Farewell Tour 2014

I’m getting a PS4 for Christmas. Lovely news, but it means one of the boxes under the TV needs to go away to make space. As it’s been threatening to red ring for most of the year, I decided to mothball the 360. While this is actually my third 360 – I’ve had one new one, an ancient second hand one given to me by Family Gamer TV maestro Andy, and another second hand one I got to replace THAT when it keeled over – the platform has been my main gaming format for well over half a decade. So it’s kind of a big deal to move on to all-Sony consoles.

First I had to wrap up some unplayed games. I played LA Noire, and fell through the bottom of the universe one time:

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I also played Dishonored, tried Far Cry 2 but gave up after a bit, similarly played various review copies I’d given up on midway through until I got bored and gave up for good. Then I threw myself into Fallout New Vegas, where amongst many of the virulent bugs that survived countless patches, a corpse floated to the ceiling:

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I enjoyed New Vegas, but it wasn’t Fallout 3. It lacked the devastated urban splendour of that game, even though it was technically bigger – seeing a desert turned into a wasteland isn’t as much of a transformation as Washington DC laid low. So before the 360 got boxed up for good, I decided to do a quick tour of the Mall and some other fondly remembered locations, meet some people and shoot some Super Mutants.

Oh, and I found a floating hammer:

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Goodbye Capital Wasteland, you charmingly desolate hellhole, and goodbye buggy old 360.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, here are the badly formatted, uncropped and oversized pics.

Mark

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December 19, 2014. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Disney Infinity Yondu & the Falcon

I’ve read some comics so apparently that makes me an expert. The two corrections I’ve had to issue in the comics comments *might* be considered to undermine that:

 

Oh, and let’s just stick the Infinity Spider-Man Playset one here too, rather than expend another post on this stuff:

 

 

September 12, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Let’s Play Doctor Who Legacy: Robots of Sherwood (Season 8)

Second of my Family Gamer TV videos. You can now find a playlist of these in the links bar to the right.

 

September 9, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Let’s Play Batman & The Flash: Hero Run

Should have embedded this days ago: the first of my Let’s Play videos for Family Gamer TV. Apologies for all the umming and ahhing, these should get better with practice:

 

September 5, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Proteus (PS3) and why I don’t like it.

picture via wikipedia, cos I'm lazy like that.I should like Proteus, and it took me a while to realise why I don’t. It’s not that it lacks violence, or is purely exploratory – the bit of Bioshock Infinite before any shooting was my favourite, and I’ve spent more time exploring Arkham City or the many historical locations of Assassin’s Creed than engaging in action. I love exploration, I’m comfortable with the wordless loneliness of Ico, with the solitude of the wasteland in Fallout 3.

So as an idea I find the pure exploration of Proteus appealing, and I’m not an anti-anti-game zealot bothered by the lack of gamey mechanics.

It took me towards my second session with Proteus, falling asleep on the sofa while, on screen, I stood inside a stone circle waiting for the magical flickering that transports the player between the seasons, to realise my problem with the game, and its this:

Proteus is heavily abstracted, an island of simple colours and two dimensional objects. It’s music and sounds are plinky ambient wibbles. It’s a game where you walk between tree shapes and watch a frog like shape bounce along, each bounce scored with a watery plink.

That level of abstraction is so severe that for me it leaves nothing to sink my inquisitive mind into. What I see is what I get out of it – tree shapes, castle shapes, water sky flowers and rain and frog type things.

There’s nothing that requires closer examination, nothing to read, no story to unfold. There’s just… stuff.

Blank stretches of sea and sky have their charms, but there’s a reason why people being books to the beach.

September 4, 2014. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Resident Evil 6: notes from a dead project

Sometimes, things don’t work out.

Game People, the site I used to write reviews about storytelling in games for, has over the last year or so moved more and more away from text and got into video reviews on the Family Gamer TV Youtube channel.

As part of that, I’ve been attempting to do videos for the channel, with the plan to stack a few up and perfect the format before launching them as a little sub-strand within the channel. The schtick was that I was reviewing grown-up games ‘after dark’, which simultaneously suggests something more urbane and sleazier than me rambling at a camera about Arkham Origins but there you go.

photo (3)Unfortunately the plan didn’t work, out after months of tryouts and attempts. Light conditions in my house are incredibly poor in terms of recording the to-camera links, and setting up tripods etc meant I could only really film when I had the house to myself. Recording off-screen games footage was a mess, the camera never quite lining up with the TV.  The whole thing created a massive editing job for Andy at Family Gamer and, in one final crisis, I found that two reviews worth of my to-camera footage had bad audio recording because of some mess up with either my phone or the mic or both.

