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See, with all these blogs going up about the community's various favourite games, I thought I'd try something a little different. A piece on my most unfavourite game of all time. Morrowind. The high point of the Elder Scrolls franchise. The great white hope of western RPGs. The fantasy sandbox by which all others are measured and found wanting.

Now just to be clear, an unfavourite game isn't a game I think is the worst ever, or that I think should be held to some objective standard of general shittyness. I think Oblivion is a far worse game than Morrowind, for one thing, and there are games more broken and buggy than either games out there to be experienced. A game like Bubsy or Superman 64 can be unredeemingly awful, yet take up the same amount of space in my brain as Latin, or Gamelan music, or Thatcher/Reagan slashfic. Morrowind, however, sits on the shag carpeting of my mind like a craggy turd, its mere presence leaving a smell it's impossible to shake off. It's a game that I have tried to get into no less than five times. I have bought it twice, installed every mod known to man, and spent countless hours trying to pierce its chitin shell to find the sweet meat underneath. I have wanted nothing more than to love Morrowind, and on some level I still do. There's something about the idea of Morrowind which is amazing, something I really want to get into and lose myself in... but everytime I've tried, I've found myself utterly underwhelmed by the entirety of the experience. Each time I've tried to get into it, I haven't managed to get more than a few hours into the story, yet collectively I've probably spent a dozen hours or more in the game. I've spent less time in Arkham City and Metal Gear Rising, games I enjoy munreservedly, than I have wandering the swamps of Vvarvendell, waiting for the next crab or rat to get the jump on me.

 What is it I don't like about the game? In a word: everything. As soon as I fire the game up, every facet of the game's structure sets my teeth grinding, wishing it could be less arduous. The game presents you with a huge open world to explore, but your character walks with all the speed of a tectonic plate. You can sprint, but your stamina bar is so low that anything more than ten seconds spent running will bring your character back to a crawl. And if you get attacked by antyhing, then the best of luck to you, as you've rendered yourself too knackered to properly put up a defence. The game promises you a giant setting to explore, then makes the very act of exploring as tedious as it possibly can. You can fast travel, sure... but fast travelling around the map requires money, and that's the one thing you don't have when you're first starting out. For the first section of the game at least, you're faced with either going penniless, or slow marching it from town to town, city to city, sort of like one of the Canterbury pilgrims, but with an infinitely more boring story to tell:

" A tale of woe I shallen tell thee/Of a prisoner's endless misery/That whilom was kicked from humble boat/And cast asunder, with nary a groat/Nor raiment, food nor arms to bear/No horse to ryde, no humble mare/Left to walk the lonely road/Attacked by rats and crabbes and toads/Till pon a chance he saw the lights/Of a friendly city in the night/He marched his feet with greaten haste/And was struck down by one of the cliff race"

If the combat was great, then that perhaps could make up for the general tedium of exploration, but it's not. The combat in Morrowind is legendarily broken, which is what makes the experience even more frustrating. You slog from Point A to Point B, hoping for something to add a little spce to proceedings, then when a monster jumps you, you're left to realise that even the spice in this game is a bit bland. Everything is done on dice rollls, yet you're left to swing and flail like you're doing the Time Warp at a LARP convention. I like combat in RPGs/ I like fighting monsters, and getting stronger by defeating them. I like swinging swords and casting fire spells. But somehow, Morrowind takes the basic primal appeal of swinging a sword at a giant troll, and makes it a game of chance where all the numbers are rigged against you. Combat in Morrowind isn't something to be experienced, it's something to be suffered for wrongdoings in your past lives. It's penance for a life lived in sin. It's nothing but punishment, with not even funny animations to give it some kind of humour or levity. 

 And this is the thing: if the story was better, I could endure dodgy gameplay. I've played through JRPGs that had less-than-stellar gameplay to experience a ripping yarn, and can overlook mechanical defects if the themes and drama make up for it. But Morrowind doesn't do that. It does the one thing I absolutely hate in fantasy and sci-fi games: throw a load of lore at you, and expect that to do most of the story. Now, I hate lore. I hate it when a game throws encyclopedias of made-up nonsense to wade through, and calls that a valid trade-off for some good characterisation or emotional writing. I like my fantasy fiction to have the basics of narrative down, like characters and arcs and ideas bubbling away under the surface. Making up a load of backstory, then dumping it into the game to be waded through like fish guts on the deck of a trawler, has no appeal to me. But that's where the meat of Morrowind's story lies: going through endless bloody books, flicking through scrolls, scanning journals for anything interesting or entertaining. I like fantasy settings that are well realised, don't get me wrong, but I also like some immediacy to proceedings. I don't have an endless amount of spare time, and if a game is going to demand so much of my attention, I want something other than backstory and lore to work with. Give me a great story, or great gameplay, but give me something to get some immediate feedback from. 

On every level that matters, Morrowind goes against everything I enjoy in games, be it its approach to narrative, or the broken fundamentals of its gameplay... and yet, for some utterly inexplicable reason, I still want to like it. Love it, even. There's something about the idea of Morowind which I want to be in love with, something about the idea of getting lost in a world of giant mushrooms and weird insects that fundamentally speaks to me. This says just how much I want to like it: I bought the game as a teenager on a Sold Out software disc, then when that disc disappeared, I bought the GOTY version, even though I already knew I didn't like the game. Maybe it was the idea that the expansions could fix some of my problems with the game, maybe it was just the basic idea of wandering alone in a fantasy world, but I bought the game again, installed it again, fired it up again, and within three hours was utterly confused as to why I had done it. Even now, writing about Morrowind, I can feel the urge to fire it up once more, install some graphics mods, and go exploring. And I know what would happen if I did: I'd start a new game, marvel at how nice the new texture mods and graphics tweaks look, and get bored of the game before the evening was done. 

