A Little Post About Music/Games

May 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

Music has/Games have been around for many centuries/decades now. In its early days the audience for it was relatively small, consisting mainly of the super rich/nerdy, but in recent years/the last century its popularity has exploded with decreased barriers to entry allowing everyone to enjoy it. Some people believe that the music/games produced today are nothing compared to classical music/retro games, but most are content with modern music/games.

Back in the day, to listen to a piece of music/play a game people would have to go to a concert hall/arcade, but since the invention of the record player/home console people have been able to listen/game in the comfort of their own home. Some modern music/games are still performed live/released in arcades as well as having album/retail releases, and many old pieces/arcade games have been re-recorded/remade over time to allow them to run on the latest hardware and usually in doing so their sound/graphical quality is improved to take advantage of this.

There is a large community surrounding music/games containing many who enjoy a large number of different genres. Some music/game types however, enjoy a much more passionate fanbase such as metal/fighting games or jazz/point and click adventure games, two genres which have in the past been far more popular than they are today.

Whilst much music/many games have huge mainstream appeal such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers/Grand Theft Auto and Green Day/Call of Duty, a large majority of music/games are only appreciated by a small enthusiast audience. Major labels/Publishers have started to target more mainstream audiences in recent years, efforts which tend to be looked down upon by music/game connoisseurs, as being shallow and of little worth such as Hannah Montana/Wii Play. Due to this shift in audiences many music listeners/gamers have turned to the independent scene where much more original music/games can be found, usually having been produced with a much smaller budget.

Most high brow art critics would not deem modern music/games to be art, but there are individuals who produce work many listeners/players would deem to be artistic. As the audience for these pieces is very small, music/games tend to be generalised by the wider population as having no artistic worth. This will probably never change as there is little financial incentive for music/game executives to find artistic titles/acts, and so most people will be unaware that this art form exists, regardless of its quality.

Music/Games have also been threatened in recent years by digital piracy which has lead to a radical shift in the industry. Much music/Many games can now be downloaded legally from places such as itunes/steam and some music is/games are completely free to play in a browser, their revenue coming instead from advertising. Some people hove claimed downloads are killing the industry, others say that it has merely caused it to evolve.

Despite what many people say the music/game scene is greater today than it has ever been. with something to suite everyone’s tastes being produced somewhere.


Moral Choices

May 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Like many games before it, the recently released ‘Infamous’ by Sucker Punch, developers of the Sly Cooper series of games, has moral choices. In a medium driven by interactivity and pining for a wider appreciation the inclusion of such a system should be applauded and praised, but instead it has been greeted with a nonchalant “meh” by gamers and critics alike.

They’re not wrong in doing so of course. Infamous’ system of morality is relegated to a mere side-show, and has no bearing at all on the game’s overall plot. One of the most common choices a player must make, between reviving or harvesting downed civilians is made with a single button press, and the result is to push you towards two polar opposite, yet equally rewarding extremes of ‘hero’ or ‘villain.’

The choice here is completely binary, but seeing as each choice is in theory equally rewarding this should prove to be an interesting moral dilemma. Except it isn’t of course because 95% of players will invariably always choose to be good if the rewards for being bad are just the same. There’s no moral choice here, just a sense for the player that they’re missing out on half of the experience.

It also doesn’t help that as with every game ever made to include moral choices it is blatantly obvious when such a choice is being made. This isn’t merely jarring in as aesthetic sense when big huge button prompts appear on screen, but also holds the game’s morality system back from achieving its full potential in that it announces exactly when you are being judged on your actions, and of course once you know that, you know your actions throughout the rest of the game will carry no moral consequence. Grand Theft Auto 4 did this, and it resulted in its handful of choice scenarios adding next to nothing to the game (the exception of course being when the choice was not whether to kill but who to kill).

Of course these choices could be done much more subtly. A game could choose to give you the option of going down one of two paths, but not tell you that you’re making such a choice. It could even give you the option not to kill certain individuals.

