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TitusGroan's blog

7:36 AM on 09.12.2014

Paul McCartney is crap. Better pop songs that should have been used in games...

So, have you heard that new song Paul McCartney recorded for Destiny? It's a bit crap. Vacuous lyrics about nothing in particular, dull arrangement, and for some reason every instrument is drenched in enough reverb to make even My Bloody Valentine jealous. Still, at the very least being part of the soundtrack to 2014's Big AAA Gaming Event will give Macca a boost of relevance he's not seen since the early days of Wings, and a shot at actually selling records to young kids again for the first time in forever. It's certainly a  step up from his previous attempt at being on the cultural pulse, flogging a collection of po-faced jingles through Starbucks. 

Pop song tie-ins are a funny phenomenon. A good pop song used well can elevate a scene with its placement. Stuck In The Middle With You. Where Is My Mind. The End. If you're even moderately aware of film, hearing those songs mentioned will likely bring up some iconic cinema moments. Gaming is a little trickier.  Since ascending to the upper echelons of contemporary pop culture, we've seen publishers take a much more conservative stance. Classic pop songs tend to just be used for trailers (see Black Ops' use of Gimme Shelter), and any pop song featured in a game tends to be something contemporary that record companies are looking to promote. When FF XIII was released, for instance, Square decided that the game itself wasn't enough of a punishment for long-time franchise fans, and gave us an equally tedious Leona Lewis tie-in single to promote the game/punish our ears with. Mirror's Edge made heavy use of Still Alive, a pop song by Lisa Miskovsky, whose accompanying video was essentially a demo reel for the game's art and graphics department. EA tends to use its various racing franchises and sports games as an advertising billboard for whatever artists major labels are looking to flog currently, complete with pop up label notes. Every now and then you'll get a game like Spec Ops, which used classic songs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Mogwai in-game to help set mood, but those games tend to be fewer and further between. Licensing music can be expensive, and most publishers would rather use licensing as part of some form of promotion or advertising, rather than just for a game's own improvement. 

 It's a shame. Because every now and then, you'll find a game and a song that feel like they just belong perfectly together. Paul McCartney's guff may seem awkwardly shoehorned in over the Destiny credits, but a Daft Punk B-side from the Tron Legacy soundtrack? Or a new Glitch Mob single with spacey synths and punding drums? That could have been awesome. Well, in the name of imagination, here are some other examples of music and game that really should have got married somewhere along the line, and never did.

Bayonetta & David Bowie

Just to be clear, Bayonetta already has a phenomenal soundtrack. Platinum generally don't fuck around when it comes to getting good music to go with their games, whether it be the Nu-Metal guilty pleasure of MGR's soundtrack or the bombastic fanfare of Wonderful 101, and Bayo is no different. But if the game soundtrack was missing one teensy little thing, it was a bit of the Bowie. Think about it: Bayonetta is an extremely self-assured, sexually adventurous, extroverted Umbran Witch who enjoys nothing more than putting on a spectacular show for everyone. David Bowie is an extremely self-assured, sexually adventurous, extroverted musician from Brixton who enjoys nothing more than putting on a spectacular show for everyone. The two were made for each other. And just to seal the deal: Bayonetta prances around the game with the grace and athleticism of a prize dancer. No, seriously. A lot of her moves were actually based on dance moves. And we all know what Bowie thinks of dancing:

Magic Dance is a song about how dancing is quite literally magical. Bayonetta is a magical Witch who dances. The two go together like Red Bull and Jagermeister. Plus, the full song has a bitching guitar solo, and the ever-present associated image of Bowie's Labyrinth-era bulge, a picture that fits right in with Bayonetta's aggressive, in-your-face approach to sexuality. Next time you play Bayo, turn down the volume and stick this song over your speakers. Heck, put on the video in a Yotube tab or something. The combined crotch-in-face imagery of Bowie and Bayonetta will make your eyes water.  Or should that be Bowienetta? 

The Last of Us & REM

The Last Of Us is a dour, serious game about big, meaty themes. It is Scrunched Furrows: The Game. REM were a chirpy band who made upbeat college radio hits with strummy guitar parts and singalong choruses. You might think the two couldn't be more different. But that's the key. Not only does It's The End Of The World cover apocalyptic themes, it does so in a way which would provide TLOU with artistic cred that no-one could deny: dissonance. Think how many famous films have contrasted chirpy or major-key music with scenes of quite horrible violence or sadness: Resevoir Dogs, Wall-E, Dr Strangelove... if you want to be recognised as a Big Artistic Deal, soundtrack dissonance is almost a requirement. TLOU may have won 200 GOTY awards. Think how many it would have won if it had REM playing over the sight of Joel cracking skulls in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. 

All of them. It would have won all the GOTY awards. Including the one Gamespot gave to A Link Between Worlds. Speaking of Zelda...

Skyward Sword & Tom Petty

There's no thematic subtext or anything fancy here. Skyward Sword is a game where you go skydiving in order to find your bird. Free Falling is a song where the main chorus hook is "I'M FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!/FREEE FAAAAALLLIIIIING!" Nintendo wouldn't even need to include the whole song, just that chorus anytime you jumped off Skyloft would have been fine. 

