Alasdair Duncan is that bearded, bespectacled Scotsman that covers PC gaming that is not Fraser Brown. A long time Destructoid community member and forum moderator, he covers adventure, puzzle, FPS and all kinds of games on the PC. Watch, as he adds more games to his Steam library with only the vaguest hope of ever playing most of his games.
Alasdair has been gaming since his mother bought a Commodore 64 back in the early 1980's. He adores Deus Ex, GTA Vice City, Team Fortress 2, Borderlands, Super Mario Brothers 3 and all those weird indie titles on Steam.
You can meet Alasdair at places like PAX where he tries to convince people he isn't a) drunk or b) Irish.
So over the last six days, I've been in the surprisingly warm, north east coast of Scotland helping my parents moving some items out of my grandparent's old house. My grandmother passed away a few years ago and we've moving some large items out of the home and garage before the new owners move in next weekend. My parents actually bought the house next door quite a few years ago when my grandmother was getting rather frail and that's where we've been staying right now. My parents still intend to keep the house as a holiday home and I've been here quite a few time, twice this year already.
Thing is, there's no Internet connection in this house. Before you ask how that's even possible, I'll point out that there's no actual telephone land-line, at least my parents have never bothered having it activated. Frankly in this day and age, your mobile phone has pretty much replaced your house's hard line and considering the only communication I've had has been in the form of a single text message, it's not really surprising.
What's been irritating has been the lack of gaming I've been able to do, made worse by the fact that this is the first time I've been up at the house with a computer of my own. I splurged the last of my savings at the end of September to get a 15.6" Samsung laptop, the first computer I've owned since I left Australia around this time last year. Knowing I was coming up, I installed a few games on Steam to help pass the downtime. I should point out that I've headed up north just a week after a full re-install of Windows 7 so I've been putting games back onto my laptop but mindful of my tendency to play 1 game, rage quit and play another whilst never getting round to actually finishing them, I put about 7 or 8 games onto my laptop knowing that I wouldn't get bored and that I'd have a decent selection of titles. My knowledge of Steam's slightly flaky offline support has meant that I know that I shouldn't expect games to work straight away, so I re-installed my titles from their backups, went into offline mode and made sure they loaded. No problems, so I packed up my bag along with my wired 360 controller, headphones and external backup drive and headed for the Highlands.
First on my list to play was the rather awesome 2D graffiti platformer Sideways, which I'd bought the night before. I was making good progress with the game and I wanted to carry on playing it so I could complete the game. The game itself plays fine but at the end of the level, your scores are updated to the Internet for online leaderboards; I played the next level of Sideways but then the game stalled, unable to connect to the Internet meant I was stuck until I could re-connect to the Internet. This struck me as a big oversight; the game couldn't just detect that Steam was offline therefore leaderboard scores wouldn't need to be updated?
Annoyed with that, I decided to play some more Beat Hazard, specifically the new Ultra mode. I made a huge amount of progress with that game, unlocking level after level and an array of new perks. However, I never unlocked any achievements despite climbing up the ranks. Was this because I was offline?? More than likely as I couldn't even check the achievement list whilst being offline. I know achievements are the be all and end all of gaming, far from it. I use them as a personal benchmark, a way of saying and showing "Yes, I got all I could out of that game" and as a motivator to come back and try again with games I didn't manage to finish. The idea that I'm missing out on those motivators annoys me a bit, can't the game just unlock them in the Steam client whether you're offline?
So, realising I had more backups I thought "I've not got much to do, why not re-install Fallout New Vegas" a game I had ploughed more than 50 hours into, only for crashes and an achingly dull DLC campaign to provoke me into removing the game so that I could come back to it later. Turns out you can't install a backup without being online, even if you only made the backup a few days prior. So no New Vegas for me, probably for the best really.
So there we go; Steam offline mode not as good as online mode. I mean, no shocks there and to be honest, I still was able to play games like Super Meat Boy, Terraria, Beat Hazard and the Binding of Issac with no problems. I know I'm quibbling here, at home I've got a fairly solid Internet connection that's been working a-ok and with that, I can game without any problems. It's still not a 100% connected world yet, and despite the fact that I'm almost totally converted into having all my needs met by the Internet (I'm dreading the amount of unread posts I'll have on Google Reader when I go home) there's still times when you need services to work offline and have them work as well as an online service. I'm not asking for patching and multiplayer options to somehow work offline, but a single player platforming game that's not able to move onto the next level because you've got no Internet connection is a bit much.
