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5:48 PM on 10.04.2013  

A goodbye of sorts



It’s hard writing that but, well, it’s not true! I’ll still be around! You’ve probably noticed I’ve neglected this silly ol’ bloggins for a good while (bloody ‘ell Nathan) and that’s ‘cos a lot of stuff has been happen hapsin in my lyf and all that, know what I mean. Basically, lyk, it’s over. I’m giving up. See you all never! I’m free!

In reality I’ll never be free from video-games. In reality I probably owe the next 3 years of my life to the fact that I’ve been writing for five years one month and a day. I probably owe a lot to it, and to you too. Quite blatantly I’ve never been on time with anything I’ve ever written.

I’m sorry for it and I’m more sorry I’m leaving.

The series I started a few years ago, Up, Down, Left, Right… is now done. Finished. PDF here. Done. Finished…

I think it says all I need to say. I’m semi-retiring from video-game journalism for a few years. Except I kinda lied in that, well, my last piece won’t be that bloody book. It’ll be something on GTA V written for another website that wants me to run a few articles now and then.

While I’m here I should mention I’ll still be on Twitter and Flixist! I’m even doing a BLOODY FILM COLUMN for Flixist which is pretty totez cool.

TEARS IN RAIN 2 will be happening at some point. I am doing NaNoWriMo this year. I’ll have a few novels coming out in a little while.

But I’m going now. In like six hours I gotta wake up and go off to drive to Cambridge university. Maybe I’ll carry on blogging regularly, maybe I won’t. If I do, however, it shan’t  be on silly video-games.

I’ll see you all very soon.

Flixist author page: http://www.flixist.com/author.phtml?name=Nathan%20Hardisty&a=167493

Column: [url=http://www.flixist.com/tag.phtml?t=NRH Weekly Analysis]http://www.flixist.com/tag.phtml?t=NRH%20Weekly%20Analysis[/url]

Twitter: Nathardisty   read


10:27 AM on 07.04.2013  

KILLER LOOKS - My free film criticism eBook on American Psycho



Happy Independence Day! From the country that used to own America!

Around a very long time ago I thought it would be fun to write a book about Blade Runner. Soon after, I thought it would be equally fun to do the same thing, in about eight months time, with American Psycho. Killer Looks is the sixty-page product of that stupid stubborn idea, and now it's all released in all of its shoddy glory. It's a labor of love and sleepless nights. I lost twenty pages of the damn thing around a week or so ago, and this morning I decided an entire section just wasn't up to my standards.

Killer Looks is a book about the film American Psycho, an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' wonderful satirical novel. Throughout the book I evaluate interpretations, the psychology of characters, feminist arguments and the political and social message underneath the entire picture in a bid to find what a 'film' really is.

I've enjoyed getting soaked in Patrick Bateman, but I shan't be doing it again anytime soon.

The full eBook can be read in two versions.

Click here for the PDF version, save as if you want.

Click here for the GoogleDocs version.

I will be working on Kindle, ePub and toaster editions at some point.

John Pearson did the luscious cover art. His website can be found here and you can also buy fancy prints of the cover art specifically here too (for a limited time or something). I think we might be doing some fancy printed copies of the book at some point, I'll letcha know if that'll be the case.

For now, ta ta! I have things to catch up on including food and hydration. I'll see you all in a month's time for my next bookywook!

Cheers,
Nathan   read


3:57 PM on 06.08.2013  

Gunpoint Review

Oh, my, I'm back. Oh look at that. I'm not dead! After all my exams. I'm alive. Nice. Okay. See you all in three years!

Actually, let's talk about Gunpoint.



Blimey.

Okay so I wrote about Gunpoint around five of your Earth years ago. Mr. Handsome (Tom Francis) actually put up a nice little quote from my little write-up on to the actual Gunpoint site. See you can actually see 'Blogossus' on a goddamn game's site oh my god how cool etc. etc. oh my etc. etc. I'm going to print screen this etc. etc.



Okay. So that was, like, five Earth years ago or something. Not entirely exactly but, well, to be in the same column of the likes of RPS and Eurogamer is, like, pretty darn hot. But, well, let's actually get on with the actual 'game' thing.

I wrote that thing in light of an earlier build of Gunpoint that I played oh so long ago. I've pretty much played it, I believe, since the very earliest build. To see it evolve and change and shift and just become this thing that hit Top Sellers on Steam, got some perfect 9s and 10s within a few weeks of The Last of Us and, just to nail it, release with the best goddamn special edition in the history of goddamn special editions, it's all a bit, well, mental. Tom Francis has always been one of the greatest game writers but, with Gunpoint, he becomes one of the greatest game writers. Heh. See what I mean? On top of that he's a pretty slick programmer and he doesn't afraid of actually doing something interesting.