This highlights an interesting thought however, that all gamers would choose the path they’d be conditioned to choose through years of gaming so long as they were unaware that they had any other option. Every time you reach a level’s boss you kill it, because that’s what you do in every other game. When playing the Darkness the opposite happened to me, and I held off killing the final boss because I thought it was a moral choice scenario in which I should choose to resist the evil inside f me in order to reach a ‘good’ ending. Evidently no such ending existed, and I was eventually forced to kill him.

Another interesting point is that if the player or reviewer doesn’t know they’re making a moral choice, haw are they supposed to appreciate it? You could argue that this means the consequences of the choices need to be obvious to all but this brings us back to our core issue of subtlety.

Morality is never compelling if it’s as block and white as games so often make it out to be, but the dated systems developers hove been using for years will only ever allow it to work this way. Hopefully some day games will have moral choices that are included for reasons other than as extra bullet point on the back of the box. Until then we can continue to play as the ‘good’ guy in every game we play, and ask ourselves if choosing the evil path was ever really an option.

The Secret to Multiplayer Success

May 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

The large majority of multiplayer games are unsuccessful. They come tacked on to a single player game, and lack any innovation that would make them worth playing. Worst of all, when a single player game comes out that doesn’t include a multiplayer component, there will always be a minority in the community that will complain, regardless of how good a multiplayer game it would have made. Escape From Butcher Bay had this problem, resulting in multiplayer being added to the pseudo-sequel/remake Assault on Dark Athena and more recently Bioshock offended a group of gamers intent on playing every game under the sun with friends.

Multiplayer components are costly, carry with them the majority of a game’s bugs, and more often than not don’t add much to the game as a whole. How many of you even played the multiplayer component of Metal Gear Solid 4, or The Darkness for more than a couple of days? Were the games better off because of the inclusion of one more mode in the menu?

Problems arise with multiplayer for one of two main reasons. Firstly the game in question may not be ideally suited to online play. Take Metal Gear Solid as an example. Before Guns of the Patriots the games’ controls did not allow them to be played as shooters, you needed to enter into first person view in order to accurately aim, and when there movement was impossible. These problems could be overcome with special care and attention being paid to multiplayer, such as the modes included in the Splinter Cell games in which a group of spies would take on a team of gamers playing from a standard first person perspective. Such a feature was fun and a worthwhile addition to the game, without losing the spirit of the single player portion. Sadly however in most cases this doesn’t happen, which leads us to the second reason most multiplayer modes fail.

In most cases the development team working on multiplayer has but a fraction of the resources of the single player team. They have to make do with less time, less manpower, and generally less money to produce something which is arguably harder to make. Call of Duty 4 showed the world how to do a multiplayer component properly. Right from the beginning of development an equal amount of time was given to both multiplayer and single player, and this paid off in spades with an online game that was innovative, polished, and a tonne of fun to play. Yes the single player was shorter as a result of this, but it’s impossible for a game to have its cake and eat it in this respect.

One can only assume developers include multiplayer offerings in an attempt to chase the elusive ‘long tail’ of game sales. Ordinarily a game will blow its load within its first month of being on sale, and as such this is the time within which a game will either live or die. With a long tail of sales however a game will sell consistently over a long period of time. Some games achieve this with sustained levels of advertising such as Nintendo with Wii Fit and Brain Training, but Nintendo have also done it with hardware pack-ins, such as with Wii Play. Most companies simply don’t have the funds to go such a route and so a multiplayer component can be used to over time accumulate sales. The aforementioned Call of Duty 4 remained in sales charts throughout much of 2008 because of such an inclusion, and though Valve don’t release sales numbers from Steam, one can only assume much the same has happened with Team Fortress 2.

But are there any hard and fast rules for how to achieve such success? Invariably of course there isn’t, but it’s clear that advertising plays a big role in the success of such products. This could take the obvious form of television ads, or it could be more direct and speak directly to gamers. Team Fortress 2 is a good example of this, with blogs such as Kotaku constantly reporting on Valve’s inclusion of new features to the game. This also reassures gamers that support for the game will be long and sustained, after all you don’t want to spend time getting good at a game’s multiplayer only to have the next game in the series come out and undo all your practice. Above all though, any multiplayer game must have it’s own unique feel to entice people into playing it. It’s no longer enough to do what Quake did a decade ago, your game now needs levelling, a different art style, or unlockable extras to give it the legs it needs.

