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AlexMorgaen's blog

9:30 AM on 09.25.2011

TGS: I can't believe it's not TGS!

Keeping up with my trend of relevant irrelevant blogs, I'm going to talk about GAMEfest, a sort of video gamey conventiony type thing that took place in Birmingham, UK, at exactly the same time the Tokyo Game Show opened its doors in the East. Think of it as TGSs' ugly little brother that doesn't get any attention.

GAMEfest is, essentially, a little clubhouse meeting organised by Britain's most innovatively named rip-off merchant, GAME. It allows GAME (I'm not shouting here, they seem to have used allcaps to distinguish themselves) reward card holders to go and try out the demos of several upcoming GAMES (ahem), score a bit of swag, and queue as if your life depended on it. In all fairness to GAME, the line-up was surprisingly impressive. Playable were games such as Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, Saints Row: The Third, Batman: Arkham City, Rage, Dark Souls, Super Mario Land 3D, Mario Kart 3DS, Assassin's Creed: Revalations, and Dragon's Dogma.

So, early on Sunday, I trekked my way up to Birmingham with a couple of friends and got the train to the NEC. On the train, it was immediately obvious that most of the sweaty nerds travelling to GAMEfest had only one thing on their minds: Modern Warfare 3. Call of Duty has an almost messiah-like quality in the UK, to such a degree that half of all gamers literally play nothing else. I was pretty disappointed that half the people there didn't have a clue about any of the other games on offer, but I guess it made the queues shorter for me so I didn't mind. I also had a great laugh at the expense of some shit-for-brained kids who had travelled to Birmingham just to play Modern Warfare 3. Obviously the word "photographic ID" wasn't in their vocabulary.

As soon as we'd lumbered our way into the hall, it was obvious MW3 was the order of the day. A 4 hour long queue of complete morons stretched completely around the massive COD booth. We smirked at them as we joined the second longest queue in the hall, for Skyrim.

-Why lookee here! A real life Elder Scroll!

I don't know what it was about queuing to look at a game, but I was far more bored than waiting in line at a theme park. And don't get me wrong, I'm mad excited about Skyrim. After a good 90 mins, my feet were numb, my shoulder hurt from carrying my bag, and my neck was bent into a permanent upright position after I'd been craning it to watch trailers on a massive screen above the booth.

But finally, a representative from Bethesda came over and led our group into the booth. We sat down eagerly, rabid to hear some new Skyrim news. The lights went down and on came...

...a slightly extended preview of the Skyrim demo that's been circling around Youtube for 3 months. I felt spectacularly trolled, and so did most of the audience who were desperate to see some new footage. Aside from an amazing Prey 2 trailer, it was a massive let-down. It was made even worse by the fact I could see people having a ball on the other side of the room trying out Rage, which was a 2 hour queue all of it's own. Disheartened, we slumped out the back door of the booth ready to try out some other games. At least they gave me an extremely funky Skyrim carrier bag to lug around with me and bash into people with.

The next game I was foaming to see was Silent Hill: Downpour. Despite recent Silent Hill titles getting a harsh deal, I really like the look of Downpour and hope it'll breath some life back into the series. When we got to the Konami board however, there was no sign of it. The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, El Shaddai, and PES 2012 were all there. I went over to one of the clerks and asked him where it was.

"Oh" he said "We pulled it yesterday, because it kept crashing and had so many bugs."

Bloody brilliant. One of my most-anticipated games of the year is so broken it can't actually be shown to the public. Mercifully, Downpour appears to now have a cool 6 month delay until March 2012, so there's still hope, but this isn't exactly great news.

-My hypothetical reaction to Downpour, had it not had characters floating through walls and whatnot

Finally, we could now knuckle down and play some real games, so here's a comprehensive review of all the different demos I tried out over the day.

Dark Souls

Forgive me, because I don't actually know much about Dark Souls, but what I played was pretty good fun. My opinion of it was slightly marred because the complete fucking tosser in front of me thought it would be great to go through the demo again with a small queue forming behind him. Being British, we of course were all too polite to point out he was a complete dickwad. The kid to my left spent about 30 mins creating a character for a sodding 20 minute demo, so I wasn't impressed with him either. I did feel a bit sorry for him though, because one of the COD maniacs starting goading him for "looking at him funny" and told him to "look at the f*cking screen". Just your average Brit COD obsessive.

Oh yeah, the demo. I didn't realise Dark Souls was an open world game, because the demo gave me the complete opposite impression. I was playing through a very linear tower. Then I died. Then I died again fighting this big troll bloke. It was entertaining stuff, but I don't think I was getting the full picture of what the game was really about (and I didn't have my own character, just the guys' before me), so I can't give an accurate review.

The Good:
+ Beautifully challenging
+ Bosses are great
+ Combat is satisfying
+ Shit-tons of customisation is always a plus

The Bad
- Horribly challenging
- I never got past that bloody boss
- You have to wait in line for a snotty little kid to deck out his warrior

Rayman: Origins

Oh good lord, Rayman: Origins. The third game I was dead excited to play, I seized upon the opportunity as soon as I saw it, seeing as there was basically noone lining up for it. The pain and disappointment of Skyrim and Downpour disappeared as soon as I began to play, and within minutes I was smiling so hard the edge of my mouth was touching my eyes.

Rayman: Origins is fantastic, you see. I feel that I can say that with absolute certainty, even at this stage, it's going to be one of my favourite games of the year. Each of the 3 levels I played on was colourful, sweet, and had some kind of devilishly clever mechanic to keep you hooked. The four of us first had to traverse a desert cave while keeping swarms of bats away by punching sonic cymbals, avoid a giant hairy thing that was chasing us through a jungle, and simply gawp at a beautiful forest level that had us travelling down a rushing stream.

