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Category Archives: Games

[Here is one extra post for 2011. Regular updates are not returning.]

Much has been said about the legitimisation of video games as a medium. From countless debates about whether games are art, to just trying to get an uninterested parent/roommate/significant other to see how the latest thing from E3 is so totally amazing and will change everything forever. But one aspect seems missing in gaming culture – the attention paid to the people who make the games themselves.

With movies we care when we hear about the latest from Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan, or with TV shows from Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams. But we don’t care when we just hear Warner Bros. are making a new movie or NBC are making a new show. So why does video game culture focus so much on Sony or Square-Enix instead of the actual people, like the creative leads designing their latest games?

Sure, there’s the occasional figurehead like Shigeru Miyamoto or Peter Molyneux but they tend to gain attention more for PR celebrity than design substance. Not to mention the amount of attention paid to Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond.

Anyway, here’s a convenient list of examples demonstrating why, if you take video games seriously, you should care about the people who actually makes them.

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Stories in games can be good. They should be good. But this list isn’t about the whole – grand scale, interwoven plot threads or dramatic storytelling – this list just about the words that carry the tale.

It’s also worth mentioning this isn’t too definite a top 5 and might be more of a list of games with writing that I personally liked. With that bit of criticism nullification swiftly out of the way, let’s get on with the list!

5. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2 was praised for it’s funny, charming, Whedon-esque dialogue. Unfortunately, as is the nature of the polished “summer blockbuster” style, it doesn’t provoke much thought or emotional response. It does provide enjoyable exposition and likeable characters, however.

This exchange between Nathan Drake and a female companion is mainly what earned it a place on the list:

“So, on a scale on one to ten – how scared were you that I was gonna die?”
“Yeah, why?”
“A four?”
“You were at least an eight.”
“An eight?”
“You were a total eight.”
“An eight? Those Guardian things were an eight.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Yeah, those were terrifying.”
“Then what’s a ten?”
“…Clowns over my death?”
“I, I hate clowns.”
“I hate clowns.”
“Oh my word. You thought I was dead.”
“No, you thought I was gone.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I had you all along.”
“I saw you shed tears. You shed a bunch of ’em.”
“It was raining.”
“No it was not.”
“You were unconscious and it was raining.”
“It was totally sunny out and you were bawling.”
“It wasn’t sunny and you were unconscious.”
“Whatever, I kept your tears in a jar. I have proof.”
“…I’ll give you a five, how’s that?”

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“The members of his karataam were killed by Tal-Vashoth but their disposal leads only here, to Saarebas and you.”

Er…What? Look, you’re clearly speaking English, so why have you just randomly made up words there? I’ve been playing this game for 20 hours and I still don’t know what you’re talking about. Why not just say ‘group’, ‘rebels’ and ‘the mage’?

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Much like Shadow Hearts, Parasite Eve is another game that I never played but have a tremendous fondness for. I watched the first game on YouTube, and later read a far more convenient screenshot Let’s Play of it. All credit for screenshots used in this post goes to the latter.
[EDIT: Another LP has since been done with higher quality screenshots and videos.]

With the threequel – The 3rd Birthday on the way, now seemed like a good time to talk about the game.

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“This game is just unfair! I’m not even sure you can get past this part.”
“What? That bit was easy! There’s no challenge in this game at all.”

Challenge is a tricky term to discuss in video games. We probably all recognise exchanges like the one above, which demonstrate the relative subjectivity of the matter. Balance and difficulty present a complex riddle for game designers.

One of the important factors involved is the “punishment” for failure. Usually the player character will die and be sent back to the last checkpoint. The player then has to replay up to where they were originally.

It’s tempting to say no one likes doing that, but that would be ignoring the fondness for ultra-difficult NES era games and the slightly-more-than-cult following of Demon’s Souls.

But most have probably seen the human reaction when someone watching a game being played loses interest as soon as the player dies and is reset to an earlier position, like you rewound a few minutes of a film they were watching.

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I recently bought Alpha Protocol on the cheap and it is a stupid game. Everything about it is lacking, although I expected as much from the reviews and scuttlebutt.

The thing that really bugs me is that Obsidian get a lot of credit for their writing. I do not understand this. I’ve always found them to be the ‘good ideas’ team, but definitely not star writers or storytellers.

Here’s a quick list of some of the dumbest highlights of Alpha Protocol’s story:

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Video games present us with a wealth of futuristic and fantastical technology, some more practical than others. The potential for this tech in the real world could be limitless. Scientists and engineers: These are your future goals!

Things you may expect that didn’t make the list: The gravity gun from Half-Life 2, the Portal Gun from Portal, Metal Gear Solid‘s Stealth Camouflage and…The Portal Gun again.

6. Pokéballs

These hand-held spheres can capture, contain and release Pokémon of any size or weight at the whim of the user. How do they work? Nobody knows!

Does it cryogenically freeze the Pokémon? Does it shrink them? Do they have a little apartment in there with a tiny couch and very-mini-fridge?
Do Pokéballs work on inorganic matter? That would explain how trainers can carry a bicycle in their backpacks.

Either way, think of the real world implications of the mysterious transport devices for zookeepers or for shifting furniture!

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I played Dragon Age: Origins on the Xbox 360. Thought I’d get the recently released demo of Dragon Age 2 on PC though to see if it improves anything. I want Dragon Age 2 to be good, I really do. But from what I’ve seen, I’m not too hopeful.

What better way to examine the demo and the game than by hosting a disastrous, oversized and summarised screenshot Let’s Play of the demo? Let’s get into it.

You start by selecting the gender and class of the protagonist – for the purposes of this playthrough, I choose the good old fashioned male warrior. Because tanking is just my style.

The game opens on a dwarf named Varric being dragged through a hall by armoured men. They sit him down in a dark room. He is interrogated by a woman called Cassandra, who identifies herself as working for the Chantry – because Dragon Age is too fancy to say ‘church’.

Cassie there also has that weird almost-French accent that was associated with the almost-French country of Orlais in the Dragon Age lore.

Faux Frenchy demands to know about ‘the Champion’, claiming that Varric knew him. Varric starts to talk as it cuts to a barren wasteland. An armoured man with a beard – our protagonist Mr. Hawke and a mage later revealed to be his sister are fighting what appear to be the henchmen of Skeletor

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Televisions? Assault rifles? Corporations? Cars? Trains? Helicopters? Submarines? A space rocket?! Woah, Shinra is like something out of Star Trek!

Oh, wait. We have all those things. We’ve had all those things for quite a while. It’s almost as if FFVII isn’t really futuristic at all. It’s almost as if it was based on present day technology. If that!

I mean, seriously, they have one rocket that only gets into space once and that’s mid-game. They haven’t been to the moon and the rocket doesn’t even look as good as our rockets!

The only really futuristic thing in the game is the automatic slidey-open doors that are straight from Star Trek. But guess what? Metal Gear Solid 3 had those too. That was set in 1964. I don’t see you calling that cyberpunk.

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It’s a shame that a lot of people seem to have missed out on the Grand Theft Auto IV downloadable content – The Lost and Damned (or TLAD) and The Ballad Of Gay Tony (or TBOGT).

This is despite the cheap retail package Episodes from Liberty City containing both on disc, without the need for the original game. The lack of popularity was probably down to the exaggerated backlash against GTAIV. (Planes in the city would be stupid. Get over it.)

It’s really quite a shame. Not only do the add-ons provide more great content, they share a fantastically rich interwoven storyline and are packed with brilliant little details.

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