A Difficult Conversation

Is that title clickbait-y enough?

A little while back I talked about how using a guide for a game isn’t such a bad thing.  You don’t always have the time to “git gud”, so why not use the resources that are freely available online to help you?  I’ve also recently mentioned that gaming is the only form of entertainment that actively prevents you from accessing more unless you prove you are deserving of it.  There are exceptions of course, with walking simulators allowing pretty much everyone to access the full story regardless of ability level.  Then we have the likes of Star Fox Zero

Star Fox Zero
It’s fine if you don’t like the game because it plays badly. Hell, it’s fine to just plain not like it. But to dislike it because it’s accessible to casual players?!

Now, I haven’t played Star Fox Zero.  Hell, I didn’t even have a Wii U to play it on.  But I am very aware that a lot of people didn’t like it due to it having a poor control scheme.  I’m also aware that a lot of people didn’t like it because it included an invulnerable mode, that made it near impossible for you to fail.  It seems that a lot of gamers weren’t happy that some people would be able to experience the game’s story without the struggle that comes along with it.  This isn’t the only game to do this, in fact a number of recent Mario games have had a similar option in which repeated failure allows you to play through a level whilst invulnerable.  I have seen comments that dislike this feature too.

Mega Man 10 logo
Would an easy mode in Mega Man 10 reduce the feeling of success from those who finish the game as it is?

But why?  Why does it matter if people who find the game challenging have a way of engaging with content later on?  There seems to be this idea that games’ endings, regardless of their supposed target audience, should only be accessed by gamers who have earned it.  To them, I ask this question:  Did you earn the right to see the end of that movie you watched?  Could you skip past the scenes that you didn’t like?  How about that book you read or listened to?  How is gaming such a specialist form of media that you can’t enjoy the story unless you earn it?

DmC: Devil May Cry (2013)
The reboot of Devil May Cry was easier than previous installments, allowing more people to experience it.  It still had super hard difficulty modes to unlock for the hardcore player.

Games tell some genuinely fascinating stories and I don’t see why those stories shouldn’t be enjoyed by everyone.  Anyone can enjoy Firewatch, why can’t everyone enjoy Mass Effect?  I’m not for a second saying that difficulty should be removed from all games, by all means keep Dark Souls difficult, but why couldn’t their be a “casual” mode that removes some of the challenge so a less skilled player can enjoy the world?  Most players would go for the challenge, but some would appreciate a way to explore the world without being brutally struck down at every turn.

Firewatch tower
Walking simulators like Firewatch are something of an exception.  However, the more serious player could take the time to explore more diligently than those who are only here for the story.

A great example of this is in Furi.  This is designed to be a very challenging boss rush game (with a cracking soundtrack I might add) in which you will be defeated over and over.  But if you want to experience the story, then you can select the “Promenade” difficulty, in which the bosses practically lie down for you.  Trophies/achievements won’t unlock in this mode, but you can still discover the plot at a leisurely pace.  If a game that is designed with difficulty in mind can do this, then why can’t others?

Ornstein and Smough
Oh look!  It’s these guys again!  Could you argue there was technically an “easy” mode thanks to the ability to summon?  Does the fact I summoned mean those that didn’t summon enjoyed the game any less?

“Hardcore” gamers!  You can finish your games on the hardest difficulty you like, and well done to you for doing so!  Seriously, beating some of these games on their hardest setting is a huge challenge and overcoming that is one hell of an achievement.  But don’t lock others out of this hobby due to some elitist nonsense.  Embrace the weak players!  Discuss the plot with them!  Tell them about how crazy the game can get!  Maybe they’ll grow to be interested in the challenge side of the hobby.  The great thing about this is that it would actually increase the diversity in games that are released.  Many mock the number of similar games that are released these days, but is that perhaps because some of these games are so accessible?  Would their be more Souls like games if there was a way for more people to enjoy them, thus opening up to a greater number of potential customers?

