The trouble with reviewing a film like Jurassic World is that the original film is so iconic and eminently quotable, it's tempting to just write adapted one-liners as a way to make easy snipes. As the title suggests, I could say it's just one big pile of shit. I could say that after some consideration, I have decided not to endorse the film. I could even go so far as to say that what Spielberg and Trevorrow call progress, I call the rape of a beloved classic. Trevorrow read what Spielberg had done, and he took the next step. Plastic lunchbox, selling it, yadda yadda, aren't pop culture references fun?
The thing is, there's a lot going on in Jurassic World, and it's all worth going into. There is the idea for a good film lying buried somewhere in this hulking behemoth, waiting for a talented film-maker to excavate it. But that intrepid digger isn't Colin Trevorrow. Plot points that perhaps sounded good in paper, or on the whiteboard of some Hollywood brainstorming session somewhere, end up messy, confused, unresolved and in places utterly laughable. If it sounds contrarian to start ripping into a film that, by all accounts, other Jurassic Park fans have enjoyed as a nostalgic throwback, then understand that I did want to like this film. I was the nerdy kid with all the dinosaur books and toys, Jurassic Park is one of my favourites to this day, and I love nothing more than seeing people get excited about dinosaurs all over again. It's just that, whatever good intentions the film-makers may have had, they were so pre-occupied on whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.
...oh God damn!
The first major problem here lies with the tone. This is a film that wants to criticize consumer culture, yet at the same time is utterly in love with that same culture. It's a film where one character can announce a new corporate partnership, one of her underlings starts cracking jokes about Pepsisauruses, and then the main character will be sat astride his motorbike drinking from a clearly labelled bottle of Coke. Characters will walk through the ruins of the old Jurassic Park, a monument to corporate hubris and arrogance, then later will take shelter among the boulevard's shiny new Starbucks, perfume chains and Margaritaville restaurants. Characters will talk at length with each other about the greed of companies while all around them the film-makers are making sure you get a nice view of the new Beats headphones, or latest smartphone model. The film is so obsessed with ramming brands down the throats of the audiences that Jimmy fucking Fallon replaces Mr DNA as the main point of science exposition on the rides. Product placement isn't anything new, and when its handled tastefully you can allow it to at least wash over you without affecting your enjoyment of a film. But Jurassic World is utterly intent on passing off these adverts for brands, while at the same time hammering the anti-corporatism theme with all the subtlety of Thor. I can't remember the last time I saw a film so resolute on having a theme, yet completely undermining itself at every point. Quite simply, the film doesn't know what sort of tone it wants to have, so ends up going all out on excess, hoping you won't notice just how much the constituent elements are working against each other.
Light plotting or inconsistent themes could at least be overlooked if the characters pull everything together, but even there the film struggles. Chris Pratt has spent the last few years honing his affable, comedic persona, yet here is utterly charmless. I never thought I'd say this watching a film, but I found him boring to watch. He has a couple of snappy one-liners, but otherwise is left with the charisma of a tea towel. Bryce Dallas Howard plays an uptight businesswoman so archetypal she's almost robotic. There's the Richard Branson-esque businessman who has a heart of gold and loves to fly helicopters, yet still signs off on the park's shadier genetic tampering. There's the military contractor so hammy he gets his own goddamn villain monologue towards the film's climax. There's no depth, no wit to these characters. Ultimately, what ruins them in this film (beyond any of the nonsensical decisions they make or boneheaded pratfalls they blunder through) is that I simply cannot believe they inhabit the same world as Alan Grant, Ellie Satler and the rest of the cast from the first film. Part of the reason why Jurassic Park has endured is because it took a basic B-movie plot, and put interesting, nuanced characters in there to react to everything. It was the story of a group of scientists, desparate for funding, seeing the park and critcizing its methods on scientific grounds. We had Ian Malcolm using chaos theory to explain natural selection and why the park's methodology is bogus. We had Ellie using her paleobotany to not only help a dying Triceratops, but to criticize the park's focus on aesthetics over function. We had Alan Grant at every turn displaying both curiosity and contempt for the genetic monsters the scientists had created. And on the other side, we had John Hammond not only trying to win them over, but earnestly taking on board their viewpoints in order to try and improve his vision for the Park. We had Mr Arnold and Nedry arguing it out over lines of code and compilers. We had Muldoon constantly checking the status of the raptor fence at every opportunity. It was a film where intelligent adults acted (for the most part) intelligently.
None of that nuance is to be found in Jurassic World. The most we get is a scene where Misrani states the importance of getting Pratt's character to overlook the new paddock and check it for weaknesses. Aside from that, we have characters parroting the same tropes we've heard for years, where science has gone too far and is bad for being bad science. Jurassic Park was a film that used science to criticize bad science. Jurassic World is just a story about the hubris of science. If it seems harsh to judge the film based on the heights of its predecessor, then it bears pointing out that the film-makers themselves invite the comparison. The film is stuffed with references and callbacks to the first film, to the point that much of the film feels second hand. One of the major setpieces starring the new Indominus Rex is meant as a clear throwback to the scene in Park where the T-Rex attacks the Jeep. The problem is that the T-Rex scene was a beautifuly paced scene that showed off Spielberg's genius for action, combined with utterly groundbreaking visual work. The I-Rex scene is updated to include a giant hamsterball, but otherwise has none of the same ingenuity, tension or flare. It's a big CG spectacle where nothing feels substantial or well choreographed. For all the film's references (including a finale that redefines the word fanservice in all the worst ways), there isn't a single scene that comes close to matching the setpieces of Jurassic Park. Nothing that matches the raptors in the kitchen, or the T-Rex, or even the simple majesty of first seeing that Brachiosaurus. It's just a checklist of action sequences that we've all seen numerous times before. Characters jumping off a waterfall? Check. Characters hiding behind a chest-high object while a giant monster tries to sniff them out? Check. Monsters duking it out in a mess of motion blur and shaky camera cuts? Check. For all the flaws that you can place on The Lost World as a sequel, at the least that film acted as a showcase for Spielberg's ability to craft a good sequence. Forget Jurassic Park, there's nothing in World that matches even the cliff sequence, or the raptors in the long grass.
Ultimately, World's biggest inconsistency, aside from tone and characters, is that it can't work out whether it wants to uphold Park's legacy, or ignore it. It obsesses over the T-shirts and merchandise, but misses the message. Park was a film where the main character stressed that the dinosaurs aren't monsters, they're animals. That line is said, almost verbatim, and the animals follow through on that. In World, the dinosaurs are quite clearly monsters after all. They show up when they're required to for the big sequences, they're friendly when the plot requires them to be, then shift on a dime to antagonistic when the plot requires that too. Park was always consistent in showing the dinosaurs behaving how we thought dinosaurs should behave (even if that meant they could be frighteningly smart). World has its dinosaurs run the gamut from card carrying villains to superheroes, seemlingly based on nothing more than the requirements of the plot. It's a film where the characters are boring, the plot is boring, and worst of all even the dinosaurs are boring. Dinosaurs are interesting when they're used well, to generate excitement through clever sequences. The dinosaurs in World are no more exciting than the ones in Land Of The Lost, or King Kong. This is a film that goes heavy on the fanservice, to the point of schizophrenia, yet can't manage even an iota of actual substance to add meaning to it all.
Say what you will about The Lost World and JPIII, but despite all their flaws they at least managed to carry on some of the ideas of the first film, and feel grounded in that same setting. World is a film where a character will laugh evilly while the park burns, cackling at the thought of using tame geneticaly modified dinosaurs to fight wars in the Middle East. Ultimately, World adds nothing of note to the series. The Lost World had the setpieces, III at least had the spinosaurus (underused though it was) and the best designed and most intimidating raptors... World just sits on the tail end of the series, determined to add more spectacle and noise, but failing to add anything with any sort of meaning behind all the chaos.
These are more personal criticism that I would like to have seen the film address, but can't really put in the meat of the review:
- The lack of feathers. It's been following this film ever since it was announced, and lord knows that the director, writers and even the film itself tried their hardest to justify supporting team No Feathers. My issue is one of context: the original Jurassic Park is the reason we imagine dinosaurs as we do today. It absolutely changed our perceptions of them, turning them from lumbering Harryhausen plasticine models into lithe, agile living things. Jurassic World had the opportunity to capitalise on twenty years of paleontology since then, and redefine once again how we see dinosaurs. It's all the more frustrating because the first film made sure to remind us every five minutes that dinosaurs evolved into birds, so there was already a thematic tie-in they could have followed. It's frustrating to see a film like this cater to what we expect us to see, rather than challenge us with something new. And dammit, feathery raptors would have looked amazing.
- This is a little looser, but I find it entertaining just for how much emphasis the story put on the raptors' pack dynamic: there is a growing theory that raptors were not pack hunters at all. The only remains we've found of deinonychus suggest they moved in groups, but there is nothing to suggest that they actually formed co-ordinated attacks. In fact, co-ordinated predatory pack behaviour hasn't been observed in any species of reptile or bird, and is a distinctly mammalian trait. The current theory is that raptors may have mobbed other dinosaurs that proved weak, similar to how crows and some reptiles will attack in a mob, but otherwise had no co-ordination or group dynamic to speak of.
-I counted two or three occasions after the Rex turned up when she had the Indominus' neck in her jaws, yet somehow didn't crush her windpipe. Given how much shit fans threw at III for the T-Rex's inability to break the Spinosaurus' neck, I kinda feel like its worth pointing out in the name of fairness.
- The inter-species dynamics in this film are fucked. The I-Rex/Raptor thing was already shaky, but the T-Rex/Raptor team up at the end was just flat out ridiculous. It was bad enough that the Rex seemed to just lumber into the fight without any sort of curiosity or awareness of what was going on, but seeing that raptor jump around on her back, then the acknowlegement they gave each other at the end... it was just stretching rule of cool way too far for me. Also, the raptors seemed to have a suicidal obsession with constantly going after the I-Rex, even when it was clearly going to batter all of them. Veered dangerously close to mindless King Kong-dinsoaur levels of stupidity for me.
- Pteradons were fish eaters. Their beaks were designed for plucking fish out of the ocean. They wouldn't have gone after larger land vertebrates, certainly not people sized, and they wouldn't have had the strenght to pluck people off the ground and fly about with them. That scene was like watching a crowd of people get eaten by pelicans, or cormorants.
- Having people boat down the river unprotected is stupid. Having people roll around a dinosaur safari in a hamster ball is stupid. These are dangerous, multi-ton animals, and no zoo in the world would get away with allowing you unsupervised access to animals that dangerous.
- How have people got bored of dinosaurs in ten years? People still line up to go to Sea World every year, and we've been keeping dolphins in tanks for decades. When London Zoo's attendance goes down, their first reaction isn't to genetically engineer a new tiger.
So, commenting on the Front Page article on Amiibos, I brought up the idea that Nintendo should make a dedicated game as a way to make proper use of their new collectible toys. A lot of other peopel seemed to like this idea, and it's been pickling in my head for a few hours now. What would be the best type of game to go for? What sort of game could have the mass appeal, fun and nostalgia factor to win gamers over.
Obviously, the one thing to avoid would be making a mere Skylanders/Disney Infinity clone. Those games have cornered the market on sandbox-platforming-toy nonsense, and a Me Too attempt would be regarded as derivitive, samey and uninspired. Fortunately, Nintendo have got a lot of talented developers, so a more original addition to the Toy-Game formula should be a piece of piss for them. If I were in charge of EAD, there'd be one clear, overriding angle to shoot for, and it would be a doozy: Take the crossover appeal of Kingdom Hearts/Smash Bros, combine it with the Action-RPG goodness of Super Mario RPG/Paper Mario, and use the collect-em-all nature of Amiibos to introduce a host of character and customisation options for players to get stuck into. Where Smash Bros sticks famous and not-so-famous Nintendo characters in a 2D platforming-fighter hybrid, this new game would be a wide, large scale adventure full of exploration. It would be called Super Nintendo RPG, and would be so good it would make the kids drop Skylanders like it's an Aaron Carter record and come running over in their droves.
