Zombies are a weird thing. The idea of them has been around for ages, they helped kickstart the new wave of horror film-making back in the Sixties, and yet it feels like its only comparatively recently that they took over the world of popular culture. Ever since 28 Days Later came out, the world has gone zombie mad, and right now they're on every street corner of mainstream culture, shambling in their hordes into our films, TV shows, and into our videogames. They're everywhere.
Of course, in reality zombies have been a big part of gaming for a while now, arguably ever since Resident Evil kicked off the survival horror phenomenon, if not before. But even with that in mind, it seems like zombies have become more prevalent than ever in gaming. Just this weekend we had Dying Light showcased on the VGX awards with its sledgehammer-wielding undead madness. Dead Rising 3 is one of the most high profile launch titles for the Xbox One. Dead Island managed to get both fame and notoriety for its portrayal of zombies in its pre-release material. Valve managed their own take on the co-op shooter formula with the Left 4 Dead games. Ubisoft released Zombi U as a (underrated) Wii U launch title. Even Call Of Duty has gotten in on the craze. One of the biggest additions Treyarch made to their iterations was to add a zombie mode in World At War, a mode than has gone on to define their take on the franchise. And this is ignoring zombie long-runners like the Resident Evil franchise.
So why are they so popular? Even with popular culture and appeal being what it is, why have so many developers decided to jump on the zombie bandwagon? What is it about them that's so appealing to gamers?
Well actually, if you look at things from a design perspective, it's not about what's appealing to gamers, but what's appealing to game designers.
See, here's the thing about zombies: they're stupid. Mindless. The literal definition of braindead. They shuffle around slowly and aimlessly, and when they see a living person with warm brains inside their head, they shuffle/lurch/sprint towards them with nary a secodn thought for their own well being.
For a game designer, that's golden.
Game design is reaching a funny crossroads. We've already seen developers struggling with the rising cost of graphics and visuals, and that's causing all sorts of problems of its own which I won't go into here. but there are other obstacles developers are having to overcome, and one of the big ones is AI. you see, a lot of gamers seem to have this notion that with improved hardware specs, artificial intelligence in games will sort of just magically improve on its own. "Oh, see, this console has an octo-core CPU, just think of what that will do for AI". It's as if by scaling the hardware upwards, gaming AI will scale itself upwards with it.
As it happens, that's not the case. AI in games is actually just about the hardest, most difficult thing to program. You're a good developer if you can get enemies to merely act convincing, and you're a goddamn rare developer if you can actually fool your players into thinking the enemies are smart. The reason for this is because of how AI is coded. You can't just program AI to do whatever you want, how you want. You have to program it with incredibly basic instructions, instructions which basically amount to "If___ then___". There is no grand coding solution for getting an enemy soldier to intelligently lay down suppressing fire while another enemy flanks the player. If a developer is able to do that in game, its only because the developer was able to write down enough "If___ then___" instructions for such a thing to occur. Bear in mind, it takes a lot of those sorts of instructions just to make a Goomba-type enemy react to the player character in a 2D platformer. In a 3D shooter, you're talking about having to create an incredibly complicated script, made up of thousands of incredibly basic "If___ then___" instructions in order to create even the illusion of basic intelligence and self-preservation.
It's a lot of work. A huge amount. And no matter how better specs get, if developers are still having to work within a two year development schedule, then there's only so much they can do before they reach the productivity ceiling. Gamers are demanding more advanced AI, in that lovable gamer way, but it is getting more and more difficult for developers to live up to those demands.
What does that have to do with zombies? Well actually, it's quite simple. As already discussed, zombies are not intelligent. They act in very predictable, basic fashion, and exhibit none of the behavioural traits we would expect from a living person. And because of that, they're exponentially easier to program.
In a convincing first-person shooter, you need to program any enemies in the game to realistically take cover when shot at, have a demonstrable understanding of how to navigate the level, know how to avoid getting stuck on the scenery, shoot at the player without being too accurate, and work together with any other enemies in the area. With a zombie, all you have to do is get them to lurch towards the player, because that is all the player expects from a zombie. You don't need to program them to work together. You don't need to program them to shoot weapons. You don't even need to program them to take cover if they're shot at. in fact, all those things would serve to make a worse zombie game, because the player would not be able to believe they're shooting at zombies if they exhibited such behaviour.
Can you perhaps see why more and more developers are choosing to make zombie games now, and why we're inundated with so many of the bloody things? Making a convincing zombie game requires significantly less AI programming, pathfinding and such than a game with intelligent human/alien/demonic enemies, and is therefore much less hassle for the developers. A shooter with dumb human enemies will get poor reviews for the lack of AI. A shooter with dumb zombies? That's expected.
That doesn't mean that games with zombies in are lesser than those without. On the contrary, in fact. If you want to make a game that will stand the tests of time, that will be looked back on as a milestone of interactivity, as one of the all time greats.... stick some zombies in. Seriously. Let's take a look.
First, let's start off with the original Resident Evil.
One of the original Playstation's killer apps, and the game that kicked off survival horror. While it's aged somewhat now, it's regularly held up as one of the most innovative games ever made, even if the story was a bit of a jill sandwich. What's it about? Zombies. Not magical undead zombies, true, but zombies nonetheless. You're in a mansion, trying to hide and survive from a man-made zombie horde. We'll come back to this franchise in a bit, but for now suffice to say that zombies made this game what it is: one of the most important games in the entire history of the medium.
Alright, so that's one game. Surely they can't be all that important though, right?
Yep, good ol' Half-Life. The Greatest FPS Ever Made[sup]TM[/sup]. The game that redefined the genre. That changed how narrative could be told in an interactive setting. What do you spend most of the game doing?
Shooting headcrab zombies.
Now, you could argue that headcrabs aren't real zombies, more people possessed by the Valve equivalent of a facehugger. You could argue that... but it would be balls. In terms of their behaviour and actions, headcrabs are pure zombies. They lurch around, then slouch towards Freeman as soon as they catch sight of him. Functionally they're no different from zombies in any other game, and as such they most definitely count. Most of Half-Life, for all mysterious sci-fi trappings and cool atmosphere, is a zombie shooter. And it's not the only FPS acclaimed amongst the best of all time to fall into that category...
It really cannot be overstated the effect Halo had on gaming. While Goldeneye and Perfect Dark has showed that FPS games could be done on consoles, Halo was the one to create the template which is still used today. It set the bar for console shooters, pretty much carried the OG Xbox singlehandedly, and with the second instalment created one of the all-time definitive multiplayer experiences. It set players on an alien world full of atmosphere, had them facing colourful aliens who were (for the time) frighteningly intelligent, and gave them all sorts of neat toys to play with.