Down with elitism in gaming!  Up with accessibility options!  Would letting everyone play be such a bad thing really?

Dr. Hardgame Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Guide.

Who here has heard of Philosopher’s Quest (or Brand X as it’s sometimes known) on the BBC Micro?  It’s a 1979 text adventure and it’s apparently hard as hell.  It’s from an era in which some games came with a little “hints and tips” booklet that you could open to give you some guidance (The Legend of Zelda came with one if I recall correctly), but only if you broke the seal on it, admitting that you weren’t good enough to even get through the early areas.  My dad had a copy of it that he allowed my sister and I to play, and being about 6 and 4 years old we had no idea about what to do or what was going on and thus died repeatedly.  I asked about the tips booklet I saw in the box, still sealed, and was told that we were never allowed to open it as the game should be beaten without any help.  I’m sure the game is still in the house somewhere, unbeaten and with its still sealed tips booklet.  Bet it’s worth some money now.  That’s the cover of it in the featured image.  Can I just point out how amazing it is?  I mean, it looks like The Blue Man Group picked up the wrong pot of Dulux and decided to attack Moses.

Ornstein and Smough
I bet more than a few people looked for help with this pair of *****.

I recalled this memory not so long ago, and thought about how the idea of guides in gaming has changed in the years since then.  Back then, using a guide was admitting failure and would often come with a financial penalty in the form of purchasing a guide, or a magazine, or (heaven forbid) phoning one of those damn premium rate phone lines.  Nowadays though, guides are pretty much freely available, through professional (or sometimes not so) websites, wikis, YouTube videos and probably other sources that I just haven’t thought of..  And yet I still find myself with that stigma of “I’ve given up” if I look at a guide.  I haven’t beaten the challenge myself.  I didn’t beat that boss with my own skill and ingenuity.  That puzzle beat me!

Day of the Tentacle
The was just so much “moon logic” in this game and others like it. Finishing these without a guide would require Herculean levels of patience.

But then…aren’t games supposed to be fun?  Yes, they’re a challenge, but a challenge to enjoy surely.  And when a fun activity ceases to be enjoyable, why carry on with it?  To be the best in the world?  An admirable goal, but not one that most of us play games for.  To prove that I can?  But to prove to who?  The developer?  Random people on the internet?  When it comes down to it, I enjoy playing the games I have, but when an obstacle within those games stops it being fun and descends into frustration then the game has almost failed in its own purpose.  In the past, it would have been a case of give up on it, or beat my head against the brick wall of frustration in the hopes the game becomes fun again later on.

Dead Space 3 Walkthrough
With the prevalence of the internet, I’m amazed these guys are still in business.

No more though.  I’m a grown up now (seriously, I’m allowed to drive cars and everything) with limited time and limited patience.  If I want to look up a guide for beating Ornstein and Smough then I damn well will.  If I need help on the best way to play Symmetra then that’s alright.  And god help anyone who says that finding a walk-through for one of those point and click adventure games with the moon logic nonsense is wrong.

The great Dara O’Briain gets it.

When it comes down to it, it’s your product that you’ve purchased, and the player can play it how they wish.  This is even more true with single player games where the progress you make is your business.  Hell, why aren’t players allowed to cheat in single player experiences anymore?  Even if the challenge is part of the game, should people be excluded from the experience and story because they aren’t MLG-Pro enough?  In the end, enjoy your game, and if there’s a barrier preventing you from continuing that enjoyment, find a way around it or find some guidance wherever you wish.  And if it’s still no fun, don’t be ashamed to call it a day and give it up.  Life’s too short for smashing your head against a brick wall.

Modern Gaming Is Actually Pretty Good – Arguing with myself.

Not so long ago, I did the very British thing and complained about some things.  Modern gaming is pretty rubbish to be fair.  There’s plenty wrong with the industry, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few positives we can focus in on!  So here we are, a few things about this hobby that I’m actually happy about!

