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Lord Death of Murder Mountain's blog

3:19 PM on 05.20.2011

Who finds Mileena sexy, anyway?

Recent comments made by Howard Stern, an American radio host and prominent ‘shock jock‘, provoked anger in me. I realise how idiotic that sounds -- ’shock jocks’, after all, are apparently dedicated to provoking anger and resentment. However, the self-appointed ‘King of all Media’ irritated me by plumbing the depths of comedy by targeting a minority for the pleasure of the listening majority or, at least, for his own personal amusement.

Ozzie Osbourne?

The piece features the Stern show’s correspondent, ‘Wolfie’, visiting the TooManyGames festival to interview attendees. Now, guys, here’s the funny part: while Wolfie is interviewing these gamers -- presumably to provide Stern with enough ammunition to later shoot these gamers in the face on-air -- Howard and his sidekick, Robin (yup) are relaxing at the studio deriding these gamers for daring to have a hobby. Hilarity ensues, if that set-up hasn’t tickled your funny bone.

It is fairly obvious that Stern is of the opinion that, if you aren’t working and you aren’t earning money, you are a mere waste of space; a non-entity masquerading as a functioning member of society. From what I picked up, Mr. Stern genuinely believes that a man who isn’t working fervently on his career is half a man.

It can’t be denied that some of the gamers present at this festival need to switch off their monitors and venture outdoors for a while. The gamer interviewed admitted that he had no hobbies other than playing games and sleeping; he freely admitted -- on-air, to a man he had just met -- that he had masturbated to Mortal Kombat’s Mileena: the one with the messed-up face. However, Stern was in no rush to admit that not every gamer present at this festival was prone to a little imagined fun between the sheets with Crazy Tooth-Face Woman.

Attracted to Mileena? Seek help, daylight

As I have said, it seems that Stern is a man who believes that those who are not actively pursuing a career are instead simply wasting precious oxygen. I feel that he is one of those terrifying people who talk of ‘careers‘ in hushed, reverent tones; the sort of person who spends his life chasing after a career; the sort of man who climbs the last rung of the ladder, hauls himself up the top and wonders what he‘s going to do next. The sort of man who, inevitably, turns to golf in order to fill those numerous waking hours before the blessed relief of unconsciousness arrives. But do you know what, kids? Here’s where it gets controversial, and here’s where I need your attention to answer one killer question:

Does it all matter in the end?

Allow me to clarify. I have been of the opinion now, for a number of years, that -- in the end -- nothing really matters. Our lives are short; our time is running out. Soon, Stern, your number will be called and the career which you value so highly will mean nothing. This rule is, sadly, universal. In the end, it won’t mean squat; not really. Nothing does. Nothing will. Our time here is limited, and it seems that many -- including Stern -- are merely on the quest for personal success no matter what the cost. Happiness, at most, appears to be a secondary objective for these people.

I believe that happiness is reflected in the twinkling eye of the beholder, and I believe that happiness should be actively pursued. Happiness, in my opinion, should be a life goal. If, say, collecting teaspoons makes you happy, then venture forth and collect teaspoons. If gaming makes you happy, go forth, my wayward son, and play games. If the pursuit of a career makes you happy, then head out into the job market and join the fray. Different things -- different pursuits, activities, goals, achievements -- make different people happy. It cannot be argued that there is only one true route to happiness. We humans are an odd bunch, and it is certainly true that a varied assortment of odd things make us happy. For some, it’s puppies. For others, kittens. For Occams, dammit, it’s friggin’ religious art.

I suppose that I should perhaps attempt to relate this blog back to gaming again. I enjoy ruminating, pondering and wallowing in deep pools of thoughts but, as you may be able to tell, I’m often swept out of my depth and drowned. I can ponder any aspect of modern life, but I inevitably end up confused and chasing my own tail when it comes to philosophical matters.

I digress. I suppose I can put my thoughts into one neat little question: why is spending one’s life blissfully immersed in the worlds developers have been paid to craft for us less acceptable than climbing the corporate ladder in this dirty, grey, unjust, corrupt, often imperfect world we live in? It seems that money is the motivation. Money is the blood of life; perhaps it is more important than the blood which runs through our veins. Money, it seems, equals happiness.

Meh. The longer I continue this argument, the less convincing it is -- to me, anyway. I began with a famous American ‘shock jock’, progressed on to a man attracted to Mileena, and ended with a philosophical rant which almost fell over the edge into a one-sided debate on existentialism.

As you may be able to tell, my little mind is swelling with philosophical quandaries which threaten to penetrate the pink-ish outer layer of my brain and shoot out through my skull. I’m too young for all of this; too confused; too conflicted to be addressing such questions.

I may be repeating myself, but all I know from my experience on this earth is that there is no single route to happiness. There are a variety of different trails, each a wonderful journey in its own right if people would only stop and enjoy the variety of distractions dotted along the way.

