big guns with Resident Evil 6 to make sure that it doesn’t surrender its crown without a fight.

Name: Resident Evil 6
Genre: Third Person Horror Shooter
Players: 1
Multiplayer: Drop-in-drop-out online co-operative
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 (PC release at a later date)
Developers: Capcom
Publishers: Capcom
Release Date: 2 October (Europe)

The year is 2013, and with bio-terrorist attacks on a global increase, the US President (Adam Benford) decides to change the playing field somewhat by publicly revealing the truth of the incidents at Raccoon City fifteen years earlier. An uncharacteristic stab at government transparency turns to beautiful tragic disaster as the outbreak of the C Virus, Umbrella’s latest development in zombie-ifying glory horror disrupts proceedings somewhat, making Leon S. Kennedy (yes, you read that right) and his female co-protagonist, Helena Harper’s visit to Tall Oaks University significantly more eventful than they would have liked.

Meanwhile in Eastern Europe, Jake Muller teams up with Raccoon City survivor Sherry Birkin as they evade police after a bio-terrorist attack in Edonia, while Jake tries to auction off his blood — which might have the key to ending it all — off to the highest bidder.

Chris Redfield (yes, you read that right too) and his team of BSAA operatives aren’t left out of the party either, as they travel to Lanshiang, China, in an attempt to foil a bio-terrorist plot to release the C-Virus in the East.

In a show of what could almost be called originality (a trait scarily lacking from far too many new releases nowadays), Resident Evil 6 will allow players to play through all three of the above scenarios as the characters fight, evade and investigate their ways to the point where all three of these stories merge. We haven’t heard much about the specific mechanics of this system just yet, but we know that each storyline will be singleplayer or co-op playable, presumably meaning that players will be able to play either of the two protagonists in the sub-storylines. We aren’t sure exactly how character selection goes after that, but in a Resident Evil game featuring both Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy, we’re prepared to take it as it comes.

The Resident Evil series has been on a curve away from it’s horror roots, towards a more action-shooter orientated feel, and while a few trailers and some gameplay footage aren’t enough to make an objective prediction on, there certainly isn’t any evidence yet for a return to the series’ earlier roots. While there are enough explosions to rival a CoD trailer, and grossly mutated figures enough to make even the most seasoned zombie-slayer reach tentatively to make sure their shotgun is still there, there is still hope for an intense, emotionally engaging game. The trailer introduces many interesting plot devices and characters, from the apathetic mercenary with the salvation of the world in his veins to the operative with a personal vendetta that gets prioritised high above protocol, which will certainly make for an exhilarating story experience. If Capcom manages to stick with it, that is.

If you’re the kind of person who’d rather rip something squishy open than watch a cutscene, Capcom has you covered there too. You’ll be going up against a host of Umbrella-spawned enemies, ranging from your vanilla, walking, “take-your-time-shooting-me-in-the-head” zombies to the horde of one-of-a-kind, specially metamorphosed monstrosities, each more grotesquely intriguing and in need of killing than the last, tailored to keep you humble and on the edge of your seat simultaneously, Resident Evil is making sure that you won’t be left wanting for things to kill. What, that’s not enough for you? Good thing they didn’t stop there, then! There’ll also be a new breed of zombie entering the mix, courtesy of the C-virus. J’avo are Natural Selection’s answer to questionable vanilla zombie survivability: quicker, stronger and smarter than their predecessors, these bad boys will make sure you earn your place on the food chain by scheming out their attempts on your all-too-valuable life, running after you and pouncing on you just when you need it least and, as if that wasn’t enough, even wielding the occasional weapon; just so that when things get hairy, they get hairy.

Capcom aren’t leaving you totally unable to contend with these new threats, though. In addition to giving you two of the most unequivocal-able badasses in gaming history with which to wreak havoc and destruction, they’ve toned up environmental interaction by the characters (Chris will now push annoying chairs and people out of his way, and Leon will put his hand on the wall when sneaking around a corner). If you need something slightly more applicable (in the literal sense) to zombies than that, though, they should have you covered too. For the righteous purveyance of violence upon all those infected, players have been equipped not just with a formidable arsenal of firearms, but also with certain unique weapons and abilities. Sherry, for example, has a stun rod which can be charged to deliver hits which carry more damaged, while Jake’s hand to hand abilities can be strung together in combos which make each hit more devastating than the last.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the game, or just want to do your part to make the world a zombie-free place for your children to frolic in, and you own an Xbox360 or PS3, it would be really stupid if you didn’t check out the demo. It releases on September 18th, for download on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network respectively.

Capcom have developed a reputation for bringing Resident Evil installments of consistent quality to the table to sate the appetites of gamers for undead flesh, though it looks like they may have to step up their game to separate their title from the rest of the pack which is fast closing in behind them. With both Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy being featured as protagonists, though, it looks like no holds are being barred for the sixth instalment to the RE series and an engaging storyline, intense action and a variety of enemies to eviscerate may be enough to make Resident Evil 6 worth playing.

Keep your eyes peeled for news articles relating to the game — you’ll discover whatever there is to know as soon as we hear about it — and our review just after the game’s release on October 2nd.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Dazed by Day-Z(ed) http://egmr.net/2012/08/a-gamers-perspective-dazed-by-day-zed/ http://egmr.net/2012/08/a-gamers-perspective-dazed-by-day-zed/#comments Mon, 27 Aug 2012 09:00:20 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=93889 Sometimes I think being a gamer is a lot like cheating. Not just because we can get jetpacks in GTA or aim without aiming on a console (Oh snap! I […]

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Sometimes I think being a gamer is a lot like cheating. Not just because we can get jetpacks in GTA or aim without aiming on a console (Oh snap! I went there!), but because it is just so much easier for us to lead a life of awesomeness than the average pleb. This was illustrated to me pretty vividly last week, when I had to spend three days trapped in my bed after an operation on my ankle. For most, this would be a time of boredom, frustration and morbid self-pity. For me it was the perfect time to get properly stuck into a game that’s been on my radar for a while, but I haven’t been able to give the attention it deserves: DayZ. Thirty-seven hours of gameplay across three days later, I am here to confidently report that this game is frikkin’ amazing.

Wait, what’s that? You don’t know DayZ from Jay Z? Well slap me with a tuna and call me Irish! You, my son (or daughter, seeing as this whole sexism thing has been an issue of late), must have been hiding under the same rock as Jack Black’s career after Tenacious D. Basically, DayZ is a zombie apocalypse simulator: Developed as a mod for ArmA II (more on that in a second), it spawns you a map with an area of 225 squared kilometres, with only a bandage, a torch and some painkillers (in case a zombie gnaws on your arm and it pinches a bit or something). You have to go out and forage for medical supplies, weapons and food and drink in order to survive the elements, the zombies and – don’t forget – the other players. Who, if they don’t know you, will most likely shoot on sight in the hopes of killing you and taking your snacks. In fact, they’ll probably shoot you even if they do know you.

Sounds pretty sick, right? Damn right! That said, DayZ isn’t the easiest game to play. The saying goes that every player hates their first hour of DayZ, because they literally just don’t know what the French is cracking. It’s not just the crazy learning curve, either – ArmA II is flat-out retarded. The control scheme is ridiculous, and as if the environment interaction wasn’t bad enough already, DayZ is still only in Alpha, compounding the issue even more. While we’re talking about DayZ being in Alpha, we may as well mention how ridiculously difficult it is to kill zombies and avoid getting killed yourself, what with all the buggy animations and erratic pathing. Before I start raging and nitpicking too hard, the point I’m making here is that if DayZ didn’t the components for success it does, it would drive people to do terrible things to their monitors with their keyboards and never come anywhere near the game again, as opposed to accumulating upwards of one million players and over one thousand, eight hundred and sixteen years of combined gameplay.

Those are some pretty huge numbers, especially in the face of the faults I just pointed out, so I thought I’d dedicate this column to the noble task of spreading the DayZ gospel, and telling you exactly what it is that makes this game so gosh-darn awesome.

First off, there’s the irrevocable proof that the DayZ devs aren’t retarded: the loot. They know how to draw gamers in and hook them better than the whatever-the-hell that was on my seafood platter yesterday got hooked (which I assume was pretty well). Oh, sweet mother of goodness, the loot. With set spawn locations, a loot randomiser and everything from assault rifles to baked beans and GPS systems, DayZ gives players plenty to drool over and hunt obsessively for. It doesn’t just create a token economy by giving you cool stuff to show your friends, either – most of it you’re gonna run around in maddened desperation for, because if you don’t get that can of Pepsi, you’re gonna die of thirst, and even if you do, it won’t help you much when you come up against a bandit and you’re out of ammo for your AK.

As if the loot wasn’t enough, DayZ sucks you in and makes you feel like you’re really living the zombie apocalypse. Immersion, my friends, doesn’t get better than this. The lack of tutorials, storyline, quests, in-game help or anything of the sort gives the player a sense of true autonomy, making you really feel like you’re really in post-Zombie-Apocalypse Russia, fighting shrewdly for your day-to-day survival. If there’s one thing that inarguably turns any game into digital crack, it’s the ability to spend your entire afternoon with it and not even realise that the time’s gone by.

What good is immersiveness if you just awake from your goma (the combination of ‘gaming’ and ‘coma’. Just roll with it, okay?) never to return, because quite frankly, you’ve done all there is to do in the game? This, my dear reader, is where DayZ truly starts to shine. First of all, this game is hard. The fact that you spawn with no weapon means exactly what you think it does: you’re ripe for the picking of zombies and players alike. And it doesn’t get any easier after that. No matter how good your gear is, if a rogue zombie manages to knock you unconscious, that’s pretty much it for you unless luck really is on your side (which it probably isn’t, seeing as you got knocked unconscious). If a player in a ghillie suit ambushes you, the chances are that you aren’t going to be able to react quickly enough to save yourself, so you die and he loots your body. Even if you’re in a ghillie suit you aren’t safe, because there are no health or armour upgrades in the game, which means that you’re just as vulnerable as a newly spawned player. So, if you get caught off guard or have to reload and a crazy-ass, YOLO’ing madman runs at you with a hatchet, you’ve got a legitimate chance of going down. I’ve seen it happen. And by the way, did I mention that when you die you lose everything? Sure, you could store your stuff in a tent or run back to your dead body to try and reclaim some of your items, but if another player has found either, you’re gonna have a bad time. Because DayZ is so unforgiving that one slip-up means that you’re back to where you started, you’ll never really achieve what you want to in the game. But, like the old lady at the slot machine, you’ll come back and try again, and again, and again.

Speaking of achieving what you want, did I mention what you can freaking do in the game? Even if you manage to get to a position where you’re relatively safe and well equipped to survive, the horizon of opportunity is still a long way away: have you repaired a car for your party yet? What about a helicopter? Have you set up a base of operations from which you can slowly extend your iron fist of control across all the power centres of the server? Highly unlikely, and if you have then you’ll just keep coming back to get your kicks out of them, anyway.

I’ve mentioned other players quite a few times, and the fact that you aren’t alone really needs to be stressed here: it adds a whole bunch of new dynamics to the game. Always wanted to see how well you and your buddies would survive the Zombie Apocalypse? Jump on a Teamspeak channel, use maps and sheer force of will to meet up, and find out! Running into players you don’t know is a whole new kettle of fish, too: you don’t really want to get in a fight and risk losing your stuff, but can you really trust someone if they tell you they’re ‘friendly’? Maybe they’re just waiting for you to turn your back so that they can get you while you’re weak – shouldn’t you get the jump on them first? Ultimately, it is the interaction with players which gives DayZ its dynamic feel, and ever-shifting appeal. Instead of coding AI to keep their game fresh, what the DayZ devs have done is use the best providers of content possible – the players – to make their game into the masterpiece of Zombie-Apocalyptic mayhem, madness and sheer, unadulterated awesomeness which it is.

Everything I’ve said above: that’s one side of the story. Many out there (myself included) would say that such an analysis misses the most core aspect of what makes this game what it is:

The beautiful sons of bitches set this thing in mothertrucking, Vodka-toting Russia.

If that isn’t a fast track into the hearts and favourite lists of gamers worldwide, I’m truly at a loss for what is.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — The Death Of Game Stores http://egmr.net/2012/08/a-gamers-perspective-the-death-of-game-stores/ http://egmr.net/2012/08/a-gamers-perspective-the-death-of-game-stores/#comments Mon, 13 Aug 2012 09:00:24 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=92607 If the rise of online retailers were World War 2, online stores would be the precision-engineered death-machine and powerhouse of efficiency we could not mistake for anyone other than Nazi […]

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If the rise of online retailers were World War 2, online stores would be the precision-engineered death-machine and powerhouse of efficiency we could not mistake for anyone other than Nazi Germany. And physical retailers would be France. Which is a bad thing. You never want to be France. They have far too many different kinds of cheese, and their women aren’t nearly as attractive as they are made out (pun intended) to be. China would be Cavie during a podcast, with Japan being the rest of the eGamer staff. Except me, of course. I’d be Russia, just minding my own business until Germany tries to double-cross me. That’s when my rottweilers take him apart while he’s trying to get to my front door and I throw my insane communist industrial production at him, all like: “Hey, up yours, I’m Russia!”. I’m not sure what that says about my relationship with online retailers, but I digress.

The point here is that no one wants to be France. They’re immortalised in history as the only nation to design their tanks with one forward gear and five reverse gears, standing by obsequiously as Germany rolled on in and occupied them; they will be remembered forevermore as the “Okay Guy” of Imperial Nations. France was, in short, a pussy.

The markets of online stores like TAKEALOT and Kalahari are increasing at an almost exponential rate as more and more people catch on to the fact that they can get games for far cheaper than they would find them at retailers like Musica or BTGames. Not to mention the astronomical rise in popularity of Steam, even in the face of the atrocious situation of internet connectivity in our country (we need look no further than back to the Steam Summer Sale to understand why this is, of course). It is no surprise, then, that physical retailers are seeing a sharp decline in the amount of business they see, and many are starting to find themselves in tough spots as a result of it and the signs of the times are all around us, from ever more depressed game salespeople to the decreasing size of most game sections in stores.

So, there’s clearly a challenge to what was once the supremacy of walk-in stores, and if they aren’t feeling it now then they are going to be soon. My problem is that their reaction to this new threat is completely off the mark. Raising prices, lessening stock on-hand, delivering worse service and downscaling in an attempt to combat the losses due to dwindling business only serve to drive even more people to buy from Steam instead of them. When you think about it, that’s pretty freaking stupid.

What they need to do is man the hell up and stop watching dejectedly as online stores pillage their profit-margins. If they’re going to do anything other than spiral hopelessly into the depressing depths of financial ruin, they’re going to need to go indie (Adam’s all excited now) and innovate.

People aren’t lining up to buy your ridiculously overpriced games anymore? Give them another reason to.

“But Duncan!” cries Look&Listen, “we just compete with their prices! They don’t have the overheads we do – we have to make our prices higher than theirs, otherwise we’ll collapse!”

That’s true, completely non-fictional Look&Listen spokesperson, which is why it’s time to stop looking at the issue in terms of your strengths and advantages, as opposed to in terms of your weaknesses.

So, what advantages do physical stores have over their online counterparts? Convenience and character.

If you buy a game online, then the best case scenario is that you get to play it the next day; either it has to be delivered, or you have to download it. Both of those take time. If you buy a game from a store, you go home, and chuck the disc in, and in the worst case scenario play it after a twenty-minute install. Unless it’s Diablo 3, in which case the worst case scenario is that you play it two agonising weeks of troubleshooting and idiocy later. At the moment, people side with online retailers because the price difference is worth the wait, but if stores lower their prices and use the other methods I’m going to be discussing to make it even more worthwhile to buy from them, convenience stands to become a far more important factor in purchase decisions.

There’s a bit of an anecdote to go along with character. Down the road from my house a bit, there’s a supply store run by this Indian guy. I don’t know his name, but he’s probably related to Cavie – but that’s only marginally important. The point here is that, being Indian, he’s probably the most awesome salesperson ever to walk the earth. Despite having the most ridiculously overpriced store in history, every time I need my periodic junk-food fix, I forgo the Shell garage (also a five-minute walk from my house) and visit him instead. And every time I come out having spent triple the amount I intended to, with my sides splitting from laughter.

He robs me blind and I know it, but I keep going back because I enjoy the experience of shopping there that much. That’s what game stores need. There are plenty of intelligent, passionate, witty gamers out there who they can replace their drab, cold-blooded staff with to liven up their stores and make every customer’s experience an expedition into pure front-of-shop awesomeness.

Beyond those two very simple advantages that stores simply need to start exploiting, they need to start motivating people to justify their purchase with something other than their wallet. What I mean by that is simple: they need to create a situation where gamers want to buy from their store specifically, regardless of the fact that they could be getting a better deal somewhere else.

How on Earth do they do this? Simple! Become a store that cares about gamers, and gamers will care about you – and start voting with their wallets in that regard. And the best way to show your love for South African gamers is to further gaming in South Africa. There are a number of ways they can go about doing this.

First off, get behind South African gaming initiatives. 2UpGamers and DBNGamers are starting to attract decent followings – help them get out there! Whether it’s by pulling strings to organise press coverage of those events, partnering with those initiatives and mutually advertising each other or by simply sponsoring competitions and prizes, there’s a huge amount that they can do to get some gamer love going for them.

When we’re discussing gaming initiatives, we can’t go long without mentioning the DoGaming League and the NAG Gaming League – both of which are at the forefront of competitive gaming in South Africa, championing its advancement. Getting behind them the same way they would 2Up certainly wouldn’t hurt their image. And! While we’re talking competitive gaming, let’s not forget how desperate clans are for sponsorship – Bravado and Ventus certainly wouldn’t mind some BT love, and gamers would undoubtedly show their appreciation to these stores for helping fuel their favourite pastime by favouring them with their business.

The international StarCraft 2 scene is a very good case study for how this sort of sponsor appreciation takes effect. Players who follow professional StarCraft make a point of buying their favourite team’s sponsor’s product whenever they get the chance, and scarcely shut up with the tweets and emails telling these sponsors just how appreciative they are.

What a lot of this comes down to is simply engaging and interacting with gamers on their own level in order to build buyer-loyalty, which is something physical retailers would have a far easier time of than online stores. So, don’t give in just yet kids – you can turn your businesses and your profit-margins around. All you have to do is find the stones and the ideas to do it.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Less Is More http://egmr.net/2012/07/a-gamers-perspective-less-is-more/ http://egmr.net/2012/07/a-gamers-perspective-less-is-more/#comments Mon, 30 Jul 2012 09:00:02 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=91474 I’ve always liked pancakes. So much so that whenever my mom whipped up a batch of batter, I would muster up every shred of charm I could find, don my […]

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I’ve always liked pancakes. So much so that whenever my mom whipped up a batch of batter, I would muster up every shred of charm I could find, don my Headband of Alluring Charisma and put my utmost into convincing her that she had worked so hard already, and why doesn’t she take a break and let me cook (fry? Who knows) the pancakes for a change? When I was successful in this line of persuasion, my first act as Spatula Master would be to implement my policy of ‘One out, one down’ pancake distribution. One out to the peasantry (my mom/brother/dog – whoever was ‘next in line’ for one of the doughy delights) and one down my pie-hole. Even with schemes like the aforementioned designed to maximise the amount of pancakage coming my way (there were others, don’t you worry), the margin of error of these schemes meant that I inevitably had to share the pancakes. This coupled with my pubertal metabolism and resulting insatiable appetite dictated that I was never truly able to eat my fill – and thus was always left wanting more pancakes.

It is in this context that one fateful holiday-day not too long ago I found myself once again begging my mom to make pancake batter.

“I’m going out just now, Duncan, but if you really want to you can get the recipe book and make it for yourself.”

This was a tactic I was quite well accustomed to. It usually proved quite effective for her, too, as frankly I usually can’t be arsed to put that much effort into something that I don’t really want. The difference was that on this particular holiday-day, I really wanted pancakes.

Begrudgingly, I took the recipe book and undertook my first forte into the world of the culinary arts. Four cups of flower, a litre of water, two eggs, six wooden spoons, four ideal case-studies for why teenagers shouldn’t handle accelerants and an industrial-strength Kitchen Cleaning Kit later, my first ever batch of pancake batter was completed.

Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I would have full control over just how many pancakes I would be able to eat. And I most certainly intended on making the most of it. One batch of pancake batter and at least three times my body weight in pancakes later, I had never felt so ready to throw up. My stomach felt so bloated that I was starting to give serious weight to the idea that it might explode (something I probably wouldn’t have complained about at that point, either) and I generally felt like I’d been dragged face first through copious amount of elephant faeces. By the elephant.

My mom, of course, would pass in and out of my room on ‘errands’ at regular intervals, smirking knowingly at my groans of discomfort. It proved quite a formative experience for me, as it was the first time I actually realised that you could have too much of a good thing.

Once I had recovered to the point that my pitiful human frame could once again facilitate rational thought, I began thinking about whether or not this – the idea that I’d enjoyed something less when I’d had what was essentially an excess of it – whether or not this applied to other areas of my life. The one we all care about, of course, being gaming.

At face value I dismissed the idea off-hand, as many of us probably would. Gaming isn’t at all like pancake-eating, after all, as 16 pancakes makes me fat and uncomfortably full, whereas 16 hours of StarCraft just makes me awesome. I decided to take a second look at the matter when I read an article about this guy, who died after playing StarCraft for fifty hours straight.

Clearly, then, we can draw a line where we declare that too much is too much – even for gaming. I haven’t ever really been as bad as that guy, though, and I doubt many people reading this have, so we need not go into why such an extreme case is bad. Nonetheless, I did look at my various forays into the world of marathon gaming in a slightly different light.

Personally, much of my marathon gaming experience is in the context of LANs and marathon StarCraft 2 sessions, and while I certainly enjoyed both while they lasted, I came out of most of them feeling like, for want of a better word, crap. Sitting in the same place for hours on end while piling my body full of junk food and depriving it of sleep left me more often than not with a pounding headache, a feeling of utter exhaustion and a profound lack of sleep, all of which I would carry with me for the next day or two. So in terms of the physiological effects it had on me, marathon gaming didn’t always prove to be all it seemed cracked up to be.

Wholly apart from that, I also found myself becoming – dare I say it? – bored of gaming. Eight hours of all but the most dynamic, immersive games can often become rather tedious and formulaic.

It took me longer than I would have anticipated to reach these conclusions – that I don’t enjoy every second of gaming all the time, and that it could have negative effects on me – and I think that’s largely the fault of the defensive mentality gamers adopt (stay with me here).

Seeing as we tend to come under attack from a multitude of angles for our collective favourite pastime, I think it’s really easy for us to get into an “us against the world” type of mentality, where we polarise so much to the side of preaching the positives of and defending gaming that we become extremely hesitant to criticise gaming. And I think that’s extremely harmful, because if we’re hesitant to criticise ourselves, we aren’t going to move very far forward very quickly at all.

So, let’s bring this back to what I am saying by analysing what I’m not saying.

I’m not saying that marathon gaming sessions are bad, or that we should stop having them.

I’m not saying that games are boring or inherently bad for your health.

I’m not saying that I think less of gaming or have a different opinion of gaming because of the criticisms I’ve made.

What I am saying is that gaming, like everything else in life, isn’t perfect, and there will be times when we simply don’t enjoy it, and that those times can often be the result of marathon gaming sessions. This doesn’t mean that we should all hang up our controllers and go frolick in the sun instead, but we shouldn’t shy away from admitting to ourselves that maybe we aren’t having the greatest time, and maybe the way we’re going about marathon gaming could use some improvement.

The reason we mustn’t be afraid to make these concessions is that none of the issues I’ve highlighted are insurmountable. Tired at a LAN? Grab a few hours of sleep. Feel like rubbish because that’s all you’ve eaten? Bring healthier food instead of buying junk. Ass going numb, or getting bored of the game you’re playing? Walk around a bit, socialise, read a book, whatever – take a bit of a break, and come back later.

The point here is that if we game a little bit less, we might get a whole lot more out of it, but that’s only if we’re willing to admit that the ‘little bit less’ might just be necessary.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Are Gamers Too Spoilt For Choice? http://egmr.net/2012/07/a-gamers-perspective-are-gamers-too-spoilt-for-choice/ http://egmr.net/2012/07/a-gamers-perspective-are-gamers-too-spoilt-for-choice/#comments Fri, 13 Jul 2012 09:00:45 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=90044 Life’s tough for gamers these days, don’t you think? In the stead of that heavily sarcastic introduction, E3 2012 proved to us pretty definitively that our days of destitution and […]

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Life’s tough for gamers these days, don’t you think? In the stead of that heavily sarcastic introduction, E3 2012 proved to us pretty definitively that our days of destitution and gameless poverty are long over. Indeed, our choices have been bolstered to options far more extensive than just the metaphorical chicken or beef. In fact, there are now enough games on the market to not only justify but necessitate sub-divisions within the classic genres of old. No longer is a three-letter acronym or term such as RPG or ‘Shooter’ considered enough to inform you of what you’re getting yourself into; these days we need to know everything from the angle of the camera to the nationality and sexual orientation of the developers. Personally, I’m holding thumbs for the release of a Tazmanian MMOFP-RPG-LSD-STD.

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, though. Making light of seemingly over-specific genre classifications might be the most fun you can have when Diablo 3 isn’t in the mood to recognise the existence of your internet connection, but we must remember that these classifications don’t exist because the chief developer had nothing better to do with their time than to come up with another superfluous acronym to unleash upon the world. These classifications are, in fact, a response to the growing need for developers to be able to distinguish themselves from their competition. This need is a result of the extensive range of games now on offer which we gamers have the privilege of being able to enjoy, and demonstrates just how far gaming has come from the days when there wasn’t even enough competition to dent your sales, let alone necessitate classifications to set yourself apart.

Superficially, at least, this sounds like awesome — after all, the more choice there is the more able we are to get the game most suited to our individual tastes, right?

Up until recently I would’ve been among the first to answer that question with a hearty “Hear, hear!”, before swiftly returning to occupying myself with drooling over November’s list of upcoming game releases. Recently, however, something very important happened: I had exams. Now, being the model student I am, the amount of TED talks I spent my afternoons watching shot up in inverse proportion to the amount of exam-relevant schoolwork I got done. During one such “Right, this is the last one” session, I happened upon a very interesting talk by a shorts-wearing man who goes by the name of Barry Schwartz. In the talk, Schwartz discusses the idea that an excess of choice makes us less satisfied with what we choose, even when our choice is the best one. This is usually the point where I would’ve noted how interesting the talk was, closed my browser and gotten well underway with understanding the relationship between pressure and volume… Fortunately for Physics, though, (’cause let’s be real — I would’ve raped that shiz) I still had an unfinished cup of tea. With no coasters in sight, it seemed that my only option was to use my Physics textbook to hold the cup in order to protect my desk from the horrors of erroneously spilt Rooibos. As such, my only option was to put a bit more thought to what Schwartz had said. His analysis combined with a bit of my own, thrown in with my experience as a gamer, has led me to believe that an excess of choice is a large contributing factor as to why we don’t always get the most out of a session of gaming.

Initially this might seem like a bit of a weird view to hold — I doubt many of us would consciously think that having lots of awesome games to choose from is something that harms our gaming experience even a little bit at all. The opposite seems far more likely, if anything. Bear with me for a second, though.

Think back, if you will, to November last year, when Saints Row: The Third, Skyrim and Uncharted 3 (among others) all released within mere days of each other. I’ve already discussed in an earlier column why releasing so many games at the same time is a bad idea for retailers because it dilutes the attention each one gets from consumers, but the point I’m going to make in this column is that playing so many games at the same time is bad for the gamer, as it dilutes the attention we give in our own capacity to each game.

Any of these games releasing on their own would have commanded our full attention, and we would easily have sunk a hundred (if not more) hours of pure joy and ecstasy into either one of them. When released at the same time, however, we have a bit of a problem: we have to figure out which one we want to play.

This means that when we eventually decide to sit down and play Uncharted, we can’t give it our full attention because we keep thinking about that quest in Skyrim, and when we finally cave and switch to Skyrim, we can’t get rid of that niggling feeling that we might be having more fun playing Saints Row. Such is the problem inherent to choice. When given only one choice, we can’t really blame ourselves for making the wrong decision. So what can we do but our utmost to enjoy whatever it is we land up getting stuck with? It is, after all, all there is.

What comes hand in hand with choices, however, is the capacity to make the wrong choice, like choosing not to read this column, or to play any game from the Halo series. Or, in the case of our November example, choosing the game which isn’t actually the most fun. Regardless of the fact that we would probably have an equally fun time playing Saints Row in July as Skyrim in October (unless you have finals soon, in which case enjoying Skyrim would be a lot harder because of the whole guilty-over-not-studying thing), the mere existence of other choices means that we question the choice we inevitably do make, coming to doubt whether we’ve actually made the ‘right’ decision. Thus, we enjoy the fruits of our choices less, even if he we have made the best choice possible.

