Gunpoint – from reviewer to developer.

I didn’t have high hopes for this game.

It wasn’t a lack of faith in the abilities of the writer – Tom Francis was a long-time contributor to PC Gamer, and I’ve been a follower of his blog for years now. So his skills and credentials as a writer weren’t in question. Perhaps it was the fact that this was his first game, and despite the coverage from his blog, I found it difficult to trust that his first attempt at a game would be any good. Plus, my interest in indie games of that type had seriously begun to wane. I enjoy stealth gameplay to some degree, but my preferred method of stealth has always been circumnavigating, rather than evading. Games like Dishonored allowed me to do that; skirting across the rooftops rather than evading based on a pre-established patrol route, such as that found in the Metal Gear Solid games. Gunpoint was looking an awful lot like one of the latter.

It was largely out of fan-loyalty that I bought it, and considering that I waited for it to pop up in the Steam Summer Sales, that speaks volumes for the effects of that. And my initial fears were confirmed; the main character can be placed flat on his back by a single bullet, sometimes whilst in mid-air. Death came swiftly and often, Conway all too often being sniped by the supernatural aim of the guards.

But I missed a factor during my hasty assumption of the game. Tom Francis worked as a reviewer of video games. He knows the usual gripes and bugbears of the community from experience, and he knows not only what it is that makes a video game good, but most importantly what makes them bad. And nothing kills the fun of a video game quite like having to repeat the entirity of a level based on a single mistake. There is a market for such a thrill – Dark Souls has proved that very well. But Gunpoint‘s autosave function lets you return to an instant before your death. Two seconds earlier, up to eleven. Whilst this seems like too short a period of time, the fast-paced nature of Gunpoint means that this is more than enough time to correct your mistakes and despite my many, many deaths, an autosave never meant that I was irrevocably stuck – rather, it always led to my salvation.

In one instance, I found myself stuck in a room with three patrolling guards. There was no way to turn the light off, and even if I could, my opponents were professionals, able to see in the dark and even faster on the draw than the standard guards. I had already died attempting to ambush one from behind: flinging myself from the roof, I landed atop my target, but before I had chance to politely relieve him of his conciousness, his partner had turned around and shot me in the head. The turning point had happened mere seconds before – a revert to two seconds earlier saved my life, I evaded the guards and completed my Wirejack.

It’s here that Gunpoint truly shows a brilliance; in engineering scenarios that feel like a spy movie. And the best kind of spy movie at that. The technological brilliance of Q mixed in with the absurdity of Inspector Gadget. The Crosslink device, the game’s unique point, allows the player to rewire devices on a colour-coded system. Reconnect a light switch to a door, and pressing the button causes the door to swing open. Rewire a light on the floor above to your light switch and watch as the guard suddenly can’t turn the light back on and is forced to go about his patrol in a suddenly dark room. And as we all know, the night is dark and full of trenchcoats. His switch could have been wired to something else entirely – if I had been feeling particularly psychotic I could have wired his light switch to a power socket, which would electrocute anyone silly enough to be nearby. It can get even more complex, depending on the situation; I set a switch on my level to call an elevator to a floor three levels above. The ‘ding’ of the lift arriving set off a sound detector that opened a hatch that I could then jump through. I planned and executed all of this myself, and the game facilitated every crazy idea.

In one example, I had only seconds before the guard patrolling on the balcony above would walk forwards and spot me. I was waiting for a guard two floors down to trigger a motion detector that would open the roof hatch. I tensely waited, either for the bullet that would end my sneaky life, or for the open hatch that would mean escape. Seconds before I was spotted the hatch popped open and I soared out into the night sky, a leaf on the wind.

A few moments later and it could so easily have been me that was gunned down. A single moment earlier, I might have been shot as I jumped through the hatch. I’ll never know. But I knew that if I had failed, I was going to be able to try again, instantly, without worry of having to play through the whole level again. And that’s what kept me going through the pain, the plans, and the bullets. It was fun in the purest sense of the word.

That fun extends over to the narrative. Tom’s writing is beautiful – Conway can be played as a straight-up professional, a snarky wiseass, or someone who just doesn’t care. Throw in a couple of references that the audience will ‘Shirley’ get, and you’ve got yourself a game that’s a helluva lot of fun to play.

Problems? Well, it’s a tad short, but for one man working in his part time, that’s to be expected. The storyline took me an afternoon to blow through, and whilst the option to replay older missions is present, there really isn’t much reason to do so. The writing I mentioned earlier gives some replayability with multiple choices giving multiple paths through the story line, but ultimately, it’s been a week since I finished the game and I haven’t felt much of a reason to dip back in.

The addition of community-made missions and challenges and would change that entirely. What about trying to complete a level whilst restricted to only touching the floor for a maximum of five seconds? Or without alerting a single person to your presence – a true ghost run. The achievements give a little of this, but a dedicated challenge mode would be a great addition.

I realise that I’m asking a lot of a new, lone developer, and Gunpoint isn’t a game that’ll crumble without these additions. It’s a great game, and one of the best things about it is that it still has time and space to expand. Gunpoint is good fun, and I can’t wait to see what Tom Francis surely has ahead of him in regards to adding to this game.

Go and get this game. It’s great and you’ll have a fun time.

Gunpoint is available on Steam, right now, for the paltry sum of £6.99. Tom Francis’ personal weblog can be found over here, and a free demo is available.

E3 – My hopes for the next generation

E3 is big. Like, really really big. Staggeringly big. Douglas Adams big.