Of course if all else fails you could just remake Battlefield 1942 and hope for the best.

James’ "Three F’s" Update – Fifa 09, Street FIGHTER and Call of Duty FOUR

May 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Apologies for ignoring the manual for a good while now, as I took priority in other things going on in my life but alas, with a free week of AS revision ahead of me, I told myself there must be time to squeeze in a post to make it look like I’m still alive. Unfortunately, with exams and general distractions away from games, I’ve not been playing too many new stuff like my colleagues here.

What I have bought since my scathing review on Mirror’s Edge was Fifa 09. I may as well say it now, I enjoy football, hence this is the reason why I bought the game. If you honestly don’t like football or sports games then there’s not really too much point in reading the next paragraph. I will also go on to talk about Street Figher 4 and how Call of Duty 4 online has progressed over a year on.

So here goes. Fifa. A bit of context for you, this is my first Fifa game. Before I was very much a “Pro-evo” fan boy, having 4, 5 and 6 on PS2 and also 6 on PSP. What at the time, whilst I was playing Pro Evolution Soccer, which I saw as accurate and direct I now see as lazy and unrealistic. For any game that is based on events or activities obeying the laws of physics it has to at least attempt to do one thing…obey the laws of physics. Momentum must play a factor in ball passing as well as the acceleration of players and how they move in relation to how fast the ball moves. Fifa 09 is not perfection but it seems EA has perfection locked in it’s sight and this game in my opinion comes closest to it than any other football game. What struck me first about this game was the interactive loading screen. I know this was a feature in previous Fifa games but I never saw it before. In a third person action camera angle, you take control of arguably the most skillful player in the world, Ronaldinho, and you alone are in the final third of the pitch going one on one with the keeper. Not only does this serve as great entertainment for loading before matches but it lets you get a feel of how Fifa works. The game is now much more based around touch (as football is played) and it also shows off some of it’s skills which can be executed with any player as an individual during a game.

As I eagerly went into a game with my supported football team (Liverpool, the best team in the world) I found that firstly there was a huge selection of teams going from the Premiership all the way down to league two and having this equivalent internationally, and secondly the game cleverly saves which team is your favourite for you to manage if you choose the option, and as the first option for you to play with online. Okay I don’t want to talk about online but I’ll just say this. It fucking blows. I have two friends on PSN who have Fifa 09 and I try to play them but it just doesn’t work. I’ve looked this up and it’s a common problem, on Xbox however online is a treat. Also the ranked matches aren’t really ranked and when you manage to get ranked play working, it’s laggy as hell.

Okay, now what I really want to talk about is the gameplay and the mechanics. Fifa 09 differs from Pro Evo games in that the touch of the player is affected by the pace of the ball and the player’s body position. Let me paint you a mental picture with my technological paintbrush. Imagine you are one metre away from someone else with a football at your feet. You kick it gently towards the other person and his touch on the football (assuming he’s not a total spastic) controls it fairly well because the pace was slow. Now imagine you take a huge run up before kicking the ball and imagine it’s not actually you kicking it but the world’s best striker of the ball (so Steven Gerrard) and he’s kicking it as hard as he can. You won’t be able to control it as smoothly as before and your touch will take the ball away from you. Okay in Pro Evo it’s not that bad, and as the Pro Evo games have progressed its made slight improvements but I want to highlight how Fifa make realism a part of gameplay as well as feel for the game of football. This would be my next point.