I realize that I haven't yet written about BioShock Infinite on, well, anywhere. I did tweet a little about it and yet after many weeks I still feel somewhat similar. After all of the meta-commentary analysis, narrative dissections and game design critiques, I still quite adore Infinite. It truly is a symphony of video-gamedom and, yet, I still feel a slight disconnect. It is still a game about shooting people in the face over and over again, even while it tackles broader issues and blasts narrative design of video-games out of the water. It's spectacular and yet I would call Gunpoint, in all of its three hour festivities, my game of the year thus far.

Why do I think this? Because what Gunpoint does is do what all great games do. Exceptional video-games, to me at least, are those which give you all of the tools and playthings in order for you to design an experience. There's been a lot of backlash against gamer journalist lingo like 'ludonarrative dissonance' and 'emergent gameplay', but the extravagant vernacular is no less spectacular in applying it to Gunpoint. Gunpoint literally has an achievement called 'Acknowledged Ludonarrative Dissonance', I've never been a fan of the whole 'achievements' thing but it's my favorite thing of that thing ever ever. So much so that I'd use the words 'thing' and 'ever' twice in order to express my liking of it.



Gunpoint doesn't really care about its narrative. That's not to say that it casts it aside, but it pretty much has a 'Skip to the interaction stuff' button in every conversation. The conversations themselves are downright hilarious and, I say this with scornful jealousy, stupidly well written. I did not skip a single conversation because of the absolute quality of the story, and yet the very notion of being able to skip any of them and just get to the gameplay is probably one of the greatest game design choices ever. I know that games have had 'skip cutscene' buttons for decades, and yet just being able to dive straight in, with zero context, and be still fully invested in every mission is absolutely remarkable.

The gameplay itself has you rewiring things. I can rewire a button to a door so that, if I time it right, it can smack them unconscious in the face. I can rewire elevators to squash people, I can rewire trap doors so that everybody falls down at once and I can rewire a camera so that it fires a guard's gun so that he shoots his best friend as soon as I just slide into its view. There are so many possibilities to play around with that you can create strings of stories that just 'emerge' out of the game. I haven't even gotten to the movement system yet.

You have super trousers. With a little click you can lunge at your foes and then punch them in the face. You can launch them out of windows, you can crawl on the ceiling and then dive on them like some horrible monster and you can even just goddamn dive around like goddamn Spider-Man except goddamn good. Gunpoint does a better job at making you feel  like a badass more than any other game I've played this year. If empowerment fantasy is your thing, then Gunpoint has that. There's even moments, nay entire levels in which your punching and lunging doesn't work. You have to plan, dive and use your wits. You know, that thing in video-games usually reserved for press trigger to shoot? You gotta use that. There are levels in which you have to plan, jump around the officer complexes that are rigged with your entrappings, lure the guards and manipulate their movements to absolute satisfaction. Gunpoint makes you feel genuinely smart about your accomplishments and seems to encourage no-kills runthroughs and all kinds of awesome procedural gaming business. Heck, even holding a man at, TITLE MENTION, 'Gunpoint' is absolutely thrilling. The game actively encourages just holding that gun, but discourages the shooting of it. Games don't often make the very presence of a gun exciting or genuinely mood-changing, because they're about as abundant as, well, molecular bonds and shit. With Gunpoint, guns have so much meaning and that is just hot.



This is why Gunpoint is the best game I've played this year thus far. It lets me play it. I know that sounds cheap and Polygon-ish but, heh heh, I genuinely adore playing every single second of the game. I enjoy planning out my tactics, skulking about darkened corridors and then capitalizing on my own smart movements. Gunpoint has such systems that allow you to pretty much invent your own playstyle. There is also a gadget that allows you to kick doors into people's faces. For that reason alone it is just. Yes. Yes. Yes. It also has one of the coolest soundtracks of the year made by the likes of Ryan Ike, John Robert Matz and Francisco Cerda.

So I said that it was "Probably the most exciting piece of game design in a long, long time", apparently. I take that back. It is the most exciting piece of game design in a long, long time. Gunpoint, in honesty, does not trump Infinite in the whole 'narrative' department, but some of its funnies are honestly more worthwhile than entire stretches of Ken Levine's supposed magnum opus. Gunpoint, however, has the leg up on any video-game released this year so far in that it is purely player driven. It is an absolute delight to play and a wonderful reminder of why video-games are the greatest entertainment venture that this little blue planet has to offer.

10/10 editorz choic goty eward

+ gud game, dat soundtrack

+ funny game

+ you can kick people in the face with doors

+ you can kick people in the face with doors

- [obligatory negative point]

You can buy Gunpoint on Tom Francis' website, where he will get more monies. Or you can buy it on Steam for 'convenience' or whatever reasoning. Either way, it is cheap and incredible and buy the special+ editions because look at them goddamnit.   read


2:59 PM on 04.11.2013  

Read my free tragicomedy novel. And stuff.



Trimalchio is a tragicomedy, which is neither tragic nor omedy, about a young playwright drafted in to adapt The Great Gatsby. While dodging visions of a mysterious past he finds himself slowly sinking into the mind of F Scott Fitzgerald.