Something is wrong in Johto. Blood Falcon has returned from deepest, darkest space, and has brought with him a coalition of nefarious minds: Wart, Dark Samus and King K Rool. Together, they join forces with Team Rocket in order to travel back in time and prevent Ness from ever defeating Gygas. With Gygas by their side, nothing will be able to stop them from conquering the entire multiverse, and claiming the Seven Stars for their own. The only person who can stop their evil schemes is the young Mike Jones, hero and adventurer extraordinaire. If he can assemble a party of heroes and discover the pieces of the holy Triforce, the forces of evil can be defeated once and for all (At least, until the sequel).
Right, this bit's easy. If you want an RPG that can appeal to kids and adults alike, you want it to be streamlined and simple, but to have the potential for depth. With that in mind, just rip off the combat mechanics from Paper Mario like there's no tomorrow. Keep it turn based, but with the potential for action commands and timing requirements that keep players on their toes. Make everything as over-the-top and comedic as possible, but still satisfying to pull off.
As for the customisation options, this is where Amiibos would come in. Make each Amiibo a character that can be unlocked in the game through NFC wireless mumbo-jumbo. If you have a Samus Amiibo, wave her near your Gamepad, and she'll appear as a badass bounty-hunting party member to fight by your character's side. Kep Mike Jones (of StarTropics fame, for those unfamiliar) as the basic player character (as an option for those who don't have any Amiibos to hand), then encourage players to use those little pastic toys as a way to build up their dream party of Nintendo characters. Even more importantly, make each character fully customisable with their own skill trees and abilities, and use the Amiibos as a way to save that custom data. When Samus reaches Level 5, do you want her to learn Ice Beam or Screw Attack? Should Mario invest in damage-boosting Fire Flower attacks, or evasion-friendly Tanooki-Suit abilities? Do you want to equip the Villager with an axe, a shovel or just a fishing rod? Whatever customisation choices you make, Amiibos would allow you to save your character builds, and load them into a friend's game. Because obviously, this being a Nintendo game, local multiplayer would still have to be a thing.
Once the core combat mechanics are sorted, building the rest of the game around them should be a cinch. Just go for a nice, colourful RPG adventure that uses different Nintendo settings as a way to give the whole adventure a sense of exploration and unpredictability. Your characters could start off exploring the streets and alleys of Mute City, FFVII-Midgar style, before being whisked off to join the conflict in the Lylat System, then exploring areas from Kanto, Hyrule, Dream Land and even Donkey Kong Island. So many RPGS have fallen into the brown-and-grey archetype that Nintendo would have a real opportunity to offer something different, with a bit of vibrancy and brightness to the presentation. Just use the 3D World Engine, focus on good art direction and colour over tech specs, and you'd have something that would look amazing.
Random Idea Brainstorming
There should be a sidequest where Luigi goes mad with power, believes himself to be a Super Mario Bros villain, and puts up calendars of himself all over town, claiming that the year now belongs to him. The player has to stop him before the townsfolk against him.
Instead of summoning Eidolons a la Final Fantasy, party characters should be able to summon F-Zero and Mario Kart vehicles to warp in out of nowhere and run over enemies at a thousand miles per hour. The most powerful summon would of course be the Blue Falcon, which would blast enemies with lightning bolts while driving over them.
Instead of Triple Triad, players can collect and play a Hanafuda minigame, as per Nintendo's origins. However, because Hanafuda is a boring ass game, the Hanafuda presented in game will have exciting battle animations, explosions and gym badges.
As per nearly every RPG ever, fishing would be a minigame, with the addition that at higher levels you can hook submarines from Steel Diver and trade them in for massive gold. Or nick their missiles and torpedoes to use in battle. Your choice.
Yoshis would be in the game, and would function in a similar way to Chocobos. Except that while you can ride around on them, they can also attack enemies with their tongues and shit them out as eggs. C'mon, tell me you don't want to see Samus and Link riding around on Yoshis being all bad-ass.
The final boss would be the combined form of Gygas, Blood Falcon and King K Rool, with giant-pig-form Ganon coming in as a last-minute tag-team option to up their evil quotient. The fight would take place on a crashed Galactic Federation ship that has collided with Skyloft and crashed into Champion's Road, thereby providing masses of scale, stars and awesomness.
The music would be composed by Yoko Shimomura, overseen by Koji Kondo, and have banjo parts played by Miyamoto himself. Because apparently, Miyamoto loves himself some banjo.
Finding and training Pikmin would allow you to grow special fruit that give you special stat boosts while in battle. Yeah, I nicked this one from Legend of Mana, but it's a damn good mechanic, and Pikmin would make it so much better.
Using Wind attacks would require you to blow into the microphone. Because at Nintendo, even pausing the fucking game apparently requires you to blow into the fucking microphone, so may as well do something actually useful with it.
The Gamepad would be used in a way that is totally revolutionary and redefines how RPGs can be played with a touchscreen. I haven't figured out that exactly that would be yet, but trust me, it would be awesome. Maybe. Or you could play with a Pro controller.
If the player has Samus in their party, they can then choose any other character to be the father of Samus' baby. Samus will then spend the rest of the game talking about the baby, the baby's name, how apprehensive she is about looking after the baby, how helpless the baby will be, and what gender the baby will be. On the plus side, the father's stats will determine the baby's battle abilities and customisation options. Sort of like breeding Pokemon, but even weirder.
Completing certain sidequests should unlock classic games from old Nintendo systems for the player to then play. Because let's be fucking honest, Nintendo isn't going to be putting them on the Virtual Console any time soon.
Anyways, random thoughts for the day. Let me know if there are any awesome ideas you'd love to see in a Nintendo themes Amiibo RPG.
So, it's finally here. Having pre-ordered the DLC back in September, I've been (chain)chomping at the bit to get to try out the new Mario Kart DLC, and I have to say, it doesn't disappoint. Given how open Nintendo were about what you're getting with each pack, I was never too worried about not getting enough stuff for my money, but racing around the new tracks in all their colourful glory just reinforces what a bargain the DLC is. I haven't had a chance to try out all the new vehicles yet, mainly because I've fallen in love with the B-Dasher, and can't tear myself away from it to try anything else. Before today, I was sticking with the Silver Arrow as my main racing buggy, but the B-Dasher offers the same buttery handling I like with what seems like a major speed boost.
Also, it looks like a damn sexy portable pimpmobile.
Having only played the DLC for a couple of hours, I'm not in any position to give a conclusive opinion or review on the content, but I think I can certainly give my overall impressions thus far of the tracks and how they feel to play. Spoiler alert: it's all pretty damn good.
The first cup included in the pack is the Egg Cup, and this was the first cup I got tore into upon downloading the DLC. I'll list my thoughts on each track individually:
Yoshi Circuit: If I were to use one word: bendy! I never played a huge amount of Double Dash, so Yoshi Circuit isn't a track I'm particularly familiar with already, but I liked it a whole heap. As a racer who enjoys drifting and turning rather than straight-line racing, I really enjoy just how hard this track pushes you when it comes to corners. Anyone using a racer that's built more for top speeds accumulated over long straights may struggle here, but if you're like me and enjoy building up boost through long power-slide cornering, Yoshi Circuit is both challenging and a real hoot. I suspect that as I get more familiar with the track layout, drifts and turns will start to fall under my fingers' muscle memory, but for the time being it's great to have a twisty, turny track that I haven't already learned by heart.
Excitebike Arena: A relatively simple oval made clever by its random positioning of ramps, jumps, and what I can only assume are puddles of chocolate shit spurdled out onto the track. In complete contrast with Yoshi Circuit, there are no tricky corners to battle with here, so the challenge is in nailing all the jumps, clever use of items against your opponents, and being able to boost while avoiding the brown poo smeared everywhere. While I haven't had a chance to test this yet, I suspect that the simple oval layout and wide lanes might also *shock horror* make this a decent track for Battle Mode. It's a shame we didn't get any dedicated arenas in the DLC, but if push comes to shove, Excitebike Arena might be the best track to use for a bit of al-fresco balloon popping.
Dragon Driftway: The second best track in this cup. Like Yoshi Circuit, it's super bendy and full of large curves, but this is the first track in the DLC to make real use of the anti-gravity mechanic, and it does so better than arguably better than any other track in the game thus far. Where the anti-gravity sections in other tracks can often feel understated in their use, with little to differentiate them visually from regular sections, Dragon Driftway uses the mechanic to create a genuine roller-coaster of a course, with each corner seemingly bringing a new change in gravitational positioning. It's a bastard hard circuit, as the track often doesn't leave you a lot of room to maneuver around or past your opponents, but it's also incredibly rewarding to nail its corners while seemingly racing through every spatial position known to man. The anti-gravity mechanic was always a fantastic idea that was perhaps slightly underused in the vanilla game, and Dragon Driftway really shows what can be done with it when EAD go crazy. It also helps that the tracks is visually amazing, full of colour and texture and a wonderful sense of location. Superb stuff.
Mute City: Ever since this track was revealed, there was always the worrying possibility that it could never be quite as good as the army of frothing F-Zero fans would want it to be. Thankfully, Mute City is a belter of a race track, and the best circuit in the Egg Cup. It not only has a fantastic layout that echoes F-Zero's mix of speed and lightning-sharp turns, it also uses F-Zero mechanics to add something different to the core Mario Kart gameplay. Driving over energy strips raises your coin count in much the same way as F-Zero's boost power, thereby increasing your top speed. The track is also generously littered with boost-pads, meaning it's very easy to reach a blistering top speed (at least by MK standards). The music is pure powermetal fanservice, and visually the entire package looks incredible. It genuinely makes me salivate at the thought of an in-house developed F-Zero game from EAD. The one nitpick I would make with this track is that it doesn't make any use of the franchise's tubular track design. Given that Mario Kart now has anti-gravity, I was hoping that the Mute City circuit would make use of the 360-degree designs that F-Zero is known for, where racers speed along walls and ceilings of high speed tunnels. Sadly, however, even though the circuit makes great use of anti-gravity, the track itself remains a flat plane. It doesn't detract at all from the game's enjoyment, but it does feel like a slight missed creative opportunity. Despite that, the track itself is blisteringly paced, visually amazing and the standout highlight of the DLC.
The second cup is the Hyrule Cup, containing the anticipated Legend of Zelda track. I think it's a slightly lesser collection of tracks than the Egg Cup, but it still has many highlights of its own, as I shall explain.
Wario's Gold Mine: The first time I tried this track, I continually fell off the side. This is a circuit filled with right angles and largely devoid of barriers, so careless boosting is liable to send you flying into the depths of a canyon or mineshaft. Once I tried it a second time with a car more suited to my style, I found it to be a very enjoyable track. The sudden drops provide moments of real accelaration, and the lack of barriers make battles with other racers feel just that little bit more dangerous. Lightweight characters are possibly at a disadvantage here, so if you're not rocking a havy character like Bowser, make sure to give yourself plenty of breathing room. This track seems to be stuffed full of shortcuts that reward braver racers, but as of yet I haven't succesfully made use of all of them.
Rainbow Road SNES: the third Rainbow Road to be added to the game. I go against many other MK fans in thinking MK8's Rainbow Road to be far-and-away the best iteration, so personally I don't feel the SNES version is particularly notweworthy in comparison, but it's still a fun track. It's entirely flat and devoid of anti-gravity sections, and rewards racers who know how to boost around corners without falling off into space. The Thwomps add a certain level of challenge to certain portions of the track, but otherwise it mainly comes down to how well you can take the corners and keep up with other racers. A lot of fun, but certainly my least favourite of the three RAinbow Roads in this game.