In Pro Evo and it still is like this, it’s much more of a “video game.” I’m being incredibly vague with all my points and trust me this is best way I can put this. I mean its more of a “video game” because the movement of players, their passing and how they shoot is all dependent on button presses and timing. Now you’re thinking I’ve gone insane, because sports game, nay ALL games correspond to these simple actions. In Fifa however, how you score is much more dependent on you’re own understanding and feel of football. The best example I can think of is in Pro Evo, as you run down the wing and hit O, the player instantly sends in a cross into the area, directly straight from where you hit it. In Fifa, if the player is right footed from the right wing, he hits it with the inside of natural foot thus, curling the ball away from the target and then in. If you watch football or play it, then you know this is how players naturally cross the ball and so whilst aiming for a player to cross at, you must learn to judge how the ball moves depending on where you are crossing from or with what kind of player, something that most people that normally watch or play football already know.

Another thing that I love about this game in terms of realism is the break building. The crosses and passing buttons are now treated in the same way as shooting. How far you pass or cross is dependent on how long you hold the button down for (hence a bar on the bottom of the screen) this isn’t too different from the Wii version of Pro Evo but really that’s a different take on sports games altogether. My friend once asked me as we played together, “Do you think the fact that you watch football plays a part in how well you attack?” My response: “It makes all the difference in the world.” Why? As I talked about realism, one thing I did not like about Pro Evo was that players could effortlessly sprint past each other by just holding down R1. In Fifa, sprinting past players just doesn’t work, the intricate passing that I talked about makes this game and so with slower players and faster balls, the creation of space and pass selection shines through on how you score. Oh yeah one more thing. Remember the near impossible free kicks in Pro Evo? Finished. In Fifa, although they made it challenging, it’s now possible and cleverly they did not build a practice pitch for those that choose to perfect set pieces and get goals from them every time in online matches. Seriously, if you enjoy football and you have games console, this is a must buy. Not only is it wonderfully satisfying to play, it serves as a great party/drinking game with your mates.

Ah so one “F” down. Street Fighter 4 is not a game I own. I’m merely giving first impressions on it from two very unique perspectives. One, I was in London with a friend of mine for a gig a couple of months ago before it’s release, walking down Oxford Street when we both saw a gigantic presentation in the HMV. We walked in and in front of us, were 10 back to back arcade machines of the new street fighter. They apparently had a limited amount of 100 that they weren’t selling to the public but you could enter your name in to try and win it. We were offered the chance to play each other by one of the promoters and of course, still confused about what was happening, we sat down and played it. I think I was Chun-Li while my friend was Dahlsim. As I was a total newbie, I got my ass handed to me as this Dahlsim…thing, had the strangely presented natural ability of extending it’s limbs to attack a scrawny Chinese girl who was being controlled by a button bashing moron. My thoughts? It was the best Beat ’em Up experience I ever had but this was only because of the arcade machines. The graphics on the huge screens and the traditional joystick and arcade buttons fit perfectly with this newly revived game. Find an old 1UP yours podcast with Garnett Lee at the E3 round up last year, the podcast folk feel exactly the same way about these glorious arcade machines which I’m glad I had the chance to experience. More recently, a friend of mine rented it on Xbox and I was eager to try it out again. To my surprise, it’s still fairly decent. Of course button bashing is only fun up to a certain point but the game in HD and some of the combos I accidentally pulled off looked very impressive. Another game worth getting for fans of that genre.

Finally I leave you with this. The legendary game of the 7th gen, Call of Duty 4. The game that in my opinion epitomises what the future should be for online gaming. As I put it into my diskdrive on PS3, I was thinking one thing. Is the online community going to be the same as how I left it almost 8 months ago after reaching prestige? Answer: Yes. This game has stood the test of time and my worry was in the release of Call of Duty 4 World at War, oops I mean 5, there would be no one but the hardcore players left on the much better COD4. Still people are buying this game and getting into it as in matches I still see the “n00bs” getting their asses “pwned” and the “fucktards” who still insist on winning the awards for the worst trash talkers in the world. It has impressed me throughly that this game has stood the test of time against the fickle gaming public what with new releases constantly happening but I honestly can go back to this game and still find satisfaction in blowing people’s heads off in Vacant with a shotgun.

Hopefully, next post by me will be much sooner and apologies once again I left it to everyone else.