...heck, Link could even pass as an anime fantasy version of a young Tom Petty.

Wolfenstein & Tool

A more obvious reader would perhaps have thought of Rammstein as the go-to music for Wolfenstein's Nazi killing madness. For me, Die Eier Von Satan is a far better match. It's a thumping piece of industrial clatter so full of gristle you could choke a donkey on it. It's fstuffed with ominous German that sounds sinister as hell, complete with crowd chants and rally cheers. It's even got Satan in the title. If early-90s iD was a band rather than a game developer, this is the sort of music they'd be making. 

 And as any Tool fan knows, in a wonderfully meta-twist, Die Eier Von Satan is actually a rather comical song. The German heard in the song is singer Maynard reciting a recipe for cookies from a German cook book. The industrial sounds and rallies chanting are simply put in there to make aural allusions to Nazism that don't exist, and the Satan in the title is just there to make things sound more evil. It's a wonderful example of a band encouraging listeners to hear things in a song that aren't there. In practise, the song is about as pro-Nazi as Eisenhower. Which makes it a perfect fit with Wolfenstein, a game that has had no small amount of controversy regarding violence, but which at the end of the day has said nothing more confrontational than Nazis are evil, dabbling in the occult is dangerous, and robot Hitler should be destroyed. A message I think any right-minded person can get behind.  

Especially this guy...

Super Mario & Queen

...wait, someone already did it? Dash nab it! Ah well, nothing better than confirmation of how well the creative genius of EAD Tokyo and the mercurial sound of Freddie & Co go together. Enjoy!

The Wonderful 101 & The Beatles

Because dramatic irony is a wonderful thing. I Want To Hold Your Hand is a song by the Beatles where Lennon and Macca sing about how much they want to hold your hand. That's pretty much the lyrical entirety of the song, in fact. Whereas The Wonderful 101 is a game which makes clear from the outset that it does not want to hold your hand. At all. Not even a little bit. Not even a pinkie. Tutorials are for the weak, and essential abilities like Dodge should be bought from the shop. If you want hand-holding in your hackey-slash games, go play DmC, or God Of War, or something. Kamiya cares not for your feeble cries for tutorials, the Wonderful 101 is a game for only the hardest of the hardcore! 

Of course, W101 is such an insane game that you could equally choose Happy Mondays to play over it, and it would still be just as fitting. 

                                               "Twenty four hour party people!"

So there you go. A bunch of games with pop songs that would fit like a velvet glove. If that's not enough to cleanse your mind of Paul McCartney's earnest gurning in Destiny... well, I've heard good things about prozac recently. Go try it out. Or just listen to some prime Marty O'Donnell, and just be glad that Mick Jagger never got to foist a comback single into any of the Halo games. 


1:56 PM on 09.08.2014

My unfavourite game: Morrowind

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...


6:46 AM on 09.01.2014

How stuff works Part 1: Editorial and Advertising

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.   read

6:23 PM on 03.21.2014

In defence of Microsoft and their console business...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7:11 PM on 02.27.2014

The Present: Titus presents a VG Remix (music music music)

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5:06 PM on 12.21.2013

GOTY Awards 2013: Best Fuck-Up by a Developer or Publisher

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...   read

11:48 AM on 12.20.2013

GOTY Awards 2013: Best Cancelled Game

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.   read

3:55 PM on 12.18.2013

GOTY Awards 2013: Most Average White Male Character in a Videogame

Yep, everyone else is getting in on it, so I thought I may as well jump in too. It's time to look back over the past year, take in all that gaming has achieved, then hand out a bunch of random awards based on completely arbitrary criteria and subjective opinions. It'll all amount to nothing, but with any luck we'll get a few good arguments along the way. 

 So with that out of the way, it's time to present the award for:

 The Most Average White Male Character in a Videogame 2013.

It takes something special to be truly average. True mediocrity is hard to achieve, and nowhere is this clearer to see than character design. Over the years, we've seen developers try time and again to achieve that highest of aims- the relatable, generic, average white male. The character that the largest demographic of gamers can relate to, and therefore project themselves on to. It's an impossibly tricky thing to do. One badly placed eye-patch, cheeky mullet, or pair of geeky science glasses, and your ho-hum character has gone from being average schlub to an iconic piece of design. 

Some people might say that unique, inventive, creative character design and solid gameplay are all you need to be able to immerse yourself in a character. They may even point to atypical character designs like Samus Aran, Spyro The Dragon or Oddworld's Abe to bolster their argument. These people are wrong. Immersion is clearly about how much like real-life you a videogame character is, and the law of gaming demographics therefore states that a caucasian, early-mid 30s looking, stubbly man is the most average character design, and therefore the best. And 2013 did not disappoint. Developers really stepped up to the plate to give us some truly average character designs, so that us white dudes could play their games without making our brains work too hard. 

