The first image of a video game I ever remember is an image I share with many of my gamer friends. The excitement that I felt when I saw the revolving silver nintendo logo at the beginning of goldeneye is something that I always remember as the start of my passion for video games.
I live in London, i'm a screenwriter who wants to write for games (because video games need good writing) and some of my favourite games are Oblivion, Ocarina of Time, Timesplitters, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Pokemon: Red
A lot of fanfare was made around the release of Battlefield 3 about the so called 'Battlefield moment'. However, I think that another game was overlooked in the respect of spontaneous Michael Bay-esque action. Saints Row 3.
If you haven't played Saints Row: The Third then picture this. your barrelling down the freeway at 150mph, the scenery around you becoming a blur, your weaving in and out of the traffic with the police and gang members on your trail. Suddenly, a golf cart being driven by two furries swerves into your path and you collide, sending you through the front windscreen and the golf cart into the sky. As you get up and dust yourself off you have little time to wait as ten squad cars that were on your trail collide with the twisted mess that was your vehicle. The final car that drives over yours is the straw that broke the camel's bcd and the car explodes setting off a chain reaction sending car parts everywhere, a nearby police helicopter is sent into the crash as a wheel spoke is caught in the propellor, the resulting fireball launches you 30 feet into the air landing on a nearby road where you are swamped by angry luchadore fighters.
This is just one instance of something that will happen a lot to you if you play Saints Row: The Third. The Saints Row moment. Spontaneous bouts of destruction and action that I was describing to people long after they lost interest. Beating an entire group of people with a dildo only to be killed by a reckless driver (of which there are many in Saints Row: The Third) or hitting the side of the freeway, launching out and opening your parachute just before the bottom to avoid certain death or bailing out your car to see it torpedo into a group of people and explode. The pure mayhem to be achieved in Saints Row: The Third is something that Volition should be proud of. In fact, in my opinion some of the spontaneous parts are more fun than the story missions.
Spontaneous moments in Saints Row: The Third remind me why I got into games in the first place. Moments that you can't help but giggle at in childish glee. More than once when I was playing alone I would make an audible exclamation at the events that just took place on the screen.
I've been playing Elder Scrolls games since Morrowind and they've slowly been creeping up to the point now where they're probably my favorite games of all time. However, for all the innovations and things they have increased, one thing continues to deter me from my initial amazing experience in Morrowind. The Fast Travel system.
Now if you started playing Elder Scrolls at Oblivion or Skyrim don't think of this as condescension because Oblivion was my favorite, and in my opinion was the definitive Elder Scrolls game. Now that that is out of the way, i'll get right down to it. Oblivion and Skyrim are better than Morrowind in a huge number of ways. Graphics, combat, magic systems, character customization and perks. However the fast travel system is something that always seems to be counter-intuitive to me.
First, lets recap he history of the Elder Scorlls fast travel system. Morrowind's world was small compared to the standard of Oblivion and Skyrim, therefore the fast travel system was seen as unnecessary. The player had to get to places in real time and thus experience the world and get further immersed in it. Fast forward to 2006 and Oblivion is released. The world in Oblivion is huge and made Morrowind look small. However, Bethesda didn't seem to think that players would like to explore the vast, open world and therefore implemented an over-helpful fast travel system. Every location you visited would then be available from then on, all the towns could be traveled to from the get go with no need to even discover them first. This meant that the beautiful landscape that Bethesda had crafted was often not seen. I know that I spent large portions of the game traveling to the nearest location and then walking the short distance to get there.
Morrowind's beautiful deer
In 2011, Skyrim released and changed the fast travel system subtly. It encouraged exploration more. It kept the same fast travel system but tweaked it to encourage exploration. Tweaks like cities having to be discovered, a more sensitive system to detect nearby enemies and the mountainous landscape that meant players had to explore to find a way through a mountain range or over a gorge. However, Skyrim took a travel incentive out. The skills Athletics and Acrobatics encouraged travel on foot.
But still, after playing Oblivion and Skyrim I still felt that that aspect of immersion, that sense that you are part of the world was missing from both of them. Skyrim got closer than Oblivion but neither made me feel so deep into the world that I was looking for alchemy ingredients on the side of the road. I believe the fast travel system is the reason for this, it takes the player out of the experience and reminds them that this is an artificial experience.
