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.
[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.
So after an initial run through of the fairly average Severed DLC for Dead Space 2, I thought to myself ďYeah, Iím going to try this on the Zealot difficultyĒ (Zealot being one harder than normal). Wow, that was a mistake; Severed is composed of two chapters that donít really test you too much on Normal difficulty, but I found myself repeatedly dying at the encounter with multiple enemies. With my tail tucked between my legs, I restarted Servered on easy purely to get some achievements, but the initial failure stuck with me. Iíve been playing videogames for at least two thirds of my life by now, so why am I still not actually good at them?
Now thereís many ways that you can judge your skills at videogames; you can look at how long it takes you to complete a game; compare gamerscore and achievements/trophies; are you top of the table in mulitplayer matches; do you always have to ramp up the difficulty level in games? Looking at all of these, I think itís clear that Iím not actually very good at videogames. I lack certain skills and personality traits that I feel have stopped me from being able to challenge myself to be better, but why?
Frustration is the main one for a few reasons: back in the day, when there was no internet and I couldnít get a gaming magazine to look at the cheat section, if I got stuck at part of a game, I was stuck there forever. I know Iím not the sharpest tool in the box and my puzzle skills are woeful (look at my progress in the first Professor Layton game and weep), so when a game poses me a mental challenge that I canít overcome, I bail. I just leave the game and move onto something else. Itís not just mental challenges; with a lot of skill based game, there comes a point where I feel Iíve done all I can to overcome a challenge but I still canít get over that hurdle. Iím thinking about games like Jet Set Radio or skate, both of which I enjoyed, but games where I seemed to be continually banging my head against a glass ceiling. There were just bits that I couldnít get past no matter how many times I tried, no matter how often I simply put the game away and came back to it at a later date, I just couldnít finish them off.
My fondness for certain genres is also a problem. To be honest, I pretty much play shooter/RPG hybrids (Deus Ex, Mass Effect, Fallout 3 etc etc) and various adventure games (Portal, Assassinís Creed, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dead Space etc etc). Not the widest variety Iím sure youíll agree. Okay, I do dip into other genres, like the recent Telltale adventure games and the downloadable Double Fine games), but I donít touch either sports or fighting games, RTS or JRPGs or any MMOs. Playing these specific genres is no way to gain general gaming skills. Now that I think about it, surely playing games like Starcraft 2, Super Meat Boy or Lost Odyssey would help me become more proficient at micro-management, speed up my reactions and give me a better tactical mindset?
The thing is, Iím not even that good at the games I do play. Iíll normally a game on Normal, but Iíll rarely bump the difficulty up. Surely I could at least bump up the difficulty up in some of the games Iím at least fairly proficient in. I think in my mind, the difficulty level is tied to progress; why make things (artificially) harder for myself and limit my chances of progression and actually finishing the game? But surely playing at a harder difficulty would benefit me? I mean, I would appreciate the challenge and finishing a game on a harder difficulty would be an achievement worth savouring.
So whatís the answer? How do I (at least in my own mind) become a better gamer? As far as I can see, thereís three options?
1. Man the fuck up and finish the games you canít complete. I mean, other people can finish them right, so why shouldnít I? If I get to a point where I canít seem to progress, I need to just keep trying and trying until I through it.
2. Play a more diverse range of games: it canít hurt., can it? I mean I bought Chrono Trigger and The World Ends With You but have hardly touched them because Iím not a fan of JRPGs. I need to bite the bullet and play them and play them and play them all the way through.
3. Pick some games and get good at them: as I mentioned, Iím not actually that good at the games I do play, so I feel I need to pick a title and get really good at it. I was semi-decent at Team Fortress 2 for a while, coming on top of the charts for a few matches on the servers I played on. But as with life, no matter how good you get, thereís always plenty of people who are far better than you. So hereís my goal; get an awesome new PC rig this year, get Battlefield 3 when it comes out and commit to the multiplayer. I want to get really good at it, not at the sake of playing single player games
So guys and gals, what díyou think? Are there things I could be doing to help me become a better gamer?
So this year, Iíve decided to make a concentrated effort to play more games and significantly reduce my backlog of games. Now moving from Australia back to Scotland has meant that my X-box 360 collection has shrunk to a total of two games. However, my Steam collection is of course still intact and frankly fucking huge. Some loose spending during the annual sales has left me with a frankly overwhelming backlog of games, some of which have never been touched. So, after a fairly decent start Iíve decided to outline some tips that are helping me beat my backlog. This isnít ďAli Dís guide to how you should all play gamesĒ but just ideas that I find are helping me play, enjoy and finish titles that Iíve bought.