This is something I’ve experienced first-hand time and time again in my own gaming career, most recently when I got hold of The Witcher 2 and Skyrim at roughly the same time. Afraid that I could be having a better time playing the other game (regardless of whether Skyrim or The Witcher were the flavour of the moment at that point), I couldn’t immerse myself fully in either. Short of playing both simultaneously (which I did try, but does aren’t as nimble with a controller as you might think), the only resolution I could think of was to decide to play every ounce of awesome out of Skyrim that I could before moving on to The Witcher. And sweet, potato-stuffed goose, did it ever work. By limiting myself to only one game (and in a sense taking the choice away from myself), I started enjoying Skyrim ten times as much as I had been.

It’s really easy for us gamers to get caught up in the hype of the all latest releases, obsessing over them and buying them all up at the same time, the harsh reality being that hard as we try, we can’t play them all simultaneously. We complain constantly about how expensive games are, and yet so often we don’t even put enough time and energy into a single game to extract our money’s worth. After all, a game doesn’t truly come alive for us if we speed through to the closing credits on Medium difficulty. You need to invest something of yourself into a game, becoming engrossed in the world it weaves around you to really get the most you can out of it. Something you simply can’t do if your attention is divided between the game you’re playing and the three others sitting seductively on your desk.

So, here’s my challenge: set yourself a time period; a week, two, maybe even a month. Choose one game and pour your heart and soul into it for that time. If it sucks then feel free to choose a different one, and go with it instead. This isn’t about putting yourself through torture, after all. Rather, it’s about being conscious of the damage that allowing yourself too many choices can cause and working to minimise that rather, to give one game at a time the chance to wow us that we would otherwise deny it.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Why Sequels Suck http://egmr.net/2012/06/a-gamers-perspective-why-sequels-suck/ http://egmr.net/2012/06/a-gamers-perspective-why-sequels-suck/#comments Fri, 01 Jun 2012 09:00:32 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=85611 As our beloved Eskom has so vividly illustrated for us, putting power in the hands of idiots is a very dangerous thing. Unfortunately, the games industry has enough examples supporting […]

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As our beloved Eskom has so vividly illustrated for us, putting power in the hands of idiots is a very dangerous thing. Unfortunately, the games industry has enough examples supporting this assertion that I couldn’t very well write a column on them all, for fear of doing irrecoverable damage to your posture as your read it and bringing severe nerve damage upon my poor fingers. And neither of those sound like fun. Especially not the former if you directly associate your spinal dysfunction with the length of my column and set out on a personal vendetta against me, using elaborate and somewhat concerning means to obtain my address before spending weeks cooped up in your basement, growing increasingly frustrated as your shoddy 3G connection refuses to retain a concurrent signal long enough for you to stalk my house on Google Maps and your rage eventually boils over, manifesting in you paying a euphemistic visit to me like a hunchbacked, significantly more morally questionable version of Dexter. No, I don’t think that would be fun at all.

Given that I’ve now probably convinced myself even more than you that doing an article of the aforementioned scale would be a less-than-inspired idea, I’d like to dedicate this Friday to those idiots out there who occupy a place very high up on my list of people responsible for what’s wrong with the world: game developers who think they understand what makes a game good.

There are, you see, some games out there which have the privilege of being really spanking good. A good example of this is Call of Duty 4. Infinity Ward was elevated to near-Deital status for presenting gamers with such a jewel of a game and so, naturally, when sequel-time came they wanted to repeat their feat. But! They don’t want to be labelled one of those studios who just pumps out the same product year after year (lol), so they decide that they want the sequel to be even better, which I really don’t have any problem with. It is very difficult to dislike developers making good games, after all.

Before we get onto what IW decided the best way to make a game better than CoD4 would be, let’s look at what actually made it a good game in the first place. Amazing multiplayer (obviously), functional and non-retarded gameplay and user interface, very high standard of graphics for its time and a flabbergastingly awesome singleplayer campaign are pretty much what earned the game its high stead among both critics and grassroots-level (think of it as the working man’s bonus level) gamers. Specifically, if you ask anyone what made the campaign stand out to them, I’d place high odds on it being that level where the nuke goes off and there’s that sudden moment of clarity when you realise that the shockwave of death hurtling towards you is, in fact, travelling faster than the helicopter you’re in. And then you get to play as the marine in the helicopter grappling with death and radiation poisoning and what not. It was awesome.

So, to take this nuke thing as an example, IW hears a butt-tonne of feedback telling them how awesome it was and how peoples’ faces melted while they held the ‘W’ key and desperately willed their dying marine to make it past the plastic crate just outside the helicopter and stuff, and they decide that people like nukes. Which is, in fairness, pretty true. Everyone likes nukes except for Japanese people, and they can’t even speak English to complain, anyway. And because if one nuke is cool, three must be really cool, naturally that was what Jason West and that other one decided to go for in Modern Warfare 2. The problem with three nukes is that the first one hits and everyone has their brains blown out (that was meant figuratively, but I suppose literally works as well). Just as they’re trying to recover from the shock of it all, the second hits and BOOM! Guess who just mutated a third arm! Suddenly everyone’s running around shaking hands and having arm-wrestles concurrently and stuff. This is pretty much the dictionary definition of awesome. Then the third one hits, radiation poisoning goes critical and everything dies. Which is about as much fun as it sounds.

To put that in less convoluted terms, the reason the nuke scene blew people away (again, figuratively) is that it was an imaginative plot device excellently juxtaposed with the rest of the campaign, or more simply: there weren’t nukes blowing up every two seconds and so the nuke scene was immensely impressive, which is why everyone raved about it. Had those things been raining down like candy out of the butchered remains of the metaphorical pinata of US Foreign Policy, you wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. A nuke going off would, ironically, have bored you.

That, my dear reader, is the problem with far too many sequels and even some standalone games these days. They’re packed with an ever-increasing amount of explosions, chase scenes and dual-pistol wielding protagonists with god-like powers, but instead of wowing us like they’re intended to, all those things really do anymore is add to how desensitised to all of it we are. The problem I have with that problem is that nothing is happening to curb it, and as such it is becoming a trend. Developers are still raking in the cash monies with games that you could very easily use as a reference when consulted for the antonym of ‘juxtaposition’, and every purchase of such a game we make not only disguises how misguided the developer is in thinking that gamers really find such a game entertaining, but takes them a step closer to laying off their Head Writer and promoting Carl from Animations (the one with the ginger sideburns who keeps sending out emails with Rickroll links to the entire staff) to Head of Explosions Quantity Control.

The harsh reality of our situation, fellow gamers, is that the quality of writing in games is degenerating right before our very eyes. And all we can really do to stop it is pray to Bethesda. Or assassinate someone important over at Infinity Ward and put me in charge instead.

I like that second one. Let’s do that.

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Duncan’s Debates: Can We Really Consider Sport Games Video Games? http://egmr.net/2012/05/duncans-debates-can-we-really-consider-sport-games-video-games/ http://egmr.net/2012/05/duncans-debates-can-we-really-consider-sport-games-video-games/#comments Fri, 25 May 2012 09:00:50 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=84626 Fun though discussing whether or not video games should be considered sports, I decided recently that discussing the converse of the issue — whether sport games should be considered video […]

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Fun though discussing whether or not video games should be considered sports, I decided recently that discussing the converse of the issue — whether sport games should be considered video games — was also a vitally important issue for us to tackle. Perhaps it isn’t as serious as the topics we’ve dealt with in the past, but it does happen to be an area in which I have a lot of personal bias, which admittedly may not rest on the most rational or objective grounds. Regardless, it is something I always enjoy arguing with people about, and on that basis it is as good a topic for a Duncan’s Debate as any.

For clarity’s sake, I should probably be clear in the fact that I’m defining a ‘sport game’ in this context as a game where you play a conventional sport — rugby, tennis, soccer and what not. Racing games and such are exempt from this definition, as are video games themselves (regardless of the outcome of last edition’s debate). It’d be trippy if they weren’t, though, because then you could be playing a sport game just by playing a game. And then if you played an actual sport game you would be inception sport gaming, or something to that effect. But I digress.

Personally, I’ve always considered sports games something of a joke. Perhaps I simply don’t connect with the appeal, but I think it is far more likely that the appeal just isn’t there in the first place. Sure, it’s cute and all to run around re-enacting the Premier League Final on FIFA or the like, but at the end of the day you aren’t just severely limited in terms of your ability to do what you would actually like to (with your options pretty much being limited to ‘pass’ and, ‘shoot’ if things get really exciting), but you don’t have direct control over an avatar — your control shifts from one to the other, depending on who’s got the ball, or whatever. I honestly fail to see not just how a sport game could be as much fun as the real thing, but how it could really end up being any fun at all. It all seems absurdly formulaic, grossly over-simplified and thoroughly uninspiring to me.

Disclaimer: Just so we’re clear, this is intended to be far more of an opinion-driven, lighthearted debate — I am by no means trying to de-legitimise sporting games as a whole. Hyperbole is a great way to start an interesting debate, though.

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Duncan’s Debates: Should Competitive Games Be Considered ‘Sports’? http://egmr.net/2012/05/duncans-debates-should-competitive-games-be-considered-sports/ http://egmr.net/2012/05/duncans-debates-should-competitive-games-be-considered-sports/#comments Fri, 11 May 2012 09:00:09 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=83346 Welcome back to another exciting edition of Duncan’s Debates, where we aim to argue about anything and everything related to games and their industry. In the last installment we looked […]

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Welcome back to another exciting edition of Duncan’s Debates, where we aim to argue about anything and everything related to games and their industry. In the last installment we looked at the somewhat controversial issue of sex in video games. This week, we’re going to be looking at an issue more related to video game semantics, namely whether or not competitive games should be considered sports.

The video game world certainly isn’t short of high-quality competitive titles — DotA, StarCraft 2 and Call of Duty (to name but a few) all bring mean and highly popular packages to the table, being represented in numerous international competitions in both the Eastern and Western world. Many bodies attempting to regulate competitive gaming have sprung up, almost all with laughable degrees of effectiveness. Top players in the various disciplines enjoy superstar status (one need only mention the name ‘MVP’ around a StarCraft fan to arouse them more than just a bit, for example), most of whom are sponsored by numerous different brands and belong to one clan or another, which in turn will also have a number of sponsors. Competitive gaming (termed ‘eSports’) enjoyed an enormous boom last year, and it looks set to keep on growing as we head further on into 2012.

Presented with such a growth, we have no option but to cry with the awesomeness of how far gaming has come. Once we’ve exhausted our tear ducts and run our Man Points dangerously low, though, we find ourselves forced to confront the issue of exactly how literally the term ‘eSports’ should be taken.

It is a question which forces us to examine exactly where we draw the line in terms of what we consider a sport to be. Is a sport defined just by having to exercise while you do it? If that’s the case, though, what of the mental and strategic aspects which exist in most sports?

What if a sport is in fact defined by its competitive nature and its scene (sponsorships, organisations, fan base, etc), and features both mental and athletic components, just to varying degrees? Could video games not then be considered a sport, just a more mentally focused and less physically focused one. If that is the case, then are eSports not just another type of sport (like watersports, for example).

Certainly we also want to associate eSports with conventional sports, so that they’re taken more seriously by the non-gaming community? After all, given how much time and effort professional eSportsmen put into plying their trade, and the enormous level at which they perform, we want them to have as respected and taken as seriously as possible – not just for their sake, but so that the scene can grow, to encourage more sponsorships and so on and so forth.

So, can eSports be considered sports? Ultimately, it is only for you, the faithful and opinionated readers of eGamer to say. Let us know in the comments below!

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Duncan’s Debates: Sex In Video Games http://egmr.net/2012/04/duncans-debates-sex-in-video-games/ http://egmr.net/2012/04/duncans-debates-sex-in-video-games/#comments Fri, 27 Apr 2012 09:00:26 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=81870 Foreword: Well, it seems I’ve managed to get myself into a bit of a pickle. In what I thought was an ingenious ruse to get myself kicked off The Team […]

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Foreword: Well, it seems I’ve managed to get myself into a bit of a pickle. In what I thought was an ingenious ruse to get myself kicked off The Team so that I could win Prototype 2, I decided to drop Cavie and Dean an email telling them that due to ridiculous overcommitment I wouldn’t be able to keep writing columns in my bi-monthly Friday slot as I had been. Apparently getting rid of myself is a little harder than I anticipated, though, since instead of dropping me outright they decided it would be best to rework my feature into something a little different. Preferably something which doesn’t demand quite as much of my time during the week, and definitely something at least thrice as awesome as what I have been doing. The bastards. It is thus my begrudging duty, after having had my bluff soundly called, to present you with Duncan’s Debates!

As I’m sure most of you know, we over at eGamer are pretty community-crazy people (community as in our readers/commenters/Facebook stalkers, not the show. But we do like the show too). Don’t get me wrong – we love what we do, so if it was just us awkwardly publishing articles that no one ever read we could probably survive… But surviving is just so minimalist! It’s because of you guys that we really love what we do, and getting opportunities to hear your feedback, commentary and whatever else you feel like throwing at us is what really makes it all worthwhile. In light of that, I’ve decided to try something a little different with my Friday slot. Instead of me choosing a contentious topic and ranting on about it for a few thousand words, we’re going to choose a topic and discuss it in niftily named, very alliteration-y feature which I’m proud to call Duncan’s Debates.

To kick things off with a proper bang (no pun intended), we’re going to be looking at whether or not sexual content should be allowed in video games.

At first glance it seems a pretty straightforward answer. I mean, games have age restrictions right? So if parents actually do their jobs, take an interest in what their kids could be seeing while they’re playing and regulate the games they’re allowed to play accordingly then certainly there shouldn’t be an issue? The uppity conservatives who want nothing more than to ultimately pin the Rwandan Genocide on games won’t have any ammunition, we won’t be corrupting the innocent minds of young’uns who could be negatively affected by the explicit content and those above the age of consent who want sex in their video games will be satisfied (again, no pun intended).

Then again, do we really live in such an ideal world? If the answer is no, then isn’t trusting parents to actually do their jobs properly a bit too optimistic? Certainly it’s our job to make sure that kids are protected from as much harm as possible regardless of whether or not their parents suck? And given that many more kids will end up playing these games at friend’s houses, through pirated copies and so on and so forth, do age restrictions really make this issue disappear?

Wholly apart from that issue, what about people who are above the age limit who don’t want sex in their video games? If sex in video games becomes less of a taboo and more publishers start including it in their games (because, of course, nerds like sex and sex sells and stuff), does this mean that those people will now have to pass up a game, or have their experience ruined because of it, when those who enjoy sexual content in their games wouldn’t have suffered a significantly worse experience were there no sex in their games? But then again, don’t game developers ultimately cater for the majority, and the minority will just have to man up and deal with what they’re stuck with?

Aside from all of this, we need to question the perceptions of gaming culture which sex in video games will create, and whether or not we want those perceptions. Do we want to give game critics even more arguments to annoy us with? Is that how we want to define ourselves as a gaming community? Maybe it’s all justified by how badly it’ll rile up video gaming’s critics?

Ultimately, the answers to these questions and the many more raised by the issue we’re discussing lie with you, the readers. So, have your say in the comments below – should sex have a place in mainstream video games?

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Preview: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier http://egmr.net/2012/04/preview-ghost-recon-future-soldier/ http://egmr.net/2012/04/preview-ghost-recon-future-soldier/#comments Fri, 13 Apr 2012 11:15:55 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=79766 Name: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Genre: Third Person, Cover-Based Shooter Players: 1-4 Multiplayer: 8 vs 8 Online, LAN or splitscreen Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 Developers: Red Storm Entertainment, Ubisoft […]

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Name: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Genre: Third Person, Cover-Based Shooter
Players: 1-4
Multiplayer: 8 vs 8 Online, LAN or splitscreen
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developers: Red Storm Entertainment, Ubisoft Paris
Publishers: Ubisoft
Release Date: 27 April 2012

With the arrival of Advanced Warfighter 2 the Ghost Recon series managed to piss off a fair amount of Mexican politicians who clearly have nothing better to do with their time than blame their failing tourism industry on a video game. With the governor of Chihuahua (which is apparently an actual province of Mexico) making it clear that they meant business, it seems that Tom Clancy has decided to cut his losses and choose a far less touchy nation to be the antagonist in his next addition to the series. Yep, you guessed it – that means that Future Soldier will indeed be set in Russia. Not just present-day Russia, though – that’s far too mainstream for old Tom – Russia twelve years in the future. No points for guessing that ultranationalists and nukes are driving the plot, then.

Let’s not write the game off entirely as ‘just another military shooter’ quite yet, though. After all, we don’t hate cliches simply because they are cliches – if someone takes a cliche and does it well then it’s just unoriginal. We hate cliches because developers tend to get lazy, cut corners and deliver second-rate or especially boring games when they’re working with them as a premise. The question we need to be asking at this point isn’t whether Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is going to be an innovative deviation from the norm of the genre, then. What we need to be looking for is how it plans to set itself apart from the rest of the crowd, specifically in its overall quality and in any refreshing, particularly clever or particularly well-executed aspects of gameplay.

We’ll talk singleplayer first of all, seeing as there isn’t all too much to say about it just yet and I want to tick something off of my “To talk about” list. So that I feel like I’ve achieved something, you know?

Ubisoft has been awfully stingy in releasing details regarding their singleplayer so far, and so there isn’t much more going on in terms of the plot than I’ve already told you. Basically, you’re part of a Ghost team tracking down the source of a ‘dirty bomb’ (a conventional explosive combined with radioactive material which kills stuff as well as irradiating its area of effect) which killed off another Ghost squad. You play the role of the newest member and commando (assault rifle shooting guy) of the squad, known by your peers as Kozak. The rest of the four-man squad is made up of by the relatively self-explanatory sniper (Pepper) and recon guy (30K), as well as an engineer (Bones), who is in charge of the shotguns and providing intel via drones. More on the significance of intel in a second.

After some fan disappointment at the relatively short campaign component of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2, Ubisoft have promised a somewhat more substantial singleplayer campaign which should clock in at around ten hours. Thankfully, diversity of setting is also an aspect which they’ve been touting quite heavily, so we ought to be seeing a bit more of the world than just Russia. Quite a bit, actually, if this page on the official website is anything to go by. For those too lazy to click on things, we’re looking at playing in some pretty obscure locations: Zambia, Nicaragua, Pakistan and the Barrents Sea to name but a few.

More may not always be better (having recently consumed my bodyweight in Easter eggs I feel pretty confident in making that statement), but if you are one of those “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” types then you’ll just love all the shiny things Ubisoft has in store for you in Future Soldier.

First off, there are the guns. Ubisoft has promised over 9000 50 highly customisable guns for use in the single and multiplayer. When we say customisable, by the way, we mean customisable. We’re not just talking about the optics, barrels, grips and rails changes which have become standard in most shooters these days, but everything down to the trigger and gas systems as well. All of this customisation is going to be facilitated by a system called Gunsmith. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they needed to attach a snappy name to their weapon customisation system besides simply drawing attention to the level of customisation they’re offering. I used their buzzword, though, so hopefully they won’t sue me now. That said, it does look awfully shiny and works with Kinect, so make of that what you will.

It seems as if weapon customisation is going to be available in the singleplayer, co-op / Guerrilla and multiplayer modes, but we haven’t heard anything too precise on exactly how much overlap there will be between them.

Luckily for you kids, the guns are just the start of the toys Ubisoft has in store for you. A very large part of the emphasis in Future Soldier is on the technology you have at your disposal and how far ahead of the poor bastards you come up against that puts you. There is too much of it for me to mention, so I’ll stick to discussing the more notable gizmos and gadgets you get to play with. For a full list, you can follow this link.

Like I said earlier, intel (which from what I can tell basically means “where the enemies are”) plays an important part of the game. Or at the very least, Ubisoft would like you to think it does. The engineer can pilot numerous types of drones which can scout out enemy positions and fortifications (usually) undetected. The drone then relays this information back to the ‘Cross Com’ system, which is a central hub of information shared between the Ghosts. This hub cross-references all of the information it receives (from the drones and from the sensors on each individual Ghost) and uses it to create the ‘Augmented Reality’ system, visible through the Ghost’s sexy-looking sunglasses. The Augmented Reality system gives each Ghost access to all of the information which the other Ghosts have: ammo counts, physical conditions and, most importantly (unless your buddy happens to take a bullet to the face or something; then physical condition might become more important) enemy positions. It basically lets you see ‘through’ a wall, as long as you have a friend with cool shades who can see the other side. Which is pretty awesome. On top of just being awesome, it allows you to line up some insanely attractive synchronised kills with the rest of your squad, and makes fighting while pinned down in cover far less of a mission.

Them Ghosts love their stealth almost as much as their synchonrised kills, too, as can be seen in this oh-so-sexy trailer. Fair enough, too, because unless you want an entire ultranationalist army bearing down on your ass you would want to stay relatively undetected. Imagine their excitement, then, when they heard about the Optical Camo cloaking system. While it doesn’t render you completely invisible, it does make you transparent and far, far harder to spot, making it much easier to get into just the position you need for the aforementioned synchronised kills.

Now that we’ve got the major tech out of the way, let’s start talking gameplay and squad interaction.

What we’re looking at here is a pretty standard cover-based, third-person shooter, with some notable streamlines and interesting adaptations. You’ve got your standard get-your-ass-the-hell-behind-that-chest-high-wall command, and well as your ability to vault and roll over cover. You can fire from out of cover and, more interestingly, peek out from behind cover to spot enemies for your teammates. One addition which should prove welcome to a pretty tired system (provided they pull it off, of course) is a mechanic which allows you to move from cover to cover by selecting the next object you want to hide behind while still in cover, making transitioning between cover far more seamless, and helping you not kill yourself in the process. You aren’t as safe behind cover as you thought you were, either. Not only have Ubisoft declared that any son of a bitch unfortunate enough to find himself pinned down behind cover by a machine gun shall have his screen shake, field of view diminished and practically lose his ability to aim down their sights. This means you either need to run out from behind the cover (and probably die), throw a smoke grenade and then run out from behind the cover (and probably not die) or get a buddy to help you out. That buddy had better come fast, though, because cover is now destructible, meaning that if that machinegunner has the time to have his way then there (literally) won’t be anything standing between you and him.

In terms of squad interaction, the player doesn’t have access to an approach as ‘hands on’ as we see in games like Mass Effect, where they can control the positioning and weapon and ability use of their AI companions. Instead, the player can designate a target for each squad member when they are out of combat, to perform a synchronised take-down, or identify a high-priority target during combat, causing their squad members to target it more than other enemies.

If AI isn’t quite your thing then Ubisoft has you covered, too. In fact, they might be a bit disappointed if AI is your thing, given how enormous the stink they’re making about their co-op system is. The entire singleplayer campaign is fully co-op integrated, though we haven’t heard anything about whether or not there will be a drop-in / drop-out system in place, and exactly what will be used to facilitate the co-op. If that’s still a bit too stale for you, though, then Guerilla Mode might be more up your alley. Essentially being a wave-based survival mode, Caveshen would love to have you believe that it is a Horde Mode (from Gears of War 3) clone, though it isn’t quite that simple. Firstly, we all know that CoD: World at War’s Nazi Zombie mode was the first of its kind, so everything else is actually cloning that. Second and more importantly, however, the developers have added a stealth portion to the game which precedes the wave survival portion. Players will first have to sneak up on an enemy location and bring it under their control before the hordes (calm down, Cavie) descend upon them. Every ten rounds or so players will have to move up and capture a new location, all stealthy-like once again. This sounds like a very interesting addition, and one which could hopefully break the action-packed monotony (that isn’t as much of an oxymoron as it sounded. Promise) which can come of having to mindlessly hold out against wave after wave of enemies.

Keeping in line with Future Soldier’s singleplayer and co-op, the multiplayer is designed from the ground up to be very reliant on teamwork. All of the multiplayer modes are objective based, effectively forcing the team to work together, and discouraging ‘lone ranger’ shenanigans. We know that there will be about four of these objective-based game modes, though we haven’t been told how they will differ from one another, and what sort of objectives we’re talking about. Some of the grey area should be removed when the Beta goes live on April 19th.

Those lucky enough to get their hands on the Beta (and those who eventually end up playing the full multiplayer) will find themselves in the shoes of either the Rifleman, Scout or Engineer. The Rifleman is your standard front-rank soldier, with access to assault rifles and light machine guns. The Scout is your classic sniper, with access to sniper rifles and sub-machine guns. The Engineer gets to have slightly more fun than the other classes, as not only do they have access to shotguns and personal defense rifles, but they get to fly the intel drone.

On that note, you remember intel being a big deal in the co-op and singleplayer? Not much has changed in the multiplayer. The Engineer with his recon drone plays a large part in this, along with allies spotting enemies for the team. An interesting new method of gaining intel which is only available in the multiplayer is the player’s ability to stun (not kill) an enemy soldier using various different gadgets and gizmos, and then hack into their Cross Com hub in order to gain their intel. The hacking takes time, though, and if you are interrupted (read: killed) during the hack your team gains nothing. The risk is worth the reward, however, because if you succeed then you and the rest of your team is treated to the knowledge of each enemy’s location for a limited amount of time.

Ghost Recon has always been something of a love it or hate it series, but with any luck the strong emphasis on team-based gameplay and what looks to be a well-streamlined cover system should make the game relatively accessible to those new to the series, and perhaps even to the genre. As was mentioned in the introduction, this game does run the risk of simply becoming another game which failed to make anything of what is now a pretty worn-out cliche, but what we’ve seen of the gameplay so far looks encouraging, and the innovations we’ve been exposed to so far lend weight to the idea that there may be hope that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier manages to set itself apart from the pack.

Oh, and it’s going to have LAN support.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Bureaucracy Is Killing Character In Games http://egmr.net/2012/04/a-gamers-perspective-bureaucracy-is-killing-character-in-games/ http://egmr.net/2012/04/a-gamers-perspective-bureaucracy-is-killing-character-in-games/#comments Fri, 13 Apr 2012 09:00:19 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=80203 Every now and then during one of my writing sessions I’ll finish off a paragraph, sentence or practically any train of thought which my mind was on, lean back in […]

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Every now and then during one of my writing sessions I’ll finish off a paragraph, sentence or practically any train of thought which my mind was on, lean back in my chair (not too far, though – with the back rest being as shot as it is there is far too real a chance of me going ass over tits before I even realise it) and have myself a think. Not just any think, though. In fact, the term ‘think’ is woefully inadequate in describing the sort of depths and lengths to which this wandering of the mind goes; ‘muse’ is probably far more apt. Most of the time all these musings really do is show up uninvited on the doorstep of my consciousness, crash on my couch, eat all the pizza and slash my overall productivity in half, effectively tripling the amount of time it takes me to complete a column. I let it fly, though, because every now and then they bring a completely mind-blowing epiphany (or ‘sudden realisation of great truth’, as that chick from The Simpsons’ Movie put it) along with them. Some of the more notable epiphanies include insight into how the sweet and savoury combination of peanut butter and syrup on a sandwich works so damn well, comprehension of the profound political satire found in Pussy, Money, Weed by Li’l Wayne and, most importantly, the realisation that there are an awful lot of games out there.

Granted, that last one may initially seem significantly less profound and somewhat more self-evident than the other two but we love it all the same for it shall provide the basis for the subject matter of my column for today.

“But Duncan! Didn’t we already know that there are a lot of games out there and furthermore, how could that ever be column-worthy? It couldn’t really be anything but a good thing, and a column where you just told us how much you like that there are lots of games in the world would be quite a cop-out, don’t you think?”

My thoughts exactly, dear reader – that’s why I scrapped the first draft of this column. More relevantly, I’m not too sure I would be too hasty in jumping to the conclusion that more games immediately equals more awesome. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not by any means complaining that I as a gamer have my entertainment needs for the next ten years more than met. As with most things, though, the boom of the games industry in the last few years is a multifaceted issue and simplifying it to the level of objectively good or bad simply doesn’t do it justice. Unfortunately, neither my time nor your attention span allow me to fully unpack such an issue in this column so we’ll have to focus on something slightly more specific. How the ‘gaming boom’ has affected the character of games, for example.

Before this column gets unbearably vague, let’s narrow down exactly what I mean when I talk about the ‘character’ of a game. We aren’t talking about your Gordon Freemans, Zeldas or Marios here. We’re talking about an aspect of the nature of a game which gives it its individualism. Certain quirks or qualities which are particularly evident in a certain game which set it apart from the rest. The way I’m using the term here, the character of a game could be synonymous with the style of writing in an article. In the same way that an article with an engaging style can transform the arduous process of communicating an idea into an enjoyable experience, the character of a game can add new levels of depth and immersion to what would otherwise be a simple hack and slash adventure title.