Unable to buy games because of Benicassim – James

Frequency Could be Better than Rock Band…as a Game

May 21, 2009 § 3 Comments

I hate to be the one to break this to the world, but it’s not just Xbox 360’s that break. Sadly, I almost wish it had been a 360 that broke on me two days ago, at least that way it would have been within Microsoft’s epic 3 year warranty, but as it stands I’m currently looking at a bill of around £100 for Sony to breath life into what has become one of the most expensive paperweights I have ever owned.

This may be something of a blessing in disguise, not only because it removes one of the biggest barriers to my A-level revision, but because it’s a perfect excuse to reach back in time to play the great PS2 games that passed me by first time. First up on the list was Viewtiful Joe, now enjoying a nice long stint in the naughty corner for pulling Capcom’s favourite “Here’s all the bosses you’ve fought thus far…in a row!” bullshit. Next up, Frequency, the spiritual ancestor to this whole Guitar Hero thing, and the inventor of the phenomenon known as ‘tunnel vision’.

First impressions were not good. Visually the game has dated badly, though not I might add due to its graphical quality, but because the game draws heavily on the rave scene aesthetic, complete with garish fluorescent colours, and DJ’s wearing flight goggles for whatever reason. Additionally the song selection seems schizophrenic at best, mixing the obscure (to me at least) dance and hip-hop tracks with some nu-metal that couldn’t exist further away from the colourful world of Frequency.

For those unaware, whilst Frequency may at first seem to be less complex than Rock Band with its three tracks of notes as opposed to five, this isn’t the case. In this game, rather than controlling the input of just one instrument, you control every track in the mix, drums, vocals, and everything else. Interestingly you do this all with just the one controller, using the left and right buttons to switch between tracks displayed on each side of an octagonal tunnel, and three of the face buttons to input the notes as they move towards you.

I’ll admit that on paper it doesn’t seem that appealing, after all it’s got a dated art style, dated tracks, and a music genre choice that’s unlikely to grab you. Where it really gets you – as all games should – is when you sit down to actually play the thing, and realise that until you start entering notes, the song exists as a mere metronome beat.

You don’t play each song in its entirety though, instead on completion of two bars with a track, that track then gets added to the song until you move on to the next section, leaving you free to add other instruments to the mix. The end result is that it creates the feeling that it’s you who’s actually constructing the song, layering in the music piece by piece, instead of just contributing one part the whole way through.

Other design choices provide a refreshing change from any rhythm game fan bored with Harmonix’s recent excellent work. Progress is achieved not through simply reaching the song’s conclusion, but by achieving high scores, and the use of a controller and not a peripheral means rumble can allow you to subconsciously keep the beat at all times.

To my mind, Frequency could well be a better video game than both Rock Band and Guitar Hero. As a game to be brought out when friends come over, or when it’s party time, holding a controller in your hands and playing techno songs is never going to reach the levels of fun of Fisher Price guitars.

I know as well as you do that this post isn’t going to convince you to give the game a go, but maybe this video review will, created lovingly in the day by a blond, clean-shaven Ryan Davies.

Tony Hawks Is Dead, and his Coffin has wheels

May 18, 2009 § 1 Comment

Those waiting for the Tony Hawks series to return beautifully to form with the tenth game’s exclusive reveal on GameTrailers last week were, in all probability, disappointed by what was shown. The announcement of a skateboard peripheral from the same publisher that’s currently crowding up your house with Guitar Hero drums, microphones and of course guitars, is certainly not unexpected, but more surprisingly Tony Hawk himself has claimed that this will be the closest thing to real skateboarding ever achieved in a video game. But will this even appeal to long-time series fans?

Without a doubt the reason behind this change to the Tony Hawk formula is Skate. EA’s first foray into the skateboarding genre with its trick system mapped to the right-analogue stick brought about a much fresher experience to a genre that had remained more or less the same since the first Tony Hawk game was released nine years previously. The presence of competition wasn’t enough to makeNeversoft change their winning formula that year, and their reward was a five-to-one sales trouncing by Skate, prompting them to withdraw the Hawk from service for a year and rethink their strategy.