Before we reveal the winner, here are the nominations for Most Average White Male in a Videogame 2013:

- Booker Dewitt, Bioshock Infinite

Why he was nominated: This cover from Bioshock Infinite truly ticks all the boxes when it comes to the AWM category. The designer stubble is present, and is neither too rough or too smooth. The hair is the perfect length of average: neither too long to be misconstrued as overly hippy or liberal, nor so short he could be mistaken for a skinhead or other far-right type. The jowls are just defined enough to give the perfect brooding, determined expression, whilst not being so defined that they could alienate younger players. He even has a shotgun resting on his shoulder, just to blend even more into the AWM videogame crowd. 

Why he didn't win: Sadly, as truly average as this cover design is, the game itself stays in Booker's perspective, robbing you of the chance to take in how phenomenally unphenomenal he looks. Without the box art and that TV trailer, it would be difficult to know at all just how average Dewitt really looks, and it is on that crucial hurdle that Infinite stumbles. Well, that, and telling a coherent story...

Joel, The Last Of Us

Why he was nominated: One game that certainly has no issues with showing you your AWM lead character is The Last Of Us. While Joel is creeping into the wrong side of middle aged, he still otherwise has all the hallmarks of a standout AWM. He has the sort of face-fuzz that would make him relatable to many a nerd in the gaming community, and a well trimmed head of hair that suggests even when society has utterly fallen apart, there will still be hair dressers to give out mediocre haircuts. His fashion sense never seems to waver from canvas shirts and jeans, the most everyman of everyman looks, and his skin is the perfect shade of pale to suggest that he's been out in the sun a fair bit, whilst making sure we know he is most definitely white, not black, asian, indian or latino. This isn't surprising, of course. Naughty Dog already have pedigree in this particular area, with Uncharted's Nathan Drake being AWM winner for both 2007 and 2009.

Why he didn't win: Sadly, as hard as Naughty Dog's art team worked to make Joel the most non-descript of average joes, their writers threw a spanner in the works by making him a genuinely well written character with harrowing backstory and emotional turmoil, and starring in one of the best narratives of the year. Dead family members, paternalism and existential angst in the face of a zombie apocalypse are just not the sort of things your average gamer can relate to, and it is on that note that TLOU snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

Mario, Super Mario 3D World

Why he was nominated: Because Nintendo designed him to be the sort of relatable, non-descript avatar that gamers can easily project themselves onto. It's their mission statement. It's his entire reason for being. He even has a trope on TV Tropes named after him for that very reason. The jack of all stats, master of none. He has the brown hair and blue eyes, the everyday overalls of a tradesman complete with work boots... Nintendo even went above and beyond by clearly giving him a bit of podge around the middle, elevating him even further into the realm of the average than other AWM characters who somehow also have Olympian figures. I'm sure an overwhelming number of gamers can identify with any character who carries around a bit of tummy luggage. Not me, because my body is lithe, chiselled perfection, but for the rest of you lazy slobs...

Why he didn't win: Firstly, because of that moustache. While facial stubble is the in-thing now, prominent moustaches are the domain only of university professors, bank managers and hipsters. Without that moustache, Mario would be the pinnacle of forgettable blandness. With it, he instantly alienates himself from the majority of stubbly neckbeards too lazy to engage in a bit of facial maintenance. 

 Secondly, because at one point he was officially more recognised amongst American children than Mickey Mouse, and anyone more recognisable than Mickey fucking Mouse must be doing something good in the character design department. 

 Thirdly, because all jokes aside, he's Mario. An Italian plumber who lives in a kingdom of talking mushrooms, is banging royalty, solves problems through jumping really high and has a giant dragon-turtle for a nemesis. You'd have to be knee deep in LSD at a Hawkwind gig to find that in any way relatable. 

 And with that, the winner is...

Sam Fisher, Splinter Cell Blacklist

It's one thing to make an average white male character. It's another thing entirely to retroactively take a beloved character, and turn them into an AWM. For the sheer audacity of taking one of stealth gaming's most iconic, honey-voiced characters and turning him into beige wallpaper, Ubisoft deserve the gong for Blacklist. 

 To truly understand why Blacklist won, you have to understand who Sam Fisher once was. 

Back in the days of classic Splinter Cell, Fisher was a stocky, imposing figure who was clearly approaching retirement age, and had facial wrinkles so deep you could go spelunking in them, and a jaw strong enough to pump iron. He was an OG badass, and the games repeatedly made point of the fact that he was an old-timer getting further and further out of touch with the youth of today and the high tech shenanigans of the modern world. Not only did he look old and imposing, but he was voiced by the aural perfection that is Michael Ironside. Every line he uttered was an exercise in smooth, velvety bass. Every snarky aside, every sarcastic quip, delivered with gravelly octaves so low they could make your speakers rumble. Those old haggard looks and that delicious voice all served to make Fisher the most memorable character of the Tom Clancy games, and able to go toe to toe with Solid Snake in the forums.

 Blacklist's Fisher is allegedly the same character and has all the same traits, but he also doesn't look a day over thirty-five, has a voice so unidentifiable it could be covered in blood and still slip through an identity parade, and all the imposing nature of a saggy balloon. Fisher has gone from being one of the most identifiable characters of the seventh gen, to someone who could easily blend into any office meeting, canteen or hardware shop without note. He's so average looking he could jump into your car unannounced, tell you he was doing the car pool you'd forgotten about, and you'd probably believe him. 