That size has meant that writing a post containing all of my first impressions from E3 has been a toughie. So many great games and new hardware was on show that talking about it all would be nigh-on impossible. My initial idea was to focus purely on the games that I liked. Being a gamer, this seemed like the logical conclusion. But unlike the past few E3 events, games companies actually remembered to bring some damn games with them this year. Hell, even Microsoft brought some games this time, and Microsoft are apparently convinced that all gamers want is a magical box that controls their entire house. Even when cutting myself down to only the games that caught my eye, for good or ill, I’m still left with twenty-two games.

Um, yeah. So it’s time to write a lot, I guess.

Those twenty-two range from the massive, AAA titles that headlined E3 – Titanfall, Destiny, Ryse: Son of Rome – to the smaller projects that might not have been the focus of the main presentations, but nevertheless caught my eye – Doki Doki Universe, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot – and the announcements that were annoyingly brief, but somehow the most exciting parts of the event – Battlefront 3, Kingdom Hearts 3 and Mirror’s Edge 2. And there are thirteen more, somehow. God damn it, E3. You used to be so predictably boring. Why did you have to actually show off games this time?

So, I’ve tried to pare them down to just a few and I’ve failed. But I’ve managed to squeeze two of them into this post, in order to help me make a point about the new hardware and what that means for the gaming industry.

It’s almost as if I’m organised.

With the introduction of a new console generation comes the promise of a new step upwards in hardware across the board. You see, the limitations of consoles tend to hold PC hardware back – there’s no point stepping video cards too far ahead of the current console generation. Game developers won’t use the additional oomph delivered by the card because it’ll involve much more work on their part to scale the action down to the consoles (and will prompt much disillusionment from the console gamers, who’ll see the PC nerds getting such better graphics) and it’ll only mean that the cards themselves will depreciate in value whilst staying essentially worthless.

This isn’t to say that PC gaming is inherently better than console gaming – it’s not. The consoles enjoy their time as the ‘most powerful’ right at the start of their life cycle, where the PC hardware either hasn’t come down in price enough to compete, or simply hasn’t managed to match a system geared up primarily for gaming. What I’m saying is that the PC isn’t restricted by the limitations of the console – PCs can be upgraded more often than once every six years (the average time in the life of a console where the successor is released) and this flexibility means that the hardware for the PC begins to lag behind its actual capabilities. The release of a new console generation means the raising of that invisible barrier and means that PC architecture can again rise.

But this generation may highlight a growing problem within the industry. The Law of Diminishing Returns is starting to drastically take a hold.

Whilst the hardware has taken a step upwards, it’s harder than ever before to make the large steps in graphical fidelity that we’ve seen happen in previous generations. Graphics haven’t reached their physical zenith – I’m not so arrogant as to suggest that – instead, it’s both intellectually harder and more expensive to progress towards the ultimate. It’s more expensive, and it’s much more demanding. But the question is, do we really need it? Computer graphics today are utterly stunning and whilst we may be able to push past them, should we bother? Should we focus more time and effort into making more visually stunning games, or should the gaming industry start to focus elsewhere?

It’s an old argument, and one that I’m not looking to rehash. Gameplay versus visuals is an age-old battle in the gaming industry and we’ve seen the sides clash many times over the years. Games such as Minecraft have only served to fuel the argument, making it’s creator Notch a multi-millionaire, despite the crude, blocky graphics. And again, at this E3, much was made of an increase in graphics. The Xbox One announcement ended with a look at Call of Duty: Ghosts, a look that focused primarily on the increased graphical clout.

But there was something else. An element that was ever-so-tantalisingly revealed through E3’s many games. I’m not even sure if the developers themselves ever saw it as a big thing. It’s not specific to any one game. Rather, it’s something that can be tied into every game. And that’s polish. The details. The smallest parts of every game.

Now, I’m not necessarily talking abut graphical details either. During the Sony conference, for ever so brief a minute, we saw Kingdom Hearts 3. What we actually saw was very little; Sora, on the Destiny Islands, picking up a Keyblade. Stop the presses, Sora has a Keyblade.

Then BAM! Shitload of Heartless, tidal-waving towards Sora. Sora evades the Heartless wave effortlessly; running up a wall before vaulting onto the Heartless themselves, riding them like the perfect surfing wave before jumping off again. The video closes with a gorgeous, fliudly executed attack onto the front of the wave itself.

Fluid little details. That’s what I want from the new generation. A fluidity of movement that we’ve never seen before and those little details around that just make you believe. If graphics won’t go much higher without significant work, then why not focus that time and money into making everything else so much more believable and so much more fluid? Nothing in gaming feels better then when an independent stream of attacks look so perfect and so connected. Fighting games have known this for years. Stringing attacks together into combos just solicits that perfect feeling and fighting games live and die on their combos. Devil May Cry also knew how to make a gamer feel special – everything you did in that game made you feel like the coolest motherfucker who ever lived. It’s high time that the game industry started really getting behind that feeling.

Another game that showcased beautiful and fluid movement was Titanfall. Jetpacks are cool. The jetpacks in Battlefront 2 and Ace of Spades were great fun, but highlighted a pretty huge flaw in rising above cover in a world where everyone has a gun. Jetpacks just aren’t a huge amount of fun when sniper rifles are able to keep a watch on the skyline.

