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8:53 PM on 11.18.2013

I Done Goofed.

I recently wrote a shitty blog about skinheads and I just have a few clarifications that I want to make.

(Yeah it's kind of a shitty blog and I wrote it pretty quickly which is why it's so broad and generalising, my bad.)†

Within the article the use of the term skinheads refers to the UK definition, where it means bigoted hooligans who carry out petty acts of violence/vandalism with a very specific look AND THEY ARE NOT ALWAYS politically motivated extremists, in fact they are usually barely even politically aware. Neo-Nazi and Skinhead are two very different terms, I never insinuated that they weren't and I have no idea where this confusion is coming from, a cultural boundry, perhaps? (I think the term white trash is more appropriate, as 'Chav' would mean even less to a state side audience, I'm not sure).

I wrote this primarily because of the time me and my ex-boyfriend where chased by skinheads and the fact that ever since then I've had trouble being able to invest in characters who bare a resemblance to a group of people who are quite a real threat in my place of living. I try to be open minded about it but the combination of them and violence makes it harder.†That's all I wanted to say really, that and it's kind of dumb when everyone looks the same.

Obviously it didn't come across that way because I didn't want to soak my article in personal drama but that's what skinheads/chavs/hooligans or whatever you wanna call them do in my town, which is why I don't like that look in games or anything for that matter.

I'm glad I had this lesson, it'll teach me to provide more context in future, but it's still a little defeating to have so many people tell me my opinion is wrong when it's based off of something very real that happened to me.   read

12:19 PM on 10.28.2013

A Tutorial for Tutorials

Tutorials, theyíre great! ĎHey I got a new game and I have no idea how to play it!í Fear not! The game will teach you how to play! Tutorials are a handy feature which stops less experienced players from (pre-emptively) hurling those expensive controllers at even more expensive TV screens, walls, and that photo frame I smashed that one time but was a complete accident. The best games teach the player new things without them even realising it, a perfect example of this would be Portal and how it gradually introduces new elements into its myriad of puzzles which simultaneously keeps the gameplay fresh and ramps up the difficulty. However, for every good tutorial some of them just plain fucking suck.

I recently played through Assassinís Creed 3 (Iím a bit late on this one) and overall I had an excellent time with it, as an unemployed history graduate itís fun to read up on how the fiction is worked into the real life historical events. However, my main gripe with an otherwise decent game was how god damn long that fucking tutorial was, Christ! In a game that has twelve chapters or Ďsequencesí long the player doesnít fully gain free reign over the protagonist until about sequence five, nearly halfway through the game, this isnít right! I appreciate that franchises such as this go from strength to strength and are always making it simpler for new players to just jump right in, which is bloody fantastic, but if half of your game time is spent learning how to do things you donít even want to engage in, then itís pretty hard to recommend it to anyone.

I believe that many of the problems with Assassinís Creedís tutorials originate from the fact that the game truly cannot decide if it is an open world game or a linear experience, both are good, but developers, you need to set them up right! The latest iteration in the Elder Scrolls series never wowed anyone with its tutorials but for an open world game with so many features I think it does all right. Oblivionís initial dungeon crawl was lambasted by almost all and many found it be so monotonous that creating a new character was a chore in and of itself. †Skyrim improved greatly on this system by offering a quick introduction and then thrusting the player into the wide world to wreak their own unique blend of havoc and petty thievery on the unsuspecting denizens of the land. It was only when you wanted to learn how to do something that you were taught how to do it and I believe that this is the crux of a good tutorial.

In an open world game with as many features and side activities as Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto, itís always good to have the initial bare bones tutorial to show the player the most basic mechanics and how to utilise them properly whilst also presenting the basic premise of the gameís story. This is awesome and itís even more awesome when the game doesnít force the player to then learn how to make a potion or play a game of golf until the player decides that they actually want to do these things. Assassinís Creed, on the other hand, spends the first half of the game showing the player how to do every single miniscule action in a very linear and altogether boring way. In a game that is so vast and ripe for exploration the last thing the player wants is to be shown how to follow a man through the streets of Boston so that they can hear where heís hiding some tea. Sigh. Just show me how to do it when I need to do it.

