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12:19 PM on 06.27.2013  

For a Few Consoles More: RAW Is Console War



Some months ago, I put to paper one of the silliest, most moronic things I have ever written. A Fistful of Consoles: The End of the Console War was a short piece of writing in which I personally ended the seventh console war by comparing each individual piece of hardware to a flavour of ice-cream; highlighting both the flaws and qualities of the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3. 

Barriers were demolished, friendships were re-kindled, and the balance and calm of society had been restored. One of the greatest and bloodiest wars of our time had been ended by the simple words of a lowly blogger. But now, with the re-emergence of three once-great global super-powers, a new war is brewing, and in an attempt to douse the flames of conflict before they are re-kindled for good, I must once again take to my keyboard to save the videogame industry. 

You may be thinking: “The ice cream analogy is old news. No way is comparing the snobbery of PS3-era Sony to a lemon sorbet going to save us this time.” And right you are. I’m not one to rest on my laurels, so without further filler for extra paragraphs: the eight generation consoles are exactly like pro-wrestlers. 

The Xbox One is John “Bradshaw” Layfield


Now before you say: “Hey, wait! I like JBL!” there’s something important we must consider. Nobody likes JBL; we all just love to hate him. JBL is the epitome of what a “heel” should be: simple, obnoxious and always looking out for himself above others. With a corporate-boner the size of Texas itself, JBL is more concerned with the needs of the finely-suited-fat-cats than those of the common man.

Despite the occasional face-turn, JBL is still routed in everyone’s minds as the stereotypical slimy, money-grabbing, arrogant sell out of the business. With a huge fetish for money and a reputation for backstage nastiness, JBL would rather step on his competition and his fans in the most brazen, unceremonious way than act like a decent human being. You could probably even put a dollar sign in his name too (J$L), and you should definitely all do that and it would be really funny and satirical. 

The PS4 is The Rock



Despite many a heel turn in which he acted snooty, arrogant and self-important, The Rock still retains his identity as “The People’s Champion”; a man who stands up for the rights of the common man in the face of adversity. The Rock doesn’t care about pleasing the fat cats, he just wants to make sure the audience is having a great time… and if he makes a few hundred million dollars in the process then that’s just fine! 

Although for a while he can seem somewhat absent, he always returns with a bang, and to glorious fanfare from the crowd (as well as jealous, worried glares from the competition). You could even go as far to say that some wrestlers have tried to ape The Rock’s polici-um… wrestling style, in an attempt to gain some of his fans for themselves. When all’s said and done, The Rock isn’t always looking out for us, but his heart is in the right place and he’s pretty damn cool.  

He may not be perfect, but by God when you smell what The Rock is cooking, you can’t help but feel electrified (PlayStation 4 electrocution problems not yet confirmed). 

The Wii U is Eugene


Hey remember Eugene? No? Really?

I guess it’s because he hasn’t really done anything worthy of mainstream recognition in a while, but poor old (Wii) Eugene seems to have been forgotten by most people. He’s silly, playful and hard to take too seriously, but it’s quite possible people just don’t really get him for the most part. In a lot of ways, the overbearing gimmick that got him noticed in the first place may eventually be his downfall. A lot of the time he just seems to stumble about the place; clueless yet charming. 

Despite all this though, everybody still likes Eugene, and he still has a decent amount of supporters and fans who are dedicated enough to cheer loudly for him. He may not be the first thing on everybody’s minds, but he’s certainly not out of the game yet. 

The OUYA is Sin Cara


Who the fuck is Sin Cara?

___________________________________________________________________

So there you have it; I have once again used irrefutable facts and evidence to save the games industry from tearing itself open from within. However, if my words fail to reach enough people, know this: the eight console war will begin, and it will not stop consuming our lives until we are all lifeless, broken husks wearing Nintendo/movie franchise mash-up t-shirts we bought from Redbubble. 

The console war is not a source of levity, and I am definitely not making fun of it in the slightest. Just like pro wrestling, console wars are real, and console wars hurt.

War. War never changes.

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3:14 PM on 06.14.2013  

Breathing New Life into (Un)Death



“Zombie games are overdone”.

This statement has become something of a motto in some circles, particularly circles of people who follow the games industry and games media extensively, and those who enjoy analysing and observing the ever-shifting trends the market has to offer. The general “consensus” seems to be: zombies are an overplayed tool used either as a means for the player to kill endless waves of humanoid bodies without it damaging their moral compass, or as a cheap narrative device used to force a group of characters into situations wherein their most extreme emotions and actions become the norm.

I happen to think both of these theories are true to a certain degree, and there are countless examples of games in which these tactics are used (although not always in a negative way). However, zombie games still, and probably always will, have a place in the games industry.



In 2012, Telltale’s The Walking Dead was one of the most critically acclaimed games of the year; praised not only for its brilliant dialogue, acting and storytelling, but for the apparent revival of an entire genre of games. Currently, in the summer of 2013, The Last of Us is garnering near-universal critical acclaim and sending industry pundit’s heads spinning. Two titles about humanoid flesh eating monsters have become the go-to games in the “games are art” argument. 

What I find really interesting about this whole thing is: I keep swearing myself off zombie games. I keep telling myself they are tired, overdone and lacking in any kind of creative drive or passion. Then I’ll go buy The Walking Dead, Dead Island and State of Decay because: (in my own words) “It’s like a zombie game, but different!”