Jetpacks in Titanfall are about maneuverability and speed, not vertical jumps. The first time I saw the jetpack in Titanfall used, I knew this was something special. The jetpack was a part of the overall movement package, and not a seperate movement entirely, the thrust being used to push the player over a gap, maintained over a wallrun, and then back into a thrust that carried them onto the next rooftop. Jetpack thrusts were chained in with acrobatic parkour moves, almost as if the thrust alone isn’t enough to support the player, but can be used to make larger jumps, support the player through insane acrobatics, or dodge inhumanely fast. In a world where every player can call upon a ten foot tall mech, the ground-pounding player needs a pretty bog advantage to stay alive, and Titanfall’s jetpack movement could give that advantage.

This generation will doubtless play host to the glut of unimaginative first-person shooters that we’ve seen dominate the previous generation (with the exception of the Wii), but perhaps there’s hope for it to become something more. Perhaps the difficulties of increasing past the current graphics will cause developers to start to really polish their gameplay, smooth it out and add all those little details that we love.

And then, can we have a Star Wars game with decent lightsaber combat please?

The Goddamn Beauty of Journey

It’s so cold.

I don’t know how cold it is, but I can feel the wind tugging at my cloak. The wind pushes me hard, trying to force me back down the snowy slope. I pull my cloak snugly around my body, holding it close to keep the warmth in and my scarf streams out in the wind, frost clinging to the silky material. I lower my head and push on, leaning into the savage wind, snowflakes buffeting my face.

The steady crunching of feet on my right side slow down and the snow blows into my hood as I turn my head. My partner has stumbled. I slow as I try to speak comforting words, but the noise of the wind and the cold steals my voice away. He finds his feet and pushes onwards. I stop briefly to compensate him, and we continue our slow steady tread to the summit. Together.

This is the impact of Journey, on the PS3.

Journey is one of those games. The type of game that isn’t a game – a member of the artsy-fartsy group. People who wear tight fitting black jumpers, drink espresso and use a Mac would call it an ‘experience’. It’s something you play in order to have played it. It’s the closest thing that the gaming industry has to a hipster movement.

And usually, that means the game is crap. The emphasis on making it an experience tends to mean these games fall flat in actual gameplay.  What starts out as an interactive medium turns into a piece of art, or at best, an interactive movie. Very nice to look at, but not a videogame.

So it’s a massive surprise to find that Journey just works, and I still can’t quite figure out how. It contains everything that would normally mark it out as a crappy art game; a unique, atmospheric world, a starkly beautiful art style, a bold attitude to storytelling, and minimalist gameplay elements. But every part works and it comes together so beautifully  that although it is obviously an experience game, it’s one you want to experience. It never becomes a chore. It’s never boring to play. The world never gets tiresome.

The start is nothing special. You’re not launched into the middle of a warzone, or confronted by a grisly murder scene. You start surrounded by sand dunes. You don’t know where to go, or what to do. So you climb the dune in front of you. At you top, you look around and you see a calm ocean of sand, the sun reflecting off the surface, first blindingly, then warmly. Now you see your goal; a mountain split with iridescent light. It’s the sole landmark in the desert and it’s a visible goal that never goes away. That is the object of your journey and your sole indication of direction. It’s a simple hook that you never realise is a hook. It’s not a scramble to survive in the face of an enemy, or a drive for vengeance against an evil adversary, but it’s just as compelling. You’re given your goal in the most simple and beautiful of manners – it’s just there, and you want to know what’s at the top of it.

It’s so very beautiful.

The whole game continues in this way; you never find yourself being forced in a direction, and the only way to reach the edges tends to be through sheer bloody-mindedness. The way ahead is always obvious and always easy to find, clearly marked by being where the most interesting looking stuff is. If there’s a puzzle, it’s easily found by simple exploration; exploration that never gets tiresome because each area is new and exciting. You want to explore and sample each area. You want to dig up the hidden nuggets of information that tantalisingly reveals the history of this mysterious land that you’ve been placed into.

And this lack of context isn’t frustrating, it’s brilliant. What you know of the storyline you piece together yourself because of the absence of any dialogue. Journey supplies you with ideas. It shows you the timeline in simple pictures: the origin, the disaster, the genesis, but it never preaches. It never tells you what happens, it only supplies the clues and lets you piece the rest together for yourself. You never learn the true name of your race or silky red material is either. You’re encouraged to name everything for yourself, and to interpret the history of this stunning world for yourself. And this will ultimately shape how you interpret the game, potentially making your experience completely different from that of someone else. It feels like scholars reading the same piece of historical material and coming away with entirely different interpretations of the same thing. It becomes a living and breathing world through this lack of information, allowing it to grow organically in your own mind. D’you think the race that came before enslaved the red material, leading to their downfall? Or do you think that the benevolent masters fell through a folly not of their own making? Both are valid interpretations of the same materials, but it dramatically changes how you view the game in the end.

These different interpretations in the same world is especially poignant when that person is physically sharing your world. This is a co-op game; be signed into the Playstation Network, accept the T&Cs and another player will join your game and share your experiences. Interaction is entirely optional and you can easily play through the game without even glimpsing another player. At no point are you needed to travel with a partner. But if you stay with them and travel together, you’ll create an emotional attachment utterly unique to this game. Despite their physical presence in your game, communication between players, like the storyline, is wordless and entirely without context, but the single notes you sing and chirrup have another use when accompanied by another human.

At the start of the game, you gain the ability to jump and glide, the duration dependant on the length of the shining glyph-like letters on your scarf. Pick up another glowing glyph and your scarf extends, increasing the amount of time that you can rise and continue gliding. These glyphs are refilled on contact with the red silk, or by having another player sing to you. The more they sing and the closer they stand the more your scarf is refilled. Jumping is purely an extra tool; no part of the game requires you to jump, or doesn’t supply you with a way of solo’ing your way there, but having another player sing to you to refill your scarf adds a feeling of friendly support. That player isn’t just sharing your world, he’s supporting you, and you can return that support. The trials you face are lessened by the presence of your chum, and your bond is strengthened by these very trials that you share.