 No other game has this effect on me. There have been games I've hated, and never played more than once, and there have been games I've loved that have taken up hours upon hours of my free time, but never has a game had quite the same love/hate relationship with me. It's like meeting a woman, and falling in love with the idea of her, rather than the reality. I know that Morrowind is a broken, buggy mess that has nothing of what I look for in games, but I just can't quite quit it. It's stuck in my conscious like a splinter, irritating and impossible to remove. I have many games that I would consider as my favourites, but no games has ever had the singular success of so resolutely being my unfavourite: a game I want to love, but which I cannot find a single thing to love. Other people love Morrowind more than words, and that's absolutely fine. I would never begrudge anyone the hours of enjoyment they've got from exploring Vvarvendell and all its mysteries. On a subconscious level, I may even be slightly jealous. The sort of joy those gamers have got from the game is exactly what I want for myself. It's why I refuse to get rid of my discs, why I eye the game up everytime it goes on a Steam sale. Morrowind is the bad first sniff of cocaine that still leaves me itching for more. It's that bad LSD trip which leaves my brain on the floor, yet still has me wanting to return to the psychedelic realm. It's a tick that sticks my psyche with its mandibles, grabs on, and is then impossible to shake loose. 

 Fuck it, I've still for the disc in my drawer. What harm could one more reinstall do...

It's a funny old business. Funny old world, really. All a bit topsy turvy at the moment. Like everyone's running around stomping their feet everywhere, and the result is no-one quite knows where the floor is anymore. 

 I'm going to say this upfront: I work for a PR company. Well, no, that's not quite true. I work for a company that works with PR companies. It's sort of like a Yellow Pages for various outlets, tells PR companies who to contact at which magazine or website regarding this or that. It's not a very exciting job, truth be told, nor a particularly high ranking one. Now, I haven't been privy to any scandals up front, nor have I seen any indication of widescale corruption at this outlet or that one. I've certainly never sent IGN envelopes of cash, nor have I ever asked Gamespot to fire a member of staff. I just spend my days at my computer, researching outlets.

 What I can say, however, is that I get an inside view of how advertising and editorial work at major websites and outlets such as Gamespot or IGN. Except, that's not really true either. It's not inside information at all. The majority of information on advertising, how much it costs, how much coverage you get, etc etc, isn't held in some secret backroom waiting for a golden handshake. It's clear to read if you go to the bottom of any website, and look for the Advertise button. It's usually in big bold print, possibly in capital letters, and says something along the lines of "Advertise with us" or similar. 

 Click on that button, and you'll have access to all the information on advertising on IGN, Gamespot or Eurogamer you could want. All the secrets at the corrupt heart of the gaming media, at your fingertips. Except that, when it comes to advertising and what not, there's really not all that much corruption. Generally, what you see with advertising is what you get. Click on the button, you'll be taken to a page that clearly lays out the protocol and requirements for advertising on the site. You'll be shown just how much it costs per banner ad per click, how many pixels your ad will cover, and a general length of time for how long your ad will be on the site (a day, a couple of days, a week, two weeks, etc). It's all rather boring, rather mundane, and free of conspiracies. 

 For the longest time now, gamers have been fixated on the idea that publishers somehow use advertising to buy coverage or reviews. A banner ad for COD, say, is used as evidence that Activision is buying positive previews or even reviews of COD across that outlet, which is then used as a reason to grumble about gaming journalism some more. But the truth is much, much more boring than that, and you can take this as the word of someone who regularly contacts advertisers: there is no link between advertising and reviews or previews. For one very simple reason: advertising doesn't dictate site content. Site content dictates advertising. 

 If you go click on the IGN Advertise button (it's at the bottom of the page/ Go on, press it), you'll be linked to a page which gives various statistics on clicks and hits. This is rather important, as aside from the self-congratulatory chest thumping, the number of page views is a website or outlet's main weapon in dictating how much they charge for advertising. IGN proudly proclaim that they get 564 million page views per month. Think about that. That's 564 million. That is a stupendous amount of traffic, and that is IGN's biggest bargaining chip. Advertisers naturally want to advertise on sites with the most users, the most traffic, as it increases the likelihood of their advertising working. The vast majority of websites on the internet struggle to make it even past the thousand hits mark, so when you're regularly getting views in the hundreds of millions, you know you're pretty damn popular. Now, contrary to popular belief, this gives IGN a huge amount of power when it comes to choosing who they advertise with. A site with that many views is going to have advertisers queuing around the block just to get some advertising of their own online. IGN will never, ever want for people to pay them money to host their ads. And that's fine. Hosting banner ads is how websites pay their bills nowadays, and as long as they're clearly labelled as ads, what's to complain about?

 "But Titus" I hear your delicate voice tremble "If IGN can choose who advertises on their site, why do they choose videogame publishers? That must be corruption, right?" Ah, delicate little flower, let me explain. Websites track not only the number of hits they have, but also the demographics that visit their pages. It's how they choose what sort of topics to cover, knowing the audience that visits them and their interests. IGN is primarily a gaming site, so their audience is primarily made up of gamers. People interested in games. People who buy games. While IGN can choose  whoever they want to advertise with, it's in their own interests to advertise with companies who share the same target demographics with them. If you're reading a preview of Blood Borne, for instance, and you get an advert next to the article for the latest series of MLP or the new Postman Pat film... well, that's not going to be very effective for either side. You're not very likely to go watch MLP, and the advertiser is just wasting their money. As a gamer, your interests are games, so therefore an advert for a new game is going to be a much more productive use of marketing money than an advert for a new female perfume. 