There haven't been any 2D platformers on home consoles for donkey's years, so I'm incredibly impressed that Ubisoft have decided to take such a bold gamble with Origins. I was having so much fun, even the little tosspot we were playing with who was intent on trying to kill every other player at every possible moment couldn't ruin it. In the end, my friends also unanimously agreed that it was brilliant stuff. It was a complete shock to have an Xbox game that absolutely demands local 4-player coop, and I can't wait to run through it with my friends, punching each other off cliffs and down pits. Rayman's return is going to be sweet.

The Good:
+ Insanely beautiful artwork and animation
+ 4 player local coop! Hell yes!
+ Large effort to make every level unique and interesting
+ Trolling opportunities by the bundle

The Bad:
- Trolling opportunities by the bundle
- May ruin friendships

Sonic Generations

I don't like Sonic much. It has to be said. I missed out on his golden years, so most of the Sonic games I've encounted are hideously over-done, unplayable garbage with some of the worst casts in game history. Which is why Sonic Generations was such a shock to me.

Possibly the biggest surprise of the show, I found myself enjoying the hell out of Generations. The levels I played involved a massive truck chasing Sonic though a beautifully rendered San Francisco look-a-like. Ridiculously exhilirating, the chase involves you outrunning the truck, jumping on top of the truck, leaping over platforms being destroyed by the truck, hiding from the truck, dodging buzzsaws coming out of the truck, and having penetrative sex swith the truck. Funnily enough, the game could have been complete crap outside of the huge truck. It's amazing how much you can add to a game by throwing in a massive, rampaging vehicle.

In all seriousness though, I think Sonic: Generations is a certified win. The massive, sprawling levels, the ridiculously fast pace, the gorgeous visuals and the tight gameplay combine to create a fantastically fun experience. And this is coming from someone who doesn't even like Sonic particularly.

Word of warning though: I also tried out the 3DS version and it wasn't half as fun. Save for the lack of truck, it was also far too slow-paced, incredibly buggy, and generally difficult to get through. At the very least, it was the first time I played the 3DS and the 3D came through for me. Pick up the console version, though.

The Good:
+ Breathtaking pace
+ Shockingly good level design
+ No sign of the supporting cast

The Bad:
- I still have no idea why Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic have to be two different characters
- Might not be as fun without a massive rampaging truck

Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games

With the exception of the most hilariously over-blown title ever (try saying it as fast as possible), MaSatL2012OG is pretty much business as usual. I played my favourite British Olympic sport, the one where four people ride horses while pulling a cart full of eggs, which they have to balance in order to stop said eggs stop falling out. Intense stuff.

I then tried out the Beach Volleyball aspect, with an intense Robotnik/Metal Sonic vs Daisy/Tails grudge match. It dawned on me that there's very little connectivity (even less than usual, that is) with these mini-games. You barely do anything besides tap a couple of buttons or shake the Wiimote around like you have a mouse-trap latched onto your fingers. This is terribly lacking for people who have played and enjoyed real beach volleyball games, such as Dead or Alive: Mammary Tit Championship, or my personal favourite, Klonoa: Beach Volleyball on PS1, an absolute tour-de-force with no less than 14 endings, the funniest dubbing I've ever heard in a video game, and a character so broken he literally takes up half the court.

But anyway, if there's one thing I did enjoy about MaSatL2012OG, it was seeing my friend Tom sat in a plastic canoe looking terribly embarrased as a booth girl taught him how to row by shaking the Wiimote, while Amy Rose incessantly squealed the same 2 lines with each stroke. It's just a shame plastic canoes won't be included on launch.

The Good:
+ You can pair Dr. Eggman up with Lugi
+ Makes Britain look a lot better than in reality

The Bad:
- It's exactly the same as last time
- Hideous voiceovers

We then went and ate lunch, possibly the most disgusting bacon sandwich I've ever ever had, sat on the dirty floor with an obese man who'd only gone there to play COD. It was possibly the most depressing moment of my whole life.

With that harrowing meal over, we later took a break in the "retro" corner, and I had a quick battle on Pokemon Stadium with Tom. Afterwards, my friend Rory, who is mad keen on Mass Effect, gave in to his desires and joined a 2 hour long queue for a demo of Mass Effect 3. This seemed awfully silly, given that it was a bloody Mass Effect sequel. I could demo it right now by playing ME2 for 10 minutes. Unless Bioware have pulled a spectacular U-turn and made it into a rhythm-action snowboarding game with RPG elements.

None-the-less, Tom and I couldn't give less of a shit about Mass Effect, and headed over to look at some new properties. It was time to try out some...

Dragon's Dogma

We had been queueing for half an hour when I realised that we were in the queue for Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. It was at that point I noticed that there was literally no queue for Dragon's Dogma, one of the biggest games being made in Japan at the moment. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to anything that didn't have a "3" in the name or an instantly recognisable brand. We waltzed into the booth and got to work on it.