I’ve been working on Trimalchio, the idea, for more than two years. I’ve been writing and editing for the last year. In the last two weeks I’ve gone through about five drafts? Maybe more? What you should know, however, is I am probably one of the worst proofreaders in existence. Some folks helped craft this thing, with special thanks to Laurens Steel (who designed the cover art too), but it’s otherwise my first solo venture. I’ve written two novels before this bit they’re both either too boring or too good (note: good means awful) to go public.

If you’re wondering about a lot of the stuff that happens in the ruddy thing, and what it’s primarily based on, then do read Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda (a compilation of the love letters that the [eventual] Fitzgeralds sent to each other). That and, well, The Great Gatsby if you haven’t already. Wait, you haven’t? Oh my! Shame on you!

Trimalchio is available for FREE online:

Click here for the PDF, right-click and ‘save as’ to download.

Click here to view online in GoogleDocs

(I will be adding Kindle/ePub/iBooks links in the future)

If you have any thoughts on it then feel free to tweet me them @Nathardisty or email me [email protected] or owl mail or whatever. If there’s any errors then do tell me them or, and I encourage this, attach them to a brick and throw it at my face.

Cheers,

Nathan.   read


11:36 AM on 03.23.2013  

Wrote another free book about video-games



YES THIS IS WHAT I DO WHEN I GET BORED.

I've released three books on video-games thus far as part of my Up, Down, Left, Right series. Volume Four is more about video-game communities than video-games themselves, though it specifically uses Spec Ops: The Line as an instrument to explore community reaction and relationships. It's pretty $w@tacular and all that.

I said I'd release this back in December but things happened and then some stuff and now, surprise, it's finally out and tings. It's currently only available on PDF but I'll get ePub/Kindle out by the end of next week.

Enjoy my pretentiousness for 45 pages.

Cheers.   read


4:13 PM on 03.16.2013  

What's in a name?: Some thoughts on player character design and 'names'



O, be some other name!

What's in a name?

that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet

I throw a grenade and watch it slowly tumble behind the concrete block. I reload my pistol as the lens flare blinds my vision. Ragdolls erupt seemingly from the ground and block out the sun's rays so I can see again. I blind fire a little until I'm out of ammo. I rush out to hit a man in the face. We fight a little bit but he is no match. The adrenalin's aftertaste skips throughout my polygon veins as I pick up the leftovers of the fight. Guns, ammunition and grenades. I toy with the idea of using the riot shield before I finally hear my name being shouted.

"Nate!"

Nate.

(Instead of Weapon of Choice, here's some thoughts on player-character design)


I've been thinking a lot lately about player characters and names. Booker DeWitt (BioShock Infinite), Nathan Hale (Resistance), Niko Bellic (Grand Theft Auto IV); these are the names that are shouted over the gunfire. Usually it's a "Nate" or a "Niko" or something to that effect. Naming and cataloging reveal a lot about the human brain, which named itself, and our need to have 'names' to begin with. It's interesting to scan across the bestsellers list and see 'John Green', 'J.K Rowling' and 'Dan Brown' among others. These are names with 'bite', with some kind of inherent linguistic appeal. You wouldn't want to buy a book from 'Aaron Finger-Smith' at first glance, but maybe 'Oscar Dotes' or 'John Hamilton' or 'Nathan Hardisty' hint hint.

Names in games have often, for me at least, represented the barrier between player and video-game. The basic universal gaming philosophy is that player protagonists should be vessels for the experience, that the entire experience should be molded around the player. If the game has emotional content and that emotional stuff doesn't resonate with the player then the designer, in theory, has failed. The Walking Dead has players being put into the shoes of an African-American history professor in a bid to save a young girl's life. If you aren't on the same emotional page as Lee Everett during the journey then the cut-scenes and arduous story moments are going to have zero effect on you.

I'm not here to talk about how races or religion can interfere with the process of player application, in which the player applies themselves to their avatar, but I am here to talk about the broader 'name'. With the likes of Skyrim and Fallout you can choose your name but none of the NPCs will refer to it during dialogue choices. It seems more of a way to organize your save game files than holding any game-world use. When a player character does have a name then it adds another layer of barrier between the player and the world, in theory, because if someone calls me "Jack" then I don't have that immediate connection with the world. In short, I have to be taken out of it and remember I'm playing a game rather than being a part of it.

The psychology of immersion has probably been well-essayed by much more competent people than I but I do feel there's some worthwhile bottom-feeder commentary to be said. When the NPCs in Uncharted start calling me 'Nathan' or 'Nate' then it's incredibly personal for me. I'm literally being called to do this or that and it feels incredibly inclusive as a result. I'm immersed in the experience and it's not jarring at all, even when there's cut-scenes and stuff going on I do feel like I'm being referred to personally. It gets a little bit weird considering I don't actually have a voice in the game, I can't imagine Nathan Drake having a Yorkshire accent to begin with, but my name being used does amplify my connection with the interactive play, especially when it is pure interaction such as a gunfight.