Another parallel which can be drawn between style and character is that the presence of both is the product of the creator’s interest in their creation. Just as one gets a sense for when a writer has truly enjoyed writing a particular article, one senses too when a development team has truly poured all of their passion and energy into a game, making it not just for the sake of receiving a paycheck but because they truly want the world to see their game, and because they are devoted to making it a product entirely their own as much as a product of quality.

Character is probably the factor which makes a game most memorable and enjoyable for me. Sure, playing a relatively compelling or well-executed game can be fun and rewarding, but when I’m playing a game where the character is bordering on tangible it almost feels as if I’m sharing in something of the passion which the developers put into the game. I can feel how much they want their game to be enjoyed, and because of those I enjoy it all the more.

While reading this, you probably have a game or three coming to mind. Games which touched you and continue to stay with you long after the credits rolled – everyone sees something slightly different when they play a game, so the games will be different for everyone. The most pertinent examples of what I’m describing would, for me, be Borderlands and Fallout 3. Sure, both had their flaws and their areas of weakness but Gearbox and Bethesda put something special, something of themselves into those games and it is because of this that they resonated with me all the more.

Simply put, my concern is that the ‘gaming boom’ is significantly reducing how often we see a game with true ‘character’ released. As the games market has become more competitive and increasingly ruled by bureaucracy, we have seen the focus shift from simply producing a product of quality which the consumer can enjoy to simply meeting deadlines and having the damn thing finished so that it gets on the market in time for the sheep to lap it up.

Developers have started producing games to keep the fat cats from hanging them instead of out of a genuine passion for making a game. Sequels are created because a sequel is the best marketing decision and not because the developers can’t sleep at night knowing the fans don’t know how Soap’s story ends yet. The resultant bureaucracy of the ‘gaming boom’ has succeeded in sucking the soul out of game development in far too many cases, and it is because of this that we are seeing fewer and fewer games with true ‘character’ being released.

Ironically enough, though, character is probably something the games industry needs more than ever at the moment. With the markets as saturated as they are, games of a certain genre are becoming less and less distinguishable from their competition in that genre. To get that extra edge over their competitors, games these days need an ‘X Factor’. Most try to set themselves apart by emphasising a particular aspect of their game – the extremely realistic fire in Far Cry 2 or the emphasis on choice and the player’s impact on the story in the Mass Effect series, for example. I would argue that to truly set your game apart, you need more than simple gimmicks or ammunition for marketing campaigns; your game needs a soul.

We’ve already discussed that one can innately sense the passion which goes into the creation of a game, and appreciate the resultant character found in such a game. Zeal is contagious, and if the developers put a big enough dose into their games then both the reviewers and the consumers are going to lap it up and come crawling back for more, as is evident from the responses to the games still released today which do have ‘character’.

So, those of you with connections in the gaming industry: tell your buddies to throw their deadlines and checklists out of the window, give Bobby Kotick the Falcon Punch he deserves and bring the fun back into game development, so that we can reap the rewards.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Holding Developers Accountable http://egmr.net/2012/03/a-gamers-perspective-holding-developers-accountable/ http://egmr.net/2012/03/a-gamers-perspective-holding-developers-accountable/#comments Fri, 30 Mar 2012 09:00:14 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=78265 I know, I know — you don’t want to hear another word about Mass Effect 3, BioWare or anything even vaguely related to them for as long as you live. […]

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I know, I know — you don’t want to hear another word about Mass Effect 3, BioWare or anything even vaguely related to them for as long as you live. We haven’t just flogged the dead horse here — we invoked the arcane powers of the Council of the Seven, resurrected that son of a mare and took it to his undead ass all over again. So, while there is certainly no shortage of flogging flying around, I can’t just let the damn thing die in peace; I haven’t quite had my say about anything even vaguely related to the issues which have been inflamed by all of the nonsense which seems to be following Mass Effect 3 around, you see, and I’m nothing if I’m not just as sadistic as the rest of you sad bastards, so I’ll have my flog and you’ll sit by, watch and enjoy it!

Justified though I evidently am in venting my highly subjective personal opinions regarding all this nonsense, I suppose it is still in my best interest to make this as painless a read for you as possible, so allow me to provide you with the assurance that I honestly couldn’t give a rat’s tail less about Mass Effect 3 or even BioWare in general, for that matter. In fact, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who cares less about either of the aforementioned bones of contention than me. Dragon Age was boring, I didn’t even bother with its sequel, and the Mass Effect series pales in comparison to the masterpiece which was Fallout 3. As far as I’m concerned, people in glass houses shouldn’t launch games with sub-par endings into space, and that’s about all that needs to be said on those matters.

Completely apart from the emotionally charged arguments which continue to be fueled by people’s personal opinions, though, these shenanigans have raised some very interesting issues, which I simply cannot let pass without throwing my two cents over them into the ring. I mean, how often is it that a game of Mass Effect’s calibre meets with such strong negative feedback in general, let alone over an aspect such as its ending? Furthermore, how often does a developer as big as Bioware respond to fan criticism post-release at all, and by doing something as drastic as changing their game’s ending? As always, I stand (or, more accurately, sit) subject to correction, but I’m pretty sure that we haven’t seen anything of the like in, well, ever. I don’t know about you, but I think that warrants me flogging the dead horse a tad more on at least some level.

I have to admit, what surprised me most about the announcement wasn’t the fact that Bioware planned to alter their original conclusion to the final chapter of their space-based RPG epic trilogy. It was the fact that they were doing something at all to respond to the fan criticism. It is in fact a tad worrying how easy it is to think of examples of situations where big-shot developers have pissed off their fan bases — it seems to be a mandatory part of every triple-A release’s PR campaign these days — but remarkably difficult to think of examples where the developers in question have done anything to try and redeem themselves in the eyes of the aforementioned fan base.

In light of that, then, it seems like a pretty good thing that Bioware has heard the cries of their market and responded accordingly, right? Right. There are heathen out there who will tell you that developers should ignore criticism raised against them by fans and just do what they deem best, but I feel that that is a slippery slope we just don’t want to get on to. Certainly, developers need to be careful in filtering criticism — you can’t please everyone, after all — but when there is such a strong outcry from so many fans which has been founded and justified on tangible, logical grounds, I believe that the developer has an obligation as the son of a gun we pay to make us happy to take steps towards giving us what we want.

Then again, do they really? At the end of the day, they offer a product on the market — a game — and we as the consumer choose whether or not to support them with our money. The argument can very easily be made that quality is ultimately a subjective thing, and the developer releasing the game could honestly have thought that their product was of a certain standard of quality, and advertised it as such, while the consumer who buys the product disagrees. We aren’t forced into partaking in the transaction, and as such we can’t really hold anyone but ourselves accountable if we make a stupid purchase. If we are then ultimately responsible for making good purchases, what is the point of complaining to a developer, or any sort of producer, for that matter? They have already fulfilled their obligation in terms of the contract of trade which you entered into with them — they provided you with a product — and have no further responsibility to provide you with anything.

Before we start looking more deeply at where the producer’s responsibility to their consumer ends, let’s assume that the claim I made there is accurate, and look at the point of complaining for the consumer in the case where the premise of the producer’s responsibility does in fact end once they have provided the product.

In this case, there are three broad motives for a consumer to complain about a product or criticize a producer.

First of all, they could be complaining simply for the sake of complaining. You’re pissed off because you made a stupid decision, and need a way to vent your frustration, so you rant and rave and stamp your feet and tell anyone who will listen how stupid BioWare is because you wasted your money on a game with a crap ending. This one is pretty simple, as the aim and the ends don’t go much further than making you feel better and helping you reconcile yourself with the reality of having made a bad purchase.

Second, there is a large incentive to try and ‘get even’ when you feel you have been cheated. You don’t think you got your money’s worth, and as such you want to bring the person who cheated you — the producer or developer — into disrepute. This is slightly more practical than the first reason, as you actually aim to achieve something fairly tangible (increasing the amount of negativity in which a product or producer is perceived), but remains very much a ‘tit-for-tat’ or an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ type of response.

The last, probably most common, motive to criticize a producer would be to ensure not only that other producers don’t end up being cheated the same way you were, but also to make sure that the bastard who rips you off loses out on as many sales as possible. This sort of criticism focuses far more on the specific product which you were dissatisfied with than on the producer of the product — after all, you want to discourage people from buying a product, not reduce buy-in to a producing entity. Naturally, then, criticism driven by this motive will, much like the last one, take place publicly, so that as many people as possible know not to buy the product in question.

There are three pretty good reasons as to why people are incentivised to criticise producers even though making a bad purchase is their own damn fault, then.

People’s complaints about products and outcries against developers go far beyond simple criticism, though. Very often they place a burden on the producer to actually do something about the fact that the consumer feels as if they didn’t get what they paid for, and as such we need to go back and analyse the validity of that claim I made a while ago (the one about producers not being implicated into any responsibility when they provide a product). To do this, let’s try and bring in some context with concrete examples, so that we can more clearly assess where exactly the responsibility of the developer ends.

First of all, let’s establish some concrete facts. As a general rule, people do not hold suppliers or producers accountable when they provide a sub-standard product which the consumer buys. People don’t ask for their money back after they make the mistake of going to watch Bride Wars or buying any Harry Potter game ever created. They do, however, believe themselves entitled to some sort of action on the producer’s part when the product they purchase is flawed, or does not function properly. We feel entitled to having our product replaced, or our money returned if we purchase a graphics card which blows up the first time we plug it in. Similarly, when we buy a game which has bugs in it, we expect the developers to patch it, even though we have already paid for it. We can conclude, then, that while don’t place any burdens on the producer when we buy a product of low quality, we do place burdens on them when we purchase a product which lacks the functionality necessary for us to use it properly.

Crying to developers can serve a purpose beyond simply trying to bring their name and profits down, then: we can demand them to provide us with the functionality they are obligated to (for example, producing a patch for their game).

So, how does all of this relate to the negative fan outcry against Mass Effect 3? Well, the criticism has been, for the large part, quality and not functionality orientated. The between the fan criticism and what I described, though, is that it called for redemptive action on the part of BioWare because they produced something which could be considered a bad product. As I’ve described, this isn’t the norm when a producer creates a lackluster product; usually we’re prepared to accept that crap games get made, and sometimes we make the mistake of spending our money on them. So, it goes deeper than the game simply not being of a certain quality — the game was not of a quality which fans and consumers expected of the game.

How does expectation change the burden on the publisher, then? If a game doesn’t meet the expectations of the market, is the developer implicated into the responsibility of appeasing their market?

I don’t believe the answer to either of these questions is a concrete yes, and as such the answer is probably a ‘no’ by normative definition, developers upon whom such an expectation is placed usually find themselves in the position where it is best to try and appease their market, at least on some level.

Some go about it by trying to convince the market that the game isn’t actually as bad as they think it is (I think we can all imagine how well that works out) and others apologise outright, promising to fix it the next time around. Such apologies are usually accompanied by remuneration from the company in some form (usually free or additional content for the game in question, or another game of the developers creation). BioWare has taken it a step further, though, and tried to please their market by actually trying to solve the problem they’re being called out on; in a sense, trying to fix an issue of quality the same way they would an issue of functionality.

BioWare is in a rather unique position in this regard, as when most developers are called out over quality, it is in a far more overall sense — the game’s storytelling in general was exceptionally shoddy, for example, or the cutscene animations were enough to cut yourself over — whereas in this case, the issue of quality is highly localized — a specific point in the game’s storyline. This puts BioWare in a position where they are actually able to fix what they are being criticized about, whereas most publishers who come under attack would only be able to address the issues raised about the quality of their games in future releases.

Naturally, the issue of whether or not one should actually be able to change a game’s ending is a whole other one entirely, which I hope to get around to in a future column, but which plays a pretty important role in terms of how developers should react to criticisms of quality.

Ultimately, though, I welcome such a response from BioWare. It is very much a reaction to criticism leveled by disappointed fans of the series, and an attempt to right their wrongs. The argument could be made that they’re doing it to milk the game even further through the revenue they’ll get from selling the new ending as DLC, and I’m not entirely sure I’d disagree with it, but cash-cowing and profit is a reality in the gaming industry, and will happen regardless, so I’m happy to tolerate a bit of it and get some tangible interaction with fan criticism and opinion on the part of the developer in return. It certainly is a departure from the precedent of nonchalance, inactivity and insincere, bureaucratic apologies set by other developers and publishers, so I’m certainly not going to complain. And neither should you.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Third Dimension African Politics http://egmr.net/2012/03/a-gamers-perspective-third-dimension-african-politics/ http://egmr.net/2012/03/a-gamers-perspective-third-dimension-african-politics/#comments Fri, 16 Mar 2012 09:00:54 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=76765 Given that you’re reading this column via the internet, I feel relatively safe in assuming you’ve heard a thing or two about either Joseph Kony, Kony 2012 or Invisible Children, […]

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Given that you’re reading this column via the internet, I feel relatively safe in assuming you’ve heard a thing or two about either Joseph Kony, Kony 2012 or Invisible Children, or some combination of the three. If not, feel free to educate yourself. As one can imagine, aspects such as the financial shadiness of The Invisible Child as an organisation, US oil interest in Uganda and the biased, selective nature of the video in question (to name but a few) have served as the metaphorical horns of war, summoning Keyboard Warriors from the farthest corners of Facebook away from their copies of Noseweek and out of their grandmothers’ basements to participate in the largest, most pointless Facebook debate since An Inconvenient Truth first showed its misrepresented face in cinemas. While I am immensely indebted to the Kony 2012 campaign as a whole because of how damned entertaining it made Facebook for the week or so it was big news and have no intentions of making any allusions to J-man Kony being anything other than a psychopathic douchebag, I do still feel there need to be at least one or two concessions made to those on the anti-Kony 2012 side of things.

Much as I would love the comments section of this article to become an extended Kony 2012 debate (my comment count would EXPLODE), I think we’ll just focus on the fact that while the atrocities Kony and his cronies (heh) have committed are not even a little bit nice, there are other equally (if not more) deserving causes out there which the Kony 2012 campaign is diverting attention from.

Given this, what I’d like to do in today’s column is challenge us all to broaden our minds a bit, think beyond ourselves and also to think more carefully about the types of causes which we should be giving our support to. To do so, we’re going to be taking a look at one of the most pressing, yet tragically ignored humanitarian disasters ever to knock at our social consciences: the emergence of 3D in modern media.

3D is fast becoming to modern media what Robert Mugabe is to Zimbabwe, and that really isn’t a very good thing for anyone at all. Just like good ol’ Bobby-M, 3D was received with elation as it brought with it promises and hopes of change, development and the possibility of a brighter, more awesome future to look forward to. Let’s face it, there wasn’t one among us who didn’t let the eight-year-old bottled up inside them off the leash a bit and froth at the mouth over the concept of actually living the movie, or get all excited at the thought of being immersed in a game to the point where things seem to actually, physically exist before you.

Even just speaking conceptually, simply for context’s sake, these ideas summon the explosion-crazed, far too easily impressed, not nearly objective enough gamer within me, who I have to beat down with reminders of the fact that if this were the point at which the story about Mugabe ended, Zimbabwe would be a far less depressing setting right now.

Just like Mugabe plunged his country into an economic recession, contracted syphilis and undermined the fundamental pillars of democracy, so too does the tale of 3D not go quite the way we’d have hoped.

Due to the limitations of current-gen hardware and lack of support base as of yet, 3D really hasn’t caught on much in the gaming industry, so I don’t have all that much to rant about in terms of 3D in games (you bet your wisdom teeth, though, that when / if that statement ceases to be accurate, I’m going to have a thing or three to say about it). There is still an awful lot to be said about the use of 3D in movies, though, so let’s jump right on in to it.

The first thing we need to realise is that 3D is by no means as logical a development in terms of the way films are presented as proponents of 3D would have you believe. In the past, major innovations in cinema have been focused around bridging a clear gap in communication between the viewer and the film-maker. Sound was added to movies, and suddenly film-makers could use the voices of actual actors, soundtracks and sound effects to enhance their ability to deliver an experience which is more wholesome, easier to understand and less obtrusive for the viewer. The addition of sound made movies more easy to interact with and relate to. A similar thing could be said for the transition from black-and-white film to colour film — the progression was a logical one, allowing the viewer to engage more easily with the film and allowing for the film to be more easily communicated to the viewer.

Does the same not hold true with the transition from 2D to 3D, then? In short: no. As it stands, we are able to comprehend and internalise full well the visual events taking place in a 2D movie — our brains can perceive depth within them, meaning that they make visual sense to us, and we can interpret them unhindered by the lack of physical depth. 3D does not aid us in understanding the movie or having the movie communicated to us any better or more clearly than it already was being communicated. Having seen 3D movies in both 2D and 3D (Avatar, for example), I can honestly say that the difference I found wasn’t in being able to perceive the movie any better when I watched it in 3D than in 2D, and I believe that the same will hold true regardless of how advanced our 3D technology becomes. Simply put, 3D is not an inherent improvement over 2D in the same way colour was over black-and-white, or sound was over subtitles.

This is not to say that 3D doesn’t have a place in cinema — far from it. This is to say, however, that 3D exists in cinema not to communicate the movie more effectively, but to an add extra level of appreciable depth to a movie. 3D is almost an art medium, in a sense. We can look again at the example of Avatar, and how 3D wasn’t used to wow the audience because “WHAT THE SON OF A BITCH IT’S FLOATING RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE RAH RAH RAH”, but rather to complement the scenery and the setting, to control the climax of certain moments and to contextualise different scenes in certain manners. So, while it didn’t necessarily make the movie easier to digest, it became a subtle addition to the narrative technique of the movie, making the experience on the whole a more complete one.

So far, this is all sounding like pretty fair analysis cementing and supporting the specific role which 3D plays in the presentation and narrative of movies, which is good, because that’s exactly what it is. The problem, however, is that no distinction is made between a movie which should use 3D and one which shouldn’t.

In the same way that while Bear Grylls does indeed drink his own piss, drinking your own piss doesn’t necessarily make you Bear Grylls, rendering your movie in 3D doesn’t make it Avatar. 3D can be a huge asset to a director when they are trying to create a more engaging, powerfully narrated film, but if the required finesse, thought and lack of retardedness doesn’t go into the creation of your 3D movie, all it ends up doing is charging viewers double the price, giving them a headache and making the screen blurry if you don’t have those retarded glasses on.

In an ideal world, then, film-makers would make a conscious decision about whether or not they intend to use 3D to the capacity it needs to be used to, to be effective, and choose whether or not to make their film a 3D one from there. Naturally, that isn’t really how the world works, and so nine times out of ten what ends up happening is that they shoot a 2D movie and render it in 3D, so that they can charge you twice the price and drown in their profits (see: the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where the amount of 3D actually used was directly proportional to the amount of food the average Ethiopian child has to eat).

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, there are many reasons why I hate 3D in movies. People don’t distinguish between movies which should and shouldn’t use 3D, and so make ALL THE MOVIES in 3D, I’m cheap, I honestly prefer 2D as a medium over 3D and I happen to be one of those unfortunate buggers who gets a headache from watching a full 3D movie. At the end of the day, though, only one reason can reign supreme: those glasses. I think it’s pretty self-evident that whoever the hell thought those monstrosities up had some serious issues over failing to get action on a date in the movies. Because, let’s be frank, if you can’t even take yourself seriously wearing those things, there’s no way your date is going to. And thus did the popular pastime of dating at the movies meet with a morbidly unceremonious death at the hands of the movie industry’s equivalent of Bobby Kotick. We wouldn’t care much about that, though, would we? This being a gaming site and all…

Oh unfounded stereotypes — if only I could conclude my columns as well as you can.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Bring Back My Expansion Pack! http://egmr.net/2012/03/a-gamers-perspective-bring-back-my-expansion-pack/ http://egmr.net/2012/03/a-gamers-perspective-bring-back-my-expansion-pack/#comments Fri, 02 Mar 2012 09:00:03 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=74991 Having managed to finally dig my way more or less out of the metaphorical snowdrift caused by the equally metaphorical blizzard of work currently laying siege to my entirely literal […]

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Having managed to finally dig my way more or less out of the metaphorical snowdrift caused by the equally metaphorical blizzard of work currently laying siege to my entirely literal life, I did the only sane thing any good gamer would do with their free time on a Sunday afternoon, and headed over to good ol’ eGamer.co.za. As soon as I opened the weekly round up I knew there was something different about this one… Gamenomics perhaps? Nay; despite sounding suspiciously like ‘gnome’ when I said it in my head, this was not the article for which my eGamer senses tingled. While it was highly interesting to find that we had released our first podcast (this also served as a pretty good reminder that I should really make time to check my emails), that wasn’t it either. Then, just as I was beginning to question my sanity a musky odour, the likes of which could only waft off of Mass Effect 3 spoilers, forced itself upon my nasal cavity.

There was no time to waste. Probably being one of the least concerned people on the planet when it comes to Mass Effect plot arcs and a born and bred eGamer author at heart, I had no problem with tainting my eventual experience of the third installment to the franchise in question, especially when the prize was as glorious as Cavie knowing that he couldn’t safely read any of my emails or talk to me on Mumble until the game’s release, for fear of me blurting out how Miranda two-timed Shepard with Garrus or something (the beauty, you see, is that he’ll live the rest of the two weeks until release with a mild twitch in his left eyebrow because he doesn’t know if I’m kidding or not).

Much as I would love to have Cavie start an IP trace on me as he edits these very words, muster Haig and the rest of the Cavites and show up at my house at around the same time this article goes live, baying for blood, pitchforks and copies of Dragon Age 2 in hand and have to explain the whole scenario to my mom, I feel it would be best to avoid mentioning the exact nature of the spoilers in question. That said, I think I can make the assumption that we all know the spoilers were revealed through leaked DLC (I swear that’s the second time Microsoft has done this to ME3?) without fearing too much for my bodily well being. Here’s where it gets fun, though: the nature of the leaked DLC in question (it being ‘Day 1 DLC’, or available on date of the release of the game itself) has brought enough heat to put a decent helping of thermite to shame right to the doorstep of dear Caveshen’s beloved Bioware. TotalBiscuit (British accent wielding, top hat-touting eSports and general gaming culture community figure) has even decided to use even go want to do look more like gone so far as to call for a boycott against the game in question. It’s going to fail hilariously, of course (the boycott, that is), but when the internet gets this uppity about something, it can only mean one thing — there’s a debate to be had. And where there’s a debate to be had, there’s a column to be written about that debate. And that debate is about DLC. Not Day 1 DLC, though — that’s way too hip at the moment. We’re going to be taking a trip down memory lane and reflecting upon a pretty awesome era gone by — that of expansion packs — and drawing some parallels between expansion packs and DLC, ultimately looking at some aspects of DLC that I really am not a fan of at the moment.

So, now that I’ve covered all my bases and brought us all safely back to the same page (this column only really consists of one page, though, so I’m not actually sure how you managed to navigate your way to a different one — you should really be more careful in the future), let’s actually start chewing on the meat of this column — the debate in question, that is, not the decaying remains of those we didn’t manage bring back to the page in time.

In the days of old, you see, when a developer wanted to keep milking a franchise or tap into the market loyal to a particularly successful title without releasing a whole new game, they only really had one option open to them: release an expansion pack.

Expansion packs were, on the whole, pretty darn good for the games industry and for the gamers themselves. First off, by their definition and nature, expansion packs were only released some months after their parent games were set upon the world, and people had to have the parent game to play them. This means that developers were only able to even think of creating an expansion pack if their game’s initial success merited it — they had to have support and popularity sufficient enough to base an expansion on. If the parent game wasn’t successful enough, the developers’ profits got defecated on from a dizzying height by this beautiful thing called reality.

Why does this matter? Simple — the developer had to make a good game, otherwise there was no hope of continuation or any further profiteering at all. They couldn’t exactly release the expansion pack at the same time as the parent game, as we see happening with DLC these days, because that would be utterly retarded. The only real option this leaves is to make a good game, which is, you know, a pretty good thing for all parties involved.

Secondly, by stereotype and industry expectation, expansion packs held some pretty decent substance. The stingiest of them added at least a few hours of game time through tangent missions and storylines, with most bringing entirely new main quest segments, multiplayer additions, expansions and overhauls, new items, and so on and so forth. But, wait, there’s more! All this awesomeness could be yours for only a third, or half at most, of the price you paid for the parent game itself. That is, I’m sure we can all agree, some pretty insane value for money. Nowadays, Activision has us forking out 10, maybe even 20 dollars for a lousy map pack.

Naturally, there are numerous other reasons why I could sing the praises of expansion packs, but I’ve covered the ones I wanted to — namely, those which stand in contrast to the problems with the prevalent system of DLC.

In this age of online retailing, where gamers can literally purchase an entire game simply by clicking a few buttons, significantly less thought goes into a purchase (whether of a full game, an expansion pack, or DLC) than when you had to lug your sorry ass off to the nearest BT Games, Musica, or what have you, pull out your wallet and actually hand physical cash monies over. People today are making purchases which they would never have made five years ago, and because of that game developers are being held far less accountable for producing bad games, or DLC that isn’t really worth the price one ends up paying for it.

What this means is that more energy goes into hyping a game than actually giving it DLC worth playing, because as long as you release the DLC close enough to the release date that everyone is still playing your game, you’re pretty much guaranteed sales. It doesn’t even need to tangibly add to the game — as Activision has showed us time and again, you can chuck four maps from the current installment’s predecessor together, charge $15 for it and make a killing.

So, the average DLC pack nowadays doesn’t hold as much substance as the average expansion pack used to. People are making stupid purchases, and as such developers are getting away with theft, and not being held accountable for sub-par products. The situation we find ourselves in is a pretty bleak, truly frustrating one. I’m not audacious enough to volunteer any analysis as to how this might change, because it’s still a pretty new phenomenon, and I’m sure in time we’ll start seeing market equilibrium reached and all that good stuff. What I am going to volunteer, however, is the way I would like DLC to look like in the ideal future.

Firstly, I have no problem with smaller DLC releases. In fact, they’re awesome. Extra guns, maps, armour, whatever are all great, as long as they fulfill two criteria. First, they need to be priced correctly. No matter how shiny it looks, the Golden Storm Bolter is not of a value equivalent to six extra hours of gameplay, SO IT CAN’T COST AS MUCH. The same goes for maps (as you can probably tell, this maps story really got to me). Secondly, they have to be properly balanced, and integrate into the game well — I don’t want to buy a gun that I never actually want to use because I plow through everything in the first five hours of the game with laughable ease. That means I’ve spent money only to have less fun, which should only happen if you’ve had to fork out for a badly done 3D movie.

Secondly, I’d like to see a shift to more expansion pack-styled DLC. We’ve already seen offerings from both Read Dead Redemption (their Undead Nightmare shindig) and GTA (EFLC, anyone?) in this regard, and I support them wholeheartedly. Expansion packs with the added convenience of being downloadable? Yes, please.

Third, and most ethereal of all, I’d like to see the furtherance of a game beyond simply its release become more about adding to something awesome you’ve created and extending upon the profound joy your product brings to the hearts of gamers everywhere than blindly milking your consumers. As I said, this is a very ethereal point, but that doesn’t necessarily make it less valid. It comes down to the fact that I feel that many developers decide they need to release DLC and look for a way to do that, rather than looking at your finished product and saying “Hey, there’s a ton more we could do here, and I’d love to expand on this aspect of the story. Let’s make some DLC!”. I want the people making my games to love what they’re doing, and to be able to see the fruits of that when I sit down to play them, but alas — that’s a column for another time.

Many would also take the opportunity, I’m sure, to include the eradication of Day 1 DLC here as well — to be honest, I remain undecided on the issue. It certainly isn’t a small debate, and is one I definitely don’t want to trivialise by affording it undue attention in this column. Worry not, though — that’s coming soon, too.

Like I say, I’m not entirely sure how we’re going to reach this ideal point in the DLC market, or if we ever will — DLC hasn’t been going long enough for us to make those sorts of observations, but it is my sincere hope that we start seeing developers taking steps towards this ideal situation in the near future.

A thought in passing, for you to consider and come to conclusions on in your own capacity, as we draw near to the conclusion of this column: does the accessibility and convenience provided by DLC justify their sometimes seemingly insane price tags (once again, the Call of Duty Map Packs spring to mind), or are their prices still unjustifiably high?

At least three different issues which could each justify 2000+ word discursive columns loosely referred to, two future topics in the indefinite future alluded to and my initial points made? Seems like about time to sign off.

Before I do, though, consider one last thought: Can we really criticise a game for having Day 1 DLC when there were copies of it launched into space? Food for thought, indeed.

Stay classy, interwebz.