I also want to see whether this post or the negative one gets more views!  Do you folks prefer positive or negative words?  Will you be more interested in what’s good about the industry or what’s bad?  I’m interested in the results!  Anyway, on with the words!

Indie development

Alright, so Early Access and Greenlight are often terrible, but the indie development scene has produced some absolute gold in recent years.  The likes of Hyper Light DrifterInside, and The Witness are all very successful and, love them or hate them, highly rated games.  It’s very unlikely that a major publisher would even think to take a risk on unusual games like these.  These are the developers that will drive the industry forward, trying new ideas and giving players experiences that Call of Duty 23 and FIFA 2043 just won’t.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these games of course, it’s just nice to see developers being brave enough to try something new and put it out there for the players.

Fez happy!
Shame Phil Fish turned out to be a bit of a nutter.

Not to mention Kickstarter.  Whilst the video gaming side of Kickstarter has had a rough time lately, there are some very impressive looking games that are on their way thanks to crowd funding.  I for one am looking forward to Yooka-Laylee and Battletech, expecting them to be well made, polished games.  Mighty Number 9 has been a high profile flop, but there are still plenty of fresh, interesting ideas out there just begging to be made.

Choice

Games
Want to be a chainsaw wielding, zombie killing cheerleader? Sorted. Have the urge to be Ellen Page’s ghost friend? Fine. Or maybe pretending to be Optimus Prime? With the indie digital release scene and mobile market too, there’s pretty much a game for everyone.

This is almost an extension of the indie development point.  There is just so much choice these days (I might argue too much) when it comes to gaming.  Want to work in a kitchen with your friends?  There’s a game for that.  Fancy competing with an evil teddy bear in a battle of investigative wits?  Got you covered.  Feel the desperate urge to walk around a forest pretending to be a bear?  Yep, that’s a thing.  My point is that there is practically something for everybody who has even a passing interest in gaming these days.  Not all of them are good, far from it, but the fact that something like Euro Truck Simulator exists is a testament to how the industry has moved away from platformers and ultra-violence.

Price

Yes, I know I complained about microtransactions.  And I stand by my complaint that they should not be a feature in full priced releases.  But DLC is something that has allowed game prices to remain pretty much flat for a very long time.  Physical releases of console games in the UK have been hovering around the £40-£45 mark for many years in spite of an increase in VAT and inflation (not so much their digital costs).  PC games are even cheaper thanks to sensible digital distribution platforms like Steam and GOG and their regular sales events.

british-1-pound-coins
I don’t think I have enough money to make this pyramid myself. But it looks cool!

Further to this point, some DLC practices have been really rather good.  Whilst so many shooters are content to release another set of maps to play online, games like The Witcher 3 get enormous expansions the size of another full game.  There are some teams who genuinely seem to care about what happens to their game after release, and I’d love to see more of this.

Online passes failed

Do you remember online passes?  They were an attempt to cripple the second-hand games market by locking out the multiplayer portion of a game unless you entered a one time code or paid an additional fee.  Whilst I do appreciate that this existed as a way to offset losses suffered by used game being purchased rather than new copies, an attempt to lock out a portion of a game rather than giving a positive reason to buy a new copy garnered nothing but ill will from the vast majority of gamers.  I don’t know how much sales suffered as a result, but gradually over the years this punitive measure has thankfully dies out.

Online passes are terrible
Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be a thing anymore.

Now, I know where this is going for some people: what about PS+ and XBL Gold?  Well, yes, these models do force payment for online multiplayer.  But put simply, the extras that come with it are pretty great.  Two or more games gifted to you each month is pretty good, especially when some of them have been as good as Rocket League and the Tomb Raider reboot.  I don’t really play much multiplayer, so this has almost become a game subscription service, and I’m sure that’s the case for others too.  Now the Nintendo Switch version of this…well that’s a different story right now.