 

There must be a reason for why, as consumers of videogames, we keep returning to these walking corpses with open arms and sharpened axes. Not only are zombie games often critically acclaimed (or at least lauded for ambitious takes on a stale franchise – more on that later), but they also sell like hotcakes. In fact, I’d bet good money that you could stick the word “Dead” into just about any crappy film, game, comic or TV show at this point and it would still reach a huge amount of people across the world. There’s something universal about zombies and their impact on the player. They offer a glimpse into the darker side of human nature; the all-consuming, wasteful and greedy side of us that just keeps hungering for more, until nothing is left. Zombies are by nature, an all-purpose tool to be used by a developer to serve multiple functions.

In the past week, I have witnessed two relatively similar; yet ultimately different takes on how to use zombies as a “tool” within videogames. Just before E3 began, I finished playing State of Decay, the new open world zombie survival simulator from Undead Labs. I came away from the game feeling like zombies as a concept had been refreshed and reinvigorated in my mind. The game is choppy, buggy and ugly as all hell, but the ways in which it engages the player are unique and engrossing in a really special way. “This is it!” I told myself, “This is the zombie game I always told my friends somebody should make!”



At Microsoft’s E3 briefing, they showed of Dead Rising 3, the latest chapter in Capcom’s over the top hack-n-slash blood fest. Dead Rising 3 and State of Decay evoked near polar opposite responses from me. 

State of Decay uses zombies as a constant source of danger, to the point where they go beyond just being frightening. At various points in the game, the zombies were becoming so detrimental to the completion of my ever-growing list of missions, I actually thought to myself: “These zombies are really annoying”. Yes, these cannibalistic, mutated humans are something of a bother aren’t they? In fact, the game uses a growing list of objectives in conjunction with bickering and arguments in your home base, and an increase in the strength and numbers of the zombies plaguing the town to give you a real sense of oppression and impending doom. Throughout my time with the game, I felt worried, apprehensive, scared for my allies, and like I was being overworked in order to survive. This wasn’t evident by some arbitrary stat decrease on the screen, or in my character’s stamina bar; I actually felt overworked by the game, and I loved it.
 
Where State of Decay offers a refreshing new “survival-sim” take on zombie games, with its extra emphasis on base building, recruitment, resource management, and supply raids, Dead Rising 3 looks to be the most vapid, soulless excuse for a zombie game I’ve seen in a while, to the point where it has forgotten why anybody liked Dead Rising in the first place. 



Now, of course I haven’t played Dead Rising 3, and a certain amount of Microsoft’s briefing should be taken with an aircraft carrier of salt, but the portion of gameplay they showed off could only be describe as lukewarm at best. I’m not really a big fan of the DR series, but I understood their appeal and had respect for the over the top, silly nature of the games. In the first two installments of the series, zombies were used as simple objects to be killed; nothing new there. But where the game stood out was in exactly how the player got to kill those flesh eating demons. The sheer flamboyance and variety of weapons and costumes at the player’s disposal was admirable, and the idea of putting a player inside a shopping mall full of all consuming, brainless creatures (ooh social commentary) was always going to raise a smile from the audience.

With DR3 though, we were presented with a brown, tepid slab of gameplay, wherein hot pants and guitars seem to have been replaced with guns, fire and a “turdwash” lens filter. The reason people play Dead Rising is so that they can kill zombies in a silly, colourful environment whilst gleefully looking like the biggest prick in the world. It only takes a modicum of common sense to realise that making a DR game that isn’t about those things is a giant, hulking misstep of a move. 



For the entire time I was watching the Dead Rising 3 reveal, I kept thinking: “Wow. This just looks like State of Decay with much more polish, and much less in the way of interesting gameplay or charm.” It won’t appeal to DR fans that enjoy whimsical, nonsensical hacking and slashing. It’s unlikely it will appeal to those who enjoyed the community focused base building parts of State of Decay, and it won’t appeal to the fans of gritty shooters Capcom so shamelessly wants to impress. So who is actually going to be playing this game at launch?

While State of Decay used zombies as a means of creating a sense of depression, frustration and worry within the player, Dead Rising 3 just made me feel depressed, frustrated and worried at the state of the videogame industry. 

Zombies are not inherently good or bad. They are not overused; nor are they still the “coolest thing in pop culture”. Zombies are merely a tool, and like every tool, it’s all about how you use them.

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3:30 PM on 05.15.2013  

In Defence of BioWare



In the wake of the recent announcement that EA now owns the rights to develop and publish “core” Star Wars games, some predictable yet reasonable discussions have arisen around the internet pertaining to what these game might actually be. Of course, fans came out in droves to declare that DICE would be the “obvious” choice to develop Battlefront 3, and there are even some smaller groups entertaining the idea that Visceral Games might develop a game based on the ludicrous (yet highly entertaining) zombie-horror book Death Troopers.

As an avid Star Wars fan and games enthusiast, these reactions didn’t surprise me, and it was actually nice to see many fans becoming slightly hopeful about new Star Wars fiction, even if that hope was mixed with a pinch of salt and heap of apprehension. What did surprise me though, was the reaction many other enthusiasts like myself had towards the idea that BioWare might return to make a new Knight of the Old Republic game, or a different single player Star Wars RPG. Instead of the overwhelming sense of happiness and flashing neon signs that invade my brain when I hear the words KotOR, many gamers seemed annoyed or simply apathetic at the prospect of BioWare returning to the post-Baldur’s Gate series that successfully brought them to a more mainstream audience.



“After DA2Mass Effect 3 and TOR, I’m not interested in any of BioWare’s games. They seem to have had their creative talent and ambition suppressed and choked by EA.”  

