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...
I think it's safe to say that the Xbox One reveal hasn't exactly gone down well with gamers. In fact, in all my years of gaming, I don't think I can remember a console reveal that has been received so poorly. The Wii U reveal at E3 may have been underwhelming, the famous PS3 reveal embarrassing, but neither inspired the same amount of disappointment and outright anger that Microsoft managed today.
I should know. I've been out there ranting on the forums with all the rest of you guys.
'But what if you want to bring a game disc to a friend's house and play there? You'll have to pay a fee—and not just some sort of activation fee, but the actual price of that game—in order to use a game's code on a friend's account. Think of it like a new game, Harrison said.'
The fact Microsoft's own support team are conflicting with what their corporate vice president is saying kind of implies that Microsoft have done-clusterfucked this issue. If they're not stomping on used game sales, then they'd just outright state it. No hassle, no bother. They'd just come out and say "Our console supports used games." The fact that they can't even put out a consistent message suggests they've got some kind of shenanigans going on behind the scenes. Shenanigans that don't bode well for us gamers who actually buy second-hand games on occasion.
Now, that's not what's got me worried. It's been clear for a while that a) Microsoft are ramping up on the corporate douchebag behaviour, and b) they're more interested Xbox being an entertainment centre than an actual games console. If they want to stomp on used games, then fine, they're free to do that. We're free to take our business elsewhere as result. My worry is about the PS4.
"But Titus" I hear you cry, "All Sony has to do is allow used game sales, and they'll automatically sell a bajillion more consoles than Microsoft."
See, now that's my main worry. If Sony allows used game sales.
"But Titus" you cry once again, "Sony have already said they're not going to stop used game sales."
...yeah, see, here's the thing. That's not quite what Sony said. When Gamespot interviewed the head of Sony Worldwide Studios a while back, Shuhei Yoshida, after the reveal of the PS4, they asked him to clarify Sony's position on used game sales. Specifically, they asked him whether second-hand games would require an activation code on the console. His answer?
"It's a publisher decision. We are not talking about it. Sorry."
That is not the same thing as saying the console won't crack down on used games. In fact, it's not even close to saying that. What Sony have essentially implied is that while they won't stomp down on used games, they will allow other publishers to do so if they so desire.
Now, here's where things start getting worrying. In a console ecosystem where one console doesn't play second-hand games and another does, the latter has got a huge advantage over the former. However, when you have got a console that cracks down on second-hand games, and another console that can crack down on used games, then that advantage disappears. Why? Because the publisher, if they so desire, can choose to crack down on both platforms. Both become equally valid platforms for pushing DRM. Whatever advantage the PS4 may have had would be undermined by publishers being free to engage in the same anti-consumer behaviour they get as standard on the Xbox One.
Remember all that brouhaha when rumours came out that EA was burning all its bridges with Nintendo over their refusal to allow Origin on Wii U? At the time, I was somewhat puzzled, as I wasn't sure what that meant for both Sony and Microsoft regarding the same. It didn't seem feasible that both companies would be actively trying to stomp down on used games and integrating DRM on their consoles as standard. Not when one company could drop said feature and get an instant marketing advantage over their competitor. Now, though, I think that puzzle is starting to piece together.
What we're likely to see is one console that enforces DRM on behalf of the publishers, and one that allows publishers to push their own DRM. And in both cases, the net result is the same for the publisher: they crack down on those used games they hate so much, and push this "games as a service" line even harder than they have hitherto done.
This would explain why EA are so nonchalant about abandoning the Wii U. They've essentially got two other platforms where they can bring in Origin and have complete control over the purchases of their consumers. If Sony had actually gone out of their way to make sure anti-consumer DRM wasn't a part of the PS4 architecture, then EA would have been faced with the choice of either betting their Origin schemes on a single horse, Microsoft, or abandoning them altogether. If Sony are letting them freely push their own DRM on PS4, then that gives them enough wiggle room to push the same strategy on two consoles and focus on making Origin a console service, even at the expense of having a presence on Nintendo's console.
This would also explain why Microsoft feel they could get away with such an anti-consumer practise. If Sony just came out and said "We're not going to let publishers piss all over gamers who buy or sell second-hand games", then that would literally give them every advantage over Xbox One. But Sony haven't come out and said that. Instead, they've chosen some very vague wording and an implication that DRM is based on third parties, rather than being built into the system.
Microsoft would have no reason to crack down on used game sales unless they felt Sony at least had a similar contingency. Publishers would have no reason to push for in-built DRM on one console unless there was at least a similar contingency on the other. If FIFA 14 is going to have DRM software on one console platform, then it would only make sense for EA to push to have similar DRM on the other leading console platform as well, right?
A lot of people are assuming that Microsoft handed the next generation to Sony on a platter today. I'm not so sure. I think based on everything we're seeing, the statements given by those in charge, the behaviour of certain publishers, what we're seeing is a move towards DRM on consoles, and an industry wide move on the part of publishers to try and bite into the used game market. Because if there's one thing I'm certain, this is all at the behest of publishers. Consoles that have built in DRM (Xbox One), or allow them to put up their own DRM (PS4) get support. Consoles that don't let them put up their own DRM (Wii U) get the shit hazed out of them.