 For such an incredible redesign from iconic to beige, Blacklist wins the 2013 award for Most Average White Male hands down. 


 Join us again soon as we present the next 2013 GOTY award: Most Needlessly Excessive Cleavage in a Female Character.   read

4:40 PM on 12.10.2013

How zombies ate the brains of the gaming industry

Zombies are a weird thing. The idea of them has been around for ages, they helped kickstart the new wave of horror film-making back in the Sixties, and yet it feels like its only comparatively recently that they took over the world of popular culture. Ever since 28 Days Later came out, the world has gone zombie mad, and right now they're on every street corner of mainstream culture, shambling in their hordes into our films, TV shows, and into our videogames. They're everywhere. 

Of course, in reality zombies have been a big part of gaming for a while now, arguably ever since Resident Evil kicked off the survival horror phenomenon, if not before. But even with that in mind, it seems like zombies have become more prevalent than ever in gaming. Just this weekend we had Dying Light showcased on the VGX awards with its sledgehammer-wielding undead madness. Dead Rising 3 is one of the most high profile launch titles for the Xbox One. Dead Island managed to get both fame and notoriety for its portrayal of zombies in its pre-release material. Valve managed their own take on the co-op shooter formula with the Left 4 Dead games. Ubisoft released Zombi U as a (underrated) Wii U launch title. Even Call Of Duty has gotten in on the craze. One of the biggest additions Treyarch made to their iterations was to add a zombie mode in World At War, a mode than has gone on to define their take on the franchise. And this is ignoring zombie long-runners like the Resident Evil franchise. 

 So why are they so popular? Even with popular culture and appeal being what it is, why have so many developers decided to jump on the zombie bandwagon? What is it about them that's so appealing to gamers?

 Well actually, if you look at things from a design perspective, it's not about what's appealing to gamers, but what's appealing to game designers. 

 See, here's the thing about zombies: they're stupid. Mindless. The literal definition of braindead. They shuffle around slowly and aimlessly, and when they see a living person with warm brains inside their head, they shuffle/lurch/sprint towards them with nary a secodn thought for their own well being. 

 For a game designer, that's golden. 

 Game design is reaching a funny crossroads. We've already seen developers struggling with the rising cost of graphics and visuals, and that's causing all sorts of problems of its own which I won't go into here. but there are other obstacles developers are having to overcome, and one of the big ones is AI. you see, a lot of gamers seem to have this notion that with improved hardware specs, artificial intelligence in games will sort of just magically improve on its own. "Oh, see, this console has an octo-core CPU, just think of what that will do for AI". It's as if by scaling the hardware upwards, gaming AI will scale itself upwards with it. 

 As it happens, that's not the case. AI in games is actually just about the hardest, most difficult thing to program. You're a good developer if you can get enemies to merely act convincing, and you're a goddamn rare developer if you can actually fool your players into thinking the enemies are smart. The reason for this is because of how AI is coded. You can't just program AI to do whatever you want, how you want. You have to program it with incredibly basic instructions, instructions which basically amount to "If___ then___". There is no grand coding solution for getting an enemy soldier to intelligently lay down suppressing fire while another enemy flanks the player. If a developer is able to do that in game, its only because the developer was able to write down enough "If___ then___" instructions for such a thing to occur. Bear in mind, it takes a lot of those sorts of instructions just to make a Goomba-type enemy react to the player character in a 2D platformer. In a 3D shooter, you're talking about having to create an incredibly complicated script, made up of thousands of incredibly basic "If___ then___" instructions in order to create even the illusion of basic intelligence and self-preservation. 

 It's a lot of work. A huge amount. And no matter how better specs get, if developers are still having to work within a two year development schedule, then there's only so much they can do before they reach the productivity ceiling. Gamers are demanding more advanced AI, in that lovable gamer way, but it is getting more and more difficult for developers to live up to those demands. 

 What does that have to do with zombies? Well actually, it's quite simple. As already discussed, zombies are not intelligent. They act in very predictable, basic fashion, and exhibit none of the behavioural traits we would expect from a living person. And because of that, they're exponentially easier to program. 

 In a convincing first-person shooter, you need to program any enemies in the game to realistically take cover when shot at, have a demonstrable understanding of how to navigate the level, know how to avoid getting stuck on the scenery, shoot at the player without being too accurate, and work together with any other enemies in the area. With a zombie, all you have to do is get them to lurch towards the player, because that is all the player expects from a zombie. You don't need to program them to work together. You don't need to program them to shoot weapons. You don't even need to program them to take cover if they're shot at. in fact, all those things would serve to make a worse zombie game, because the player would not be able to believe they're shooting at zombies if they exhibited such behaviour. 

 Can you perhaps see why more and more developers are choosing to make zombie games now, and why we're inundated with so many of the bloody things? Making a convincing zombie game requires significantly less AI programming, pathfinding and such than a game with intelligent human/alien/demonic enemies, and is therefore much less hassle for the developers. A shooter with dumb human enemies will get poor reviews for the lack of AI. A shooter with dumb zombies? That's expected. 