This is a statement I put together to summarize the general consensus regarding this Kotor/BioWare speculation, had most of the comments been expressed in less “Internet-y” ways. This idea that BioWare has lost its touch has come up a lot recently, and it’s a theory that is certainly not without weight or merit. Dragon Age 2 was a bad case of dumbing down for the sake of dumbing down, and Mass Effect 3’s ending… will not be mentioned here since I wouldn’t dare open that house full of cupboards full of cans of worms. But in my youthful naiveté, I’m not without hope for BioWare, and still believe they are a force for good in this ever darkening world of interactive entertainment.

Interestingly, some of the biggest issues that seem to plague the industry these days regarding sexism, elitism and exclusion don’t seem to be much of an issue in BioWare games. For several years now, BioWare has been one of frighteningly few AAA developers whose games include fairly rounded and respectful depictions of men and women, often of different sexual preferences.



Now, before you throw a sharp object or large cat my way, I’m not talking in absolutes here. Yes, Dragon Age 2 was clumsy and heavy handed in its “everyone is bi-sexual” approach to sexuality, and there are issues with some of Mass Effect’s gay romances that I won’t go into here, but the fact that these complaints and discussions have arisen strikes me as a positive move forward. Whereas most developers stick to bland and often offensive depictions of men as “dude-bros”, and women as nothing more than a pair of breasts to be gawked at, BioWare tends to treat its characters as characters, regardless of gender, sexuality or species. Commander Shepard never makes homophobic jokes about his crew members (more like “Gay-rrus”! Amirite?!), an omission many other developers could learn from. For a game series that often injects undercurrents of racism and xenophobia to enhance its narrative, Mass Effect is actually pretty damn tolerant, and provokes healthy discussion regarding narrative and character quirks.

It’s 2013, and BioWare is still one of the only (if not the only) developers outside of Japan to incorporate gay characters within its narratives in a meaningful or distinctive way. Sure they may screw it up in some way (the “Gay planet” springs to mind), but at least they’re trying. It might seem like a flimsy argument to say that, but when nobody else will even attempt to include alternative perspectives or a broader range of characters within their works, the folks at BioWare at least deserve respect and admiration for attempting these things, even if they sometimes fail to meet the standards their audience sets.



Social issues aside, BioWare’s writers still know how to write a damned entertaining story set within an engaging world; something that I find rare in today’s market. Hell, even though I found The Old Republic boring on the gameplay side, the writing at least proved that BioWare still “gets” Star Wars and why it appeals to people in the first place, something that cannot be said about the messy, lore-bending, asinine nonsense that was The Force Unleashed.

Many will argue that if BioWare returned to KotOR it would not be with a “core” RPG experience, rather they would develop a more streamlined, simplified version of the series to appeal to more people(‘s wallets). This, alas, is something of an unfortunate truth surrounding BioWare’s existence these days, and something that does worry me somewhat. If BioWare oversimplified the Kotor combat experience it would certainly have a negative effect on my personal enjoyment of the series. But streamlining isn’t inherently a bad thing, and can often actually remove certain amounts of clutter from a game when done correctly (a la the streamlining of the Mass Effect inventory system). The removal of said clutter can also direct developer and audience attention towards more important aspects of the game too, and with everything BioWare learned from the Mass Effect series, they could take their famous dialogue system, combine it with an updated version of the original Kotor’s (or Dragon Age Origins’) combat mechanics, and then apply it to the Old Republic setting to create a Kotor experience that feels familiar and faithful, but streamlined enough to be viable in today’s AAA market.



I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t count BioWare out. They may have made some glaring mistakes over the past 4 years, but they’re still one of the more daring, creative and downright talented developers in the industry. They still have a knack for creating engaging characters, worlds and stories, ones that always provoke interesting discussions and opinions from gamers, even if said characters/worlds/stories aren’t executed as well as they could be.

I’m still confident BioWare can pull something great out of the bag for the Star Wars license, whether it’s Knights of the Old Republic III or a completely new title. Regardless of whether you like or dislike their games, BioWare are an important force within today’s industry, and the games they create are among some of the most talked about titles of the past three console generations. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they should not be treated with apathy.

“Apathy is death.”                                                     

 

 

Oh fuck that’s Obsidian.

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2:34 PM on 05.03.2013  

A Blank Poem



Hey there Destructoid, it's been a while since I've written anything because I've been sick (and busy with "important" work), but I thought I'd try something different today. Here is different:

Let me tell you the tale of a man most ordinary,
The contents of which, is decidedly varied,
He may have a dark past, a family divided,
We just announced the game though, so we haven’t decided.
 
We’ll start with his name; our man is called “Blank”,
(The publisher wanted it, we thought it was wank),
White, American, dashing and handsome,
I know what you’re thinking; “just like Ted Danson”.
 
His story is one of tragedy and woe,
But none of that mushy stuff, that had to go,
Who said emotion isn’t about explosions and guns,
Or the lingering close-ups on Blank’s camouflaged buns?
 
Most of the story will be exposition,
A dark past revealed (it’s just a tradition!)
But still you’ll be in for heroics and glory,
Although the game is just a shitty origin story.
 
It wouldn’t be a story without a female character too,
(Although it’s not as though the box art will be big enough for two)
She might even be playable, if that’s the way you play,
Just so long as she doesn’t kiss Blank; that would just be gay.
 
Silly me, I forgot to give our pair of breasts a name!
It’s as if you really wanted her in our macho, manly game,
“Cherry LeBoobs” will be her name, for simplicity’s sake,
(Her in game role is to pout her lips, and give her arse a shake).
 
Between you and me though, I’m starting to get scared,
In playtests with women, poorly, our game fared,
These women wanted a more “well rounded girl”,
So we made her breasts rounder, and re-named her Pearl.
 