 However, that doesn't mean advertisers get any say over content. IGN hosts videogame adverts because their main audience is gamers, and it makes synergistic sense the same way showing adverts for Nike and Adidas makes sense during a football match. That doesn't mean IGN has to kowtow to publishers on advertising. While the site's main users are gamers, there are any number of related fields that those site users will also be interested in, all of which have their own advertisers looking to sell products: smartphones, tablets, general electronics, blockbuster films, etc etc. Sites like IGN can and do host adverts for more general 'nerdy' products, because there are no shortage of marketing companies looking to sell those products to their userbase. And because advertising rates are the same for adverts, no matter the company (and as is required by advertising law) then that means that while gaming websites can and do host videogame adverts, they are under no compunction to. If we were to hypothetically say that EA wanted to use an advert for Mass Effect 4 as a way to bribe a website for positive coverage, that website would turn them down. Firstly, taking money for advertising under the counter would be against regulations. Secondly, if EA tried pulling that sort of shit, the website could just turn them down for someone else. They could instead host an advert for Ubisoft or Activision instead (thereby actively promoting one of EA's competitor products), or they could just host adverts for Samsung, Apple and Nokia instead. When you have an endless queue of advertisers lining up outside your door, it means you get to eject someone as soon as they start trying to mess you around. 

 And the great not-so-secret truth is that advertising and editorial at these websites are completely different departments anyway. You can take this as the word of someone who has had to spend afternoons trying to categorize who works in marketing and who in editorial, you can take it as common sense, or you can just go check for yourselves. Most websites are very clear about the different methods of contact for their Editorial department and their Marketing department. They'll have separate email addresses, separate phone numbers, and are very often in separate offices. If EA were to try ringing up IGN's advertising team to buy a review of Battlefield, their very first problem would be that the person picking up the phone would have no idea who's covering the review of that specific game. Advertisers are too busy lining up advertising schedules and contacts to know which specific writer from which specific room in IGN is going to review a specific game at a given date. That's like asking the accounts team for information on who's designing the website layout. 

 The various marketing staff will all report to a Chief of/Head of Marketing, or somesuch title. The various writers all report to the Editor. The Editor has final say on editorial, the Head of Marketing on, well, marketing. Both those jobs may then report to a company CEO or Director, or they may both be left alone (in which case, the Editor is usually higher up the chain than the Marketing head, and not vice versa). They will have very little direct contact with each other, and will have next to no say on each other's content. An editor will know jack shit about marketing compared to a marketing head, and a marketing head will know jack shit about editorial compared to an editor. Maybe there will appear to be some overlap when a site hosts an ad for a game that's being reviewed, but in reality that just points to the game publisher being willing to pay the asking fee for a gaming website's ads. I can say this with certainty, people working in editorial hate being contacted about advertising, and people working in advertising hate being contacted about editorial. They are clearly separated departments for a reason, so that each can focus on what it's good at without getting bogged down doing things for the other. Marketers want to work on advertising, editorial guys want to work on writing. Marketers provide an ad platform that allows editorial guys to get paid for writing. That's how it works. 

 Again, this is all stuff you can check for yourself. Phone up IGN, and there'll likely be a system in place to direct you to advertising, editorial, customer service or any other department. Call up an advertising guy asking about editorial, and he'll tell you you've got the wrong department. I have done just that, and believe me, these things work the same across the vast majority of sites. 

 I know we all like to think there's something rotten in Denmark when we see an advert for the new Halo game next to the review of the new Halo game. But in actuality, it's no different to the Times having a full-page advert of a film in the newspaper edition that provides a review of said film. If you have any old newspapers lying around, go check them out. I'm sure you'll find an advert somewhere for a book, film or CD that also has a review in the same edition. It happens. Advertising and Editorial can cover the same ground without necessarily being in contact with each other. Games are big business, after all, and publishers spend a lot of money getting their coverage out as far as possible. It's not so incredibly suspicious that when you have a huge AAA game with $200 million behind it, that Editorial and Advertising will perhaps end up covering it in different ways. The Editorial guys cover it because it's clearly going to be a big game, and they'd be remiss not to cover it for their audience. The Advertising guys host adverts for it because the publisher is willing to pay the ad fees, and it limes up with their demographic. 

 That is how advertising works for these sites, and it is painfully, stupefyingly mundane. Very occasionally you'll see snarls, like when Gamespot sacked Gerstmann, but that's what those are: occasional exceptions. Rare instances. The Gerstmann incident was something that happened when executives made a panicked snap decision over concerns from advertisers, and it is very much not the norm in the industry. That the fact a female indie developer slept with a writer at Rock Paper Shotgun, Rock Paper fucking Shotgun, is being used as an example of industry wide 'corruption' should say it all. Rock Paper Shotgun are not the industry, and nor is Zoe Quinn. They're two people who made an unprofessional decision, and thus far it seems like not a single review, preview or general coverage piece has appeared from Grayson regarding Depression Quest. 

 Are there problems regarding how publishers hold preview events above outlets as a way to try and curry favour? Yes. Could journalists stand to be more removed from the developers they cover? Possibly. Is advertising money part of a big conspiracy against gamers by the likes of IGN and EA. No. Advertising money is part of a very traditional and well regulated industry that has its own legal requirements regarding the distinction of ads and editorial. There are many things wrong with the industry, but the recurring idea of there being an ad money conspiracy is less indicative of anything wrong with gaming outlets, and more indicative of the gaming community's continuous need for a good conspiracy. 

 Hanlon's Razor, people.

Microsoft are the Darth Vader of console gaming. But that doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does. 

The last few years have been pretty terrible for the Xbox brand. Even before the cackhanded XBone reveal, the 360 had been struggling for a while from the perceived notion that it had changed tack from a gamer's console to a broken Kinect machine. The Xbox One has been fighting negative press since day one, and is getting roundly pounded by the PS4 in the sales race. It's still yet to outsell the Wii U after four months which, in some corners of the internet at least, is comparable to getting beat in the egg-and-spoon race by that one legged kid with multiple sclerosis. 

 And you know what? That's all fine. The Xbox One deserves every bit of bad press it gets after the monumental con-job Microsoft tried to pull on us last year. And Kinect had the lasting effect of taking the genuinely interesting area of motion/pointer controls, and turning it into one giant pile of waggle that no-one would ever take seriously again. 

 But for the last year now, there's another attitude that's become ever more pervasive in the gaming community, and it's one that makes me genuinely sad. The attitude of Microsoft the Great Pretender. Where Sony and Nintendo earned their right through generations of battle and blood to lay claim to the Console Throne, Microsoft are seen as the fakers, the ones who stayed in the race simply by throwing enough money everywhere. 