 That doesn't mean that games with zombies in are lesser than those without. On the contrary, in fact. If you want to make a game that will stand the tests of time, that will be looked back on as a milestone of interactivity, as one of the all time greats.... stick some zombies in. Seriously. Let's take a look. 

First, let's start off with the original Resident Evil. 

One of the original Playstation's killer apps, and the game that kicked off survival horror. While it's aged somewhat now, it's regularly held up as one of the most innovative games ever made, even if the story was a bit of a jill sandwich. What's it about? Zombies. Not magical undead zombies, true, but zombies nonetheless. You're in a mansion, trying to hide and survive from a man-made zombie horde. We'll come back to this franchise in a bit, but for now suffice to say that zombies made this game what it is: one of the most important games in the entire history of the medium. 

 Alright, so that's one game. Surely they can't be all that important though, right? 



 Yep, good ol' Half-Life. The Greatest FPS Ever Made[sup]TM[/sup]. The game that redefined the genre. That changed how narrative could be told in an interactive setting. What do you spend most of the game doing? 

Shooting headcrab zombies. 

Now, you could argue that headcrabs aren't real zombies, more people possessed by the Valve equivalent of a facehugger. You could argue that... but it would be balls. In terms of their behaviour and actions, headcrabs are pure zombies. They lurch around, then slouch towards Freeman as soon as they catch sight of him. Functionally they're no different from zombies in any other game, and as such they most definitely count. Most of Half-Life, for all mysterious sci-fi trappings and cool atmosphere, is a zombie shooter. And it's not the only FPS acclaimed amongst the best of all time to fall into that category...

It really cannot be overstated the effect Halo had on gaming. While Goldeneye and Perfect Dark has showed that FPS games could be done on consoles, Halo was the one to create the template which is still used today. It set the bar for console shooters, pretty much carried the OG Xbox singlehandedly, and with the second instalment created one of the all-time definitive multiplayer experiences. It set players on an alien world full of atmosphere, had them facing colourful aliens who were (for the time) frighteningly intelligent, and gave them all sorts of neat toys to play with.

 Which makes it all the stranger when the game reveals the Flood halfway through, and the game becomes a zombie shooter. The Flood would go on to dominate the first three games, pushing the Covenant more and more to the sidelines, until Bungie finally said ENOUGH and excised them from the series with the franchise prequel, Halo Reach. And yet, looking back, the Flood defined the Halo series just as much as the Covenant. The entire story of the first three games is an epic journey to halt the Flood before they wipe out the galaxy of sentient life. Their spores are in every part of the franchise's DNA, and they even live on in Halo 4 with the Prometheans, braindead bullet spongey enemies who can respawn on the battlefield and tend to just charge headlong at the player. The game even has a multiplayer mode where players become Flood and try to infect each other. 

 OK, so Zombies were a key part of some of the most important FPS games ever. What about third person shooters? Well... 

There's a reason I'm mentioning Resident Evil 4 separate from Resi 1 or the rest of the franchise. The same generation that Halo came out and redefined console FPS games, Resident Evil 4 came out and not only  redefined the RE franchise, it redefined action games. When best-ever-games lists are drawn up, this game always sits near the top. It created the over-the-shoulder viewpoint used by games like Gears, pioneered the use of in-game action commands that games like Uncharted went on to commandeer, and provided some of the slickest, tightest game design ever seen in a blockbuster release. Everything from the level design to the reload animations was slick as hell, and the game still stands as one of the best action games ever. What do you do in it? Being a RE game, you kill zombies, this time while trying to save the President's daughter. The game's mechanics were designed entirely around the idea of shooting down zombie hordes as they lurch, jump and run towards you, and in that regard it is peerless. 

 OK Titus, I hear you say, so zombies have been important in action games, but they're all about shooting anyway. You're not going to tell me that sticking zombies in a story based game, a game about characters and emotions, is going to make it one of the most critically acclaimed games ever, right?

 Yeah, about that...

 The Walking Dead is a funny game. It came out of nowhere in 2012, with barely any hype, and by the end of the year had made off with every GOTY award going. As it turns out, adding zombies can apparently make a story better. Telltale did so, and created a story where the player was forced to make heartwrenching choices. While it's a 'game' in the same way a David Cage game is, it still managed to marry interactivity and storytelling in a way that caused many gamers to well up like babies in an onion factory. It became the focal point of storytelling in games, and even the Games As Art debate, and is probably the most unanimously acclaimed game of last year. 

 Ok, you say, so that's just one game. An outlier. An oddity. The outcome of a perfect combination of chance factors: timing, marketing, and reception. It's not as if you could put out another story-based game about zombies and expect the same thing to happen, right? 