Still the game’s biggest draw is definitely Blank,
Especially when he wisecracks a bit, before blowing up a tank,
His story might seem barebones; perhaps a wee bit vague,
We were really bad with dialogue (we avoid it like the plague).
 
With audience appeal this broad, we’re bound to sell well.
(Lest our publisher eats our genitals, down in gaming hell)
The Blank Slate: Origins, Game of the Year!
With an intensive DLC plan, never you fear.
 
A game for guys, a game for bros!
We haven’t seen enough of those!
This game’s so full of in your face machismo,
The girls will probably hate it but we think you’ll be pleased though.

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2:16 PM on 04.06.2013  

BioShock Infinite Reminds Me Why I Love Videogames



[Warning: This article contains some minor spoilers for BioShock Infinite)

I’ve always been insecure about divulging my age on the internet, particularly within pieces of writing that I publish on the Internet. When I’m discussing the ins and outs of videogames across various outlets on the worldwide web, I often feel as though my opinions don’t matter because of my relative youth, and any inexperience that might come with it. The truth is, I think about videogames for most of the hours that I’m awake. When I’m not playing them, I’m writing about them. When I’m not writing about them, I’m daydreaming about them (much to the detriment of my social and academic lives). Videogames are my favourite art form.

I am of the opinion that games provide us with a form of entertainment like no other. A combination of music, cinematographic techniques, literary devices, art and gameplay, games combine every other artistic medium with their own to create experiences that feel like a digital banquet of art and creativity, experiences that feel a lot like film, literature, music etc, but with an added dose of uniqueness that sets them apart from the pack.



I went to watch Star Wars Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace for my fifth birthday (read into that as a reluctant admission of my age), and was blown away by the movie. It was my first step into the Star Wars universe, a universe that is now so important to my life that rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about it. Despite its glaring flaws, The Phantom Menace introduced me to Star Wars (and subsequently the better movies/expanded universe fiction contained within the franchise), and to huge fictional universes filled with interesting worlds and characters. Approximately 5 years later, I played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a game that revealed unto me two major realizations:

1. 1.Videogames could now do Star Wars better than films could.

2. 2.Videogames could excite, entertain and mesmerize me more than any other art form previously had.

You see, the main reason I love videogames is because of the universe’s in which they are set. I like to imagine that the game I am playing is just a series of self-contained events set within a grand universe; a universe with infinite stories to tell. Games allow us to experience (the word “experience” is probably starting to annoy you now, but please bear with me) these universes in a way that no other art form can. We are not restricted to a filmmaker’s camera or an author’s pen. If I, the player, wants to walk over to an NPC to see what it is they’re doing, a game allows me that luxury, at no expense to (and often to the betterment of) the game’s narrative.



Unfortunately, the past few years have not been kind on universes. With the exception of a few stand-out titles, very few games have presented me with universes that I want to be a part of; universes wherein the simple, passive act of being there is enough to entertain me. Whilst these games might entertain me thoroughly and provide me with significant hours of fun, they tend to lack the unique spark that was responsible for beginning my love affair with videogames.

Too often nowadays are players led through corridors and linear events, denied the ability to freely explore a universe and examine each individual, wonderful detail it provides. I had begun to wonder if the games industry had become so corrupted by the almighty dollar that they might never truly capture my imagination again. Then along came BioShock Infinite.



Every frame of BioShock Infinite is filled with minuscule details that don’t detract from the game’s narrative when gone unnoticed, but provide us with wonderful titbits of exposition, rhetorical questions and character/world development. The sheer attention to detail implemented by Levine and Co. only became evident to me after the game blew my mind for a second time. These details help to make Columbia, and by proxy, the rest of the BioShock universe(s) and entertaining world to be in.

Even during the more linear sections of the game, Infinite stands out as a game that employs other art forms to increase its entertainment value and narrative power, but in the end tells its story in a way that only a videogame can. Take, for example, the elevator sections throughout the game. Just by peering out of a window, the player can see so much of Columbia; so many fine details regarding architecture, fashion, characters, ideologies, technology. Purely by giving the player the ability to move Booker’s head around, these scenes give players a sense of agency within the game’s narrative that a film or book cannot even hope to achieve. When Booker peers out over the decadent cityscape of Columbia, it is as though I am seeing these things; I am preparing to leap from this elevator, hug the clouds and shout “I hate racism!” What would have turned up as a slow, descending/ascending tracking shot within a film becomes so much more powerful and dynamic within a videogame.



Let’s not forget, many of Infinite’s greatest moments are the times Booker spends wandering around on the beach or wading through punters at the fair. These moments of exploration, along with the game’s voxophones, kinetoscopes, and other such interactive devices (the Duke and Dimwit machines in particular were eye opening and unique) provided me with a sense of background detail and exposition that once, again cannot be portrayed in other mediums. I felt like I was being rewarded for exploring what was already an astonishingly beautiful-yet-tragic world.

Independently of Booker and Elizabeth’s quest, some of the game’s finest stories are told in such a way, often over the course of about ten seconds or so. Think about the voxophone that tells the story of a woman whose husband has been diagnosed with cancer, and must sell his body and become a “Handyman” in order to survive. As well as “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt”, I think “better a Handyman…than a dead one” is one of the most tragic and memorable quotes that the game has to offer. All of these devices and scenes provide so much information and detail that simply existing within the game’s universe becomes a source of entertainment.



Playing BioShock Infinite brought me back to the days I spent as a child fantasizing with my friends about becoming a Jedi, slaying orcs and defeating super-villains. Ken Levine and co have not only created a living, breathing universe that encapsulates the true spirit of imagination and creativity that I’ve missed for so long, they have reminded me why I love videogames.