Maybe it's why you'll find I look quite favorably on the Uncharted series. Yes, the game has you spout one-liners about snapping men's necks without any need to acknowledge that you're a goddamn mass murderer. Uncharted 2's final boss actually asks you (or is it me) "Just how many people have you killed today?" and in Uncharted 3 there's a moment where Sully asks just exactly why Drake carries on. These moments, to me at least, seem like a brief indication that the universe is self-conscious and, as a result, I feel like I'm playing within the gels holding the fiction together; being both within and without. Uncharted's 'cinematic' qualities, for the most part, are used on top of interactive elements rather than have the interactive elements coming secondary to a 'cinematic' purpose. Strong examples of this being the climbing sections and the 'collapsing building' in Uncharted 2. You're still able to interact even as the camera pans around and does fancy things. All the while you're being called 'Nathan' or 'Nate', with the occasional 'Drake', and the personal connection to the game is something worth talking about.

If a player-character has your name do you feel more connected to the gameworld as a result? It's honestly kind of difficult to try and extend your consciousness on to these avatars given the explicit separation. You're usually sat in front of a screen tapping buttons. Bringing the user to the height of aesthetic experience is incredibly hard to do in any medium but perhaps video-games have some intrinsic qualities which make the transition easier. They're interactive for a start and the usual root design of all of them is some kind of 'journey'. The player is asked to progress through a level with all sorts of objective markers, mission task lists and quest items.

This is why I'm strongly against trying to delve into a player character's 'psychology' unless it extends to the player. In L.A. Noire there's a moment in which you attempt to question a suspect and, given the systems of interaction, you end up calling a woman a "lying bitch" and shouting at her. You never properly slip into the skin of Cole Phelps given you don't know his motivations or the words he is about to say and so player responsibility is arguably less apparent. The game also (spoilers) has an entire section in which Cole has a random affair, which the game informs you of after it has been discovered by the other NPCs. This makes it incredibly difficult to think that the game actually cares about your actions when it fundamentally sidelines them in favor of telling a story. Heavy Rain (also spoilers) is another example when the player's agency is utterly dis-respected, with the the Shelby 'typewriter' scene where the player can interact and then later is shown to display how he is the Origami killer; a root betrayal of that trust between player and game. (/spoilers over).

I wonder then if the likes of Fallout and Skyrim nail it. Without a name for the player character you are essentially a blank slate who interacts with a world that refers to you by a simple title like 'The Courier' or 'Dragonborn'. It makes sense to try and build a sense of 'player identity' through their actions rather than pre-determined elements. Video-games  don't have any awareness of the player's existence before they sit down to play the game. The Walking Dead doesn't ask you for you height, religion, race, sex, gender, genital(s) size(s), photos of your body and your fingerprints. It just plays. If 'assumptions' about the player hurt player applicability then why is it that I'm fine with being called 'Nathan' in a video-game but not fine with having an assumed relationship with a wife? Is it wrong to say I think Red Dead Redemption has zero respect for the player's role in the narrative when I myself laud how wonderful the Uncharted series is, when the series itself relies heavily on pre-determined relationships to push its story.

It might be the explicit nature of the cut-scenes in Red Dead and the writing styles that push that game into a game that characterizes the player as an author of the story's progress but an observer of the story's process. By that I mean a gunfight achieves one of Marston's objectives, but Marston is the one to talk and actually get the benefits of that gunfight in the story. None of the NPCs tell me about how amazing it is to be friends with me, they just talk about how grateful they are for having a friend like Marston after all they've done together. Dan Houser, Rockstar Games writer, in my opinion has never been a 'natural' video-game storyteller whereas Naughty Dog's Amy Hennig, in my opinion, gets the self-conscious aspects that a video-game inherently carries. The relationships are pre-determined but they're not forced. You're called a name that isn't yours, unless it actually is in my case, but you feel connected to these characters because the game knows it's a game and compensates for the fact that you can't spend five years getting to know someone to then shoot people in the face alongside them. It's the only way to make sure it doesn't delve into the 'Outsider' way of telling game narrative, when a hero like Gordon Freeman or The Courier come into the world and (for the most part) meet new people at the same time as the player does. Neither 'Insider' nor 'Outsider' are the 'right' way to tell video-game stories by the way.

Names mean a lot and I don't think this collection of thoughts can properly express the psychological connection we have with video-games. In a lot of cases gaming is a lot like writing. You are authoring an experience alongside your chosen guidelines. There's sometimes that same 'feeling', writers might agree, when you're fully immersed in the world. I do however think that when a player character shares your name then there's a sense of comfortably shared identity. Player identity, in my opinion, is probably the most crucial part of video-game design; it is the basis of all interactivity.   read


5:43 PM on 03.09.2013  

Weapon of Choice: BioShock's Wrench



When people talk about weapons having 'weight' in video-games I always think of BioShock's wrench. From the minute Atlas said with his Irish laden lips "Pick up a crowbar or something." I knew that there was something afoot. Not only was there a poke at Half-Life mythology (which we covered last week) but there was just something about it. Atlas never directs you to actually pick up the wrench and, in some sense, it's one of the smallest chances of free choice that are offered by the game. I'm trying not to spoil it because it's close to Infinite's release and I think a lot of people will be playing the beast for the first time.