Ice Ice Outpost: A lot of people seem to think this is the weakest track in the pack, but I disagree. Ice Ice Outpost essentially takes the dual-track segments of circuits like Electrodome and Bowser's Castle, and builds an entire course around the idea. Every time I've played it online, the narrow courses and interweaving layout have resulted in hugely competitive (and often downright brutal) races, as everyone is constantly looking to find the best line to take across the two tracks. Taking one track may lead you round the inside of one corner, but sticking to it may leave you on the outside of another, so it's all about trying to find the best points to jump from one to the other in order to create the fastest route. Speed boosters are also placed at various points on each track, as are interconnected shortcuts, so this is one which really needs careful planning on order to make the most of. There's also not a lot of room to avoid obstacles, so I think this is a track that higher-level players will find more rewarding, as it requires a good mastery of the game's base mechanics and a willingness to utterly dick over other players without mercy.
Hyrule Circuit: Nintendo was clearly onto something when they decided to stick non-Mario franchises into Mario Kart, as Hyrule Circut is easily the highlight of this cup, just as Mute City is for the Egg Cup. There's a good balance of curves and straights, and the course offers a beautiful depiction of Link's home world. It's also worth noting that this track and this track alone replaces coins with rupees, a nice little touch that really shows how much attention to small details EAD put into this package. Similarly, the Pirahna Plants from other tracks are replaced here with Deku Baba plants that will reach out and bite any racer who gets too near them. The track looks wonderful, offers a nice challenge, and even has a mini-puzzle to solve inside the castle (which I won't spoil here). If I could make one small complaint, it's that after having played Hyrule Warriors and browsed the eShop during its weeks-long Zelda spree, I'm getting just a tad bored with the standard arrangement of the Zelda theme that also plays here. While it's definitely an iconic theme, the Zelda franchise has dozens of beloved tunes, and even a reinterpretation of the main theme a la Wind Waker would have been greatly appreciated over the vanilla Zelda theme that plays over this track. A big-band interpretation of Gerudo Valley maybe? A rocking version of Zelda's Lullaby? Here's to hoping that for Zelda Wii U, Nintendo takes the main theme in a new direction, as I think the standard version has reached peak exposure.
So a few minor quibbles here and there, but all in all the new circuits represent a fantastic addition to the game, and each one is well worth playing.
A quick note on the new vehicles: while I haven't yet experiments too much beyond the B-Dasher, I did take the time to race Link on the Master Cycle, complete with Zelda-themed wheel and glider. How much you enjoy it depends, I think, on your general feeling towards bikes in the game. As someone who prefers being able to push or pull my drifts as much or as little as I like, I'm not a fan of how bikes tend to drift sharply inwards on corners, and that is very much on display with the Master Cycle. If you like vehicles that can turn on a dime like the Lightcycles from Tron, I imagine that it'll be a great new addition, but for someone like me who prefers things a little looser, the B-Dasher is a much more welcome (and stylish) addition.
Also a quick update note: with the addition of the DLC, Nintendo also seem to have rolled out a new patch that rejigs the item balancing a little. The Bullet Bill power up seems to be a little more frequent, and almost unquestionably faster than before. While that may annoy pro-level racers who think it's too much of a crutch, it certainly makes things a little easier for racers who continually find themselves at the back. Similarly, shells seem to be more commonly handed out, and my races online this evening were punctuated much more frequently with the beeping and slamming of red shells into my kart. In fact I had no less than three races where a wayward shell at the finish line sent me from 2nd or 3rd down to 5th or 6th. Obviously this is a double edged sword, as while a higher frequency means shells can be thrown more, you can still hold them behind you to shield yourself from others' attacks, so hopefully this won't affect the balance too much.
So, all in all, what are my impressions? A thoroughly complete package, and a glowing recommendation for anyone who already has the game. This is the sort of DLC that should be encouraged among developers, and Nintendo have really set the standard when it comes to what can be offered as post-release content for a racing game. I can already tell that a number of these tracks are going to be among my favourites in MK8, and for a game that already had 32 tracks, that's pretty damn impressive. Here in the UK, you can get both DLC packs for £11.99, and considering that you get almost half a game's worth of content that is frankly mind-bogglingly good value. If you have any intention of racing other Wii U owners online, I would thoroughly recommend picking up the DLC and treating yourself to some new tracks, and with the precedent set here, I can't wait for the next pack to roll around.
It's not strictly a 'game' thing, but fuck it. It's got guns, violence, dudes in power armour, and it had several videogame tie-ins on its release. It counts.
Anyways... certain schools of thought would have you believe that the original Robocop is a high point of social satire in film, and none of the sequels were fit to even oil it's titanium boots. Well, last night I watched the first two films back to back on Netflix, and you know what? While it doesn't quite match the wit or intelligence shown in Paul Verhoeven's original, Robocop 2 is still not only a worthy sequel, but a great piece of sci-fi cinema and a wonderfully dark piece of satire all of its own. It has flaws, and quite major ones at that, but it also has charm and smarts and a wicked sense of humour.
What makes Robocop 2 such an interesting sequel is just how subversive and meta it is. One of the overarching themes is the idea that Omnicorp are themselves trying to create 'Robocop 2', the next in their line of police-enforcement cyborgs. The fact that the film Robocop 2 is an occasionally jumbled and awkward piece meddled with by executives is somehow reflected in the film, the Robocop 2 OCP project being a bungled awkward mess meddled with by executives. Nowhere is this better shown than the scene where the Robocop 2 prototypes are revealed as part of a company demo, a scene which is possibly the best bit of physical slapstick in the entire franchise:
It's silly and unrealistic, but it's also black humour of the best kind, and Robocop 2 excels at providing comedy that is not only darkly hilarious, but that also fits within the themes of the franchise. The 'Robocop 2 demo' scene works not only because it revolves around cyber-policemen killing themselves, it also reinforced just what kind of character the original is. After watching the new products repeatedly commit suicide, Omnicorp's Doctor Faxx hypothesizes that the only reason Alex Murphy was able to become the original Robocop was because he was utterly driven by loyalty and honour, something that few other policemen can match. Any attempt to merely replicate him will result in dead cyberpolicemen going mad and shooting up more Omnicorp staff. As a throwback to the ED-209 boardroom scene from the original, it works, but it also has its own justification and logic. ED-209 shot up a board member because of a random glitch in its programming. The Robocop 2 prototypes shoot Omnicorp staff because they're literally driven mad by the process of being brought back from the dead and turned into machines. None of them have the same reason for existence as Robocop 1, which solidifies why his character is so unique.
In fact, if there's another thing that makes Robocop 2 the film so interesting, it's where it decides to go regarding Alex Murphy's character. Some fans of the original disliked the second for what they saw as the 'undoing' of Murphy's humanisation at the end of the first, but I would argue that this is an incomplete reading of both films. At the end of the first film, Murphy has certainly regained some of his humanity, but he is still unable to adequately remember his life before being a machine ("I can feel them... but I can't remember them"), and he is still unable to act against the Directive 4 protocol in his programming. It's only a quick staff firing by the CEO of Omnicorp that allows him to nail the bad guy, not his humanity. And right at the end, when asked his name, Robocop says "Murphy" only for the film to instantly plaster "ROBOCOP" in giant metal letters over the ending credits. It's an instant subversion by Verhoeven, making sure that the image of the character you leave with is the giant metal tin-man, not the honourable cop. Murphy hasn't regained his humanity at the end of Robocop 1, he's simply become less of a machine. And it's that idea what Robocop 2 has endless fun playing around with.
Partway through the film, Robocop is disassembled bythe villains piece-by-piece, and sent back to Omnicorp for reassembly. As part of Doctor Faxx's plans to replace Robocop 1 with Robocop 2 (can you say 'planned obsolecence'?) a focus group is brought in to rebrand Robocop and make him more approachable to the public, specifically children. One member of the group in particular dislikes the potential message children might get from seeing Robocop use violence as the solution to all problems, and he is reprogrammed to obey hundreds of family friendly directives, instead of the usual four. What makes this genius level satire is that the film is predicting the franchise's own fate: following Robocop 2, subsequent films and television series retooled the character as a child-friendly saturday morning mascot perfect for lunchboxes. The film predicts the ultimate fate of its own character, and shows how utterly useless it is to try and retool Robocop as a kiddy mascot. While his partner Lewis goes round treating violent crimes with the necessary force required, Robocop is reduced to reading citizen's rights to dead crooks and giving children bastardized self-help proverbs. As with the 'Robocop 2' scene, not only does it have something interesting to say about the character, it's also just incredibly funny. Robocop makes for an entertaining comedic straight man, and the sight of him out of his depth in even the most mundane crime scenes results in some genuine laugh-out-loud writing. For fans who are enamoured with the idea of Robocop as a stoic badass, perhaps that's too much to stomach, but as someone who thinks the franchise works best when it's mixing violence with comedy, I genuinely loved what these scenes added to the film.
Following on from the above, the film's treatment of children is perhaps its best satirical element, and where it gets most subversive. The film was actually decried by critics for the manner in which it showed children behaving, but it all fits naturally with the ideas the film is trying to tell us. It's typical for Hollywood films to portray children as 'little darlings' (also known as the 'Spielberg child character' effect), and even to start trying to court children as potential viewers. While the later franchise entries would certainly do so, Robocop 2 makes it quite clear that it doesn't give a shit about kids, and holds them just as accountable for the shitty state of things in-universe as adults. Partway through the film, we're shown an act of robbery in progress. The shop owner is lying on the flor, his head bashed in with a baseball bat. Yet the perpetrators aren't hardened criminals, but a foul-mouthed group of baseball kids, led by their instructor. When Robocop turns up to apprehend them, as soon as they learn he's been de-fanged, they hurl abuse at him before legging it. Another group of kids swear at and insult him, while drawing graffiti on his back.
Hell, one of the main villains is a kid named Hob, a kid whose voice hasn't even broken, yet who deals out drugs, guns and cusswords like they're poker chips. Hob for me is one of the most interesting characters in the entire franchise. We're quickly led to believe that if he were an adult, this is a character we wouldn't give the slightest fucks for, yet because he's a kid, he naturally has some of our sympathy. And the film brilliantly plays on this. Towards the end of the film, Hob is gunned down by OCP's new cyborg operative, and there's a touching scene which is probably the most grounded dramatic moment in the entire story. If Robocop 1 had the scene where Murphy tries to remember his past life and fails, Robocop 2 has the scene where Hob realises he's going to die, and Robocop consoles him as best as he can. It's wonderfully unsentimental, yet still touchingly done. Hob realises that he's about to die, and looks to Robocop for some sort of support, knowing that he has already died himself. His last words are "That sucks!" and then he's gone, another dead crook in a warehouse of dead crooks.
Very few films would have the balls to make a drug,dealing, arms-selling villain a kid. Even fewer would then have the balls to kill that villain off with very little in the way of redemption or salvation. Robocop 2 does both those things, and somehow manages to do so without being needlessly tasteless or crass about it.
Where else does the film succeed? Well, it's still violent and gory as hell. If anything, it may be even more violent and gory than the original. There's a wacky and funny scene where the main villain is getting his brain removed to be stuffed into the latest Omnicorp robot, and we see it being stored in a jar, along with his vertebrae and for-reason-unexplained both eyeballs still attached to their stems, looking dolefully out into the science lab. It makes no sense, and yet in the Robocop universe, it makes perfect sense. Heads get filled with bullets, faces smashed against furniture, chests cut open by leering bad guys. In the UK, Robocop 2 went all the way to an 18 rating, where the original was only a 15.