No, really beautiful.

On my first playthrough, I swapped many partners throughout the game. From area-to-area, they changed. I can’t say I noticed though and every single one of them wanted to help me as much as I wanted to help them. The nature of the journey itself made complete strangers, unable to share any words at all, bond together and support each other in order to complete the journey together.

In one area I was caught off-guard by a gust of wind which blew me back towards the start of the corridor. There was no harm done, but as I was caught by the wind, I saw my partner’s avatar twitch  towards me from his safe area, as if he was attempting to catch me. He couldn’t, and there was nothing he could do even if he had reached me save be blown back with me, but the emotional bond was there. He had seen me in trouble and he had attempted to save me. This nameless person, who I will never meet and have never shared any other form of communication with, still attempted to save me on instinct.

In a game.

And that was incredible.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the game, especially the sublime storyline, but I do want to impress on you just how good of a game Journey is. How much of an experience it is.

My friend at the start? The one who stumbled in the snow? That was real emotion. I slowed to stay with him because I wanted to do that. At this point, the bonus from singing and staying together was worth nothing, since the cold was too intense to sing and any energy we gained was instantly stolen away. But we had been together through so much and had been through so many trials together that I wasn’t not going to leave his side. Not for anything. As far as I was concerned, we were together on this journey and we were going to complete it together. And the most amazing thing is that I felt that feeling returned, through a games console, over what were likely hundreds of miles of land, from someone who I had only connected with for ten minutes at most. We were in this together, and no force in the game would part us. The same minimalist approach to storytelling that had made the world so real had made my relationship with a stranger so incredibly strong over such a short time.

The final sequence will rank as one of my favourite game experiences of all time, and at the end I watched the credits roll, emotionally exhausted, but elated. And isn’t that exactly what you want from a gaming experience? I know I do. I played it again, not expecting the same experience. But I got it again, pushing onwards to the end, a stranger by my side, forcing our way through the snow together.

And this is something that only people who have experienced this game can really understand. The destination is there in order to give you something to go towards. The sight of it pushes you onwards, drives you through adversity, sand, and snow. But when you finally reach it, you realise that it really wasn’t about the destination. It truly was all about the Journey.

I’m going to go buy a tight black jumper and some espresso now.

Sod the Mac though.

School shooting leads to inevitable backlash against video games

If you haven’t heard, a school shooting in Connecticut has lead to the deaths of 27 people, 20 of them small children.

And of course, the mass media has been unable to resist turning this awful tragedy into a mass panic concerning parts of society and culture that are considered ‘scary’ by people over the age of sixty, and so Fox News have already started to attack video games and the social network Facebook. Check out the link to see the spin that the ultra-reliable and always-accurate Fox News have put onto the story.

And the worst part? It’s all backfired massively.

Ryan Lanza, the brother of the accused killer Adam Lanza was accidentally named on the media as being the killer himself. Later, news outlets Tweeted his name and Facebook profile, resulting in torrents of abuse being directed at the wrong man. Hell, sometimes it wasn’t even the right Ryan Lanza that got the blame.

This is fucking awful, I think you can all agree. But how do video games link into this? Well hold your pants, because this ride is about to take a zany twist.

It was noticed that Ryan Lanza – NOT the killer, as already covered – had liked the Facebook page of popular game, Mass Effect. And this prompted the media to point to this as the major reason for the school shootings, since obviously playing the blame game like this has never turned out to be a stupid move. This has lead to the Mass Effect page coming under a significant attack by various gullible wankers who wouldn’t know how to categorise a game if it sodomised their partner. Especially if it sodomised their partner.

So now Mass Effect is a bad media influence, despite the guys who fingered it as such getting the wrong guy and pointing out the wrong game. A game who is owned by one of the most powerful gaming companies in the world. Why don’t they just wipe their arse on a copy of World of Warcraft whilst they’re at it? I’m sure that wouldn’t lead to any bad repurcussions either. EA may be bastards, but they’re our bastards, and if there’s one way for EA to make themselves popular again, standing up for themselves and gaming to various news outlets would be a good start. But that’s unlikely, since they’ll likely just roll over and beg like a good boy, much like we’ve seen before.

Seriously, fuck EA and fuck Fox.

Gabe Newell will save us.

Skyrim: Dragonborn trailer – first thoughts.

First off, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, here it is. Sit back, crank the volume up, and enjoy.

Wipe the drool away; it’s disgraceful. You’re meant to be grown up.

So it turns out that yes, you’ll be facing off against another Dragonborn in this coming DLC. And even better, he used to be a Dragon Priest. The normal Dragon Priests were enough of a pain to deal with, so having this guy thrown into the bargain sounds like a great reason to look over your Daedric armoured shoulder again.

But not only that (and what made me the most excited) was what we saw at 20 seconds into the video. That’s Morrowind. Yes. Morrowind. As of Elder Scrolls III fame. It looks like we’re finally going to get to go back there again after ten years and see what two hundred years in the face has done for the already alien-looking place.

With Morrowind comes the wildlife that only Morrowind can have. Houses made out of giant crab shells, Netches, giant mushroom trees, and at 1.03, what looks an awful lot like victims of Corprus. This is going to be only so much guff to those who haven’t played Morrowind, but it’ll help if you think of this as Skyrim‘s zombie DLC.