Ok, so there weren’t as many positives as negatives, and that last one was a bit of a backhanded positive point.  Still though, there are some things that are positive in this hobby these days.  Maybe even major publishers will start to take notice and have things developed that are outside their usual catalogue.  Gaming has the potential to go from strength to strength this generation, lets hope to see plenty of good to offset the bad!

Modern Gaming Is A Bit Rubbish – Some might call this a rant

Am I getting old?  I might be getting old.  Maybe I already am old, because I’m about to say that thing that I never thought I would.  You know, the “not as good as it used to be” thing.  Gaming isn’t as good as it used to be.  There, I said it.  Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s that the gaming industry is getting a bit on the bloated side now, but there are some things about this hobby that have been winding me up lately because I’m such a grumpy old bugger now.  So here they are.  A bunch of things about a thing a like that really wind me up.  Enjoy my sadness!

Constant sequels, reboots, remakes and spin offs

Alright, these aren’t all bad.  DOOM and XCOM have great reboots and Dark Souls 3 is a top sequel.  But good god are there a lot of sequels these days.  Everything is a direct follow up, a spiritual successor or an unnecessary next installment of a game or series that had already tied up its plot nicely.  Gears of War 4 continues a story that was wrapped up nicely with a lacklustre follow up.  The Star Wars: Battlefront reboot was a weaker version of a classic game.  Look at Street Fighter V!  A venerable series treated poorly and released half finished to grab money from consumers who don’t know any better.

Metal Gear Survive looks bad
Why is this allowed to be a thing?

2017 has Metal Gear Survive on the horizon.  What the hell is that?  A well respected series of political intrigue and bonkers giant robots having a zombie survival game inserted into its catalogue.  Konami is Konami and Konami is the worst as its clearly just a cash grab now they’ve realised their pulling out of the main games industry was a bad move.  We have 2 Kingdom Hearts remakes coming this year along with a Bulletstorm re-release (although I really enjoyed the original).  And who was asking for a ToeJam and Earl resurrection?  Luckily, 2017 seems to have a good number of new IPs incoming.  Plus the indie scene is growing well with a number of games with seemingly fresh ideas on the way.  Maybe this year will see new games outpace the sequels.  Then again, there’s always Call of Duty.

Microtransactions

I get it.  It’s a free game, they have to make money somehow and selling card packs, or premium currency is how they do that.  What I object to is microtransactions in full priced games.  I have a problem with full priced games that sell items in the single and multiplayer modes that completely unbalance the game.  Treasure maps in Forza, resource packs in Dead Space 3, XP boosts in pretty much any multiplayer game you care to mention.  Anything that upsets the balance of a full priced game or have been added into a single player game simply to push people towards shortcuts that shouldn’t be needed really wind me up.

Microtransactions everywhere
You said it Buzz.

Now, I’m not talking about cosmetics so much.  Whilst those do irritate me, they don’t alter the game beyond having pretty colours on your gun.  Nor do most DLC practices annoy me (pre-order ones do, but more on that later) as the cost of games hasn’t changed much with inflation and companies need to ensure the increased cost of making a product is offset somehow.  But those little costs that can quickly add up are a blight on the industry as far as I’m concerned.  When a feature is added to a game solely so microtransactions can be included is bad form.  I’m looking at you Dead Space 3!

Pre-order Bonuses

Deus Ex Pre Order
No. No I will not “Augment my pre-order”

Oh just piss off with this!  Stop locking content out of your game if I don’t pre-order or buy the day one edition!  If publishers don’t have faith that their game is good enough to garner good reviews and earn my money, then don’t release it at all.  All this pre-order nonsense does is make me feel that you’re trying to take my money before I know if your game is actually good and worth the cost of entry.  This goes double for you Bethesda!  Not sending out review copies?  Why?  What are you trying to hide?  Is it bugs?  It’s bugs isn’t it!

Open World Games

No Man's Sky Logo
Didn’t play this one. Apparently I missed out on a whole lot of empty.