ďIím more worried that you can get a really good 99 cent game that occupies you for hours and hours on end and how that impacts $60 SKUs..... But I do worry about what it means for the next generation of console games? Are people really going to want to spend $60 on a game?Ē
Something that Mike also mentions is that free entertainment is competition to playing AAA titles, so like why play a big budget game when you can watch loads of free or cheap content on your TV or Netflix. When the Playstation launched years ago, Sony UK boss Phil Harrison claimed that Sony werenít in competition against Nintendo and Sega, they were competing with clothes, going out to the pub, going to the football. Sony positioned the Playstation as a lifestyle choice and it really worked. The Playstation crossed over to market that decided to play games instead of things like socialising and spending money on clothes and booze. Sony prospered in the 90ís and 00ís because they realised that they werenít in direct competition with other videogames companies, Sony realised that they had to make their console and games more appealing than TV or books and suchlike.
As for the charge of mobile gaming ďcheapeningĒ big name console titles seems to hit at the point of the value of a AAA game. Again, reading between the lines Mike sounds as if heís worried that gamers wonít feel a big budget game, like Gears Of War wonít be worth $60. Well Mike, maybe itís not. Yes games have been always been expensive, but are all games worth $60 or $40 (or $100 if youíre in Australia)? I realise that value for money can be an abstract concept to a lot of people and thatís without going into the idiotic ďgame length=value for moneyĒ argument. I would ask Mike if he feels that all the games that are released are worth $60 and it is a bad thing that playing cheap and fun i-phone games make me question the value of spending a lot of money on such games? Iíve gotten an amazing amount of value and enjoyment out of games like Fruit Ninja and Plants Vs Zombies as I have with some AAA games that cost more 40 times more. That's not a bad thing, that's just something that digital distribution and portable technology allows me. Not all my compelling videogame experiences are me sitting on a couch or at a desk, staring into a tv or monitor.
Mikeís comments almost make it sound like this is unfair like ďTV is free, so why are people going to pay $60 for GOW3? Argh!Ē Maybe GOW should be cheaper? Maybe you should split GOW into three separate parts, single player, hoard and multiplayer and let consumers buy them separately. Maybe future EPIC games should be episodic. Maybe EPIC should make more iOS games to test out ideas or tech? Maybe itís not my job to reassure Mike Capps that things are going to work out ok. I donít have the answers and I donít claim to know where the videogames industry is heading. What I believe is that making products cheaper and readily available makes them appealing to consumers.
Itís no newsflash that people have limited time to play games. Itís no newsflash that people only have a certain amount of limited income. But laying the game at cheaper, more convenient forms of entertainment as somehow being unfair is a cheap shot. Again, reading between the lines it sounds as if Mike Capps isnít 100% that his latest game is really worth $60.
So now that Iíve gotten a couple of posts under my belt, I thought Iíd re-introduce myself, as of course youíre all wondering who that handsome, monochrome man is that scowling at you from the top of some PC news on the frontpage. In my past life I was known as Ali D, a nickname Iíve had since I was very young. In Scotland, almost everyone with the name Alasdair is called Ally, but since Internet communication is now more commonplace, most people would pronounce my nickname as ďthe people that aid you in a battleĒ D. At the start of Summer, I put myself forward for the PC internship, working under the steady gaze of Jordan Devore. Got a couple stories under my belt which feels good (one of which was linked to on Twitter by Ken Levine!!) and hopefully plenty more over the Summer.
Iíve been a community member since late 2007 when I first started doing some cblogs. After that I started getting stuck into the craziness that is the forums, to the point where Iím now one of the moderators serving under Uncle Mxy and MOM. Iím hoping to carry on cblogging after my internship is up and Iíve got a good idea for an ongoing series which Iíll have to get started on soon. Other Dtoid fun stuff has led me to PAX Prime 2010 and PAX East 2011 (where my official duty was being Hamzaís bag bitch) and hopefully PAX Prime 2011 (once I get some stuff sorted out).
I'm the guy with the beard.