Which makes it all the stranger when the game reveals the Flood halfway through, and the game becomes a zombie shooter. The Flood would go on to dominate the first three games, pushing the Covenant more and more to the sidelines, until Bungie finally said ENOUGH and excised them from the series with the franchise prequel, Halo Reach. And yet, looking back, the Flood defined the Halo series just as much as the Covenant. The entire story of the first three games is an epic journey to halt the Flood before they wipe out the galaxy of sentient life. Their spores are in every part of the franchise's DNA, and they even live on in Halo 4 with the Prometheans, braindead bullet spongey enemies who can respawn on the battlefield and tend to just charge headlong at the player. The game even has a multiplayer mode where players become Flood and try to infect each other.
OK, so Zombies were a key part of some of the most important FPS games ever. What about third person shooters? Well...
There's a reason I'm mentioning Resident Evil 4 separate from Resi 1 or the rest of the franchise. The same generation that Halo came out and redefined console FPS games, Resident Evil 4 came out and not only redefined the RE franchise, it redefined action games. When best-ever-games lists are drawn up, this game always sits near the top. It created the over-the-shoulder viewpoint used by games like Gears, pioneered the use of in-game action commands that games like Uncharted went on to commandeer, and provided some of the slickest, tightest game design ever seen in a blockbuster release. Everything from the level design to the reload animations was slick as hell, and the game still stands as one of the best action games ever. What do you do in it? Being a RE game, you kill zombies, this time while trying to save the President's daughter. The game's mechanics were designed entirely around the idea of shooting down zombie hordes as they lurch, jump and run towards you, and in that regard it is peerless.
OK Titus, I hear you say, so zombies have been important in action games, but they're all about shooting anyway. You're not going to tell me that sticking zombies in a story based game, a game about characters and emotions, is going to make it one of the most critically acclaimed games ever, right?
Yeah, about that...
The Walking Dead is a funny game. It came out of nowhere in 2012, with barely any hype, and by the end of the year had made off with every GOTY award going. As it turns out, adding zombies can apparently make a story better. Telltale did so, and created a story where the player was forced to make heartwrenching choices. While it's a 'game' in the same way a David Cage game is, it still managed to marry interactivity and storytelling in a way that caused many gamers to well up like babies in an onion factory. It became the focal point of storytelling in games, and even the Games As Art debate, and is probably the most unanimously acclaimed game of last year.
Ok, you say, so that's just one game. An outlier. An oddity. The outcome of a perfect combination of chance factors: timing, marketing, and reception. It's not as if you could put out another story-based game about zombies and expect the same thing to happen, right?
The Last Of Us. ladies and gentlemen. One of the best reviewed games not only of this year, but of the entire generation. The Game Of The Generation, if you believe some of the reviews. Where TWD stole the GOTY crown last year, TLOU did for many this year. What's it about? Well, it's much like Resident Evil 4: you escort a young girl through a brown-and-grey hellhole while shooting zombies in the face. Where it beats RE4, of course, is in its narrative focus, telling a heartbreaking tale full of mature ideas, dark themes and horrible betrayals. It's the crowning jewel in the PS3 library, if you believe the hype, and it is fundamentally a game about zombies. Ok, so it's also about other stuff like the human will to survive, hope, and other existential bollocks, but fundamentally its about zombies.
See? All these games are regularly hailed as amongst the very best of all time, and they've all got zombies. Is it any wonder the gaming industry has gone zombie mad? They're easy to program, and are statistically likely to get you GOTY awards, and all the sales that go with them.
I have no idea what next year's overall GOTY will be, but I'll hazard a guess that it will likely feature zombies in some fashion. We just love them too much not to have them. They're braindead shooting fodder, though provoking story material, and everything inbetween. We've already got two zombie games out for the new 'current' generation (Zombi U and Dead Rising 3), another one on the way (Dying Light) and who knows what else on the horizon.
Just like how comics ended up being defined by superheroes, perhaps games will end up being defined not by military brown shooters, nor peppy platformers starring plumpy plumbers, but by zombies. They'll be our medium's Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman all rolled into one shambling, moaning horde. Isn't that a fun thought?
Ages past, in the younger days of the world when the willow meads were green and the river waters ran cl-Ah, sod this for a game of soldiers!
So Warner Bros have announced a new game based on the Lord Of The Rings property, Shadow Of Mordor. It's an interquel between The Hobbit and LOTR, based around the idea of a possessed Ranger walking around Mordor, and looks to be taking all sorts of liberties with the source material.
This isn't exactly shocking stuff. When they got hold of the rights to LOTR and the Hobbit, Warner Bros also got the rights to make any game they want based on those properties, so it's not surprising they'd want to try and capitalise on that. There's a weird legal quirk at play here though. Though they have the rights to LOTR and the Hobbit, they don't have the rights to The Silmarillion, which are firmly held by the Tolkien Estate. What makes this interesting is that most of the interesting backstory and the most over-the-top awesome parts of Middle Earth history happen within the Silmarillion. Meaning WB are locked into using the same slice of history over and over again for their films and games, and a period of history lasting around one hundred years or so. Hence why The War In The North was a rather bland take on some fan-fiction northern conflict happening during the War of the Ring, and why Shadows of Mordor is similar fan-fiction set between The Hobbit and LOTR. That's the only bit of the sandbox WB have got to play in.
It doesn't really change anything though. Even if Warner Bros had license to use as much backstory as possible, and to set their games in whatever part of Middle Earth history they liked, it would still be a poor fit. And that's just because the Middle Earth setting really isn't suited for Fantasy games the way we're used to them.
'But Titus' you say, 'Lord Of The Rings is the reason we have fantasy games in the first place. Without it there wouldn't be any Dungeons And Dragons, no Ultima, no Dragon Quest, no Zelda, no Elder Scrolls... how can a series which has directly influenced so many games be a bad fit for gaming itself?' Pipe down, inquisitive young hobbits, and I shall tell you.
You see, the problem is that many of the tropes we take for granted in Fantasy gaming are tropes which were either subversions of stuff found in LOTR, or tropes that LOTR itself subverted. Gary Gygax and co were on record as saying that Middle Earth inspired them directly to create D&D, but when you look at the game itself, they still had to change a shitload of stuff just to turn it into some kind of playable game setting. As such, the following are just a few reasons why I think Middle Earth itself is a poor fit for videogaming:
- The lack of wizards
Ask yourself this: how many wizards, or Istari to give them their proper name, are there in Middle Earth?
If you answered five, you are correct. Across the entire continent of Middle Earth, there are only five Wizards with the ability to wield magic. Or to put it another way, the number of wizards in Middle Earth is roughly the same as the lineup of One Direction. And as if that's not bad enough, two of them fucked off into the East not long after they landed in Middle Earth and were never heard from again. That gives you three. Three wizards to count for the entirety of wizardry in Middle Earth.