Happiness is personal; happiness is what you make of it.   read

4:07 PM on 05.14.2011

Gordon Freeman: should The One Free Man be given a voice?

Gordon Freeman is the working man’s theoretical physicist. Despite spending more time caving in the skulls of aliens/military forces/Combine than bending the laws of physics, Freeman is evidently a genius despite appearing to be almost entirely mute.

Freeman has cemented himself in the minds of many gamers as one of the most memorable protagonists of all time. He has starred in two games and two follow-on episodic releases, featured in two spin-off games and his name is inextricably linked with one of the best developers currently active in the field, Valve. His name and image has cropped up in memes, fan fiction, fan art and Freeman is revered by gamers worldwide.

Fan art. It exists

Despite being an internationally-recognised, well-rounded protagonist, I believe that Valve could go further with their development and perhaps lend Freeman a voice. His silent demeanour is often disconcerting and his apparent refusal/disability to speak to his comrades in the Half-Life games seems a rather odd quirk of personality.

Gordon Freeman IRL

As I am currently ‘sitting on the fence’ concerning the subject, I have compiled a list of reasons why Gordon Freeman should finally be given a voice, and a list of reasons why Gordon Freeman should stay silent.


Throughout the course of the Half-Life games, Gordon Freeman constantly faces great danger in the form of his numerous adversaries and has to struggle to survive in life-threatening situations. Aliens from the planet Xen; the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit; the Combine -- Gordon Freeman is a man with a lot of enemies. Despite the dangerous situations our favourite theoretical physicist often finds himself in the middle of, he never even pauses to acknowledge a particularly nasty bullet wound or bemoan the presence of yet another wave of Combine forces. It seems odd that this should be so.

Gordon Freeman’s flirtatious relationship with Alyx Vance is a constant theme in Half-Life 2 and its episodic releases. Despite the fact that Freeman has never uttered a word to her, Alyx nonetheless seems to be attracted to Gordon. It seems odd that Gordon appears to constantly snub Alyx, yet she continues to pursue him. Valve could expand on Freeman’s relationship with Alyx by lending Freeman a voice.

Gordon Freeman is constantly harangued by the enigmatic G-Man, a mysterious figure who seems to be neither friend or foe. It seems odd that Freeman never engages in discussion with G-Man or questions his existence. Part of G-Man’s enigmatic demeanour is supported by his maddening tendency to drop vague hints and issue statements which seem to encourage questioning. Gordon Freeman never seems to probe G-Man for answers or attempt to make sense of his odd turns of phrase.


A large part of Gordon Freeman’s allure lies within his reluctance to employ his vocal cords. As a result, his character does not impose upon the player and does not interrupt the action. The player is free to imprint his/her own personality on to Gordon Freeman’s template.

Many protagonists are guilty of issuing idiotic statements and drawing the ire of the player. Gordon Freeman has never irritated me in such a way. If Valve were to lend Freeman a voice, the studio would truly run on a knife edge and perhaps provoke unrest amongst Half-Life fans.

And, as we all know, irate Valve fans are not to be messed with

Gordon Freeman has remained silent throughout the course of two games, two episodic releases and a further two spin-off games in which he is featured, albeit briefly. If he were to suddenly begin speaking in the next inevitable Half-Life instalment, his newly-found conversation abilities would undoubtedly raise questions amongst Half-Life fans and Valve would also be obligated to explain his new, talkative nature, which would require the full attention of the studio’s best writers.


In conclusion, I hope I have outlined fairly three arguments as to why Gordon Freeman should be given a voice and three arguments as to why he should not. My FOR arguments pertained to Gordon Freeman’s inexplicable reluctance to communicate and express himself in situations of great danger whilst my AGAINST arguments pertained to the logistical problems which Valve would face. It is up to you, dear reader, to pick a side. Choose wisely.

This was once an awesome Gabe Newell GIF. It is no longer   read

9:44 AM on 05.03.2011


For five days of the week, I go to school. There, I study with quiet dedication, stopping occasionally to participate in some light-hearted banter. After school, I go home. I haunt the internet and I play games. At some point, I realise that it is getting late. I switch off my laptop and my 360 and I go to bed. For five days a week, this is everyday life. It is my existence.

On the weekend, I invariably venture into the outside world with my girlfriend. A fun day is had by both of us. We wander slowly around the small town in which I live, and perhaps lie down by the river for a few hours when the sun is shining. Occasionally, on the following day or the day preceding my weekly excursion, I visit my closest friends. We talk about games, gaming and the gaming industry in general. We venture down to the local park and stuff ourselves on cheap food. This is my week.