So going back to the start, I first played videogames on my motherís Commodore 64.... I say ďplayedĒ but I was still fairly young and the only thing I could actually play was Paperboy. Getting to the end of the street and playing the obstacle course was one of gamingís early thrills. After that, my brother and I got an NES at Christmas to share between us. We both pooled all our money that weíd received and ended up with £40 to buy Super Mario Bros. 3 which has remained a firm favourite. I would play NES games round at my cousinís house every Friday night, when my parents went round to see my Aunt and Uncle. He had games like Mega Man and Castlevania which I tried my hardest to get into, but my gaming skills were still well below par.
Papa Burch is gonna smack Ikarus one!
After that, I never had a new console for almost ten years. My parents werenít happy for me or my brother to be playing videogames often, so we got sent out to play in the streets or go round to friendsí houses, where their parents would send us outside as well. In my later teenage years, parents were happier to have us in the house as it meant we werenít drinking alcohol or smoking, not realising that all me and my friends wanted to do was play videogames. So my experiences of the 16 and 32-bit eras were playing (usually mulitplayer) videogames at my friendsí houses and usually having my ass handed to me at Street Fighter 2, Goldeneye, Tekken or Super Mario Kart. So Iíve had this weird upbringing in which I can remember back to the 8-bit era and beyond, yet Iíve got very little hands on experience or connection to that time.
Me and the boss. I can confirm he has amazing hair. And is also one of the nicest people I've ever met.
Eventually, I left school and worked so I could earn some cash and get a Dreamcast, followed by an X-box and then a 360. At the same time, I was studying so I needed a computer, so I got my first desktop PC back in 1998, just in time for Half Life, MDK and Grim Fandango. I stuck with PC gaming as I always found games that I was enjoying on the PC, especially Deus Ex my all time favourite. Iím no PC-elitist, Iíve got a 360 so I can play some console exclusive titles and some multiplayer fun.
Mr Destructoid (aka Mikey) endorses Stevil. I'll get those pics posted one day buddy.
So if I was to list off my favourite games, they would be a rag-tag bunch. Deus Ex is the game thatís most defined how I look at gaming, especially freedom and open endedness in videogames. The Mass Effect franchise is pushing my sci-fi fan buttons every time I play it. GTA: Vice City does a great job of creating a specific time and place, with added Gary Numan. Team Fortress 2 has been my favourite multiplayer game, so much so Iíve had to kick the habit so I can actually complete some other games. Aside from those core titles, Super Mario Bros 3, Jet Set Radio, Fallout 3, Batman Arkham Asylum, Grim Fandango, Plants vs Zombies, Far Cry.... thereís plenty to mention. My taste in games is shockingly mainstream, but I do love the great wealth of indie titles on Steam.
In addition to being "bag bitch", I am to help Pico dish out massages to senior staff.
Outside of gaming Iíve been going to gigs for years (my first gig was R.E.M. at Stirling castle) seeing so many of my favourite bands. I love all types of music, but Iím drawn to down-tempo electronic stuff, Scottish indie rock, instrumental and post-rock, sample based hip hop and 80ís post punk. Check out my Last Fm profile on the right hand side to see if weíre compatible. I spend a fair amount of time reading both novels and comic books; my favourite authors are Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Simon Reynolds and William Gibson. Some of my other favourite things are Mongolian beef, watching Rangers FC, Addidas clothing, vodka, sleeping in and cultivating my facial hair.
[Disclaimer: I wrote most of this last week without having internet access in my house, and only getting videogame news via my phone. By now quite a bit of what I've written about is either incorrect or been revealed, but I'm putting it up as it reflects my viewpoint mid-last week]
So with each passing day weíre seeing more and more pre-E3 announcements. As Iím typing most of this, thereís been a glut of NGP info today and Iím sure there will be more to come before Tuesday. However, as E3 comes closer, I get a feeling that there wonít be any big steps forward. Weíre in the 6th year of the current generation of home consoles and it just looks like Microsoft and Sony are prepared to continue on their current path of convincing us that motion controls have something that arenít going away. Nintendo are launching an HD console years after the other big two. Then thereís the two handhelds, the still to be released Sony NGP and the just-launched Nintendo 3DS, both of which I feel have uncertain futures in the handheld market with competition from smart phones.