On another story note, there's also something wonderfully prescient about the idea of Detroit city declaring bankruptcy, and being bought out by private investors. If that idea seemed crazy in the early 90s, recent events have shown that the idea of an entire city becoming bankrupt is less outlandish than it might seem. If good sci-fi is judged on how well it predicts which direction events will go, Robocop 2 is scary in how it predicted Detroit being forced to its knees by private investors. It's presented as comic book villainy, sure, bur Robocop has always been at its best using larger-than-life archetypes to make social satire, and the Omnicorp storyline in this film does just that.
And if nothing else, the film also has some incredibly well done setpieces. The film really manages to sell the idea of Robocop being this hulking metal giant who never moves above walking pace, yet take down crooks with lethal efficiency. One shoot-out has him pulling off trick-shots like it's a Clint Eastwood western, and he is all the more awesome for it. There's another scene with Cain escaping Robocop in an armored truck, which is full of the sort of practical stuntwork that makes your buttocks clench. The final showdown with Robocain is among the best go-motion puppetry that Phil Tippett ever produced, and if it doesn't quite hold up today, it still holds up better than the scene of ED-209 on the stairs in the original.
Seriously, look at that thing.
So where is it the film trips up? For me, two areas. Firstly, the soundtrack doesn't hold a candle to the original. Where the first film had strong themes and fanfares that drove home the action, the music in the second film is largely forgettable. Not outright bad, but nowhere near as memorable as a Robocop soundtrack should be. Secondly, the film picks up and then drops a subplot regarding Murphy's family. At the start of the film, we see Murphy outside the house of his old wife. We then learn that this has been a recurring problem, and it's driving Mrs Murphy to some level of despair. There's a touching scene where Omnicorp arrange a meeting between Murphy and his wife, another where he watches her from afar as she gets into a car... and then that's it. She's never heard from again, nor does Murphy ever reference it. If this is a problem for the film, it's only because what little subplot is there is actually pretty dang good, and it deserved to be brought to some kind of resolution. Seeing Murphy tell his wife with a stone face that her husband is dead and he's nothing more than a machine in his image is pretty harrowing stuff, and it's a shame the film never brings any kind of resolution to that arc. Nor does it do much with the character of Lewis, who in this film is reduced to being the second part of the comedy duo between her and Robocop.
But none of those flaws are dealbreakers, and none of them undermine the overall successes that the film brings. It may not be the pitch-perfect masterpiece the original was, but Robocop 2 is still a pitch-black piece of satire. Watch it back to back with the original, and it's clear what a great follow up and companion piece it makes, the two of them acting as a wonderful Opener and Closer on the story of the steel-clad law enforcer. It doesn't make up for what happened to the franchise later, but then it shouldn't have to. Robocop 2 predicted where the franchise would later head, and boldly stuck two titanium middle fingers up to anyone who thought it should be a family friendly affair. It brought it's own sense of black comedy, it's own criticisms of corporate culture, modern society and pop entertainment, and it's own brand of over-the-top violence. If it doesn't quite live up to the original, it still doesn't deserve to be grouped with the rest of the dross that came afterwards.
A title like that is of course a fighting statement, so I'd best get me some good fighting music going in the background...
It's weird though. I know that Smash has got a big following in the fighting game community (if somewhat fractured), and I understand the appeal of watching a tournament of high level players beat the snot out of each other. When Mega Man showed off his moves at the E3 tourney, I enjoyed as much as anyone the "SUPER FIGHTING ROBOT! FIGHTING TO SAVE THE WORLD!" stuff as much as anyone. I may have even quoted it once or twice in Dtoid comments.
Seriously though, that was awesome...
But what I don't understand is this weird obsession that exists among a certain section of the Smashbase, an obsession with this idea of Smash as an uber-competitive thing with meta-game to rival Street Fighter. It's the same mindset which holds that Melee is some pinnacle in the fighting game genre, and everything since then has been a pile of hot crap. The mindset which places a huge amount of emphasis on metagame exploits and glitches and Devil May Cry 4-tier comboing, and no emphasis at all on just dicking about. The reason I don't understand it, I guess, is because of how I view the Smash series. I've been playing since the N64 days, and I've never ever considered Smash a 'real' fighting game. It has fighting game elements, sure, but that doesn't make it a proper fighting game, in the same way Mario Kart having customisable cars doesn't make it a driving sim. For me, Smash has always been another one of Nintendo's local multiplayer party games. It's something to crack out when you've got some friends over, have a few tins of lager on the go, and want a game that's as rioutously funny as it is fun to play. It's something you play at weekend meet-ups, or birthdays, or house-warmings, or New Years. You load it up, pick a character, then beat the snot out of your mates using hammers, laser guns and Poke balls.
The first time I played Smash 64, I was still in primary school, and I played it round a friend's house on his N64. He used to trounce me as Mario, until I started learning how to spam Pikachu's Thunderbolt attack, and lob Pokeballs at him any chance I got. Melee, I used to play as Link just because I enjoyed the sword animations, character rankings be damned. Whenever I played a Smash game, it was never about trying to pull off high-level super moves, and more just lobbing anything I could at other players to try and win a round. Magic wand? Super. Laser cannon? Even better.
The idea of 'competitive' Smash is as strange to me as the idea of competitive Mario Party, or competitive Nintendo Land. I mean, I get the innate appeal of seeing high level players play competitive multiplayer against each other, but where I get lost is this idea that the quality of Smash Bros lives or dies based on how it's recieved by the fighting game community. You wouldn't ask the Gran Turismo/Forza community for their collective opinion on Mario Kart. You wouldn't ask high level FIFA or Tiger Woods PGA players for their collective opinion on Wii Sports. And I don't get why Smash has to have so much of its own identity tied to a genre which it only shares superficial-at-best elements with.
I mean, this isn't some mid-series direction change or betrayal or anything. Sakurai has always been adamant that Smash is a party-game franchise, not a competitive high-level fighter. It was one of Nintendo's first forays into making a three-dimensional multiplayer game that four players could load up and goof off in together (alongside Mario 64 and the original Mario Party). And it's a damn good party game, one of the very best in my opinion, but why is it that we can't allow it to be just that? Why do gamers, any time Sakurai makes a tacit nod towards the franchise's party-based roots, scream bloody murder and lament the game isn't more like Melee?
"Titus, are you talking about tripping?"
Alright, let me just clear this up: while I'm not particularly sad to see tripping go in SSB4, I will defend it as an absolutely hilarious dynamic to the party-based gameplay of the series. Tripping is an absolutely douchey mechanic to include in a game, something made just to wind players up, but it is also funny as hell. Genuinely. If you're playing in a living room with a bunch of other guys and gals, and you see someone talking smack only for their character to then trip and fall flat... it's pure comedy. It's the Smash version of the Blue Shell, a cruel mechanic that exists only to bring low cocky players and allow everyone else to have a laugh at their expense. And in a party game, that's exactly what you want. Yes, when it happens to you, it's a shameful and infuriating experience. But when you see it happen to someone else, you get to laugh at the inherent tragedy of their situation, and drink their salty tears and cried of frustration for your own amusement. Same with the wonderful amount of items and assist trophies you get, gameplay additions that can be the embodiment of 'dick-move' in a game, yet provide the people playing it with some wonderful entertainment. If it means one player has to sit in a huff for a few moments because the game screwed them over, well, the law of averages means they'll probably be the one laughing next time it strikes.
I guess this is what lies at the core of why I don't really get the competitive thing. It's like taking something that was designed as a children's playground, then demanding it be an army-tier obstacle course. I get that Melee, as much through chance and exploits as by design, ended up being this wonderful game for people to play at fighting tourneys. But I don't see why that one game has become a cross for the entire franchise to bear. I want Sakurai to keep focusing on making each new Smash game as unique, fun and downright entertaining as possible. I don't give a damn about on-hit-cancelling or wavedashing, and I don't see why these are the things that the series is now judged on. Just because a game or series has the potential to be played to a highly competitive level, that doesn't mean it should be judged only by its competitve level. To me, it just seems to make more sense to let fighting games be fighting games, and party games be party games. Yes, if someone wants to throw a Smash tourney, that can be entertaining to watch, but that shouldn't be the one thing on which the worth of the series is judged. Not when, judging by the insane number of mini-games and diversions added in by Sakurai this time around, his interest and intent still lies in the chaotic, lawless, entertaining gameplay that can be created by a local multiplayer game played by friends with booze and party food to hand.
Party games thrive on chaos. They are made so much more entertaining when there are elements beyond the players' control, elements which serve to make things more comedic and funny for observers and other players, even if it comes at the momentary expense of a player. Conversely, fighting game fans seem to crave control. They want to be able to extablish mastery over every single part of a game's constituent parts, to have all the components clearly understood and organised by type. The reason, I think, why Smash has the relationship it does with so many fighting game fans is precisely because Sakurai has always designed certain elements to be beyond the players' control, to act as deus ex machini in game mechanic form. They act as the element of unpredictability that is necessary to giving a party game its innate appeal and longevity. They're there to make sure that no matter how good you get, you'll never quite have a guaranteed win against three less experienced players.
I mean, look at this...
...If you were sat next to the dude playing as Sonic, and saw him make such a stunning pratfall, you'd be pissing yourself laughing. Maybe he'd be forced to take a shot for the game's blunder. Maybe he'd have to go refill the crisps bowl. Maybe he'd even have to take control of the next booze run. Either way, seeing that sort of cock-up in a local multiplayer environment would be enough to have most people in stitches. Is it wrong if that's all a series was intended for?
I like Melee well enough, but I don't play Smash for the Street Fighter level meta-game, and nor do most other gamers. As wonderful as it is to be able to play the series at tournaments, I really don't think it's anything that should have any real effect on the direction or gameplay of the series. I want Sakurai to keep taking the franchise in new, interesting and hilarious directions, not trying to iterate or clone a game he already made thirteen years ago.
Because if there's one thing all Smash players can agree on, competitive and casual alike, it's that we need less clones in the world.
So, have you heard that new song Paul McCartney recorded for Destiny? It's a bit crap. Vacuous lyrics about nothing in particular, dull arrangement, and for some reason every instrument is drenched in enough reverb to make even My Bloody Valentine jealous. Still, at the very least being part of the soundtrack to 2014's Big AAA Gaming Event will give Macca a boost of relevance he's not seen since the early days of Wings, and a shot at actually selling records to young kids again for the first time in forever. It's certainly a step up from his previous attempt at being on the cultural pulse, flogging a collection of po-faced jingles through Starbucks.
Pop song tie-ins are a funny phenomenon. A good pop song used well can elevate a scene with its placement. Stuck In The Middle With You. Where Is My Mind. The End. If you're even moderately aware of film, hearing those songs mentioned will likely bring up some iconic cinema moments. Gaming is a little trickier. Since ascending to the upper echelons of contemporary pop culture, we've seen publishers take a much more conservative stance. Classic pop songs tend to just be used for trailers (see Black Ops' use of Gimme Shelter), and any pop song featured in a game tends to be something contemporary that record companies are looking to promote. When FF XIII was released, for instance, Square decided that the game itself wasn't enough of a punishment for long-time franchise fans, and gave us an equally tedious Leona Lewis tie-in single to promote the game/punish our ears with. Mirror's Edge made heavy use of Still Alive, a pop song by Lisa Miskovsky, whose accompanying video was essentially a demo reel for the game's art and graphics department. EA tends to use its various racing franchises and sports games as an advertising billboard for whatever artists major labels are looking to flog currently, complete with pop up label notes. Every now and then you'll get a game like Spec Ops, which used classic songs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Mogwai in-game to help set mood, but those games tend to be fewer and further between. Licensing music can be expensive, and most publishers would rather use licensing as part of some form of promotion or advertising, rather than just for a game's own improvement.