I love videogames because they allow me to escape into another world, a world that feels so familiar to our own, yet so different. A world so full of danger, wonder and excitement, that it takes all of my effort not to spend all of my time within it. Ken Levine has reminded me of these things, and in doing so, he has reduced me to my five year old self, gleefully experiencing Star Wars for the first time in a dusty Lincolnshire cinema.

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10:49 AM on 04.03.2013  

The Audible Protagonist Ep. 10 - Do You Think Frank Gibeau Literally Eats Shit?



In the wake of Steven’s tragic death (kayfabe), The Audible Protagonist gang must continue against the tides of the videogame industry as a trio.

This week we’re talking BioShock Infinite, L.A. Noire, Slender: The Arrival, Square Enix’s failures, and multiplayer vs single player.

Subscribe to us y’all.

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2:58 PM on 03.25.2013  

The Audible Protagonist Episode 9 - The James Franco of Geek Culture



It’s time for another episode of The Audible Protagonist!

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/126074402/Podcast/Episode%209%20The%20James%20Franco%20of%20Geek%20Culture.mp3

On this week’s episode, we’re chatting about Empire: Total War, The Walking Dead - Survival Instinct (more hilarious Metacritic reviews), Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Darwin professes that I am the “James Franco of Geek Culture”.

Towards the end, Darwin tells the story of how the Ultimate Warrior will rip out Laurence’s intestines and bathe in them, so that’s pretty good too.

Subscribe on iTunes.

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-audible-protagonist/id597133394

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1:32 PM on 03.20.2013  

John Riccitiello and the Corporate Allegory



As bleak as the morning was, John Riccitiello (or Johnny C as his cool new friends had begun to address him affectionately) was in high spirits. Pulling on his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pyjamas, he bounded down the stairs, gleeful at the prospect of what his day might bring. He darted towards the refrigerator for a cold glass of milk, only to find a hand firmly denying his access to the cupboard of assorted chilled goods. It was his father.

Papa Riccitiello was a tall, stocky man with an overabundance of forehead, a forehead unsubtly covered by a wispy, black comb over. His piercing blue eyes, sheltered by thick furry eyebrows, conveyed a mixture of anger and disappointment.

“I just got a call from the Moores down the street, they said you’ve been hanging around with their son again Jonathan.”
Shit. He was busted for sure this time.
“Yeah Dad. I was just hangin’ out with Pete and Frank. It’s no biggie.”

It was a biggie. Johnny C, Franky “Gibbo” Gibeau, and Peter “Moar” Moore had been frequenting some of the less “family friendly” parts of town. There was a market for a particular “product” down in Oldtown, and “The Three Scrooges” knew exactly how to get it, and exactly how to sell it.



The truth was: John was living two lives. In one life he was Jonathan Riccitiello, the smart, hardworking son of a middle class American family. In the other life he was Johnny C, the tough talking, hard walking, drug dealing son-of-a-gun feared by so many of the town’s youths. The former life helped cover up his illegal activities, and allowed him to feign innocence if business went south, while the latter allowed him to make lucrative profits from young, impressionable kids.

“Gibeau?! I thought I told you not to hang around with that lout!”
“Jeez relax Dad! We were just playing some B-ball at the park. Cool it Papa.”

With his father suitably distracted by a newspaper story about knife crime, Johnny C scampered back up the stairs and prepared for school; a long, harsh day of calculus, chemistry and Chaucer. It was okay; he thought to himself, after I’m done with chemistry at 3 o’clock, the real chemistry can begin.

After any thoughts of test tubes or the periodic table had left his mind, Johnny C approached his friends as they loitered inconspicuously in a filthy back alley. He had some new business propositions to discuss.



“Hey Johnny”, Peter waved, fiddling with the buttons on his letterman jacket. “Does your dad know you’re here?”
“Yeah it’s cool; I told him I’d be staying after school to catch up with some revision.”
“You know Johnny”, Gibeau remarked, “When you say you’ll do one thing, then you do another, that’s a really good thing to do. It really makes people like you.”
“I know.”

Peter decided to steer the conversation towards its primary focus: “So guys, I get that business has been good recently; these kids are really digging the weed we’ve been selling. But I feel like we need to change the way we operate; really mix things up.”
“We need to stop doing what’s best for our buyers and start doing what’s best for us, the pushers,” added Frank.

The trio agreed in unison. A plan was about to be hatched; a plan so monumental it would make the Washington monument appear as minute and insignificant as a HB pencil.

“I was thinking,” Johnny began. “What if we take the product we’ve been selling normally at a fixed price, then take some of that product out of the bag and distribute it into smaller bags? We could charge a fixed price for less product than our customers were already buying, then charge extra for quick fixes further down the line. The customers would think they’re getting more for their money, but we’re actually robbing them blind!”



“You mean like micro transactions?”
“Yes Peter, micro transactions is exactly what I meant by that last sentence.”
“I like that idea,” said Gibeau, “Pissing off our consumers is definitely the best way to run a business.”

“We can do more though! I know how we used to be committed to providing people with the best product so they felt like their money was invested wisely, but what if we stopped that? What if we took our best weed, replaced it with inferior product, but kept the labels similar?” Johnny C was on fire, throwing out ideas as though they were old, stale biscuits. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a film sandwich bag, filled to the brim with a flaky green substance.

“Take this product for example: “Grass Effect”. This weed sells well, so why not just replace it with a more common, boring type of weed, but still sell it as Grass Effect? Head Spaced, Dragon Sage, Need for Weed; all of our products can be homogenized into dull, clones of each other, at no expense to anyone bar the consumer!”