It's kind of a recurring trope in Middle Earth. Lord Of The Rings has a reputation for starting off the Swords And Wizardry brand of High Fantasy, but it's actually a lot more Game Of Thronesey in its approach to magic than many people realise. Magic is a pretty rare thing. The people of Rohan don't really believe in it, and the Hobbits of the Shire have never even seen it. Only three men in Middle Earth have the ability to wield it, and even then they tend to be a bit reluctant about it. Outside of the wizards you have the occasional Elf who can use magic too, but even then, only if they're A) really, really old, and B) really really really powerful. Elrond, Galadriel and Glorfindel are the only Elves shown in the story with any sort of explicit magical power, and between them they're pretty much the United Nations of Elfdom.
This is a problem, because wizards are so prevalent in Fantasy games if for no other reason than gameplay. Think about the fundamental choice you have to make starting any WRPG: do you want to roll warrior, thief or mage? The Elder Scrolls games each have Mages Guilds where you can go and learn about magic, Hogwarts style. There are probably more wizards in the first town in Morrowind than there are in the entire history of Middle Earth. That's a problem, because it means any game set in Middle Earth is essentially being presented a choice right from the start- do you let players create wizard characters, and thereby go against the lore of the setting, or do you ban magic characters and thereby remove one of the biggest draws of Fantasy gaming in the first place?
And even if you decide to include wizard-type characters, there's one other magic-related problem that rears its head.
Magic is really, really weird and really, really ambiguous in Middle Earth.
Time to answer another question: Gandalf is a pretty awesome Wizard, and arguably the go-to example in popular culture.
What magic does he do in The Hobbit and LOTR? Bonus points if you differentiate between the book and the films.
As it turns out, not a huge amount. Gandalf's real power in The Hobbit and LOTR is basically giving rousing speeches and being a Mr Motivator to people around him.
You shall not pass... unless you give me twenty star jumps!
He doesn't actually do much magic, and even the magic he does is very understated. Nine times out of ten, he makes a light emit out of his staff and does things with that, like lighting up caves. In the books, once in a while he can be tempted to manipulate fire, but even then it's hardly Dumbledore levels of pyromania. In the Hobbit he lights pinecones on fire and throws them at attacking Wargs and Orcs. In The Fellowship (book), the most impressive thing he does is lob a burning branch into the top of a tree, then use his magic to make it set fire to all the other trees. You know, kind of like how fire works anyway, but a bit faster.
To reiterate, the second most powerful wizard in the entirety of Middle Earth is so powerful he can set pinecones on fire and throw them at his enemies. Let that sink in a bit.
This item only equippable by Wizards Lv.50+
Other than that, magic is pretty damn subtle. Gandalf uses it once in Fellowship purely for aesthetic value, adding a bunch of horses to a flash flood Elreond creates, engages in a light bit of telepathy while Frodo is unconscious, and breaks a stone bridge that was likely already struggling with the weight of a fifty tonne Balrog perched on it. Galadriel uses magic to slow down time in Lothlorien in a "I'm totally not slowing down time" sort of way. Saruman uses magic to basically up his Persuasion skill and charm people to do his bidding. Magic in Middle Earth is a rare, weird, ill-defined thing which seems to require a huge amount of effort to do even small things, and which doesn't come with a clearly written manual.
Compare that to how magic is treated in pretty much any Fantasy game ever. You get your mana meter which allows you to throw out as much magic as possible before swigging a magic potion. You get your lists of clearly defined spells such as Fireball, Levitate, Summon Skeleton and the like. And in a game like Zelda, you get so many magical items thrown at you its enough to start your own magical pawn shop.
There's nothing wrong with that. Having clearly defined terms for magic in videogames allows gameplay mechanics and rules to be made that much more robustly to accommodate it. It's why the D20 was invented in the first place. But that idea of a clearly laid out, easy to understand system of magic is completely at odds with how its treated in Middle Earth, where its only ever ambiguous at best.
- Middle Earth doesn't really do heroics.
It's weird, considering how influential it's been, but The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings really aren't all that big a part of the 'Heroic' school of fantasy, ie, fantasy where a traditional hero with a big sword and beard defeats evil and saves a buxom wench or two. That's more in line with the Conan stories written by Robert Howard. It's a school of fantasy which is perfectly suited for videogames. We get to create our perfect Fantasy hero, then go out and defeat the forces of evil with our accumulated strength and power. Dragon Age follows that trope. The Witcher has a darker but still broadly true take on the trope. Skyrim. Kingdoms Of Amalur. In each, you're encouraged to create a hero then go out and save the world with your heroics.
Be honest. You shouted "BY CROM!" at least once while playing Skyrim.
That's not quite how things work with The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. In each story, the main heroes aren't characters who look like they were rolled off a D&D character creation sheet. They're not paladins or mages or spellswords. They're Hobbits, who are pretty much as 'average Joe' as you can get. Sure, you have powerful warriors like Boromir and Aragorn, and powerful wizards like Gandalf, but at the end of the day, all the real hero stuff in both stories is done by characters who are more Arthur Dent than Arthur Dent himself.
They're normal people with no combat experience, no magical ability, no royal titles or lineage, and no desires more heroic than wanting to get five square meals a day. This was actually very deliberate on Tolkien's part. The Hobbit and LOTR stories are actually incredibly subversive, in that they celebrate the heroism of normal, everyday people over the heroic archetypes often seen in the genre. At the end of the day, it's not Aragorn, Boromir, Gandalf, or any of the mighty warriors who saves the world, but a bunch of everyday dudes who happen to be about four feet high and shitting themselves the entire way.
Even worse, traditional heroics in Middle Earth actually has a horrible tendency to get you killed. Aragorn was very lucky in that regard to make it through to the end of the story. The most obvious example is Boromir, who gets taken down while trying to protect Merry and Pippin from Saruman's forces. Then there's Theoden, who gets taken out by the Witch King while fighting on the Pelennor Fields. His son, Theodred, got killed before the events of the books leading the fight against the Uruk Hai. In the backstory of the novels, Thror tries to single-handedly take back Moria for the Dwarves, and gets his head cut off and mutilated as a result, and his body fed to the crows. This then goes on to cause the largest Dwarf-Orc massacre in history, with the Dwarves losing an obscene number of their own. Faramir, just to mix things up, doesn't die in Return of The King, but he does take a poisoned arrow while leading a charge to free Osgiliath and spends the rest of the book sitting on the sidelines and hitting on Eowyn.
It's even worse when you read the Silmarillion, where a large number of the traditional 'Fantasy hero' characters end up meeting surprisingly horrible fates. Hurin, one of the greatest heroes in Middle Earth history, gets captured by Morgoth, chained on top of a tower for several decades, then is set free to find pretty much his entire family dead. He ends up so distraught he chucks himself from the top of a ravine to end his suffering. His son, Turin, is another of Middle Earth's most renowned heroes, responsible for slaying Glaurung, the Father of Dragons. During his life, he also accidentally kills an elf, murders his best friend by mistake, then tops it all by unknowingly sleeping with his sister, and killing himself with his own sword when he finds out.