It's a shame. Because every now and then, you'll find a game and a song that feel like they just belong perfectly together. Paul McCartney's guff may seem awkwardly shoehorned in over the Destiny credits, but a Daft Punk B-side from the Tron Legacy soundtrack? Or a new Glitch Mob single with spacey synths and punding drums? That could have been awesome. Well, in the name of imagination, here are some other examples of music and game that really should have got married somewhere along the line, and never did.
Bayonetta & David Bowie
Just to be clear, Bayonetta already has a phenomenal soundtrack. Platinum generally don't fuck around when it comes to getting good music to go with their games, whether it be the Nu-Metal guilty pleasure of MGR's soundtrack or the bombastic fanfare of Wonderful 101, and Bayo is no different. But if the game soundtrack was missing one teensy little thing, it was a bit of the Bowie. Think about it: Bayonetta is an extremely self-assured, sexually adventurous, extroverted Umbran Witch who enjoys nothing more than putting on a spectacular show for everyone. David Bowie is an extremely self-assured, sexually adventurous, extroverted musician from Brixton who enjoys nothing more than putting on a spectacular show for everyone. The two were made for each other. And just to seal the deal: Bayonetta prances around the game with the grace and athleticism of a prize dancer. No, seriously. A lot of her moves were actually based on dance moves. And we all know what Bowie thinks of dancing:
Magic Dance is a song about how dancing is quite literally magical. Bayonetta is a magical Witch who dances. The two go together like Red Bull and Jagermeister. Plus, the full song has a bitching guitar solo, and the ever-present associated image of Bowie's Labyrinth-era bulge, a picture that fits right in with Bayonetta's aggressive, in-your-face approach to sexuality. Next time you play Bayo, turn down the volume and stick this song over your speakers. Heck, put on the video in a Yotube tab or something. The combined crotch-in-face imagery of Bowie and Bayonetta will make your eyes water. Or should that be Bowienetta?
The Last of Us & REM
The Last Of Us is a dour, serious game about big, meaty themes. It is Scrunched Furrows: The Game. REM were a chirpy band who made upbeat college radio hits with strummy guitar parts and singalong choruses. You might think the two couldn't be more different. But that's the key. Not only does It's The End Of The World cover apocalyptic themes, it does so in a way which would provide TLOU with artistic cred that no-one could deny: dissonance. Think how many famous films have contrasted chirpy or major-key music with scenes of quite horrible violence or sadness: Resevoir Dogs, Wall-E, Dr Strangelove... if you want to be recognised as a Big Artistic Deal, soundtrack dissonance is almost a requirement. TLOU may have won 200 GOTY awards. Think how many it would have won if it had REM playing over the sight of Joel cracking skulls in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
All of them. It would have won all the GOTY awards. Including the one Gamespot gave to A Link Between Worlds. Speaking of Zelda...
Skyward Sword & Tom Petty
There's no thematic subtext or anything fancy here. Skyward Sword is a game where you go skydiving in order to find your bird. Free Falling is a song where the main chorus hook is "I'M FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!/FREEE FAAAAALLLIIIIING!" Nintendo wouldn't even need to include the whole song, just that chorus anytime you jumped off Skyloft would have been fine.
...heck, Link could even pass as an anime fantasy version of a young Tom Petty.
Wolfenstein & Tool
A more obvious reader would perhaps have thought of Rammstein as the go-to music for Wolfenstein's Nazi killing madness. For me, Die Eier Von Satan is a far better match. It's a thumping piece of industrial clatter so full of gristle you could choke a donkey on it. It's fstuffed with ominous German that sounds sinister as hell, complete with crowd chants and rally cheers. It's even got Satan in the title. If early-90s iD was a band rather than a game developer, this is the sort of music they'd be making.
And as any Tool fan knows, in a wonderfully meta-twist, Die Eier Von Satan is actually a rather comical song. The German heard in the song is singer Maynard reciting a recipe for cookies from a German cook book. The industrial sounds and rallies chanting are simply put in there to make aural allusions to Nazism that don't exist, and the Satan in the title is just there to make things sound more evil. It's a wonderful example of a band encouraging listeners to hear things in a song that aren't there. In practise, the song is about as pro-Nazi as Eisenhower. Which makes it a perfect fit with Wolfenstein, a game that has had no small amount of controversy regarding violence, but which at the end of the day has said nothing more confrontational than Nazis are evil, dabbling in the occult is dangerous, and robot Hitler should be destroyed. A message I think any right-minded person can get behind.
Especially this guy...
Super Mario & Queen
...wait, someone already did it? Dash nab it! Ah well, nothing better than confirmation of how well the creative genius of EAD Tokyo and the mercurial sound of Freddie & Co go together. Enjoy!
The Wonderful 101 & The Beatles
Because dramatic irony is a wonderful thing. I Want To Hold Your Hand is a song by the Beatles where Lennon and Macca sing about how much they want to hold your hand. That's pretty much the lyrical entirety of the song, in fact. Whereas The Wonderful 101 is a game which makes clear from the outset that it does not want to hold your hand. At all. Not even a little bit. Not even a pinkie. Tutorials are for the weak, and essential abilities like Dodge should be bought from the shop. If you want hand-holding in your hackey-slash games, go play DmC, or God Of War, or something. Kamiya cares not for your feeble cries for tutorials, the Wonderful 101 is a game for only the hardest of the hardcore!
Of course, W101 is such an insane game that you could equally choose Happy Mondays to play over it, and it would still be just as fitting.
"Twenty four hour party people!"
So there you go. A bunch of games with pop songs that would fit like a velvet glove. If that's not enough to cleanse your mind of Paul McCartney's earnest gurning in Destiny... well, I've heard good things about prozac recently. Go try it out. Or just listen to some prime Marty O'Donnell, and just be glad that Mick Jagger never got to foist a comback single into any of the Halo games.
See, with all these blogs going up about the community's various favourite games, I thought I'd try something a little different. A piece on my most unfavourite game of all time. Morrowind. The high point of the Elder Scrolls franchise. The great white hope of western RPGs. The fantasy sandbox by which all others are measured and found wanting.
Now just to be clear, an unfavourite game isn't a game I think is the worst ever, or that I think should be held to some objective standard of general shittyness. I think Oblivion is a far worse game than Morrowind, for one thing, and there are games more broken and buggy than either games out there to be experienced. A game like Bubsy or Superman 64 can be unredeemingly awful, yet take up the same amount of space in my brain as Latin, or Gamelan music, or Thatcher/Reagan slashfic. Morrowind, however, sits on the shag carpeting of my mind like a craggy turd, its mere presence leaving a smell it's impossible to shake off. It's a game that I have tried to get into no less than five times. I have bought it twice, installed every mod known to man, and spent countless hours trying to pierce its chitin shell to find the sweet meat underneath. I have wanted nothing more than to love Morrowind, and on some level I still do. There's something about the idea of Morrowind which is amazing, something I really want to get into and lose myself in... but everytime I've tried, I've found myself utterly underwhelmed by the entirety of the experience. Each time I've tried to get into it, I haven't managed to get more than a few hours into the story, yet collectively I've probably spent a dozen hours or more in the game. I've spent less time in Arkham City and Metal Gear Rising, games I enjoy munreservedly, than I have wandering the swamps of Vvarvendell, waiting for the next crab or rat to get the jump on me.
What is it I don't like about the game? In a word: everything. As soon as I fire the game up, every facet of the game's structure sets my teeth grinding, wishing it could be less arduous. The game presents you with a huge open world to explore, but your character walks with all the speed of a tectonic plate. You can sprint, but your stamina bar is so low that anything more than ten seconds spent running will bring your character back to a crawl. And if you get attacked by antyhing, then the best of luck to you, as you've rendered yourself too knackered to properly put up a defence. The game promises you a giant setting to explore, then makes the very act of exploring as tedious as it possibly can. You can fast travel, sure... but fast travelling around the map requires money, and that's the one thing you don't have when you're first starting out. For the first section of the game at least, you're faced with either going penniless, or slow marching it from town to town, city to city, sort of like one of the Canterbury pilgrims, but with an infinitely more boring story to tell:
" A tale of woe I shallen tell thee/Of a prisoner's endless misery/That whilom was kicked from humble boat/And cast asunder, with nary a groat/Nor raiment, food nor arms to bear/No horse to ryde, no humble mare/Left to walk the lonely road/Attacked by rats and crabbes and toads/Till pon a chance he saw the lights/Of a friendly city in the night/He marched his feet with greaten haste/And was struck down by one of the cliff race"
If the combat was great, then that perhaps could make up for the general tedium of exploration, but it's not. The combat in Morrowind is legendarily broken, which is what makes the experience even more frustrating. You slog from Point A to Point B, hoping for something to add a little spce to proceedings, then when a monster jumps you, you're left to realise that even the spice in this game is a bit bland. Everything is done on dice rollls, yet you're left to swing and flail like you're doing the Time Warp at a LARP convention. I like combat in RPGs/ I like fighting monsters, and getting stronger by defeating them. I like swinging swords and casting fire spells. But somehow, Morrowind takes the basic primal appeal of swinging a sword at a giant troll, and makes it a game of chance where all the numbers are rigged against you. Combat in Morrowind isn't something to be experienced, it's something to be suffered for wrongdoings in your past lives. It's penance for a life lived in sin. It's nothing but punishment, with not even funny animations to give it some kind of humour or levity.
And this is the thing: if the story was better, I could endure dodgy gameplay. I've played through JRPGs that had less-than-stellar gameplay to experience a ripping yarn, and can overlook mechanical defects if the themes and drama make up for it. But Morrowind doesn't do that. It does the one thing I absolutely hate in fantasy and sci-fi games: throw a load of lore at you, and expect that to do most of the story. Now, I hate lore. I hate it when a game throws encyclopedias of made-up nonsense to wade through, and calls that a valid trade-off for some good characterisation or emotional writing. I like my fantasy fiction to have the basics of narrative down, like characters and arcs and ideas bubbling away under the surface. Making up a load of backstory, then dumping it into the game to be waded through like fish guts on the deck of a trawler, has no appeal to me. But that's where the meat of Morrowind's story lies: going through endless bloody books, flicking through scrolls, scanning journals for anything interesting or entertaining. I like fantasy settings that are well realised, don't get me wrong, but I also like some immediacy to proceedings. I don't have an endless amount of spare time, and if a game is going to demand so much of my attention, I want something other than backstory and lore to work with. Give me a great story, or great gameplay, but give me something to get some immediate feedback from.
On every level that matters, Morrowind goes against everything I enjoy in games, be it its approach to narrative, or the broken fundamentals of its gameplay... and yet, for some utterly inexplicable reason, I still want to like it. Love it, even. There's something about the idea of Morowind which I want to be in love with, something about the idea of getting lost in a world of giant mushrooms and weird insects that fundamentally speaks to me. This says just how much I want to like it: I bought the game as a teenager on a Sold Out software disc, then when that disc disappeared, I bought the GOTY version, even though I already knew I didn't like the game. Maybe it was the idea that the expansions could fix some of my problems with the game, maybe it was just the basic idea of wandering alone in a fantasy world, but I bought the game again, installed it again, fired it up again, and within three hours was utterly confused as to why I had done it. Even now, writing about Morrowind, I can feel the urge to fire it up once more, install some graphics mods, and go exploring. And I know what would happen if I did: I'd start a new game, marvel at how nice the new texture mods and graphics tweaks look, and get bored of the game before the evening was done.