Seriously... this is the best store ever

I love my life. I really do. I am a very happy teenager. However, I have always -- since early childhood -- felt that my life is a little too mundane for my liking. It was, perhaps, inevitable that I should become a ‘gamer’. I was often driven indoors by bad weather. I was somewhat socially isolated as a younger child. It was only a matter of time before I joined the fray.

Gaming is my form of escapism, a double life which leads me away from the often stressful events of daily life. When I pick up my controller, I am no longer a fifteen year-old boy worried about looming deadlines and approaching exams, I am Gordon Freeman. I don’t have time to worry about that English essay or array of tricky History questions, I’m too busy slaughtering Combine and playing it cool with Alyx Vance!

It’s not cool. It is, perhaps, a little pathetic. However, it helps me get through the week. My obstacles in life are mundane and, in the scheme of things (God, how that phrase haunts me), small. Perhaps it is the futility of my life which frustrates me -- the fact that my hardships are not epic foes worthy of an able opponent, but problems which I will laugh at in ten years time. Problems which, in my twilight years, I will be unlikely to even remember.

Instead of embracing my own issues, I embrace the issues of fictional characters. These characters -- and the issues which plague them -- become real in my mind. I deal with their problems and save them from sticky situations and, in return, these characters -- their problems and their plotlines -- fuel my imagination. My imagination, in turn, fuels my writing. Without gaming, I would not be able to imagine; I would not be able to write. My mind would turn fully to the petty little obstacles of life. My mind, in short, would begin to limit itself. It would begin to… shut down, to neglect my wild imagination and become lost in the little things. I would have to deal with reality.



Also... YES! (giggity)

As I’ve said, I begin to visualise these fictional characters as real people. Their lives are inextricably linked with my own. I can tap into their existence at any time. When I’m sitting in an overheated classroom, pretending to listen to a dusty old maiden rant on about an impossibly mind-numbing subject, I’m thinking about tackling those infernal Taken who insist on plaguing Alan Wake. I’m weighing up the pros and cons of detonating Megaton’s dormant bomb. I’m daydreaming. My imagination isn‘t bouncing around the classroom, it‘s exploring fictional worlds expertly crafted by the magicians we mere mortals refer to as developers.

I feel that my point is a little vague. I feel that I’m slowly descending into a bout of incessant whining. I began by explaining how happy I am and ended by detailing the relentless boredom I frequently face. I hope that I’m not whining. I hope that I’ve explained why I’m such an avid gamer. I hope that I have provided you with an insight as to what it’s like living the life of a perpetually bored teenager. I hope that this post will resonate with somebody out there, and I hope that that someone will recognise the crushing boredom of a middle-class childhood; the constant need for escape from mind-numbing reality.


12:14 PM on 04.27.2011

The beginning of a game is its highest point

Before you stretches infinity, your view of the horizon only interrupted by the jagged black skeletons of ruined skyscrapers in the distance, and the swirling dust blown about by the rattling wind which roams the Capital Wasteland. You are free; your liberty restricted only by your lack of experience and ingrained fear of the unknown.

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life

The above is a brief, albeit flowery, description of my impressions after emerging into Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland from the metal tomb of Vault 101. I felt isolated, alone, but I also felt liberated. Before me stretched, effectively, infinity -- the steel confines of the Vault were to become nothing but a memory of the distant past.

However, this article does not concern Bethesda’s Fallout 3 -- I’m merely employing the Lone Wanderer’s escape from Vault 101 as an example to illustrate my point. My point is simple, and it is this: the beginning of a game is, arguably, its highest point.

Developers realise that they only have a short window of time in which to hook the player’s attention. A lot of stock is set on the beginning of a game -- in a timespan stretching perhaps, at most, half an hour, developers must set a scene, introduce the player to the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) of their game and, above all, immerse the player.

I don’t agree that players should set stock on the quality of a game’s introductory sequences. However, in my experience, a brilliant beginning signifies a brilliant game. Oblivion overwhelmed the player with freedom after a daring escape from the sewers of the Imperial dungeons. BioShock showcased the fantastically lavish city of Rapture in fittingly cinematic style. Oblivion and BioShock, I should mention, are regarded as two of the best games of this generation.

The exhilarative effect experienced by the player at the beginning of the game is amplified tenfold when the game in question is open-world. The unknown lies before the player, populated by the who-knows-what and the what-knows-what. There is simply nothing more exhilarating than the promise of a vast, unexplored landscape. The impression that, out there, lies the unknown is intoxicating; the aura of mystery is, sadly, an obscuring fog which fades as plot lines are followed, locations are discovered and enemies are encountered and fought.

However, that’s not to say that linear games don’t have their shining moments of true brilliance in their opening scenes. Prey is a game which stands out for me in this regard -- I still have vivid memories of being inexorably abducted by a sickly green light, surveying my surroundings as I ascended slowly towards the mothership as the hypnotising strains of Blue Oyster Cult’s ’Don’t Fear The Reaper’ played softly in the background.