The result, whilst certainly unique, strays an uncomfortable distance from what have made the games so popular over the years. Insane combos, over-the-top special tricks, and a ridiculous game world all combined to give the Tony Hawk games a unique feel, far removed from the actual act of skateboarding yes, but amazingly fun all the same. The announcement of a skateboard peripheral feels odd for this very reason, it’s trying to bring a sense of realism to a series that has always derived its fun from the insane, and in doing so brings the series -for better or for worse – in direct competition with Skate.

Skate has its audience of players who enjoy its realism, and with this move Activision are emphatically trying to directly one-up their game. After just two years however, it’s unlikely that Skate fans are going to be tempted back with what will likely be a costly peripheral to purchase, and an experience that is for all intents and purposes, inferior to Skate in all areas outside of its control scheme. It’s not – for instance – open world.

What could Activision have done differently? Some could argue that the market simply no longer exists for the kind of game Neversoft used to create, that not playing catch-up to this new kind of skateboarding game would spell certain failure for the franchise. I’m partial to agreeing with this view, but rather than try and reinvent the wheel once more, why not call and end to the series with a loving celebration of the game’s best moments? Why not bring back the old Tony Hawks formula, of trying to complete as many goals as possible in five minutes, remake the best levels from the series (focusing on the first three outings) and call it Tony Hawks: Anniversary? Why not embrace their own series strengths rather than go afteranother’s?

Tony Hawks Ride will sell just fine if Activision put their typical high-budget advertising campaign behind it. It might even outsell Skate if the results of the Rock Band vs. Guitar Hero battle is anything to go buy. What it almost certainly won’t do, is restore the series to its former glory in the eyes of the fans, but it’s hard to believe Activision is even aiming to please them.

House of the Dead Review: The Perfect Pastiche

May 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

You might want to check your Wii messages after playing through House of the Dead: Overkill. Whilst the experience was undoubtedly a satisfyingly visceral romp through zombie b-movie history you can’t help but feel that the experience was a tad brief, short even. It’s doubtful that you’ll spend any longer than three hours on your first play through, and the additional directors cut story mode will typically see you watching the credits role three and a half hours. The game may be trying to imitate film at every turn, but this is just ridiculous. These play times are inclusive of cutscenes, and unlikely to vary from player to player.

Overkill is, after all, a rail shooter where you visit a handful of different stereotypical locations in order to cleanse them of their mutant infestations. After each mission you’re rewarded with an amount of cash which varies depending on your accuracy and other similar statistics. It’s a system designed to add replay value to what little there is, but the cash is doled out so enthusiastically that by the game’s end you’re likely to have a gun capable of taking down most enemies with just one reasonably placed shot. Fun? Yes, but it can make the game a bit of a cakewalk for anyone looking for a little challenge.

Headstrong Games provides your difficulty with points and a combo system. Each kill you get adds to your combo meter, which is instantly reset when you either miss a shot, or let a zombie (sorry, mutant) get one on you. Higher combos give you higher scores, but playing with only a high score in mind is a recipe for frustration, as the camera’s unpredictable movements can bring an end to the most epic of combos. If you’re a person that thrives on the competition high scores provide then the replay value of Overkill will increase dramatically, but beware that it comes at the expense of the game’s fun.

Luckily then, the game IS fun, at least while you’re playing anything that isn’t a boss fight. Enemies are manageable in numbers, but still constantly surprise you with their presence, and you’re never safe to reload, with zombies that will ambush you mid-movement. Thankfully this solid design never fails, even during co-op play, but boss battles fail to make a mark beyond ‘shoot enemy’s projectiles and wait for attack cue’ which is a shame when in order to replay levels to attempt high scores you’re forced to fight the end’s boss.

The framerate’s shoddy when enemies bring fire on screen and the plot is enough to make you unwilling to show this game to the fairer sex (let’s just say that a certain antagonist gets his wish to return to his mother’s womb) but that’s exactly what the game chooses to be. It’s not deep, it’s not thought provoking, but when you load up the dual wielding mode and the music starts, you can’t help but feel cool for the first time whilst you’ve been holding a WiiMote.

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