The Last Of Us. ladies and gentlemen. One of the best reviewed games not only of this year, but of the entire generation. The Game Of The Generation, if you believe some of the reviews. Where TWD stole the GOTY crown last year, TLOU did for many this year. What's it about? Well, it's much like Resident Evil 4: you escort a young girl through a brown-and-grey hellhole while shooting zombies in the face. Where it beats RE4, of course, is in its narrative focus, telling a heartbreaking tale full of mature ideas, dark themes and horrible betrayals. It's the crowning jewel in the PS3 library, if you believe the hype, and it is fundamentally a game about zombies. Ok, so it's also about other stuff like the human will to survive, hope, and other existential bollocks, but fundamentally its about zombies.  

See? All these games are regularly hailed as amongst the very best of all time, and they've all got zombies. Is it any wonder the gaming industry has gone zombie mad? They're easy to program, and are statistically likely to get you GOTY awards, and all the sales that go with them. 

 I have no idea what next year's overall GOTY will be, but I'll hazard a guess that it will likely feature zombies in some fashion. We just love them too much not to have them. They're braindead shooting fodder, though provoking story material, and everything inbetween. We've already got two zombie games out for the new 'current' generation (Zombi U and Dead Rising 3), another one on the way (Dying Light) and who knows what else on the horizon.

 Just like how comics ended up being defined by superheroes, perhaps games will end up being defined not by military brown shooters, nor peppy platformers starring plumpy plumbers, but by zombies. They'll be our medium's Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman all rolled into one shambling, moaning horde. Isn't that a fun thought?   read

1:29 PM on 11.12.2013

Why Middle Earth just isn't right for videogames...


Ages past, in the younger days of the world when the willow meads were green and the river waters ran cl-Ah, sod this for a game of soldiers!

So Warner Bros have announced a new game based on the Lord Of The Rings property, Shadow Of Mordor. It's an interquel between The Hobbit and LOTR, based around the idea of a possessed Ranger walking around Mordor, and looks to be taking all sorts of liberties with the source material. 

This isn't exactly shocking stuff. When they got hold of the rights to LOTR and the Hobbit, Warner Bros also got the rights to make any game they want based on those properties, so it's not surprising they'd want to try and capitalise on that. There's an interesting legal quirk at play here though. Although they have the rights to LOTR and the Hobbit, WB don't have the rights to The Silmarillion, which are firmly held by the Tolkien Estate. What makes this interesting is that most of the interesting backstory and the most over-the-top awesome parts of Middle Earth history happen within the Silmarillion. The wars involving armies of dragons, and dozens of balrogs piling into renowned heroes, and entire continents being sunk... all of that is legally out of their reach. Meaning WB are locked into using the same slice of history over and over again for their films and games, a period of history lasting around one hundred years or so. Hence why The War In The North was a rather bland take on some fan-fiction northern conflict happening during the War of the Ring, and why Shadows of Mordor is similar fan-fiction set between The Hobbit and LOTR. That's the only bit of the sandbox WB have got to play in. 

 It doesn't really change anything though. Even if Warner Bros had license to use as much backstory as possible, and to set their games in whatever part of Middle Earth history they liked, it would still be a poor fit. Yes, dragon wars and all. And that's simply because the Middle Earth setting really isn't suited for Fantasy games the way we're used to them. 

 'But Titus' you say, 'Lord Of The Rings is the reason we have fantasy games in the first place. Without it there wouldn't be any Dungeons And Dragons, no Ultima, no Dragon Quest, no Zelda, no Elder Scrolls... how can a series which has directly influenced so many games be a bad fit for gaming itself?' Pipe down, young hobbits, and I shall tell you. 

 You see, the problem is that many of the tropes we take for granted in Fantasy gaming are tropes which were either subversions of stuff found in LOTR, or tropes that LOTR itself subverted. Gary Gygax and co are on record as saying that Middle Earth inspired them directly to create D&D, but when you look at the game and its rules, they still had to change a shitload of stuff just to turn it into some kind of playable game setting. As such, the following are just a few reasons why I think Middle Earth itself is a poor fit for videogaming:

The lack of wizards

Ask yourself this: how many wizards, or Istari to give them their proper name, are there in Middle Earth? 


If you answered five, you are correct. Across the entire continent of Middle Earth, there are only five Wizards with the ability to wield magic. Or to put it another way, the number of wizards in Middle Earth is slightly less than the number of women in The Pussycat Dolls. And as if that's not bad enough, according to the backstory, two of them fucked off into the East not long after they landed in Middle Earth and were never heard from again. And that gives you three. Three wizards to count for the entirety of wizardry in Middle Earth.

 Three may very well be the magic number, but it's also not very big.

 It's kind of a recurring trope in Middle Earth. Lord Of The Rings has a reputation for starting off the Swords And Wizardry brand of High Fantasy, but it's actually a lot more Game Of Thronesey in its approach than many people realise. Magic is a pretty rare thing. The people of Rohan don't really believe in it, and the Hobbits of the Shire have never even seen it. Only three men in Middle Earth have the ability to wield it, and even then they tend to be a bit reluctant about it. Outside of the wizards you have the occasional Elf who can use magic too, but only if they're A) really, really old, and B) really really really powerful. Elrond, Galadriel and Glorfindel are the only Elves shown in the story with any sort of explicit magical power, and between them they're pretty much the United Nations of Elfdom.