And... it's amazing. Seriously. As a huge fan of both Shadow of the Colossus and the Monster Hunter games, this was like a dream come true for me. The first part of the demo involved me and my squawking AI teammates taking on a griffin outside of a ruined castle. After a great little battle that involved taking out some goblins (one move I particularly like is grabbing a wounded goblin and tossing it over your shoulder, like a hessian sack, then casually tossing it into some fire), we were set upon by a massive griffin, that proceeded to tear the shit out of everyone and stamp on me. I counterattacked with a volley of arrows, then proceeded to jump onto the griffin and start stabbing it in the throat. My wizard friend then proceeded to set it on fire while I was still on it, so I death-stared him until I fell off the griffin and climbed back on it again. Make no buts about it, this was all great fun. Controls were very similar to SotC, so it didn't take me long at all to really get stuck in and kick some griffin ass. Perhaps my favourite moment was when I finally killed it, clinging to its burning posterior in mid-air. As it plummeted towards the ground in slow-motion with me clinging to it, I realised that I simply had to get this game.

Then came the next part of the demo. This sees you waddling through a big old dungeon to fight a chimera, perhaps the most hilarious underdog of Greek mythical monsters. To begin, I had to fight several goblins in entertaining hack n' slash gameplay. Disappointingly, I didn't have my bow this time around, but I eventually found some great ways to off goblins, grabbing them and holding them in place so your teammates can easily finish them off. After a bit of trawling, the chimera finally jumped out and started eating some faces.

Thus began another brilliantly engaging fight where I had to kill each seperate head on the chimera, from the snake, to the goat, to the lion. "Beware the goats' magic!" screeched my teammate. I was trying very hard not to laugh. I kept jumping onto the chimera's back and pummelling the goat head jutting out while my teammates quickly diced the snake to ribbons. Finally, after slashing the lions face for a while, the chimera dropped and I sighed a sigh a relief as the demo faded to black. There was still no queue for Dragon's Dogma.

"Shall we go through again?" asked Tom

"Yeah, alright" I said.

So we played through the whole thing again, and it was still just as fun as last time. It was like being part of an exclusive club who had stumbled upon one of the best games in the expo.

Don't get me wrong, there are a few problems with Dragon's Dogma. The dodging controls are poor (RB and A? Seriously?), even next to a game as difficult to control as Monster Hunter. Your teammates never shut the hell up, more than once saying the exact same line at the same time, and the immersion is unneccessarily broken by cutting to slow motion shots of AI characters firing off spells or going in to attack.

The game did occasionally get buggy at points, with the most annoying case being the griffin getting stuck in a ruined castle that I was unable to get to. All I could do was shoot it for 5 minutes until it eventually jumped out and rejoined the battlefield. While the invisible walls were probably only exlusive to the demo, they proved exceptionally annoying in cases, with perfectly flat areas being randomly blocked off.

The pure, unadulterated fun that Dragon's Dogma provides more than makes up for these shortcomings though, and I'm sure that some of these problems will be addressed in the next 6 months.

The Good:
+ Insanely good fun
+ Climbing on monsters is always amazing fun
+ Nice level of interaction with teammates
+ Excellent combat

The Bad:
- I'll set it alight! I'll set it alight! I'll set it alight!
- Dodging is unneccessarily difficult
- Slow-mo cuts were crap in Alan Wake, and they're crap here as well

-Tom's reaction to Dragon's Dogma. This is the most emotion he's ever shown towards a game.

Asura's Wrath:

Asura's Wrath was just as empty as Dragon's Dogma, so we simply jogged around the corner and got to work on it. I can't say that Asura's Wrath came across as a particularly good game, but it did come off as completely and utterly batshit insane. If you've read any previews of it, you know what happens, but in short, Asura gets into a fight with an extremely fat bastard who doesn't like him much. Jabbering about gods and demi-gods and exile and Asura's daughter, the two get into a brawl and Asura naturally kicks his ass along with shouting a lot. Fat man returns, only now as big as a mountain, and I then had to go through a quick-time style event that involved throwing missiles back at him and shooting hadoukens out of my manly palms.

After being catapulted into space, Team Rocket style, fat bastard proceeds to become planet sized and crush Asura with his index finger, which is absolutely brilliant to watch. But that was the problem with Asura's Wrath. It was only fun to watch. From what I played, there's really very little game there at all. It more resembles a ridiculuously cheesy anime brawl. That might not be all bad, depending on your tastes, but it certainly wouldn't convince me to plonk down 40 for it. It is fun though, in a goofy sort of way. Maybe there's a little more game outside of the demo.

The Good:
+ Hilariously over the top
+ Asura is a strangely entertaining character
+ It makes absolutely no sense
+ You get crushed by a middle finger the size of a country

The Bad:
- It's 85% quick-time events
- Overabundance of dialogue can get dull, fast

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster

Of course, this booth was completely abandoned, so we seized the opportunity and got to work on it.

Knowing that this game was made by Double Fine, I could tell that it wouldn't be your average licensed property. Sure enough, it was far too fun for it's own good, and we casually made ourselves look like complete idiots in front of the queue for Arkham City. This was my first time using a Kinect, and I was surprised by how well it worked.

In the demo, we played as Elmo and Cookie Monster respectively, and had to perform dance moves in order to copy this other chap. While I was having great fun making Cookie Monster do rude gestures, the core game itself was also disturbingly fun. If anyone could sell me a game based on Sesame Street for the Kinect, it would be Double Fine of course. Eventually, a family started queueing behind us, so we left them to enjoy it instead. I wish I could have tried out the full thing, but I got a suitably delectible appetiser.

The Good:

+ Not broken at all, unlike some Kinect games
+ Goofy fun
+ I made Cookie Monster mock masturbate

The Bad:

- Friends and family won't look at you quite the same way when they discover you own it

Happy Feet Two

For some absolutely bizarre reason, the booth for Happy Feet Two was completely empty, so we grabbed the controllers and began to play on a TV embedded in a giant cardboard penguin stomach, like some sort of twisted Teletubbies mock-up.