Every other game has to have an open world these days.  Is it to add longevity?  To give an illusion of value for money?  Perhaps.  I feel that Falcon509 discussed this far better than I will with his blog post here.  Anyway, I don’t have a problem with open worlds as much as the emptiness that pervades so many of them.  If you have an open world, put interesting things to do in it.  Saints Row (although I’m not a fan of the series) did this well, as did Watch Dogs 2.  But so many have huge expenses of nothing filled with meaningless collectibles and pointless side quests that distract from the main story far too much.  Just take a look at Mafia 2, L.A. Noire, and of course No Man’s Sky.  Big worlds with lots of nothing in them.  That’s not to say you should just throw in a million meaningless collectibles.  Turning your game into Assassin’s Creed: Unity‘s map is never going to be a good thing.

Achievements and Trophies

Achievement unlocked

I used to love these.  Achievement hunting was something I enjoyed and would look up the lists for games as they came out, hoping to see interesting and inventive ones.  Lots of games did too!  Fable II had ones that would encourage you to experience many aspects of the game.  Half-Life 2 was very creative with the Episode One one bullet challenge.  But now pretty much every game has “Kill 2 billion enemies” or “Collect 1300 sandwiches” or the ever present, ever annoying online achievements.  They’re just dull now for the most parts, but developers have to put them in (for console games at least).  They don’t have to be easy, just make them interesting, and ideally not a grind-fest.

Time

I don’t have as much of this as I used to.  Game developers, please respect my time and don’t waste it with aimless sections of game that add nothing to the experience!  Allow fast travel between locations, avoid unnecessarily long scripted animations (DOOM did these really well), and allow me to skip cutscenes if I choose to!

Well, that was cathartic.  Is there anything that really hacks your off about gaming these days?  Do you think I’m wrong and I’m just turning into a grouchy sod as my age continues to increase.  Let me know!

2016’s Gaming Stats – Because we all really love numbers!

It’s 2017 now! That means that everything will be better now and my gym will be packed for the next 6 weeks or so. But before piling into the new year, here are a few statistics from my 2016 in gaming.

I know how you all love numbers.

Games completed – 48

Not my best year for completions, but certainly not my worst. My daughter gets ever older meaning less time for gaming (not that I’m complaining, I love spending time with her, and even at the age of 3 she wants to play video games with me!) but I balanced that with playing a number of shorter games such as Firewatch and Oxenfree. I suspect as gamers get older and start having their own families that we’ll see a larger number of these cheaper, shorter games. I would very much welcome this.

First game completed in 2016 Bloodborne on January 7th

I started on this one early December but it took me about a month to finish it (with a time of around 32 hours) due to it being the Christmas a New Year season. Absolutely loved it though. A gothic/Lovecraftian horror inspired Dark Souls game with fast paced combat? Yes please!

Last game completed in 2016Deathtrap on December 17th

I’m not going to say too much about this one here as I’m going to do a post on it soon. I will say I was annoyed to find out this was a free Games with Gold game in January as I paid real money for it a few months earlier! Anyway, just over 6 hours this took me during December over the course of a handful of days.

Most time spent on a single gameXCOM 2 (35 hours)

It should come as no surprise to some of you that this is here. I love this series, right back to playing the original as a kid. Anyway, played this through on normal, suffering a few casualties. It was just the right difficulty level to play through on, though I may return to it on a harder setting for a blog series. Perhaps I’ll even name soldiers after you, dear readers!

Biggest pain in the backside to finishThe Witness

I’m not sure if I can say I’ve finished this or not really. I did enough of the lasers to open the final challenge and complete it, but then it just reset the game. At any rate, I counted it. I played this on a charity stream early in the year and it was such a pain to play. If you don’t know how to solve a puzzle you end up sitting there for ages looking stupid. Thankfully, the chat helped me out with some of them and I made progress. Interesting game, pain to play.