At that point we cut our losses.

While we’re still working on me doing something for the Family Gamer TV Youtube channel, probably closer to a Let’s Play format with me talking over directly captured game footage, the reviews I’d been working on are effectively useless. Still, I got the review copies, so it would be nice to belatedly actually talk about the games somewhere, right?

For the last couple of reviews I worked off pretty detailed notes, complete with annotations as to where in-game footage should go, and Andy Robertson of Family Gamer has kindly allowed me to run them here.

So, very belatedly and scrappily, here are my thoughts on Resident Evil 6:

  • Intro – Hello I’m Mark Clapham, I’m a writer and parent to a daughter, and I like to play games after she has gone to bed. Games that provide an alternative to an endless cycle of wholesome cartoons and stories in the day.
  • These are my late night reviews of games that are definitely not for the whole family.
  • With one exception that we won’t go into, you can’t get a more adult genre than horror, and probably the single biggest name in horror gaming is the Resident Evil series.

[CLIP: Resi menu]

  • Resident Evil 6 is the most recent instalment, and has been out for a while for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Unfortunately I can’t really recommend it as a horror game, especially one for busy parents to fit into their evenings.
  • If nothing else it’s a big game, trying to live up to the size and history of this long series with a globe-spanning plot that splits into three main storylines featuring characters from many past games in plots that echo those older games.
  • There’s Leon Kennedy from 2 and 4, dealing with zombies in a spooky old buildings There’s Chris Redfield from 1 and 5, having the more trigger happy battles with funny-headed mutants we saw in 4 and 5.

[CLIPS: Leon, Chris.]

  • More interesting are Jake and Sherry, children of different villains from the series, who provide something a bit newer to the series, including a more convincing romance than Leon’s bizarre infatuation with Ada Wong.

[CLIP: Jake and Sherry]

  • Oh yeah, Ada Wong’s in it too. She mainly does that thing with the zipline she does.

[CLIP: Ada]

  • Unfortunately, these old school characters don’t bring old school Resident Evil horror with them.
  • For the most part Resident Evil 6 tries to match current military action favourites like Call of Duty or Battlefield in terms of shooting, explosions, car chases, missile launches and sequences where helicopters crash into things

[CLIP: Opening action sequence.]

  • If that doesn’t sound much like an atmospheric horror game, you would sadly be right. Resident Evil 6 is way too big, too open, to really build tension, and mainly consists of boxy areas where you spin around strafing baddies with funny heads. There’s very little tension, just a wearying pile-up of set pieces.

[CLIP: generic shooty bit.]

  • It’s disappointing to sit down for some late night scares and instead encounter such generic action. In it’s attempt to be a blockbuster, Resident Evil 6 loses almost all the horror. If you have young teens who are accustomed to gore, you probably wouldn’t be too worried about letting them play this, as there are very few mature scares.
  • The sheer bloat of the game, combined with a terrible save system that makes it hard to keep track of when you can safely put the controller down without losing progress, makes this a hard game for parents, or anyone else who doesn’t have spare five hour gaming sessions to hand, to play.

[CLIP: plodding about.]

  • A lot of these design flaws are because the game is angled heavily towards online co-op, which is a bit tricky for those of us who don’t have the time to have long co-op sessions. Also, multiplayer doesn’t lend itself to slow burn tension, and prioritises fast action, if not fast game session.

[CLIP: action]

 

  • One casualty of the online friendly action is any of the background detail that used to make the worlds of previous Resident Evil games come to life. There are no documents to read in-game – though you can read some from a juke box in the extras menu – no audiologs, nothing to stop and look at. It makes the whole game disappointingly shallow, and fails to build any real atmosphere. There are also very few puzzles, as that would presumably slow the game down by requiring thinking.
  • It’s a shame, as Resident Evil 6 is a really beautiful game, with gorgeous visuals and sound. then, but shallow, expecting nothing of the player but to run and shoot. There’s the odd genuinely good quiet bit, like a drive through a city shrouded in poisonous fog, but these are few and far between.

[CLIPS: blue fog?]