Sort of like this guy, but without his winning personality. 

The fact that the Xbox division has been a consistent money loser for Microsoft is often used as an argument that they made no real effort to stay in like the other two, and were content to simply throw out moneyhats and the occasional Halo game in order to keep in the running. Go on any forum or messageboard now, and you won't just see posters claiming that Microsoft should leave the console race, they never should have joined in the first place. 

Admittedly, gamers have always had a thing for fighting over which hardware makers deserve to win, but it seems like much more of an issue with Microsoft now. "Get thee gone from my house, and never darken my door again with thy foul presence!" seems to be the rallying cry of thousands of gamers everywhere. Which is genuinely upsetting. 

 Because believe it or not, there was a time when Microsoft didn't just make a decent attempt at being a console gaming company, they were the dream company of hardcore gamers everywhere. They walked the street with a spring in their step, because they knew they were so good. They were the swaggy daddy-cool pimpmaster of gaming. 

 To understand the tragedy of Microsoft, and how awesome they were back in the day, we need to rewind the clock back to the days of this beauty right here:

It's big, black, and I love it so much I want it inside me. 

The OG Xbox is the closest any company has ever come(possibly excepting the SNES) of taking a nerd's wet dream and turning it into silicon and electronics. This thing was the dream machine. It was pure gaming excess, the fantasies and hopes of millions of gamers taken and hammered into sleek, rugged, black perfection. 

Ok, the original Duke controller was a bit shit. But the OG Xbox is basically what happens when you get a bunch of hardcore gamers together, and give them access to Microsoft's unlimited bank account. This thing was meant as nothing more than the perfect hardcore gaming machine. Sony wanted the PS2 to be a sleeper-agent for the DVD format. Nintendo wanted the Gamecube to also double as a handy lunch container and designer accessory. The Xbox, however, was meant to be nothing more than the purest gaming machine available on the market. To understand just how overboard Microsoft went in creating the dream gaming monster, I'm going to have to hit you with just a bit of tech-porn. Bare with me here, because this isn't going to be kind to the competition:

 The specs between the PS2 and the Xbox? They weren't even comparable. The difference between the Xbox one and the PS4 is a mere trifle compared to the vast gulf that existed between the PS2 and Xbox. Microsoft looked at everything the PS2 had, and decided to double it at the bare minimum. Where the PS2 had 32mb of RAM, the Xbox had a whopping 64. Where the PS2 had a 295MHz CPU processor, the Xbox had a 733MHz beastie. Where the PS2 GPU ran at 148MHz, the Xbox ran at 233MHz. In every single tech aspect, Microsoft went above and beyond in utterly crushing the PS2s specs. The Gamecube fared better, with Nintendo using bespoke architecture to punch way above the console's weight, but even then in most aspects, the Xbox still came out on top. 

 Quite simply, there was no piece of gaming kit outside of a super PC-rig able to beat the Xbox's specs. It was excessive in every possible way, like a Lamborghini made out of cocaine. But that turned out to the console's advantage. Because by going all out on tech, Microsoft were able to snag PC ports for the Xbox that the PS2 could only dream of. Morrowind? Doom 3? Half-Life 2? You'd never see those games on PS2, yet Microsoft's decision to go all out on hardware porn meant it got them all, and other console versions of otherwise PC-exclusives. 

 It wasn't just the pure power either. Microsoft were incredibly thoughtful, and made the thing really easy for developers to work with by using PC components. If that doesn't mean much to you, you have to realise that during the PS2 era, Krazy Ken was still in charge of Sony's hardware design. And as much as we all may love it, the PS2 was an absolutely horrible bit of kit for developers to work with. Many famously fell out with Sony over it. The entire reason, for instance, that Shinji Mikami tried to make the RE franchise Gamecube exclusive was because he utterly, utterly loathed the PS2's architecture. By comparison, the Xbox had all the familiarity of the PCs developers were already using to make games on, and it was powerful enough that anything they struggled with, they could just brute-force their way through. 

 You notice how both Sony and Microsoft made a big song-and-dance about using PC architecture to make development easier on Xbox One and PS4? And how even Nintendo is making efforts to move towards more standardised, easy-to-work-with PC-based hardware? That didn't start this gen. That started back when Microsoft released the first Xbox. It's just taken this long for everyone else to start catching up. 

 And it wasn't just in terms of raw power that Microsoft went above and beyond. The Xbox was the first console to come with its own hard-drive, an 8GB internal monster. Sure, that doesn't sound like a lot now, but at the time that was 8GB more than what Nintendo or Sony were offering. The OG Xbox is the sole reason our consoles come with hard-drives as standard now. If you've ever downloaded a game onto your console from PSN or Xbox Live, you have the OG Xbox to thank for that. Along with online mutliplayer too, actually. Yes, the Dreamcast was the first to really dabble in online, but Microsoft was the first console maker to nail multiplayer in the way we expect now: loads of servers hooked up together, creating an extensive network dedicated just to gaming. 

 Again, at the time, the competition were offering nothing. Xbox Live was an absolutely unprecedented development in console gaming, and while we may hate what it has become now, back then it was nothing less than revolutionary. It gave developers an entirely new way to support console games after they were released, and encouraged gamers to form clans, groups and entire communities around their favourite multiplayer games. 

 In every respect, the OG Xbox was a vision of the future. It had every last thing a gamer could require from their hardware, yet cost the same as a PS2. But here's the wonderful thing. As amazing as the specs were, as utterly lustworthy as all those processors and electrodes were, that was just the tip of the iceberg. It was the games that really cemented the Xbox as something special. 

 Hear me out: there was a time when Microsoft went out of their way to support their console with the best hardcore games they could find. 

Those are some of the games everyone remembers for the OG Xbox. Jade Empire, Halo, Dead Or Alive, Fabel... we all remember those. What's even more incredible is how much effort Microsoft went into securing even the most niche, uber-hardcore games. The sort of games that would only appeal to the most niche of gamers.