Much like I has suspected, the game was an absolute tour-de-force, and will probably rival Skyrim, Battlefield 3, and MW3 for GOTY. Never before has a game so consistently challenged my perception of gaming as an art form and entertainment format. As my penguin smashed into ice spikes while it slid down a very white hill, I wept as the symbolism finally dawned on me. The game was making a timeless statement about the corruption of innocence, and the obstacles we must all face as we travel through the blank canvas of life.

As we neared the apex of the demo, the bitter truth finally revealed itself, and "Area Failed" flashed across the screen. Weeping bitterly, Tom screamed and smashed his controller through the screen. It was true. Mumble had failed to get down the hill. We left in floods of tears.

The Good:

+ Will induce an incredible range of emotions, from bitter grief to unsurmountable joy
+ Will forever change the way we look at gaming
+ Will contain penguins

The Bad:

- It ends

Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection

I'm not particularly versed in MGS, but I really do enjoy stealth games, so I excitedly hopped onto the platform and started playing. I gave up after about 5 minutes.

It wasn't that I didn't like it. I really enjoyed what I managed to play in fact; it's just that there were absolutely no tutorials or control settings. Anywhere. And MGS has a completely maverick control style, so the most I managed was to constantly throw enemies to the floor. After a few minutes, I worked out how to shoot, but I wanted to pull of some mad stealth moves. Reluctantly, I gave up and went to pursue games I could actually play. I blame Konami.

The Good:

+ It's 3 Metal Gear Solid games I badly want to play, for a cheap price

The Bad:

- How the bloody hell do I play this shit

By this point, Rory had finished his 15 minute Mass Effect demo, and returned to us happily with aching limbs.

Mass Effect 3

"It's good" - Rory

The Good:

+ It's good

The Bad:

- Null

-Rory's GAMEfest, in a nutshell

The day was beginning to draw to a close, so we went around trying to snap up as many demos as possible before the show concluded. Interested in trying out some new 3DS titles, I made my way to the empty 3DS booth and tried out both MarioKart and Super Mario 3D Land. They're both very good, but we both already knew that, didn't we. MarioKart's new draw was that it featured paragliding (wat) and some funky new tracks. I took on one race as Luigi and nearly lapped all the other opponents, but it carried that traditionally fun MK feeling, and I was happy with what I played. The 3D also worked pretty well with it.

Since I basically played Mario Land for under a minute, I have very little to say about it. I will however, say that I liked the wacky new camera angles they've put in this. The fact it seems more of a hybrid between a 3D and 2D mario platformer was also interesting.

Saints Row the Third

What a brilliant way to end the day. Being ID'd for all 18+ booths is incredibly annoying when you're 18 in under 6 months, but we decided to take the risk, seeing as there was basically no queue. Sure enough, we got in scot-free. Inside was my favourite booth of the day, decked out like a bar with leather armchairs everywhere. A booth girl came in, and in a completely sincere tone stated:

"Ok guys, we've got a special weapon for you today. It's called the penetrator. It's a four-foot long dildo."

Everyone sat down, foaming at the mouth to get started. I relaxed in my comfy leather armchair and began the first level of the campaign, while Tom and Rory got stuck into the open-world section. I absolutely loved what I played. My level was a bank robbery that takes place early in the game, where the Saints dress in masks of their own leader, Johnny Gat, and have to deal with Swat teams and machine-gun toting clerks. The whole thing was hysterically funny, and a blast to boot.

I think the point at which the game really came through for me was when I was being lifted through the roof by a helicopter, stood on top of a bank vault. Toting a massive machine gun, I got to work on the numerous SWAT teams dotted around the roof. Purely cathartic, I loved every second of it. Next to me, Tom was running about in green spandex and a purple wig beating people to death with his giant penis of doom. We both unanimously agreed that it was one of the best games of the show, and a beautiful end to the day.

The Good:

+ You can go completely balls-out wild, but you knew that already
+ Hysterically funny
+ Cool enough for underage kidz

The Bad:

- It's not out yet

Satisfied and tuckered out, we left the hall and made our respective ways back home toting gigantic, empty Skyrim bags. Despite the disappointing start to the day, everything got one hell of a lot better once I'd started aiming at more obscure titles, and giving these games a chance to take me by surprise.

Would I go to another GAMEfest? Oh, certainly. But next time, I'm ignoring the Bethesda booth.

My favourite games of the show:

1. Rayman Origins
2. Dragon's Dogma
3. Saints Row the Third/ Sonic Generations

Tom's Favourite

Dragon's Dogma

Rory's Favourite

Mass Effect 3 (lol)

So there we have it. That's a complete, comprehensive list of all the games I managed to get my teeth into at GAMEfest. I realise a lot of this is probably stuff you've read before, in Destructoid previews from 3 months ago, but I'll be happy if you even pulled a couple of new facts or enjoyed hearing a different perspective. Oh, and on the Modern Warfare 3 demo. I managed to see a bit of it in action through a curtain. It was a multiplayer skirmish in a generic desert town. I hope those people enjoyed the massive queue! I don't hate Modern Warfare at all, but it seems hilarious people waited so long for this.

And with that said, I hope to be writing more of these kinds of blogs in future. See you at GAMEfest next year!