1. Stick to normal
Beating my backlog has been about finishing games, not about setting myself an unreasonable challenge. Iím not very good at videogames, so jumping into a game on hard mode or higher is setting myself up for frustration and failure. Iím not suggesting that everyone do that, if youíre good at a genre of game like FPS or action games, then going straight into hard probably isnít going to trouble you. Some games will also let you bump the difficulty up mid-game, so if a game is insultingly easy to you, then thereís no reason not to give yourself a challenge.
The bottom line here is getting games completed; thereís nothing to stop you going back and playing the game again on a harder setting. No oneís gonna be all over you, claiming the validity of you only finishing a game on normal. And if they are, theyíre a dick.
2. Know your weaknesses
As I said above, Iím not good at videogames but thereís games that I just suck at. As such, Iím not going to play them. As happy as I am to see Marvel Vs Capcom 3 come out, Iím gonna suck at it. Iím gonna have my ass handed to me by that game so hard, I wouldnít be able to sit down. So Iím gonna give it a miss. Now, thereís reasons why I would buy it, like if I had friends and they would come round to my place, MvC3 would be a great game to bust out and have some fun with. Same with things like Rock Band, NBA Jam or You Donít Know Jack, but they wouldnít necessarily be Backlog games; theyíd be actual social games, titles you play when youíve got friends round.
So as much as Iíd like to be an all round gamer and play all the acclaimed titles that come out, I know that thereís some Iím just going to suck at and not complete and as such, Iím gonna have to give them a miss.
3. Resist temptation
The reason Iíve got such a big backlog can be attributed to one thing: Steam Sales. As a Scotsman, the idea of being tight with my money is bred into me, but stepping back for a moment, surely spending money on games I donít play is stupid. So from here on in, Iím resisting Steam sales. This week, thereís been a Square Enix daily sale, with a new game on offer each day. These titles have looked pretty appealing, but Iíve not bought any; with my bank account the way it is, spending £5 on Just Cause 2, no matter the quality of the game, would be stupid if Iím not going to get around to playing it. The thing with Steam is that the titles arenít going to disappear and you know that these games are gonna go on special offer at some point, reduced to some crazy price. Hold on until your backlog is less imposing, then make the jump.
Also, take care with pre-orders and special offers; I know Iíve bought plenty of games because itís looked interesting and I can save a few quid if I purchase beforehand. Madness. Wait until itís out, check reviews and ask yourself are you really going to play this game. TF2 hats and pre-order savings be dammed. Something else that Iíve found helpful with Steam is that Iím not installing all the games I have; that just leads to too many distractions. Right now, Iím using my parentís Mac to play a few games, but Iíve only installed the ones that Iím actually going to play. Having a library of over 100 games a click away, doesnít help me focus on the task at hand.
4. Donít ignore your favourites
For all the catching up I intend to do from previous years titles, thereís a load of games coming out this year that Iím really pumped for: Portal 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mass Effect 3, LA Noire, Batman: Arkham City.... the list of AAA titles that Iím anxiously awaiting is pretty big and to be honest, Iím snapping those games up on launch day. Surely this is anathema to the idea of clearing your backlog, but ignoring the prize picks of the videogaming year isnít a fun option.
Yes, get the games that youíre excited about, but work them into your schedule. Find out the release date and use that as a deadline to finish a title on your backlog. We all know that the middle of the year is a dry period in the run-up to the usual October madness, so use this time as your attack on your Backlog. And when you do buy your earely anticipated, AAA title, then actually finish it. You know if itís good youíll return again.
5. Trim the fat
Looking at my backlog, I realised that thereís lot of games I just donít want to play. Thereís some loose purchases, gifts from well meaning friends (I had someone gift me two games and said ďIíve never really played these, so they might be crapĒ), games that held promise but never delivered...
Well, Iím striking them from the list. Itís harsh, but I probably donít need God knows how many indie puzzle games on my list, taunting my lack of intellect with their uncompleted status. Iím sticking to games with a story or at least an ending, so that I can get a sense of closure when I play them. I will come back to these puzzle games, but theyíre not what Iím looking to finish here. Same with gifted titles; my friends and I rather awkwardly gifted each other titles for Christmas and birthdays without really thinking about whether we would all like them or not.
Bottom line again is, if youíre never really going to give a videogame a proper go, then strike it from the list. At lest for now...