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Preview: Binary Domain http://egmr.net/2012/02/preview-binary-domain/ http://egmr.net/2012/02/preview-binary-domain/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2012 10:00:14 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=71800 Name: Binary Domain Genre: Third-person, squad based shooter Players: 1 Multiplayer: Yes (versus mode and co-op confirmed) Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 Developers: Ryu ga Gotoku Studio Publishers: SEGA Release Date: […]

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Name: Binary Domain
Genre: Third-person, squad based shooter
Players: 1
Multiplayer: Yes (versus mode and co-op confirmed)
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Developers: Ryu ga Gotoku Studio
Publishers: SEGA
Release Date: February 24, 2012 (EU, South Africa)

Binary Domain is a title which managed to catch my eye when it was first announced (after all, it isn’t every day that a Japanese developer takes a shot at making the contribution to the shooter genre), but managed to fade into the background on account of Gamepocalypse 2011, meagrely released information, and some seriously lacking marketing.

The most notable aspect of this game’s development is, as I’ve already alluded to, that it is being made by a Japanese developer — a newly formed one, at that, which goes by the name of Ryu ga Gotoku Studio (which will here-on-in be referred to as Goku Studios, ’cause it’s a lot easier to type and sounds really, really cool). When I first heard that a Japanese developer (especially such a newly formed one) was going to try to make an entry into the shooter industry, I must admit that I felt sorry for the poor bastards; they don’t have the experience, the guns (no pun intended) or the marketing necessary to really break into the Western market, let alone compare with the prominent shooter giants of today, and with the East just hating shooters in general, it looked like they were set up to collapse like a flan in a cupboard before they even got started. Given what we’ve seen from them so far, though, I’m inclined to allow the optimist in me to question whether some Asian Persuasion isn’t exactly what we need to revitalise the all-too-stagnant shooter genre.

The first refreshing aspect of this game is that if you choose to pick it up, you won’t be shooting Arabs, Russians or zombies (well, one can never shoot too many zombies, but a bit of variety never did any harm — unless you were allergic to whatever it was that did harm, of course. Then it might). Instead, as if to prove that the Japanese thought that the Sarah Connor Chronicles indicated a shift in focus of popular culture, you’re going to be finding yourself shooting Geth-esque, Japanese (who else?) made robots.

We’re also seeing a radical departure from the popular fixation on the current-day Middle East as a setting, with Goku Studios opting instead to set their game in Tokyo, 68 years from now. As the protagonist, you, along with a bunch of your special forces buddies have been shipped off to the aforementioned Japanese capital by the UN, who’re pretty worried about the sort of threats the Japanese-made AI’s pose to global security. Rightly so, I would assume, otherwise this is going to be one of the most bullet-less shooters I’ll play in a long time.

This brings us nicely along to the main aspect of the game Goku Studios is touting as the area they’re looking to set themselves apart in. According to Toshihiro Nagoshi from SEGA, Western shooters are far too mindlessly action orientated, meaning that very few engaging moments occur in the game, and when they do they usually come in the cut scenes between levels or stages. In order to combat this, the developers are trying to place a lot of emphasis on interaction with your squad, with your decisions and the way you treat them having an impact on their behaviour towards you.

This aspect follows the pretty simple formula of: the nicer you are, the more they’re going to be nice to you, back you up in combat, try to stop you from being shot and all that good stuff. Conversely, if you behave like a pretentious douchebag, there’s going to be a lot less team morale, fewer eager beavers ready with suggestions and a far highly likelihood of them accidentally not shooting the ‘bot ramming his plasma rifle down your throat. One interesting manifestation the system will have is that the way the game plays out will be dependent on how your squad mates feel towards you — depending on how much they do or don’t like you at a given time, they’ll choose whether or not to volunteer ideas they have, changing how you navigate the levels and environments, and also trigger certain events at varying times in the story. One is always afraid that an aspect like this may end up being a simple gimmick, but we can always live in hope that Goku Studios manage to create the depth necessary for it to give the game some semblance of replay value.

The squad itself is a mixture of clichéd and slightly more original characters, all of whom have basic backstories and descriptions, which you can read by clicking here (forgive me — there’s quite a bit). All in all, though, it sounds like it could be a legitimately engaging game, something the shooter genre needs desperately nowadays — let’s just hope the Japs manage to pull this side of it off.

Practically, it sounds like the squad system ought to be pretty well polished — you can issue basic commands, such as telling a certain squad member to move to a certain position, asking for covering fire, etcetera and etcetera, via either conventional push-button commands or through voice prompts via a headset. It certainly is exciting to see such a mechanic being utilised once again in a game — we saw it embraced to varying degrees of efficacy in Tom Clancy’s Endwar — but the question of whether or not they manage to pull off a decent interface remains unanswered.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot more to say on broader game mechanics — it sounds a lot like a pretty conventional, Mass Effect-type third-person shooter, with cover and environmental interaction making an appearance. This is really just the sort of thing you cross your fingers and hope Goku Studios manage to not bugger up epically, though — from what little gameplay we’ve seen, we can hope that we’re in good hands.

The last, and possibly least discussed aspect of the game is that of its multiplayer. We don’t know all that much about it just yet, beyond what it will feature. Both versus modes and co-op gameplay have been confirmed.

All in all, Binary Domain is certainly setting itself up as one to watch. If there’s anyone we can trust to pull something off they have no prior experience in, I can almost guarantee you that they’ll be Asian. Luckily for us, the developers are indeed Asian.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for more details (you’ll know as soon as we do!) and, if you liked what you heard, start counting down the days until the 24th!

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A Gamer’s Perspective — The Disappearance Of Cheats http://egmr.net/2012/02/a-gamers-perspective-the-disappearance-of-cheats/ http://egmr.net/2012/02/a-gamers-perspective-the-disappearance-of-cheats/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2012 09:00:54 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=70813 You know what I haven’t used in ages? Apart from the common sense to choose opening sentences that don’t contain innuendos regarding my sexual activity, that is. Ahem. Moving swiftly […]

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You know what I haven’t used in ages? Apart from the common sense to choose opening sentences that don’t contain innuendos regarding my sexual activity, that is. Ahem. Moving swiftly onwards, then, to what I was actually referring to — cheat codes. Think about it for a second — how long has it been since you saw, let alone used a cheat for a game that wasn’t from the Saints Row or GTA series? My guess would be quite a while.

I suppose I’m one of the last people out there to be consciously noticing the absence of cheats from games in my day-to-day life of gaming, but upon reflection I really start to appreciate just how absent cheats are from the games of today, and how large a facet of gaming cheats were in the formative years of my gaming career. It really is nothing short of impossible to look back on those days of Gameboy Colours, Socket 478 Pentium PCs and Playstation 2 at friends’ houses without stirring up memories like precariously balancing weighty objects on my ‘Shift’ and ‘F4′ keys in Zoo Tycoon and returning hours later to find myself rolling in enough cashola to use to turn my entire plot into a giant, acquatic, Shark vs Orca deathmatch arena, religiously spamming the gold cheat in Age of Mythology in order to raise a nation consisting entirely of minotaurs, or simply entering a convoluted combination of arrows and shapes into the pause menu of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 so that I could fly. These memories signify the moments and experiences which shaped my passion for gaming, and as you can certainly gather, cheats played a very large role in them.

It wasn’t and isn’t just me, either — I think it is pretty safe to say that cheats played a prominent role in gaming culture as a whole. Nerds the world over flocked to new magazines for their features on the newest cheats for their favourite games, cheats were the first thing you looked for when you bought a new game and I’m pretty confident that the presence of a particularly awesome cheat was often the motivating factor in a game purchase. There is next to no comparison between the situation of a few years ago which I just described and the status quo, however. You’d be hard pressed to find a game (exclusive of Saints Row, of course — we’ll get to that in a bit) that has cheats at all, let alone a magazine or online feature detailing various cheat codes. Cheats seem to have all but disappeared overnight, with what seems to be virtually no outcry from the general gaming community; the question I aim to answer in this column is that of why both of these things — the disappearance and the lack of outcry — have happened.

We shan’t get too ahead of ourselves, though — we are only five hundred words in — and so before we go about answering these questions, let’s take a brief look at the history and context of cheats in general.

Fun fact: The first cheat codes were actually used by play testers of games, to allow them to make the games as demanding as they could be for the system they were using. It was far easier for them to play test and find bugs when they weren’t limited by the conventional constraints of the games in question. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before consumers found out about these, and this, combined with the fact that many gamers were altering binary values and other important-sounding things like those to create their own cheats, resulted in developers deliberately adding cheats for consumer use.

As I’m sure we all know, cheats ranged from your run-of-the-mill God Mode and Bottomless Clip to the slightly more wacky alternative skins, bonus levels, and so on and so forth which could be unlocked through entering certain codes. My personal favourite was playing as Boba Fett in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater; that jet pack got me not only through the dark days, but some mother-trucking insane combos.

Anecdotes of awesomeness aside, the question remains: Why, when developers were willingly adding cheats to games (and didn’t really seem to have a problem with it, either) would there be such a sudden shift away from cheats?

As with most of my topics, the answer will consist of more than one paragraph. The first reason we should consider, though, is that we’ve seen the gaming industry mature from one based largely on less serious, arcade-style games to one based very much on games which try to deal with serious issues, try to be more emotionally engaging with the player and seem to, on the whole, take themselves more seriously as well. I actually think that it is really awesome that we’ve reached a point in the gaming industry where developers are able to take a stand and say, “We’re proud of the work we’ve put in and what we’ve created; we want this to be an experience that immerses and connects with the player. We love fun as much as the next guy, but we don’t want aspects like cheats to ruin the atmosphere we’re trying to create.” Developers, it would seem, are taking the burden upon themselves more and more to create an entertaining experience, and as such want to be recognised for what they do. That, to me, sounds like something that can only benefit the gaming industry.

There is another, quite easily overlooked reason, however, which I think also aids us in answering the question of why gamers don’t have an issue with the removal of cheats from games. This is simply that many things, specifically unlockables, which were made available by cheats are still available in the game; you just have to do something for it, first. Complete a set challenge, achieve ‘x’ amount of headshots or finish a race in a set time and you get a reward for it — the same sort of reward you would have once simply entered a succession of characters to attain. Making unlockables attainable through challenges instead of cheat codes benefits both the developers and the consumers, in my book, so I’m certainly in support of this shift.

Producers are benefited because they have the ability to market their product as a more worthwhile or complete package — not only do you get an amazingly immersive storyline, but there are over 200 rabbit’s tails to collect, and when you get them all you get a special move called the ‘Chicken Dance’ which knocks all of your enemies out and triples your score multiplier. Or something. Whatever reward they choose, it all acts as more bait which they can tout to entice gamers into buying their product.

Consumers benefit because there is a far greater accomplishment associated with completing a challenge than with simply entering a code — if you unlock that Spiderman skin now, it is because you earned it, not because you read about it in a magazine. That makes the game a lot more rewarding and thus, a lot more enjoyable. And I’m a huge fan of enjoyable games.

Given this last reason — that of how unlockables are still available, and are, in fact, more rewarding once attained — it becomes a lot easier to see why the downfall of cheats hasn’t really been mourned.

Unless I missed a pretty big memo somewhere along the line, that is.

Having said all of this, though, I can’t help but feel that an ‘unlimited mana’ cheat can’t have done too much harm in Skyrim. Granted, there is probably a mod for that, but hey — I’m lazy.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — What If Chickens Were Reptiles? http://egmr.net/2012/01/a-gamers-perspective-what-if-chickens-were-reptiles-column/ http://egmr.net/2012/01/a-gamers-perspective-what-if-chickens-were-reptiles-column/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2012 09:00:09 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=69327 Foreword: To those expecting something specifically gaming-related here, I have to apologise, for you’ll find very little gaming here today. If, however, you come here looking to find something truly […]

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Foreword: To those expecting something specifically gaming-related here, I have to apologise, for you’ll find very little gaming here today. If, however, you come here looking to find something truly awesome, I can only hope I’ll manage to reward your search. It was during one of the infamous eGamer Mumble Meetings when the challenge was first issued (albeit a tad indirectly) to me, by our beloved Caveshen, to describe the world as it would be if chickens were, in fact, reptiles. This, good sir or madam, is the result. The decision now rests in your hands as to whether or not I managed to successfully complete the challenge in question.

And, worry not, we’ll return to our scheduled, gaming-related broadcasting next time. Huzzah!

Now, upon first glance this may appear to be a pretty irrelevant question to ask – I mean, how much would really change if chickens were reptiles, right? Wrong! Just like at first glance that frisbee didn’t seem to be getting any bigger, this really deserves a second look (to make sure it doesn’t hit you, etc).

Nay, this isn’t a simple question of ‘What if dogs were felines?’ or ‘What would the world be like if dolphins were fish?’ – the implications here run far, far deeper than either of those could ever aspire to. In fact, were chickens reptiles it would be pretty safe to say that the face of American Democracy as a whole would be very, very different.

Before you start writing the idea off entirely, think about it for a second – what would be different about chickens were they reptiles? I mean, fine, there would be numerous distinct differences which I’m sure people who took Biology at school could rattle off for you, but the one I’m getting at specifically would be the habit of chickens to ‘brumate’.

You don’t have a clue what on earth brumation is, do you? Don’t worry about it – according to my BBM survey of four people, seventy-five percent of people don’t know what brumation is. I, however, with my amazing abilities of Google-Fu, happen to among the twenty-five percent who do… so, for the purposes of this article actually getting somewhere, I should probably tell you.

Brumation is a lot like hibernation for reptiles, except that unlike mammals they don’t go to sleep for months on end – rather, they enter a state of truly epic inactivity (almost comparable to me during the holidays), and, despite waking up to drink water, they don’t have a habit of eating until the end of their brumation (not comparable to me even a little bit). If you’ve been following, you should see why this would have a hugely negative impact on the livelihoods of chicken farmers, but for those struggling to see it, here’s how it goes down:

– Chickens don’t eat for half the year.
– Chickens don’t get fat.
– Chickens suck at being livestock.
– People everywhere stop farming chickens.

People everywhere, that is, except for in Kentucky. Kentucky is, of course, only inhabited by two animals – chickens and horses. They’re riding the horses (and they aren’t Chinese), so they can’t really eat those, and they don’t have any seeds there either, so they can’t exactly grow crops. So, they sort of have to eat the chickens.

Make no mistake – it wasn’t feast or famine (pun most definitely intended) for KFC from its inception in 1930. They managed to make a profit decent enough to live on, seeing as they were the only fast-food supplier of chicken, but certainly not enough to compete with the franchise giants like McDonald’s or Taco Bell.

Kentucky horseracing achieved new heights, too, as the food depravation meant that the riders were really, really light and easy for the horses to carry and stuff.

This all changed with the onset of the Cold War (not Kentucky horseracing, though – that stayed pretty darn good), however, where efforts were poured into international espionage instead of industrial espionage, and KFC saw their chance.

For glory, for greater profits and, ultimately, for freedom (not at all, actually, but I figured this column needed at least one Braveheart reference) KFC began experimenting with the brumation patterns of chickens. What they were ultimately trying to do was condition the chickens to be in a constant state of brumation, and develop methods of giving them sustenance while in the aforementioned state. Basically, sticking food pipes in animals to fatten them up while they’re too lazy to do a damn thing about it.

Once KFC mastered this, their success EXPLODED. Their production went up through the roof, meaning that they had an enormous surplus of chicken, so they expanded. When supply is high, price goes down, and when the price of food goes down during war-time, people buy that food. They shot up in popularity, quickly becoming the most frequented fast-food joint in the nation, with new stores opening up at a rate of knots across the nation, and, soon after, internationally as well.

They were a hit with Animal Rights groups as well – telling people that their chickens were killed while ‘hibernating’ made them all the rage among the hippies at the time. After all, if so few of us in the generation of internet know that reptiles don’t hibernate, but brumate instead, how many of them in the pre-internet generation would? Not many. The few that did were quickly silenced in a very spy-thriller-esque manner.

Being so far ahead of their competitors in both the price and the popularity categories, KFC quickly became a monopoly not only in the chicken market, but in the fast-food market as a whole, driving their competitors out of business entirely.

Fast-forward to 2011: The year of the Occupy Wall Street movement. There’s a lot of money in fast-food, and KFC owns all of it. Money speaks, and as such, KFC speaks an awful lot in American politics.

Those who would dare criticise KFC’s ‘innovative’ battery farming methods are still routinely and mercilessly silenced, and with OWS knocking on the door of the 1% (of which KFC makes up about 60%), actions must be taken.

An professional actor is hired, and tasked to pretend to be a disgruntled KFC branch manager who, in support of the OWS movement and the hopes of spiting his superiors, gives them all free KFC for supper.

By morning, the once vibrant site of OWS is suspiciously littered in eerily still bodies. Autopsies would later reveal an acute form of food poisoning as the cause of their deaths – strangely enough, investigations into the phenomenon were never pursued.

And so ends the story of the last true protest against the American super-elite.

Why am I going to such lengths to answer such an irrelavent question?

Some say because it is a question worth answering. Others say because I was at a loss for topics. The more correct would say that it is the completion of a challenge indirectly issued to me by my Jedi Master (don’t ask…).

For the sake of this article, and to maintain what shred of dignity I may have manage to accrue as a writer, I’m going to say it was because I wanted to remind you today that you have stuff to be thankful for. Stuff like a roof over your head at night, and food to eat on a lunch break. Stuff like education good enough to enable you to read this column, and stuff like the fact that America isn’t ruled by a reptile-abusing, Kentuckyian fast-food joint with a grudge against hippie-protestor type people. Admittedly, you might not be too thankful about that last one, but hey – tell an American and brighten their journey down the fast track to economic recession with the rest of their country!

Oh darn – I almost managed to moralise this, didn’t I? Well, you get the idea – thank your parents, high-five your friends, take a moment to appreciate just how generally blessed we are.

Now that I’ve got a badly tacked on moral, I suppose the only thing left to say is: “Screw SOPA!”. Stay classy, internet.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — November 2011: The Stupidest Month In Gaming History http://egmr.net/2012/01/a-gamers-perspective-november-2011-the-stupidest-month-in-gaming-history/ http://egmr.net/2012/01/a-gamers-perspective-november-2011-the-stupidest-month-in-gaming-history/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2012 09:00:42 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=67648 I’m sure you guys all remember the fateful November of 2011. Commonly hailed as ‘The Month of Gaming’ due to its high number of triple-A game releases, I have a […]

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I’m sure you guys all remember the fateful November of 2011. Commonly hailed as ‘The Month of Gaming’ due to its high number of triple-A game releases, I have a somewhat different name for it: ‘The Month of Numerous Overwhelmingly Stupid Marketing Decisions’. Or TMNOSMD, for short, though you’d probably waste more time trying to learn that acronym than just saying the damn name in the first place. But I digress.

The issue I’m getting at here, basically, is that publishers have a habit of releasing their games at the same time, usually around November. This is extremely frustrating for us as gamers, because we only have a certain amount of free time and cash which we can put into gaming every month. In the months leading up to November, we’re lucky if we get one triple-A title in a month (and that’s when we’re lucky, mind you) but as soon as November comes we’re bombarded with twice as many triple-A titles as we’ve seen in the entire year… and we can’t play them.

We don’t have enough money to buy all of the shiny games being released, and even if we did we wouldn’t have enough time to play them. For me, this means that I’ve completely missed out on Battlefield 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, two truly epic games which I would have killed people for in any other month (granted, Battlefield 3 was a few days before November, but I was still saving my cash for Skyrim).

The thing is, it isn’t just the consumer losing out, either — I’m convinced that not one of those games did as well as they could have if released in isolation… which brings us to the aforementioned idiocy of the marketing decisions involved.

Take a moment to think about it. I mean, as a hypothetical marketing director, doesn’t releasing your triple-A title at the same time as the new Call of Duty comes out seem really stupid? Let alone releasing your game at the same time as Call of Duty and nine other triple-A titles!

The reason for this is, again, the limited resources of time and money which the customer has. If a gamer doesn’t have the time to play your game, they won’t buy it, and if they don’t have the money to buy your game then not only will they not buy it, but they are pretty likely to go out and pirate it instead. Seeing as other games being released at the same time as yours takes away from the total available pool of time and money which customers could potentially put into your game, you are most likely going to have less sales than you could if you released it at a different time.

The logic in the above paragraph holds if we are in a world completely devoid of context, but we do need to realise that there are three very good reasons as to why so many publishers release their games around the month of November. Black Friday, the Christmas Holidays and Christmas itself.

Now, in theory all three of these essentially ‘boost’ the total amount of resources (time and money) which the consumer conglomerate has – people spend more because of Black Friday and Christmas, and the Christmas Holidays increase the amount of free time which people have. Thus, game sales should go up, right?

Well, sort of. You see, if you have two games which sell equally well in what is essentially a ‘normal’ month (a month where nothing out of the ordinary influences buyer behaviour, decision making or time on-hand) — let’s use March as our example of a normal month — and you sell one of them in March and the other in November, the one sold in November will naturally sell more, because of the factors I listed above.

The situation we have now, however, is one where the games market in November is too saturated for all of the games to benefit from being released then. The great games get overshadowed by the really great games (who claim most of the sales), and have to share out the attention between themselves, meaning that they don’t sell as well as they could in isolation.

All that sounds fine in theory, but the question is whether or not it actually stands up in practice — a question I’m sure some fun statistics can help us answer. Before we take a look at the stats, though, let’s take a quick look at the notable titles released in November of 2010:

    • MAG: Escalation
    • PES 2011
    • Call of Duty: Black Ops
    • HAWX 2

  • NFS: Hot Pursuit
  • AC: Brotherhood
  • Football Manager 2011
  • Gran Turismo 5

Not a bad selection, certainly, but let’s compare that to the notable releases of November 2011:

  • Uncharted 3
  • Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary
  • AC: Revelations
  • CoD: MW3
  • Skyrim
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Need for Speed: The Run
  • Sonic Generations
  • Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
  • Minecraft
  • Batman: Arkham City

In my opinion, Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3 and Assassin’s Creed alone could trump the selection from 2010, but when we have that many games of such high calibre? Well, the competition of quality is an absolute landslide in favour of 2011. Not just that, but many of those games were sequels in series’, meaning that the reputations of their predecessors essentially guarantee numerous purchases, and that’s before we take advertising into account.

So, all things considered, the sales of November 2011 should have annihilated those of November 2010, right? How much would you expect — twenty-five percent? Fifty percent?

Fifteen percent. Game sales in Novermber 2011 were only fifteen percent better than those of November 2010.

Factor in the analysis that gaming as a whole is growing as a pastime (meaning that game sales should increase year-to-year anyway), and an increase of fifteen percent, given how much better the games on offer were, really isn’t a lot.

What does this tell us?

Well, in an ideal world, where time and money are infinite, most gamers would opt to have at least two or three of those titles for their playing pleasure, suggesting that, in a theoretical perfect world (where most gamers in the previous year only wanted one or two titles from the November selection), we should see increases in sales of between one and two hundred percent.

So, believe it or not, what that evidence helps us conclude is that gamers do, in fact, have limited amounts of time and money. I still have enough misguided faith in publishers to allow myself the gut feeling that they can’t be quite stupid enough to not realise that, though — so, apart from sheer ignorance, what could some other reasons for so many publishers releasing their games in November be?

I’d say a large part of the reason is that publishers don’t want to try and fix what (from their perspective) isn’t broke. They are most certainly still making money off of the games sold in November — it is by no means a feast or famine situation; a quick trip to VGCharts will show that most of the games I’ve talked about from November shipped over one million units across the platforms in their first one or two weeks. If they managed to ship that many in November, with the competition so stiff, imagine what they could ship in a month of relative isolation!

This is where you point me to Deus Ex: Human Revolution and say: “But Duncan! It hardly came close to a million sales in its first week, and it was released on its own!”

This brings us to another reason why publishers may favour November: free advertising. With so many good games being released in November last year, the internet was ablaze with articles telling us all just which games were coming out and voila, free advertising for the publisher. Combine this with many people only really switching on to game releases come November, and incidental advertising of having your game on a shelf during a peak shopping period, and sales come pretty easily.

To properly answer that question, though, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves how many of us really knew Deus Ex was coming out — many of the younger generation of gamers have no idea what the original Deus Ex was, so it has no real legacy to fall back on there, and in general it just wasn’t hyped that much. Compare it to Battlefield 3, which had tons of advertising not just in adverts, but also in creating hype around itself by calling out Modern Warfare 3 and getting into the news all the time. Battlefield 3 shipped well over a million units in its first week of sales.

So, what’s the remedy for this situation? Were I in charge of an epic Avengers-style task team, what would my plan of action be to make sure that publishers don’t go under and gamers get a steady flow of games throughout the year?

Well, that’s pretty bloody simple, isn’t it? If publishers just schedule their releases so that there are one, maybe two triple-A games in a month, then they all win because they attract more sales on account of being sold in isolation. After that they just need to advertise so that consumers actually know that the damn game is coming out, I suppose.

TL;DR: How about releasing a game around my birthday, ‘ey Mr Marketing Director?

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Answering The Question Of Lydia [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/12/a-gamers-perspective-answering-the-question-of-lydia-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/12/a-gamers-perspective-answering-the-question-of-lydia-column/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2011 10:15:28 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=67403 Unless you haven’t been doing your reading lately, or you have a Perception stat roughly equal to that of the Fallout 3 character I made where I put all the […]

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Unless you haven’t been doing your reading lately, or you have a Perception stat roughly equal to that of the Fallout 3 character I made where I put all the points from his Perception skill into his Luck (which is to say, a low one), you should have noticed two distinct trends emerging in the broader gaming column writing community (we really need a snappier way of saying that) since November the 11th. The first one (that of not publishing columns or missing deadlines) we aren’t going to look at in too much depth seeing as my columns have been, as always, on time (with some time to spare, I might add), as I’m sure Cavie (when under duress) will attest to. The second tendency is the one which is going to be of interest to us today, and that is the tendency of columnists to write columns about Skyrim. Rock, Paper, Shotgun did it, we over at eGamer have done it (read: Adam has done it. Twice), and even good old Miklos from NAG wrote one in their January edition. Now, it’s completely understandable why one would write columns about Skyrim — I mean, it’s awesome — but until recently I thought I would be one of the few who stood aloof of the trend, writing about things far higher and mightier than Skyrim while my fellow, once virtuous, columnists fell by the wayside. That changed today, however, when two things happened:

1) I bought a NAG and read Miklos Szecsei’s (screw trying to say that 3 times fast; try saying it at all!) column about Lydia (the housecarl / all around servant type person assigned to the player after they save a town by killing some dragons and stuff) and how he liked her and stuff.
2) I wanted to play Skyrim. This didn’t technically ‘happen’, seeing as it’s pretty much a constant in any good nerd’s life — what really ‘happened’ is this: while playing Skyrim, I realised that I had a column to write.

Now, the topic of Lydia is one which has been the source of quite some debate amongst pretty much everyone who’s played Skyrim, and one which I happened to have rather strong feelings about. In a rare moment of open-mindedness I decided to, instead of simply ranting about how much Lydia sucked right off the bat, accept the fact that there are those out there with opinions other than the ones I hold, and thus decided give them at least a bit of weight. Naturally, the only way to do that would be to play a few hours of Skyrim with Lydia as my follower and my mind devoid of preconceived notions of her aptitude or worth as a virtual human, ready to reassess her having given her a clean slate. Thus, it was with great solemnity that I fired up Skyrim, trying my best to bear the weight of the burden I had taken upon myself in order to fulfill my responsibility to you, the reader. It was my duty and my responsibility to hit that ‘Load Game’ button and be absorbed once again into the oh-so-dreary world of Skyrim. *Cough*. *Cough cough cough*.

A few hours later (them ores don’t mine themselves!) I decided to swing past my crib in Whiterun, where Lydia had taken up residence (this was on the account I hadn’t killed her with yet). I entered my bedroom to find my wife (Aela the Huntress, of course) asleep on the bed and Lydia sitting in a chair staring at her (whether she was watching over her in my absence or plotting her demise out of jealousy I’m not sure — probably the latter, though. My character is quite the stud). I first told Lydia to follow me, and then turned to chat to Aela for a bit. Once we were finished with our little domestic discussion, I turned around once again, inspired by my open-mindedness and ready to take the world by storm with Lydia at my right hand, only to find that she had positioned herself squarely in the middle of the doorway, preventing me from exiting the room. After balleting (the verb form of ‘ballet’) around the room in a performance that would have put even the Russians to shame, I managed to entice her follower AI far enough out of the doorway that I was able to pass.

Not the best start, then, but overcome by my relentless positivity I decided to sally onwards regardless.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t get much better.

After about half an hour, things were going pretty well. Lydia and I were killing Draugr, like we do, and she was actually starting to grow on me — I suppose enduring that sort of life-threatening peril together forms a pretty good basis for a sort of bond to develop. Then, while I was volleying Firebolts at a bunch of bandits, she happened to run in front of me. She had already taken a few hits, and the Firebolt struck her squarely in the head. Her limp body flailed across the room with a dizzying inertia and I paused momentarily, realising that I may have just lost the catalyst of the subject matter for my column. I stood there, trying to decide whether to load an earlier save or not, when a great, hulking brute of a Bandit Marauder happened to make my decision for me. This decision came in the form of applying his two-handed battleaxe to the frail figure of my 110HP mage.