“Jesus fucking Christ Johnny, with business acumen like that, I’m surprised you aren’t working for a large corporation like PepsiCo or Haagen-Dazs!” Moore and Gibeau were aghast, their simple minds blown by such an impressive plan.

Before the trio could celebrate their seemingly inevitable victory and subsequent financial gain, a problem reared its ugly head. That problem was Gabe Newell.



Gabe “New Kid” Newell was relatively new to the dealing business, but he’d made quite a name for himself as a pro-consumer drug dealer; a people’s-pusher. Despite his unassuming and non-threatening nature, as well as his unpopularity in school (Johnny and his friends had begun calling him “Gay Newell”, which was always met with raucous laughter), Gabe was beginning to control the Oldtown weed trade. Offering great weed at affordable prices, Newell was putting the consumer first, and profiting as a result. Some buyers even claimed they had “libraries full of Gabe’s weed that they were never even going to use”; they just bought it “because it was so cheap”.

A silent rage boiled within Johnny C; his friends had to physically hold him back as Gabe crossed the street just 30 short feet away.

“Easy Johnny, we can’t fight him with muscle; it’s too risky. We need to fight him with our superior business minds. With you on our side, there’s no way we can lose.”

Johnny smirked. He’d momentarily begun to doubt his prowess as a businessman and a dealer, but doubt was for losers. Winners dealt with problems by lunging at them head on, giving no pause for rational thought or constructive criticism. Johnny C was a winner.

With these new business plans in place, there was no way he could fail. He had the market in the palm of his hands, and to throw it away now would be a very, very stupid thing to do.

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2:33 PM on 03.11.2013  

The Audible Protagonist Episode 8 - Liberal Scorpion Pillows



On this week’s episode of the the Audible Protagonist, all the fun of the farm (isn’t) brought to you by Coca-Cola!

This week, we’re talking SimCity, Assassin’s Creed IV, attacks from self-righteous Halo fans, and the fantastic indie adventure game Richard and Alice. We also find time for our usual talk of WWE, and Darwin’s plans to end the liberal, scorpion eating agenda.

Subscribe to us on iTunes to listen!
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-audible-protagonist/id597133394


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3:52 PM on 03.05.2013  

How Halo 4's Story Baffled This Halo Journeyman



I just beat Halo 4. I’m a little late to the party as usual, and before jumping into the campaign I decided to rummage around in the dark crevices of my brain and internally swot up on whatever Halo knowledge was lurking in the shadows. Confident with the modest amount of knowledge I had acquired over the years, I was all ready to jump back into the boots of the Chief and start spreading goodwill to those pesky Covenant rascals.

If you asked me to summarise Halo 4’s plot, I wouldn’t be able to. I might be able to string together a mess of sentences that roughly sound like this: “There was a guy… he did a thing… there were a lot of floating things… he made speech… everything was okay?” None of this is information is substantial enough to convey any actual plot points from Halo 4; a confusing mess of vague descriptive language. What’s more confusing is how Halo 4 seems to approach storytelling in a similar way to my ramblings a few sentences previous.



Don’t get me wrong, Halo 4 is a great game. Gameplay-wise, I found the experience nearly faultless; a mechanically sound experience blended with rich, gorgeous environments and stellar sound design. In the realms of multiplayer, too, 343 have established that they know how to pull off the grand multiplayer experience that is now so integral to the Halo experience. But when it comes to narrative, Halo 4 is plagued with the same problems that previous iterations of the series were, creating an overall experience that both confused and bored me.

Before the “n00b” fingers start a-flying, I must clarify that I am no Halo expert, but I do consider myself relatively well versed in most of the series’ surface level lore. I’ve played every main series Halo game, plus Reach and Wars, and I’ve dabbled with a few comics here and there.



One of Halo 4’s biggest failings campaign-wise was in the reckless abandon with which it approached exposition. Instead of seamlessly easing new players into the experience and refreshing returning Halo fans, the campaign bombards us with throw-away references to Forerunners (a part of the series that has barely been touched upon previously, and one that was completely alien to me), a romantic relationship between Master Chief and Cortana that seems to have sprouted from nowhere, and a ton of vague dialogue to fill in any blanks that might have popped up. After asking a more Halo-savvy friend of mine about the Forerunners, he replied: “That sort of thing gets mentioned in the books a lot. You have to read those to really get that stuff”. Hardly a strong foundation upon which to build a new trilogy is it?

Most of the story tends to be conveyed by characters, specifically through expositive dialogue and “information dumping”. All too often did Cortana simply tell the Chief what was happening, neatly avoiding any attempts to convey narrative in a more natural, organic way. This is doubly true of The Didact (who up until about half way through the game I thought was a ship or an abstract entity), who regularly announces his plans of a galactic revolution against humans to the Master Chief, acting as a galactic town crier to the Chief’s space-village idiot. Harbinge- the Didact’s vague “villain-speak” represents one of the most deplorably lazy techniques in writing.



See, I wouldn’t mind such an obvious attempt at “information dumping” if it actually helped me to understand the game’s story, but when Cortana talks in sentences heavily laden with “Infinity”, “Reclaimer”, “Didact”, “Forerunner”, “Promethean” etc, the jargon becomes hard to swallow, even for someone relatively familiar with the Halo mythos. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it is for newcomers to the series to stomach this kind of babble. As Master Chief regularly asks: “What’s happening?” or “What is that?” I have to laugh at the ironic nature of the situation, and wonder if maybe Master Chief is the relatable surrogate protagonist he is often touted as.

As well as being lazily written and confusing, Halo 4’s story also fails to reach any high points in terms of emotional depth or characterization. The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana felt forced, and since the Chief has the emotional capacity of a biscuit tin, he struggled to make me feel at all empathetic towards his situation or the impending loss of his favourite AI.