The player doesn't get as much emergent gameplay as they should. To try and test my theory, I played two runs of Skyrim. One regular run, utilizing all the tools that the game provided me with. The second run I did without the use of the fast travel system using a Khajjit for mobility. And after a few hours of gameplay I proved my theory to myself, the world of Skyrim suddenly opened up. And you know that emergent gameplay I was talking about, it is everywhere if you just look. And i'm not just talking about the sweeping dragon battles with giant involvement stories that seem to be sweeping the internet but stuff like seeing a group of bandits in the wild ambush an imperial patrol and take their prisoner, Alduin resurrecting a dragon from the dead and a Vigilant of Stendar going toe to toe with a mammoth.
Oblivion's unexplored landscape
I guess what I'm trying to say is that not using the fast travel system helped me to become immersed in the world and gave me the best feeling an RPG can give, the feeling that even when you're not looking the world still moves on and that is something that a player reliant on the fast travel system just doesn't get.
Now for those who think that I shouldn't hold this a criticism against the game because if I don't want to use the fast travel system I don't have to. To those people I say this: the game wasn't designed with that goal in mind so it will get repetitive after a while so to Todd Howard (who definitely reads this blog), keep the fast travel system, I have no problem with it being there, what I really want is incentives to travel, Oblivion took a step (no pun intended) in the right direction with it's acrobatics and athletics skills but more would be needed to really encourage people to move on foot, and maybe tone down how helpful fast traveling is, maybe a hearthstone system. I'm not the game designer but Tod, get on that.
I end this editorial by appealing to Skyrim players, I know there are a few, to try to play without the fast travel system. Close yourself in your room, put on your big headphones, maybe open a window to let a draught in for the immersion and just walk around. Trust me, it'll make a difference. If you do do ti, tell me how it turns out in the comments
Now that the game industry's obsession with zombies is coming to an end, I thought I would run down the top 10 zombies in video games. [SPOILERS]
1. Nazi Zombies
The legendary Nazi Zombies from the Call of Duty series have seen a lot of action and showed that Call of Duty had a fun side to it and wasn't just a gritty war shooter with some pathetic attempts at story telling and a multiplayer, the visual equivalent of crack (complete with withdrawal symptoms). It provided hours of entertainment and is still the definitive horde mode. Many celebrities have faced up against these zombies as well including Danny Trejo, Robert Englund and JFK.
2. Dead Island's The Butcher
we've all seen the trailer. The attempt of one family to escape their fate set to hauntingly beautiful piano music. The one thing I often feel is missing from that trailer is the fucking Butcher. The first time I came face to face with a Butcher in Dead Island I wasn't actually sure what I was looking at. Then I realized that this is a zombie that has sawed it's own fore arms off and was stabbing people with sharpened elbow bones, and for the first time in Dead Island, I was scared. Before I had time to think it ran at me. Most of my Dead Island experience so far had been easy street, kill a few zombies, avoid the big ones. I had never found myself running away, but now I was. I was sprinting, and honestly feeling scared as I saw my stamina bar hit bottom. I turned around to face him and he killed me. From then on, I would only face a Butcher with large reserves of machine gun ammo.
Imagine this running at you
3. Yeti Zombie
The Yeti Zombie from Plants vs Zombies is awesome. The game treats like a yeti should be, to gain it's page in the almanac, the player has to kill it. Unfortunately it's on a level where the only time you can see is when there are occasional bolts of lightning, therefore, only a few players end up seeing the yeti, making the kill all the more satisfying
Some would call them a Xenomorph clone, but that doesn't stop them from being horrifying. Dead Space's enemies aren't traditional zombies but fit the criteria. creatures that are humans reanimated by a virus, yep that is a zombie. My time with Dead Space was slightly forgettable but if there's one thing i'll never forget it's the beginning of Dead Space 2 when the guy helping you turns into a Necromorph in front of your eyes and then chases you around the ship.
5. Midget Zombie
The Zombie Island of Dr Ned was overall, a slightly disappointing DLC. The setting and humor were top notch but the enemies were dull and slow. All except the midget zombie. There was something deeply unsettling about a small, screaming midget running towards you to savage you. While the other zombies lumbered towards you, these small critters would sprint at you sometimes taking you by surprise. sounds like small man syndrome
6. The Tank
The Tank from Left 4 Dead was always a scary prospect. Your on your last clip of your assault rifle and you are out of molotov cocktails. Then it comes round the corner, all the tactics you and your friends planned for this specific situation go out the window and you all split up with an every man for himself mentality. Because that's what the tank does, it splits up the team and then preys on the targets one my one. Note to self, buy more molotov cocktails.