It’s not known how much of Morrowind has been mapped, or even if it’s Morrowind at all (dream sequences and small islands are abound in the Elder Scrolls world), but even if it isn’t Morrowind I’m sure I’ll find a way to cope. On the back of my dragon-mount. Whilst fighting goblins riding boars. In new armour, with new spells.

I think I’ll manage. Somehow.

What I’ve been playing: Solitaire.

There are games that cause your processor to groan with pure pain. There are games that absorb you and refuse to let you go. Games that thrust you in to a living, breathing world like none you’ve ever seen before. life unfolds around you and the game makes you a hero, a wizard, a villain, an explorer of the vast expanses of space.

And then there’s Solitaire.

It’s a card game.

And I can’t seem to stop playing it.

I used to play Solitaire when I was a kid. I think most people did. Either with actual cards, or as one of the inbuilt games on Windows I used to sink hours into the game and I like to think I got pretty good at it. I wasn’t, since I only used to use the draw one rules, rather than the devilish draw three, but I still had fun.

And so, I decided to get a Solitaire game on my phone. What could be the harm? The little processor could handle it easily since I can now play the Pokémon games on it. It’d be a harmless distraction during times of boredom.

I’m reliably informed* that this is the way Satan works. Convince you that such a small and tiny thing can barely make a difference… and once you’ve let it in BAM – you lose days.

Solitaire certainly does. Almost every spare moment has been consumed by this horrific beast from below. Sometimes it’s gotten so bad that I see the board when I close my eyes. The compulsive little whore whispers ‘just one more… go on’ at 4am when I really need to sleep. Modern games boast about a playing experience that goes into the tens of hours, or an infinite number of quests, like Skyrim.

Well fuck those guys. Solitaire has a different playing experience every single time. And they say that every game can be solved. Bollocks. There are times that, with my bloodied and now useless stumps of fingers, even I am forced to admit defeat. And then the black seven, sitting atop a covered red eight, laughs at me across the virtual dimensions. It knows it’s won. But only this time.

You may think it’s just a seven. But all I see is a giant ‘FUCK YOU’.

And that’s the reason that I’ve managed to get my record time for completing a game down to one minute fifty seconds. Because I need  that sweet hit of numbers.

I thought World of Warcraft was the worst for heady number compulsion. Oh, but I was so, so wrong.

Someone, please help me.

*No I’m not.

It’s Solitaire. You have it. But if you’re really lazy, click here to play a game. Oh god, it’s automatically started a game! Noooooooo…

E3 report – Assassin’s Creed, Kinect and anger.

E3 is over. The dust has settled, and a thousand nerds have gone home. And despite my honeyed words and beautiful face, I’m not a real journalist. So, to the despair of many groupies, I wasn’t there. However, I did tune in in order to watch the spectacle online, and with my usual definitive and absolute word on all matters gaming, I pronounce that it’s been a pretty standard E3. The presentations were terrible, the presenters somehow even worse, and the usual self-congratulatory bollocks were vomited by industry reps. Pretty standard for the gaming industry’s flagship show. But hey, we got to see some decent games, so we can put up with whatever bullshit stunts, presenters or just plain awful scripting that they throw at us. Lets look at some of those things that we did come to E3 to see.

Assassin’s Creed III.

I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and to be completely frank, I’m going to be buying this game at launch despite any flaws, up to Ubisoft staff eating my grandparents whilst wearing Ezio t-shirts. But I’m hre to nitpick, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Visit anywhere in cyber-space with a comment system and you’ll find the same question: ‘are the British the bad guys?’ Ubisoft had a great chance to finally clear ther air at E3 with their staged question, so with the usual Ubisoft approach to problems, they scaled the stage, cleared their throats, straightened their ties, and fell off of the stage.

The fact that this question came up at all shows that this has been causing some consternation on the intertubes and Ubisoft must have known this (unless they’re failing entirely with their audience) and so it only makes it even worse that they failed answer the question in any way. Instead of answering the question, what they actualy said was that the new main character – Connor – cares about fighting Templars, not the British. Well in that case, Connor clearly has some hobbies that Hannibal Lector would balk at, if not only for his obviously patriotic sentiments. Everywhere Assassin’s Creed-related we turn these days shows Connor gutting yet another one of this filthy Brits. So I hardly think it’s my fault for making an assumption that Connor has a homocidal tendency towards those of an Empire-building persuasion. It’ll be nice if the game gives us the option to kill either side, but I know that likely won’t be an option. Come on Connor, let me and thee show those Republican rotters what for! For tea and crumpets, what what!