Pretty much

In conclusion, there is a certain appeal to playing the ‘new guy’. The urge to explore is nothing less than a compulsion and the need to level up is a fully-fledged addiction. Once I’m presented with an uncharted open world, I have to explore it; I have to observe every nuance of this unexplored universe and I have to make endless mental notes as the game progresses. I have to seek help.   read

1:19 PM on 04.21.2011

Immersion: Portal (one little spoiler)

['Immersion' is a series which I am hoping to kick-start with my post on Portal. However, as I'm in the middle of a hectic diet of examinations 'Immersion' may simply wither away. Oh noes!]

Portal’s Aperture Science Enrichment Center -- Valve's masterpiece of sparse, minimalist design -- is a deeply desolate place. A deeply inhuman place. Despite consisting of cavernous rooms virtually indistinguishable from each other, the Enrichment Center's neutral white walls belied a compelling, chilling story: its clinical white décor told a tale of desolation, suffocating claustrophobia and mind-warping loneliness; its omnipresent deathly silence a similar, but just as affecting, legend of loneliness. The Aperture Science Enrichment Center is, in short, a disquieting place.

As the game progressed, I felt myself being dragged -- physically and mentally -- into the Enrichment Center. I felt institutionalised, somehow -- I felt as if I was trapped in a nightmare while playing the game. Truly, the fact that a neutral, clinical laboratory had and still has the capability to send shivers down my spine is a testament to the talent of Valve's developers. This immersion can probably be attributed to the fact that the Enrichment Center, oddly, reminded me of my vision of my imagined mind as a child -- a sparse series of vast caverns decorated in a clinical white, lorded over by a slightly unhinged intelligence capable of, uh, flooding an occupied laboratory with lethal neurotoxins.

The inside of a nine year old's mind

The Companion Cube, in my opinion, was an example of the institutionalism I referred to earlier. It was, in plain terms, nothing but a large, dense cube. However, the Companion Cube became pointedly more than that to many gamers as the game progressed -- this… object, a solid thing incapable of experiencing conventional human emotions and feelings such as pain, love, and hate. The Companion Cube wasn’t even dead -- it wasn’t capable of death, since it had no concept of death. It was, for all intents and purposes, void of any recognisable life. It was, essentially, nothing more than a utility: an insignificant means to a significant end.

Yeah... people dig the Companion Cube. In a big way.

Nonetheless, its eventual demise affected me deeply. I felt disgusted with myself after tossing the Companion Cube into the incinerator, to be licked by the flames. I did, in a small, logical, emotionally dead area of my brain realised that my betrayal of my best buddy was for the greater good; this cold logic core realised that, in order to progress, I had to incinerate my Number One Best Pal of All Time despite the wishes of my sappy, emotionally overwrought personality. I also realised afterwards that, as a fifteen year-old male, spending almost an hour debating internally over whether or not to toss an inanimate object into a digital fire is simply unacceptable.

The character of Chell also contributed towards the irresistible immersion which I experienced while playing Portal. Her presence was largely unexplained; her personality barely expressed. In fact, most people I know who played Portal referred to Chell simply as ‘the chick in the orange boiler suit’. However, her presence didn’t really need to be expressed: we didn’t really need to know who Chell was. All we, as the players, knew was that Chell was a woman simply attempting to overcome GLaDOS’ fiendish physics-based puzzles and escape the eerily silent Enrichment Center. Chell is the perfect example of a protagonist who doesn't need a backstory; a protagonist who doesn't need any ulterior motive.

Kelly Bailey’s sublime ‘Self Esteem Fund’ expressed the lingering loneliness of the Enrichment Center without a single word. The track was dark and brooding without being overly emotionally overwrought; it held a certain cold, aloof quality which instantly reminded me of Portal’s white walls and the approaching claustrophobia which bore down upon me as I progressed through Portal’s 19 chambers.

I don't believe that Valve intended Portal to be a chilling experience, but I cannot deny that it was. I don't know why Portal possessed such dark undertones. I truly empathised with Chell, Portal's protagonist. She displayed a show of bravery which I feel I would be incapable of demonstrating in such an oppressive setting: I feel that I would simply be driven mad and end up dead, lying in the middle of a test chamber under the glaring, unblinking eyes of GLaDOS, Portal's unhinged robotic antagonist.

Lie   read

2:47 PM on 04.11.2011

David Cage -- revolutionary?

David Cage is, undoubtedly, a very talented man. A very talented man with a clear vision -- a vision which he pursues with each game he releases. However, David Cage’s visions jar with the ideas of those who kickstarted the gaming industry so long ago. David Cage wants to concentrate more focus on storytelling and narrative. He wants technical oddities removed from games altogether and he wants, above all, for the player to be engrossed in his stories -- even if such immersion comes at the cost of player choice and player freedom.

