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I am Liam, an English and Media student. I run a blog called The Vocal Protagonist with a friend of mine:

My favourite games are RPG's, Puzzle Platformers and anything with an engrossing, engaging world or narrative. No brand loyalty here, but my favourite system is probably the good ol' Playstation 2.

Currently playing: The Basement Collection, Dishonored
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It’s time for another episode of The Audible Protagonist!

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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.