And this guy thought he had it tough.
To take things over to the Elves, look at Feanor. The most powerful Elf lord who ever existed, and who created the Silmarils after which the Silmarillion is named. He also was the first Elf to ever commit kinslaying, murdering the Teleri when they wouldn't let his army use their ships to reach Middle Earth, something his House would go on to commit two more times later on. The Silmarils he created ended up causing the longest, most bitter war seen in Middle Earth, and he himself ended up dying in battle outnumbered by Balrogs, having failed in his mission to get them back from Morgoth.
The Middle Earth stories are actually surprisingly cynical, given their early place in the history of Fantasy, in that they show 'traditional' Fantasy heroism as, more often than not, leading to a cursed life, quick death, and possibly even begetting even more violence along the way. Even Aragorn, the most noble and heroic character in LOTR, actually leads a pretty horrible life constantly living rough in the most inhospitable parts of Middle Earth. Again, this isn't by accident. Tolkien wasn't just a devout Catholic, he was also a survivor of the Somme, and knew first-hand just how horrible and scarring violence is in real life. It's why he made his main heroes everyday sorts of characters, like the people he knew in the trenches, rather than fitting them into the Conan mould that was already becoming prevalent at the time. And it's why Middle Earth as a setting is problematic for games- the sort of characters responsible for saving the world in Tolkien's stories are exactly the sort of characters you can't easily form from a D&D sheet. No-one wants to roleplay the experience of being an everyday Joe, they want to be the hero with the big sword and the magic staff. And that's exactly what Middle Earth doesn't allow for.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a developer will come out with an interactive take on the Middle Earth setting which manages to both be true to the source material, andblow my socks off, but I don't see it. The sorts of fantasy games that are popular now are exactly the sorts of experiences which run counter to what Middle Earth is, and would require extensive rejigging of the rules laid out by Professor T. Which is why we're seeing games where Rangers end up fused with Wraiths and wonder round Mordor about sixty years before they're supposed to.
It's a funny old world. A while ago, I posted a blog wherein I stated my preference for the simplicity and elegance of consoles over the hassle of DIY PC builds. I'm not a tech whiz. I don't computer. I'm a technological luddite, and I like my games machines to be simple and, if at all possible, idiot proof.
I'm now sitting at a desk with my custom rig whirring away next to me, blinking its beady little lights.
It was an impulse decision, really. I've always preferred using laptops. Laptops are pretty idiot proof. They come with everything built in, they're cheaper, portable, and you tend to not have to worry so much about conflicting drivers, bottlenecks and such. You can even use them as a handy lunch tray in a pinch. So until a few months ago, I had a perfectly decent laptop. Wrote all my DTOID posts on it, watched all my porn on it, and even played some older games on it. Then the fan started going kaput, the thing kept overheating, and I realised I needed to get a new computer. And having managed to save up some money through work this year, I thought it might be an idea to actually build one.
Then the power supply on my laptop died, and that idea turned into a decision I made then and there.
Of course, being a typical English skinflint, I didn't want to blow my bank account on this computer. I wanted this to be a fiscally conservative machine, a middle-of-the-road PC that manages to play modern games with specs that don't require their own mortgage payments. To that end, I enlisted the help of some more techy-minded friends of mine, and we drew up a components list.
I wanted this thing to be as small and stylish as possible. I have an absolute hatred of desktop PCs and their bulky, horrible late 90s Edgy Attitude stylings. I didn't want a black monolith with sharp angles and red neon lights, like some sort of contraption left by the Empire on the Death star. I wanted something which had both function and a degree of form and aesthetic appeal. Say what you will about Apple and their overpriced hardware, they at least know how to make computers sexy.
Seriously, I can already smell the ladyboners from here...
With that in mind, I decided to go for a Micro-ATX motherboard and a Bitfenix Prodigy case in White. The M-ATX formfactor would allow me to choose from the majority of parts out there while still keeping overall size down, and the Prodigy seemed to be getting good reviews as a small-form case with plenty of room for air circulation and cable management.
Aside from that, I decided to go with AMD over Intel for the CPU, as one of my techy friends assured me that AMD tended to offer better bang for buck at lower-to-mid range prices. With that in mind a 6360 3.9GHz 6 core CPU was promptly found and ordered. GPU-wise, I went for a Radeon HD 7770 1GB, a mid-range card that was non too expensive yet would still let me play most modern games on decent settings. RAM I decided to go for 8GB to start with, with the potential to upgrade to 16GB later on if I wanted. I bought a 120GB SSD to install the OS and key applications on, and a 1TB hard-drive for everything else. I already had an old monitor, so figured that would do for the time being. Lastly, I bought an optical DVD drive just to make installing driver CDs less of a hassle, a 620W PSU and, being someone who enjoys home recording, bought a Creative quad-core soundblaster card to help supplement the CPU with sound tasks (which believe me, can get surprisingly resource intensive). If nothing else, it should have freed up the CPU a bit during games as well.
In total, the price of everything came to somewhere just over £600, which is exactly what I'd budgeted for. So far so good. So of course, this is where everything starts going wrong.
Firstly, I ordered everything except the case from eBuyer, who I would heartily recommend to anyone. The Prodigy case I had to order through Overclockers, who were the only site to stock the particular model I needed, the Prodigy M. Everything else arrived the day after I ordered it. A few days went by, and yet no case. I phoned up Overclockers, who assured me they'd look into it, and asked me to call them back in a few days. A few days later, I called them back, and snags promptly ensued.
They informed me that the model of case I wanted, the Prodigy M, hadn't actually been released yet, and wouldn't be available for a few weeks. I went back to check the site and, sure enough, a Pre-Order sign was there right where I'm sure it hadn't been before. Discouraging, but I am a patient man. The case was a decent price, had gotten good write ups, so I figured I could wait a couple of weeks for it.
Two months, an overdue cargo shipment, and one tardy courier service later, I finally got my damn case!
With it finally in my hands, I was able to start putting the PC together. Which I did, having a whale of a time, until I hit snag number two. Inserting the GPU into the PCI 16x slot covered up the PCI-e slot that I needed to plug my soundcard into. I would either have to choose the graphics card or the sound one. Having already resolved myself that I would at some point quite like to play Crysis, I decided to go with the GPU, and sort out the soundcard at a later date. As it turns out, I've got a regular PCIx1 slot free which I'm hoping I can find a compatible soundcard for.
With that problem temporarily resolved, I finally plugged in my monitor, and tried to boot the thing up.
