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9:08 AM on 05.14.2014

A letter to Microsoft

Dear Microsoft,

It’s great to see you release a cheaper version of your new next gen console, people like cheap and I’m sure shareholders love the idea of selling more hardware. However, I fear you haven’t realised the ramifications of this announcement.

After the Nintendo 64, Nintendo wasn’t an apt direct competitor for Sony or yourself. Nintendo noticed this, and tried to better their own unique identity i.e. Pushing their first party titles and crunching out the incredibly successful Wii. The Wii was huge because it was its own thing. The Kinect and Playstation Move were pitiful attempts at piggy-backing off the revolutionary Wii. There are a few reasons these products weren’t nearly critically or commercially well received as the Wii. The hardware was released very late into the generation and people already had their movement fix with Wii Sports. This “failure” only compounded because developers don’t want to develop a game primarily for a system that so few people have. Because of this we never really saw great games that were more than their initial “Tech Demo” style games, a la Kinect Sports and Sorcery.

Sorry for the brutal honesty Microsoft, but there is little denying that the PS4 has been marketed better than the Xbox One. For a quick recap; you announced your console with the notorious “Always Online” requirement. Marketing saw this fluffed up a bit more with the “Infinite Power of the Cloud” and “fundamentally designed to be expanded and extended by the internet” . Many were mad at the idea of always needing to be online, but this created a real edge over Sony’s product. There was promise of online game sharing, harnessing cloud computing, faster loading times for games. Your rival noticed the despair of the community over this and made a smart announcement of their DRM free PS4. You also heard the public cry, went soft and as a result backed down on this groundbreaking leap into the future you had previously promised. Was this a good decision: folding on your plans for some complaining media outlets and commentors? Maybe, maybe not.

But the public still found things to complain about for your next-gen hardware entry. Next on the chopping block was your new products’ price. You jumped back saying it’s a result of the Kinect 2.0. This was another important point of difference for you from Sony. Your 360 iteration of the Kinect proved that the hardware can work, and you improved upon the technology behind it. We all saw the tech demos and some of us have had some hands on with it ourselves. No, it’s not perfect but it’s something new to work with, something new we haven’t seen of this caliber before. I explained above why the original Kinect didn’t reach the mass audience and acclaim, but now with the Two Point Oh it will be with every single console you sell. Developers will be much more likely to adopt the hardware and integrate cool new features, using voice control and tracking movement.

Something I’ve seen already which used the Kinect in a way not gimmicky, is the ability to set GPS markers quickly mid chase sequence in Need for Speed: Rivals with your voice. This excites me. It’s exciting to see new controls that immerse you into a gaming world seamlessly. There’s only so many buttons that fit naturally on a gamepad, before becoming a keyboard. Think of the possibilities with the Kinect...

(Sensical words + nonsensical words) X possible human movements X buttons on a controller = A frick ton of capabilities and possible commands for your character in a game.

This is a very new thing for developers and players alike, so some time, work and consequently money would need to be spent into creating new controls that feel right for the right games. The key thing is the possibility is there for every Xbox One owner.

Knowing the power of the Kinect, Sony tried to level the playing field with their camera. But it hasn’t attracted the same attention, and will ultimately fall flat as a direct causation of not being compulsory with their console, unlike yours. This tactic is simply chasing in the Microsoft shadow, trying not to be left behind. This is great news for you, Microsoft. You have now made your own thing. You’ve turned the Kinect into something interesting that isn’t following the Wii, and Sony is trying to be like you. Why would you want to change this?

Around five million Xbox Ones have been sold as of today. Compare this to the 360 which sold over 78 million units over it’s lifetime. If the One sells as well as the 360, and every person from now buys the bundle without the Kinect, we are looking at less than 7% of One owners who have the game changing peripheral. That statistic is very hopeful to excite developers. Great hardware without great software is as useful as a dead lamb to a dairy farmer shopping for a new TV in the middle of a highway. Now that the Kinect is dropping off as a requirement, you are redesigning the dashboards and menus to better work with a controller, and thus devaluing the Kinect further.

Figures aside, you’ve really sorely damaged your reputation. You’ve seen the heights of being top dog of the past generation, offering the greats of the Xbox Live Arcade, amazing exclusives and premium services. But already early days into this console generations’ lifecycle you have promised so many things and backed down on them. How can anyone trust your words and aspirations that you’ve spoke of? How can anyone trust the future you have planned for the Xbox One? Can we even trust you have a plan, or are you going to fly by the seat of your pants and pander to the mob?