No other game has this effect on me. There have been games I've hated, and never played more than once, and there have been games I've loved that have taken up hours upon hours of my free time, but never has a game had quite the same love/hate relationship with me. It's like meeting a woman, and falling in love with the idea of her, rather than the reality. I know that Morrowind is a broken, buggy mess that has nothing of what I look for in games, but I just can't quite quit it. It's stuck in my conscious like a splinter, irritating and impossible to remove. I have many games that I would consider as my favourites, but no games has ever had the singular success of so resolutely being my unfavourite: a game I want to love, but which I cannot find a single thing to love. Other people love Morrowind more than words, and that's absolutely fine. I would never begrudge anyone the hours of enjoyment they've got from exploring Vvarvendell and all its mysteries. On a subconscious level, I may even be slightly jealous. The sort of joy those gamers have got from the game is exactly what I want for myself. It's why I refuse to get rid of my discs, why I eye the game up everytime it goes on a Steam sale. Morrowind is the bad first sniff of cocaine that still leaves me itching for more. It's that bad LSD trip which leaves my brain on the floor, yet still has me wanting to return to the psychedelic realm. It's a tick that sticks my psyche with its mandibles, grabs on, and is then impossible to shake loose.
Fuck it, I've still for the disc in my drawer. What harm could one more reinstall do...
It's a funny old business. Funny old world, really. All a bit topsy turvy at the moment. Like everyone's running around stomping their feet everywhere, and the result is no-one quite knows where the floor is anymore.
I'm going to say this upfront: I work for a PR company. Well, no, that's not quite true. I work for a company that works with PR companies. It's sort of like a Yellow Pages for various outlets, tells PR companies who to contact at which magazine or website regarding this or that. It's not a very exciting job, truth be told, nor a particularly high ranking one. Now, I haven't been privy to any scandals up front, nor have I seen any indication of widescale corruption at this outlet or that one. I've certainly never sent IGN envelopes of cash, nor have I ever asked Gamespot to fire a member of staff. I just spend my days at my computer, researching outlets.
What I can say, however, is that I get an inside view of how advertising and editorial work at major websites and outlets such as Gamespot or IGN. Except, that's not really true either. It's not inside information at all. The majority of information on advertising, how much it costs, how much coverage you get, etc etc, isn't held in some secret backroom waiting for a golden handshake. It's clear to read if you go to the bottom of any website, and look for the Advertise button. It's usually in big bold print, possibly in capital letters, and says something along the lines of "Advertise with us" or similar.
Click on that button, and you'll have access to all the information on advertising on IGN, Gamespot or Eurogamer you could want. All the secrets at the corrupt heart of the gaming media, at your fingertips. Except that, when it comes to advertising and what not, there's really not all that much corruption. Generally, what you see with advertising is what you get. Click on the button, you'll be taken to a page that clearly lays out the protocol and requirements for advertising on the site. You'll be shown just how much it costs per banner ad per click, how many pixels your ad will cover, and a general length of time for how long your ad will be on the site (a day, a couple of days, a week, two weeks, etc). It's all rather boring, rather mundane, and free of conspiracies.
For the longest time now, gamers have been fixated on the idea that publishers somehow use advertising to buy coverage or reviews. A banner ad for COD, say, is used as evidence that Activision is buying positive previews or even reviews of COD across that outlet, which is then used as a reason to grumble about gaming journalism some more. But the truth is much, much more boring than that, and you can take this as the word of someone who regularly contacts advertisers: there is no link between advertising and reviews or previews. For one very simple reason: advertising doesn't dictate site content. Site content dictates advertising.
If you go click on the IGN Advertise button (it's at the bottom of the page/ Go on, press it), you'll be linked to a page which gives various statistics on clicks and hits. This is rather important, as aside from the self-congratulatory chest thumping, the number of page views is a website or outlet's main weapon in dictating how much they charge for advertising. IGN proudly proclaim that they get 564 million page views per month. Think about that. That's 564 million. That is a stupendous amount of traffic, and that is IGN's biggest bargaining chip. Advertisers naturally want to advertise on sites with the most users, the most traffic, as it increases the likelihood of their advertising working. The vast majority of websites on the internet struggle to make it even past the thousand hits mark, so when you're regularly getting views in the hundreds of millions, you know you're pretty damn popular. Now, contrary to popular belief, this gives IGN a huge amount of power when it comes to choosing who they advertise with. A site with that many views is going to have advertisers queuing around the block just to get some advertising of their own online. IGN will never, ever want for people to pay them money to host their ads. And that's fine. Hosting banner ads is how websites pay their bills nowadays, and as long as they're clearly labelled as ads, what's to complain about?
"But Titus" I hear your delicate voice tremble "If IGN can choose who advertises on their site, why do they choose videogame publishers? That must be corruption, right?" Ah, delicate little flower, let me explain. Websites track not only the number of hits they have, but also the demographics that visit their pages. It's how they choose what sort of topics to cover, knowing the audience that visits them and their interests. IGN is primarily a gaming site, so their audience is primarily made up of gamers. People interested in games. People who buy games. While IGN can choose whoever they want to advertise with, it's in their own interests to advertise with companies who share the same target demographics with them. If you're reading a preview of Blood Borne, for instance, and you get an advert next to the article for the latest series of MLP or the new Postman Pat film... well, that's not going to be very effective for either side. You're not very likely to go watch MLP, and the advertiser is just wasting their money. As a gamer, your interests are games, so therefore an advert for a new game is going to be a much more productive use of marketing money than an advert for a new female perfume.
However, that doesn't mean advertisers get any say over content. IGN hosts videogame adverts because their main audience is gamers, and it makes synergistic sense the same way showing adverts for Nike and Adidas makes sense during a football match. That doesn't mean IGN has to kowtow to publishers on advertising. While the site's main users are gamers, there are any number of related fields that those site users will also be interested in, all of which have their own advertisers looking to sell products: smartphones, tablets, general electronics, blockbuster films, etc etc. Sites like IGN can and do host adverts for more general 'nerdy' products, because there are no shortage of marketing companies looking to sell those products to their userbase. And because advertising rates are the same for adverts, no matter the company (and as is required by advertising law) then that means that while gaming websites can and do host videogame adverts, they are under no compunction to. If we were to hypothetically say that EA wanted to use an advert for Mass Effect 4 as a way to bribe a website for positive coverage, that website would turn them down. Firstly, taking money for advertising under the counter would be against regulations. Secondly, if EA tried pulling that sort of shit, the website could just turn them down for someone else. They could instead host an advert for Ubisoft or Activision instead (thereby actively promoting one of EA's competitor products), or they could just host adverts for Samsung, Apple and Nokia instead. When you have an endless queue of advertisers lining up outside your door, it means you get to eject someone as soon as they start trying to mess you around.
And the great not-so-secret truth is that advertising and editorial at these websites are completely different departments anyway. You can take this as the word of someone who has had to spend afternoons trying to categorize who works in marketing and who in editorial, you can take it as common sense, or you can just go check for yourselves. Most websites are very clear about the different methods of contact for their Editorial department and their Marketing department. They'll have separate email addresses, separate phone numbers, and are very often in separate offices. If EA were to try ringing up IGN's advertising team to buy a review of Battlefield, their very first problem would be that the person picking up the phone would have no idea who's covering the review of that specific game. Advertisers are too busy lining up advertising schedules and contacts to know which specific writer from which specific room in IGN is going to review a specific game at a given date. That's like asking the accounts team for information on who's designing the website layout.
The various marketing staff will all report to a Chief of/Head of Marketing, or somesuch title. The various writers all report to the Editor. The Editor has final say on editorial, the Head of Marketing on, well, marketing. Both those jobs may then report to a company CEO or Director, or they may both be left alone (in which case, the Editor is usually higher up the chain than the Marketing head, and not vice versa). They will have very little direct contact with each other, and will have next to no say on each other's content. An editor will know jack shit about marketing compared to a marketing head, and a marketing head will know jack shit about editorial compared to an editor. Maybe there will appear to be some overlap when a site hosts an ad for a game that's being reviewed, but in reality that just points to the game publisher being willing to pay the asking fee for a gaming website's ads. I can say this with certainty, people working in editorial hate being contacted about advertising, and people working in advertising hate being contacted about editorial. They are clearly separated departments for a reason, so that each can focus on what it's good at without getting bogged down doing things for the other. Marketers want to work on advertising, editorial guys want to work on writing. Marketers provide an ad platform that allows editorial guys to get paid for writing. That's how it works.
Again, this is all stuff you can check for yourself. Phone up IGN, and there'll likely be a system in place to direct you to advertising, editorial, customer service or any other department. Call up an advertising guy asking about editorial, and he'll tell you you've got the wrong department. I have done just that, and believe me, these things work the same across the vast majority of sites.
I know we all like to think there's something rotten in Denmark when we see an advert for the new Halo game next to the review of the new Halo game. But in actuality, it's no different to the Times having a full-page advert of a film in the newspaper edition that provides a review of said film. If you have any old newspapers lying around, go check them out. I'm sure you'll find an advert somewhere for a book, film or CD that also has a review in the same edition. It happens. Advertising and Editorial can cover the same ground without necessarily being in contact with each other. Games are big business, after all, and publishers spend a lot of money getting their coverage out as far as possible. It's not so incredibly suspicious that when you have a huge AAA game with $200 million behind it, that Editorial and Advertising will perhaps end up covering it in different ways. The Editorial guys cover it because it's clearly going to be a big game, and they'd be remiss not to cover it for their audience. The Advertising guys host adverts for it because the publisher is willing to pay the ad fees, and it limes up with their demographic.
That is how advertising works for these sites, and it is painfully, stupefyingly mundane. Very occasionally you'll see snarls, like when Gamespot sacked Gerstmann, but that's what those are: occasional exceptions. Rare instances. The Gerstmann incident was something that happened when executives made a panicked snap decision over concerns from advertisers, and it is very much not the norm in the industry. That the fact a female indie developer slept with a writer at Rock Paper Shotgun, Rock Paper fucking Shotgun, is being used as an example of industry wide 'corruption' should say it all. Rock Paper Shotgun are not the industry, and nor is Zoe Quinn. They're two people who made an unprofessional decision, and thus far it seems like not a single review, preview or general coverage piece has appeared from Grayson regarding Depression Quest.
Are there problems regarding how publishers hold preview events above outlets as a way to try and curry favour? Yes. Could journalists stand to be more removed from the developers they cover? Possibly. Is advertising money part of a big conspiracy against gamers by the likes of IGN and EA. No. Advertising money is part of a very traditional and well regulated industry that has its own legal requirements regarding the distinction of ads and editorial. There are many things wrong with the industry, but the recurring idea of there being an ad money conspiracy is less indicative of anything wrong with gaming outlets, and more indicative of the gaming community's continuous need for a good conspiracy.
Microsoft are the Darth Vader of console gaming. But that doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does.
The last few years have been pretty terrible for the Xbox brand. Even before the cackhanded XBone reveal, the 360 had been struggling for a while from the perceived notion that it had changed tack from a gamer's console to a broken Kinect machine. The Xbox One has been fighting negative press since day one, and is getting roundly pounded by the PS4 in the sales race. It's still yet to outsell the Wii U after four months which, in some corners of the internet at least, is comparable to getting beat in the egg-and-spoon race by that one legged kid with multiple sclerosis.
And you know what? That's all fine. The Xbox One deserves every bit of bad press it gets after the monumental con-job Microsoft tried to pull on us last year. And Kinect had the lasting effect of taking the genuinely interesting area of motion/pointer controls, and turning it into one giant pile of waggle that no-one would ever take seriously again.
But for the last year now, there's another attitude that's become ever more pervasive in the gaming community, and it's one that makes me genuinely sad. The attitude of Microsoft the Great Pretender. Where Sony and Nintendo earned their right through generations of battle and blood to lay claim to the Console Throne, Microsoft are seen as the fakers, the ones who stayed in the race simply by throwing enough money everywhere.
Sort of like this guy, but without his winning personality.
The fact that the Xbox division has been a consistent money loser for Microsoft is often used as an argument that they made no real effort to stay in like the other two, and were content to simply throw out moneyhats and the occasional Halo game in order to keep in the running. Go on any forum or messageboard now, and you won't just see posters claiming that Microsoft should leave the console race, they never should have joined in the first place.