Snag number three: my monitor, it turned out, was broken. Well, not so much broken as just given up the ghost. The power lights wouldn't even turn on. The thing was just so muc inert matter. No problem, I thought to myself, the downstairs TV has some spare ports, I'll just plug into that. I did so, only for the TV to promptly tell me that PC mode was not compatible, and any options to change it were greyed out.
DAMN YOU SAMSUNG, DESTROYER OF DREAMS AND BRINGER OF DESPAIR!!!!!!!
Feeling somewhat frustrated, I decided then and there just to buy a new monitor and try and get this done with a minimum of fuss. Ten minutes browsing on my smartphone suggested the Acer SL240longwindednumbers as a good low-price choice, so with that I went. It would take another two days for my monitor to arrive, during which time I pondered whether I'd made the right choice trying to join the PC Master Race, a race which evidently was not for the weak willed. I also ordered a new flat-key keyboard, as the five minutes of messing around on the one I'd sourced from the attic was enough for me to know that I hate traditional keyboards and their clanky, oversized buttons.
This all eventually arrived, and I was finally able to boot up my PC, install Windows 7 and actually have a working computer, as opposed to an electrician's spares box. Hurrah, I thought, it's all plain sailing from here on out. A steady breeze, clear skies, calm waters and plenty of nautical metaphors.
Enter snag number four: drivers.
I wish pc drivers were as cool as this one...
All my components sans CPU came with driver installation CDs. All of them worked just fine except my GPU driver CD. Installing that caused my new computer to inform me that my GPU wasn't working properly, and that I needed to update the drivers. Trying to do so through Device Manager was about as successful as trying to get Madonna's phone number through her bouncer, and with only marginally less violence. So eventually I uninstalled the drivers entirely, and elected to download them directly from AMDs site. Which was even less succesful, as then my computer failed to recognise the GPU at all. Success finally came when I uninstalled those drivers, then reinstalled the CD ones which, for some unknown reason, decided to work perfectly second time round.
I don't think it needs mentioning at this point that I really hate updating drivers. I would rather get teeth pulled by a dentist through my nostrils than go through that again.
But after all that, I had a working PC. It connected to the internet flawlessly, and through a handy application a friend of mine showed me, I was able to install all the basic programs I needed in one fell swoop. One of which was Steam.
'Ah, Steam', I thought to myself. 'No matter how much tedium and annoyance I have had to endure, Steam's all-in-one system will make playing games a doddle. The oasis at the end of my journey in the desert.' I already had a Steam account, and over the space of an afternoon re-installed the scant few games I had managed to get to work on my laptop, along with the free copy of Human Revolution AMD had been kind enough to give me with my graphics card, and the copy of Dark Souls I had bought on a whim while it was on sale.
That wasn't enough though. I needed something more. I had a new PC rig, and I needed something to measure it against. I needed Crysis. I'd always wanted to play the original game, to experience the sandbox shooter gameplay people talked about, and now I had a rig that was up to the task. I saw it there in the Steam Store for less than a tenner, and bought it without hesitation. What could go wrong? My PC was already built, passed all the spec requirements, and Steam should make installing and playing the game a doddle. It should be a breeze, right?
I am, as of the time of writing, waiting on Crysis to finish a second install after the first one proved the game to be unplayable on Windows 7 64 bit. I am also downloading a file mod which should hopefully, if the reinstall goes to shite, allow me to mod the game files to run on a 64 bit machine. My knowledge of altering game files is limited to some pissing around with Morrowind mods I did on my laptop a few years ago, so it could all go horribly wrong from here. I know at least that Human Revolution runs beautifully on my rig, and my copy of Fable TLC looks more beautiful maxed out than I could ever have dreamed.
Oh, so that's what 1080p/60fps looks like. Now I get all the fuss...
I know that I can take a bunch of components now, and through effort and idiot-savante engineering turn them into a working PC.
But I also know that Crysis is just the start. From here on out, it's going to be compatibility issues, driver reinstalls, file alterations and the like. I had hoped that all this hassle was just the initial paddling before entry into the PC gaming club, but I realise now that it's a paddling which never ends. My copy of Dark Souls needs to be modded, which I have yet to do. The majority of may favourite old games, the ones not on GOG at least, are going to need some resourceful installation measures. And there's that inevitable Skyrim-shaped cloud on the horizon, with the promise of ini.tweaks and mod incompatibility buried in its thunderous rumbles.
I can only hope it's all worth it. There's rumours of Steam Sales on the horizon, and I'm not sure if my wallet will be able to take the punishment.
Seriously though, seeing all this hoopla about Monster Hunter 4, it kinda reminded me of seeing a guy go through a massive break-up. Which then gave me an itch to do some writing, and put a creative, anthropomorphised (ie, turning it into people) spin on the whole thing.
So without further ado, I present to you my radio play, Mona Hunter goes Forth. A cutting modern drama in the style of The Archers about life, love and grief, which I plan on selling to BBC Radio 4 as soon as possible.
Mona Hunter goes Forth
Piers Three- a young businessman who has managed to establish a good career in electronics for himself, despite less than glorious beginnings.
Sonny Vita- his younger brother, currently unemployed, and who is experiencing a break-up which forms the narrative backbone of the piece.
*The scene opens to the quiet everyday sounds of a South London suburb. We hear the rumble of an occasional taxi, the chatter of families out and about, and the sound of a nearby railway line. We then hear the clatter of footsteps on concrete, and the ring of a doorbell, as Piers arrives at the door of his brother's house. Sonny arrives at the door, evidently hung-over by his mumbling tone*
Sonny Vita: ...Piers?
Piers Three: Alright there Sonny? Just thought I'd swing by and see how my younger brother is doing. Old Mum said I should check up on you. Said she spoke to you on the phone yesterday and you didn't sound so good.
SV: What? I'm... I'm fine, honestly. You know what old Mum's like. Look, come in, I was going to make some tea anyway...
*We hear the sound of a kettle boiling, mugs being stirred*
PT: ...So, you were saying?
SV: Look, I know Old Mum's worried about me, but seriously, I'm OK. I'm fine.
PT: Hmm... Morbidly hungover is a strange definition of fine, Sonny. Meet up with the lads last night?
SV: I... Yeah, no... I, I might have had a few drinks before I went to bed last night. You know, a whiskey or two just to help me sleep.
PT: A whiskey or two? I'd hope it takes more than a whiskey or two to get you in such a state. How much really Sonny?
SV: ...erm.... well... about two-thirds of a bottle, Piers.
PT: Good grief! Sonny Vita, you have got to pull yourself together! I've seen bad break-ups before, but you're letting this break-up with Mona Hunter ruin you!
SV: I'm fine!
PT: You keep saying that Sonny, but two thirds a bottle of whiskey is not fine!