 This is a problem, because wizards are so prevalent in Fantasy games if for no other reason than gameplay. Think about the fundamental choice you have to make starting any WRPG: do you want to roll warrior, thief or mage? The Elder Scrolls games each have Mages Guilds where you can go and learn about magic, Hogwarts style, among dozens of other magic students. Magic has always been the alternative gameplay option for those who don't want to mash the sword attack button all the time.

 There are probably more wizards in the first town in Morrowind than there are in the entire history of Middle Earth. That's a genuine problem, because it means any game set in Middle Earth is being presented a choice right from the start- do you let players create wizard characters, and thereby go against the lore of the setting, or do you ban magic characters and thereby remove one of the biggest draws of Fantasy gaming in the first place?

 And even if you decide to include wizard-type characters, there's one other magic-related problem that rears its head.

 Magic is really, really weird and really, really ambiguous in Middle Earth.

And I don't mean ambiguous in a Freddie Mercury sort of way.

Time to answer another question: Gandalf is a pretty awesome Wizard, and arguably the go-to example in popular culture. Moreso than Dumbledore or Harry Potter, or possibly even Merlin, he is the archetypal image of a beardy old dude wielding awesome arcane powers.

 What magic does he do in The Hobbit and LOTR? Bonus points if you differentiate between the book and the films. 

 As it turns out, not a huge amount. Gandalf's real power in The Hobbit and LOTR is basically giving rousing speeches and being a Mr Motivator to people around him. 

"Hey gang! Wizarding is so good for you! Are you ready!? Let me here you say YEAAAH!"

He doesn't actually do much magic, and even the magic he does is very understated. Nine times out of ten, he makes a light emit out of his staff and does things with that, like lighting up caves. In the books, once in a while he can be tempted to manipulate fire, but even then it's hardly Dumbledore levels of pyromania. In the Hobbit he lights pinecones on fire and throws them at attacking Wargs and Orcs. In The Fellowship (book), the most impressive thing he does is lob a burning branch into the top of a tree, then use his magic to make it set fire to all the other trees. You know, kind of like how fire works anyway, but a bit faster. 

 To reiterate, the second most awe-inspiring wizard in the entirety of Middle Earth is so powerful he can set pinecones on fire and throw them at his enemies. Let that sink in a bit. 

This item only equippable by Wizards Lv.50+ 

 Other than that, magic is pretty damn subtle. Gandalf uses it once in Fellowship purely for aesthetic value (adding a bunch of horses to a flash flood Elrond creates), engages in a light bit of telepathy while Frodo is unconscious, and breaks a stone bridge that was likely already struggling under the weight of a fifty tonne Balrog. Galadriel uses magic to slow down time in Lothlorien in a "I'm totally not slowing down time" sort of way. Saruman uses magic to basically up his Persuasion skill and charm people to do his bidding. And that's about it. Magic in Middle Earth is a rare, weird, ill-defined thing which seems to demand a huge amount of effort and willpower to achieve even small things, and which doesn't come with a clearly written manual or instruction guide.

 Compare that to how magic is treated in pretty much any Fantasy game ever. You get your mana meter which allows you to throw out as much magic as possible before swigging a magic potion. You get your lists of clearly defined spells such as Fireball, Levitate, Summon Skeleton and the like. And in a game like Zelda, you get so many magical items thrown at you its enough to start your own magical pawn shop. You stack spells based on their effectiveness, use them based on their clearly defined schools of usage, and make fireballs so big and firey they make flaming pinecones look like old cigarette butts by comparison.

 There's nothing wrong with that. Having clearly defined terms for magic in videogames allow gameplay mechanics and rules to be made much more robustly to accommodate it. It's why the D20 was invented in the first place. But that idea of a clearly laid out, easy to understand system of magic is completely at odds with how its treated in Middle Earth, where its only ever ambiguous at best. 

And speaking of ambiguity...

 - Middle Earth doesn't really do heroics.

This guy here is the closest thing LOTR has to a 'traditional' fantasy hero. Remember what happens?

It's weird, considering how influential it's been, but The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings really aren't all that big a part of the 'Heroic' school of fantasy, ie, fantasy where a traditional hero with a big sword and beard defeats evil and saves a buxom wench or two. That's more in line with the Conan stories written by Robert Howard. It's a school of fantasy which is perfectly suited for videogames. We get to create our perfect Fantasy hero, then go out and defeat the forces of evil with our accumulated strength and power. And if we get some T&A thrown in for our viewing pleasure, well, that just makes the fantasy so much more heroic. Dragon Age follows that trope. The Witcher has a darker but still broadly true take on the trope. Skyrim. Kingdoms Of Amalur. In each, you're encouraged to create a hero then go out and save the world with your awesome heroics. 'Lead the charge!' 'Defend the keep!' 'Hold the line!' 

Be honest. You shouted "BY CROM!" at least once while playing Skyrim. 