I respawned at my last save, Lydia once again in tow, and we began fighting our way through the dungeon for a second time. We got a lot further than we had previously, managing to reach the ‘final room’ of the dungeon. With the boss fight upon us, I could feel that ‘bond’ once again forming between me and Lydia and, admittedly, I was on the verge of changing my mind. Then it happened. Lydia was off to the side, volleying arrows into the necromancer like a good little follower as I bombarded him with Firebolts, when OUT OF NOWHERE (where nowhere = off to the side) Lydia charged heroically at our foe, making sure to beeline so that she was directly between me and the necromancer first — or, more accurately, between my Firebolt and the necromancer. I’m sure you know what happened next.

Without the late Lydia to get in the way of my spells I managed to finish off the necromancer with relative ease. I pillaged everything of value which I had entrusted her with from her dead body, exited the dungeon and returned to my house in Whiterun to fetch Aela.

I must say that I feel an awful lot better having gone through all of the trouble of challenging my views, all tolled. Not only is Lydia now dead on both of my accounts (meaning that there is no one to run in front of my spells, or stare creepily at my wife while she sleeps), but I’ve been able to ascertain pretty conclusively that Lydia in her entirety does, in fact, suck.

Damn, there’s nothing like proving yourself right.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Gaming Efficiently (Part 2): Justifying Time Wasted [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/11/a-gamers-perspective-gaming-efficiently-part-2-justifying-time-wasted/ http://egmr.net/2011/11/a-gamers-perspective-gaming-efficiently-part-2-justifying-time-wasted/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2011 10:15:43 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=64282 For those of you not quite in ‘the know’ (which is like a hip way of saying ‘for those of you who don’t know’, I suppose), I wrote a column […]

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For those of you not quite in ‘the know’ (which is like a hip way of saying ‘for those of you who don’t know’, I suppose), I wrote a column a while back explaining the importance of time management for gamers, and making my challenge to myself (which myself then accepted) to manage my time more efficiently publicly known. If any of what I just said excited or interested you in the slightest and you didn’t pick up on the fact that the words ‘a column’ being highlighted in blue indicated that they were a link to the column in question (as opposed to gremlins in our text formatting or something), then you’re the kind of person who needs to be told that you can click on the aforementioned highlighted text to go to the aforementioned column.

Anyways, as I’m sure most of you inferred from the title, this is the long awaited (if this actually rings true, consider my fist pumped), promised Part 2 to the column in question.

There’s quite a bit which I could highlight and talk about which came to mind during my period of (mostly successful) attempted self-refinement. I could discuss the illogical nature of instinct, the practical tools I used to reward myself and keep myself motivated during and after work or I could even tell you about the multi-tiered rating system I created for the front-page Reddit articles for every day of the last four weeks, though that last one may cause your faith in the success of my endeavour to wane.

What I have decided to focus on for today’s column, however, is something which can be summed up in the following (possibly vaguely familiar) statement:

With great potential for time wasting comes the burden to justify time wasted.

Yeah, one little-known fact is that I was a contributing writer for the Superman script. It was Superman, right? Yeah, I’m sure it was… (inb4 fanboy rage)

Anyways, what I’m getting at here is that as gamers, we have (as I’m pretty sure I said in Part 1 of this column, too) some of the richest sources of escapism and entertainment on the planet available to us. One need look no further than the amount of time Cavie has spent not sleeping (read: playing Skyrim), and the amount of time you have probably spent doing the same to realise that.

The thing is, as our parents, teachers, significant others and most of the rest of society delight in telling us, the time we spend playing games is essentially time wasted in the grander scheme of things. Now, I’m fully aware that there are cases to be made to the contrary of that assertion (feel free to make them in the comments section below), but I’m prepared to accept that in the case of the majority of gamers, the assertion stands.

In fact, this is probably the strongest and most valid criticism levelled at games – after all, most people don’t make their living by playing games, and most certainly do not develop any skills which are applicable in the ‘real world’ while playing them. The question, then, is how can we as people who love games get away with playing our games aloof of this criticism?

Now, I’m not suggesting for a second that we need do what our critics say simply because they say it, but if we as a community can weigh up the cases of our critics rationally and accept their merits, that says a whole ton about the maturity of our community as a whole. So, by merit of the criticism levelled, I think it is important that we as gamers are able to justify spending obscene amounts of time giving those scumbaggish dragons what’s theirs in Skyrim, because those bastards (the dragons, that is) have it coming to them. And that part about being aloof of our critics is important too.

In all honesty, I think that justifying spending time playing games is a lot simpler than we think. I mean, think about it: If we stay fit, stay on top of our work, get the school or university marks we need to, pay attention to our partners, feed the dog and do whatever else it is that people complain you aren’t doing when you’re playing games instead, all of their arguments pretty much fall by the wayside, and you find that they have no grounds to criticise your gaming habits.

You’ll find that you, as a gamer, are justified in spending your time playing games.

The things I would really highlight there are fitness and marks, because if you nail those then not only are you silencing the critics, but they both have huge positive impacts on your life.

So, I’d like to end this column with another challenge: Sort your life out first, game second.

The question is, do you accept the challenge? If not, why not? Do you disagree entirely with everything I’ve said? Believe it or not, these are things which I, as a columnist, actually care about, so please do let me know in the comments!

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A Gamer’s Perspective — The 5 Games You Should Play To Prepare For The Zombie Apocalypse [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/11/a-gamers-perspective-the-5-games-you-should-play-to-prepare-for-the-zombie-apocalypse-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/11/a-gamers-perspective-the-5-games-you-should-play-to-prepare-for-the-zombie-apocalypse-column/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2011 10:15:01 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=63070 Foreword: You remember that whole responsibility, time management thing I was going on about two columns ago? Yeah, well, it’s because of me actually trying to uphold my promise to […]

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Foreword: You remember that whole responsibility, time management thing I was going on about two columns ago? Yeah, well, it’s because of me actually trying to uphold my promise to you in that column that I won’t be able to give you Part Two of that column this week. Exams start on Monday, and I’ve gotta knuckle my ass down! In the interim, here’s an adapted version of an article I did for my school magazine recently. I figured that the whole ‘I talked about Zombies’ aspect of it would keep you going until we return to our normal broadcast! I love you all, enjoy.

Right, kids, it’s time to be real. The imminence of the Zombie Apocalypse is no longer a topic open for debate. Sure, you’ll get those rabble-rousers, nay-sayers and conspiracy theorists who’ll try and tell you that it’s ‘just a myth’ and ‘the stuff of comic books’. When you hear talk like that, however, you can be confident in telling them to go waste their time Googling the Denver Airport Conspiracy or ranting on about the Illuminati on shady internet forums. When the time comes they’re going to be the first ones to turn rabid for brains, anyway.

If you’re not convinced, I strongly suggest you take a look around — the signs are everywhere. Off the top of my head, examples include the death of Michael Jackson, the undeniable existence of crop circles, the Bermuda Triangle and the fact that people actually attend concerts to hear the vomit spewed out by the likes of Li’l Wayne and Kings of Leon. If you still aren’t following after I spoon fed you like that, I’m really not sure if there is much hope for you…

Anyways, in the process of writing a guide detailing exactly how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse, I quickly came to realise that it was a bad idea, for two reasons:

1) Writing the darned thing would be awfully tedious, and I’m sick.

2) Practical experience in terms of how to kill zombies is far more useful than a theoretical survival guide. I mean, it doesn’t matter how many A’s you get in your Zombie Apocalypse Survival Test. If you discharge your faeces into your trousers when the time actually comes because you’ve never actually seen a zombie before, that theoretical knowledge hasn’t done all that much for you.

For all intents and purposes, we’re going to be looking exclusively at the second reason. Don’t tell my editors I even mentioned that first one — they’ll think I’m lazy (or, more accurately, they’ll realise I’m lazy!). Now, I’m sure the question you’re all asking at this point goes a little something like this:

“But, Duncan, you horse of a man you, how can we learn to survive the Zombie Apocalypse if we aren’t currently experiencing one — I mean, it isn’t as if we have some platform where we can virtually create an appropriation of the Zombie Apocalypse, wherein we could practice and thereby learn the skills necessary to survive such an apocalypse?”

To which I would reply:

“Well, impressively perceptive and articulate reader, perhaps I should direct you to these innovative little things I like to call video games…”

To which you would reply:

“Ah, but of course! But then, oh Duncan, given the overwhelming number of Zombie-themed games on the market, how could we possibly know which ones to play in order to optimally prepare ourselves for the task of surviving the Zombie Apocalypse?”

Well, dear reader, you’re in luck! Not only am I dropping that tacky dialogue, but the time I have invested in shooting zombies with a keyboard instead of studying for tests is directly proportional to the number of American politicians who made emigration plans when WikiLeaks first saw the light of day.

Which is to say, a lot.

So, without further ado, here is a list of the five Zombie games (in no particular order, mind you) you should care about:

1) Call of Duty Black Ops/World at War:

Realising that you would have no incentive to buy their rehashes of Modern Warfare games already developed by Infinity Ward on their own, Treyarch (the two aforementioned studios alternate production of Call of Duty games annually, for those who didn’t know) realised that they had to give their games that extra ‘kick’ to make them worth it. Luckily for humanity as a whole, they decided to provide this ‘kick’ in the form of a bonus Zombie Mode, where either you or you and up to three other friends are placed in a building with a bunch of windows (which can be repaired), doors (which can be opened) and zombies (which can be shot), and challenged to survive as many rounds of zombie onslaught as you can.

It is a simple, yet brutally effective formula. These Zombie Modes are the reason I play Treyarch games and, up until recently, were the only reason I still had faith in the Call of Duty series, and are probably the most Zombie-related fun I’ve ever had (which, trust me, is saying a lot). A must-play for any Zombie/round based survival enthusiast.

2) Left 4 Dead 2

In L4D2 (Star Wars droid name much?) you’re thrown into a posse of four Zombie Apocalypse survivors (played either by players or by the AI) running desperately from safehouse to safehouse, trying not to get eaten along the way. The game adds depth to what can become a rather bland Zombie theme by including multiple types of ‘special’ zombies, over and above your bread-and-butter, hobbling, brain-crazed variety. It also emphasises the use of melee weapons (which gamers the world over got very excited about). Whether you’re in the mood for smashing zombie faces in with a fire axe (insert witty ‘hazard’ pun here), an electric guitar or a frying pan, L4D2 has you covered. It also has what is probably the most awesome trailer I’ve ever seen in my life. Ever. Seriously, load this video. You will cry.

3) Dead Island

Think open world RPG (classes, levels, skill ranks, what not) based on an island holiday resort gone infected. Though beset by bugs and a lacklustre storyline, especially upon release (the bugs part that is – the story still sucks), the game proves to be an extremely entertaining experience and innovative combination of the Zombie theme with RPG elements usually found in fantasy based games.

4) Killing Floor

Tired of round-based wave survival games yet? No? Good! I’m not either. In Killing Floor, an indie title created using the Source engine (the same engine used to make Counter Strike: Source. Yeah, that’s making a lot more sense now, isn’t it?), you select a certain map, get dumped there and spend your time shooting zombies, avoiding landmines and chasing the vendor to buy better guns.

There are a number of classes (all of which have different bonuses, proficiencies and perks) to choose from, different types of zombies (some of them have this invisibility ability thing. I’m not even joking. It’s crazy), with a final ‘Boss Zombie’ at the end.

It’s cheap, zombie-tastic and supports co-op; what’s not to love?

5) Metro 2033

There’s probably someone out there reading this going, “Heh, stupid Duncan, Metro 2033 isn’t a zombie game!”. I’d like to let that person know in advance that I’m going to find them, smash my half-empty vodka bottle over their head and subsequently laugh over their unconscious body. Why? ‘Cause that’s how we win arguments in Soviet Russia, kids.

Set in the Metro Tunnel system of post-nuclear apocalyptic Russia, Metro 2033 is probably one of the best games I’ve played to date. Despite not featuring zombies, it contains elements central to zombie games and also happens to be the scariest game I’ve ever played in my life — definitely good practice for the Zombie Apocalypse in that regard.

So, there you have it. The five games which will best prepare you for the task ahead (en masse zombie highny kicking, that is). Well, what are you waiting for? GO PLAY THEM!

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A Gamer’s Perspective – Gaming It Like Gandhi [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/10/a-gamers-perspective-gaming-it-like-gandhi-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/10/a-gamers-perspective-gaming-it-like-gandhi-column/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2011 10:00:06 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=62039 I’m afraid that those of you who were eagerly looking forward to the second instalment in my Gaming Efficiently mini-series will be sorely disappointed to hear that it has been […]

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I’m afraid that those of you who were eagerly looking forward to the second instalment in my Gaming Efficiently mini-series will be sorely disappointed to hear that it has been postponed (I wanted to do this topic while it was still relevant — I’m not procrastinating. Promise) until my next column slot, though I’m sure that you managed to discern that much from the unexpected heading. Those who were looking forward to it in earnest will be glad to know that this column was indeed written TWO WHOLE DAYS BEFORE IT WAS DUE! Booyah. Bitches don’o ’bout my time management.

With that, let’s leave the aforementioned bitches blissfully unaware of my aforementioned time management, while moving swiftly toward my intended topic for today’s column.

So, the topic I’d originally been planning to talk about involved the recent fiasco regarding the manner in which one of the reporters (Lalla Hirayama) for The Verge reported on the rAge LAN in a rather condescending, prejudiced and, in all honesty, downright offensive manner. For those who don’t already know, the South African gaming community responded with (as you can imagine) a hefty amount of rage, obscenity and hate. There was a lot of hate. I would link you to the video of the report in question, but unfortunately it was pulled from YouTube.

Regardless, those who have seen it and were privy to the whole ordeal will be able to relate easily to what I’m going to say. Those of you that haven’t, fear not, because I can basically summarise the whole context in nine words: Offensive things were said to gamers; gamers reacted aggressively.

Now, as I mentioned earlier I’d originally planned to centre my column around the issues I’ve described above. I’m not entirely sure what I was planning to say, but there would have definitely have been words. Angry words, at that! And criticism… levelled at people, establishments, stereotypes and probably other things as well!

It was while I was engaging in the nasty of business of scheming out the knitty and gritty of exactly what I was going to to say in my column that my mind wandered back to thoughts I had been having after an eGamer meeting we had had an evening or two before.

The meeting was a broad one indeed, but one of the topics we discussed was what we want to achieve with the site, and the perceptions we want people to have of us as eGamer. This got me thinking about how I wanted people to view me as a writer — I didn’t come to any definitive conclusion, or set out a mission statement or anything, but I realised that I wanted to ultimately become someone whose opinion is respected; the sort of writer whose opinion carries weight because people know that thought has been put into it, that regardless of whether they agree with the view proposed or not, it has been approached from a critical angle and is well-substantiated.

So, the question I then asked myself went a little something like this: “Does writing an article in which you attack someone because they indirectly attacked you represent the author, and, moreover, the person you want to be?”

The answer to this one was, as you can imagine, a pretty resounding no. That is certainly not the person I want to be and even more certainly not the person I want to be seen as.

The question, then, is why would I not tolerate that sort of behaviour from myself, but have no expressed problem with seeing it come from the South African gaming community?

I realised that this was just the issue: I do have a problem with the response much of the community has had, and, in fact, I have quite a few problems with the way our community treats each other and non-gamers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Lalla and The Verge weren’t in the wrong and I’m not accusing anyone of anything specific. What I am saying is that we gain nothing as a community by treating our critics the same way they treat us (regardless of whether they deserve it or not), whereas it would say something huge about gaming as a whole if we decided to be the bigger collective man and approach the problem from a far more respectful angle, laying out our concerns and issues rationally instead of irrationally creating hate pages for a reporter who wasn’t even fully responsible for the incident.

Similarly, if we all showed each other the same respect and courtesy we would show in person on forums, online servers and comments sections, it would make the gaming community significantly more inviting to newbies, significantly less open to criticism and a far, far more awesome place to be.

I’m quite aware that I haven’t always displayed the respect and courtesy I described above in my dealings, and, while that criticism would be fair, it would also be irrelevant. This isn’t a pledge to suddenly >become the most respectfullest, courteoussest gamer on the freaking planet. Nay. Rather, it is a conscious admission that I will endear to argue in a more respectful manner, be the bigger man in situations of criticism and, ultimately, be the change I want to see in the gaming community.

Wow, that actually sounds really good (what up Gandhi!).

Often, the gamers and critics involved will not deserve the respect you show them, and will not show the same courtesy to you which you do to them. That’s not what this is about. If no one put their man pants on and took some hits, nothing would ever get changed.

So, here’s my challenge: Be the bigger man and do your part in changing the face of South African gaming by going out there and, in bastardised words of a really cool Indian (not Cavie), be the change you want to see in the gaming community.

Booyah.

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A Gamer’s Perspective – Gaming Efficiently: The Art Of Balance (Part 1) http://egmr.net/2011/10/a-gamers-perspective-gaming-efficiently-the-art-of-balance-part-1/ http://egmr.net/2011/10/a-gamers-perspective-gaming-efficiently-the-art-of-balance-part-1/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2011 10:15:43 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=60877 Like many others in life who share my insatiable love for games, I suffer from what some may call a “time management problem”. People of the less kind (and significantly […]

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Like many others in life who share my insatiable love for games, I suffer from what some may call a “time management problem”. People of the less kind (and significantly more blunt) variety would probably just say that I’m downright lazy. They’re probably right, too.

You can’t really blame me for it, either. I mean, when the average person procrastinates (whether in avoidance of a page of maths homework or a discursive thesis), the most they have at their disposal is a mobile Instant Messaging service like BBM or WhatsApp where superficial conversations which bore quickly can be had. If they’re lucky they might have an Enid Blyton novel. Point is, boredom is far more of a reality when the most you have to look forward to in your free time is “Hey; hey; hw u?; gd u?; gd; etcetera…”. If, however, you command Inter-Galactic Battle Armadas into combat, save the world from zombies on a regular basis and pioneer the American struggle against Tactfully Unnamed Middle-Eastern Country X in your free time, boredom doesn’t tend to be as great an issue for you.

Why does this matter?

Well, if you get bored while you’re procrastinating then you don’t really have a reason not to do whatever the hell it was you had to. If, however, your spare time is pretty much 100% awesome 100% of the time, you are not compelled at all to stop doing whatever awesome thing you are doing (in this case gaming, but operation of jetpacks, wrestling bears and operating firearms all fall under this category too) in favour of doing something as boring as the work you’re supposed to be doing.

So, it isn’t too hard to see why most of us gamers have so many issues with procrastination, time management and the like. The question I would like to pose to you is this:

Given that time management and gaming are often mutually exclusive, are we really getting the maximum entertainment we could out of the games that we do play?

I would argue that we are not. I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I play games and put off work, I feel pretty damn guilty about it. Sure, most of the time you can push that voice in the back of your head telling you that you’re a bad person even further towards the back of your head, but at the end of the day you can’t shake that feeling of guilt or ‘dirtiness’. I certainly can’t, anyway.

Perhaps there are some who are reading this column and shaking their heads. “Nay!” they cry defiantly, “I feel no such guilt! My ability to rationalise my procrastination allows me to game away to my heart’s content, unrestricted by the morality the rest of you mortals subconsciously conjure up.”

To which I would reply, “Well, that’s a surprisingly articulate, not to mention unnervingly aloof response to my assertion. Worry not, however, dear nay-sayer – I’ll deal with you shortly. Until then, read on!”

So, if we aren’t getting the maximum entertainment value possible out of the games we play when we feel guilty because we should be doing work, how then do we rectify this problem?

Well, it follows pretty logically that the solution would be to then prioritise work over gaming, and game when we have work out of the way. Or, at the very least, create a schedule of work where we factor in “gaming breaks” (which are pretty self-explanatory).

“But Duncan! Why, when we enjoy our games now and still manage to complete the work we have, should we alter our modus operandi in the slightest?”

Well, extremely vocal reader, here are some paragraphed points explaining why.

First off, you will enjoy the games you play more because you will no longer feel guilty about playing them. Moreover, even if you didn’t feel guilty, you will still enjoy your gaming time, because you will see it as a reward; something that you have earned. As I spoke about in my last column, you take more pleasure in what you earn than what you get without effort.

So, we can see that regardless of whether you felt guilty about procrastinating or not, you will enjoy your gaming time more… but are there other benefits? Of course!

First off, by finishing work before moving on to gaming, or creating a schedule to split gaming and work, you develop a work ethic and familiarise yourself with the idea of working. This helps you by enabling you to work more efficiently when the inevitable crunch comes and you really need to skin your ass to study for that test, get that report in or just survive a particularly hectic week. Moreover, not only will you survive the crunch, but your work will be of a higher standard than it would have been if you had not developed the skills which you did develop by learning to work efficiently.

Work, just like anything else is a skill. The harder you work at it, the better you get. Thus, the more time you put into working efficiently, the more efficiently you will work, and the faster you will be able to finish your work, thus maximising your gaming time when you do prioritise work over gaming.

By finishing the work you have instead of procrastinating, you not only feel good because you’ve met your obligations, but your work is more likely to be of a higher quality, because not only was it not done at the last minute, but you have developed the skills necessary to produce better work overall. This means that not only are you enjoying your gaming more, and getting more stress-free gaming time in, but you will find yourself succeeding more in studies and in your work.

So, there you have it. Quite a few pretty damn good reasons as to why you should work first and game later. The question is, what are we going to do with this?

I, for one, being in exam term and having set my sights on really fulfilling my academic potential, intend to attempt to put it into practice. As a testament to that, I am writing this column not on the Thursday night before it is due, and certainly not on the morning it is due, but in fact on the Wednesday before it is due, giving me a good two days to proof-read, edit and improve it, and minimising the amount of grey hairs I give our good Columns Editor, Cavie.

As I go through the rest of these two weeks before my next column is due, I will be trying as far as possible to apply the ideas of time management and efficient working in my life. I’ll be sharing the fruits of that in my next column (Part 2).

The question is, who’s with me? Who else has enough balls to stick their hand up and say “Damnit Duncan, I’m going to man the hell up, pimp-slap my work in the face and, having done so, game away like a boss!”

Challenge accepted?

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Hey, Pirates, Leave Them Games Alone! [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/09/a-gamers-perspective-hey-pirates-leave-them-games-alone-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/09/a-gamers-perspective-hey-pirates-leave-them-games-alone-column/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2011 10:30:35 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=59263 We hear a lot of hoo-ha and going on nowadays regarding the pros and cons in terms of both the practicality and the morality of video game piracy, and quite […]

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We hear a lot of hoo-ha and going on nowadays regarding the pros and cons in terms of both the practicality and the morality of video game piracy, and quite frankly I’m sick of it.

Being someone who has hopped (in a manner befitting a rabbit on a caffeine high, I might add) to and from various reddit and forum threads alike, passionately voicing my arguments on the same points over and over and over (as if logic actually exists on the interwebz), I have come to hold the belief that, quite frankly, we’ve over-debated the whole damn issue.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’m all for challenging norms and affirming the beliefs we as gamers hold through critical thinking, but there comes a point when we debate something to the point that we don’t comprehend the meaning or the implications of the words spewing forth from our fingers. We become little flame-bots mindlessly presenting and rebutting stock arguments, while the issue as a whole becomes one which is viewed in a far more superficial light than it warrants.

To put all of that into simpler terms, we argue about piracy so damn much that people pretty much stop caring about the issue entirely.

It is for this reason that I’m going to give you a completely off-the-wall reason not to pirate games. As an argument, it holds less water than a porous bucket, but given the status quo I contextualized earlier, it may well be the sort of idea that swings your decision. I’m not going to base this argument on any concrete moral or practical grounds, I’m pretty much basing all of it on the personal feelings you have around a game.

Now, because of all of this, let me split my argument up into premises and conclusions really quickly:

Premise 1: The more emotionally attached you feel to a game, the more you enjoy it.

Premise 2: The more excited about playing a game you are, the more emotionally attached to it you feel.

Premise 3: Anticipation for a game breeds excitement.

Premise 4: The time between buying and downloading / installing a game and playing the game breeds anticipation.

Conclusion: Buying a game breeds anticipation, which results in a more positive game experience.

Before you start telling me that a torrent download breeds the same sort of anticipation as a Steam download, I’m going to pre-emptively rebut that argument.

You see, there is a pretty fundamental difference in the way pirates view the games they acquire and play, and the way legitimate buyers do.

I’m sure you can all relate to the almost childlike sense of giddy anticipation and excitement one gets while driving home with their recently purchased copy of The Witcher 2, or watching their Space Marine download on Steam go from ninety-nine percent to one hundred percent. It is a near indescribable euphoria of expectation, born, I believe, of your perceiving the acquisition of the game in question as an achievement.

You bought the game, and thus you earned it. There is a sense of accomplishment which accompanies legitimate buying, which leads to the giddy excitement I mentioned earlier.

Pirates, on the other hand, don’t experience this high of anticipation; they have no reason to. There is no effort-reward correlation between their actions and the acquisition of the game. In the vast majority of cases, they do not feel the sense of accomplishment which comes with having earned something. Thus, instead of their new game breeding a mentality of excitement, it breeds a mentality of aloofness.

Think about it. Legitimate buyers who buy good games simply will not shut up about the game in question. Their excitement overflows into a torrent of unintelligible babble which would probably be expressed with numerous capital letters, and more than a few profanities.

The same does not hold true for pirates. Their opinion on most games falls squarely into the category of ‘meh’. Sure, they’ll readily say whether or not a game is good or bad, but they simply cannot compare to the amount of passion and emotional attachment a legitimate buyer has to their game.

That issue has recently become the catalyst for my decision to stop being an almost-legit gamer, and start being a completely legit gamer.

I would say that the aforementioned feeling of giddy excitement you feel when waiting to play your legitimately purchased game is actually a factor which is tied pretty intrinsically to enjoying the experience of gaming as a whole.

There is a lot more detail and analysis I could go into here, but I’ll leave that for another column. I’ve said all I wanted to say, so I’ll leave you with the hope that what I’ve said helps you to reach a decision on your standing in terms of piracy of games, as it did mine.

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Hands-On: Might And Magic Heroes VI http://egmr.net/2011/09/hands-on-might-and-magic-heroes-vi/ http://egmr.net/2011/09/hands-on-might-and-magic-heroes-vi/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2011 10:30:19 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=58798 Might and Magic Heroes VI is the latest addition to the Might and Magic series, being developed by Black Hole Entertainment. The singleplayer takes place 400 years or so before […]

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Might and Magic Heroes VI is the latest addition to the Might and Magic series, being developed by Black Hole Entertainment. The singleplayer takes place 400 years or so before the events of Heroes V, and so far it’s looking pretty damn mediocre.

Name: Might and Magic Heroes VI
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy Game
Players: 1-6
Multiplayer: Skirmish vs AI, up to 6 player free-for-all or team-based multiplayer
Platforms: PC exclusive
Developers: Black Hole Entertainment
Publishers: Ubisoft
Release Date: 11 October

Even though I haven’t been with eGamer for very long, I managed to pick up on the fact that I am, to my knowledge, the only author too cheap to own a console. When confronted with this realisation, I did what any other self-respecting gaming author would do in my position, and declared myself the unofficially official PC exclusive previewer and reviewer. Dean and Caveshen were probably too busy playing with analogue sticks (or doing whatever the hell it is that consoletards do in their free time) to internalise the magnitude of the proclamation I had just made, but whatever. It’s working for me so far.

My first duty as the self-proclaimed PC exclusive previewer and reviewer is to preview the upcoming next instalment of the Might and Magic series, Heroes VI (or 6, for those who don’t care all that much for douche Roman numerals).

Being a relatively new kid on the gaming block, I’d never seen or heard of the Might and Magic Heroes series before this, so I used my Google-Fu and this is what I managed to uncover:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MightandMagicHeroes

Nah, I kid, I’m not that lazy.

Basically, the Might and Magic Heroes series is a bunch of turn-based strategy games, or TBSG’s, for those fans who like to take their favoured genre a tad too seriously. What this means is that each player participating in the game (be they AIs from the skirmish or the singleplayer, or real-life humans via the multiplayer) gets a turn in which they can do a number of things. Turns are played out over the course of one in-game day, so once you’re done moving your hero around and managing your towns you hit the ‘End Turn’ button, which lets all of the other players have their turns, before it progresses to the next day and the process is repeated.

Believe it or not, there are seven days in a week, and once seven days (or rounds of turns) have passed, it becomes the next week. Crazy, I know. The reason I’m telling you this is that each week brings with it a nifty name and either a witty caption or an in-game benefit. I particularly enjoy the weeks with witty captions, not just because the benefits never seem to affect me, but also because quite a few of them are actually pretty damn funny. My personal favourite from the wittier side of things would have to be:

“Week of the Beaver – Not a good week to be a tree.”

On the other hand, an example of a more serious week which provides a benefit would be:

“Week of Blood – All spells from the Blood subschool do an extra 15% of damage.”