Admittedly, gamers have always had a thing for fighting over which hardware makers deserve to win, but it seems like much more of an issue with Microsoft now. "Get thee gone from my house, and never darken my door again with thy foul presence!" seems to be the rallying cry of thousands of gamers everywhere. Which is genuinely upsetting.
Because believe it or not, there was a time when Microsoft didn't just make a decent attempt at being a console gaming company, they were the dream company of hardcore gamers everywhere. They walked the street with a spring in their step, because they knew they were so good. They were the swaggy daddy-cool pimpmaster of gaming.
To understand the tragedy of Microsoft, and how awesome they were back in the day, we need to rewind the clock back to the days of this beauty right here:
It's big, black, and I love it so much I want it inside me.
The OG Xbox is the closest any company has ever come(possibly excepting the SNES) of taking a nerd's wet dream and turning it into silicon and electronics. This thing was the dream machine. It was pure gaming excess, the fantasies and hopes of millions of gamers taken and hammered into sleek, rugged, black perfection.
Ok, the original Duke controller was a bit shit. But the OG Xbox is basically what happens when you get a bunch of hardcore gamers together, and give them access to Microsoft's unlimited bank account. This thing was meant as nothing more than the perfect hardcore gaming machine. Sony wanted the PS2 to be a sleeper-agent for the DVD format. Nintendo wanted the Gamecube to also double as a handy lunch container and designer accessory. The Xbox, however, was meant to be nothing more than the purest gaming machine available on the market. To understand just how overboard Microsoft went in creating the dream gaming monster, I'm going to have to hit you with just a bit of tech-porn. Bare with me here, because this isn't going to be kind to the competition:
The specs between the PS2 and the Xbox? They weren't even comparable. The difference between the Xbox one and the PS4 is a mere trifle compared to the vast gulf that existed between the PS2 and Xbox. Microsoft looked at everything the PS2 had, and decided to double it at the bare minimum. Where the PS2 had 32mb of RAM, the Xbox had a whopping 64. Where the PS2 had a 295MHz CPU processor, the Xbox had a 733MHz beastie. Where the PS2 GPU ran at 148MHz, the Xbox ran at 233MHz. In every single tech aspect, Microsoft went above and beyond in utterly crushing the PS2s specs. The Gamecube fared better, with Nintendo using bespoke architecture to punch way above the console's weight, but even then in most aspects, the Xbox still came out on top.
Quite simply, there was no piece of gaming kit outside of a super PC-rig able to beat the Xbox's specs. It was excessive in every possible way, like a Lamborghini made out of cocaine. But that turned out to the console's advantage. Because by going all out on tech, Microsoft were able to snag PC ports for the Xbox that the PS2 could only dream of. Morrowind? Doom 3? Half-Life 2? You'd never see those games on PS2, yet Microsoft's decision to go all out on hardware porn meant it got them all, and other console versions of otherwise PC-exclusives.
It wasn't just the pure power either. Microsoft were incredibly thoughtful, and made the thing really easy for developers to work with by using PC components. If that doesn't mean much to you, you have to realise that during the PS2 era, Krazy Ken was still in charge of Sony's hardware design. And as much as we all may love it, the PS2 was an absolutely horrible bit of kit for developers to work with. Many famously fell out with Sony over it. The entire reason, for instance, that Shinji Mikami tried to make the RE franchise Gamecube exclusive was because he utterly, utterly loathed the PS2's architecture. By comparison, the Xbox had all the familiarity of the PCs developers were already using to make games on, and it was powerful enough that anything they struggled with, they could just brute-force their way through.
You notice how both Sony and Microsoft made a big song-and-dance about using PC architecture to make development easier on Xbox One and PS4? And how even Nintendo is making efforts to move towards more standardised, easy-to-work-with PC-based hardware? That didn't start this gen. That started back when Microsoft released the first Xbox. It's just taken this long for everyone else to start catching up.
And it wasn't just in terms of raw power that Microsoft went above and beyond. The Xbox was the first console to come with its own hard-drive, an 8GB internal monster. Sure, that doesn't sound like a lot now, but at the time that was 8GB more than what Nintendo or Sony were offering. The OG Xbox is the sole reason our consoles come with hard-drives as standard now. If you've ever downloaded a game onto your console from PSN or Xbox Live, you have the OG Xbox to thank for that. Along with online mutliplayer too, actually. Yes, the Dreamcast was the first to really dabble in online, but Microsoft was the first console maker to nail multiplayer in the way we expect now: loads of servers hooked up together, creating an extensive network dedicated just to gaming.
Again, at the time, the competition were offering nothing. Xbox Live was an absolutely unprecedented development in console gaming, and while we may hate what it has become now, back then it was nothing less than revolutionary. It gave developers an entirely new way to support console games after they were released, and encouraged gamers to form clans, groups and entire communities around their favourite multiplayer games.
In every respect, the OG Xbox was a vision of the future. It had every last thing a gamer could require from their hardware, yet cost the same as a PS2. But here's the wonderful thing. As amazing as the specs were, as utterly lustworthy as all those processors and electrodes were, that was just the tip of the iceberg. It was the games that really cemented the Xbox as something special.
Hear me out: there was a time when Microsoft went out of their way to support their console with the best hardcore games they could find.
Those are some of the games everyone remembers for the OG Xbox. Jade Empire, Halo, Dead Or Alive, Fabel... we all remember those. What's even more incredible is how much effort Microsoft went into securing even the most niche, uber-hardcore games. The sort of games that would only appeal to the most niche of gamers.
Did you know, for instance, that before making the Souls series, FROM Software made a pair of Xbox exclusive games under the Otogi name? Two games based around an undead Samurai assassin killing demons in a fairytale version of Japan, where boss battles took place over supernova stars and in the atmosphere of the planet. Where the Xbox specs and built-in hard drive meant that levels were completely destructible on a level no other hack-and-slash game has beaten to this day. Why yes, they are both every bit as awesome as they sound. No, they did not sell well at all. Yet they still found a place in the House of Xbox.
Or how about some Phantom Dust? A game where you collect cards to have magic battles in post apocalyptic arenas to remixed versions of classical pieces.
If these games were any more hardcore, you could stick a band of silver round them and use them to propose to your partner.
There was a time when Microsoft didn't just moneyhat exclusive DLC for multiplatform games. There was a time when the Xbox was home to the sort of games for gamers that meant, well, if you called yourself a 'real' gamer, you simply had to own an Xbox. Sure, Halo was the killer app, but away from that there were so many other games worth playing that a gamer could literally thank Microsoft with tears in their eyes for bringing so much incredible gaming goodness.
The Xbox wasn't an expensive system, despite its tech. Microsoft made steps to ensure they matched the PS2 dollar for dollar at retail. It wasn't a PS3 level act of hubris, requiring gamers take up a second job just to pay for it. They made a console more powerful than God, then sold it at the same price as the competition, with a shitload of incredible games they made sure to support the system with.
So if you want to rail against Microsoft, and bemoan their direction with Xbox One, then fine, but don't criticise them for being a pretender. Don't act as if they never brought anything to the industry. If you want to criticise Microsoft and the Xbox brand, criticise it for not living up to the legacy of the original console, the console that went on to define how other consoles are made. Because as much as Microsoft may have fucked themselves over now, the real tragedy is that like Marlon Brando, they could have once been a contender. The Xbox may have never outsold the PS2, but the record breaking day one sales of games like Halo 2 and the overwhelming success of Xbox Live dealt Sony a blow that left them shaking, and that inspired them to go all-in on tech with the PS3.
Microsoft are the Darth Vader of console gaming, because they were once its greatest champion. The original Xbox offered a vision of gaming which they have spent subsequent years turning their back on, and that's the real tragedy here. They may be evil now, but there's a reason the Xbox brand managed to eventually take off. read
So it's a little later than I would have liked, but I finally managed to cobble together a music track that represents some of my current thoughts on gaming. Nothing concrete, or particularly insightful. It's just a track that's inspired by various gaming flutterings, happenings and thoughts that have occurred to me over the last few weeks. The month of February as seen by Titus in musical form, if you will.
It's scrappy as hell, badly in need of being re-recorded and re-polished, but I'm quite chuffed with it all the same.
For those interested, read below to find out the long, needlessly complicated process I went through to make the track. For everyone else, press play, and I hope you enjoy.
You actually want to know how I made this? You sad buggers. Anyways, the recording process was broken down into three key stages:
1) working out which tunes I wanted to remix and fiddle around with, and working out how they'd fit together.
2) creating the drum loops which would act as the foundation of the song.
3) recording everything else, and putting it all together.
Step 1 was pretty easy. There were a few recent games I wanted to reference for their topicality, and some I wanted to include just for the heck of it. As it turns out, a PC port of Deus Ex The Fall was announced this week, so that ended up being pretty on the money anyway.
Step 2 was a lot of fun. I've been playing around with Famitracker a lot recently, and that proved ideal for creating the sort of drum loops I wanted. For those of you who are unaware, Famitracker is a program which allows you to create genuine 8-bit music, using a hacked version of the actual NES software. You can genuinely compose in Famitracker and, if you have a way to put it to cartridge, get a NES to play your compositions. It's used a lot for chiptune compositions, and is a lot of fun to work with, if you like composing in hexadecimal.
What's really great about Famitracker though is that you can load samples into one of its channels. I had a notion of having drum loops with a really old-school gamer vibe, so decided to import individual drum samples into Famitracker, then build up the drum loops from scratch, rather than using a standard loop creator. It's a lot more work to create individual loops from scratch, but the upside is that you get a lot more freedom and creativity than you do with something like Fruity Loops. Having downloaded a large collection of free drum sounds and samples, I then imported the ones I liked into Famitracker, got that old school 'Tchk!' sound I wanted, then built up some drum loops.
I really like creating drum loops. It's a lot of fun trying to create drum grooves that go beyond the simple 1-and-2-and-3-and-and feel, and finding good places to pit in accents and fills. Once I had a collection of loops I was happy with, I exported each of them as an actual sound file.
Now, when you're creating drum loops from scratch, you can't just export them then use them straight away. Exporting loops as a wav adds a decay period of half a second or so, which means they won't loop properly. If you want to sue them, you have to use a sound editor to cut off the extra tail, and create a sound file that starts as soon as it finishes in order to loop cleanly. I prefer to use Audacity for this, as I find it's the easiest tool to zoom in and select and delete the exact amount of sound I want. Again, it's extra work, but it all adds to the joy of creating your own loops from scratch, rather than just getting a sequencer to do everything.
Once the loops were edited properly, it became time to actually create the song proper, in a full DAW program. I used to use Cubase, but have recently moved over to Reaper, and would genuinely recommend it to anyone. It's a fully featured recording software suite that comes with an unlimited evaluation period. If you're looking for free software to start dicking around with recording, Reaper is where you should definitely start, and it's what I'll be sticking to for the forseeable future.
I imported the drum loops into reaper, and used them to create a basic 'skeleton' for the song, working out how many bars I wanted dedicated to the 'funk Halo' section, how many to the Donkey Kong section, how many to the Dubstep drop, etc. Rather than building the music up section by section, I laid out the entire song in drums to get an idea for the length and flow, and sang along as it played. I find it's better to get a good idea of the length and flow of your song right from the start, rather than spending hours perfecting a lovely section, only to discover you need to add/subtract another few bars or measures in order to make it work.
I also found some vocal loops I liked, and imported those into Reaper to. Vocal samples are something I've been wanting to play around with for a while, and it was a fun effort to try and get various snippets lined up with the various drumbeats.