7. Stubbs the Zombie
Stubbs is a zombie game that continues the long tradition of zombies that make you think, going all the way back to George A. Romero's allegorical Night of the Living Dead that explored race relations in America. Stubbs the Zombie explores the capitalist ideal and the idea of the 'American Dream'. Like Willy Loman before him, Stubbs is a traveling salesman who is down on his luck, even in death when his grave gets built on. Sutubbs comes back to seek his revenge on the living. The game, although funny, is insanely dark, and explores how far someone should go for revenge. Wow, just got deep for a second, you can also throw your head at people.
Some debate whether this is a zombie, most people don't know what it is, but if you look at it long enough, you can be sure of one thing, IT WILL FUCK YOUR SHIT UP. Accidentally took a wrong turn YOUR FUCKED, they're herding you in YOUR FUCKED, if you make one wrong move with a creeper, YOU ARE FUCKED. For those of you that don't know, creepers are Minecraft answer to the atomic bomb. Get too close and that giant pair of stone tits you've been working on are gone for good and theyr'e is nothing you can do about it, and that makes them a genuinely frightening opponent.
Many gamers of a certain age will tell you that thier first encounter with Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 is the scariest moment in a game they have ever experienced. The fixed camera angles as well as never getting a good look at the hulking beast chasing you made Nemesis a force to be reckoned with, a precursor to the tank and other variations of hulking zombies, Nemesis was a truly horrifying opponent.
10. Zombie Marsdon
Red Dead Redemption, as it was, was one of my favorite games of its generation but when they announced Undead Nightmare it became one of my favorite games of all time. Rockstar had the balls to take a serious story and add on a seemingly non canon zombie DLC into the mix. The story of Undead Nightmare is clumsily jammed in between the time that John Marsdon returns home and the time he is shot to pieces [SPOILER ALERT]. After solving the issue by returning the relic to it's resting place, our old friend Seth steals it again, meaning that for the second time zombies rise. This includes the newly-buried John Marsdon. I don't know whether it was my love of seeing grindhouse style zombie roaming the Western Landscape or whether it was how relieved I was to see that John Marsdon was still alive but I have never gained more satisfaction from a zombie than roaming the landscape as Zombie Marsdon whilst taming thre 4 horses of the apocalypse.
If you haven't heard of Ni no Kuni, watch this trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aAs-vZ4rZE. Ni no Kuni is a game that blends JRPG elements with the art stlye of Studio Ghibli, the studio behind Spirited Away or Howls Moving Castle. If you liked either of those movies or any other Ghibli films then you owe it to yourself to be excited for this game. If the thought of a Ghibli JRPG doesn't immediately excite you then here is a list of reasons you should be excited for it. (If you are interested in Studio Ghibli but don't know where to start, i'll leave a list of the best Studio Ghibli films at the end of the list)
1.The Art Style.
This one should be a no-brainer to those who are Ghibli fans. The beauty of the art makes everything the world feel real. Everything from the buildings to people's faces is drawn with such detail that it adds a detail and re-watchability to the films. This is something I hope will carry over into the game. The current hardware is more than enough to support the fluid animation and amazing art style that Ghibli is famous for. As well as that, the best looking games are often cell shaded. Wind Waker is a great example of this, still a great looking game 8 years later. The PS3 is the mot graphically advanced system on the market so expect stunning visuals.
2. The Characters
One of the most magical things in the Ghibli universe is its characters. From the actual people like Haku in Spirited Away, to the creatures like the No-Face. This is something that could by fantastic if explored in the game. Some Mass Effect style conversation wheels or followers to gain. There is true potential for some good dialogue, something that is lacking in games. As well as that, Ghibli is famous for using famous voice talent in thier movies, actors like Liam Neeson, Uma Therman, Shia LeBeouf etc.
3. The World
If Skyrim has taught us anything, it's that a beautiful world can make all the difference. Ni No Kuni's world is not as big but makes up for it in beauty and originality. I remember thinking while watching Spirited Away, how amazing it would be to live in the world. I still think that but this is as close as I'm going to get.
4. Combat System
If you like JRPGs, OK. you are going to get a deep, rich and strategic combat system that you will find deeply rewarding. However, if you do not like JRPGs, this item is for you. Don't let the combat system deter you because I dislike JRPGs on the hole, but you know what I do like, Pokemon. And this is what this is. Earlier I talked about the creative monster designs, this is what it is. It's essentially a Pokemon game where you collect monsters to fight for you.