The big announcement this year, will be the official reveal of Nintendoís new console which could either be a big moment n this generation of consoles or it could be revealed as simply a stop gap until the next big leap in hardware. Right now, the Wiiís sales are slowing, so itís interesting to see that Nintendo are the first big company who are seemingly reacting to the market no longer showing as much interest in their console as they did earlier in itís lifecycle. With the rumoured specs being either as powerful or even more powerful that the Sony and Microsoftís consoles, the new console is appealing in theory. The thing thatís been disappointing to me is the claims that this new console will attract the hardcore gamer back to the Nintendo fold. Iíd question if the truly hardcore gamer ever did give up on Nintendo, after all surely a hardcore gamer would still be compelled by the excellent first party titles and the small selection of quality third party titles. So, is the promise of ďitís just the Wii again but in HDĒ that will entice the hardcore gamer? I think Nintendo have to do better than that, after all the lack of HD graphics didnít hurt the Mario Galaxy games, or Kirbyís Epic Yarn. I think Nintendo needs to work on their online service, Virtual Console range and attracting more third party support for Project Cafť to succeed.
The interesting thing about Nintendoís position in the market is that they had success with the Wii because it did something different from Sony and Microsoftís consoles; it appealed to people who werenít interested in videogames before. My mum and dad bought one; my aunts and uncles have one; female friends who never played videogames before bought one. They didnít care if it was deemed ďless powerfulĒ or ďnot as hardcoreĒ as the X-box 360 or PS3. They had no interest in playing online shooters or 100 hour long J-RPGs. And the die-hard Nintendo fans that complained about Nintendo losing their way still went out and bought one because they were cheap and they still wanted to play the latest Mario, Metroid and Zelda games. I think that Nintendo do need a console that provides more ďhardcore gamesĒ than the Wii did, but they should still appeal to the casual market. I think that the console landscape needs variety; as MS and Sony have started to make inroads into the casual market with their motion controllers, I feel weíre in danger of having a homogenous console market, one that has three consoles trying to appeal to all demographics but none of them really grasping the needs and wants of each type of gamer and nothing really setting them apart.
Thereís also the question of the 3DS, which has under-performed sales wise slightly against expectations. That could be blamed on a fairly lacklustre line-up of launch titles, but then again, most new hardware launches arenít served very well by their first titles and havenít been for a few years now. So is the problem the price? Possibly, but I think the bigger factor is the handheld gaming sector has shifted to smart phones in a big way. Of course there will always be a place for handheld systems, but I do think that when you look at the value of a smart phone compared to a handheld, then it will be difficulty for Nintendo and Sony to compete. I think if Nintendo are going to come close to the sales of the DS (which would be an achievement, I think), then theyíre going to have to announce some big titles that will convince the people who havenít shelled out on a 3DS that they need one. Of course you know that Nintendo are going to come out with a Pokemon and Mario Kart game, but a Professor Layton game using the 3D or augmented reality functions would be an eye catcher and something that would attract casual DS gamers (like my mum) to consider getting a 3DS.
So if the 3DS needs games and is being held back by its price, then how is the NGP going to succeed? You know Sony is going to price the NGP higher than the 3DS, but how much higher? The NGP is a great looking bit of kit with some serious specs, but again, are people going to want to spend potential $400 on a new handheld system? I worry that Sony are going to replicate the problems they had with the PSP, giving gamers a console like experience on a handheld, but one that you feel youíd rather be playing on a regular home console at the same time. Again, there needs to be games or at least one killer app that people can see in action and say ďYeah, I want that system so I can play that gameĒ.
Sony and Microsoft both launched their motion controllers at last yearís E3, with Kinnect having the edge over Sonyís Move controllers, sales wise anyway. Both launched with near identi-kit range of Wii-knock offs, but Sony would at least put Move support into the new SOCOM and Killzone games. But both companies need to give consumers to pick up their motion controllers and that means games, or with Kinnect, a higher degree of functionality with media apps on the 360. Without new consoles, Sony and Microsoft are relying on Move and Kinnect to make money and expand their traditional audience into the casual markets. But then again, now the initial hype has subsided, what is supposed to attract customers to these new controllers? I feel Microsoft and Sony have to announce more Kinnect and Move titles, because they will feel that thereís still a big chunk of the casual markets, or Nintendoís market, that they can poach.
So, kind of pessimistic stuff then. Microsoft and Sony trying to convince us to buy Kinnect and Move respectively, Nintendo are launching a console that is going to try and win over the hardcore gamer but at the risk of possibly losing their casual market share, Sony and Nintendo trying to find a place for their new systems in a mobile market that seems to be moving away from owning a dedicated hand held. Itís going to be a continuation of what we saw last year, with Nintendo the only company showing some risky behaviour with their Project Cafť console.