Secondary characters are also introduced in a haphazard manner, most notably Laskey, del Rio and Palmer, none of whom are given much screen time; at least not enough for me to really grasp who they are besides the caricatures I made up in my head: “Laskey Come-Home”, “Captain Dick” and “Sgt Calhoun”.



Halo: Reach, by comparison, managed to have some kind of emotional punch by telling the relatively personal story of a close-knit group of soldiers. Each soldier was given ample screen time to convey who they were (usually an entire mission per squad member), and the emotional bonds formed between Six and his team become stronger as more Spartans fall in battle. Sure, the characters may not have possessed much in the way of variety, but they were more varied than: “Faceless man who is quiet”.

I feel like I’m being unfairly critical of Halo 4. After all, Halo campaigns have always been simple, one dimensional excuses for more alien blasting, and tend to be an inoffensive distraction from the arguably more popular multiplayer portions of the series. But something just didn’t sit right with me about Halo 4’s campaign. To me, it feels like attempting to tackle a more inventive, grandiose plot this time around has backfired on 343; the story buckles under the weight of its own aspirations.

It pains me to say that I’d rather Halo 5 returned to a safer, more mundane Covenent invasion storyline, but it is rather telling that I learnt more about Halo 4’s story from the game’s Wikipedia article in preparation for this piece, than from the actual game.

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1:22 PM on 02.24.2013  

"Sony-punk" - Sony's Scary/Angry/Fun Glimpse at a Technological Dystopia



Whether you love it, hate it or feel aggressively indifferent towards it, Sony’s PlayStation 4 reveal conference happened this week. During the conference, we witnessed some interesting hardware announcements, some new and slightly confusing IPs, and some more Watch_Dogs gameplay (omg omg omg omg).

But despite the excitement surrounding Sony’s new console, and what it might mean for the games industry, something else about the conference stuck in my mind well after that moron from Media Molecule has departed from the stage and the word “creative” had stopped ringing inside my head like a church bell.



It seems like the growing concern towards an imminent “cyber-apocalypse” (or some kind of totalitarian government that exploits people’s dependence on technology to assume control) is the “in thing” with game developers at the moment. What with Watch_Dogs, Remember Me and now inFamous: Second Son focusing on the concept of surveillance states and the general public’s need for technology, it’s clearly something that’s been playing on the minds of many people for quite a
while now.

It isn’t the conference’s dependence on a single idea that has piqued my interest though (we saw plenty of that at E3 with the “bows and helicopters” debacle); rather, I’m more interested in the various ways in which Sony seemed to obliviously and hilariously address this “cyber dystopia”, or what I am now calling “Sonypunk”.

About a third of the way through Sony’s press conference in NYC, the audience’s attention was fixed on the large, “Titan Tron”-esque screen that loomed over the auditorium. On said screen, several major developers from all corners of the games industry could be seen waxing lyrical about the huge new steps the PlayStation 4 would be taking. Combining PR buzz words with real, tangible points about the console, the video segment resembled a talking heads documentary wherein every word was scripted by Peter Molyneux.



Humorously vague PR speak aside, the video segment took a rather strange, and quite frankly scary, turn when the developers in question started talking about shared experiences between both consoles and mobile platforms.

In minimalistic, animated form, a man can be seen on the screen exiting his house. He then boards a train, and after completing his journey, he travels the rest of the way on foot. He does all of this whilst glued to his mobile phone, his eyes and mind captivated by the sleek, black object he cradles in his hand. During this segment, the man passes by similarly fixated humans, each of whom are focused solely on their tablets/laptops/phones; not giving him, or each other a first glance, let alone a second. Looming behind these automatons, are huge block letters ominously spelling out: “INTEGRATE”. The automatons remain undeterred. Just to make things even more Orwellian, the developers are now spouting phrases like: “The world is changing”, and “Integrated gaming experiences will follow you everywhere you go.”



On their own, these things seem quite harmless. But when they’re assembled together by one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world in a video package designed to sell you technology, the whole thing becomes rather frightening. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not some Luddite or technophobe afraid of the overwhelming leaps in power technology has made in recent years, and I certainly don’t think Sony is behind some sort of conspiracy to control our hearts and minds with tech. Whilst the aforementioned video did leave me feeling uneasy, I think the whole thing was just a gross misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that gets even sillier when you consider what happened 20 minutes later.

Sucker Punch’s inFamous: Second Son reveal was undeniably silly in its own right, and was an uncomfortable contrast to what Sony had been boasting about just 20 minutes earlier. After being barraged with images of an alleged technological utopia; a world wherein all of our electronic devices are integrated and joined into one cohesive network, we are now seemingly being condemned for our reliance on technology, and the price our freedom has paid for it. Sucker Punch and Sony are almost endearing in their complete disregard for each other’s presentations; presenting two wholly contrasting ideas about how technology can control our lives, both in order to sell us more technology.



As Nate Fox informs us that 1.3 million US citizens have had their phones traced and monitored by the government, Sony wants us all to be glued to our phones as part of their “integrated PlayStation ecosystem”.

To top things off, Ubisoft then emerged from behind the Titan Tron to reveal more details about Watch_Dogs, another sci-fi game that revolves around surveillance states and technophilia. This presentation seemed to fit neatly in between the two presentations before it; offering players a world in which they can rebel against an oppressive, tech savvy government (a la inFamous: Second Son), whilst still using and exploiting technology to achieve their rebellious ends. Said exploitation seems to apply both the game’s world and the real world, as Yves Guillemot promised that Watch_Dogs would feature cross platform play with mobile devices (a la Sony’s PS4 reveal video).