-MW3 was happy to remain as inconspicuous as possible   read

5:08 PM on 07.09.2011

Freedom: How Achievements Ruin It

(Disclaimer: Not all of this is about Freedom, but a lot of it neatly ties in to the Monday Musing. This is more focused on how achievements ruin the gaming experience.)

Recently I've been playing Condemned: Criminal Origins, a launch title for the Xbox 360 that combines a dark and gritty detective-thriller atmosphere with community service where you must reduce unemployment levels through casually bumping off the local homeless population, preferably in the most grotesque manner possible. I unashamedly love the game, and have spent several evenings gleefully lobotomising the poor homeless, but there's something irritating me here. Dark thoughts, niggling in the back of the head, poisoning my enjoyment of the game, actively forcing me to do things I don't want to...

No, I'm not about to grab my steel pipe and murder hobos in real life. I'm spending hours looking for bloody birds so I can get achievements.

It's a truly horrible feeling; one that makes me wonder whether I might be addicted to getting pointless collection achievements. Here I am trying to enjoy this amazing game, but I'm spending completely unneccessary amounts of time hunting around corners for tiny bird skeletons. What the fuck is wrong with me?

I don't know if other people have the same problem, but Achievements are starting to ruin my games in that they alter the way I play. If you want to follow your morals when tackling situations in games, you might end up distracted by a 30g Achievement that requires you to always be bad/good. You might end up investing ridiculous amounts of time in a game you don't even enjoy particularly to get Achievements. For weak-minded individuals like myself, it's a massive threat.

So, here are a few examples of the types of Achievements that prove utterly detrimental to games, the lame ducks that are stagnating the industry and used as excessive padding in games.

The Collect-em-up (well, duh)

In Condemned, many of the achievements consist of pointless collection romps where you hunt around in the dark for things. After clearing out a room, I'll often go around scavenging in corners for my precious bird skeletons, taking twice as long as I should do. My mind is often so preoccupied with looking for bloody skeletons that I start to lose focus on the game. The experience isn't ruined, but certainly dented.

And it happens to me all the time. When playing Alan Wake, possibly the most miserable example of a collect-em-up, my mind was in agony as I scoured acres of dark forest looking for some of the many, many collectibles scattered throughout. To put the amount of shit you can pick up into perspective, there's Coffee Flasks (100), Manuscripts (91), Bonus Manuscripts which you can only get on the highest difficulty (15), Secret Chests (30),Can Pyramids (12), Signs (25), TV Shows (14), Radio Shows (11), Hidden Alarm Clocks (10), Cardboard Cut-outs (6), and lastly, Video Games (10).

All in all, that's 11 different sets of collectibles, totalling 324 items that you can collect throughout this 15 hour long, linear game. Every item has its own set of achievements attached. This is an absolutely miserable idea of how to flesh out the experience and add replayability. For the entirity of the game, I was scrabbling around trying to find piles and piles of this shit. In the end, I only managed to get the achievement for collecting all of the TV shows, despite wasting several hours hunting around the levels. While one could argue that Alan expands on collectibles by giving you various extras such as shows to watch and radio broadcats to listen to, I couldn't give less of a fuck about them. I'm only it in for the gamerpoints.

I left Alan Wake cold and bitter. While Condemned is still fun and playable, Alan ended up a dire, dragged-out experience for me.

It seems I'm not the only one who has problems with this. This article expresses the same thoughts

Dishonourable Mentions: Mirror's Edge, The Orange Box, Call of Duty 4, Assassin's Creed, GTA IV

The "Be A Good Boy" Achievement


Morality Achievements are fucking pointless. What's the point of giving a player freedom to make their own choices, then offering them a prize for going down a certain path? Such as is the case with Bioshock, where saving every little sister gets you a meaty 100g for your troubles. Harvesting even a single one will leave you with nothing. The achievement isn't even secret, so you're left with the giant proverbial carrot dangling in front of your dribbling face. Thankfully, I didn't know much about achievements at the time I played Bioshock, so I got it completely by chance. However, I can see it preventing many gamers from taking the evil path.

Bioshock 2 has an even worse morality achievement (Note: Spoilers Ahead). While the carrot is question isn't quite as big or dangly, it's possibly one of the worst moral quandries I've ever seen in a video game. The achievement in question is called "Saviour" and you recieve it for saving every little sister and 3 other specific characters that you meet during the game. The 3 characters are what particularly bother me.

Sparing Grace will make you feel good, no question. She spends so much time scorning and hating you, that refusing to kill her, doing the opposite to what she expects, leaves you with a warm feeling inside. She's humbled, and realises that you aren't the monster you're made out to be. It's a particularly touching moment to see her swallow her pride and begin to treat you as a person, probably one of my favourite moments in the game.

No, the real problem is Gil Alexander. He's gone mad unfortunately, and has been transformed into something that resembles a giant fetus. The glaring fault with this achievement is that saving him is absolutely not what I'd consider the "good" moral choice. Gil has left diaries lying around that contain recordings of him with a sane mind, begging for you to kill him when he's lost his marbles. He lives a pathetic and upsetting existance with very little freedom. Surely killing him is the right option? His insane self thinks otherwise. This is an incredibly complex moral issue, and Bioshock 2 has to be lauded for giving players moral dilemnas such as this. The achievement ruins everything however, removing the freedom to make your own choice and throwing in a choice that the game deems "correct". Suddenly, the problem that was obtuse and complex, isn't. You save him and get your 25g. The premise of a moral grey area is ruined.