 That's not quite how things work with The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. In each story, the main heroes aren't characters who look like they were rolled off a D&D character creation sheet. They're not paladins or mages or spellswords. They're hobbits, who are pretty much as 'average Joe' as you can get. Sure, you have powerful warriors like Boromir and Aragorn, and powerful wizards like Gandalf, but at the end of the day, all the real hero stuff in both stories is done by characters who are more Arthur Dent than Arthur Dent himself. 

In more ways than one.

They're normal people with no combat experience, no magical abilities, no royal titles or lineage, and no desires more heroic than wanting to get five square meals a day. This was, surprise surprise, very deliberate on Tolkien's part. The Hobbit and LOTR stories are actually incredibly subversive works, in that they celebrate the heroism of normal, everyday people over the heroic archetypes often seen in the genre. At the end of the day, it's not Aragorn, Boromir, Gandalf, or any of the mighty warriors who save the world, but a bunch of everyday dudes who happen to be about four feet high and shitting themselves the entire way. 

 Even worse, traditional heroics in Middle Earth actually has a horrible tendency to get you killed. Aragorn was very lucky in that regard to make it through to the end of the story. The most obvious example (see above) is Boromir, who tries to kill Frodo after being overpowered by heroic fantasies of using the Ring to face Sauron head on, then subsequently gets taken down while trying to protect Merry and Pippin in a heroic stand against Saruman's forces. Then there's Theoden, who gets killed by the Witch King while fighting on the Pelennor Fields. His son, Theodred, got killed before the events of the books, leading the fight against the Uruk Hai in Rohan. In the backstory of the novels, Thror tries to single-handedly take back Moria for the Dwarves, and gets his head cut off and mutilated as a result, and his body fed to the crows. This then has the knock-on effect of causing the largest Dwarf-Orc massacre in history, with the Dwarves losing an obscene number of their own in a futile war. Faramir, just to mix things up, doesn't die in Return of The King, but he does take a poisoned arrow while leading a charge to free Osgiliath and spends the rest of the book sitting on the sidelines and hitting on Eowyn. 

 It's even worse when you read the Silmarillion, where a large number of the traditional 'Fantasy Hero' characters end up meeting surprisingly horrible fates. Hurin, one of the greatest heroes in Middle Earth history, gets captured by Morgoth, chained on top of a tower for several decades, then is set free to find pretty much his entire family dead. He ends up so distraught he chucks himself from the top of a ravine. His son, Turin, is another of Middle Earth's most renowned heroes, responsible for slaying Glaurung, the Father of Dragons. During his life, he also accidentally kills an elf, murders his best friend by mistake, then tops it all by unknowingly sleeping with his sister, and killing himself with his own sword when he finds out. 

And this guy thought he had it tough.

 To take things over to the Elves, look at Feanor. The most powerful Elf lord who ever existed, and who created the Silmarils after which the Silmarillion is named. He also was the first Elf to ever commit kinslaying, murdering the Teleri when they wouldn't let his army use their ships to reach Middle Earth, something his House would go on to commit twice more later on. The Silmarils he created ended up causing the longest, most bitter war seen in Middle Earth, and he himself ended up dying in battle surrounded by Balrogs, having ultimately failed in his mission to get them back from Morgoth. 

 The Middle Earth stories are (when you get to the marrow of it) surprisingly cynical, given their early place in the history of Fantasy. They show 'traditional' Fantasy heroism as, more often than not, leading to a cursed life, quick death, and possibly begetting even more violence along the way. Even Aragorn, the most noble and 'heroic' character in LOTR, actually leads a pretty horrible life living rough in the most inhospitable parts of Middle Earth. Again, this isn't by accident. Tolkien wasn't just a devout Catholic, he was also a survivor of the Somme, and knew first-hand just how horrible and scarring violence is in real life. It's why he made his main heroes everyday sorts of characters, like the people he knew in the trenches, rather than fitting them into the Conan mould that was already well known at the time. And it's why Middle Earth as a setting is problematic for games- the sort of characters responsible for saving the world in Tolkien's stories are exactly the sort of characters you can't easily form from a D&D sheet. No-one wants to roleplay the experience of being an everyday Joe, they want to be the hero with the big sword and the magic staff. And that's exactly what Middle Earth doesn't allow for. 

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a developer will come out with an interactive take on the Middle Earth setting which manages to both be true to the source material, and blow my socks off, but I don't see it. The sorts of fantasy games that are popular now are exactly the sorts of experiences which run counter to what Middle Earth is, and would require extensive rejigging of the rules laid out by Professor T. Which is why, instead of games focusing on loss of innocence, the growing presence of industrialisation, or the horror and sadness of war, we're seeing games where Rangers end up fused with Wraiths and wonder round Mordor killing Orcs for mad XP about sixty years before they're supposed to.   read

8:51 AM on 11.08.2013

The day I joined the master race, and got one hell of a paddling

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. 


 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.   read

1:57 PM on 09.23.2013

I wrote a radio play about Monster Hunter

Because why the hell not?

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

Act 1

Main characters: 

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: 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.

PT: ...Sonny.

SV: See? All the bitches.

PT: Sonny, these are all inflatable sex dolls you've dressed up to look like Mona Hunter. 

SV: ...what?

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.*    read

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