 Did you know, for instance, that before making the Souls series, FROM Software made a pair of Xbox exclusive games under the Otogi name? Two games based around an undead Samurai assassin killing demons in a fairytale version of Japan, where boss battles took place over supernova stars and in the atmosphere of the planet. Where the Xbox specs and built-in hard drive meant that levels were completely destructible on a level no other hack-and-slash game has beaten to this day. Why yes, they are both every bit as awesome as they sound. No, they did not sell well at all. Yet they still found a place in the House of Xbox.

Or how about some Phantom Dust? A game where you collect cards to have magic battles in post apocalyptic arenas to remixed versions of classical pieces. 

If these games were any more hardcore, you could stick a band of silver round them and use them to propose to your partner. 

 There was a time when Microsoft didn't just moneyhat exclusive DLC for multiplatform games. There was a time when the Xbox was home to the sort of games for gamers that meant, well, if you called yourself a 'real' gamer, you simply had to own an Xbox. Sure, Halo was the killer app, but away from that there were so many other games worth playing that a gamer could literally thank Microsoft with tears in their eyes for bringing so much incredible gaming goodness. 

 The Xbox wasn't an expensive system, despite its tech. Microsoft made steps to ensure they matched the PS2 dollar for dollar at retail. It wasn't a PS3 level act of hubris, requiring gamers take up a second job just to pay for it. They made a console more powerful than God, then sold it at the same price as the competition, with a shitload of incredible games they made sure to support the system with. 

 So if you want to rail against Microsoft, and bemoan their direction with Xbox One, then fine, but don't criticise them for being a pretender. Don't act as if they never brought anything to the industry. If you want to criticise Microsoft and the Xbox brand, criticise it for not living up to the legacy of the original console, the console that went on to define how other consoles are made. Because as much as Microsoft may have fucked themselves over now, the real tragedy is that like Marlon Brando, they could have once been a contender. The Xbox may have never outsold the PS2, but the record breaking day one sales of games like Halo 2 and the overwhelming success of Xbox Live dealt Sony a blow that left them shaking, and that inspired them to go all-in on tech with the  PS3. 

 Microsoft are the Darth Vader of console gaming, because they were once its greatest champion. The original Xbox offered a vision of gaming which they have spent subsequent years turning their back on, and that's the real tragedy here. They may be evil now, but there's a reason the Xbox brand managed to eventually take off.

So it's a little later than I would have liked, but I finally managed to cobble together a music track that represents some of my current thoughts on gaming. Nothing concrete, or particularly insightful. It's just a track that's inspired by various gaming flutterings, happenings and thoughts that have occurred to me over the last few weeks. The month of February as seen by Titus in musical form, if you will. 

It's scrappy as hell, badly in need of being re-recorded and re-polished, but I'm quite chuffed with it all the same. 

For those interested, read below to find out the long, needlessly complicated process I went through to make the track. For everyone else, press play, and I hope you enjoy. 



You actually want to know how I made this? You sad buggers. Anyways, the recording process was broken down into three key stages: 

1) working out which tunes I wanted to remix and fiddle around with, and working out how they'd fit together.
2) creating the drum loops which would act as the foundation of the song.
3) recording everything else, and putting it all together. 

Step 1 was pretty easy. There were a few recent games I wanted to reference for their topicality, and some I wanted to include just for the heck of it. As it turns out, a PC port of Deus Ex The Fall was announced this week, so that ended up being pretty on the money anyway. 

Step 2 was a lot of fun. I've been playing around with Famitracker a lot recently, and that proved ideal for creating the sort of drum loops I wanted. For those of you who are unaware, Famitracker is a program which allows you to create genuine 8-bit music, using a hacked version of the actual NES software. You can genuinely compose in Famitracker and, if you have a way to put it to cartridge, get a NES to play your compositions. It's used a lot for chiptune compositions, and is a lot of fun to work with, if you like composing in hexadecimal. 

 What's really great about Famitracker though is that you can load samples into one of its channels. I had a notion of having drum loops with a really old-school gamer vibe, so decided to import individual drum samples into Famitracker, then build up the drum loops from scratch, rather than using a standard loop creator. It's a lot more work to create individual loops from scratch, but the upside is that you get a lot more freedom and creativity than you do with something like Fruity Loops. Having downloaded a large collection of free drum sounds and samples, I then imported the ones I liked into Famitracker, got that old school 'Tchk!' sound I wanted, then built up some drum loops. 

I really like creating drum loops. It's a lot of fun trying to create drum grooves that go beyond the simple 1-and-2-and-3-and-and feel, and finding good places to pit in accents and fills. Once I had a collection of loops I was happy with, I exported each of them as an actual sound file. 

 Now, when you're creating drum loops from scratch, you can't just export them then use them straight away. Exporting loops as a wav adds a decay period of half a second or so, which means they won't loop properly. If you want to sue them, you have to use a sound editor to cut off the extra tail, and create a sound file that starts as soon as it finishes in order to loop cleanly. I prefer to use Audacity for this, as I find it's the easiest tool to zoom in and select and delete the exact amount of sound I want. Again, it's extra work, but it all adds to the joy of creating your own loops from scratch, rather than just getting a sequencer to do everything. 

 Once the loops were edited properly, it became time to actually create the song proper, in a full DAW program. I used to use Cubase, but have recently moved over to Reaper, and would genuinely recommend it to anyone. It's a fully featured recording software suite that comes with an unlimited evaluation period. If you're looking for free software to start dicking around with recording, Reaper is where you should definitely start, and it's what I'll be sticking to for the forseeable future. 

 I imported the drum loops into reaper, and used them to create a basic 'skeleton' for the song, working out how many bars I wanted dedicated to the 'funk Halo' section, how many to the Donkey Kong section, how many to the Dubstep drop, etc. Rather than building the music up section by section, I laid out the entire song in drums to get an idea for the length and flow, and sang along as it played. I find it's better to get a good idea of the length and flow of your song right from the start, rather than spending hours perfecting a lovely section, only to discover you need to add/subtract another few bars or measures in order to make it work. 