Such benefits are an interesting innovation, providing subtle changes to the face of the game to avoid stagnation and keep things interesting. Not to mention giving the AI new and interesting ways to screw me over sideways in the demo.

Anyways, let’s talk some more about exactly what we can do in a turn.

First and foremost, we’re able to move our hero.

Each hero gets a certain amount of movement points (think ‘steps’ but with a catchy name that makes them sound far more desirable), which determine the total distance they can move in any given turn. Using those movement points, they can run around the map collecting conveniently placed piles of resources (wood, ore, crystal and gold), starting fights with the locals (which range from griffons to skeletons, hellhounds and Pit Lords) and claiming resource production facilities, which provide a constant daily income of resources.

Beyond that, there is also the town management/upgrade system to worry about. This is where you spend your hard earned picked up resources to buy buildings or upgrades, which provide either more troop types, increases in daily gold income or other unique bonuses, town-defense abilities and so on and so forth. Also available are buildings which will grant you the ability to purchase additional heroes, though you’ll probably just use them to ferry the troops trained at your town to your main hero, while he goes about his manly main hero-ish duties. He’s probably also the unlucky bastard you’ll send running around the map trying to find out where exactly the enemy heroes are. Sucks to be him!

When your secondary hero finally does get what’s coming to him (a good old pimp-slap in the face from the level 8 Necromancer Lord with the three-hundred strong army of skeletons and other dead things, that is), revenge is the only option before you. Besides ragequitting, of course, but as strategies go that one isn’t too viable.

When you choose to take the option of revenge, combat naturally ensues. So we’re going to talk about the combat system now.

Once your hero finishes offloading their army from the inter-dimensional portal he keeps in his pocket (well, that’s where I assume they come from, ’cause there aren’t hundreds of troops following your hero around the map until the combat), they and the enemy line up and throw axes at one another’s heads. Those who duck the fastest are placed high in the initiative order, while those who duck slower are placed lower on the initiative order. Those who don’t duck at all are written off as collateral damage. Once again, I’m just assuming here, but it sounds pretty plausible to me.

Basically, the combat is also turned based, with the creatures taking turns to hit each other in order of initiative from highest to lowest.

Combat can either be played manually, so that the player can attempt to minimise their losses, or they can enable a “Quick Combat” option, which means that the AI estimates the outcome of the combat and your losses, and saves you a lot of time in the process. The AI is pretty darn fair when it comes to this, and should you be unsatisfied with it, there is an option to play the combat manually even after the AI gives you the estimated results.

What you will probably end up doing, and what I suggest is playing the first few games manually to get a feel for the system and just to enjoy the combat – which is really well done, just by the way. In terms of graphics, interface and general funtasticness. Once the initial experience of combat has worn off, however, you’re going to want to become a lot more time-efficient, which is when you’ll probably want to enable quick combat.

Overall, what really shined in terms of the gameplay, both in terms of combat and general exploration, town and hero management and what-not, was the interface. I was really blown away at how simple, intuitive, user-friendly and full of little pieces of goodness which just made your experience that much more convenient it was.

The main pitfall I foresee in terms of the gameplay is the sheer monotony is has the potential to create. So far, it seems like a very straight-forward, formulaic game, in which you are far more likely to win because your opponent was one step short of killing you every turn until you managed to get back to your town than because of sneaky any sneaky shenanigans you might pull off.

I didn’t get much chance to play through a significant amount of the singleplayer, but it seems as if the game may well suffer from the issue of becoming boring after the opening, drama and story-intensive stages of a level.

One tactic Black Hole are employing to combat the issue of mid-level boredom and monotony are voice-overs of conversations (with dialog boxes, too) between the character’s hero and some other relevant NPC when the player comes across a point or object of interest. The voice acting in terms of this is very well done, and from what I heard, the voices really do manage to add to the overall fantasy setting being crafted by Black Hole.

I enjoyed the voice-over conversations, and really do hope that Black Hole manages to use them properly to combat boredom and add depth to the levels and story as a whole. Fingers crossed.

In terms of multiplayer, there are two modes of interest available: Duel and Hotseat. Duel is your standard across the interwebz type of match, pitting two or more players either in teams or on their own against one another. The problem one might experience when playing such a mode is that people are not computers, and while the AI may take a mere two-to-three seconds with its turn, you would know from experience that yours are far longer. So it is with your opponents. Thus, boredom would be a pretty major factor which you’d have to overcome should you decide to play the multiplayer online.

Hotseat, however, is what happens when two people use the same computer, switching as their turns come around, of course. It’s nice to see the return of such an old-school game mode, and I really do like the idea behind it. That said, the multiplayer just doesn’t grab me enough to give it a try. Perhaps there are some people who could get past the formulaic and monotonous nature of what the game is shaping up to be, but the unfortunate reality is that I’m certainly not one of them.

There may be hope yet, however, as I’ve yet to talk storyline.

The game takes place roughly four hundred years prior the events of Might and Magic Heroes V, and basically what’s going down is that you’re playing the role of Duke Slava. At least from the outset, that is. I only got the chance to play the tutorial and first levels. Anyway, Duke Slava’s dad was killed about fifteen years ago, and since then he’s just been chilling around, minding his lands and tilling his fields, as well as fathering five kids.

We haven’t heard much more about the story than this as of yet, but the Main Characters page on the MaMHIV site only lists the five children, and talks (in no uncertain terms) about the assassination of Duke Slava.

To be honest, I wasn’t particularly optimistic about the game’s prospects until I read the bio’s of the five children in question, as they all seem to be generally awesome, and notably non-generic. We haven’t heard anything yet about length or overall plot archs, but if Black Hole do stick to the theme being set by the bio’s in question, and manage to avoid the issue of boredom during singleplayer levels, we might just be in for one doozy of a campaign.

Also being introduced into Heroes 6 is the Conflux, the online service and login system for the game, through which multiplayer will be co-ordinated and stats will most likely be tracked. We haven’t heard all that much on it yet, but keep your ears peeled.

Overall, Heroes 6 seems like the sort of game which will either appeal to you, or it won’t. Some may find the decently rich fantasy setting and slower gameplay right up their alley, while others will call it boring and go play Call of Duty. Such is life.

The bad news? Yeah, you knew it was coming. Well, the game is being released on, you guessed it, the 11th of October. Which is smack-bang in the middle of Battlefield 3, Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3. Good luck managing to find the cash for Heroes 6, let alone the time, is my pessimistic prediction.

Personally, I’m not particularly taken by it, and I certainly won’t be pre-ordering it. I wouldn’t mind picking it up during a Steam sale sometime in the future, when I have some free time, mainly to see how interesting the singleplayer storyline actually turned out to be. Unless I manage to get a review copy, that is.

On that note, I’m off to write a convincing letter to someone important at Ubisoft. BBL.

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Review: Warhammer 40’000: Space Marine http://egmr.net/2011/09/review-warhammer-40000-space-marine/ http://egmr.net/2011/09/review-warhammer-40000-space-marine/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2011 10:00:17 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=58591 Visit review on site for scoring. In my Space Marine preview, I told you that Relic Entertainment had created a high-quality framework for Space Marine, but we had yet to […]

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Visit review on site for scoring.

In my Space Marine preview, I told you that Relic Entertainment had created a high-quality framework for Space Marine, but we had yet to see whether they would actually be able to use that framework to create a game worth playing. To be honest, I pre-ordered Space Marine more out of a knee-jerk reaction as a fan of the Warhammer 40’000 franchise than anything else, and didn’t really expect Space Marine to deliver much on top of the aforementioned framework.

I can proudly announce, however, that I’ve never been happier about being wrong.

This review is going to cover aspects of the game which correlate directly to its enjoyability (apparently that’s a word), such as linearity, storyline, difficulty and what not. If you want to know more about the gameplay aspects of Space Marine, I suggest you check out my preview which goes into all of that nonsense in pretty meticulous detail (bitches gotta know ’bout them crosshairs).

The game takes place in the Warhammer 40’000 universe, where the Imperium of Man is trying to both expand their inter-planetary empire and defend the thousands of planets which are already under their control. Space Marines, genetically engineered super-humans who dispense both death and ass-kickings to the Imperium’s enemies at a rate which exceeds both the speed and efficiency of an AIDS activist handing out condoms on a university campus. Arguably inappropriate metaphors aside, these are the badasses who spearhead humanity’s conquests and purvey righteous fury upon those audacious enough to attempt to conquest back.

In Space Marine, we’re looking at the latter case. A bunch (where ‘bunch’ is roughly equal to a million — give or take a couple of hundred) of Orks have invaded Forgeworld Graia (a planet devoted to making big, shiny weapons to kill things like Orks for the Imperium of Man). The problem is that that which kills Orks kills humans just as well, so the Imperium would prefer it if the Orks didn’t manage to get hold of some of the more strategically valuable wares found on Graia — the skyscraper-high walking mech of doom, dubbed the ‘Titan’, for example. If you’ve seen Megas XLR, you’ll know what I’m getting at here. If you haven’t… why are you alive?

During the course of you holding off the aforementioned Ork army, the Chaos Marines also start invading. Chaos Marines are basically Space Marines who went a tad nutty after succumbing to the taint of the Warp. Before you ask, the Warp is basically this really trippy inter-dimensional energy, through which the Gods of Chaos see their less-than-desirable work done. Which is just as fun as it sounds.

So, long story short, you, Captain Titus of the Ultramarines (a specific order of Space Marines who follow the Codex Astartes) and your two buddies are dispatched to Graia to essentially stop two invading armies from securing one of the most valuable military assets in the Imperium of Man until the main fleet can arrive — probably to pat you on the back, or something, seeing as all the work is going to be done by the time they get there.

In case the plot introduction didn’t allude to it enough already, there is quite a bit of combat in Space Marine. I mean, I’m not going to say that it’s a combat-centric game, but there is a fair amount to kill. And by a fair amount, I mean the following:

You know that million-strong Ork army I mentioned ealier? Yeah, I killed about half of that. And that was before I unlocked the Thunder Hammer.

Luckily, there is a pretty simple method we can use to judge combat-centric (damn, I’ve said it now, haven’t I?) games: if the combat sucks, the game will too.

Luckily, Space Marine’s combat doesn’t suck. I can’t stress enough just how enjoyable it is, and just how manly you feel when you shred the head off of a particularly unlucky Ork with your chainsword.

So many games put you in positions where they either try to convince you that you are a one-man army, when in gameplay terms you actually aren’t, or where you end up being a one-man army when, according to logic, you aren’t supposed to be. The amazing thing about Space Marine is that the game tells you that you are a one-man army, and you actually are one.

The game manages to balance the difficulty in this regard very well, as well. While you may be able to dispense the rough equivalent of a metric tonne of ass-whipping all over the battlefield, you have to do so with a decent amount of finesse to avoid a painful, embarrassing death. In the later stages of the game especially, dealing with large hordes of enemies can be particularly challenging, especially given all of the different abilities you have to avoid in order to not die. That said, higher difficulties in later stages of the game may lead to some very frustrating deaths due to the fact that you can still be damaged while performing executions to regain life.

On top of being fast-paced, challenging and more fun than punching dolphins in the face, combat definitely doesn’t lack variety, either. The game throws a number of different enemies at you in a number of different scenarios, meaning that despite its linearity, Space Marine certainly does not become monotonous.

There is also a lot of variety in terms of how you want to approach combat. Throughout the game, the player has a number of different weapons at their disposal, and is given regular opportunities to switch their arsenal around. What this means is that in most cases, a re-enactment of the Texas Chainsword massacre and a long-range slug-fest are equally viable options. There is a lot of weapon variety in between those two extremes, as well, so the player certainly won’t be left bored in terms of their own capabilities.

At the end of the day, the true test of a combat-centric game is how manly you feel both during and just after combat. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the one below sums up pretty much everything I could possibly say in response to my above criteria:

Aaaaw yeah.

But anyways.

A game cannot stand on good combat alone, however, so here are the other aspects of Space Marine which make it as good as it is:

Level design and collectibles. There are some reviewers who have cried about the linearity of Space Marine, specifically in terms of level design. Don’t listen to them. They’re the same people who, if the game wasn’t designed as ‘linearly’ as it is, would cry about how the game is a maze, which breaks the flow of the game and makes the player piss around trying to find the right direction to go in. Space Marine is a combat-centric game, and, thankfully, Relic knows that, and have designed their levels around it. They (the levels) are logically and intuitively designed, making combat ebb and flow appropriately. That said, Relic haven’t just copy-pasted different corridors for you to run down while they throw generic bunches of enemies as you — the game shines in terms of how varied the levels are, and the player never feels as if they are simply repeating the same design over and over again. Relic throws jump-pack (read: jet pack) sections of gameplay in every now and then to spice things up a bit. It works. They’re awesome.

The player also needs to do a bit of exploring on each level, however, to find the audio logs scattered therein. The audio logs are pretty plentiful, telling the story of the invasion, and other plot-specific aspects from perspectives of guardsmen, factory workers and one or two more main characters as well. The logs are very well done, as well as being well hidden in most cases, and they really add a lot to the overall feel of the game… if you ignore the likelihood of them being conveniently placed where you found them, that is.

Voice acting. To put it simply: good. To elaborate on that adjective a tad, the voice acting is believable and varied, with each character having been given a voice which fits the personality Relic creates around them. Good show.

Funnily enough, that leads me into my next point quite well, as well. As I mentioned earlier, Titus has two other Ultramarine buddies who hang around with him, as well. I quite enjoyed how Relic developed their personalities over time, and by the end of the game they had certainly become more than just two random tag-alongs. I’m honestly really impressed by how they added that dynamic to the game; it gives it a level of depth which many shooters lack.

Storyline. The game crafts a relatively simple yet interesting storyline, with a number of twists which keep the player interested throughout the game’s 8-12 hours of gameplay. Those without a background knowledge of the 40k universe may be left in the dark a tad, as many aspects of the story inherent to the 40k universe aren’t really explained (the relationship between Space Marines and the Chaos, for example. And what the hell the warp is). If you have a head on your shoulders, though, you should be able to grasp what is going on relatively well.

Fanboys. Longstanding (hell, even shortstanding) fans of the Warhammer franchise will be very pleased with the representation of the universe in this game, and will enjoy the singleplayer storyline even more, as they will be able to appreciate the true magnitude of the events transpiring. There are also quite a few “I see what you did there,” moments, as plenty of references are made to the lore and other general aspects of the 40k universe.

Bugs. In the time I spent playing, I only encountered two bugs in terms of the game not proceding to the next objective after I had completed the last one, but reloading the last checkpoint (which generally wasn’t too far away) fixed that.

Multiplayer. It too is great fun, managing to bring the aspects which made combat awesome in singleplayer to the table, while maintaining balance. As the player levels up by completing objectives and getting kills, they unlock more powerful weapons and perks, which they can use to kill the poor bastards who oppose them even more effectively. By levelling up and completing challenges, the player can also unlock a whole host of shiny armour sets and individual armour pieces, which they can use to customise both their Space Marine and Chaos Marine avatars.

Overall, the multiplayer really is a barrel of laughs, and will surely promise you many more hours of satisfied game time. Unfortunately, there isn’t a particularly huge South African community going, but the game copes extremely well with high pings (on PC, at least) and I was able to play on European servers without much hassle — in fact, they hardly hindered my experience at all. On that note, there is a Steam community for Space Marine, which organises regular multiplayer matches. I’ve jammed with them. They’re cool guys. Searching ‘Warhammer Space Marine South Africa’ will take you to the group with minimum hassle.

Ultimately, Warhammer 40’000: Space Marine is a very entertaining game and an admirable offering from Relic, especially considering that this is their first outing into the Third-Person Shooter genre. The combat makes you feel like the man you are from start to finish, and the game’s story is an engaging one, which keeps you interested throughout the singleplayer campaign. The multiplayer is a hoot as well, though a lack of community may hinder your experience somewhat. Fanboys will no doubt be pleased with the portrayal of their favourite fictional Sci-fi setting.

Were this June or July, I would tell you to pick up this game without any shadow of a doubt. The tragedy of Space Marine, however, is that it is a double A (I think that exists) game being released in a season of triple A titles, which probably means that it isn’t going to be given the love or recognition it deserves. A pity, too, because it really was an achievement for Relic.

Lastly, those interested in Co-op and free DLC will be excited to hear that Space Marine has a free Co-op DLC mode being released in October, where the players teaming up must fight off waves of increasingly more hardcore enemies. Think Horde mode, but with bolters and Orks.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Please, Don’t Be A Fanboy [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/09/a-gamers-perspective-please-dont-be-a-fanboy-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/09/a-gamers-perspective-please-dont-be-a-fanboy-column/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2011 10:00:07 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=58236 Were I a lesser man this would usually be the point where I once again hate on Adam for being a Durbanite and stealing my column ideas. Luckily for Adam, […]

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Were I a lesser man this would usually be the point where I once again hate on Adam for being a Durbanite and stealing my column ideas. Luckily for Adam, however, I am not a lesser man, and everyone already knows that he is a Durbanite. He also didn’t happen to steal my column idea, but that’s more of a peripheral issue.

What isn’t a peripheral issue, however, is the epic story of how I got given a flying high-five by Tarryn Van Der Byl of NAG/MyGaming via Twitter. Yes, that happened. I’m going to tell you the aforementioned epic story now. Before you say anything, bear with me here — I swear I’m going somewhere with this.

I can’t actually tell you the epic story in question, however, before we give it a bit of context. So, here’s some context:

I’ve been an avid NAG reader since about Grade 7 (which isn’t as long ago as some of you may think), and when Tarryn started writing for NAG I began to follow her writings on an almost religious level. Every time I got my shiny new edition of NAG, I would open at the back to read her column, before working systemically through the previews and reviews to find which ones she had written, prioritise them in order of relative awesomeness, and then read them. And then read the rest of the magazine.

Some of you who might be feeling a little creeped out by my obsession devoted interest at this point (#pedobear?) will be glad to know that my pseudo-religious following of Tarryn has calmed down a bit over recent months. It may be more a product of a lack of this resource called cash monies than a regression of my aforementioned devoted interest, however.

The question I’m sure we’re still asking here, however, is what did I find so appealing about Tarryn? I’m going to have to call ‘inb4 bcoz gurl’ really quickly, ’cause if anyone actually manages to get biologically interested in a gaming column because it is written by a girl, they should probably seek the attention of a specialist. Unless it happens to be of the vaguely NSFW variety, in which case you’d probably be afforded a fair trial.

But I digress.

The point I’m making here is Tarryn van der Byl was and still is one of my personal legends of gaming journalism. She wrote (and still writes, I’m sure) about some of the most arbitrary, awesome stuff ever. She uses a lot of words which sound really cool, which I don’t understand at all, and she was (is) funny besides. I really just dug (and continue to dig) her style of writing.

So, imagine my surprise when on Thursday (also known as yesterday), after getting Twitter the day before (also known as Wednesday), I found out that not only did Tarryn have Twitter, but our good old friend, Caveshen, followed her. And knows her. Virtually.

It goes without saying that when I found out that Cavie knew (on a virtual level) one of my personal heroes of our games journalism generation and idols in terms of writing, I had to get out of my chair and do my little Jig of Awesomeness, which I choreographed a while back to celebrate moments like those which I just described.

Story even shorter, Cavie totally twitterduced us (like ‘introduced’, but via Twitter), and Tarryn totally tweeted me a (and I quote) ‘FLYING HIGH FIIIIIIIIVE!’. Needless to say, my Jig of Awesomeness following this was significantly longer and more energetic than my previous one.

What am I trying to say here? Tarryn van der Byl, one of my most admired writing idols, totally tagged me in a tweet. It was awesome.

What’s the point I’m making? A good question; we should move on to that, shouldn’t we?

You see, while I may regard Tarryn as a quasi-deital figure, and herald her writings as text of near religious value, at the end of the day I’m still a noob who has hardly earned the right to call himself a gaming journalist, let alone say that I’m part of the South African gaming journalism community. The thought of Tarryn van der Byl actually being human only really occurred to me yesterday.

Other people, like Caveshen for example, who are part of this South African gaming journalism community, might actually know her on a semi-personal level. They probably aren’t as likely to idolise her as much as I do, because they’re less starry-eyed about pretty much everything to do with games and South Africans who write about them.

Yet still other people might hate what Tarryn writes, comparing it to things like stomach bile and the proverbial turd on metaphorical toilet seat of life. I’m not sure why they would, I think it’s pretty awesome, but there you have it — views differ.

“So wait, Duncan, what are you getting at again?”

Fanboys, dear Martin (that’s my hypothetical reader, just by the way), fanboys.

As you may or may not have noticed, over this last week eGamer has been covering the Modern Warfare 3 versus Battlefield 3 debate pretty extensively (and, in my subjective opinion, pretty objectively as well), in an attempt to be able to wash our hands of this nonsense for the next little while. At the moment, the MW3 vs BF3 debate is probably the most fanboy-rife one out there, although luckily none surfaced on eGamer (who lived to tell the tale, that is).

What we learnt in the process of doing research for the articles in question, however, is that fanboys suck. They have this innate ability to degrade every comment section on the interwebs to the most deranged, facepalm-tastic flame war you’re ever likely to see. Sure, they may have their benefits, and I’ll talk about those in a later column, but some of them just deserve a good punch in the face (even more so than dolphins, in some instances!).

Loving something (whether it be a game or a writer) and engaging in an intellectual manner about the pros and cons of it are, contrary to popular fanboy belief, not mutually exclusive. You can do both and, believe it or not, you won’t defy any laws of physics in the process.

Like I said, I really dig Tarryn’s writing. Not only do I enjoy the style, but she’s been an idol to me for a good few years now, and I’m not just going to turn my back on that. That doesn’t mean that I can’t accept the fact that she has faults and that her writing may not be the best the world has ever seen in the history of forever, but it does mean that I stand by her and I stand by my advocation (that is totally a word. I swear) of her despite those things.

So, all you fanboys (if any are reading this. If not, please just go to a BF3 vs MW3 thread on reddit and then link them to this, so that there are fanboys reading this). Instead of loving something and crapping on, from a dizzying height I might add, everything that isn’t the thing you love, how about loving something and replying to those that differ from you with something that doesn’t start with a public display of your homophobia or of your intimate biological relations with their mother (she’s probably like, thirty years older than you anyway — if you need to hit something that old, you should probably start rethinking your life).

Hell, it’s just a thought. But then again, so is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

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Head To Head: Battlefield 3 Vs Modern Warfare 3 http://egmr.net/2011/09/head-to-head-battlefield-3-vs-modern-warfare-3/ http://egmr.net/2011/09/head-to-head-battlefield-3-vs-modern-warfare-3/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2011 10:00:26 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=57901 By now you will have read through our previews of Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 and… wait, you’ve read through our previews by now right? Right!? If you’re anything […]

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By now you will have read through our previews of Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 and… wait, you’ve read through our previews by now right? Right!?

If you’re anything like the gamers we are, you’ll want to play everything and anything you can get your hands on — with the possible exception of Terminator: Salvation — but sometimes that’s not always possible, either because you’re on a budget or you can only play one, or perhaps you only have a specific gaming device and you just want to know which is better for that platform. Hopefully it’s not a Wii, because then we have bad news for you…

In this head-to-head feature, Caveshen (that’s me, in standard font) and Duncan (in not-so-standard font) — with a cameo appearance from Timothy, to talk digital distribution — will endeavour to go into detail regarding the various aspects of each game listed under convenient headings for your reading pleasure, and hopefully help you in deciding which way to go.

Activision or Electronic Arts.

Infinity Ward or DICE.

Soap or Black.

The five topics listed under the aforementioned convenient headings are going to be: A singleplayer comparison (under ‘Singleplayer’), a multiplayer comparison (under ‘Multiplayer’), a comparison of performance and graphics engines (under ‘The Technical Stuff’), a comparison of each game’s multipalyer service offering, Battlelog and Call of Duty: Elite (under ‘Battlelog Versus Elite) and a comparison of the two games’ digital distribution services (under ‘Steam Versus Origin’).

To find any of the above mentioned topics, simply hit Ctrl+F in your browser to activate the find function, and enter the name of the topic. After you hit enter once or twice, it’ll take you straight there.

So, without further ado, here it is…

Let’s rock.

The Singleplayer

While many gamers will breeze through the Singleplayer offerings of both games and then spend hours upon hours in the Multiplayer, each game nevertheless attempts to offer a strong and solid Singleplayer campaign for the discerning gamer.

Call of Duty has the advantage here, with a well-established pedigree for telling stories and creating set-pieces and scenarios for the player to experience and engross themselves in, with a nail-biting, cinematic feel to every second of it. The Battlefield games have previously shirked the Singleplayer campaigns in favour of Multiplayer experiences, but that changed with the Bad Company series of games that showed the world that even the Battlefield games could have a truly entertaining and memorable narrative to make players happy.

In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the world is at war. The Russian Federation has invaded pretty much every city that calls itself first-world, and forced everyone to sing along to the Soviet anthem while downing vodka shots and donning Kalashnikovs. It is up to you, and you, and you, as you take on the roles of various soldiers fighting to retake the invaded capitals of the world, and protect liberty and freedom. It’s World War 3, and you are a soldier fighting to end it. And then you’re another soldier. You get the point.

The game takes you to various locales and destinations such as New York, London, Paris and much, much more, and with the campaign already touted to be longer than that of Modern Warfare 2’s (Sorry, when did that become an achievement?), not only is it shaping up to be something entirely enticing, but something that will actually last this time, as well.

Battlefield 3 has gone for a slightly different approach to a storytelling narrative. Equally as over-the-top and cinematic, the game has attempted to place players in scenarios that would detail exactly what it is like to be a soldier in the modern day, in a warfare scenario. And then it’s going to throw all of that right out into the open by placing you on a faultline — the home of an Earthquake waiting to happen — as you battle not only against opposing forces but the ground beneath you as well.

The game will also have various locales featured, with New York and Paris also featuring here, together with various other destinations to blow up.

Each game will focus primarily on urban warfare, but also shift the focus onto vehicular warfare, though exactly what we get to drive / pilot / shoot out of, remains to be seen.

There really is nothing to distinguish one out of the two games with regards to the Singleplayer. Both offerings provide gripping, cinematic gameplay with an engrossing narrative and enough plot twists to put a hole in your skull, next to the indent from looking into your scope.

The Multiplayer

As you kids can no doubt see (unless you’re reading this in braille, in which case I’d like to know how you managed that), the font is now italicised. Yes, you guessed it, that does indeed mean that business time commences right about now.

Hell, when we start comparing Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer to Battlefield 3’s, how could it be anything but business time? My thoughts exactly.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the two contenders:

In the Activision corner, we have Modern Warfare 3. He’s big, he’s bad, and his franchise has brought in more revenue than your feeble brain can even hope to comprehend.

In the EA corner, we have Battlefield 3, the lovable underdog and unpredictable newcomer. No one is entirely sure what to expect from him but damn, he looks pretty.

There are two aspects in terms of which we are going to be comparing these bad boys, namely Gameplay and Unlocks and Customisables.

In terms of gameplay, Modern Warfare 3 is a fast-paced, infantry-focused game, with intense firefights on small-scale maps being the centre-point of the multiplayer. There are no vehicles, and, besides the bonuses attained from Kill Streaks, it’s pretty much up to the player to rack up their kills.

The play is also very indiviually focused, and while objectives do exist in some game modes, there is little need for team cohesion beyond all of you running in vaguely the same direction. Anyone who played Modern Warfare 2 can expect much the same experience, albeit a more varied and refined one (with dedicated servers).

Battlefield 3, on the other hand, is primarily focused on more tactical, team-based gameplay, with more refined game modes in terms of making objectives the focal-point of the match and taking the emphasis off individual performance. It plays itself out, for the most part, over larger-scale maps, which feature vechiles. On PC, however, it also has a far larger player limit on certain game modes than Modern Warfare 3 does – a whopping 64 players can play in any Conquest game simultaneously.

Battlefield 3 knows that if it really wants to make a good shot at killing CoD, however, it needs to try and beat it at its own game. Thus, DICE have included a Team Deathmatch mode, which will apparently play similarly to the Modern Warfare style of fast-paced, action-packed gameplay, by not including vechiles and playing out over smaller-scale maps. It will essentially be a more refined version of Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s gameplay, which managed to rival CoD quite aptly.

Overall, comparing the two’s gameplay directly is a bit of a challenge, because as you can no doubt see, they’re quite like apples and pears, in that they simply offer two different experiences, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer will certainly be more easy to enjoy from the moment you log onto the (dedicated) server, while at the same time it will no doubt suffer from the same problem as all of the CoD games which have gone before it – the immense frustration of aspects like spawn rape. Because the maps are so small, when the servers start to fill up the game can get a bit chaotic, and you can often be killed numerous times in succession by spawn rapists, stray grenades, cunningly placed Airstrikes (a Kill Streak reward), or what have you. Which, you know, sucks.