  • Ultimately Resident Evil 6 is a long, repetitive game that feels even longer and more repetitive due to the way the plots intersect, meaning that if you play all three campaigns – and with a lot of unique settings and scenes in each you’ll want to – you’ll fight certain boss battles, which were dull first time around, again from a different angle, which is kind of structurally clever but also boring and annoying.
  • In the end, while it has a lot of gloss and explosions, Resident Evil 6 is too unwieldy and bloated to recommend, to the extent it took me over a year to find time to complete the thing.
  • Please follow the FamilyGamer TV Channel on Youtube for more of my reviews, as well as reviews of games for those difficult times when the children are awake.
  • You can also follow me on twitter at @markclapham. Good night.

 

June 26, 2014. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Ubisoft’s Gender Problem

ACClaudiaI have a lot of time for Ubisoft, and I think their E3 presentation this year had by far the most stuff I’m interested in. I also like that they hire an actual media professional who can go on stage without seeming like a quivering PR robot to host their conference. That said presenter is Aisha Tyler, a woman of colour in a sea of white male techs and execs, makes the fact that the couple of niggles emerging relate to the presentation of women in their games all the more galling. But I think this is a case where success has led to the emergence of unexpected problems.

Reading a recent Edge article on Ubi’s editorial team, the squad of advisers who share best practise and approve or reject projects in the sprawling company and its sub-studios, it’s hard not to admire the administrative machinery they’ve put in place to ensure these massive AAA titles are laser targetted at what Ubisoft’s audience want to play. There’s a growing awareness, especially amongst critics, that this is blurring a lot of the company’s games into one Uber-ubi-game, with tropes like Parkour and side missions and taking control of certain locations to open up the map spreading from game to game.

Of course, the reason these open world game play elements are so pervasive is that they work, that they appeal to a broad audience and provide an addictive framework of progression and exploration with lots to do. Some critics may have been disappointed in Watch_Dogs (I haven’t played it yet) for its recycling of bits of Assassin’s Creed etc but it sold shitloads. Maybe not everyone who bought the game was pleased to have the chance to play Chess in the park or engage in optional car racing but the presence of those ticks on the packaging certainly didn’t put them off.

These things appeal to me. They appeal to a lot of people. If there’s a generic gamer brain, a point where the various circles in the big Venn diagram of genres and gameplay options available to Triple A developers overlap the most, Ubisoft are great at marking it out and occupying that territory with populist action potboilers.

And Ubisoft’s E3 presentation was full of that stuff, from Far Cry 4 to Les Assassins Miserables (apologies to whoever on Twitter’s joke that was) to the Division. Even outside that big blurry open world action space each project was the most amped up version of that experience you can imagine – Just Dance was relentlessly poppy and bouncy, the fitness game was the gamiest fitness game ever seen, Rainbox Six Siege finessed that squad shooter thing to it’s most intense and streamlined incarnation.

See marketing target, focus on marketing target, launch mini nuke at marketing target. Boom.

The problem with hitting the tastes of the generic gamer, of the person you get when you smudge all your audience research together and create an archetype of who you’re making games for, is that you end up excluding diversity. You know that X percentage of gamers are white men so that’s who your protagonists are, maybe throwing in black NPC character or secondary playable character because you don’t want to ignore those gamers altogether. And as for women… well, they become what women get stuck with being in a lot of action fiction in films or books or TV, inert sources of motivation for the player.

In aiming for the widest audience, in targeting the universal lizard brain part of the largest spread of gamers, you end up creating regressive nonsense. You have a Rainbow Six demo where two teams of men fight over a frightened woman, guiding or dragging her from room to room as the men shoot each other. You dabble in having female assassins in Assassin’s Creed Unity, then drop it because it requires more mo-cap or different takes of the dialogue for different pronouns and it’s not a budgetary priority because you’re aiming at the  generic tastes of uberubigamer so you think it doesn’t matter beyond a scattering of negative headlines.

But it does matter, not just because such a mindset is regressive and exclusionary and blinkered but because variation and diversity is required to keep things interesting. That’s the danger of the editorial mandate, the focus on what already works – there’s no preparation for when the current tricks wear thin. It’s no use building all these detailed cities and jungle  covered islands to explore if we’re doing it with the same old characters with the same old motivations about dead or kidnapped girlfriends and daughters. Diversity of characters as well as diversity of scenery, please.

Also, I still want to play an Assassin’s Creed game as Clauda Auditore. Get on that.

June 11, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Ten Minutes on… Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers-A-Tale-of-Two-SonsI’ve got PS Plus (thanks, person who got me it as a gift, and yes I will make that call), Sony’s subscription service for PS3/PS4/PSVita users that, along with other perks, includes two or three free games to download every month, and which keep working until your subscription lapses.