6. Forget multiplayer
It might be hard, but Iíve shaken my Team Fortress 2 addiction. Ok, it took moving to a different country without access to my favourite servers and *cough*...... no actual PC to play on, but Iím not starting up again. Not for casual play anyway, there will be no more popping on for an hour and watching an entire night disappear. This too might alter what youíre going to buy, as playing a Call Of Duty game just for the single player doesnít seem like good value.
However, donít overlook the social aspects; jumping into a regular Friday Night Fight session with your Dtoid buddies is always fun and itís something I feel I should be making more time for. But donít let it stop your momentum in finishing your single player games.
So there we go, hereís the ideas that Iím trying to stick with to finish more games. Iím using my Backoggery as a tool to mark down my progress. Iím also using a list on my Giant Bomb profile to show what Iíve completed so far. In 2010 I only played 10 games to completetion. In 2011 so far, Iím up to 6. Iím setting myself a target of playing and finishing at least 20 titles this year and reducing my Backlog of uncompleted games from 64 % to around 50%. Now bear in mind, I donít have an actual PC to play titles on, but Iím hoping to remedy that soon. Wish me luck, and remember, weíre all counting on you.
It takes something special for me to return to a game; considering I actually finish so few of them, having a game I will play more than once is actually a rarity. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a game Iíve completed on numerous occasions, so returning to it always brings back welcome experience. But why Vice City and not the other games that Iíve managed to finish. Why not Half Life, Grim Fandango, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Thief: Deadly Shadows? These are all great games and certainly titles that Iíve returned to on more than one occasion, but Vice City is always my go-to title.
I know with a lot of people, there is an element of re-discovery with their Groundhog Day title, an idea that thereís still more to discover about the game, whether itís exploring more of the gameís world and levels or whether itís new mechanics, classes or skills to use. With me and Vice City, thatís not the case. I practically know almost every inch of that game off by heart. My usual compulsion in any open world game is to explore and get familiar with the area. With Vice City, as long as youíre careful with the cops, youíre free to explore at least the first island straight off the bat with no hassles and eventually, the second one too. So at least by my third playthrough, I was almost totally familiar with Vice City, all itís areas and almost all of itís secrets. Returning to the game now, thereís a sense of coming back home or visiting a favourite holiday destination.
Itís not just the Vice City, the place itself thatís familiar to me, the whole structure of the game feels second nature by me. What I like is that taking down diminutive, drug-lord Diaz is only the mid point in the game; after that Vice City opens up and thereís the opportunity to build up Tommyís criminal empire by buying businesses and then completing the jobs needed to have them generate cashflow. Iíve even got my preferred order of purchasing properties; do the Boat yard and then the Ice-cream delivery company first, as the have a single, simple mission to do. Leave the print works and the bank job until last, as theyíre the hardest ones. Oh, and leave the Cuban and Haitian missions alone until youíve got most of the game complete; having pissed of Haitian gangsters indiscriminately shooting at you, makes it harder to deliver those drugs from your ice-cream truck.
Then thereís the optional stuff; personally I like to get the 100 taxi missions done and the pizza deliveries done first up. That way youíll have 150 health and taxi hydraulics, which make the taxis a great getaway vehicle. As soon as the rest of the island opens up, I collect the rest of the hidden packages so I always have a chopper at my disposal and plenty of weapons at hand.So I know the game world and I know all the best ways to play so that the game isnít really a challenge, so why come back to it all the time?
For me, GTA: Vice City is the videogaming equivalent of comfort food; itís like a baked potato with chilli, or a big bacon sandwich. Itís a simple pleasure that Iíve had many times in my life, but itís always good, no matter when or where. Despite all my hours of playing it, Vice City is still a lengthy game, I donít just blaze through it in a matter of hours and I even still watch all the cutscenes. And Vice City is just a place I love spending time in; Iíve said it before but bombing down the strip on a superbike, past all the neon lights, with ďCarsĒ by Gary Numan on the radio, is one of gamingís simple joys for me. Thereís even some sly Scottish humour slipped in by developer Rockstar, whether itís the drummer from Love Fist wearing a kilt and an Argentina top to the parody of Gap being called Gash.
GTA: Vice City is as familiar and comforting as coming home after a long vacation. At a time in my life, where my actually ability to finish a game has become almost laughable and my attention wanders as much as a hyperactive 6 year old at Disney Land, Vice City always pulls me in. Despite being less than a decade old, time has not aged it: like my other constants in life, like The Big Lebowski or DJ Shadowís Endtroducing, it still manages to be fresh and hold up after repeated playthroughs, Vice Cityís sunny mix of hazy nostalgia and familiar gameplay will always keep me coming back.