The wrench works so well because it feels like a wrench. Swipes do take a degree of time, especially without the added gene tonic bonuses, and the thudding squash of flesh when the metal hits the Splicers always feels realistically satisfying. When you manage to thud a splicer's head as he's about to pounce on you, that's when BioShock really excels in its construction of tension and atmosphere. The wrench adds this layer of rebellion to it, like you're some laborer in Russia during the 1930s and you're bashing Russia into a brighter future with the Communist rhetoric blaring above. Although that vision's in stark contrast to the Randian rants of Andrew Ryan that spill out of the tannoys throughout Rapture.

The wrench does feel just completely fitting of the game. I was always disappointed with BioShock 2's melee weapon, the drill, because it (puntended) never had the right impact. It always felt the slightest bit 'empty' in how you were able to spin it up a little and then smack people. You never tore through bodies, largely thanks to the limited capability of the engine and hardware stuffs, and it never had the same thud that the original wrench had. When you swiped a Splicer with your drill in BioShock 2 there was a degree of lethargy in it but also lacking of that special punch that the wrench gives. Like the jumping mechanics in Super Meat Boy, the timing of the swipes was nailed just perfectly with the wrench.



Around a year ago I completed BioShock on normal difficulty using only the Wrench and plasmids at hand. Now I want to complete it on Survivor difficulty, no Vita Chambers, no tonics, no plasmids and Wrench only. Adding this rule to the game, I feel, is a lot like going Permadeath in Far Cry 2. It really does bring out the best in the video-game and also shows exactly what kind of special feels that the power of interactivity has to offer when combined with degrees of player freedom. I would not do this if sequel's drill was in the original BioShock, it just feels 'repetitive' to me.

The wrench seems fine-tuned to any combat situation. There's tonics to make stealth attacks practically kill Splicers in one, there's a tonic to freeze enemies upon hitting them and there's even a tonic that drastically increases your damage output to make you a one man killing machine. In BioShock there's no 'Swiper no swiping!', there's a freedom to mix up the tonics, plasmids and weaponry per encounter to advance throughout the game in an exciting manner.

More important to the very 'feel' of the wrench, in my opinion, is the idle animations. When not swiped for long, Jack will turn it over in his hands. There's even a metal 'clunk' when he does this. When you've got the winter wrench tonic attached then the frozen wrench still 'clinks' against his other palm. It gives an added sense of weight to the object and perhaps shows off that Jack is ready for action, ready to be the deliverer of pain.

In short, this tool of bludgeoning gives BioShock even more of its mechanical identity. The plasmids, Tommy Gun and steampunk-esque arsenal all give a sense of 'weight' and harsh grit to the world and the wrench embodies this similar sensation of solidness. The wrench, above any other weapon in the game, allows the player to touch the world... with an instrument... to the face. Bloodily.

Next week - Resistance's Bullseye   read


1:30 PM on 03.02.2013  

Weapon of Choice: Half-Life 2's Shotgun



Video-games are too obsessed with weaponry. I understand guns give that 'instant feedback' which is utterly crucial to tactile experiences but interactivity for a good amount of time has always resided in the tunnel vision of the blood-soaked industry. With that in mind I'd like to explore some choice examples of weapons that work beyond shooting people in the face. If this industry is going to build itself around weapons then the least we can do is find elements that are at the very least interesting or shape an experience in unique ways.

Half-Life 2 is an indisputable modern classic. I've written on it before from how it cursed me for years and how I do believe it's the most 'competent' first-person shooter ever made. I still replay it every once in a while just to capture that very unique feel. One of the main criticisms lobbied at Half-Life in general is the lacking of mechanical identical. BioShock has its plasmids, Fallout 3 has its V.A.T.S and even Call of Duty has a very 'modern' approach to its arsenal. Half-Life, as a franchise, has carbines and alien guns and other apparatuses that really don't give it a 'distinct' identity when it comes to its mechanics. When I think of playing Half-Life 2 I instantly think of playing the game but not how the game plays. This is why the shotgun is so crucial to Half-Life 2, more than the gravity gun in my opinion. It truly is more unique than a simple physics firing wotsit.

The shotgun (full name: Combine SPAS-12) in Half-Life 2 is given to you by Father Grigori in the Ravenholm section of the game and it, on the surface, functions like any other video-game shotgun. Push one button to shoot. The twist comes in its alternate fire that spews out two shots instead of one. This can be used to instantly ice certain fools or blow up barrels. One pellet is enough for certain enemies, such as barnacles, but others take more than two. It really depends on what distance you're working at. During boss battles and other heavy sequences you start to realize there's an intricate system to the shotgun. It has its own economy.