Game I should have finished in 2016, but didn’t – 999: The Novel

I’ve been playing this on and off on my phone for months. I’ve seen all the endings bar the “true ending” which I think I’m approaching. The story of 9 people trapped on a sinking ship in a Saw-like game has been interesting, although the novel version features limited interaction. Anyway, it’s not a hugely long game and I feel I should have finished it by now, but mobile gaming tends to happen in short bursts and it’s resulted in this one not getting done. It should be in the next few days though with any luck!

Most read blog post in 2016 – Top Games of 2016

This doesn’t surprise me too much, people seem to love game of the year lists! I know I do and I’ve gladly read any and all game of the year posts I’ve been directed to. Maybe it’s in the hope that others agree with my humble opinion, or maybe it’s to find a gem that I missed. Either way I, and seemingly you fine folks, like a game of the year post.

Least read blog post in 2016 – Dark Souls 3

Go on, click the link. You know you want to see what you missed. It seems Dark Souls wasn’t all that popular in terms of reading. Perhaps because it’s a rather niche game, or maybe that the series is a little long in the tooth. At any rate, I love the game!

Oh, and finally:

Games in the backlog – 79

The ever growing backlog is larger now than it was at the start of 2016.  I intend to get through a good few of them in the coming weeks though!  Have a look here if you’d like to see what in the pipeline!

And that’s a little wrap up of 2016! Expect more write ups and lists in this, the newest of years. I’m also intending to drop a few board games in here and there as I do have a love of those too. If you have read even one of my posts in 2016, then thank you so much for giving up even that short amount of time. It truly does mean a lot to me that you people take time out of your busy lives for my simple words. Here’s to a great 2017!

Video Game Inspired Art – Talented People Making Things I Never Could

I’m a little behind on my games at the moment.  The backlog is growing and I think I may die before getting through it.  To give me a little time to catch up and have a game I actually want to write about, I’ve been having a look at gaming art and decided to let you, dear reader, know about something I found interesting.  Is this filler content?  Maybe!

Anyway, I like art based on gaming (I even looked at game art styles recently), preferably pieces that aren’t too obvious.  Having a painting of Mario stands out a little too much for my tastes.  Something more subtle is what I’d be looking for.  And whilst I like finding interesting pieces, most of the time they aren’t ones that I could put in my house.  They just wouldn’t fit in.

Legend of Zelda
This is in my daughter’s play room along with some Disney ones in a similar design. It’s clearly Legend of Zelda but without being as in your face as Link shoving the Master Sword into Ganondorf’s face.

Anyway, I recently came across a company, Ukiyoe Heroes, that takes video game characters and redesigns them in the style of old fashioned Japanese art (I would say traditional, but I don’t know if that’s totally accurate).  All the artwork takes a different approach to the game in question, in some cases not being immediately clear as to what game was the inspiration.  I love all the pieces they’ve made here.  My house isn’t suited to the style they have here, but maybe yours is!  Take a look and see what you think.

Donkey Kong Art Print
Starting with a classic. I’m sure you can work out what this game is!
Waking the Mountain
This Shadow of the Colossus print is fantastic. The little details on the Colossus really add a lot to the piece.
Swift Kill
Sonic and Tails with swords is a bit of a shift for the series, but it certainly works within the aesthetic.

They are some really interesting takes on classic games.  The images either come in 12 x 17 inch prints ($40, around £30) or 7 x 9 inch handmade wood block prints (a lot more!).  I’ve seen lots of different art inspired by video games, but none like this before.

Rickshaw Kart
Bowser tries to slow Mario down with squid ink. That’s one determined looking Kooper Trooper!
The Queen
I think this one’s a really creative interpretation.
Battle in the Bath House
This is by far my favourite. Also the most expensive. You know how Christmas is coming up…

They also do some original prints too if that sort of thing takes your fancy.  Have a look at what else they do, I’m sure you’ll find something to get me for Christmas…I mean something you like!

Have you found anywhere that does interesting video game inspired art work?  Let me know, I’d love to check it out and support the artists!