Although the possibility of a cyberpunk/technological dystopia is a frighteningly relevant issue in today’s culture, I’m not trying to incite some sort of vendetta against Sony/Sucker Punch/Ubisoft. I’m not mad at any of the parties mentioned for their unique (and seemingly oblivious) portrayals of a technological utopia/dystopia, be they real or fictional. Rather, I just found the whole thing fun, entertaining, frightening and confusing all at once. The guts it took for each party to come out and contradict each other’s presentations, whether it was intentional or not, deserves notice, if not admiration; and I for one thought it was worth talking about.

As long as “surveillance state cyber dystopia” doesn’t become the new “modern military shooter”, I’m a happy bunny.

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3:41 PM on 02.19.2013  

Fallout 3 vs. Fallout: New Vegas and Facts vs. Opinions



I preferred Fallout 3 to Fallout: New Vegas. Please do not stop reading.

Fans of the Fallout series seem to take to the internet forums daily in order to argue bitterly which current gen Fallout game is the best. Ignoring the fact that everyone has personal preferences, and that the whole thing is entirely subjective, it’s a decent debate to have; in a polite, well-mannered environment. Unfortunately the internet is to politeness what Fred Phelps is to….. politeness, and such discussions usually end in incoherent ramblings and petty, shallow insults.

I loved both New Vegas and Fallout 3, but I spent so much more time, and had so much more fun within Fallout 3’s world. If you preferred New Vegas; good on you! That’s fine! It’s a stellar game and you have every right to think as such. However, I’d like to address many of the criticisms levelled (unfairly) at Fallout 3, and many of the defences of New Vegas that feel less like actual love for the game, and more like a desperate attempt to shield Obsidian from criticism (as though they’ll vanish into oblivion if you don’t).



First of all, I’d like to tackle the idea that a games writing is automatically good/superior to other games because it is morally “grey”, or because it deals with less stereotypical ideas of “good” and “bad”. Including morally “grey” anti-hero characters can often be more interesting than pure, perfect blue boys or ridiculous, overtly evil villains, and the slew of television shows being aired that revolve solely around anti-heroes (Dexter, House, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy etc) is proof that people love them some moral grey-ness. New Vegas, undoubtedly feels like more of a “grey” game, since each of the factions vying for control over The Strip are never completely just in their actions or their intentions; they are often just the best/worst of a bad bunch.

Fallout 3’s focus on the black vs. white conflict between The Enclave and The Brotherhood of Steel garners unfair criticism from many, seemingly not for its actually writing quality, but rather its clear cut good vs. evil dynamic.



Everybody is welcome to prefer morally ambiguous characters or storylines to their black and white counterparts, but implying that “grey” characters and stories are inherently “better written” is such a short sighted view to have. A story is well written if it engages a person’s emotions via entertaining plot points, interesting characters, and a clear sense of style and pace, all of which should be conveyed in a clear way that makes sense to the viewer/reader/player. The story could be a clear-as-day, good vs evil epic like Star Wars, or it could be a questionable tale of intrigue like Dexter. Neither story is better because of its stances on morality, but both achieve greatness through the ways in which they explore it.

Think of it this way: Wolverine is not entertaining because he is morally ambiguous; he is entertaining because he is well written and morally ambiguous. I’ve read enough Wolverine comics to know that it’s far too easy (and common) for writers to fall back on Logan’s flaws and “grey-ness” than actually develop his character.



I actually found Fallout 3’s clear cut morality more appealing than New Vegas’s “lesser of four evils” approach to factions and storytelling. At least The Lone Wanderer had sufficient reasons for undertaking his quest (finding his father and avenging his death by bringing pure water to the wasteland. The Courier’s motivations are flimsy at best, and non-existent at worst; why would I be interesting in following the people who had recently put a bullet in my head, let alone getting embroiled in political conflicts and wars far above the call of duty for a simple courier.

Another issue that commonly rears its ugly head when talking about Fallout is the idea of developer loyalty. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the work of a particular developer and wholeheartedly support them (heck I’ll play anything by Double Fine/BioWare), but that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass on the mistakes they make. Citing that you prefer New Vegas “because Obsidian” is a clumsy, brain-dead argument. I love a lot of the work Obsidian does (I actually think they’re one of very few developers left in the market who are unafraid to speak their minds and create niche titles brimming with fresh, creative ideas), but that doesn’t mean they get a free pass when they ship a game riddled with bugs. Neither does Bethesda.



It’s fair to say that Obsidian has been screwed over by publishers a fair amount of times, but using this as an argument for why the game is better than its predecessors is just plain absurd. I’m not angry at Obsidian when they release a blemished product due to time constraints, but I sure as hell don’t think that said constraints make the game better. The folks at Obsidian are talented, intelligent people with brilliant ideas; they do not need you to blow a giant, Obsidian-branded trumpet in their name, or defend them with a giant +4 Constitution shield.

To summarise what might seem like something of a ramble; I am not trying to discredit New Vegas or Obsidian, far from it. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to prefer NV to F3: you might prefer the games Wild West tone, its streamlined combat and weapon mods, its addition of a hardcore mode and of course, you might prefer its style of writing. But by touting that the game is inherently better than its predecessor comes across as desperate and arrogant. The game is not objectively better, you just prefer it.



People who prefer Fallout 3 are not stupid. People who prefer Fallout: New Vegas are not stupid. Both games have merit, and said merits (or the lack thereof) are worth debating in a calm, well-educated way. Remember to leave objectivity and absolutes by the wayside when entering a discussion about opinions.

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