Battlefield 3’s on the other hand suffers from the immediate issue of having the potential to be extremely boring. Large maps generally mean that if you don’t take a vechile, you end up walking around for a good while before you find anything resembling a fight, and when you do you probably get your ass handed to you by the bastard in the helicopter, anyway. This is an issue which is easily avoided by having the attention span of someone who isn’t twelve, and a touch of logic besides. Where Battlefield 3’s multiplayer will, in all likelihood, really succeed is in terms of how rewarding it can feel. When you win a game, you know that not just you as an individual, but you as a team have worked your butts off trying to get that win, which attaches a real sense of achievement that many shooters nowadays are devoid of.

So, we can see that it comes down in many ways to personal preference in terms of what sort of multiplayer experience you’re going for. What might well decide an awful lot is how well DICE manage to compete with Call of Duty through their Team Deathmatch mode. While DICE certainly have the capacity to create an enjoyable Team Deathmatch mode, can it really not only challenge but defeat Call of Duty at the very focus of its own multiplayer offering, especially when it is only a peripheral concern for DICE? We have yet to see, but it may well become a pretty pivotal question in choosing which offering to take.

So, let’s take a closer look at the Unlocks and Customisables aspects of both multiplayers.

When you start Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer, you’re given a level 1 pleb of a character which you need to level up. As you do so, you unlock more shiny toys with which to kill people (most of which are guns) and bonuses called Perks, which you can use to further customise your classes with specific abilities (sprinting for longer, not showing up on the opponent’s minimap and being able to scope faster with sniper rifles, to name but a few) and tailor them to suit your specific style of play. Attachments can be unlocked for various weapons by reaching certain milestones with them (for example, “Get x amount of headshots/kills to unlock attachment y”), with attachments ranging from various types of scopes, to silencers, to underbarrel shotguns and grenade launchers.

Also available in Modern Warfare 3 are Kill Streak bonuses, which you are awarded with either by racking up a certain amount of points (which are attained by killing enemies and completing objectives, such as planting bombs and so on) over a period of time (i.e. they are not effected by how often you die), or by achieving a certain amount of kills in a single life. Bonuses awarded by Kill Streaks range from carpet bombs at a location of your choice, to UAV scans which reveal your enemies positions on the minimap, to the ability to command remote-control helicopters. With guns. The remote-control helicopters have guns, that is – you don’t command them with guns. That would be weird.

Battlefield 3, on the other hand, does not feature Perks or Kill Streaks – it instead features four classes with unique abilities which can be upgraded and improved. We haven’t heard much about exactly how you upgrade or improve them, but we can imagine that it would be through reaching certain milestones with the particular class.

What Battlefield 3 also features are weapon unlocks and attachments – we are not yet sure which game will have more weapons in general to be unlocked, but we can say with confidence that Battlefield 3 will have more attachments which can be unlocked. Each weapon in Battlefield 3 has 3 attachment slots, where a wide variety of attachments (ranging from different barrels, to various types of optic sights, to different types of grips and so on and so forth) may be attached. Attachments are unlocked for each weapon individually, in the same was as Modern Warfare 3 – by reaching certain milestones.

Again we can see that the choice between the two comes down to preference – if you like the sound of perks, Kill Streaks and what-not, Modern Warfare 3 will most likely be for you, whereas if you would prefer the game to come down to how well you manage to design the attachment combination for your weapon and your personal skill, irrespective of elements like Perks, Battlefield 3 might be more for you.

The Technical Stuff

Here is where you will find a right, proper distinction amongst the two games.

Battlefield 3 is running on DICE’s brand new Frostbite 2 engine, whereas Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is running on the IW5 engine.

For all intents and purposes, Modern Warfare 3’s engine is technically inferior to that of Battlefield 3’s, which means that for the PC offerings, you won’t get much better than Battlefield 3.

Now, with that said, the same cannot be said for the console versions of each game.

Modern Warfare 3’s engine, though now very dated and clearly showing its age, has long since been undergoing constant optimisation for consoles, whereas Battlefield 3’s PC-focused Frostbite 2 engine has had to cut back on a fair few bells and whistles in order to compensate for the lack of processing power that comes from the ageing generation of consoles.

To this effect, Modern Warfare 3 may well have the technical advantage over Battlefield 3 on the console.

It has the necessary optimisation already, it has already been running on consoles for long enough that developers are comfortable with the system now and gamers are used to what the IW engine can offer. The same cannot be said of Battlefield 3 which is not focused for console and therefore will have a few bugs and glitches along the way that may require titles updates or patching to fix. And once again, a lot of the shiny extras that the PC version boasts will be far less prominent on the console version, effectively eliminating the game’s technical advantage over Modern Warfare 3.

Another key factor that needs to be mentioned is the frame rate of each game. It’s a well-known fact that many games that are technically “HD” games, don’t actually run at 720p or 1080p, running instead at some lower resolution without necessarily explicitly stating that. Then, some games will run at 30 frames per second instead of the requisite 60 frames per second for “HD” to actually technically be “HD”.

Battlefield 3 will run at 30 frames per second. Modern Warfare 3 will run at 60 frames per second.

Some have argued that it’s not a noticeable difference at all and that each game will feel the same in action, but I challenge you to play a 30 FPS game and then a 60 FPS game and tell me you don’t notice a change in smoothness.

Whether there is noticeably choppy frame-rate on the console version of Battlefield 3 or not remains to be seen, but it will not be entirely surprising if experienced during an intense firefight, for example.

For the moment it seems clear that on PC, Battlefield 3 stands head and toe above Modern Warfare 3, from a technical perspective.

However, which game is superior on console remains to be seen.

BattleLog Versus Elite

What we’re seeing from both Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 are innovations which are virtually unprecedented in the gaming industry (amusing, then, that they should arrive within a month of each other) – dedicated social media platforms supporting their games. DICE is bringing Battlelog to the table for Battlefield 3, while we see Infinity Ward rollin’ in (the extremely controversial) Call of Duty Elite, we hatin’.

What Battlefield 3 wants to give us is a service called Battlelog, which is essentially a Battlefield-centric Facebook clone. You can write on peoples walls profiles, you can like  ‘Hooah!’ your friends’ achievements as they are displayed to you on the News Feed Battlefeed. You can comment comment on them too!

So yeah, you’re going to have a hard time spotting the difference similarity between Battlelog and FaceBook. Lolsarcasm. That said, however, there is nothing particularly wrong with FaceBook, so if Battlelog manages to be a good clone, then so what?

Exactly.

Also available on Battlelog are both your and your friends’ stats for every bullet ever shot and enemy ever killed in ever, which DICE seem pretty excited about.

Did I mention that Battlelog also serves as the server browser and game launcher? Well, it does. If that seems a tad excessive or tedious to you, it does to me too. I’m going to reserve judgement until I actually lay my hands on it, though, seeing as it is free and all.

Modern Warfare 3, on the other hand, is offering us Call of Duty Elite, which comes in a free and a not-so-free version. There has been a lot of outcry about the not-so-free issue, but I think it’s stupid. I’ll tell you more about that in a second.

Before I move on to why crying about the Premium version of CoD Elite is stupid, let’s chat about the free one. Included in the free one are all of the things necessary to use the service properly – I won’t go into it, because there is a ton, (if you’re interested in the exact services offered by the Free and Premium versions, click here) but suffice to say that it includes clan membership, stat tracking, a news feed, the ability to join Groups and far more besides.

Premium is where all of the extras begin to creep in – free access to monthly DLC (which would amount to more than the annual Premium Membership subscription fee is purchased on its own, just by-the-by), access to the daily competitive program (online tournaments organised by Infinity Ward and run over Elite), a more powerful theatre mode and other stuff as well. Seriously, click on that link I gave you.

The reason I don’t have an issue with Premium (and thus, why you shouldn’t have an issue with it) is that Infinity Ward aren’t making you pay for stuff that should be in the game – they’re giving you the game, and letting you use the basics of Elite for free, so the game on its own is completely functional. Elite gives you some pretty cool bonuses that actually warrant paying for, as they will cost the developer money over time as they continue to provide them to you. Paying the professional players who make Elite TV, and sponsoring the tournaments are two pretty good examples of why you’re being charged, let alone all of the extra content that you will get on a regular basis after having purchased the game.

All in all, Battlelog really does look pretty paltry at the moment in comparison to Call of Duty Elite. Not the Battlelog lacks in functionality, there is no reason as to why it would be a sub-optimal product, but rather that Infinity Ward are investing more into Call of Duty Elite because it will generate long-term revenue for them – which, like I said, is justified in this instance.

So, while Battlefield 3 isn’t necessarily losing the battle, it certainly is giving less than its competitior, and thus certainly isn’t winning.

Some final words on Premium membership for CoD Elite: How much is it, and should you get it?

It costs $50 (about R350), which is the same amount that a new game would cost you over Steam. Just saying. Interpret that either way you wish – were I still the raving CoD addict I once was, I would gladly sacrifice one game a year for all of the extra goodness which Elite brings with it. Hell, I still might.

Should you get it? If you are a long-standing Call of Duty fan who knows you will be investing a lot of time into MW3 and want to get the most you possibly can out of it, yes. If you are going to be a casual MW3 player but you have the cash to spare, yes. If you are going to be a casual MW3 player but “THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER SHINY GAMES COMING OUT HOW CAN I AFFORD THEM ALL RAAAAAAAAAAGE”, I would suggest you pass on it.

Steam Versus Origin

The battle between Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 has yet to truly begin. Despite that however, many of the troops of this inevitable confrontation have already decided where their allegiance lies. For the rest though, the fans of both games and the undecided; there are more factors, than the games themselves, that will decide the fate of each player. Among them are price, release date and any other (relative) platform specifics. There is however, one other deciding factor for many a soldier. These particular soldiers are in platoon High Res, regiment PC. And while the conflict among the PC versions will undoubtedly be the smallest (in terms of numbers) among the platforms; they are still, very probably, the most hardcore and devoted of all the Battlefield and MW3 players. That being the case, and in the interest of PC enthusiasts, we need to discuss one other vital battlefield between these two juggernauts. That battlefield is the distribution and networking hubs within and around each game; MW3 and Steam vs. Battlefield 3 and EA’s (controversial) Origin.

Let’s start with the ever popular veteran and all dominant one, Steam. Steam has its faults, I’ll be the first to admit that Steam isn’t perfect by any means; but it’s still darn good. In a backwater country like South Africa, especially with regards to the internet and bandwidth obstacles we face, you’d expect a system like Steam to be unsuccessful and have a mediocre following. That just isn’t the case though, and its sheer popularity in South Africa is testament to its ability to do its job. Steam quite literally means you have MW3 backed up and the patches will always be prompt and easy to get. The connection will be stable and the bandwidth requirements of Steam, beyond what MW3 requires, are negligible. More than that, Steam already has a great community and will almost certainly offer plenty of MW3 centred specials and content. You might have the odd issue but I’m sure MW3 will run brilliantly because Steam punks the haxors and corrects the problems. I have yet to bring up an issue with tech support that isn’t resolved in a relatively short time. At the end of the day, and despite the indubitable success that will be MW3, Steam will remain and reign supreme because its service is supreme.

EA’s Origin is the wildcard here and to judge prematurely would be unfair. It has yet to prove its worth and I’m not so biased as to base my entire opinion of Origin on hearsay alone. EA has a right to introduce and maintain its own service; I fully support that. Yeah, I have gripes with some of their practices but having them dedicate themselves to Battlefield and having to compete with Steam and MW3 means a higher grade of quality in both; at least in theory. My issue is with Origin’s current status quo and recent controversies. No one can doubt the quality of software that EA publishes: Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3, Old Republic, Portal 2, Dragon Age 2 and Crysis 2 show this in spades. One look at Origin, however, and all of that comes into question. Firstly, they’re releasing an app to buy games and link to the store specifically. At first that doesn’t seem so bad, but at a second glance it gives them a lot of control over the conditions of purchase. That may sound like speculation. And in a way, until it’s in use at least, it is. Well that’s until you hear that they maintain in their EULA; that after a year of purchase they can make you repurchase the game (you paid for a year ago) in order to re-download it. Don’t forget Steam allows, and in fact encourages, you to re-download any game you purchase as many times as you wish. It’s a great quick fix and free backup service to any game. If that was it, it wouldn’t be so bad for Origin. But as we all know by now, it gets worse. Origin effectively installs spyware onto your PC and monitors all of your processes, activities as well as any and all files. Now I’m sorry but that’s practically looking into your bedroom from the tree outside your window. Especially when compared to Steam’s, only monitor Steam related content, system.

There are a bunch of other things I could say and in time I will. For now, I’ll reserve my opinion for the post release of both MW3 and Battlefield 3. I’m excited to see how well Battlefield 3 does. Remember, any competition that Battlefield 3 presents and audiences it takes away from MW3; means the next COD or (other) IP will have to be that much better. It’s a shame that many are going to be put off or be bullied away from using Origin. More than anything, it hurts Battlefield 3 as well as this industry and past time that I love so much.

Epic dissertations aside, it’s clear that both games are solid offerings and triple-A titles in their own respect, and neither choice is an incorrect one.

The problem you’re going to have, unless you’re a fanboy of one or the other, or you significantly prefer one offering above the other after what we’ve said, is going to be actually choosing which one to get. In which case it really does suck to be you. I would know, because I’m in that position.

Whether you opt to fight in World War 3 and get kill streaks, or frolick around on top of faultlines and blow up buildings with vehicles, we are pretty sure that you’ll love it. Whether you opt for the Battlelog or the Elite, you’ll have functional, pretty awesome social networking services dedicated to the game you love at your disposal. Whether you opt for Steam or Origin, you’ll be getting one of the best games of the year, and certainly one of the best First-Person Shooters we’ve seen in a good few years. We’ve presented you with the details. The rest is up to you.

In the end, however, it doesn’t matter what you pick (if you really must), because you’ll love them both. And, at the end of the day, we’re all gamers here anyway, so, no matter how it pans out, gaming wins.

Damnit Cavie, you sound like a pre-school teacher with all of your objectivity and political correctness. We all know that [censored] is going to be better.

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Hands-On: Warhammer 40’000: Space Marine http://egmr.net/2011/09/hands-on-warhammer-40000-space-marine/ http://egmr.net/2011/09/hands-on-warhammer-40000-space-marine/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2011 10:05:46 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=57246 If you are the sort of person who enjoys bedazzling floral-print tablecloths, writing poems about flowers and wearing cardigans, I’m afraid to say that Warhammer 40’000: Space Marine probably isn’t […]

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If you are the sort of person who enjoys bedazzling floral-print tablecloths, writing poems about flowers and wearing cardigans, I’m afraid to say that Warhammer 40’000: Space Marine probably isn’t going to be the game for you. If, however, you’re the sort of person who becomes slightly sexually aroused whenever you hear the sound of power tools, wrestles bears for a living and punches dolphins in the face on a regular basis, you might just have found your calling.

Name: Warhammer 40’000: Space Marine
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Players: 1, Co-operative arriving in October
Multiplayer: Online, Co-operative arriving in October
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, Playstation 3
Developers: Relic Entertainment
Publishers: THQ
Release Date: 6 September 2011 for North America, 9 September for Europe and Africa

Being quite the fan of the Warhammer 40’000 tabletop franchise, I have been apprehensively excited for Space Marine for quite a while now — I say apprehensively because, as we all no doubt know, games based on franchises (see: every movie-based game except for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King ever created ever) have a nasty habit of epic-failing straight into the ground. Moreover, even if Relic manages to succeed in not making Space Marine epic-fail in the aforementioned ground, there is still the concern of actually making a game which fanboys and general gamers alike can not only appreciate but enjoy as well.

I am not quite audacious enough to state outright from simply playing the demo that Space Marine will indeed fulfil the burden I described above, so let’s just say that the demo has made me pretty damn confident that it will.

A quick paragraph of general background before we begin looking at the actual gameplay: You play the role of Captain Titus, a Squad Commander of the Ultramarines (who is just as manly as he sounds). You and a few of your other Ultramarine buddies have been sent to a Forgeworld (basically, a really huge-ass arms factory for the Imperium of Man), because it’s being attacked by a few million orks, and you’re the people they call when stuff like that happens. Reinforcements are on their way, but until they arrive it’s up to you and your buddies to hold key defensive positions and basically make sure that the orks don’t manage to break anything too important.

With that in mind, let’s start looking at some of the more peripheral elements of the gameplay.

When you fire up a level, you are given a choice between three pretty straightforward difficulty settings: Easy, Medium or Hard. Naturally, I chose Hard. Because I’m a man.

Loading screens are mercifully short, displaying helpful hints about the Execution function (which we’ll talk about in a second) and other assorted what-nots. The death screens are allegedly (I only heard about them because, you know, I’m too manly to die) pretty cool, displaying quotes taken from various editions of the Warhammer 40’000 tabletop game’s rulebook, some examples of which are “Never forget; never forgive” and “Blood is the Emperor’s currency — spend it well”, both of which I recognised immediately from having read the aforementioned rulebooks. Not a particularly relevant aspect to highlight, I agree, but I think it is the little things like quotes on the death screens which are going to make the fanboys nod their heads and be all like: “I see what you did there,” so, props to Relic for including them.

In terms of graphics, the game is extremely impressive. Whether you are admiring Captain Titus in his manly power-armour, blowing the head off of an ork with your Storm Bolter, slicing the head off of another ork with your Power Axe or just admiring the game environment, you will find that it is all beautifully rendered in that non-resource-whorey sort of way. The lighting works like it should, the animations of everything ranging from the movement of your character’s individual pieces of power-armour to the smoke trailing a bullet shot from your pistol look natural, and the developers have applied just the right amount of detail to aspects such as your character, enemies and various pieces of environmental paraphernalia. Graphics: Spot on, so far, in my opinion.

The HUD, made up of four distinct elements, is simple and straightforward. We’ll look at all of these four elements, starting with the simplest — the ammo counter.

It’s pretty damn straightforward, detailing the gun you currently have equipped, the amount of ammunition left in your clip, the amount of ammunition left in total for that gun and the amount of grenades (out of a maximum of five) which you have.

The second HUD item of interest is the Fury Meter. As you rack up hits with either your guns or your melee weapon, the Fury Meter fills up — when it is completely full you can unleash the kraken within Titus by hitting the Fury Button (‘T’ on computers), which activates Fury Mode. Fury Mode lasts for around ten seconds of real-time, and has a number of effects. First of all, upon activation of Fury Mode, there is a blast in the area around you which injures enemies, as well as throwing most of them to the ground and even killing a few of them, which gives you a bit of space to breathe. On top of that, you regenerate life, your melee attacks do more damage and when you press the aim button (L-Ctrl for PC users), time around you slows, while you remain in real-time — this allows you to take more accurate shots more quickly, which is a huge asset to have on your side, especially when taking on some of the larger beasties, as it can prove particularly devastating to them.

Thirdly, the reticule. There is a reticule for shooting, which consists of a circle with four arrows inside of it. The arrows indicate the area in which your shots will hit, while the circle indicates the total area in which your shots can hit — the difference being that the longer you shoot for, the more recoil you get and thus the less accurate you become, so when you fire your first shot the arrows are still pretty close together, but when you’ve had a solid twenty round burst, they’ll be on the extremities of the circle.

When in melee combat, the reticule changes to become a grey dot in the centre of your screen, similar to Mirror’s Edge. I suppose it helps Titus keep his balance, or something.

Lastly, there is the health meter. A bar of red surrounded by smaller bars of yellow, it really couldn’t be simpler. The bars of yellow indicate your shield, which depletes when you take enough damage and regenerates when you don’t take damage for long enough, while the red bar is your actual health – when that’s gone, so are you. As I’ve already said, you regenerate health when in Fury Mode, but I’d like to take this opportunity to say that Space Marine probably has the most manly health regeneration mechanic in the world.

To hell with med-kits, stimpacks, regenerative health and the like — they’re all for pussies. In Space Marine, the amount of health Titus has is directly proportionate to how manly he feels. So, when he gets shot up a bit and his self-esteem starts waning, he needs to remind himself how manly he is. Titus does this by either going into Fury Mode (as I mentioned above) and just unleashing hell on the bastards unlucky enough to be in his way, or by performing manoeuvres called Executions. Which are just as awesome as they sound. When an enemy has taken enough damage or is stunned (most commonly by pressing the ‘stun’ button to perform a stun manoeuvre — ‘F’ on a keyboard), indicated by an enemy being highlighted in blue and having the Execution icon over their head, you can press the Execution button to perform an Execution and regain life manliness.

Whether you’re taking an ork Boy (their units have weird names) by the throat, throwing him to the ground and then stomping his face into oblivion or grabbing the top and bottom jaw of one of their bigger brothers and literally ripping his face in two for greater justice, there is no doubt in your mind as to just how manly you are when you perform said manoeuvre.

The Execution based health-regeneration system really is an awesome touch and refreshing innovation, that adds a lot to the sheer enjoyability of the game overall. Bravo indeed, Relic.

Executions actually lead us on quite nicely to the topic I’ve been waiting in earnest anticipation for — the combat.

There are two facets to the combat — melee and ranged. We’re going to discuss both of them individually before looking at how they interact and the game’s combat system overall.

There are four ranged weapons (i.e. guns) available in the demo, although I only realised this during my second playthrough. During my first one I used the Bolt Pistol exclusively. Which made the game seem significantly harder… imagine that! Anyways, the Bolt Pistol has a clip which can hold ten rounds at a time and infinite ammunition. That infinite ammunition thing really doesn’t mean all that much, though, because being the weakest, least accurate gun gun of the lot, I really can’t see why anyone would use it unless they were a complete idiot (cough cough…).

The second gun we get access to is the Bolter, which is actually pretty damn awesome. The product of a little bit of ‘business time’ between a submachine-gun and an assault rifle, the Bolter has a high rate of fire, decent damage, a thirty round clip and pretty spiffing accuracy close and medium to far range.

The third gun, the Vengeance Launcher, launches (bet you didn’t see that one coming!) flashing blue grenade-type objects, which detonate upon you hitting the reload button (you have no idea how long it took me to figure that out). Shooting one onto an ork and detonating it as he and his buddies run towards you in a giant mob is great fun, I can assure you. The Vengeance Launcher has no clip, simply holding all of its eighteen rounds at once. Like a boss.

The last (and most awesome) gun we get to play with is the Stalker Bolter. With a ten round clip (and forty more rounds after that), high damage, a decent enough rate of fire and a scope (!), this is the weapon for you if you want to take out enemies at range, or if you want to plough through a small mob of Boyz at close range with minimal effort. It also does a right sight more than the Bolter when it comes to taking out the bigger, tougher enemies at close range, and gives you the capacity to take them out at long range as well.

So far we have yet to see whether there will be more guns in the full game — the game could function without more, but I am a firm believer in my grand-pappy’s old motto: “You can never have too many guns.” Only time will tell, however, my dear reader.

Melee combat thus far is simple, yet immensely rewarding. Normal melee attacks can be strung together in volleys of strikes, and be used in conjunction with the combo attacks for each weapon to create a truly awe-inspiring dance of destruction. The aforementioned combo attacks are listed under the “Combat Controls” menu in the game itself.

There are four melee weapons listed under the Combat Controls menu, though we only got access to two of them. Those we did get to use are the Chainsword (yes, that is a combination of a chainsaw and a sword) and the Power Axe (’nuff said), while those we didn’t get access to are the Combat Knife and the Thunder Hammer (om nom nom). Each weapon gets its own unique yet similar combo moves, an example being that pressing the melee attack button three times followed by the stun button when holding the Chainsaw causes Titus to make three strikes with his Chainsaw and then stomp the ground, stunning enemies around him, while the same combination used with the Power Axe causes Titus to make three attacks followed by slamming the ground with the Axe, which also creates a stun effect.

The combos are well designed, being both simple to use and extremely rewarding when they are used. They compliment your arsenal of normal melee attacks very nicely, giving you a much-needed upper hand in melee battles, particularly against large hordes of enemies.

So, now that we’ve got those two facets of combat out of the way, let’s look at combat as a whole.

There is a balance which the developers need to get right for this sort of game to be successful — a balance between making you feel like the genetically engineered super-soldier in whose shoes you find yourself and maintaining an element of difficulty in order to ensure that successful combat feels rewarding. Given that I played the demo four times because I just couldn’t kill enough orks, I’d have to say that Relic managed to get it dead right.

The devs have done a great job of making sure that the combat is as simple and effortless as possible, ensuring that one derives as much entertainment as possible from the game. The combat systems are intuitive, and subtle yet essential nuances like changing camera angles mean that transitioning between melee and ranged combat couldn’t be easier. You can literally go right into melee combat after shooting up a horde of orks, or vice versa, and it really couldn’t feel more natural.

The control set-up adds to the fluidity of combat too, with your melee weapon (of which you can only have one) being used by hitting one button (the right mouse button on PC), while firing your gun is handled by another (the left mouse button on PC), and gun selection is handled by yet others. Not having to arduously switch between an equipped ranged and melee weapon is a nice touch, which makes the game all the more easier to enjoy.

Space Marine is looking set to be a pretty heavily combat-orientated game (in terms of actual gameplay, that is), which is something I believe it may well succeed as. From the little I had the pleasure of playing, the levels seem to be designed well in terms of steering the player dynamically through combat after combat, both lulling and maintaining action respectively where necessary. It is hard to say at this point just how big an element Jump Packs will be in the final product, but they seem like a pretty damn decent way to mix up combat and keep the gameplay interesting.

Overall, Space Marine has the framework to be a great game. There aren’t any obvious bugs or major gameplay flaws, so we know that it won’t epic-fail straight into the ground at launch, but the question which still needs to be answered is whether or not Relic manages to build a game worth playing on top of that framework.

For what it is worth, however, both the gamer and the fanboy inside of me are satisfied enough that I’ve gone ahead and pre-ordered the game off steam — it’s set to hit our shores by the 9th of September (that’s this Friday, just by the way), and I’m almost tripping over myself in excitement. Given that I’m sitting down at the moment, that’s saying something.

Prospective buyers should also note that (free!) DLC is set to arrive in October for Space Marine, which will add a ‘horde mode’ to the game, wherein you and a few buddies (Co-op for the horde mode is confirmed, but we don’t know what the player limit is just yet) fight off waves of enemies and try to not die and stuff. Which, personally, I’m also quite excited for.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — A Look At The Addictiveness Of Games [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/09/a-gamers-perspective-a-look-at-the-addictiveness-of-games-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/09/a-gamers-perspective-a-look-at-the-addictiveness-of-games-column/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2011 10:30:44 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=56982 Those of you who are cool enough to give the columns a read may or may not have heard of Adam. If not then you have now. Anyways, I’ve got […]

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Those of you who are cool enough to give the columns a read may or may not have heard of Adam. If not then you have now. Anyways, I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with the lad in question, and not in a ‘cavemen sharing dinner’ sort of way, either.

You see, Adam, on top of being a Durbanite, happens to be the bastard who not only stole my column last week, but the week before that stole my intended topic for my next column (which was going to be last week but is now actually this week instead. Like I said, blame Adam), and covered just about everything one could, would or should say on the issue of violence in video games. Which is really no fault of his, nor is it really a major inconvenience to me because I had another topic lined up anyway (which I’m going to be talking about now), but it served as a pretty damned good introduction, didn’t it?

In case any of you were wondering, it did.

So, let’s start talking about what we’re actually going to be talking about. Seeing as Adam stole my original topic (I’m not planning on letting that go just yet), I’ve decided to settle for what I believe is probably the most warranted attack on gaming, and probably the one that we as gamers need to take the most seriously.

The attack on gaming in question here is, as you no doubt have guessed from the title (I swear I’ve made that same witty observation in my last three columns), the attack on video games for their addictive nature.

As I said a paragraph or two ago, this is probably the most warranted attack on gaming that one could encounter, by nature of the fact that it is actually legitimate (lol). Now, when you say something like I just did, it means two things:

1) The other attacks on gaming really suck.
And by virtue of that…
2) We can’t just dismiss it by saying “Actually, no.” We have to do some serious business, logical, step-by-step analysis. Which makes me a little too happy inside.

So, as the metaphorical gloves are taken off and thrown by the wayside, there is one question we need to answer from the outset, which reads a little something like this:

“Are games addictive?”

The short answer is yes. The longer (and thus, more awesome) answer is that in this world there are very, very few things that I am not prepared to contest, but whether or not games have the capacity to be addictive is not one of them.

I don’t think that simply pointing out that gaming has addictive qualities wins the debate for the other side, however. Before we announce anything as drastic as that, we need to figure out exactly what we (and they) mean by ‘addiction’, and how harmful video game addiction actually is.

I think that there is an important distinction that needs to be made here between a neurological dependance (i.e. an addiction) and simply being very interested in or enjoying something.