At the very least, I would be hugely surprised if we don't hear more from Sony between now and release about what exactly they mean when they say "It's a publisher decision." And I would be very surprised if it's not a more bitter pill than gamers were initially expecting. If Microsoft go all in with in-built DRM, it's because that's what publishers have pushed them for. I cannot think of how those same publishers wouldn't have pushed Sony for the same thing, or for a similar alternative.
Cynical? Sure, I'm a character straight from a Raymond Chandler novel. But the last ten years of gaming for me have been nothing but an exercise in cynicism. Project $10, Ubisoft's always-online, and Xbox Live adverts took whatever optimism I may have had for the gaming industry, and kicked the shit out of it out in the back alley. The Xbox One reveal may have been one mother of a let-down, but I very much doubt the PS4 has been given the crown to Generation 8. I guess time will tell. I hope I'm wrong. But then, I hoped Dead Space 3 and Mass Effect 3 wouldn't require EA accounts to play online on consoles. And look what happened there.
If I were to try and truly render my cynicism on the issue, this is how I think it might sound...
"The cigarette smoke hovered around me like a lover's perfume. Stale, clinging, but with a scent I'd always savour. It was past midnight. I should have clocked out hours ago, but my friends Jack and Jim had kept me for an after-hours meeting. Five slugs already, and I was still seeing straight. It was going to be a long meeting. Really, I should have been charging overtime. My sense of charity is going to kill me one of these days...
The door swung open, and the dame walked in. And what a dame she was. First thing I noticed, she had a real thing for the number eight. Eight cores in that pretty little CPU of hers. Eight gigs of the fastest RAM money can buy. She said her name was PS4, and she needed my help with a problem. "Honey" I said, "We've all got problems. What makes me think I can fix yours?" Turns out, Madamoiselle PS4 has a cousin. Xbox One, the most successful whore out on 52nd street. Every night, she's pulling in the richest clients this city has to offer: EA, Ubisoft, Activision, the new bourgeois as I like to call 'em. Every night she's getting their cash like she's house-owner winning at the casino of life. Not just cash. There's rumours they're giving her marriage proposals, exclusivity deals, exclusive DLC... and all they're asking in return is for her to make a few calls, call in a few favours. There's some used sales been going on around 52nd, some games changing hands without cash flowing in the right directions, and they'd like to see 'em taken care of.
"And let me guess" I said. "They made the same proposal to you?"
If looks could kill, the look Madamoiselle PS4 gave me would have gotten her five life sentences in any court in America. "Whatever do you mean?"
"Ma'am" I said, "I ain't young anymore. I've been around the block, seen a few things. And if there's one think I know, it's when I'm talking to a whore. You're no high society lady, but you've got RAM so expensive I could mortgage my apartment on it. I bet you're down there on 52nd Street too, wowing the customers with your big round polygons and your tight little texture maps. Teasing all the boys with your pretty Killzone demos and your oh-so-revealing Diablo III announcements. And those monied men chatting up your cousin, I'll bet they tried to make exactly the same deal with you."
She looked at me with a wary eye. I could tell I'd got her spooked. But I could also tell I'd rumbled her. She was in the same business as Xbox One, selling the same wares, making money out of other people's pleasure. Professional intuition is a wonderful thing. Never let me down yet. She firmed her expression up, obviously trying to regain her footing. "And if that were true, what business is it of yours?"
"Well ma'am," I said, "I'm a professional private investigator. Finding answers is my business. And as a professional, I'm interested to know what your answer was."
She looked at me without blinking. I could tell she was a wily one, a regular street cat dressed up in a classy black outfit. I'd spooked her before, but now she had her composure back. The only sound was the soft crackle as I drew in on my smoke. Her answer came wrapped in a voice cool and uncompromising. "That," she said, "Is a publisher decision. I'm not talking about it."
What a dame! I knew right then and there, as soon as she said it, that this was a woman who would either make all your dreams come true, or leave your hopes crushed like broken glass in the gutter. And right then, my intuition failed me. I had no idea which she was. All I could do was pray she was the former, and fear she was the latter...
It's amazing how these things go. I was looking at my blog, and thinking I should update it with some more non-Nintendo topics to balance things out... and then this week happened, we got a veritable plethora of Wii U related news, and now here I am. It's 3am in the morning, and I'm writing another Nintendo blog. Go figure.
Anyways... I find communities amazing. You can really tell how important something is by the community that surrounds it. And if I've noticed anything this week on Destructoid, it's that Nintendo is a pretty important company.
It's not been a great week for Nintendo. Let's be honest here. We're still waiting for Wii U sales to pick up, still waiting for the heavy hitters to get revealed. Today's (or indeed, yesterday's) Direct didn't show us much we weren't already aware of. Nintendo have been vilified for their stance on Lets Players and ad revenue, criticised for patching out gay marriage in one of their games. And to crown it all, EA dropped the bombshell that they haven't got any Wii U games in the works.