At one point in the trailer we do see Connor chatting amicably to a British soldier and not gutting him from collar to groin. Paint me cynical, but thanks to the rest of the footage I can only see this as an attempt to appease tea-stained British keyboards. Ubisoft were wise to see this backlas coming, but this rough attempt at masking an obvious bias is only going to make the bias seem worse in the long run. The chances are high that this British soldier is either: an American sympathiser; a decent and hardworking commander trying to protect his men from the incompetant British high command; or Benedict Arnold pulling a double agent role for the Assassins. Whilst the last idea makes me a little wet between the legs, purely for the historical fuck-around, it doesn’t change the fact that the British are irreversably the bad guys. The last AC games had managed to avoid this problem because the bad guys were so shorn of any defining nationality. The Templars were just Templars. They were obviously European, but that was made to represent any specific nation, and Europe is a large place. And the emphasis was on the fact that they were Templars rather than Europeans. In Assassin’s Creed II Rodrigo Borgia was referred to as ‘the Spaniard’, but he didn’t represent the Spanish people as a whole and his goons weren’t Spanish either. They were just unidentifiable ‘bad guys’. Perhaps the game was aimed against the institution of the Papacy, but this historical period is well-known to have been plagued by extreme corruption within the Papacy, and therefore this problem is neatly averted; the enemy is the politician corrupting the purity of the Pontificate, and therefore is not the fault of the religion. In Assassin’s Creed III, the enemy is very obviously the British. Connor’s wrath is not widespread and as such it’s obvious that his enemy is the British forces. No other nationality seems to be involved to such an extent, certainly not in the trailers. And that makes it seem as if the British are evil. I realise that we can’t go against history in such an obvious way, but would it have killed Ubisoft to have Conor killing Templars on both sides of the war? I realise thar Hollywood has used the ‘evil English guy’ trope for a long time,and that the English have come to accept their role as ‘the bad guy’ in media. But this time it’s not just one randomly evil bloke, but an entire army. The common foot soldier wouldn’t be here out of his own volition, and it seems unfair to slaughter only them for a choice that wasn’t theirs. Yes, I realise the goons from the last games were in the same boat, but it wasn’t nearly as easy to identify with them, as stripped of identity as they were. I’m just relieved that Ubsoft developed this with a team of multiple faiths and nationalities, because otherwise I’d be jolly ticked off!

Blimey, perhaps this is how the Russians feel.

Anyway, enough of that point. Navigate to Google and you can probably find at least a half-dozen rants about the use of the British in ACIII. So let us move to something more pleasant for everybody; the actual gameplay. I had some misgivings about the gameplay going into E3 and in true video game industry-style E3 has done little to assuage these fears. The Assassin’s Creed series has always been about having a freedom of movement not given in other titles; as long as you can run, climb, or jump there, then Assassin’s Creed lets you go there. ACIII introduces a whole new dimension to this; trees and forest. Tree-running still looks awkward, despite the smooth and fluid demo shown before and after E3. It just looks as if it will lack the perfect ease of the system from the earlier games; buildings have more obvious grip-points and come to a very obvious end, and even despite these advantages I still had problems with traversing them from time-to-time. Tying this system into a much less definable naturistic setting just seems as if it’ll create more problems with an already occasionally fiddly system. What will mark out one part of climbable bark from a piece that’s untraversable? At which point will a tapering branch be unable to support my weight? White cloth had always marked areas where free-running sections began, so will snow fulfill the same function now? Yes, Assassin’s Creed seriously needed some new mechanics, and this sequel is looking like the first innovation from the series since Assassin’s Creed II, but I’m worried that Ubisoft are going too far, and biting off too much. My fear is that the developers will lose the fluid movement that we’ve come to expect and love from our Assassin heroes.

Speaking of additions, another addition is an inclusion of gathering quests. More common in the MMO genre, this addition is sure to spark some questions, and as you might expect I have some qualms about this addition. The downside of gathering quests in MMOs is that they become a chore very quickly, and I fear for that in the AC franchise. However, I can’t help but feel that the nature of the AC games will save it from this; since the player does not require experience to level up (as far as we’ve seen) gather quests can stay as an interesting extra quest to be fulfilled when bothered, rather than an essential and boring stepping stone. Hopefully the system will be based off of Skyrim‘s Radiant AI, and quest targets will be randomly generated to a degree. After all, people don’t stop needing supplies. Another interesting element would be to tie assassination missions into a similar random generator, giving a potentially unlimited pool of quests. Fairly positive, you might think? Well, maybe. But I certainly wouldn’t want to see a reputation system tied into the quests you do, or a Dead Rising 2-style of timed missions throughout. Thankfully, I can’t see these coming about.

Finally, the combat system has taken a massive overhaul – the combat system in the recent AC games has felt stale for a while, and now the developers are taking steps to combat this. Attacks can now come from multiple people and angles at once, eliminating the shockingly bad attack queues that we saw in the other titles and counter-centric combat that became the bread-and-butter of fighting far too easily. With the addition of multiple attacks comes the possibility of multiple counters and an increase in the fluidity of combat. Multiple counters allow you to counter those two pesky attackers on either side, whether that just be by a simply back-step or by pushing one into the other. The ability to use human shields is another crucial part of this, allowing you to use one of those pesky British (gah!) as a shield against the ranged weapons of his friends. Friends who’ll miss him when he’s gone YOU CRUEL BASTARDS.

Firearms are one of the largest changes in this installment and they will no longer be relegated to the occasional shot in battle as seen in the later ACII series. Warfare is now centred around the noisy things, and as a melee-orientated character Connor’s repetoire has had to be stepped up in order to tackle a new type of fighting. The more fluid combat now allows Connor to slas-and-run, an element that had always been missing from earlier Assassins. Thanks to this, Ezio now looks static compared to Connor’s rolling style that makes mobile killing a priority.

As you can tell, I have my problems with what I’ve seen, but the fact that Ezio has finally been put out to pasture has me excited and the footage that we saw has only made me more excited. Sod the patriotric problems, and let me at the tree-running! Roll on October.

Kinect, Smartglass and other rubbish.