Oblivion is a strange variation on this rule. While there's nothing to shuffle you down specific moral paths, this means that you'll often end up with a character who's the most revered Hero in Cyrodill, but also happens to be the head of the Dark Brotherhood and the Gray Fox at the same time. Achievements (and a general lack of boundaries) mean that you'll often just run around doing all the quests you can find, irregardless of whether they're at a complete tangent to your character's normal behaviour or not. This might be nitpicking, but I think this is a little too much freedom. Maybe doing all of one specific guild questline should resrict you from progressing deeply into others. You can't win 'em all.

Another game that tries to bait you into following specific moral paths is Fallout 3. While there are specific achievements for reaching certain levels with each moral set (good, bad, and neutral), weak-willed people are able to cheat by getting one achievement, reloading an old save, changing their morality, then levelling up again. This isn't a huge issue, but if you're trying to take the game seriously, it's a black mark on your character. You'd become a schitzophrenic saint, a guy that helps everyone out before occasionally going on massive killing sprees and then carrying on as usual. Nobody would love Jesus if he randomly went on killing sprees every few months.

But I digress. Enjoy your 30g.

Dishonourable Mentions: Silent Hill: Homecoming, Mass Effect, Mercenaries 2

The "Hardcore" Achievement:

You've beaten the game. You've levelled up quite a bit in multiplayer. You had a fun time doing it, but it's about time to move on. You go to eject the disc from the tray, for the last time.

"Hold on a second, mate" says the game. "There's some achievements you missed out. Surely you want to show your appeciation for the game by getting 100%?"

"Um, ok" You say. "Tell me what to do to get it"

"Well, if you wouldn't mind, you might want to try killing this enemy 100000 times. It'll only take about 200 hours"

Fuck that. There's a difference between making an achievement tough and making an achievement so ludicrously difficult that you'd need to be an unemployed basement dweller with OCD to even find the time neccessary. If you are tempted to go for these, then good luck. I'll be playing something I actually want to.

These kind of achievements detract from the fun not only because you might feel stupid for having such a pathetically tiny gamerscore on a game you've completed, but because it creates a massive inbalance in the scope of achievements. Getting 1000g on a game like King Kong is a little easier than getting 1000g on something like GTA IV or Bayonetta. If the gamerscore I have on a game is indicative of how much I enjoyed it, then King Kong, Silent Hill: Homecoming, and Doritos: Dash of Destruction are fucking masterpieces.

-Become the greatest player in the entire world for a paltry 20g? Cool!

Dishonourable Mentions: Quake 4, GTA IV, Dead Rising, Bayonetta, Guitar Hero III, Gears Of War 2

Honourable Mention: Bullet Witch- For completing the game on the hardest difficulty setting, you get 1g. That's hilarious.

The "Line my Pockets" Achievement:

Achievements aimed at getting you to buy stuff are possibly the most awful bunch of the lot. Cheap, petty money grabbing comes in here; a lot of it through DLC and playing online with friends. Ironically, the company I can most associate with this trait is Valve, the Jesus Christ of the game developing world.

Portal 2 is brilliant; there's no doubt about it. It also has some of the most clever, well-designed achievements ever implemented into a game. However, there is one achievement that strikes me as particularly strange; a really shitty idea for a company as good as Valve.

-Notice the 476 comments.

It's "Professor Portal", a needlessly large achievement that doesn't make any fucking sense. While hiding under a pretence of helpfulness, the idea that you're "helping" a friend play the game, it's actually a useless way to get you to make your friends buy Portal 2. It's for doing the training level, for Christ's sake. You can't train someone to do a bloody training level. Nobody needed to teach you how to do the simplest co-op puzzles. It's inane.

The worst thing is, I bought my best friend a copy of Portal 2 for his birthday and later asked him if he wanted to do the achievement with me. What a fucking dick I am. To make it look like I bought it for him so I could get a sodding achievement is particularly nasty. Neither of us have gold, he said. Oh, don't worry, I said, I'll buy us two 48 hour trial codes.

That's when the penny dropped. I had gone completely insane. I was paying money to get an achievement, a virtual pile of nothing. It was pathetic. I picked up my Xbox and hurled it through the window. It smashed onto the concrete 50 floors below. I was free.

Ok, so not really. But I now wish that achievements didn't exist. They're a lie, a false excuse to keep you hooked for those extra little hours. When playing old games, I realise that it's always about playing for love. You're not constrained by the idea of these tiny little rewards. The real reward is the fun you're having.

I sometimes wonder what I'd make of some of my favourite games if they had achievements, and I'm very glad they don't. Imagine Silent Hill 2, where instead of getting an ending based on very subtle actions throughout the game, you see that one ending has a juicy achievement and go for that instead. You may still enjoy the game, but your freedom has been taken away from you. The ability to go through the game how you saw fit was ruined by that bloody proverbial carrot dangling in front of you.

That's why I think achievements should be outed, a futile statement seeing as they're growing more and more popular. They simply don't gel with games. They exist in their own little plane of reality, not a part of the game but a nagging voice behind it, an alien conscience that seeks to guide you.

You work to achieve. You play for fun.

Achievement Unlocked: You read this article.   read

5:28 PM on 07.04.2011

Window to the World: On (Bad) Camerawork in Games

In my last post I went on a massive ass-kissing rant about games I thought utilised their cameras with a dash of unique and cinematic flair, and bought forward the idea that camerawork in games is far more integral to the experience than one might realise. I earnestly believe that a key factor in making a gaming experience enjoyable is manipulating our "window to the world", giving us distinct and interesting ways to explore and observe the game world. After all, one of the things that separates games from film is our ability to tinker with perspective - a film camera will only allow you to observe what the shot dictates, while a game camera will let you change the scene and focus on everything around you.