SV: No, seriously, I'm fine. I'm totally over Mona now. Totally. I mean, I know we were on-off for a while, but I've met some new girls now. Totally hot bitches, you know? Who needs stuffy old Mona Hunter anymore?
PT: ...new... bitches?
SV: Yeah! Look, I left them upstairs, I'll go wake them up and introduce you. Hang on...
*We hear the sounds of rustling, and cupboard doors being opened*
SV: See? Here they are. Say hello to Sally Sacrifice.
PT: Sonny, that's...
SV: And this lovely lady right here is Regina Rock-Odyssey.
PT: ...Sonny, she's...
SV: And here we have Miss Toki Den.
PT: I... erm...
SV: And last but by no means least, this sexy little thing here is Godetta Twoo.
SV: See? All the bitches.
PT: Sonny, these are all inflatable sex dolls you've dressed up to look like Mona Hunter.
PT: Look, you've given them the same hair colour, the same lipstick... Christ, they're even wearing her clothes. I mean, yeah you've given Sally Sacrifice a wizard hat and a magic book, but she still looks like an inflatable Mona. You need to get over her Sonny Vita! You need to start seeing other girls.
SV: I am seeing other girls!
PT: Like who?
SV: Well... Minnie Craft.
PT: Minnie Craft?!? Minnie Craft's a slapper who'll sleep with anyone who gets her a free drink. I saw her get with Fredbox Three-Sixty just the other week. I'm pretty sure she's shagging Andrew Roid now.
SV: Ok, well... Dragona Crown!
PT: You'd better bloody not be seeing Dragona Crown!
SV: Why not?
PT Because I am seeing Dragona Crown! We're meeting up for lunch tomorrow afternoon, in fact.
SV: Damn! Well, what about Persephone Fore-Gilden?
PT: Persephone Fore-Gilden is old enough to be your grandmother Sonny. She was around during Uncle Piers Pete's time.
SV: But she knows what I like, and does stuff for me that she'd never do for anyone else.
PT: Come on Sonny Vita, you need to find a girl who's not going to sleep around on you. Someone your age who'll stay with you and only you. What about that nice looking girl you were talking about the other day? Terra Way or something.
SV: But she's sooooo quiet. I mean, yeah she's pretty, but she never says anything. She comes over, and it's like she's not even here at all. How am I supposed to know she's here if she doesn't even bloody announce it?
PT: Alright, well what about that other girl? The one with the huge bazookas? Kelly Zone, was it?
SV: You already dated her sisters Piers! Both of them! That hardly makes things easy for me does it?!
PT: Well, all I know is that you just don't seem to want to make the effort Sonny. All you do anymore is sit around watching telly.
SV: I like watching telly! It's better than having to go out somewhere and waste money on stupid drinks to chat up stupid women who aren't stupid Mona bloody Hunter, with her stupid new boyfriend!
PT: Come again?
SV: She's got a new boyfriend. I spoke to her the other day. Just gave her a call to see how she was, you know? She's seeing that guy. You remember the one we used to make fun of, with the stupid name? Ned Tendo Freddie-Essen! Apparently he's now a millionaire, and can give her everything she ever wanted,
PT: Look, Sonny Vita, I'm sorry, but you have to-
SV: He makes more in a day than I've made in my entire life! How can I compete with that? Makes millions every day in Japan. He doesn't have my perfectly formed body, or my nice behind, or my superior brainpower, but he's got money, and apparently that's all the bitches want anymore. Well fuck 'em. I don't need bitches! I don't need money! I'm perfect just the way I am. As long as I've got my telly, I'm happy!
PT: You really like your telly, Sonny Vita?
SV: Damn right I do Piers Three. Telly doesn't turn around and stab you in the back, then laugh as you slowly crawl heartbroken into the gutter, then take a shit on you while you're lying there waiting to die. Telly understands. Telly understands...
PT: Well look, I might have an idea. Something to do with telly, and something that'll get you off your backside and actually into a job. God only knows you need one.
SV: Oh? What's that?
PT: I'm getting a promotion at work soon. Things have really turned around at the company, and the boss is saying it's thanks to yours truly. The old Piers Three you knew is going up in the world. I'm getting a new department, a new title, and I might need an assistant. Someone who can help us move back into the telly department, and who can act as a general assistant. Someone who can get out and about, and carry my orders remotely, if you will.
SV: You think that could be me?
PT: I know it could be you, Sonny Vita. We need someone to plug our TV department and stop those bastards at Apple having all the fun, and you're just the guy to do it. It's a growth market, one with tons of potential to expand. Good pay, free gym membership, and all that. The only condition is, you have to stop moping around like a neutered cocker spaniel and get the hell over Mona Hunter. I mean it. I don't want to hear anything about her. Think you can do it?
SV: ...I guess. I mean, yes. Yes! Damn straight I can!
PT: That's the spirit. Daddy Piers Two would be proud. Come on. We've got something new and interesting in the works I want to show you, and deep down I think you'll have just the knack for it. Could make the company pretty infamous if it takes off.
SV: You mean now?
PT: Why wait? Come along Sonny Vita. Greatness awaits, after all.
Will Sonny Vita make a splash in the TV department? Will he finally be able to get over Mona Hunter? Is there a girl out there who'll prove to be the One for him? Find out in Act 2, due to be written about a year or so for now.
*Written entirely for fun, anyone who takes this as an effort by me to bash Sony, Nintendo or Capcom, kindly go suck a tailpipe and save us all the petty arguing.*
So, I'm hoping if you're reading this, you've had the chance to play the W101 demo, or at least check out the truly epic trailer and Nintendo Direct released today. If not, allow me to blow your mind with the latest footage of Platinum's upcoming release:
...you can pick your jaws up off the floor now.
Suitably impressive, yes? The game is an incredible mix of Platinum quality action (and if you know anything about games, you'll know that Platinum quality action is one of the highest accolades possible), Saturday Morning Cartoon stylings, and bizarre leftfield mechanics thrown in to make things even crazier. Transforming 20 heroes into a giant green gun that shoots other heroes as bullets? But of course. Why wouldn't you shoot heroes out of a gun made of other heroes if you got the chance?
But here's the thing: this game is a Platinum game. And as much as that is a mark of quality and good breeding, it's also unfortunately a title that marks it for death. Like Cain, cursed by God after he killed Abel, Platinum games have been marked for retail failure. It doesn't matter how good a Platinum game is, how many genre mechanics it redefines, it will always sell on the market like a dead stoat stuffed with camombert. Unless it's got Metal Gear in the title, but even then...
Well, not this time fellow gamers. A game of this quality, a new IP with this level of creativity and originality, deserves success. It deserves every sale it can get, and then some. We all say how tired we are of endless military shooters and gritty reboots. This is as far from that as it is possible to get: a new IP, based around an army of superheroes beating the shit out of giant alien robot mecha dragons.