To reiterate, tutorials are great and letís keep them forever, they are the bridge that allows just about anyone to cross over into our wonderful world of video games but please, oh please donít make me do one of everything before I can do all of something.   read

8:30 PM on 10.07.2013

Referencing the References: Do We Need New Jokes?

(I'm writing seriously about jokes and isn't that the biggest joke of all? Yes.)

Memes and that, am I right guys? Cake is a lie, Battletoads is hard and where is Half Life? lol. Most everyone enjoys seeing something that they recognise in something else that theyíre fond of for a little giggle every now and then, but Iím not wrong in thinking that videogames seem to be the one medium that uses these Easter Eggs so often that itís becoming more of a shock NOT to find at least one reference to another other game in the one that Iím playing. Videogames are certainly the most referential medium out there, thatís for sure(bar those ghastly Friedberg and Seltzer movies), and a perfect example of this would be Retro City Rampage, a (fantastic) game dedicated entirely to referencing pop culture. However, is our comedy dependant on these pop culture references being used repeatedly and have games and gamers reached a point where we need new jokes?

Iím not a comedian so feel free to help point me in the right direction here but this is something that dawned on me going way back to around the time Duke Nukem Forever was unveiled to the public (though I think we all know what the real punch line there was, hahahah geddit? It was shit.) We, as gamers, had lost one of the cornerstones of our small fortress of jokes, as one of the younger forms of media, games donít really have a lot to go off in terms of jokes but we did have ĎWhen is Half Life coming?í ĎWhere is Duke Nukem?í and ĎThe Cake is a lieí (of Portal). When Duke was announced Yahtzee, of Zero Punctuation fame, made a joking remark that a third of our Ďjokesí were gone now that Duke Nukem was on its way, this made me think more deeply about jokes in gaming which generally seem to be references to highlights of other games.†

ĎThe cake is a lieí first appeared in Portal in 2007 and is a perfect example of a gaming joke. The joke itself refers to the promise of cake in return for taking on a series of increasingly suicidal trials offered by the psychotic AI GLaDOS and with the player eventually stumbling across the words Ďthe cake is a lieí scribbled with apparent madness and desperation across the facilityís walls. This phrase quickly caught on among gamers as being twistedly funny and as such went down in history as gamingís principle joke. The line pops up in almost every facet of gamer culture and has gone on to appear in other industry juggernauts such as GTA V and Fable 3.

It was an interesting little meme and we were happy to see it rearing itís head from place to place although the problem now is that many people feel that it has reached a point where they find this phrase overused and unfunny, taken far away from its original context and merely used to get a cheap Ďhaí from consumers. One of the main problems with its overuse is that many of the people laughing at this nowadays probably donít even know why itís funny, they just know it to be and so it is. The phrase itself is in danger of becoming a dead dogma, like how children are forced to repeat the Lordís prayer without understanding itís actual meaning, this is one of the key dangers of the over referencing occurring in the medium of videogames (and why rage comics arenít funny).

The Cake is a lie is probably the most famous case of this happening but there are plenty of others ĎStay Awhile and Listení (Diablo 2, 2000) Ďitís dangerous to go alone!í (Legend of Zelda, 1986) and ĎMetal Gear?!í (Metal Gear Solid, 1998). All have been referenced in some game or another and whilst weíre a fairly insular consumer base, thereís no denying that, why should we be limited to the same phrases repeated over and over? Canít we create something new to laugh at? Even Borderlands 2, a fantastically funny game, was still absolutely laden with pop culture references. Itís impossible to write comedy in a vacuum, that is obviously true, but why are we restricting ourselves into continuing to dilute the already diluted until every joke we have is but some vague reference that no one truly understand the original meaning of anymore?