Why the hell has it become even a thing at E3 for software that is only gaming related in the loosest sense to dominate presentations? I admit that Kinect is a damn fine piece of technology when it works, and that there is room in the gaming industry for motion controllers. My objection is to Microsoft forcing them down throats in a desperate attempt to make good on this expensive Wii-addon to their console. If they’d been any more desperate to sell the damn thing, they’d have been on QVC at 3am. I’m not a 360-gamer, but the atmosphere I’d generally garnered was that people thought Kinect was a great idea, but they’d be damned before they let the sensitive cunt into their front rooms, much like any modern rock band. And to my eyes, that’s a fine ideal: motion controls are a lot of fun, and I can see the appeal in having them. But they’re something that you don’t use all of the time, mainly because the technology is still so shaky and infantile. It’s a complete bitch to use at times and whilst I can’t fault Microsoft for trying to remedy this problem, I can fault the solution that they’ve come up with.

I can see how it works in some games; Kinect looks like a genuine boon in a title like Madden and FIFA, not to mention the hilarious feature of being able to shout at the referee and be punished correspondingly. Shouting into your Kinect to distract a guard in Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a great idea. If I owned a 360, I might consider using these features. One major fault holds me back: people are assholes. If I’m playing with some friends, as I often do, then all it’ll take is one of them to call over a guard when I don’t want it, or call an order I don’t want. Add to this the problems that all voice integration has with understanding different accents, nuances and terms and we have a terrible recipe for frustration. These ‘new’ innovations may cause more controllers to go flying than Dark Souls.

My advice for Microsoft would be to work on making Kinect as perfect as possible before harping on about any more integration. Get the underlying technology right, and people will use it. Let them know you’re working on making it better, but don’t fucking harp on about it like a stunned lamb. The part of the presentation on how to search on Google using only your voice was a bloody shambles. You may have noticed the quotation marks around the word ‘new’ in the last paragraph, and that’s because I’ve been able to do most of the stuff that they ‘announced’ on my phone since I bought it two years ago. And it wasn’t even new then. I think this is the root of the problem for myself and various other people; this tech just isn’t new to anyone who’s owned a smartphone for the last few years. Siri and .iriS (the Android version) arrived years ago and most of us have had chance to mess with them for a bit before getting bored. And that leads me on to my last problem with the system: it’s just not possible to use a voice integration program without either seeming like a twat or by arrogantly silencing in a room before you talk. Which amounts to basically the same thing.

And the the last paragraph basically sums up my problem with SmartGlass too; not new enough. Looking up information about the program being watched on the TV? I can use my phone for that, or one of those over-priced tablets that you’ve all been flogging for a few years. The last thing that I need is another piece of technology to clog up my chair’s arms, and I’m certainly not gonna pay an exorbitant amount of money for technology I already own in one form or another. If I might be so bold as to denounce an entire company (but I’m a lone blogger, of course I know better) this has been Microsoft’s problem for too long now; they just keep trying to reinvent the wheel. Nintendo brought out decent motion control first, and although Microsoft surpassed their effort by removing the controller entirely, it will always be remembered that Nintendo succeeded first.

Microsoft needs something new and innovative, and they failed to do that at E3 this year.

BC: The Unlikely Saviour of PC Gaming

Article first published as The Unlikely Saviour of PC Gaming on Blogcritics.

Whilst I’ll never advocate piracy, either maritime or electronic, I do believe they have the right idea about some things. Frilly shirts, large hats, a penchant for all things shiny… pirates have a good time about life. My largest point of envy for pirates, though, is the fact that they never have to suffer DRM. DRM, or digital rights management, that boil upon PC gaming’s overwise volumptuous and tempting bottom, has hit a new low in inconveniencing paying customers. And the pirates get none of it.

See, once a game has been cracked, it’s cracked. It might take a while; Ubisoft’s infamous always-online DRM took months to crack – but they got there in the end. And once they’ve done it, they have a game stripped of all of the annoying things that continue to plague us paying customers.

I understand why DRM has to exist, I really do. And I honestly don’t mind about entering CD keys on install. That’s been part of being a PC gamer since before I can remember. That’s normal and quite acceptable. What isn’t acceptable is the new DRM that companies think they need in order to preserve what they believe are lost profits. Always-online, limited installs, Games for Windows Live, Steam… they’re all DRM in one ugly form or another, and whilst some are more acceptable than others (I’m a massive fan of Steam and Valve) they’re still a way of chasing after vanishing ghost profits.

I don’t understand economics, and certainly not the economics of piracy, but I do understand one thing; pirates probably wouldn’t have bought the game anyway. Whether or not you feel you have lost a sale from piracy, the truth is that you probably haven’t. And if they weren’t gonna buy the game anyway, then you’ve lost nothing. Technically, you haven’t lost anything anyway, since a digital version of the game hardly amounts to a physical copy anyway – it isn’t the same as stealing. Nothing physical has been lost. But that’s something I don’t understand deeply about, and am probably wrong about anyway. Feel free to pick apart my fleeting knowledge in the comment section; back onto the subject.

The DRM that is supposed to keep pirates away and stop them from playing the games that the companies have worked so hard to make (and they have) only inconveniences those who have to put up with it – the consumers of the product. Those honest people who actually bought the game. The pirates breeze right by as if the restrictions weren’t there, and it’s us honest people who foot the bill.

It’s like a sign saying, ‘don’t buy this game!’

Some might side with the game creators on this issue, and I can see why. Yes, they have the right to protect their intellectual property from people who are distributing it unofficially. But why must they feel the need to prosecute the innocent in order to vainly strike out at those who aren’t affected by it anyway? It really isn’t a good business ethic, and it must be stopped. Surely, great minds such as theirs must be able to figure out a new method of DRM that doesn’t infringe on their users and actually stops pirates from using unlicensed software. Steam managed it – despite it being a variation of the always-online DRM, it still allows you to be offline (sometimes, when it’s not being buggier than Starship Troopers) and is generally unintrusive to your gameplay. The same can’t be said for Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live. Having to log in through a buggy and slow interface every single time I boot a game was stupidly annoying, and made only more so by the fact that I knew pirates wouldn’t have to go through this rigmarole every time they wanted to play Arkham Asylum.