Maybe I'm just finding the negatives in things and I should be all "Woo! Fairer console war". Let me know what you think?   read

8:41 AM on 05.04.2014

Call of Doody

I assume you’ve heard of this new fangled Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare game just recently announced. Woo! A new COD game! I had no idea they were going to release one this year! But how far Advanced can this softw-are be from its own series? 

There’s a lot of hate for the Multiplayer First Person Shooter, but somehow, time and time again it is the greatest selling thing since sliced bread. It’s a very interesting paradox. I’m sure most of the people who read this, or any game journalism/blogs/news is in a similar stance to myself; fatigue. Don’t get me wrong, I love the series for many reasons and I don’t want to come across as the person who unconditionally dislikes something because it’s popular. So this piece will look at the positives, from my perspective, of the annual money sponge that COD is today.

The first time I was introduced to the non-fishing simulator, I sat down on the couch at my friend’s house, watched him play Modern Warfare and witnessed its glory. Using killstreaks, structured multiplayer with customizable classes made up of guns, perks, sidearms, grenades, secondary grenades. The coveted skins for weapons, tied with how many headshots made and challenges you cleared was brilliant. Everything that Infinity Ward had put in was magical, creating an addictive environment, where everyone was pissed off at being killed, but the drive to flaunt that Gold Desert Eagle was far too overwhelming to give up. More than anything, the game itself felt perfectly tight. You can feel the power in your character’s palms wielding a M1014 Semi-Automatic Shotgun, you can hear the crunching speed of a bullet exploding a skull from M40A3 Bolt Action Sniper, as well as the maniacal laugh of the person who successfully quick-scoped you. That multiplayer world was so bustling with life and I’m sure it still is today.
The single player campaign, though secondary, was an astounding supporting feature. I wrestled for the controller with my friend to shoot the bullet that blows off Imran Zakhaev’s arm. That loud boom, followed by shocking dismemberment can only be described as epic.

I didn’t have a console at the time I my friend did, and my PC was not going to run anything better than Chip’s Challenge, but I HAD to buy something that could run the sequel to Modern Warfare. I barely ever used my desk calendar. Pretty well the only thing written in it was November 8[sup]th[/sup] 2011. I flicked to that page so many times anticipating its release, drawing on the date, making day by day countdowns to COD: MW2. How many times had I said "Cod mwahtwo" in my head? Building on the terrific structure of its predecessor, MW2 provided more customization, more awesome maps, and more of the tight controls everyone became familiar with. Players could grab the traditional AK-47 and rack up some points, finish the copious amounts of challenges, find hidden corners or glitches in maps, or for the truly pro players, you could bounce throwing knives off walls in a 1v1 on the tiny map Rust. I was never amazingly great at the game, but I spent enough time with it to finish the campaign and prestige twice. This was one of the first games which everyone owned, where we could jump into a full lobby of pals hunting down angry ten year olds that were significantly better than us. Great times.

The exciting world Activision had created had me tranced. The idea that a second company would take the reins for the next iteration was only more enthralling to me. A different company? But how?! Black Ops didn’t hold my attention in the multiplayer nearly as much as the previous, but I was not phased in the slightest, because here is where Zombies became a huge portion of attention for my brain. Originally I had brushed off the thought of another thing using zombies: “Yeah, yeah seen it all before. Boring”. I gave it a crack anyway because at this point a Call of Duty could do no wrong in my books. I had seen a little bit of the zany Nazi Zombies in World at War, but I had no idea there was more to it than gunning down meat sack after rotting meat sack. Hidden behind the wave based side game was an intricate storyline, told by untraditional means. Through voice logs, songs and one off liners from the characters, my friends and I began to uncover something huge. I liken its narrative to Assassin’s Creed. The story runs parallel to actual events from history, and puts its own crazy zombie twist on them. The explosion of the Tunguska Event was actually and alien meteorite falling from the sky which Nazi scientists used to create teleporters, time machines, mystical weapons and human augmentations. Brilliant! I think the reason for which Zombies was so successful in my mind, was the formula stayed similar to the multiplayer of satisfying multiple audiences at once. For the general populace shoosting Nazis is a classic braindead pastime (in video games that is), and the gameplay is tight enough for this to carry the game alone. But for the ‘pros’, zombie murdering is second to hunting down Easter Eggs, unlocking songs and advancing their knowledge in the convoluted lore. I remember the first big Easter Egg my friend and I completed on the map Call of the Dead. It had us running up and down the map, flicking switches, finding bottles, killing a zombie with a special weapon, escorting a human into a tunnel of light, killing the human before he reaches the top of the tunnel and picking up a golden rod, at the same time as holding off the endless hordes. We looked into each others eyes, mouths gaping and had no idea what to say. We’d done it. We’d finished a series completely rudimentary tasks to receive a digital item which means nothing to us in the real world, and it felt phenomenal.