 I also found some vocal loops I liked, and imported those into Reaper to. Vocal samples are something I've been wanting to play around with for a while, and it was a fun effort to try and get various snippets lined up with the various drumbeats. 

 Once that was all done, it was time to record the music proper. All the non drum/vocal loops on the track were recoded by a guitar, plugged into a knackered old multi-effects processor, then into my PC through an external soundcard. I'm planning on upgrading my recording gear at some point this year to have a proper keyboard and effects rig, but right now I can bet by with what I have. 

Putting the actual music together involved a lot of practising parts, making stuff up on the fly, and experimenting with different ideas. A lot of the time, ideas I had planned had to be drastically altered. Originally I planned to have the Deus Ex theme play more prominently over the dubstep drop, but I couldn't get the syncopated melody to line up with the half-time drumbeat adequately, so instead kept it as a little snippet at the end, and instead allowed Jock's sample to convey the Deus Exyness. On the plus side, I'm very chuffed with the deep 'synthy' sounds I managed to create with nothing more than my guitar and an octave effect. 

 The Bloody Tears section is probably my favourite, as it allowed me to really show off my alternate picking chops, and to re-arrange the tune in a different way. The main refrain becomes a chunky, dancey guitar riff, and the first snippet of the main melody becomes a Nile Rodgers-esque guitar lick that plays over the top. I was originally tempted to slow the track down, record the guitar parts, then speed it back up, but decided that would be cheating. So everything you hear in the song was recorded at the same speed, and it was quite a fun challenge to make sure everything was in time. I might have made a few minor wobbles in a couple of places, but I think for the most part I kept the temp pretty well.

 This is a snapshot of one part of the total Reaper piece, covering about 1/3 the song's length, and 1/3 the tracks recorded. 

For anyone looking for advice on how to record parts in a DAW, I don't have too much to give, considering how much I'm still learning myself, but here are a few things I learned that I consider essential:

- Double track everything. If you're recording a part, don't just record it once, record it twice. And by that, I don't mean copy it into a second track, I mean actually play the part for a second time, and record that on a second track. If you do that, and pan the tracks left and right, you get a much greater sense of depth than if you leave one track panned in the middle. 

- If you're recording guitar parts using distortion, record the same part using a clean tone on a separate track. If you set the volume just right, so it's on the edge of being audible, then it's a great way to add definition and clarity to guitar parts that can run the risk of sounding muddy. 

- Make sure you include reverb. If you're not mic'ing an amp, then make sure you have some kind of reverb applied to your track. Reverb is what gives a track a more organic feel, and without it, tracks can sound sterile and overly digital. You don't need power metal levels of reverb, just enough to give the impression that the sounds may have actually been in a room somewhere. 

 The most important thing is not being afraid to change things up if needed. Get a good idea of what you want a song to be, but if something needs to be changed at the last minute, don't be afraid to get rid of it and try something spontaneous. The song I ended up with is very different from the song I had in mind when I first embarked on this crazy scheme, but I'm chuffed with it all the same. 

 Hopefully I'll be able to keep this blog updated with other bits of music I come up with. I had a lot of fun making this. In fact, recording music is just about the most fun you can have by yourself at a computer, and I've already got ideas for the next VG Remix I want to do.

Award season rolls on and on. After presenting the awards for Most Average White Male and Best Cancelled game, we're now onto one of the most hotly contested of all:

The 2013 Award for Best Fuck Up by a Developer or Publisher

Everybody fucks up one-time or another. I fuck up. You fuck up. We all fuck up. It's a fact of life that, being only human, we will all make mistakes of one kind or another, some big, some small. Those in the videogame industry are no different, and can make just as many fuck-ups as you or I. The award for Best Fuck-Up is meant to recognise those who go above and beyond, who make the extra effort (or indeed lack of it) to truly squander themselves, and deliver nothing less than a full catastrophe to the gaming community. A disasterpiece which removes any shred of goodwill the community may have had towards them. In doing so they play an important role, reminding us gamers that no matter how much we may idolise them, developers and publishers are as fallible as everyone else. So without further ado, here is the winner of the 2013 awar- 


...sorry, I fucked up. Before we present the award, here are the nominees for Best Fuck Up. 

The Xbox One reveal, Microsoft

Why it was nominated: There has never been a console reveal like that of the Xbox One. It was not just the press conference itself, but the ripples it created in the community. Microsoft didn't just present gamers with mixed messages about a patently anti-consumer machine, they managed to turn the gaming press and the gaming community against each other. When presented with a console that clearly tried to rob consumers of the right to play offline, sell games and play without a camera, many gaming journalists tried to mount a cautious defence of Microsoft. A few of them even came out in open support of the new machine. This inspired the wrath of many online gaming communities, to the point that many now simply do not trust the gaming media. The console itself was revealed with next to no games, and an overwhelming focus on television applications that any smart TV or plug-in box can already perform. The executives were sending completely contradictory messages to the press, and the entire thing was performed with a sense of smug, self-congratulatory conceitedness which was just nauseating. 

 Sony's E3 '06 presentation of the PS3 was legendarily bad, but at least they focused on games. Nintendo's reveal of the Wii U may have resulted in apathy or confusion in those who watched, but not outright anger. This was, by comparison, nothing less than the worst console reveal in recent history, and for that it deserves the nomination. 

Why it didn't win: If Microsoft had stuck to their guns, the Xbox One would have walked this award, no contest. Sadly, Microsoft had to fumble things by backing down on all the most egregious points of contest. The 24-hour connection requirement was dropped, the mandatory Kinect became optional, the baked-in DRM was removed and gamers were allowed to buy and sell used games once again. The Xbox One could have been a consumer right disaster par excellence, but as of right now it's just an overpriced box with an optional gimmicky camera. 