The villain of our story

As I’ve said, David Cage is a very talented man. Both Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) and Heavy Rain have been praised to the heavens for their mature subject matter and emphasis on storytelling. However, I was always struck by the impression that David Cage is a man destined for Hollywood -- it seemed as if the QTEs the game relied so heavily on were nothing more than an afterthought, the one feature which kept both Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain anchored to the gaming industry. I felt -- I feel -- that David Cage would be much happier in the film business -- his games, in my opinion, are nothing more than digital movies which require virtually meaningless interaction from the player.

"Damn -- there's no QTE in this one. We can't allow the truth to be revealed!"

"There we go -- crisis averted."

This wouldn’t be so bad if, well, David Cage wasn’t so damned vocal about his grand vision for the reform of the gaming industry. He genuinely seems to believe that the only way forward for the industry is for us all to be under his leadership and follow him unquestioningly. Cage looks upon the gaming industry as an outsider: he sees nothing but developers creating shallow experiences which centre around burly marines saving the good old USA from hostile foreign forces with the aid of some highly-sophisticated weaponry. He thinks that the gaming industry needs to grow up.

Seriously... how can you have a problem with this?

Evidently, David Cage believes he can break the mould with his compelling creations. He believes that, by studying the world of film, he can create deep gaming experiences which draw inspiration from the cinema. I have a problem with this, however -- I don’t believe that David Cage truly can change the world of gaming.

Fahrenheit was an enjoyable game. It was engrossing and adopted a fresh approach. It was also hilarious -- but for all the wrong reasons. There were so many stupidly surreal experiences packed into Fahrenheit, a game which eminently prided itself on the ‘life as art’ theory. A small child left to wander around a military base unsupervised? A group of children playing hide and seek in a military hangar as a fire smoulders in the background? Really? Admittedly, it is a little cruel to pick on David Cage’s first entry into this genre which he apparently created -- but I don’t believe that Cage is the gift to gaming he evidently thinks he is.

So, yeah... this is Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy...

I haven’t actually played Heavy Rain. However, I have read various mocking critiques of the game focusing on its odd plot devices and technical oversights. GamesRadar, in particular, made light fun of these discrepancies -- in addition to the prestigious awards bestowed upon Heavy Rain, the game also won the gong for ’Stupidest plot twist’ in GR’s 2010 ’Anti-Awards’ and made GamesRadar’s ’Gaming’s most horrific sex scenes’ and ‘The Top 7... Disastrous game romances’, not to mention its place in ‘The Top 7... Awful fake accents’, ‘9 most annoying kids in games’, ‘9 games that had sex needlessly shoehorned into them’ and a host of miscellaneous features and videos which picked at the exposed threads in Heavy Rain’s generally seamless presentation. My point is that, if the gaming industry is to venture out into the direction in which David Cage wishes it to, perhaps David Cage is not the man to lead the industry into pastures new and exciting -- perhaps, subsequently, the gaming industry should stay in the niche it has inhabited for decades.

I have no idea what relevance this small rodent has in relation to Heavy Rain. However, I will leave it here for your enjoyment.

Here are the features I referred to while writing this blog:   read

5:24 PM on 04.05.2011

Aaamaazing!: Fallout: New Vegas soundtrack -- Mountain Day

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for the pretentious nonsense printed below.

Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas has cemented itself in my metaphorical heart as one of my favourite games of all time. New Vegas told a devastating story of a collapsed behemoth of a country struggling to drag itself from the sand into a recognisable representation of the United States. It was a game of genuine beauty: a melting pot of recognisable film elements, from the loneliness of a marauding wanderer devoid of any sort of moral code in a dry desert setting to the tendency of the big city to chew up and spit out those not accustomed to its ways.

I was enamoured with New Vegas from day one. I admit that I was too busy reassembling the lives of broken wanderers of the Mojave or messing with the politics of The Strip for my own personal amusement to stop and enjoy the beauty of a wasteland sunrise or the sound of age-old undisturbed sand being blown over rocky outcrops unaffected by the years of bloodshed which followed the all-consuming fire of nuclear devastation.

Eventually, however, I stopped. I froze in the heat of the Mojave, holstered my weapon, and allowed perhaps the most beautiful in-game soundtrack I have ever heard to play uninterrupted. Inon Zur’s Mountain Day rang out -- and I forgot about the fast living of The Strip and its secret internal conflicts and just listened to the music, man.