Once that was all done, it was time to record the music proper. All the non drum/vocal loops on the track were recoded by a guitar, plugged into a knackered old multi-effects processor, then into my PC through an external soundcard. I'm planning on upgrading my recording gear at some point this year to have a proper keyboard and effects rig, but right now I can bet by with what I have.
Putting the actual music together involved a lot of practising parts, making stuff up on the fly, and experimenting with different ideas. A lot of the time, ideas I had planned had to be drastically altered. Originally I planned to have the Deus Ex theme play more prominently over the dubstep drop, but I couldn't get the syncopated melody to line up with the half-time drumbeat adequately, so instead kept it as a little snippet at the end, and instead allowed Jock's sample to convey the Deus Exyness. On the plus side, I'm very chuffed with the deep 'synthy' sounds I managed to create with nothing more than my guitar and an octave effect.
The Bloody Tears section is probably my favourite, as it allowed me to really show off my alternate picking chops, and to re-arrange the tune in a different way. The main refrain becomes a chunky, dancey guitar riff, and the first snippet of the main melody becomes a Nile Rodgers-esque guitar lick that plays over the top. I was originally tempted to slow the track down, record the guitar parts, then speed it back up, but decided that would be cheating. So everything you hear in the song was recorded at the same speed, and it was quite a fun challenge to make sure everything was in time. I might have made a few minor wobbles in a couple of places, but I think for the most part I kept the temp pretty well.
This is a snapshot of one part of the total Reaper piece, covering about 1/3 the song's length, and 1/3 the tracks recorded.
For anyone looking for advice on how to record parts in a DAW, I don't have too much to give, considering how much I'm still learning myself, but here are a few things I learned that I consider essential:
- Double track everything. If you're recording a part, don't just record it once, record it twice. And by that, I don't mean copy it into a second track, I mean actually play the part for a second time, and record that on a second track. If you do that, and pan the tracks left and right, you get a much greater sense of depth than if you leave one track panned in the middle.
- If you're recording guitar parts using distortion, record the same part using a clean tone on a separate track. If you set the volume just right, so it's on the edge of being audible, then it's a great way to add definition and clarity to guitar parts that can run the risk of sounding muddy.
- Make sure you include reverb. If you're not mic'ing an amp, then make sure you have some kind of reverb applied to your track. Reverb is what gives a track a more organic feel, and without it, tracks can sound sterile and overly digital. You don't need power metal levels of reverb, just enough to give the impression that the sounds may have actually been in a room somewhere.
The most important thing is not being afraid to change things up if needed. Get a good idea of what you want a song to be, but if something needs to be changed at the last minute, don't be afraid to get rid of it and try something spontaneous. The song I ended up with is very different from the song I had in mind when I first embarked on this crazy scheme, but I'm chuffed with it all the same.
Hopefully I'll be able to keep this blog updated with other bits of music I come up with. I had a lot of fun making this. In fact, recording music is just about the most fun you can have by yourself at a computer, and I've already got ideas for the next VG Remix I want to do. read
Award season rolls on and on. After presenting the awards for Most Average White Male and Best Cancelled game, we're now onto one of the most hotly contested of all:
The 2013 Award for Best Fuck Up by a Developer or Publisher
Everybody fucks up one-time or another. I fuck up. You fuck up. We all fuck up. It's a fact of life that, being only human, we will all make mistakes of one kind or another, some big, some small. Those in the videogame industry are no different, and can make just as many fuck-ups as you or I. The award for Best Fuck-Up is meant to recognise those who go above and beyond, who make the extra effort (or indeed lack of it) to truly squander themselves, and deliver nothing less than a full catastrophe to the gaming community. A disasterpiece which removes any shred of goodwill the community may have had towards them. In doing so they play an important role, reminding us gamers that no matter how much we may idolise them, developers and publishers are as fallible as everyone else. So without further ado, here is the winner of the 2013 awar-
...sorry, I fucked up. Before we present the award, here are the nominees for Best Fuck Up.
The Xbox One reveal, Microsoft
Why it was nominated: There has never been a console reveal like that of the Xbox One. It was not just the press conference itself, but the ripples it created in the community. Microsoft didn't just present gamers with mixed messages about a patently anti-consumer machine, they managed to turn the gaming press and the gaming community against each other. When presented with a console that clearly tried to rob consumers of the right to play offline, sell games and play without a camera, many gaming journalists tried to mount a cautious defence of Microsoft. A few of them even came out in open support of the new machine. This inspired the wrath of many online gaming communities, to the point that many now simply do not trust the gaming media. The console itself was revealed with next to no games, and an overwhelming focus on television applications that any smart TV or plug-in box can already perform. The executives were sending completely contradictory messages to the press, and the entire thing was performed with a sense of smug, self-congratulatory conceitedness which was just nauseating.
Sony's E3 '06 presentation of the PS3 was legendarily bad, but at least they focused on games. Nintendo's reveal of the Wii U may have resulted in apathy or confusion in those who watched, but not outright anger. This was, by comparison, nothing less than the worst console reveal in recent history, and for that it deserves the nomination.
Why it didn't win: If Microsoft had stuck to their guns, the Xbox One would have walked this award, no contest. Sadly, Microsoft had to fumble things by backing down on all the most egregious points of contest. The 24-hour connection requirement was dropped, the mandatory Kinect became optional, the baked-in DRM was removed and gamers were allowed to buy and sell used games once again. The Xbox One could have been a consumer right disaster par excellence, but as of right now it's just an overpriced box with an optional gimmicky camera.
Why it was nominated: This is the first of EA's nominations for this award, which should tell you all you need to know. Before the game was even released, long-time fans of the series were upset by the new online requirements for the game. EA tried to deflect criticism by playing up the MMO aspects, telling gamers that the new SimCity would redefine the series by integrating multiplayer in never before seen ways, and using 'cloud computing' to do advanced industry-first ingame calculations.
Then the game launched. And everyone saw what a crock of shit that was.
The game was simply broken at release. It required access to EA's servers in order to function, but EA in their wisdom had not got enough servers ready for launch day, and thousands upon thousands of gamers were left unable to play the game they had bought. Those who were lucky enough to get a game were still plagued with numerous crashes and broken gameplay mechanics. Even worse, enterprising modders soon discovered that the much ballyhooed cloud computing was total balls. The game could in fact be modded to play offline, albeit still with its fundamentally broken mechanics. The shitstorm that resulted from this perfect storm of fuck-ups forced reviewers and game journalists who had otherwise been kind to the game to go back and revise their scores downwards, lest they be seen as utterly incompetent and/or in the pockets of EA.
Why it didn't win: To be brutally honest, I could have happily given the award to this game. It's a masterclass in how to fuck up in every single way, and the only reason it didn't win was because of other brutal fuck-ups which were even more fucked up.
DmC Devil May Cry, Capcom
Why it was nominated: Some gamers out there may try and tell you that DmC was a worthy new entry into the franchise, that it brought fresh ideas to a stale series. Don't listen to those people. They're wrong. DmC was a colossal fuck-up by Capcom for a number of reasons.
Firstly, despite DMC4 managing to become the best-selling entry in one of Capcom's best selling franchises, Keiji Inafune decided they needed to make the next game deliberately more appealing to 'western gamers' in order to make it sell more. Again, this on the back of DMC4 pulling the best numbers in the franchise. That right there is fuck-up number one. When you abandon an established, best selling formula to try and ride the coat-tails of whatever fad is currently appealing to western gamers, you doom yourself to failure, as any number of WoW/COD-clone developers can tell you.
The second fuck-up was the downgrading of almost every great gameplay mechanic the series was known for. Instead of the silky 60fps DMC fans were used to, console owners were treated to a 30fps game which made high level play that much harder. Over successive instalments, the prior games had created an intricate Style system which peaked with DMC4, wherein you could change combat styles on the fly for ludicrous combat depth. In DmC, styles were completely gone. Where the previous games encouraged you to experiment and improvise, DmC locked you into using certain weapons against colour-coded enemies. There was no lock-on button. The ranking system was broken to the point that it was possible to get an S rank just by mashing random buttons. In every gameplay mechanic that mattered, DmC was a serious step down.
The third fuck-up was the deliberate antagonisation of the fanbase, and Capcom/Ninja Theory's decision to use a story and artstyle completely removed from everything fans had previously loved. There was no Gothic sensibility, no camp melodrama, no sly winks at the audience and good natured cheesiness. Instead, we had a game which was both earnest and yet vulgar. Instead of the good-humoured combination of Die Hard and Dracula that typified previous games, we got something which felt like a 70s exploitation flick, yet possibly even more tasteless. Boss fights with demon foetuses, abortion-by-sniper rifle, demon vomit, squirrel semen and copious amounts of 'Fuck You!' resulted in a story that tried to be earnest, yet came across as incredibly immature and tasteless. And to make things worse, the game felt the need to antagonise fans of the previous games by mocking the style of the previous games, and repeatedly making a point of what an utter ass-hole the new Dante was.
All of which led to the fourth fuck-up: sales. Instead of capitalising on the success of the previous game, and using that as a stepping stone to better things, the game bombed at launch. Capcom repeatedly had to downgrade sales forecasts, to the point they were fortunate when it made it just over a million. When you shit all over fan goodwill like that, you know you've made the biggest fuck-up of all.
Why it didn't win: Unfortunately, as much of a downgrade as DmC was in every way, Capcom and Ninja Theory still managed to ship a working game. While it may not have stood up to the series' legacy, but it still worked in a functional manner. Which is more than can be said of the award winner.
So, without further ado, the winner of the 2013 Award for Best Fuck Up by a Developer or Publisher goes to:
Battlefield 4, EA
Why it won: It's hard to know who to blame more for the unfinished state of Battlefield 4, DICE or EA. The signs were already there in Battlefield 3, with a campaign criticised for being clearly rushed and unfinished, and multiplayer having all sorts of teething troubles. But nothing could have prepared anyone for the utterly monumental fuck-up that was Battlefield 4's launch. In a year where COD finally showed signs of jumping the shark, and EA could have at last grasped that coveted sales crown they've wanted so long, it took the mother of all catastrophucks to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
It's not just that the multiplayer was broken at launch. It's not the fact that every new patch DICE puts out seems to cause just as many problems as it fixes. It's not even the fact that production on all post-release DLC has had to be put on hold while DICE and EA try and clear up the mess.
All of those are nothing compared to the fact that Battlefield 4's launch was so bad, EA are now being sued by their own shareholders over allegations that upper management knew the game would be unfinished at launch, and tried to cash-in their shares before release. With pre-release hype being only bolstered by the launch of new consoles, the allegations are that EA's top level brass tried to sell around $7 million worth of shares to cash in on hype, before anyone could realise just how incomplete the game was.
When your own shareholders aren't just complaining, but are actively taking you to court over how bad your game is, then you've made a singularly spectacular and unique
fuck up. Which is to say nothing, of course, by the thousands upon thousands of gamers who have essentially paid money for a game that was apparently never put through quality assurance, and is a buggy, broken piece of shit that should have never been put out on sale. People paid hard-earned money for this game, and EA took that money, bent over and gave those people a giant steaming turd in response.
In fact, EA don't just win the 2013 Best Fuck-Up Award for Battlefield 4. Oh no. To respect the fact that they had not one, but two games of their own in the running for this award, and in recognition of the many fuck-ups they have made throughout this generation (including but not exclusive to Mass Effect 3's rushed ending, Spore, selling the same FIFA game with nothing more than a title swap and a roster update, the recent MoH games, closing Pandemic Studios among many others), the judges are proud to present EA with the Lifetime Award in Recognition of Consecutive Fuck-Ups Made Over the Years. An award which honours the singular legacy of one of the most consistently anti-consumer, anti-quality publishers out there. I know that EA will proudly display this award on their shelf, alongside the bones of Westwood Studio and the collected tears of KOTOR fans.