SimCity, EA

Why it was nominated: This is the first of EA's nominations for this award, which should tell you all you need to know. Before the game was even released, long-time fans of the series were upset by the new online requirements for the game. EA tried to deflect criticism by playing up the MMO aspects, telling gamers that the new SimCity would redefine the series by integrating multiplayer in never before seen ways, and using 'cloud computing' to do advanced industry-first ingame calculations. 

 Then the game launched. And everyone saw what a crock of shit that was. 

 The game was simply broken at release. It required access to EA's servers in order to function, but EA in their wisdom had not got enough servers ready for launch day, and thousands upon thousands of gamers were left unable to play the game they had bought. Those who were lucky enough to get a game were still plagued with numerous crashes and broken gameplay mechanics. Even worse, enterprising modders soon discovered that the much ballyhooed cloud computing was total balls. The game could in fact be modded to play offline, albeit still with its fundamentally broken mechanics. The shitstorm that resulted from this perfect storm of fuck-ups forced reviewers and game journalists who had otherwise been kind to the game to go back and revise their scores downwards, lest they be seen as utterly incompetent and/or in the pockets of EA. 

Why it didn't win: To be brutally honest, I could have happily given the award to this game. It's a masterclass in how to fuck up in every single way, and the only reason it didn't win was because of other brutal fuck-ups which were even more fucked up. 

DmC Devil May Cry, Capcom

Why it was nominated: Some gamers out there may try and tell you that DmC was a worthy new entry into the franchise, that it brought fresh ideas to a stale series. Don't listen to those people. They're wrong. DmC was a  colossal fuck-up by Capcom for a number of reasons. 

 Firstly, despite DMC4 managing to become the best-selling entry in one of Capcom's best selling franchises, Keiji Inafune decided they needed to make the next game deliberately more appealing to 'western gamers' in order to make it sell more. Again, this on the back of DMC4 pulling the best numbers in the franchise. That right there is fuck-up number one. When you abandon an established, best selling formula to try and ride the coat-tails of whatever fad is currently appealing to western gamers, you doom yourself to failure, as any number of WoW/COD-clone developers can tell you.

 The second fuck-up was the downgrading of almost every great gameplay mechanic the series was known for. Instead of the silky 60fps DMC fans were used to, console owners were treated to a 30fps game which made high level play that much harder. Over successive instalments, the prior games had created an intricate Style system which peaked with DMC4, wherein you could change combat styles on the fly for ludicrous combat depth. In DmC, styles were completely gone. Where the previous games encouraged you to experiment and improvise, DmC locked you into using certain weapons against colour-coded enemies. There was no lock-on button. The ranking system was broken to the point that it was possible to get an S rank just by mashing random buttons. In every gameplay mechanic that mattered, DmC was a serious step down. 

 The third fuck-up was the deliberate antagonisation of the fanbase, and Capcom/Ninja Theory's decision to use a story and artstyle completely removed from everything fans had previously loved. There was no Gothic sensibility, no camp melodrama, no sly winks at the audience and good natured cheesiness. Instead, we had a game which was both earnest and yet vulgar. Instead of the good-humoured combination of Die Hard and Dracula that typified previous games, we got something which felt like a 70s exploitation flick, yet possibly even more tasteless. Boss fights with demon foetuses, abortion-by-sniper rifle, demon vomit, squirrel semen and copious amounts of 'Fuck You!' resulted in a story that tried to be earnest, yet came across as incredibly immature and tasteless. And to make things worse, the game felt the need to antagonise fans of the previous games by mocking the style of the previous games, and repeatedly making a point of what an utter ass-hole the new Dante was. 

 All of which led to the fourth fuck-up: sales. Instead of capitalising on the success of the previous game, and using that as a stepping stone to better things, the game bombed at launch. Capcom repeatedly had to downgrade sales forecasts, to the point they were fortunate when it made it just over a million. When you shit all over fan goodwill like that, you know you've made the biggest fuck-up of all. 

Why it didn't win: Unfortunately, as much of a downgrade as DmC was in every way, Capcom and Ninja Theory still managed to ship a working game. While it may not have stood up to the series' legacy, but it still worked in a functional manner. Which is more than can be said of the award winner. 

 So, without further ado, the winner of the 2013 Award for Best Fuck Up by a Developer or Publisher goes to:

Battlefield 4, EA

Why it won: It's hard to know who to blame more for the unfinished state of Battlefield 4, DICE or EA. The signs were already there in Battlefield 3, with a campaign criticised for being clearly rushed and unfinished, and multiplayer having all sorts of teething troubles. But nothing could have prepared anyone for the utterly monumental fuck-up that was Battlefield 4's launch. In a year where COD finally showed signs of jumping the shark, and EA could have at last grasped that coveted sales crown they've wanted so long, it took the mother of all catastrophucks to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 

 It's not just that the multiplayer was broken at launch. It's not the fact that every new patch DICE puts out seems to cause just as many problems as it fixes. It's not even the fact that production on all post-release DLC has had to be put on hold while DICE and EA try and clear up the mess. 

 All of those are nothing compared to the fact that Battlefield 4's launch was so bad, EA are now being sued by their own shareholders over allegations that upper management knew the game would be unfinished at launch, and tried to cash-in their shares before release. With pre-release hype being only bolstered by the launch of new consoles, the allegations are that EA's top level brass tried to sell around $7 million worth of shares to cash in on hype, before anyone could realise just how incomplete the game was. 

 When your own shareholders aren't just complaining, but are actively taking you to court over how bad your game is, then you've made a singularly spectacular and unique 
fuck up. Which is to say nothing, of course, by the thousands upon thousands of gamers who have essentially paid money for a game that was apparently never put through quality assurance, and is a buggy, broken piece of shit that should have never been put out on sale. People paid hard-earned money for this game, and EA took that money, bent over and gave those people a giant steaming turd in response. 