It’s about £40 a year, and if you can’t get it as a gift (thanks again, benefactor), it’s well worth getting as, if you’re not bothered about getting titles as soon as they come out, the Instant Game Collection provides pretty much as many triple A and smaller games as you could ever want, certainly more than I actually have time to play.

It also exposes you to smaller games you may have overlooked, which is how I ended up playing Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Brothers is an adventure game in which two brothers (obviously) travel through a fantastical kingdom, working together to solve puzzles to travel and get help for their ailing father.

In many ways it’s a kind of more mainstream, less spiky take on my beloved Ico: the beautiful fantasy landscape, twinkly music, sense of co-operation and Pingu-like gibberish dialogue are all reminiscent of that game, albeit in a watered down form that’s closer to How To Train Your Dragon than Ico’s solitude and weirdness.

Unlike Ico, you don’t play one character and pull the other along. Neither do you switch characters, like in Resident Evil Zero, or have another player on board like any co-op game. Instead the play style is what might be called single player co-op – controlling both characters at once, one with each stick on the controller.

While the style of the game was charming and the puzzles fun, I found that the control system, trying to use both thumbs to control separate entities in some kind of coordinated fashion, felt like having some weird kind of seizure where parts of my brain felt dislocated and contradictory. I felt I was losing control of my faculties, and a little ill.

So nice idea, but not for me.

March 20, 2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

“… about 70,000 hostiles…”: Announcing Resident Evil 6

Resident Evil 6 has been announced, and I have a lot of thoughts. Guess it’s time to remember I have a blog, then.

I have to admit that when the teaser posters showing a 20/11/12 release date leaked earlier tonight, I instantly doubted them. Capcom, going from first announcement of a core Resi title to release in less than a year? Surely not – remember that first Resi 5 trailer that came out in September 2006, two and a half sodding years before the game’s release?

But no, at 10pm GMT this went live confirming the date and showing a lot more than early gameplay footage or proof-of-concept FMV:

Now, in terms of scheduling Capcom have only shaved six months off the four year wait between Resis 4 and 5, but in terms of announcing and marketing 6 they’re taking a far tighter, more aggressive approach, sitting tight through the first two years of development then hitting us with a barrage of visuals and a date.

That November date is a statement in itself. Resis 4 and 5 launched between January and Spring, relatively lean times for game releases when a major franchise title can make a big splash. Resident Evil 6 will be thrown straight into the competitive pre-Xmas market, when major franchises battle it out in the most lucrative period of the year, albeit one where smaller name games can easily get lost.

It doesn’t look like Resident Evil 6 is in any danger of getting lost amongst the big names, or being two low-octane to make a splash compared to this year’s Call of Duties and so forth. The launch trailer lays out a globe-spanning blockbuster that abandons the tight geographic progression of the last two installments in favour of something much bigger, more varied and dynamic.

There’s a lot going on in there as well: old favourites Leon and Chris, both playable; an American town overrun by zombies (replicating the series most popular setting, the Raccoon City outbreak without having to timewarp back to 1998 again); head-splitting mutants from the last two games in a neon-lit Chinese city; a big Nemesis type baddy with very sharp hands pursuing a couple of other characters in a bleak urban landscape; oh, and the whole thing opens with a fantastic, dramatic set-piece where Leon has to shoot the zombified President of the United States through the face.

In short, it looks epic, mixing and matching elements from across the entire series in a way that looks both atmospheric and action-packed, and which looks likely to enthrall both loyal series fans of myself – of whom there are many – and a general audience.

It looks entirely capable of going toe-to-toe with the big beast franchises of the current videogame landscape, and to be honest it should be: Resident Evil is one of the biggest, most recognisable names in games, one with wider pop culture impact (as much as we may bitch about the quality of those movies), and it’s only right that the next major game in the series should be a blockbuster to match the Modern Warfares and Assassin’s Creeds that dominate the pre-Xmas charts.

It looks fantastic, and frankly I can’t wait.

Mark

For more of my ramblings on the Resident Evil series, have a look at the Storygamer archive.

January 20, 2012. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

I must break my silence for this important announcement…

I have found a youtube video of the high score entry music from Impossamole:

Now, to my ears this TurboGrafix version doesn’t sound as good as the Atari ST one did back in the day, but its melancholic tones still take me back.

Twenty years? Fuck.

Mark

December 15, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

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