The feelings I have felt throughout this series have been amazing, and very difficult to emulate with other experiences. The problem (which I’m sure everyone is painfully aware of now) is that at the tenth main release in the series, Activision haven’t added much to the formula. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” is a thing, but that doesn’t really apply for a company which is pushing “This newer thing is better than the older thing! BUY BUY BUY”. I’ve loved the pants off this series, the only problem being; underneath those pants is no clean agenda, only a hollow shell of genitals on a Ken doll trying to tell us over and over that it’s the greatest penis in the world.   read

3:26 AM on 05.01.2014

The Burden of Cheap

My last two pieces were about multiplayer, so I think it’s high time I talk about something different. Let’s have a look in the basket: “Board games vs video games”... “How much story impacts a game”... “How many chickens I can fit into an average car”... Here we go; My Stingy Self.

Here in Australia games have always been expensive (I’m sure they are everywhere else as well). Fairly recently, big console releases have dropped from their $120 opening price to about $90. This is great news. But for me, in the time it took for that shift I have bought a gaming PC. That $90 is now being compared to indie games that are less than $10, so I am finding it harder and harder to indulge in the AAA market like I used to. I still buy things that look interesting, but in all honesty I have regretted most big budget game purchases as of late. Open the door and take a journey into my mind...

Titanfall, $80 and LUFTRAUSERS, $10 (it’s meant to be in all caps, don’t get mad at me). Looking at the superficial face value I have spent about 6 hours in the arcade shoot’em up, and upwards of 10 hours in LUFTRAUSERS. I’m aware this a dreadful comparison because they both are in leagues of their own, but this is pretty well where my brain is anchoring itself; on the shallow virtue that is “Time spent vs. Money spent”

I’ve come to terms with this and this is great; my wallet is screaming “Yay! Cheap things!” (Until I buy ten indie games, costing more than the alternative.) The issue fought now with all these cheap games is time. The epitome of first world problems: “I have wonderful games seeping out my arsehole”. Back when Mama and Papa bought my games I delved into every single type of possibility a game could offer to make the most of the one game I had per year. I have the greatest memories of creating bollocks houses in the Green Greens level in Smash Bros. Melee. Replaying the jetpack levels in Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire sooo many times because Jetpacks = Amaze-Balls.

It was super fun moments like these defined my love for this beautiful medium. I go out of my way to find crazy things of the same nature in more recent titles because I know how awesome the feeling of infatuation for games can be. So when I’m buying LUFTRAUSERS I plan to spend hours upon hours in it, understanding the exact mechanics, appreciating the coding, artwork, sound design and animation that’s behind it. Doing that nowadays on one game alone is a large undertaking, fitting time in between work, friends, reading, tv shows. Juggle that, with the time I feel I need to spend in other indie titles, and that’s something to tickle your Improbability Drive.

So, this is my current, fairly lame, dilemma. I want to appreciate games, but I don’t want to spend $13,000 on a couple games. If there was just a simple way I could switch off this portion of my brain that marks the greatness of art with its price...

Does anyone else have my issue? Or am I just insane?
(Most likely the latter)   read

9:08 AM on 04.16.2014

Multiplayer Madness

Multiplayer is a weird baby these days. A mention of the “M” word can send people cringing at tacked on gameplay features like Bioshock 2 or Batman Arkham Origins. Or it can frustrate people these days with the ‘love or hate’ communities of games like Call of Duty.

Multiplayer used to mean the party games; Goldeneye, Super Smash Brothers (64, people, the classics). They were ALWAYS fun, hands down. You could actually get on with your snotty nosed cousin from Norway when you had a Needler in your hand, sitting in the passenger seat of a Warthog. We see many developers grasping to re-invigorate the local multiplayer scene, which is beautiful. Towerfall Ascension, Monaco and Divekick are testaments to how the genre is not dead. Local multiplayer transcends the game itself. The funnest part is screaming in your partners’ face, not that you kicked him in the face five times in a row (although that is an amazing feeling on its own). You just can’t get those moments over online setups.

Take Grand Theft Auto Online for example; ignoring its flaws, it is a hella fun game. The concept is brilliant, but something is missing when your only direct communication with your criminally insane partner is over a crackly voicechat that cuts in and out. I think I had more fun spawning in a limo in front of my buddy while speeding down the highway in San Andreas’ poorly made multiplayer. When in multiplayer, you had little to no freedom as you couldn’t move further than four dead prostitutes length a part, you could only drive one car between both of you, and the camera was horrendous. The only redeeming quality was that your friend suffered the same pain as you on the couch to your right, which noticeably makes a massive difference.