Come on friends, letís not turn into Family Guy. I shudder at the thought.   read

10:56 AM on 09.11.2013

GTA: Online, A Bitter Pill To Swallow

(Quick foreword, this article is nothing to do with the connectivity issues plaguing the launch of the project, name one multiplayer game that had a smooth launch? exactly)

Thereís no denying that Grand Theft Auto V is an impressive game and that whilst some areas seem to have take a step back, such as the lack of interiors or the Minority Report style police which seems to place them suspiciously close by when you actually decide to take that car on a whim, itís been a huge improvement over the dose of gritty realism that GTA IV tried to force down our throats. However, with all of this being said there are things that have impressed me more than developer Rockstarís latest project, Grand Theft Auto: Online.

For those of you wondering, GTA:O †is essentially the same as the singleplayer mode of the blockbuster game, minus the story, with the key concept being to have a character or characters you level up, upgrade and customise as you play and complete missions with friends or strangers. Rockstar have pledged to add more and more content as the project goes on, such as bank heists and various other activities for players to indulge in. Sounds great on paper, no? Well considering how much fun, GTA IVís FREEROAM mode was (the rest was weak) and the improvements made upon that with Red Dead Redemptionís multiplayer, sign me up I thought! Though once I signed up I kinda wish I hadnítÖ

First off, Rockstar have given us lucky, plucky players an enormous landscape to play around in to our hearts content though once I got in there I found myself struggling to find anything to do. Races and deathmatches are all well and good for some people but if thatís not your bag (as is the case with me) then youíll find yourself ambling around looking for the player thatís least likely to kill you on sight. Traditionally with GTA games the most fun can be found in simply hunkering down somewhere with a shit tonne of super weapons and instigating your own horde mode against an endless torrent of hapless law enforcement, fun stuff!

With GTA: O however, the playerís character will start with a pistol and nothing else but with no weapon pickups dotted around the city, as was the case with IV, youíll find yourself almost forced to indulge in a few missions to pick up some cash as, believe it or not, robbing the same convenience store over and over again for little gain soon gets tiresome (surprise, surprise). Herein lies the problem, even if you do manage to harvest enough cash to get some gear youíll soon realise that in order to buy such gear you have to reach certain experience levels to purchase the weaponry. Obviously this is a tactic to have players invest long amounts of time in this world of six years in the making, fair enough. BUT in order to gain the experience to level up, yep, you guessed it, youíll have to play a fair few of the various races and deathmatches some players wish to avoid altogether.

As flawed as GTA IVís multiplayer was, such as weapon loss on death and the sniper shotguns the police seemed to equipped with, it was perfectly simple to set up a lobby for you and your cohorts to collect some big ass guns and run around without a care in the world, spreading your indiscriminate carnage like a virus. Red Dead Redemption went on to improve on this by having the player retain their weapons on death and throwing in some side missions for fun, GTA: O on the other hand forces the player to partake in something that they really may not want to.

I gather some of you will be saying ĎIf you donít like the MMO system of game play then donít playí this is an understandable point of view and also why I wonít be playing, at least until Rockstar greatly increase the amount of content and activities available. However, it was Rockstar themselves were the ones boasting about the GTA style of gameplay that we know and love except now itís with our friends and this is clearly not the case. We in the gaming world often get mad at companies for drip feeding us content and presently Rockstar are doing just that.

Admittedly there were times when during my experience when me and my friends would get passed the fact that there was little to do and get carried away in the moment of a furious car chase or failed robbery but we were always brought suddenly back to reality when weíd be able to see into a building but unable to go into it, crash straight into the gats of Fort Zancudo only to find theyíre now indestructible or were countered by an officer with a much, much better weapon than ourselves severely limiting any joy we could take from the experience.

I hope that over the coming months Rockstar can introduce the fun action packed experience we long for that Red Dead and GTA IV left us wanting but until that day I canít see myself getting anymore lost in that world than I can see myself in the Whitehouse (and Iím British). Kudos on the city and story guys but if I want to go on a criminal rampage with my friends armed to the teeth then I guess Iíll have to get my kicks elsewhere.   read

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