The economy of the shotgun is as follows: the chamber can hold up to six pellets at the time. This means there's a need to conserve and also add up, within seconds, the root value of what exactly your next button press results in. This table might help:



What you're constantly having to weigh up is how to maximize the pellets in your shotgun at any given moment. The shotgun has an economy within itself that really separates it from a lot of the weapons in the game. The sub-machine gun, pistol and magnum etc. don't carry the same 'power' as the shotgun. The magnum arguably has the closest economy to the shotgun, and it too usually kills all enemy types in one button press (one bullet), but it doesn't have an alternate fire like the shotgun does.

Now obviously I haven't considered the nature of the 'reload' and this effect drastically changes the internal economy. Having six shots gives you more options than having five for instance but being able to reload quickly gives the shotgun a unique quality in Half-Life 2 thanks to its alternate fire. Let's say you're fighting two big enemy types in the game and each takes around two shots to disperse but you're only carrying three shots in the chamber. This mean you can weaken them both with single shots and eventually killing at least one of them, or you can alternate fire and single shot another to at least take one away. With the added 'reload' there's now a multiple of possibilities and a layer of urgency thanks to this internal economy. Do you reload one more pellet just to alternate fire both enemies and vanquish them? Do you alternate fire and rush to cover to reload? Do you instantly rush to cover? You can interrupt reloading too which mixes everything up further. This entire system that orbits the shotgun is further deepened when you consider the various contexts that Half-Life 2 can put you in. Under water, open-spaces and other environments can all add or subtract urgency. Urgency can further be molded by manipulating resources in the environment or by the player his/herself; imagine having low-health in a room full of health items versus having low-health in a room without health items. Both scenarios play out drastically differently to one another.



The value of the shotgun I'm writing about here does seem somewhat 'too heavy', but that's largely because a lot of this design is sub-conscious. All of those 'ripple' effects such as ammo supply, the environment, health items, enemy types and others are all entangled with the shotgun's internal system. The internal and the external marry to bring about a gameplay experience aka. 'a firefight'.

Obviously the shotgun isn't your exclusive choice in Half-Life 2. You usually want to minimize input while maximizing output; using the least amount of ammo possible, conserving as much health as possible etc. The shogun's economy enriches this gameplay equation and its aesthetics are the cherry sweetener. The 'feel' of the weapon is felt with every reload, every pump and every shot/alternate shot. The weight is felt in both the recoil and in the second delays between reloads and shots.

The shotgun isn't just engineered with a rather simple but intricate economy but also designed to be pleasing to both the ears and hands. Valve really do nail the mathematical and artistic principles of their weapons and, for me at least, the shotgun is my weapon of choice.

Next week - BioShock's Wrench   read


7:50 PM on 02.17.2013  

Changes

I have a few books coming out very soon (one on video-games, another on American Psycho, my first proper novel and a poetry compilation) so I'm very short on time at the moment. I'm here to say that I've now happily joined the Flixist.com crew as an editor so do expect more filmic editorial content from me over there on the front page.

My DTOID blog however suffers given, well, I'm devoting a lot of my time to film now. NATHAN HARDISTY. BETRAYING HIS ROOTS SINCE 2013.

I've decided then to start trying to write something short but weekly. Here's a few of my ideas and I'll start whatever you want me to at the beginning of March or something?
Some ideas:

Weapon of Choice: Every week I look at a unique weapon from a different game. Starting with the shotgun from Half-Life 2. As much as the industry's fetishization of violence often upsets me, it's still incredible to note just how unique we can make weaponry. This would be like 500 words every week or something.

52: For 52 weeks I write about one singular video-game going through its mechanics, story, themes, level design and try to untangle what it means to exist as a 'video-game' today. I think it'd be interesting to do a not-so-well received game or a cult classic maybe? At the end I'd release it as a free eBook. Maybe even move on to a new game.

1124 Years: I've recently jumped into the league of Paradox games, starting with Crusader Kings II and discovered that it's possible, through save game converters, to play a whole millenia of history. The Old Gods expansion for CK2 is releasing soon and pulling the start date back to 867ad which means with the release of East vs West I'd be able to forge an empire from the birth of Viking siege of York up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. I'm a history geek too so expect some stories spliced in. I have no idea how I'd write this.   read


5:21 PM on 01.04.2013  

Why I've not been around so much.

There’s a reason I haven’t posted much not so often, or not at all, in the last few months and it’s down to a singular reason. This reason has sucked up more time than anything. I fully expect my impending exams to do the same thing, so don’t expect a massive HARDISTY BLOWOUT just yet.

As you know, I’m only eighteen years old. I’m doing my A-levels, the stuff you do the year before you gallivant off to university.

Here’s the reason I’ve been hiding in case I got too excited and jumpy up and downy about it. I’m a History boy, if that’s not apparent already, and I’ve wanted to study History at university for a good while now. I got a few offers back quite suddenly after my application but…

I also applied for Cambridge back in October out of trying to see if I could charm my way in. I had to write essays, extra questionnaires and read myself to death. I got an interview for the next month which went swimmingly well in which I discussed topics ranging from apocalyptic fiction birthed by the Black Death and Lyndon B Johnson’s penis. I kid you not. Since then I’ve been panicking, crying and pretty much dying in terms of motivation.