And so, I come to the main reason I typed this article. My solution to the whole shaboodle is a simple one, and I expect that many of you have come up with it yourself. It comes in two steps: buy the game you like, despite the horrible DRM; then pirate a version that doesn’t have the offending demon-DRM. You still bought the game, and that should give you the right to play it however you like, especially if that’s without restrictive DRM that doesn’t apply to you, a person who actually bought the game and can prove it with a boxed/digital copy.

And frankly, if that’s not legal, you have to wonder why not.

Why Uni Kinda Sucks

Good lord, it’s been a long time. This isn’t a Blogcritics post, and lord knows I could put a couple of those up. But hey, this doesn’t really have a point, and Blogcritics isn’t the best place in the world anyway. But it’s a good way to get publicity, and publicity is a good thing to have kids.

This week on childrens hour, indeed.

So yes, it HAS been a long time. And I’m not gonna apologise, because university has kept me busy with a fuckton of work. ED news went slightly under simply because I got buried with assignments and reading that needed doing. Dear god, it’s been one hell of a time that I have been having.

But since I last posted, a lot of things have happened. Skyrim happened, for one thing. And then Skyrim went away, and I started playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood again. Yes, I haven’t bought Revelations yet, but to you I say ‘fuck you!’. You don’t have the Student Loans company fucking up how much money you’re supposed to have. But once I do, you fuckers will pay–


Where was I?

Oh yes, game heaven. Skyrim was something else. I still am disappointed by some of the things that they sacrificed, but I’m sure that those whiny posts have been covered by other, more popular blogs. And I’ll probably have a post up about it sooner or later anyway. I’ll try not to be too whiny, I promise. Probably something about magic, and how it needs to have more oomph.

That isn’t what this post is about though. This post is a general post that needs to be made when I’m slightly tipsy and my girlfriend is playing Minecraft on my PC.

And I’m out of things to say, for now.


If you don’t have– oh, who am I kidding? You already have Skyrim.

BC: Why We Care About Historical Accuracy.

Article first published as Why I Care About Historical Accuracy. on Blogcritics.

Quickly, before I copypasta this article in, I want to say a few words. The tag ‘BC’ now means that this article was first written for Blogcritics and was first published there. This doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the blog, since I can post the same articles on here, and actually means that there’ll be a wider degree of stuff on here now! Hurrah!

Anyway, without further ado, here is the first post I wrote for Blogcritics.

So this is my first Blogcritics post. Hello, my name is Mark. I study Ancient and Medieval History at university, I do historical re-enactment and I love historical accuracy in my gaming. It’s a very clear divide: those who whine about the accuracy and those who who don’t care. The most common answer is ‘why does it matter? Why do you care?’. And I want to explain why we do care. Why it does matter.

I wasn’t always this way; I started out as most other people do; I hated it when self-proclaimed historians ridiculed at the inaccuracies that they saw in films and games. I hated it when someone disregarded a game I enjoyed simply because it wasn’t up to their exact standards. And when I entered into my degree, I vowed to never be that way.

Last week, I watched Kingdom of Heaven with a group of my friends and I laughed at it and mocked the version of ‘history’ it proclaimed. I go to re-enactment events and criticise other societies kit and gossip under my breath about wrong colours and out-of-period helmets. I’ve become that which I hated. And I’ve realised why we do it.

The epiphany came whilst I was reading a rather boring article about the inheritance customs of the Normans. The article stressed that William the Conqueror’s inheritance to his son was not down to any system set in place, but because he chose who inherited what. And I thought: ‘why can’t I do that in Medieval II: Total War? I want to choose who inherits the kingdom, rather than letting the game choose my eldest son by default, because that’s how William did it. I was disappointed that a game I loved so much wouldn’t allow me to follow in the footsteps of a great historical figure.

And that’s the root of the grievance. As a gamer, I expect to be drawn into a world and I expect to feel like a part of it. That’s basic immersion; that’s what all fictional media attempts to do. The problem is that as I learn more history, I expect the same games to live up to my new expectations, and as I learn more and more I notice more and more of what doesn’t fit; what’s out of place; what isn’t accurate. And that breaks the immersion and I no longer feel as snugly in-universe as I did.

I’m now disappointed when I start Civilization V as Alexander III of Macedon, and get Athens as my starting city. Sure, I could change that, but that’s not the point. That’s not what makes me sad. Not only can I not follow in Alexander’s footsteps and start from his true origins, but I’ve been broken from the experience that I could be Alexander the Great.

And that’s where modding communities come into their own. There are always a bunch of people out there who are willing to spruce up the authenticity of a game. The Stainless Steel mod for Medieval II; mods that let you have a correct starting location in Civ V… stuff like this fills me with glee and breaths life back into a new game. And it’s not because I’m anal about the whole thing, it’s because I care about my own experience in the game: I want to follow such great historical figures and see if I can better them. And when a game doesn’t allow you do that to the best of your knowledge it’s frustrating to the point where your immersion and experience in that world is tainted.

So please, the next time you see a ‘historian’ complaining about the level of realism, take a step back from the standard response and think about what he feels is missing. I’m not saying not to tell him to STFU, I’m just hoping you understand more about why he feel it’s important. I’m just asking not to type that sentence.

‘Why does it matter?’

Until next time, game well.

Find me at my profile on Blogcritics.