Mountain Day paints a thousand pictures of the Mojave wasteland. The music retains the hot, dusty harshness of the Mojave, but is also very fragile. I’m not much of a musical theorist -- if such an occupation exists -- but the soundtrack is so clear, so direct, that I can sense exactly what Inon Zur was aiming for with his composition. It is littered with sounds which relate to the Mojave, debris of the desert, but conveys such a clear melody. The soundtrack relates exactly to its subject matter -- the mountains. It’s so simple: the soundtrack features none of the hollow diversionary methods many artists drop into their music to create the illusion of depth, none of the irritating lyrical quirks which exist purely to spur debate. Mountain Day is nothing if not simple: a beautiful melody which aims to describe a certain object or event (in this instance, a place), much like an Impressionist painting.

Since first hearing Mountain Day, I’ve been listening to Inon Zur’s creations constantly. What’s funny is that I have actually heard Zur’s compositions before in such games as Fallout 3, but I have never stopped previously to actually listen to the content. Taken out of context, it is easy to forget that soundtracks are soundtracks -- they begin to demand actual attention from the listener. In game, however, the soundtrack has no significance: it is simply filler, a tactic which aims to escort the player from one place to another, from one major event in the plot to the next. Personally, I think that this is unacceptable in an industry in which talent is quite simply evolving: not only is art design and innovation blossoming, sound tracking is, too.

I have one piece of final advice, dear reader. The next time you hear what you think is a simple piece of musical fluff interrupting the delicate silence, stop what you’re doing. Stop what you’re doing and appreciate exactly what it is you are listening to.

[embed]198191:37475[/embed]   read

10:28 AM on 04.03.2011

Kinect needs to bridge the gap between the casual and the hardcore -- fast

The future of the Xbox 360 is looking bright. The little white box that could is ploughing ahead and, arguably, leading the market at the moment. A host of talented developers have created games for the Xbox 360 and this stream of talent doesn’t seem to be at risk of drying out any time soon. The Xbox 360 is everywhere -- on the web, on the side of buses, screaming at you from your TV screen. It’s perhaps the most successful console in gaming history, in terms of sales. The little white box, in short, makes big green money.

It could be argued that the Xbox 360’s success is due to its mass appeal. Microsoft’s console appeals to the hordes of ‘hardcore’ gamers just as much as it does to the masses of ‘casual’ gamers which have adopted the new technology. Microsoft has, in some instances, even managed to blur the lines between casual and hardcore -- a huge achievement. However, Microsoft has decided to go one further with the release of its Kinect peripheral, a camera-based device which works in a way not dissimilar to Sony’s EyeToy experiment. It is clear that the release of the Kinect is a concentrated effort to bridge the gap once and for all between casual and hardcore.

Bill Gates watches you sleep

However, there’s a problem. Kinect is making plenty of money from the ‘casual’ slice of the market; but the ‘hardcore’ gamers want nothing to do with Microsoft’s new peripheral. The casual gamers are happy with such games as Kinectimals and Kinect Adventures, but those ‘hardcore’ gamers who purchased the peripheral have been left bitterly disappointed with its lack of engaging experiences. The gap, consequently, is left wide open.


Microsoft isn’t exactly struggling for money, but after the millions poured into Kinect’s development and marketing Bill Gates and his evil minions are obviously looking to make a return on their new venture. To do this, Microsoft needs to extend its reach from the casual market over to the hardcore market and encapsulate both camps. There are a number of ways in which they could do this.

I believe that Microsoft should commission a Heavy Rain-style game for its Kinect peripheral. The cute little camera-based device is crying out for a game with true quality: something with a deep, involving narrative which makes demands of its technology. I believe that a game of this kind would attract a certain species of refined gamer and, in turn, more would follow along with these intrepid adventurers.

Admit it: you wouldn't say no to this

I have very limited understanding of how exactly Kinect works, but I believe that Microsoft could make a light gun peripheral co-operate with Kinect with the aid of one of its technological wizards. This is another option to attract ‘hardcore’ gamers to Microsoft’s new peripheral -- the creation of an universal light gun suited to first-person shooters similar to those found in arcades. Microsoft could potentially convince the dedicated Call of Duty regiment to drop the controller and embrace Kinect in one fell swoop.

The famed Call of Duty regiment

These are just two of my ideas for Microsoft’s new peripheral. In order to thrive, Microsoft has to come up with ideas of its own to make Kinect a truly ‘must-have’ accessory. It’s clear to me -- and the gaming industry as a whole -- that Microsoft has to drop some truly revolutionary ideas before a peripheral with genuine potential fades into obscurity.   read

12:33 PM on 03.31.2011

The Quiet One

I’ve been revisiting the floating wreck of the space-faring USG Ishimura this week. I discovered my neglected copy of Dead Space lurking around in my bedroom looking up at me with metaphorical puppy-dog eyes and a thick coat of dust on its cover, and, my interest re-kindled, I decided to begin my space odyssey anew as I’d forgotten both the major and minor events of the story so far -- and I hate re-starting games from any point but the beginning.