In this post, I'm going to take the dickish high ground and pick on some big titles that buggered up the opportunity to make the player perspective more exciting and varied. I'm absolutely not going to include titles that simply have "bad" cameras - ie a game where the camera is difficult to control or gets stuck on scenery. If you want to check out some games that have been famously criticised for their awful cameras, you might want to have a look at Dino Crisis 3 or Epic Mickey. I'm going to focus on the missed opportunities, utter laziness, and experimenation gone wrong. This'll particularly include games that made a conscious effort to be cinematic and involving.

Ok, cynacism time. These are the Camera Zeroes, the games that leave me with a huge chip on my shoulder in the cinematography department.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Before I end up getting flamed, I'd just like to say I absolutely love Oblivion. The camera for the most part part is fine, an unoffensive 1st person view that avoids the plague of cinematic cutscenes and simply allows the player to stumble around and gawp at how lovely the world looks. But I'm fairly certain you know where I'm going with this. Picture it. You've hiked your way through a massive, emerald green forest, hacking down scores of vicious mud-crabs and endangered bears with a giant glass sword. The day is giving in to night, and you can't help but raise a smile as the orange sheen of the sky illuminates a rapidly approaching town in front of you and casts a glow down the bough of the path. The moment is picturesque; a magnificent unscripted scene of tranquility wherein your job is simply to admire the world around you. But hang on a second. What in the flying fuck is that? You've noticed a figure charging blindly towards you, stumbling along the road with what appears to be the world's largest stick up his ass. He pounces on you and the camera is torn from your grasp to zoom in on his stupid face.


You now stand staring into the face of evil, unable to tear your eyes away. A flapping, loosely animated head mumbles the words vaguely in time. You realise that you're going to be looking at a lot of this shit for the next 200 or so hours.

Now, my problem here isn't that you have to engage with other characters in 1st person, as a consistent 1st person view is crucial to the immersion in these games. It's just how awkward and unnatural the whole thing seems. You have all control of the camera snatched away from you, and end up staring directly into the eyes of a complete stranger for the entire duration of the conversation. In my eyes, conversation would be a lot more interesting in the Bethesda games if you simply had a little control during your frequent chats. Freezing the world up and holding you rigidly in position is exactly the sort of thing that detracts from the immersion of the experience. Here's my view on what to do. Don't freeze the bloody world up, and allow the player to at least move the camera around during talks. Instead of standing completely rigid while a similarly rigid Corneilus Deathshit lectures you on how he's about to skewer you, let the player examine their surrounding and the character they're talking to - get a good look at what shoes he's wearing and whether you could plunder them later. When characters have more complex facial animations in the near future, you could zoom on their face and take in all the little details. You could also play the old Half-life 2 chestnut, where characters will ramble their way through a monologue while you get bored and start jumping up and down on the furniture, but that might lead to some very awkward moments in Oblivion if the guy who's about to murder you is trying to get through his speech while you charge off down a corridor.

While subsequent games such as Fallout 3 have marginally improved the conversation system, meaning that characters move around a little more and you can see more of their body, there's still a distinct lack of interactivity going on here. I hope that Skyrim will make some tweaks to the conversation system, and that stopping the world freezing won;t make the game blow up.

Just going off on a whim here, but a really interesting implementation could be the ability to control conversations through your camerawork. It's used to a fairly basic degree in several games such as Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, where you nod or shake your head to answer questions. But imagine a game where, during a particularly lengthly monologue, you turn your head to stare at a wall. The speaker notices this and stops talking, instead berating you on not paying attention to them. You turn back to them and give them a look in the eyes, nodding when they ask you if they can carry on. Stare at a womans honkers during a conversation and she'll give you a slap. Stare at her wedding ring and maybe she'll notice and start talking about her marriage. The possiblities are endless with this, so you'd better not use it because I copyright it and it's mine so bugger off.

But going to back to Oblivion for some more bone-picking. I've always enjoyed creating my own character bit by bit, but after that's all done, you never actually see the poor bastard in action. This isn't all that bad in Oblivion, since you can bring up the inventory and see your glorious creation bobbing on the right, but it's particularly bad in Fallout 3, where the only time you can physically see yourself is during a VATS sequence, and even then it's rare. This presents a major problem in terms of camerawork, because I personally was particularly upset that I could never see my squat, Chinese, pink haired, handlebar-moustachioed gentlemen in his top hat. I know it's great to project yourself onto this blank slate and you are the character and all that, but sometimes we actually pop outside our little bubble of self-indulgent narcissism and want to see the lovely little green-haired Rolf Harris lookalike we've been working on for the last few hours.

This problem could easily be solved if the fucking 3rd person view worked on these games. Instead of being able to turn the camera around a bit, you're left staring at the back of your head for the whole time. If I was able to deliver this in a more verbose manner, I could closely examine the psychological trappings of never being able to look upon your own face, but I've been ranting on about Oblivion for way too long so let's move on, shall we?

Fahrenheit PS2, 2004

Is that a door or a picture? What the hell is in that cupboard? Thanks, Fahrenheit.

Ironic really. Just a few days earlier Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy to yanks) wouldn't have even been on this list. But I've been playing through it and while I can't quite decide if I like it or not, I have to admit it's got a fucking awful idea of what makes a cinematic camera. While it could be viewed as being very similar to the excellent Silent Hill camera, it's implemented so sloppily here that it comes across as the complete polar opposite. It's a shame really, because I like those good old bird's eye views that give you a nice way to survey the scene.