It's like the Avengers, if the Avengers was loaded up on ecstasy and not made for pussies. This game deserves to do well, and in order to do that, it needs to get a fuckload of attention from the media.
Fortunately, I've got a plan...
If there's one time-proven, guaranteed way to get attention for a game, it's to generate controversy. One year ago, nobody knew what the fuck a Dragon's Crown was. It was a 2D brawler from Vanillaware, and therefore just about the most niche game imaginable on any system. But, two giant tits and a nekkid Amazon warrior later, DC was crawling in media attention, coverage, outrage... and sales. All that coverage, right or wrong, did more for Dragon's Crown marketing than anything Atlus could have come up with.
With that in mind, meet Wonder Eyes Black:
He's a character who is, rather noticeably, of darker skin hue. He also sports, as I'm sure you can see, a Gangsta cap, corn rows, who breakdances and, according to the trailer, is addicted to videogames. And his super hero name is Wonder Eyes Black. Not Purple, not Green, not Orange. Black.
I think you can see where I'm going with this.
If one were to, hypothetically, look at Wonder Eyes Black as being representative of African Americans within the game, then one could argue the case that this character is based off a load of rather stereotypical tropes surrounding said minority. You could probably make a rather convincing case, say if you wrote for Kotaku or Rock Paper Shotgun, that this character is an example of how xenophobic Japanese developers are towards minorities. That by naming a super hero character after the colour of his skin, and giving him these stereotypical characteristics, that you're enabling the same sort of consumer behaviour that allows Michael Bay to get away with his flatly racist portrayals of minorities in his films.
I imagine if you were to write such an article, you'd get a lot of hits. A lot of hits. I further imagine it would probably kick up quite a bit of debate. You'd probably get a lot of other sites reporting on the whole thing, adding their own two cents. The whole thing would cause quite a lot of heated arguing... and would probably get a lot of attention put on the game.
A lot of attention. Probably a lot of it positive. The majority, in fact, when certain things are then made clear.
"But Titus" I hear you ask, "Haven't you just made a compelling case for W101 actually being a little bit racist? If that character is a stereotypical portrayal of African Americans, then shouldn't we rightly criticize Kamiya for not being more tactful?"
Not at all. And this is the genius of my plan. This is the master stroke.
Wonder Eyes Black isn't actually African American at all. He has nothing to do with either Africa, or America in fact. According to the in-game database, the character hails from... New Delhi, in India.
You know how they use the term 'wigger' to describe a white guy who, mistakenly or not, tries to appropriate a lot of the behaviour and mannerisms of 'stereotypical' black culture? I'm not sure what the collective term is, but Wonder Eyes Black is essentially the Indian version of that. A kid who isn't actually black (at least, in the usual 'African'-born context of the word) but tries to embody a lot of the culture anyway for whatever personal reasons. So the character isn't a negative embodiment of African American stereotypes, given he isn't African American at all.
What does that mean? It means the game can be subjected to a shit load of controversy, media attention and outrage, and then get off scot free! It's like if GTA III went through all that media hoopla about how evil it was for letting you run over hookers, only for the media to then discover you couldn't actually run over hookers. This game can get a shitload of kneejerk controversy raised over it, and with that media attention and sales, only for it all to dissipate when people later point out that the facts of the situation are somewhat misrepresented.
So, what do we need to do? It's clear: start an outrage about how racist The Wonderful 101 is :P Cause a stink, write in clear detail how abhorrent we find Platinum's treatment of African Americans, and most importantly, email Kotaku, RPS, Edge and other sites with our feelings on the matter. If we cause enough of a stink, they'll eventually pick up the story and run with it for easy hits. Do that, and the game will cause a shitstorm that will guarantee it sales from now until a thousand Tuesdays hence.
They say you should kill the things you love. In this case, I think we should call the thing we love a bit racist. If Dragon's Crown has taught us anything, it's that bad publicity (deserved or not) is the best kind of publicity. There is no substitute for getting the internet worked up in a frothy mess over something when it comes to sales. In fact, it's the best way to ensure you'll have people lining up for Day 1 purchases.
With that in mind, I'll get the ball rolling:
Grrr, Platinum Games! You dirty racists! Look at this character, with his breakdancing, and his corn rows, and his headphones round his neck. They're probably Beats by Dre, I imagine. Look at all this stereotyping up in this game. Dirty, dirty stereotyping. I bet you feel really clever calling a black character Wonder Eyes Black. Didn't they have the Emancipation Proclamation in Japan? I hope Kotaku writes a very strongly worded article about this, and that it causes a massive shitstorm, and the millions of gamers out there are made aware of this issue, and your game. It's what they deserve, after all. To see this game for what it is, and to be aware of it currently coming to the market soon priced very reasonably and with a swish Pikmin 3 promotion deal in the bag. A racist Pikmin 3 promotion, I have no doubt!
It weirds me out a little bit when I think about just how long I've been gaming. I still like to picture myself as a young guy. I'm 24, I'm only a couple of years out of college, I'm still in that delightful stage where my current life goal is to find a life goal for myself. I still can't grow a full, proper beard yet, just a bit of patchy hipster stubble.
And yet, I can clearly remember the pre-3D era of gaming. Not the modern 'Avatar and 3DS' 3D either. I'm talking about the era of 2D sprites. There are kids currently fouling up Xbox Live matches of COD with their fruity language who have only ever known the 360/PS3 era of consoles. My first console was a Sega Master System II, a console roughly on-par with the NES in terms of graphics power. Or to translate that into modern terminology, a console with the rough graphical prowess of your basic calculator. American gamers may titter at a young gamer such as myself earning my stripes on such a laughable console, but it's worth pointing out that the Master System was one of the most successful consoles in Europe from any company, let alone Sega.
Not that it really matters. Originally, I'd wanted a Mega Drive, or a Genesis as you Americans would call it. A cousin of mine had one, and one family weekend away to see relatives was all it took to convince me that I needed a console to play the likes of Sonic and... well, more Sonic. I wasn't exactly hankering for anything other than blue hedgehog and Robotnik. My introduction to Sonic was like introducing a raver to ecstasy. I just needed more. So when my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas, my answer was clear: "I want a Sega!" Of course, saying 'a Sega' is not the same thing as saying 'a Sega Mega Drive', and my parents were by no definition up-to-date with current tech trends. When they got me a Master System II for Christmas, I had no-one to blame but myself. But funnily enough, I didn't care.