I think that what many of the more sensationalist critics overlook is the fact that gaming is something which can simply be enjoyed, or even have a career made out of it -– which is to say that gaming is the sort of thing which can have investing large amounts of time into it justified. Just as a budding musician or sportsman loves what they do and wants to do what they love a lot, so does the gamer want to invest time in a pastime which they truly are passionate about.

In this case people might see a budding gamer and tell them that unless they stop playing games to prove that they aren’t addicted, they must be addicted. Just like the hypothetical musician or sportsman, however, most gamers don’t make a habit of listening to retards who like to pose false dichotomies, and as such they don’t stop playing games, not because they’re addicted, but because they don’t see an accusation to be a good reason as to why they shouldn’t. As I’m going to be talking about now, there are distinct differences (and far more distinct harms) when you compare a love of gaming to an addiction to gaming.

You see, when you actually look at the symptoms of a gaming addiction (outlined very nicely in this article), you are able to see pretty clearly that gaming addiction is a legitimate mental disorder, just like any other “nonsubstance addiction”, a similar example of which is gaming. The thing we need to remember here, however, is that games are not the root cause of the problem, and to say so would be to create a causation-correlation fallacy, just like I talked about in my Anti-Social Attack on Gaming column.

Games may have been a catalyst in terms of actually creating an addiction, but people do not go down the path of nonsubstance addiction without there being an underlying cause for it, or without them being psychologically susceptible to addiction. With this insight, I think that we can equate video gaming and gambling quite nicely, in that both of them should be treated the same way.

Just as with gambling, gaming addiction needs to be taken seriously — both in terms of people looking out for it, but also in terms of people being able to spot it correctly -– if there are people running around, blowing the addiction whistle whenever they meet someone who spends more than 45 minutes a week (that’s an exaggeration, just to clarify) playing Call of Duty, then we’re going to have people who don’t take gaming addiction as seriously as they should. And that isn’t cool.

So, we need to be aware of the dangers of gaming addiction, and we need to know how to spot it correctly. That doesn’t at all mean, however, that we should stop gaming or limit non-addicted gamers’ freedom because of it — just like with gambling, we are aware of the dangers but in the majority of cases people simply use it as a recreational tool with minimal associated harms.

That’s basically a long, really douchey way of saying that we must let legit gamers keep gaming, and help those who really are addicted.

What I believe it all comes down to, however, is balance. Non-addicted gamers, as well as addicted gamers and gamers who have the potential to become addicted need to be taught (taught, mind you, not force-fed) the importance of prioritising one’s life correctly. As my dad, and one of my more awesome teachers have both told me, if I am achieving well in terms of my marks, and meeting all of my extra-mural commitments (as well as making sure to stay at least a bit sociable in the process), I can play as much StarCraft as I desire. If not, then hell no.

When one really thinks about it, keeping your priorities in check is the most important thing to make sure of when it comes to gaming — not only does it minimise the amount of nonsense you have to go through in terms of criticism of your gaming ways, but it also ensures that you can enjoy your games guilt-free, because you know just how justified you are in sitting down and blowing peoples’ heads off for an hour or three — virtually, that is.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Dealing With The Anti-Social Attack On Gaming [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/08/a-gamers-perspective-dealing-with-the-anti-social-attack-on-gaming-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/08/a-gamers-perspective-dealing-with-the-anti-social-attack-on-gaming-column/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2011 10:00:53 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=55072 Now that I have been graced with the honour of my very own soap box to shout nonsense from (for a little while now), I would like to keep this […]

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Now that I have been graced with the honour of my very own soap box to shout nonsense from (for a little while now), I would like to keep this theme of dealing with attacks on gaming by taking a swipe at one criticism of gaming advocated by the parental advisory committees and menopausal female columnists I mentioned in my previous column which irks me in particular — that is, the attack on gaming for its alleged antisocial nature.

You probably noticed how I prefixed my topic rather pompously with the word “alleged”. This is for the simple reason that I find most of the attacks in this regard to be so weak that I shudder at even the thought of affording them the status of a legitimate ‘attack’… Ultimately, I just don’t think that they hold water. Or any other liquid for that matter, regardless of viscosity. The amount of rebuttal on this issue is enormous, and I’m not going to go into much detail concerning most of it as I’m sure the majority of it is as much a knee-jerk reaction for you as for me.

As gamers seeking to defend our beloved past time, we simply need to point to the hugely social focus of events like LANs, the communities of friends which we develop by playing games (specifically multiplayer games) and so on and so forth to debunk these rather emotionally founded attacks. I personally have made and maintained a number of solid friendships which I would never have had the opportunity to be in were it not for our shared hobby (of gaming, that is). In fact, now that I think about it, I am really unable to think of someone I know who is antisocial because of games — if anything, the opposite is true because of the influence games have in their lives. Granted, I may not know them because of their antisocial behaviour, but in this case I’m talking largely about people I know from school. If you disagree or know anything to the contrary, please do comment, as gathering some casual data on this especially would be something I would find quite interesting.

Let us take this a step further, however, and make some slightly more in depth analysis on the matter.

Now, some counter-rebuttal to what I have proposed would be to say that while the majority of gamers may not be subject to the perpetuation of antisociality (we can just pretend like that is actually a word) as a result of gaming, there are still those who do. To that end, we would probably be painted a picture of the stereotypical antisocial gamer — alone in their room with discarded pizza boxes forming a makeshift barricade around their swivel chair and nought to illuminate their cave but the dim glow of the computer screen shining upon this poor nerd’s pale face. This scene certainly does present us with a problem, a problem which most would feel something should certainly be done about — however, to paint video games as the cause of this problem would be a classic example of a causation-correlation fallacy… Or, in the English that most normal people speak, video games would be blamed for a problem which they are not, in fact, the root cause of. Now, let’s set about exploring that.

Imagine, for a moment, a world where video games do not exist (heaven forbid!). The assumption made by many of gaming’s critics in this regard is that without video games to perpetuate antisocial behaviour, the child or individual concerned would instead have grown up to be a regular hipster about town.

In the interests of logic and reason, I cry nay! The problem with this argument is that it assumes an alternate outcome under a certain set of preconditions — the problem is that were these preconditions to be met, that outcome would not be achieved. If video games had never entered their lives, these people would have remained just as socially awkward (if not more so) as if they had grown up with video games.

Why?

Because people do not go so far down that road without something else being wrong in the first place.

The difference in this situation would be that they would have grown up without video games as a mechanism to help them escape the reality of being part of a peer group to which you do not truly belong, and having to suffer through the torment which often accompanies such a situation. In fact, even in this most extreme case, video games are still incurred benefits and not harms, as they give this woefully socially inadequate person something to be good at. This in turn spawns benefits in the form of things like self-belief and self-confidence, which make one more likely to be successful at social interaction anyway. Ironically, these people would be even more confident in themselves if video gaming’s critics were less vocal than they were in undermining video gaming as a hobby, because they would not only see themselves as good at something, but something which matters to a far fairer extent. But I digress.

More than that, however, I would go so far as to say that gaming actually creates social benefits in that it makes people who, without video games, would probably just hole up in their man-caves all day (like the one described above) and read, or plot their gun-toting revenge on society, or whatever, more likely to be socially active.

Why?

Because it creates a middle-ground in which people can interact and form friendships. Socially awkward person A and socially awkward person B, with video games, are now able to form a friendship because of a shared passion, where previously one did not and would not have existed.

So, what we’ve seen so far is that in cases such as woefully socially inadequate WoW-addicts, video games are first of all not to blame and, second of all, actually create a mechanism through which they are able to restore some semblance of their self-belief and deal with the issues facing them. Which beats the living faecal matter out of just lying around being depressed. Not only that, but video games actually benefit people who would otherwise have been marginalized by their peer groups in that they create a middle-ground on which they are able to use their shared interests to make friends, which perpetuates social activity.

So, even in the most extreme and passionately touted cases argued against video games, the arguments don’t stand.

What I’d also say is that I’m actually being far too nice here, in that I’m giving these arguments a chance at all. The reality of the situation is that they are straight up, plain and fundamentally incorrect. While antisocial stereotypes may exist around games and those who play them, that doesn’t mean they’re right, or that we should entertain them. Gamers aren’t some backwardly developed, alternate species or something. They’re people. They have friends, they enjoy social interaction. The only difference between them and jocks is that instead of discussing rugby they discuss Call of Duty.

In reality gaming is a catalyst for social behaviour. Groups of friends use it to pass the time, have a laugh while doing so and make more friends. Those who take gaming more seriously than others still develop groups of friends with whom they play and practice. To use myself as a pretty hardcore StarCraft 2 player for an example, I stay at home on Friday nights instead of going to movies, because I don’t enjoy crowds and I find that sort of social interaction fickle and tedious. Instead, I play StarCraft with my four or five odd friends who play as well, and I can honestly say that it is because of StarCraft that they rank among the closest friends I have.

In short, to say that in the majority of cases gaming perpetuates antisocial behaviour is just retarded.

I’ll stop my ranting there, before it gets too ragetastic.

At the end of the day, both the gamers and the anti-gaming activists want the same thing — to help that poor kid in the basement. We simply see our games as a means to an end, or a coping mechanism, while they see our games as the cause of the issue — which, as I have already mentioned, is not the case.

In conclusion, I would in fact say that gaming has given many, many people who were not that great at sports, or socially inadequate, or whatever the case may be the opportunity to form friendships and social relationships on the middle ground which it creates. The unfortunate reality is that too many people will only realise how great an asset video games can be in bridging social divides once gaming becomes more generally socially accepted than it is now, by older generations as well as younger.

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A Gamer’s Perspective — Does Gaming Have Benefits? [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/07/a-gamers-perspective-does-gaming-have-benefits-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/07/a-gamers-perspective-does-gaming-have-benefits-column/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2011 10:00:04 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=54056 Reader! I have something truly ridiculous to tell you! This column isn’t going to be talking about Call of Duty! Believe it, for it is the truth! In what is […]

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Reader! I have something truly ridiculous to tell you! This column isn’t going to be talking about Call of Duty! Believe it, for it is the truth! In what is quite a monumental step forward in my writing career, and ultimately my overall development as a person, I have indeed decided to cover a topic other than the one I have been harking on about for the past six months or so (for those who didn’t pick it up, the topic in question is that of Call of Duty). Anyways, enough about how I’m not going to be talking about Call of Duty, otherwise this introduction is going to become very counter-intuitive very quickly.

Instead of talking about Call of Duty (last time I’m saying that, I promise), I’m going to be taking the liberty of using my next few columns to expand and otherwise further discuss issues pertinent to the realisation of a concept which I referred to in my previous column as ‘The Dream’. For the sake of continuity and in the hopes of generally not confusing the living nonsense out of you, I’m going to keep referring to it as The Dream. Only without the apostrophes.

Anyways, for those of you who forgot or didn’t read what I wrote in the aforementioned previous column and are too lazy to dig around the eGamer archives looking for it (I don’t blame you, it’s a pretty fat mission), here is a convenient linky-link to the column in question.

Now that I’ve got a few extra views on my last column (and as such, now that I view myself as a more worthwhile person), let me quote the particular extract I am referring to:

“For now, accompany me as we envisage ‘The Dream’… what on earth is the dream? The Dream is gaming popularised. The Dream is to turn on the TV and see Super eSport showing the highlights from a recent StarCraft 2 match. The Dream is professional gaming being a viable career. The Dream is ultimately gaming becoming as fully integrated into our society as sport is.”

Lol.

Hopefully you get the idea of what I’m talking about from that, ’cause devoting an entire column to defining something which can essentially be described as the popularisation of gaming in general (Boom! Inadvertent yet effective clarifications of definitions for the win!) would be somewhat of a cop-out in my opinion.

So, to kick off this general theme of the realisation of The Dream, I’m going to be using my next two or three columns to discuss some of the more fundamental attacks on video gaming as a hobby — after all, only once the arguments against video gaming have been thoroughly rebutted and gaming’s critics been ruthlessly silenced can we truly see The Dream fulfilled.

Before I actually get started, level with me here: Did that previous sentence not sound like an extract from a speech given at a political rally for a Big-Brother-esque, autocratic dictatorship. Just saying.

Anyway, let’s get started for real now.

The attack I’m going to be discussing this week is that of the point or benefit of gaming. It is without any shadow or semblance of a doubt that I am able to state that behind every corner lies a member of the Family Policy Institute, in every alleyway hides a menopausal female columnist and in every classroom rules a teacher, all of whom would tell you the same thing – “gaming is stupid, you’re wasting your time and you could be doing something far more beneficial for yourself.”

I believe that many articles which argue in defense of gaming in this regard go about it in completely the wrong way. Instead of attacking the assumptions and implications behind the argument being proposed, they opt instead to try and present some sort of paltry evidence showing that gaming can have benefits – if you make a simple Google search of ‘the benefits of gaming’, you will see that many of the arguments and proposed benefits are pretty situational and rather inapplicable in most instances.

The reason I believe them to be generally useless defenses is that they focus on over-specific benefits; for example, some games help surgeons with their motor functions, games can help rehabilitate patients recovering from injuries or suffering from pain, games improve one’s hand-eye co-ordination and reflexes… The list could go on, but none of them really provide tangible, everyday benefits that apply to the average gamer.

All of what I’ve mentioned above may well be good and true, but for the most part it applies to other people — if someone accuses you directly of wasting your time on games and you’re not a surgeon or in the rehabilitation process from a major injury, those aren’t going to give you much in the way of rebuttal.

The reason for this is simple: Gaming as a hobby does not provide much in the way of tangible benefits. This does not, however, mean that it is inferior to other hobbies or ways of passing time as the aforementioned attack would suggest.

If you are a casual gamer (we’ll get to more hardcore gamers in a minute), then take a moment to think about what you would spend your time on if you didn’t game. The chances are that you would simply browse Facebook idly, chat to people on MXit, maybe do some light reading… Who knows. The point is, you aren’t really spending that much of your time playing games, and if you aren’t spending that much of your time playing games, then if you were to stop playing games and devote your time to something else instead you wouldn’t really be able to see yourself gaining any sort of tangible benefit from it, because you simply wouldn’t be able to put enough time in to get anything out.

In the case of the casual gamer, gaming usually assumes the role of a relaxation or de-stressing mechanism, which is totally legit. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy… And I’m pretty sure that Jack is a casual gamer.

So, let’s stop and just take stock of what I’ve said so far. If you’re following, skip this paragraph. We’ve established that the criticism of gaming we’re addressing is one made using an argument of comparative benefit, which is a really douchey way of saying that people like to criticise us as gamers because we could be doing something better with our time. However, what we’ve seen in terms of casual gamers is that in the majority of cases they don’t actually spend enough time on games that if they were to stop gaming and take up another hobby, which they spent the same amount of time on (guitar, for example), they would not find any sort of tangible benefit, because they simply wouldn’t be spending enough time on their new hobby.

Everyone following? Awesome.

Now let’s take a look at hardcore gamers. Hardcore gamers are characterised by three things: they tend to focus more specifically on a certain game (CoD4, DotA, StarCraft 2, WoW, etc), they tend to spend more time on that game and they tend to specifically try and improve their ability in that game.

The interesting thing about games like the ones mentioned above is that as soon as you start getting into them, playing clan matches and trying to improve your play, tangible benefits begin to pile up. What is even more interesting is that the benefits don’t come in the form of over-specific skills (like increased finger dexterity, or something equally retarded), but rather come in the form of lessons which one can apply to almost any situation you find yourself in, in life in general. Too many ‘in’s in that sentence, but whatever. Moving on.

One such example of a life-applicable benefit is the development of a correlation between effort and reward. Gaming is remarkable in that the more effort you put in, the better you get at what you are trying to do. Any hardcore gamer worth their salt should be able to look at where they started, then look at the point they have reached and realise that it was one thing, and one thing alone that got them there: Hard work. Putting in hour upon hour behind your PC, blowing people’s faces off. Said gamer would then be able to apply the same logic to their work environment: The harder they work, the further they get.

Other examples come in the form of things like strategic thinking, learning to work well in a team and learning to interact as a member of a team.

In terms of my own experience, I am able to draw direct parallels between what I have learned in my time playing StarCraft 2, and the benefit it has in my life. Foremost among what I have learned, I would say that StarCraft has taught me effective problem solving; when confronted with a problem in StarCraft, one analyses it in a logical, rational manner — if you keep losing to a specific strategy, you man the hell up and figure out how to beat that strategy, by thinking through all of the options at your disposal.

I find more and more that I am applying that same methodical though process to my everyday life, and I really am beginning to see just how tangible the benefit is.

Naturally, this is a topic of truly enormous debate, and I have barely scratched at its surface. My intention with this column was not to cover every argument and rebuttal in the book — I can see plenty of places where I should do deeper analysis, where my arguments are weak and where I’ve oversimplified matters — but rather to expose you as the reader to some of the basic thought and argumentation which could go into an issue like this, and ultimately spur your own thought in terms of how to defend the point of your chosen hobby.

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The Call Of Duty Hype Machine And Fish [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/07/the-call-of-duty-hype-machine-and-fish-column-2/ http://egmr.net/2011/07/the-call-of-duty-hype-machine-and-fish-column-2/#comments Sat, 16 Jul 2011 10:00:57 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=52938 Due to the fact that far too much of my time has been taken up by my school’s infamous (and rather enormous) reading project (cue dramatic music), I managed to […]

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Due to the fact that far too much of my time has been taken up by my school’s infamous (and rather enormous) reading project (cue dramatic music), I managed to forget until today (or yesterday, assuming it is Friday when you read this) that I have to write a column for tomorrow (or today, once again assuming it is Friday when you read this). It is because of this (and my reading project induced panic) that I had originally planned to do what anyone who has read my blog will know that I do best – rage about how Activision, the shell of Infinity Ward and the Call of Duty series from Modern Warfare 2 onwards have begun a long and tragically uncomplicated series of events which will ultimately lead to the death of destruction of us all. However, just as with my previous column, I’m not going to be doing that! This time, though, it isn’t going to be out of self control as much as out of a genuine maturing process in my outlook on all that nonsense.

You see, as I was mapping out my rant, I had a moment of such great epiphany that, had I not been already seated I would probably have had to sit down. So great was the epiphany that I no longer hate Modern Warfare 2, and now honour it with capital letters in writing, just as any normal proper noun deserves. Once again, if you read my blog you would know just how big that is.

“But Duncan!” you may be asking no one in particular as you sit in front of your computer, reading this column, “Are you not the same dashing young man who warned us never to tread near the path of Call of Duty ever again, just as a concerned parent suggests their child stay off the lawn of the convicted paedophile?”

To which I would reply, “Why yes, extremely complimentary reader, yes I am. That, however, was before my aforementioned epiphany!”

To which you would reply, “So tell me what this damned epiphany is, already!”

All right, all right. Long winded, fluffy introductions and arbitrary dialogues with my imaginary reader (who, from this column forth we shall name Martin) aside, let’s get down to business.

The realisation that has really changed my whole perspective on this whole issue is that the games industry is not one entity made up of one part, but rather one entity made up of a number of parts. But more analysis on that a tad later.

For now, accompany me as we envisage ‘The Dream’… what on earth is the dream? The Dream is gaming popularised. The Dream is to turn on the TV and see Super eSport showing the highlights from a recent StarCraft 2 match. The Dream is professional gaming being a viable career. The Dream is ultimately gaming becoming as fully integrated into our society as sport is.

While the matter presented in the above paragraph could fuel several columns all on its own, let’s ignore the debate for now and assume that The Dream can become a reality.

The question that assumption begs is then what would be necessary for this oh-so-awesome Dream to become a reality?

The answer to that question, given our tragically capitalist society is simply: demand. If enough people ask for it, it will happen. Perhaps not immediately, but we are already beginning to see the emergence of gaming as a far more popularised, far more mainstream hobby. Hell, even here in South Africa professional gaming is becoming a more and more viable occupation as we see new tournament organisation bodies emerging, and more and more companies stepping up to sponsor tournament prizes. Which is pretty awesome. But I digress.

So, we as gamers need demand, right? Right. The thing is, that demand isn’t going to come if the community doesn’t grow… which is where the post-Call-of-Duty-4 Call of Duty series comes in.

The hype created by each successful release of a CoD game is so enormous that I shy at the idea of creating an apt yet witty metaphor to match it. And that, dear reader(s), is exactly what we as the gaming community need. It is because of the massive hype created by games like Call of Duty that they draw in people who have never touched a game before in their life.

Ironically enough, my very own gaming career started as a result of the hype created around Call of Duty 4 (granted, that hype was justified). I saw the posters and huge cardboard cut-outs for it this one time in Look & Listen and realised that it had to be my Christmas present. I had no idea that I was buying what was arguably one of the greatest games of last decade, or just how hard I would fall for gaming at the time – all I knew was that the dude on the poster looked hardcore and had an assault rifle. For me, and many others like me, that is more than enough to justify a purchase that could alter the course of one’s life forever.

You see, those first time gamers / tragically uneducated noobs don’t give a flying fart about who the hell Infinity Ward are, or why dedicated servers and LAN support are so important to the hardcore crowd… all they know is that if they click the left mouse button (assuming they don’t have a completely retarded control configuration), the gun their in-game avatar is holding shoots. And that is awesome.

That is also when the bugs bites. When you play one awesome game, you want to play another. And another. And another. Eventually, you start to stumble across sites like this one, or a copy of NAG catches your eye on the way to the checkout counter. You start to educate yourself, start to form opinions, and take your next steps on the path to becoming a true hardcore-gamer-crackhead.

Now, let’s go back to that thing I mentioned earlier about the games industry being a multi-faceted entity. Now that we’re back there, let’s compare it to a fishing scenario!

So, the hook hangs in the water. Acting as the bait is a freshly caught, fat, juicy, delectable worm probably drowning to death as I write this. A fish of undefined species swims idly past, but returns upon catching the scent of the aforementioned freshly caught, fat, juicy, delectable worm (by now it should be dead). It sniffs (I think fish sniff?) at it a few times and depending on its temperament and level of sustenant satisfaction will either take a bite or leave it alone. Let’s assume this fish recently escaped from a gulag, and so it’s pretty hungry. Our gulag escapee takes a bite, and the hook drives into its fishy flesh, the barb securing a purchase. The fish is hooked, and the fisherman on the surface awakens from his stupor and begins to tug wildly on the rod, and reel the fish in. The fish breaks the surface of the water, suspended by the fishing line on the hook, and the fisherman reels in a tad more and, when satisfied that he can easily reach out and grab the fish, ceases to reel and surveys his catch.

Now, let’s analyse that rather narrative, probably a tad long-winded metaphor. The fish is, of course, our prospective gamer. The hook is the game itself. The line could be considered the level of their passion, with the amount they have been reeled in being directly proportional to the amount of forum posts and opinions they have under their belt. Finally, when the reeling in is complete, we have a fully matured hardcore trout gamer, just like the rest of us! The bait is, of course, the hype surrounding the game in question.

Naturally, there is a metric ass-ton of hype surrounding the release of Modern Warfare 3 (for example), and so the above scenario would be happening en masse. And if it happens en masse, we get more demand, which ultimately perpetuates The Dream!

You see where I’m going with this? Exactly!

With both of these scenarios, however, there is a price to be paid. In the scenario of the fishing trip, the dead worm was the price. In the scenario of attracting new gamers, it means we have to tolerate bureaucratic, backstabbing nonsense from a company which has forgotten how to listen to its audience.

While it may be a rather annoying price, I don’t think it foreshadows the way forward for gaming (thankfully), and ultimately if it leads to the realisation of The Dream, I will gladly pay it.

Besides, by the time those metaphorical fish reach the end of the line, they will have learnt the error their ways anyway.

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LANs Without LAN Support: Where To From Here? [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/07/lans-without-lan-support-where-to-from-here-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/07/lans-without-lan-support-where-to-from-here-column/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2011 10:15:18 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=52027 Being the mature near-adult that I am, I have decided to approach the topic of the dying nature of LAN support and the effect it will have upon our local […]

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Being the mature near-adult that I am, I have decided to approach the topic of the dying nature of LAN support and the effect it will have upon our local PC gaming community in a manner different to that of previous drafts other columnists. To ranting, raging and general QQ, I say “Nay!” and opt instead for a far more objective, rant free analysis of what happens to us now that the evil corporate monkeys at Activision, Infinity Ward, Bobby Kotick and all affiliated companies and bureaucracies have ruined the upright and venerable pastime of PC LANning for gamers everywhere.

Rant free that is, starting now.

Now, naturally the first issue which springs to mind for us as South African gamers is the future of big LAN events like the NAG LAN at rAge, Organised Chaos (OC) and FRAG, to name but a few. Personally, I don’t really think they’re under threat at all (for the moment, at least).

But Duncan! You horse of a man, you! How could you possibly be so confident in the future of our cherished and beloved LAN events when the majority of the games we see being released today don’t even have LAN support!

A fine question, my dear hypothetical reader. To answer it, we need to take a look at the reasons people attend such events and why in each case they would continue to attend LANs, regardless of whether games being released have LAN support.

First and foremost, we need to realise that people do not attend LANs to play games. If their objective was to wholly and soley play multiplayer games, they would simply stay at home and play online instead. Granted, there will be some who come because they don’t have access to online, but the majority of people who do so attend LANs to enjoy the social experience and general vibe that accompanies such an event, and the playing of games acts as a catalyst in this matter. It is because of this social aspect that people enjoy going to LANs so damn much, as opposed to a night of Call of Duty online.

In addition to this, people who play games at LANs have never really been, and still aren’t really phased, romanced or even really vaguely interested in newer releases. Rather than schizophrenically switching to favouring a new game every month as they are released, the LAN community plays a rather select number of well-established, wildly popular, successful games which have proven themselves over time. This is why you see people playing Call of Duty 4 and DotA this year, as they did last year, the year before that and the year before that. The year before that Call of Duty 4 hadn’t been released yet, and I wasn’t attending LANs. People continue to enjoy these games, regardless of their (the games’, that is… but people too, I suppose) age.

Given the two above points, I don’t see LANs losing any attendance in the next few years, as people will continue to go because they enjoy the social aspect of LANs, and they enjoy the older, yet well-established games which do support LAN, regardless of what newer games are released without LAN.

Even if people don’t care for the social aspect of LANs, and will not be able to play newer games which don’t include LAN support at LANs, they still have ample reason to go. This reason, expressed in a present participle, is ‘leeching’. Leeching, simply put, is the art of acquiring completely non-copyright protected, totally legal reenactments, recreations and reproductions of a wide variety of media and games, in a completely legal and morally upstanding manner, via a Local Area Network.

Now, let’s take a look at StarCraft 2. It is the first game to be released devoid of LAN support that LANners and competitive gamers care about (no one gives a flying fart about modern warfare 2. And if they do then they should stop.) The reason we need to take a look at it is that even though LANs are going to be able to survive just fine off older games (Dota, CoD4) with LAN support for the next few years, a day will dawn when they are truly obsolete, and without games all the nerds in attendance will realise that they aren’t as socially adept as they thought they were and the LAN will fail. Or something along those lines. Point is, people will most likely have tired of DotA and CoD4 in ten years time and unless developers suddenly have a change of heart, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have any LAN capable games to take their place.

So wait, where does StarCraft 2 come in, again?

Well, StarCraft 2 is, as I said, the first game that casual and competitive gamers alike really care about to come out without LAN support. And, in its nearly 2 years of shelf-time, it has a lesson or two to teach us about the future of gaming online.

It has shown us that LANs may well survive, even if they don’t use a Local Area Network. OC has taken the initiative to allow its gamers access to battle.net via an internet connection they (OC) supply. Starcraft 2 competitions such as MLG in America and others in South Korea still happen in a LAN format, they too simply providing an internet connection to allow their gamers access to battle.net.

We need to remember the limitations at work here, specifically in South Africa, though. While the speed and bandwidth of internet available to South Koreans may be comparable to Usain Bolt launched out of a trebuchet with rockets strapped to his ass, South Africa’s internet is more reminiscent of an obese old Afrikaans boer suffering from chronic asthma and a heart murmour. Somewhat disturbing metaphors aside, the only reasons events like OC are able to offer their gamers battle.net access is because not all of the attendees are going to use it at once, and StarCraft 2 is relatively light on bandwidth, and even then the connection can be less than optimal. If it were a more bandwidth heavy game, such as an FPS, there would be no hope in hell of giving gamers the same access. Our interwebz simply aren’t fast enough. Not to mention that even if they were, if there are connection and/or lag issues (like there were at MLG Dallas, a recent StarCraft 2 tournament), there really isn’t that much that the organisers would be able to do, which puts the whole thing on pretty thin ice. If that sounds tedious, chancy, overcomplicated and downright stupid… it is.

Hell, perhaps this whole ‘No LAN’ thing is just the pubescent phase of our much loved games developers’ maturing process.

Somehow, I doubt it.

The best we can do is hope that our internet continues to improve like it has in recent years, for it is only with better, faster, stronger interwebz that we will ultimately be able to continue to uphold the venerable practice of LANning.

Here’s hoping…

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