This situation warrants, at the very least, an unnoticeable drop of sweat from the eyebrow. This man, however, is Isaac Clarke.

However, as I progressed through the plot, I became frustrated at the blank, impassive front Isaac Clarke displayed, and Isaac Clarke in general. It just seemed odd that, in a game loaded with tension and set in a hostile environment which would provoke a girly scream from Gordon Freeman, EA Redwood Shores decided to create an entirely silent protagonist incapable of any sort of display of emotion.

So, what’s the reasoning behind the whole ‘silent protagonist’ motif? I can understand its implementation in most games in which these broody dudes feature -- open-world role-playing games heavily reliant on player choice and character creation such as Oblivion obviously warrant such a protagonist -- and occasionally, in the case of one Gordon Freeman, the choice on the developer’s behalf to create a silent protagonist to front their games can prove to be the right choice.

Gordon Freeman's silence is only punctuated by the odd thwack! of a crowbar. 50 Panache Points.

However, my point is that this design choice has the potential to make or break a game. Don’t get me wrong -- I loved Dead Space, but I wasn’t thrilled with Isaac Clarke, or, for that matter, the lack of atmosphere the game carried. It is perhaps unfair to single out EA, Isaac Clarke, and the mutated ruins of the Ishimura’s crew as an example of this poor design choice. Plenty of other games are guilty of this, such as The Suffering. Perhaps, in fact, The Suffering is a better scapegoat for my argument -- the game is, after all, centred around one man’s escape from a prison overrun by hellish creatures and his hallucinations relating to the murky death of his own family and his unexplained role in their demise. But, typically, I digress.

Fin.   read

3:41 PM on 03.27.2011

Fiction is fiction. Reality, however, is not

The power of fiction should never be underestimated. Fiction, is, if you like, the most powerful gaming engine ever devised -- universes can be created within this vast, cavernous space; rulebooks can be rewritten or simply thrown out. I believe that fiction can and should be used to create individual figurative universes. I also believe that each universe should be tailored to its owner’s specifications: whatever these specifications may be.

However, many appear to disagree with me. Many people believe that fictional worlds are just as dangerous as our own, very real, world, and thusly, just as valid for attack. The gaming industry, for one, has been subject to attacks from these people. We’ve seen games censored, criticised and plain old refused release based purely on the content contained within these fictional universes. The Manhunt series in particular is a prime example of this: do you remember the startlingly rabid attacks the series was known to provoke, dear reader? The metaphorical screams of those given podiums from which to rant and rave?

I laughed at these attacks. Well, I didn’t laugh, but I smirked slyly at the computer screen or the newspaper headline from which I read because, well, the situation was so ridiculous. These people were attacking a fictional universe. An imaginary… thing which, had they chosen to ignore, would otherwise never have bothered them. These people acted as if James Earl Cash was going to knock at their door and execute them brutally for the pleasure of one Lionel Starkweather.

Well, I’ve got news for you. Cash isn’t real. He’s trapped in a flimsy little silver disc with Starkweather and, for that matter, the entire population of Carcer City. It’s time that ‘these people’ -- whoever they may be -- begin to wake up and find some perspective. Real atrocities happen in the real world, the world in which you and I and the faceless masses who found Manhunt and other games like it offensive live in. People walking on the face of this earth right now have committed acts of utter atrocity which would put James Earl Cash to shame -- and you can’t attribute that to the gratuitous violence of the Manhunt series. The fictional world is imaginary; a separate universe which is capable of playing some nasty tricks -- nasty tricks which, nonetheless, have no bearing on the real world. Nasty tricks which are as real as the dark figures seen swarming all over bedrooms around the world in the dead of night -- terrifying acts of mental trickery which always fade with the coming of the morning or, in the case of Manhunt, the switching off of the console.

Wake up.   read

12:31 PM on 03.25.2011

Point Lookout: DLC done well

A few days ago, my arguments for and against the very existence of DLC crept into the Community Blogs. In this post, I dismissed Dead Space 2’s ‘Severed’ DLC -- a bold move for someone who hasn’t yet experienced said additional content. However, I also championed Fallout 3’s Point Lookout as an example of DLC which had been handled well. In this blog post, I am going to explain why Point Lookout is such an accomplished example of brilliant DLC.

Welcome to Point Lookout! Sun, sea and sand in abundance.

I’ve only had experience with Point Lookout recently -- I realise that I am just a little late to the party. Point Lookout was, initially, billed to me as a slice of survival horror action, one man’s fight against a terrifying roster of half-bred humans set in the eerie ruins of a once-prosperous seaside town and its surrounding countryside.

It could be argued that Point Lookout is a survival horror experience. I had my share of fear within Point Lookout -- I vividly remember being chased through the swamp at night, only to take refuge in an apparently-deserted cabin and discover that I had company. However, Point Lookout has its poignant moments, too: much like all Bethesda games, there is a certain saddening element in scouring abandoned buildings and isolated ruins, finding traces of life before the apocalypse, before everything changed irreversibly.