While I was initially fairly neutral towards Fahrenheit's camera, seeing it as a mildly irritating distraction that makes character navigation slightly more difficult than usual, I really started to grit my teeth during an incredibly poorly designed sequence wherein main pricktagonist Lucas Kane has to hide some bloody tissues from an impatient police officer waiting outside his apartment. This is where the game actually required me to do a little running around inside a rather cramped apartment, and of course the whole experience goes completely to shit. While you run around from door to door, the camera throws an absolute shit-fit and races between corners like a hyperactive child. The apartment is so cluttered with pillars and furniture that it becomes impossible to tell where you're going. You're supposed to find a bloody cloth and grab it off the floor, but the camera conveniently places itself where the cloth is obscured by a bloody great pillar. I didn't even realise it was there until the cop spotted it and ordered me away to prison to pick up the soap. The constant camera changes leave you incredibly disorientated and cause your character to run around in all sorts of random directions. Maybe the designers realised this, as there is actually a button to change camera angles, but this just proves to be even worse as a tap of R1 will send the camera to an even more inconvenient location. In the end, it's a horrible game of trial-and-error where you stumble blindly around the apartment. Add to it that your timer is incredibly short and you can solve the problem in a way completely devoid of logic, and I can never look at Fahrenheit the same way again.

Rest assured, David Cage doesn't rank too highly on my list of favourite game designers. If you're reading this David, making yourself a character in your own game is incredibly narcisstic and green space fleas do not make a compelling narrative.

Mass Effect Xbox 360, 2007

I hope you made a pretty Shepard, because you're going to be seeing this a lot in the next 30 hours.

Trolling you again here, but I think that Mass Effect deserves special mention on this, at least for the somewhat awkward conversation system. While it's a damn sight better than Oblivion's horrible frigid close-up faces of doom, there's still a grinning fundamental problem here that plagues lengthy conversation sequences: Shit-loads of dialogue, and nothing happening on-screen.

If I'm going to be talking to an alien for upwards of half an hour, hearing about his home-world and his customs and his tastes and his favourite types of jam, I'd at least like something bloody interesting on-screen to go with it. We weren't all raised on radio serials here (no offence to people who enjoy radio serials). When someone waxes lyrical about shit I don't care about, I often find my eyes drawn to something more interesting, like a pigeon or some adverts or Cthulhu rising from the briny deep. Mass Effect very rarely has anything interesting to look at during conversations. The camera focuses on Shepard's flapping fizzog droning its way through dialogue, before neatly cutting to a close-up of a random support character who also delivers their lines with all the enthusiasm of a cadaver. It doesn't help that much of what you can look at beyond the characters is just grey corridor. Oblivion can get away with this because dialogue sequences very rarely stretch beyond 2 minutes, but Mass Effect will have you doing this for a sizeable chunk of its 30 or so hours. Introduce some more varied camera work, guys! Having the camera do some more cut-aways, pans, and zooms would help. And include shots that feature all of the characters talking, for christ's sake. Sometimes it feels like they're all sat in completely different rooms mumbling to themselves.

If all that fails, take into account what I suggested earlier. Program random pigeon encounters, where at infrequent moments Shepard will catch sight of a pigeon having a fight with another pigeon. The speech in the background becomes less and less audible as Shepard is transfixed by the blur of wings and feathers. Eventually, the speech disappears into the background and we are left with a single shot of the two pigeons jumping at each other. What are they fighting over? A piece of bread perhaps? A mate? Choosing the Renegade option makes Shepard decide that the pigeons are fighting for the hell of it, because they're bastards. This idea would greatly improve the game and make some of the conversations far less tedious.

Or you take the obvious option and make the characters actually fucking move around a bit.

Alone In The Dark Xbox 360, 2008

I actually quite like Alone In The Dark, in a bizarre sort of way. Sure, it's horribly designed and the experimentation is awkward and it sounds like it was written by a team of 10 year olds who've only just learnt about the word "fuck", but there's some really unique ideas and dramatic moments at play. However, throughout the game I found myself in conflict with the frequently changing 1st-3rd person viewpoint. I've discussed where this does work (ie Silent Hill 4), but most of the time it's a pretty dubious design decision, something that highlights a bout of schitzophrenia in games. Nowhere is it more frequent than in Alone In The Dark, where certain items and actions have to be done from different viewpoints. This doesn't work well in practice. Having to switch from 1st - 3rd person simply to throw a bomb is dull and changing to 1st person to use a gun becomes steadily more tiring as you progress through the game. To make things even worse, 1st person control is far superior to 3rd person, so most of the time you'll find yourself being dragged away from your precious shooter view to suffer the wrath of the awkward tank controls and melee system.

While I'm all for a little experimentation, simply throwing in random camera views just won't cut it. That said, the switch might actually be ok if it didn't take so long to change items. An over-the-shoulder view would have probably sufficed for Alone In The Dark.

I only own the Xbox edition, and have heard that the PS3 version has a far more superior 3rd person control system. If only they'd fix the fucking terrible fucking script, then the fucking game might fucking be fucking actually fucking worth it.

So there's my boring rant on how to use cameras efficiently in games. While a dodgy camera isn't crucial to a game, and I certainly don't think games should be panned simply for having bad cameras, a sloppy camera can mar really good games and demonstrate a slightly lackadaisical approach to presentation.

Appeciate your cameras, kids. You wouldn't be looking at anything otherwise.

Next week I'll probably be talking about Achievements or Time or some boring shit.   read

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