So, if that hasn't sold you then look at the list below watch one of the movies then read the list again. If you have seen some to all of the movies below and still aren't excited by the above list then call yur insurance company because your missing a soul.
Ponyo (Daughter of a sea goddess washes up on the shore of Japan, water related hijinks ensue)
Naussica (Post apocalypic toxic forest is taking over the planet and the remains civilisations are fighting for control of the remaining land and resources)
My Neighbor Totoro (Little Girl comes across giant bear thing that helps thier plants grow, also has a cat bus in it. A cat bus!)
The Cat Returns (A girl saves a cat form being hit by a car, she becomes involved with the politics of a secret kingdom of cats)
Porco Rosso (Alternate universe 1940s setting, pirates fly around in 40 man bi-planes. Porco Rosso, the red pig, an actual plane flying pig, is the only one who can stop them. Film noir with a pig that no one seems to notice is a pig)
Pom Poko (Shape shifting badgers fight back against construction workers who are trying to destroy thier homes)
If you haven't seen the list on Wikipedia of the 'mockbusters' that are cranked out by the movie studio The Asylum to coincide with the release of a big movie, presumably to trick people into watching the wrong movie. If you haven't, read it here first, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Asylum and then finish reading this post. Much like the 'mockbusters' of The Asylum, Gameloft's entire business model is based around capitalsing on that success, so for your amusement and to show that Gameloft are basically IP crooks, here is a list of the iOS games released by Gameloft and their AAA counterparts.
(I am aware that these games were made specifically made for iOS so that they would not steal market share from the publishers of the original property but it is still, in my opinion, theft of intellectual property and above all, just laziness)
God of War- Hero of Sparta, Hero of Sparta 2
Grand Theft Auto 4- Gangster: West Coast Hustle
Dungeon Siege- Dungeon Hunter, Dungeon Hunter 2
Civilization- The Settlers
HALO- NOVA, NOVA 2
Uncharted- Shadow Guardian (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50pNU2EFN_o)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare- Modern Combat
Call of Duty: Black Ops- Modern Combat: Black Pegasus
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3- Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation
Starcraft 2- Starfront: Collision
World of Warcraft- Order and Chaos Online
Assassins Creed 2- Backstab
Hitman: Absolution- Silent Ops.
I descend the side of a cliff into a valley. I slip but the beautifully animated water breaks my fall. I find my way out of the river by way of a camp built on what appears to be a huge bridge. Suddenly I am attacked by a man dressed in tribal gear. He is easy to fend off and is soon dead. As I go to loot him I notice his class is a forsworn briar-heart. As well as that he carries an alchemical ingredient called a briar-heart on him. Then it strikes that I donít know why this character is carrying it and itís an incredibly freeing experience.
This is just one of a number of random encounters that one will come across in the Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. It taught me that the most immersive experiences are those where you donít feel like the only person in the world. The problems that many RPGs have nowadays is centering the entire game around the player, which can sometimes take away from the immersion. Skyrim tackles it differently, making the player character feel like an inhabitant of the world, you are never spoon fed information. However, thatís not to say that itís not there, there is a wealth of books to read and lore to discover in Skyrim if the player really wants to immerse themselves but it is still rewarding to play without this, itís just comforting to know there IS a wealth of history but your not beaten over the head with it.
The example I gave earlier of the briar heart is an example of this, thereís no note on the body broadcasting how the title came to be or why they carry these briar hearts unlike any other member of the in game clan, the Forsworn.
An example of a game that does this wrong is Bioshock. Although one my favorite games, Bioshock has the problem that the information is presented in a way that seems to artificial. There is little explanation for the audio-logs and the lack of variety in which information is presented makes the game seem like a game which acts against the fantastic atmosphere that the game presents at other times. Everything from the lighting to the music creates an atmosphere that is broken every time I see another identical audio-log where a character broadcasts his or her inner most thoughts and then leaves the audio log lying around.
Overall, Skyrim creates a realistic open world by not forcing information upon you and allowing you to go through the game without discovering any of the extra information. But the game does a good job of instilling a sense of child like wonder in the player as they read a fact about a dead race of elves or a mysterious ancient order, and the nature of the game is that you could encounter this lost race or solve the mystery and that makes finding the information all that more fulfilling and immersive making the player feel like an inhabitant of the world.