I’ve played a decent amount of Frozen Synapse lately and found it works better as a local multiplayer game. A turn in Frozen Synapse is very labor intensive and strenuous, when you and your partner finish your turns, you see how it played out and continue into the next turn of deep thought, as you wipe sweat beads from your forehead. When you are in the same room as your adversary, it becomes incredibly different.
“Finish your turn, you slow piece of shit”.
Not only is it more of a race to finish your turn, but the excitement of the result is tenfold. Seeing your ‘perfect plan’ fall to pieces is hilarious to someone else. That disappointment and despair needs to be laughed at, otherwise it becomes ‘serious war similar 2000’.

If you haven’t got your grubby mitts onto Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator you are missing out. This is possibly one of the greatest examples of local ecstasy around at the moment. I’ve played this countless times with my mates, and the joy of shoving someone off their station, demoting them an arbitrary title and swearing at another crew member while doing so will never get old. This unique game is basically Star Trek. Your crew man individual sections of a single spaceship from their computers, while the captain sits/stands/walks/runs between all crew, commanding them where to go. 6 people all up, working as a team. There is no doubt in my mind that chaos an anarchy is ensured with every single game. When the Engineer cracks it, and shuts down all power to the ship, when the Helmsman doesn’t follow orders, the Weapons department couldn’t read the captain’s mind of what weapon to load, when you want to physically strangle your friends, that is what local multiplayer is about. That is what multiplayer should be about. Not about “crushing noobs” using your ten year old hands, and screaming “Your Mum’s fat!”.

Local Multiplayer is not dead, and I hope it is never going to die. What do you think? Have I missed the mark entirely? Let me know.   read

6:02 AM on 04.10.2014

Terraria is love, Terraria is life

Sod me, Terraria is fun. Maybe it’s super fun to me because I play it with my friends, maybe it is legitimately an amazing game.

To those of you who are uneducated; Terraria is a magically crafted 2D RPG aventure. Trying to sell its genius to my non-gamer friends is like putting a freshly picked potato into a DVD player and expecting a baby.
“So it’s Minecraft without the third dimension? Sounds shit”.
You sound shit.

My discovery of this gem came at an awesome time, as most of my friends went off to University, so all of my Playstation gaming buds couldn’t game with their, obviously, best bud; me. My only other friend who dug gaming as much as me, Brady, had a 360. The only options we had were one of us buy the other console or we invest in PC gaming.
Oh boy, Steam sales. I used to be confused as to where I spent my money, now Valve has a vacuum directly into my wallet. Now that we had decided on a console we needed a game. Our laptops were both arsehole so we had to find a game that wasn’t too graphics intensive. Our internet was shithouse so we had to find a game which didn’t require 10mb/s. Our computer knowledge was bollocks, so we needed something that didn’t need port forwarding, typing directly into a console or (Insert ridiculous computer guff here). We wanted to play decent, multiplayer, adventure with character customization. What are our options? Not much, we found out.

My original thoughts were just that of my ignorant friends in the present (so maybe I shouldn’t disown them as much as I do... Nah, they’re bloody morons). I’m convinced Terraria is a beautiful game, irrespective of my experiences. We jumped into the game after there was a ‘hard mode’, which to simply means; there was a lot of content for us. It begins as a survival game, working up the tiers of tools, weapons and armor, from copper to gold. Then, the game really changes when you start finding unique magic items, vanity hats and so soo much more. I was submerged in jealously at Brady’s Nightmare Pickaxe, and filled with confusion when he said “I got it from a boss”, “THERE ARE BOSSES IN THIS GAME?!”. And thus begun our 100+ hour journey.

The mysticism of this game for Brady and I came so much from us both experiencing the game together. Saints Row games pull a similar model off (not quite as elegantly as Terraria), of making the single player game fantastic, then making it playable with a friend. Not making an exclusive “co-op mode”. My aspirations for Sony and Microsofts’ new babies is that the games rework the multiplayer, which we have already seen this shift with Dark Souls and Watch_Dogs. From what we have seen, The Division and Destiny promise to meld the single and multiplayer, which I am completely looking forward to. Let’s hope this dream isn’t fabricated on a bed of lies as this industry loves to do so much. HYPE HYPE HYPE. -- Then Aliens: Colonial Marines. Only time will tell if I need to rework my fantasy to something more realistic, like: “Maybe DLC won’t be a money vacuum for no content”... What a load of balls.   read

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