Here's something important you need to know: Up until the age of around 7 or 8, I lived in the remotest, most far flung part of the UK imaginable. Go to the northernmost part of Scotland. Then go about 100 miles into the North Sea, until you're just starting to get close to Norway. Welcome. You've officially arrived at the Shetland Islands. A region that Wikipedia officially describes as 'sub-Arctic'. A region where the majority of people still make a living by going out in knackered old boats into horrifically stormy conditions to catch fish. It is as remote a place as you will ever find in Europe, and naturally that means there isn't always a huge amount of trade or large amount of supplies from the mainland. Looking back, therefore, it's a minor miracle that my parents were able to find a Master System II. I imagine there can't have been many to purchase in the first place. Finding something like a Mega Drive on that inhospitable hunk of rock would have been like trying to find an iPad in the Mines Of Moria.
Welcome to Morrowi- I mean Shetland.
But find me a Master System II they did. And come Christmas day, I was ecstatic. No, it wasn't a Mega Drive. It was better. You know why? Because the Master System II, or at least the version my parents picked up, came with a specific game ROM pre-loaded into the system. Sonic The Hedgehog. My videogame console came with Sonic built in. As a five year old growing Sonic addict, that was like being given an everlasting gobstopper. Made out of crack. And dopamine.
Looking back, the Master System II wasn't a great system, and the MS version of Sonic wasn't a particularly great entry in the series. But I was five. I didn't care. It didn't matter to me that the graphics weren't as nifty, or the side-scrolling as smooth. It was Sonic, it was mine (and my sister's) to play, and it kept me entertained and in the warm on the days when the weather decided to turn Baltic, and the wind sharp enough to shred tarmac. Soon enough, I also started playing other games (again, sourced from I can only imagine where): Ninja Gaiden, Spiderman, even Trivial Pursuit. None of them gave me the same sort of fix as Sonic, but they were entertaining nonetheless, and Ninja Gaiden would later go on to become one of my favourite games with the Xbox reboot.
So that's it? That's the story of how I came to love videogames? With Sonic The Hedgehog and the Master System II?
No. Well not quite. See, here's what you need to understand: my enjoyment of Sonic wasn't love. My need to play that game was the need of a five year old junkie. I had an addiction to flashing lights and bleepy-bleepy sounds, and that game provided me with a fix. I didn't love gaming at that point. I was too young. I wouldn't have known how to love the entire gaming medium. I was just a young addict hooked on collecting rings. It would take something very special indeed to make me fall in love with gaming as a medium.
Final Fantasy IX.
I still remember the first time I ever played FFIX. I'll need to fill you in on a little more backstory now. My family had moved down from the inhospitable wastes of Shetland to the far more pleasant climes of rural England. We still had the Master System hooked into the TV, but being a young child out in the countryside, I was blessed to be able to spend a lot of my free time playing outside in the woods and fields, as I think all young children should. I still occasionally played Sonic or Ninja Gaiden, but I wasn't hooked on them anymore like I had been a few years prior. It wasn't until I was eleven years old that gaming would finally sink its claws into me.
My dad used to be a physical labourer. At that time, he was doing lots of work on a nearby farm. And as sometimes happens with heavy physical work, one day he injured himself. A torn cartilage in his knee. It stopped him from working for a good while. Hell, it stopped him from walking for a good few months at least. And, NHS waiting times being what they were back then, it took a while for his leg to get operated on. As I recall, there was a four month or so waiting list in that area for someone to get their leg operated on for torn cartilages. Four months of not being able to walk. In order to save my dad from going nuts in the interim, my Mum decided to splash out and buy something to keep Dad occupied. She bought him a Playstation.
Technically it was for the family, but we all knew at that time that it was mainly to stop Dad going stir-crazy while waiting to get patched up by the doctors. And it did the job. The console came bundled with Gran Turismo and Spyro. My dad being something of a racing fan, Gran Turismo kept him occupied right up until his operation. Spyro actually became something rather special for my Mum, being the only videogame she ever ever really got into. It's a game I hold a lot of love and affection for myself, even to this day. But it's now what made me love gaming.
I can't remember what it was that made me buy Final Fantasy IX. All I remember is my twelfth birthday. I'd been given the princely sum of £40 from my grandparents to buy myself a present, and we'd gone for a day trip to town to go to the cinema, eat ice-cream and to find something I'd like. We were in an Asda supermarket, or superstore in American parlance. They had, at that time, quite an extensive entertainment section. I'd already picked up a Kerrang CD, because it had the new Linkin Park song I really liked, which left me with about £30 to spend on something else. And I remember going through the PS1 games on display, and for some reason pulling out FFIX.
I wasn't at all acquainted with the Final Fantasy series at that point. I had no idea that FFVII had come out a few years earlier and revolutionised the gaming industry. I had no idea that I was looking at the ninth instalment in (at that time) probably the most critically acclaimed gaming series in the entire medium. To my shame, I think the reason I ended up buying the game was for two very basic reasons: 1) I was getting into The Lord Of The Rings books, and had discovered an appetite for fantasy fiction, and 2) the back of the game box promised over 1 hour of high quality CGI cutscenes.
What can I say? As a twelve year old kid, and a fan of ReBoot, 1 hour of CGI cutscenes was one hell of a sales pitch.
The nostalgia. I can feel it flowing through you as you read this...
I won't get into the specifics of just how FFIX affected me. I'd like to save that for another blog, one where I can go into specific details of just how much genius is contained in those four discs. What I will say is that Sonic was the first game to get a physical reaction out of me, a physical need to see flashing lights and fancy lasers and robots that blow up when you jump on them. FFIX was the first game to get an emotional response out of me. It presented me with a world I truly wanted to get lost in. It gave me a story that seemed incredibly intricate, labyrinthine even. It showed me characters I truly cared about. It massaged my ears with a soundtrack that was truly incredible to behold. And, at all the right moments, it hit me with emotion. It gave me scenes of incredible comedy. It punched me in the gut with scenes of overwhelming tragedy. It gave me horror, drama, and introduced me to surrealism. Before I'd ever gotten into literary fiction, before I'd ever watched a film by Scorsese or Coppola, seen a Shakespeare play or read an F.Scott-Fitzgerald novel, FFIX showed me what could be achieved through storytelling, through drama.
That was when I fell in love with games. From there, I started playing other games like Breath Of Fire III. A friend of mine used to invite me over to play rounds of Mario Kart, and there I discovered the joys of Nintendo, of Golden Eye, of Ocarina. Ever since then I tried to keep up-to-date with the gaming medium, to stay abreast of the games that were coming out. It's a relationship that has waxed and waned, as any relationship does, but it's one that has continued to this day. And I owe it all to Final Fantasy IX, and the world Squaresoft created in a mere four discs of gaming treasure. Sega may have been my gateway, Sonic my introduction, but it was FFIX that showed me all that is possible in games. One day soon I hope to write an article explaining just how incredible that game is. For now, I'll finish by saying that while my gaming prologue began in the remotest parts of the Shetland Islands with an 8-bit version of Sonic, the first chapter resolutely begins in Alexandria, with a play being staged by a group of thieves on a theatre ship, and a young black mage trying his little best to try and see it...