 In fact, EA don't just win the 2013 Best Fuck-Up Award for Battlefield 4. Oh no. To respect the fact that they had not one, but two games of their own in the running for this award, and in recognition of the many fuck-ups they have made throughout this generation (including but not exclusive to Mass Effect 3's rushed ending, Spore, selling the same FIFA game with nothing more than a title swap and a roster update, the recent MoH games, closing Pandemic Studios among many others), the judges are proud to present EA with the Lifetime Award in Recognition of Consecutive Fuck-Ups Made Over the Years. An award which honours the singular legacy of one of the most consistently anti-consumer, anti-quality publishers out there. I know that EA will proudly display this award on their shelf, alongside the bones of Westwood Studio and the collected tears of KOTOR fans. 

Well done, EA. Just... well done...

Sure, I said the follow up to the Most Average White Male Award would be Most Excessive Cleavage In A Female Character, but that one's taking a little while to put together. Differences in opinion amongst the judges, if you will. So in the mean time, let's skip past that one and go straight to one of the most highly sought after awards:

Best Cancelled Game of 2013

In the words of the great Ernest Hemingway- "If ifs and buts were candies and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas". Nothing generates interest, speculation and even anger amongst the gaming community like a cancelled game. The promise of what might have been, the sense of expectation and hope, often coupled with the crushing disappointment of what a game actually is when presented before our eyes. Cancelled games allow us to project our desires and dreams onto the gaming industry, to allow our imaginations to soar like the wings of Icarus, thinking about what revolutionary new features this game or that game may have brought if only given the chance. Cancelled games are the ones that fly too close to the sun, the games where grand ideas and brave new visions are held briefly aloft among the clouds, before falling to the earth in a pile of feathers. 

 It is because of those grand visions, those lofty dreams, that I am proud to present the award for Best Cancelled Videogame of 2013. But again, before we reveal the winner, here are the other nominees:

Star Wars 1313, Lucasarts

Why it was nominated: Oh, the tears that this game caused. Upon its reveal, this game created some major waves in the community. Not only did it look like a genuine effort by Lucasarts to start making quality Star Wars games again after the so-so Force UNleashed games and terrible Star Wars Kinect. It was also widely reputed to be one of the first examples of a game running on Next-Gen hardware. Those silky animations, those textures, those set-pieces... this was how games would look on the next generation of consoles. And that premise: you're a bounty hunter, chasing down targets in the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the Star Wars universe. Not just any bounty hunter either, but a young Boba Fett. 

 Sadly, it was not to be. After Lucasarts was purchased by Disney, they wasted no time in shutting the company down, cancelling all internal projects and offloading all Star Wars game development to EA. All we have now are those scant few minutes of footage, and our wounded hearts.

Why it didn't win: Because despite all the broo-ha-ha with Disney and Lucasarts, it's impossible to say whether this game is truly dead, or just Tupac and Elvis dead. We all know those two are out there somewhere, and thanks to Disney's licensing deal with EA, there's a chance this game is still alive to, just living under a different address. One of the first announcements EA made after the deal was inked was that they'd moved DICE onto development for Battlefront III, a game Lucasarts had struggled with for years. However unlikely it is, we may just get a similar announcement a year or two down the road that Visceral, DICE or even Bioware have taken the reigns on 1313. Sad as I am to say it, EA are our only hope. 

Aliens: Crucible, Obsidian

Why it was nominated: Although technically the game wasn't cancelled in 2013, it was only this year, after the aftermath of Colonial Marines, that the community was even made aware it had ever existed. An action-horror RPG developed by Obsidian, makers of new Vegas and KOTOR II, based around the Alien franchise. What could be more perfect? What makes the sting even harsher is that we got to see footage of the game in action, and it looked great. Far, far better than the crushing disappointment that was the final version of Colonial Marines, with added RPG goodness. 

And the real kicker? The game was finished back in 2010. Completed. Ready to go. SEGA cancelled a finished game so that they could instead focus on Colonial Marines, which ironically ended up being unfinished in every possible way. It's enough to make you scream, even if no-one can hear you. 

Why it didn't win: Because while we only learned about the game this year, thanks to Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquheart, the reality is that the game was cancelled three years ago. We could have had this game three fucking years ago, and we never even knew until after Colonial Marines shit the proverbial bed. 

Streets Of Rage, Ruffian Games

Why it was nominated: Before you call me out on it, I'm not talking about the original Streets of Rage, a game that clearly made it through production and went on to influence an entire genre. I am, in fact, talking about the modern, 3D reboot that was in the works by Crackdown 2 developers Ruffian Games, at the behest of publisher Sega. 

Pretty colourful, right? There's plenty of nods to the classic games, and enough retro neon lighting to make your eyes bleed. The entire prototype was put together in about eight weeks, and was supposed to lead onto a full-on game. Sadly, Sega decided that they were going to hunker down on Sonic and Football Manager games, and this game was one of the casualties. While the combat looks a little ropey, I'm pretty sure with a full two years of development, this could have turned into something pretty special. 

Why it didn't win: As impressive as the footage is for a mere eight weeks work, it simply doesn't inspire the same kind of longing or regret that 1313 and Crucible do. We'll never know how good a full reboot could have been, just that this design pitch had a lot of potential. 

The Last Guardian, Team Ico

Why it was nominated: Until Sony actually comes out and says this game is coming out soon, we'd all be better off to just accept that it's dead, and move on with our lives.

Why it didn't win: Because as healthy as it would be for us to all move on, Sony keeps hinting that there's life in the damn game yet. And that just makes it so hard for us to stop hoping...

 And with that, the winner of Best Cancelled Game of 2013 is:

Ashes Cricket 2013, Trickstar Games

Why this game won: For the sole reason that it takes something truly special for a publisher to cancel a game after it's already been released, and that is exactly what 505 did with Ashes 2013. A game which is simultaneously so bad its publisher cancelled it, yet which actually made it to retail and can be experienced by the consumer. No other cancelled game this year managed to drag its sorry carcass to the finish line in such a pitiful fashion, and for dropping the ball so spectacularly, it has to get the award. 

Join us next time as we present the award for Most Overuse Of Blue And Orange in a Videogame.