Today I received a letter from Churchill College, you apply to the university and to a college within, stating that they have given me an offer of A*AA.

Quite frankly, I’ve spent the day in locked-in disbelief, shock and a general ‘glass case full of emotions’.

This is why my time has been diverted to other areas, this is why I have spent so long just cursing at myself and generally being self-deprecating and this is why I have yet to really established any pattern or schedule of content.

But, yes, I did it.

Expect waxings to pick up after the exam period. Early February probably. But for now know that, well, 2013 has started for me in an incredible place.

Cheers,

Nathan   read


3:55 PM on 12.05.2012  

VGAs: Done right?

Note: Yes, I disappeared for a millennium. Yes, I am back. Yes, things are hectic but hello!



About roughly one billion years ago I wrote one of the very first 'Game Critique Corners' on Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. Forgive the spellings, grammar and general 'young Hardisty' vibe that the piece carries, but I still think it makes a valid point about the Spike VGAs. Both in video-games themselves, from cut-scenes to voice talent to linearity, and the industry itself, from advertisements to merchandising, there has long been a thought that we are simply living in the shadow of cinema. The term 'cinematic' has practically been  said about every video-game for the past decade, and it's this term that I think is now outdated. For a while the 'cinematic' influence was our stepladder to higher expression, and now I think it's happening. Now the teenage identity crisis is over. Now we have our own messages, themes, ideas and celebrities from Schafer to Newell. Now we have our own voice talent.

The above image is taken from the nominations for voice talent in the Spike TV VGAs, the largest 'gaming awards' thing. This thing has been ridiculed, dissected and been utterly despised by gamerkind since its inception. Because it's not for gamerkind. Gaming journalist personality Geoff Keighley has served as producer on the project for many years now and I can honestly say that, after so long, this is one giant leap in a good direction. Go look at how Journey is nominated for Game of the Year, how Emma Stone is the last 'celebrity' nominated for voice talent and how Spec Ops: The Line (a goddamn SHOOTER game that DESTROYS AND DEMONIZES ALL SHOOTERS) is nominated for something. More importantly how Nolan 'I am in everything and give stellar performances every single time but yet have yet to receive a fucking Spike VGA award' North is primed to get something for once, for Spec Ops as well.

This was the VGAs' voice nominees two years ago;



Look at that. Not a real video-game talent in sight. Just celebrity after celebrity after Rob Wiethoff after celebrity. You can imagine them sending letters and requests to agents to PLEASE ATTEND! PLEASE LET PEOPLE SEE VIDEO-GAMES ARE COOL! It's a compromise. One that, quite frankly, remains detestable but necessary. Video-games had to become popular to become widespread, to gain credibility. Celebrities was the fast track. Keep in mind I still think that talent like Gary Oldman and Wiethoff delivered INCREDIBLE performances in their respective games, but video-games have long tried to find their own mix of talent. Now we have our own A-listers and B-listers and so on and so forth.

We still have work to do, obviously. We still have celebrities helming the thing, we still have some stupid nominees (Assassin's Creed 3 for game of the year? Really?) and there's still the issue of some ridiculously warped categories like 'Character of the year' and 'Most anticipated game' and the general giant advertisement for next year's titles. Award shows shouldn't be trade shows, they should be separate.

But the voice talent nominated? Some of the nominees for some of the bigger awards being goddamn downloadable? Spec Ops: The Line being nominated?! A game that literally beats the shooting genre to death and calls it out on everything (my personal game of the year and the main topic for my next book).

This is more than pleasing.   read


4:04 PM on 09.12.2012  

I'm Okay With No More Half-Life

A note: I'm terribly sorry. Truly I am. I'm juggling a lot in the air right now and I've decided to cut off regular gamey type stuff like this. All of this will be irregular postings on whatever I want. For now I'm moving over to film journalism, but will still finish my book series on video-games at some point.

This was written in an hour and it gets waxy and a little bit preachy. I apologize if it isn't up to the usual standards.

Cheers,

Nathan



Black Mesa comes out in less than two days and we’re a month away from it being over five years since Gordon Freeman’s last formal outing. There’s a definite sting in the air as the anticipation of the continuation of the Half-Life saga begins to boil to a whimper. This is what I’m feeling. For a good while even at the slightest hint of their being Episode Three or Half-Life 3 there was a burst of emotion of almost child-like glee. For a good while there was genuine hope and a desire for Half-Life to continue. Half-Life is a part of our collective consciousness, especially when it comes to discussing Valve titles, and now it’s coming to over half a decade since the last title and I have decided that I would be okay to never see Gordon Freeman again.

Although we don’t see him anyway because he’s a mere avatar for the player to control and a further element of game developer commentary on the nature of the protagonist and linear video-game design. Or something.