The up shot is, I feel games have to take centre stage at this E3. The thing that Nintendo and Sony need to convince people to buy their new handhelds is games; Kinnect and Move sceptics need games to convince them to buy into Microsoft and Sonyís new motion controllers. And Nintendo needs a good line-up of games to convince the supposed hardcore gamers that theyíll need their new console and that itís not just a too-little-too-late HD catch up. Considering the slim amount of releases slated for 2012 and the fairly large amount of pre-E3 announcements weíve had so far (as I finish typing this, Konami have announced their HD remake releases), I think weíre in for a bumper show when it comes to actual future videogame releases. Considering how little we know about what games are coming out in 2012, Iím hoping E3 delivers a wide range exciting titles that are going to appeal to both hardcore and casual gamers. After all, videogames is why we buy this shiny hardware and without great titles, no one is going to buy any new hardware.
Iíll be the first to admit, Iím a videogame news junkie; even when it comes to either titles or systems I donít own. Part of the downside of this is that Iím often not surprised when I actually play a game because thereís a nagging feeling I know what Iím getting into. Usually it starts off with a big reveal story, outlining the developer, some basic story info and usually some gameplay hook. Then the publishers will tease out some more information about the game, either through some previews, trailers or interviews. By the time a game comes out, weíve already consumed a heck of a lot of information about what the game is (at least in our minds) and what we can expect. Itís gotten to the point that Iíve actually started going on self-imposed media blackouts when it comes to games that I know Iím definitely going to play, but I donít want anything spoilt for me. So, like Mass Effect 3 and Deus Ex Human Revolution are must-plays for me, but Iím no longer going to gobble up all the information I can before I play them.
So for a game to really grab me and show me something that captivates me is sadly rare nowadays. In the case of Bioshock, I read lots of articles about it as it really captured my imagination; the idea of an art-deco city at the bottom of the ocean struck me as really unique setting and the idea of combining plasmids with regular weapons seemed like an interesting way to play an FPS. It even got to the point where I played System Shock 2 just before the release of Bioshock, in order to understand the comparisons between the two and to figure out if Bioshock was really itís ďspiritual successorĒ.
Luckily, my brother in law at the time, was working for Irrational games in Canberra, Australia. He emailed me at work one day asking if I was interested in a dayís unpaid, focus testing for Bioshock. Now this was about 2 months before the gameís release, so I jumped at the chance. I went to their fairly small studios in the city and found myself with some a few other guys playing Bioshock for about 6 hours. Headphones on...... keyboard and mouse all good....... here we go.....
Of course Bioshock starts over with the main character sitting on a plane, smoking a cigarette whilst he remembers some words of wisdom from his parents. Next thing heís swimming for his life as the wreckage of the plane sinks around him. Gasping for air, you have to guide him to a nearby lighthouse that seems to be your only safe option. Once out of the water, you go inside and find the lighthouse is an ornate housing for a diving bell, one thatís going to take you to a place you couldnít imagine.
Now as I said earlier, Rapture itself was one of the reasons I was interested in playing Bioshock, but the whole opening sequence was masterful. With the lighthouse slowly illuminating itís interior to show the tenants of Raptureís ideology, to the strains of ďInto The SeaĒ, to the introductory film where Andrew Ryan makes his politics clear, spitting his defiance at the forces that govern the world above the waves. As the music reaches itís crescendo the screen moves away and presents to you the impossible..... Rapture.
Again, even though I thought I knew what I was in for, I was still taken aback at the scene, to the point where I actually got goosebumps. Passing overhead and seeing the sheer scale of what was in front of me was amazing, to the extent that I almost didnít hear anymore of Ryanís proud boasts. I caught a glimpse of a Big Daddy prowling a glass corridor, another un-identified figure welding a metal strut... there was even a big frigginí whale swimming between these undersea skyscrapers. Imagine what it would be like to live in a place were a whale could swim by your bedroom window. Eventually your trip finishes and you realise the horror youíve stumbled into, as a crazed splicer guts what your would be rescuer.
Of course, the game was amazing, all the more so as I was playing it before most people got their hands on it, so I was experiencing it raw and unfiltered. I played up to Arcadia, so I managed to avoid the big reveal and the final chapters, but I had a sense of how good Bioshock was. That opening will always be something that sticks in my mind about how you open a game: expansive, captivating and enthralling. The beginning of Bioshock is all of these and more.