Ultimately, I think that's going to end up hurting EA far more than it will hurt Nintendo, a company who have proven time and again they don't need anyone's games but their own in order to make a profit. But in the short term, it's still a kick in the teeth for those of us wanting to see the Wii U's fortunes pick up. I don't think I've ever seen a new console with so many enticing, exciting exclusives get shat on so readily by the rest of the industry. But that leads into the point I already touched on- you can tell a company's worth, I think, by how readily the community steps in to support it when things are looking down. I don't mean in a mindless Apple-herd mentality sort of way. I mean when a community steps in to point out all the good that a company has done, all the good memories that their products have fostered, all the happiness and joy they've brought. Nobody steps in to defend EA anymore. Their legacy is carved in stone, and they look set to ride it all the way into an industry crash. No-one seems to feel the need to come out in overwhelming support of Microsoft, or Activision, or Ubisoft. Those are all cold, unfeeling corporate entities, with a naked love of cash and increased share prices.
And yet with Nintendo, people always seem ready to come out and link arms together around the company. Whether its recounting how Nintendo single-handedly dragged the videogame industry forwards after the crash of 83. Or the quotes from Miyamoto about how a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is bad forever. Or just reminiscing over the best Nintendo games, those fabled experiences where we all realised just how extraordinary the medium of games could be. There's a sense of shared joy around Nintendo that I don't see many places else in gaming. We're all too used to ripping each other apart over the consoles we like, the game franchises we like, the genres we like... but on this site at least, Nintendo seem to be that rare common bond where gamers of different stripes can come together and celebrate a universal love of videogames. And with that in mind, I thought I'd share one of my memories that is responsible for planting in me such a respect for Nintendo.
It's regarding the Wii. A console often vilified or patronised by the traditional hardcore, a console many see as one of Nintendo's lesser offerings despite its phenomenal sales. Because there's something that the Wii managed, something Nintendo managed to pull off, which I feel doesn't get talked about enough. Something which created a profound change in the medium: Nintendo changed the entire dialogue surrounding games. In fact, they didn't just change the dialogue itself. They changed the very people who were taking part in it.
Before the Wii, gamers were gamers, and non-gamers were non-gamers. If I wanted to talk about videogames, I'd have to talk to my fellow nerdy gaming friends. And as much as I love talking games with them, that's a pretty insular conversation to have. But when the Wii came out, that conversation changed completely. All of a sudden, I was talking to hot girls at high school about videogames. Hot girls happily playing the likes of Zelda, or Wii Sports, or Kirby. I was talking to friends' parents about games. Hell, I once talked to a friend's grandparents about games, simply because the Wii had finally introduced them to the concept in a way they understood.
Nintendo made it possible for grandparents to get videogames. The Wii was the Babelfish, the universal translator that got people to finally understand what the deal is with games. When has anything like that ever occurred in the industry before.
As an Englishman, and inhabitant of the fair, verdant lands of the United Kingdom, there's one example that particularly stands out to me- Nintendo turned the Queen of England into a gamer.
I'll say it again: Nintendo turned her Majesty the Queen of England into a gamer.
Just think about the implications of that. Videogames have always had an image problem. They've always been that hobby that's corrupting the youth, inspiring the massacres, turning the children gay and making them worship Satan. Even today, news companies like FOX or Sky happily demonise games to push their own agenda. No other game company has yet broken that image of videogames as gore-happy murder simulators. Possibly because many of them are too busy developing gore-happy murder simulators. But Nintendo not only managed to transcend that stereotype, they turned videogames into something that could be enjoyed by everyone, something so inclusive that even the Queen of England had no problem with being a gamer.
That, more than anything else, sums up for me why Nintendo will always be that company worth defending. Even if I don't agree with everything they do, even if I think they're perhaps sliding in certain areas, or not keeping with the times in other areas, things like this are the reason I will always step in and stick up for Nintendo when corporate hacks at EA start flinging shit. Because totally regardless of software sales, completely ignoring marketshare or profit margins, Nintendo has done more than EA could ever hope to achieve when it comes to proving the worth of videogames as a valid medium. They are the champion always riding out proudly waving the videogame banner. Sometimes they'll stumble. Maybe once or twice they'll be knocked out of the saddle. But they will always get back up and wave that banner ever more proudly, and carry on riding forwards towards the sunrise.
And it gives me a sense of warmth to know that I share that with other members of the DTOID community. To know that no matter what new crap EA is pulling, no matter how much Capcom is trying to fleece its customers, no matter how much we lament the fall of Square, we'll all be there, voting in our hundreds for the Wii U version of Resident Evil Revelations to be reviewed, celebrating a new Sonic game being developed for the console, looking forward to Pikmin 3 and Wonderful 101. I've had my differences with the DTOID community in the past, and I think when it comes to things like feminism in games the majority and I will always share a difference of opinion. But I'm glad that on this site at least, I share a common admiration for the biggest and oldest videogame company out there.
In the spirit of this blog, I'd love if any readers could share some of their fondest Nintendo memories as well. Things may be rough down the road for the company, and they've got a difficult path to cross, but let's share some goodwill and remind ourselves what it is we love about the Big N.