I still delight in every new spring of Valve goodness. I’m currently looking forward to lapping up Counter-Strike: GO at some point this year, and I hope to finally head into Dota 2 at some point. I’ve relished the Team Fortress 2 updates and was stunned by the commentary, humour and bombastic artistic masterstroke that was Portal 2. I have a feeling that Valve feel themselves no longer defined by the ‘crowbar’ but by their wider franchises and genres that they dip their toes into. They have their fingers in many pies, delicious pies, and from Left 4 Dead to Portal there are heavy references and in-jokes about Half-Life and the mythical ‘Valve time’. I feel Valve are trying to build out an incredible, expanded universe of Half-Life to the point where everything around Freeman and company dissolves and we’re left with this giant pool of original and wide-stretching content. 


The original Half-Life 2 took me over seven years to complete, so I’m no stranger to being patient with the franchise, and quite frankly I think it’s time to let go. It’s an elephant in the room with every Gabe Newell interview and every discussion involving Valve. There’s a definite crisis within gamerkind when we can’t shake the cloud of a franchise in the same sense that Hollywood or comic books or other mediums seem to do so effectively. Franchises and series and issues and heroes all wither and die eventually. I don’t think gamerkind it too overtly attached, emotionally entangled or even too immature to let go – it’s just we’ve never done this before – and we’ve never had a medium like this. Half-Life was birthed from the mixing pot of golden age shooters; the first title representing a dramatic almost monolithic shift into a new technological and engineered era of video-game design. To let go of such an important influence on the modern world, within popular culture and beyond, seems practically impossible. Half-Life fathered the modern shooter.

Mario, Zelda and so many more have outlasted the Freeman. BioShock and Fallout and too many series to mention will carry on to burn the gaming candle wick into the future. Series, heroes, icons and franchises are born every generation. Not as much as we’d like to think, I do believe the industry has a stifling and ‘choked’ attitude when it comes to original IP, but this might be due to the existence of the Half-Life colossus. The status quo of the video-game industry: retrofever. There’s always a sense of glee when something ‘retro’ or ‘familiar’ touches us in a video-game whether it’s a mechanic or a reference or an entire reborn franchise, there’s a tickle of our nostalgia. It’s becoming self-indulgent and I absolutely love that. Video-games are beginning to find their identity in this soulless corporate apocalypse that we call modern civilisation. It’s time to complete the final step.

It let go of Half-Life would mean that something else would take its place, or several new things. A capitalistic fever could sweep the industry as soon as Valve announces its crowbar cruiser as now dead and buried. A healthy spur of competition and for the spoils and riches to be devoured by the true victor: us. When such a massive void is left in the industry, something has to fill that power vacuum. There are so many smaller series and franchises and old age dogs like IO Interactive and Obsidian who could create something exciting and interesting to fill the space. It makes further sense to let go, because then we can become used to it. Then we can let Call of Duty die out, deny the Duke Nukem revival and finally allow the ‘Assassin’s Creed Trilogy‘ (not really a trilogy) to remain just that. A trilogy. Christopher Nolan showed almost great excitement to the fact that The Dark Knight Rises would finish the story, that there’d be an opportunity to finally complete something. Can you think of many video-game franchises that had a completely satisfying and perhaps emotionally tied conclusion? Halo 3 went ahead and ‘finished the fight’ and became Halo 4, Modern Warfare 3 ended the story that begin in the first but there’s already rumblings of Modern Warfare 4 and Gears Of War seems to still be ballooning itself up with add-ons and spin-offs and lovely diversions. Would it be nice if we just… let go, and what better way to show it than through Half-Life? I understand that sometimes a franchise can come back with full spirit (Fallout New Vegas and Deus Ex Human Revolution for example) but some things are left undisturbed. There’s not a common culture in video-game design of ‘finishing’ something. Ask yourself, honestly, how many video-games have you played in the last few years that actually had ‘good endings’? There’s a need to make cliffhangers and ambiguity the status quo, because the sequel and franchise leasing is what leads to the survival of developers and not a refinement of original ideas.

Half-Life 2 Episode Two ended in the most powerful way that I’ve ever seen a video-game do. It killed one of its main characters but eased up the stakes. Gordon and Alyx were heading towards the Borealis in the final push for humanity’s hope. For years we’ve imagined their journey, imagined the first blinks as we take our first steps out into the Arctic wastes and spy combine machinery. For years we’ve thought of the return of Barneyand Adrian Shepard and Judith and finding out what the G-man’s all about, what’s on the Borealis and answering everything and everything ourselvesEpisode Two ended in the right kind of ambiguity, the kind that makes you believe. I am okay with never seeing Half-Life again because, this took me some time to realize, Valve created an ending engineered to make you want to stop the Combine. To make you want to continue. To make you realize that it was now all in on the Borealis.

I don’t think Valve can deliver on that. Not within an episode. I expect to find Half-Life return in a few years of time but, quite frankly this would sound blasphemous to my younger self, I’m become desensitized to the colossal hype surrounding it. I’d be happy to see it end, for Valve to finally let go of the crowbar and build new series, but I’m happy now. For it to end like this seems almost right for the franchise, because Valve already moved on a long time ago.

They grow up so fast.   read







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