However, an accepted formula in the gaming industry is as follows: vast numbers of difficult enemies = powerful weapons with vast loads of ammo. The poignancy of Point Lookout stops at the end of your double-barrelled shotgun. Fear not, Point Lookout does feature an array of weaponry, from the aforementioned double-barrelled shotgun to the lever-action rifle. However, the denizens of Point Lookout also have access to the same sort of weaponry -- it’s worth remembering that, yes, you might have an overpowered shotgun with which to obliterate faces with, but so might your currently-engaged adversary.

That, conveniently, leads us to the half-breeds I mentioned earlier. These guys - often referred to as the ‘swampfolk’ - are, on the whole, big, ugly monsters who galumph around aimlessly when they’re not attempting to take off your head with an axe or rearrange your visage with a double-barrelled shotgun. These deformed uglies are big, strong and deceptively fast when they’re on your trail. They’re numerous, and make up the majority of Point Lookout’s population. However, the swampfolk aren’t the only enemies you’ll have to deal with in Point Lookout: Feral Ghouls, Swamplurks (read: Mirelurks) make an appearances, as do many of Fallout 3’s robotic adversaries such as Robobrains and Sentry Bots. The player can also, exhaustingly, choose to do battle with a group called the Tribals, fruit-worshipping clansmen dressed in suitably odd garb.

That’s generally all I can say without slipping into an in-depth review. Point Lookout is, definitely, one of the finer examples of DLC I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Point Lookout, really, could have been released as a stand-alone game following Fallout 3’s success, and I think I would rather have bought it as such. Point Lookout is probably the pinnacle of Fallout 3’s four DLCs - Operation Anchorage, Broken Steel, The Pitt, and, of course, Point Lookout itself.


2:31 PM on 03.22.2011

DLC: Clichéd Arguments For and Against

Before we get started, I should probably mention that the entirety of this article is a big, fat cliché. A big, Gabe Newell of a cliché concerning the equally-loved and equally-maligned method of digital distribution known as DLC. However, unlike many posts floating around in the blogosphere, my article is written from a neutral viewpoint and features arguments from both sides of the table.

Suddenly, I feel really awful for cracking that terrible Gabe Newell joke. All hail to the Gabe.

Many developers plan DLC for their game before releasing it to the public. Many would argue that the continuation of a game’s story in episodic releases helps support the game’s developers and keeps interest in said game alive. However, an equal number of people would counter with the claim that DLC which has been planned by a developer/publisher pre-release is a dirty scam: a nefarious scheme to eke out more money from the toiling consumers who work simply to pay for the next big release.

A negative - albeit humorous - perspective on DLC.

One argument against DLC is that many people are unable to actually get a hold of the additional content released by developers. Believe it or not, there are a few lonely souls out there (including myself) who don’t actually have an Xbox Live/PSN account as a result of choice or personal circumstance. This means that many gamers are unable to access downloadable content they might actually wish to purchase.

However, DLC can be a good thing. Many people believe that developers and publishers who plan DLC before they release their actual game are the lowest of the low -- scum. To those people, I say: look at it this way. Instead of leaping on to the next big project, developers can take the time to craft individual worlds to be added on to the original game. Developers are pushed to meet deadlines, and often they cannot implement their best ideas before their game goes to retail. DLC can allow developers to tack on these wonderful ideas after the initial excitement caused by the game itself has subsided, thus provoking renewed interest.

Personally, I judge individual DLC on its merits. Bethesda released downloadable content for Fallout 3 post-release, including the excellent Point Lookout -- almost a stand-alone game in itself. However, DLC such as Dead Space 2’s ‘Severed’ simply isn’t worth your money, from what I've read. I’m also frustrated by the fact that I can’t always have access to DLC I actually want to buy: for instance, I wouldn’t have access to Point Lookout if Bethesda hadn’t released a hard copy of the DLC in Fallout 3’s Game of the Year edition.

Point Lookout REPRESENT!

In conclusion, downloadable content is one of those grey moral areas in the gaming industry. Many are set against it, refusing to purchase even the best additional content developers release to support their games. Many gamers have accepted the concept of DLC, purchasing downloadable content regularly and keeping their favourite developers afloat. I’m sure there’s one or two gamers out there who have embraced the idea of DLC only to be hugely disappointed and who, consequently, have joined the former group. The idea I’m trying to get across is that there are a whole range of opinions on DLC; as with most issues, there will always be conflicting viewpoints. However, DLC - for the time being, at least - is here to stay.

This cat has nothing to do with this article. This cat is merely chillin' in my blog post, looking cute.

What are your views on DLC? Let me know in the comments section below!   read

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