Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Coward Does His Duty

There comes a time when even the most stalwart FPS aficionado gets tired of charging into the fray with all guns blazing. For me, the appointed hour arrived one afternoon a few years ago. I was playing the level ‘War Pig’ from Call of Duty 4, in which you have to escort a tank through a hostile city. Having spent half an hour experimenting with variations of the kamikaze assault, I decided that it was time to try something new. Why not, I thought, play through the level as a coward? Not all soldiers are heroes, after all; even duty can call a wrong number.

To begin with, my new approach worked well. Having restarted the game, I immediately took cover behind a wall, far from the enemy’s front line. Bullets rattled against the brickwork, but the effect was strangely comforting, like the pattering of rain on a sturdy roof. My comrades exhorted me to advance, but I stayed where I was. Let them do the work for a change, I thought. What does a tank need a human shield for, anyway?

It wasn’t long before my resolution began to falter. Lying in the dirt is fun for a while, but once you’ve run out of pixelated blades of grass to count, there’s very little left to do. More importantly, from a military perspective, my squadron wasn’t making much progress: the tank was still parked right where it had started, bullets pinging impotently from its armoured frame. The crew appeared to be asleep. This state of affairs was unacceptable: a coward I may be, but that doesn’t make me a good loser.

I crawled out of cover and took up a new position behind the tank. For a moment I fretted that this behaviour—situating myself next to the enemy’s primary target—was insufficiently spineless, but it soon became clear that I was in no more danger than I had been before. However, neither did my relocation appear to have effected a tactical improvement: the tank was still motionless, and no amount of pushing was going to help. Reluctantly, I decided that it was time to enter the fray, or at least to knock quietly on the door of the fray, in the hope that the fray wouldn’t be able to hear me over the sound of itself.

I crept out from behind the tank and made my way slowly along the periphery of the battlefield. A distant adversary fired a couple of rounds in my direction, but they missed by a comfortable margin. All the same, I couldn’t help but feel that I was failing to respect my true nature: a coward must have the courage of his convictions, or he might just end up brave and dead.

Happily, I soon found myself back in cover. Not only that, but my expedition appeared to have roused the occupants of the tank from their slumber. The vehicle began to inch forward, following the trail that I had blazed just moments before. Could it be? Had I instigated a victory without firing a shot?

As it turned out, no. The tank came to a halt just short of my position, its driver seemingly unwilling to advance in his armoured vehicle to the point that I was occupying with my fleshy body. The enemy had abruptly vanished, and my comrades were rallying around me, but it appeared that we would make no further progress until I had personally evicted from the road ahead every one of the 500 Kalashnikov-wielding insurgents who had taken up residence there. This honour I declined. I have my principles, after all, and chief among them is the conscientious objection to the prospect of my own demise. With this in mind, I made a swift battlefield resignation. As the saying goes, you should always quit while you’re not dead.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Wasteland Lover 3: The Rise and Fall of the Powder Gangers

With the shit town of Goodsprings saved, Felix definitely had no reason to stay there a second longer. He heads out in to the wastes, following the road to a town called Primm, which is where the trail of clues was currently leading. I guess I should point out that there is some sort of narrative thread to this game, namely that you get shot in the head by Chandler in the opening scene, and he takes some macguffin you were carrying from somewhere to somewhere else; it's not that clear. You want to find the person who killed you, and that's pretty understandable. Once you do that, you very quickly get wrapped up in the overall narrative of the area, and the link's a little hazy, but by then you probably have enough opinions, or at least enough curiosity, to want to get involved in that. It doesn't get in the way of messing about, but it's definitely more present than say, the storyline of Fallout 2, which is about 3 scenes.

So yeah, that's why Felix is going to Primm, because that's where the guy who shot him in the head was going. I said I followed the road to Primm, but that's more like a good idea that I had rather than what happened. Every fucking barrel and possibly-exciting plant was enough to drag Felix 200 metres off the road and get him involved in all kinds of terrible shit. Felix met a dickhead who was wearing a nice jacket, so he borrowed if off his corpse. Geckos were all over the place though, so the Powder Ganger armour we got back in Goodsprings stayed on for now.


Of course this is a diguise and of course I forgot and the NCR trooper outside Primm started shooting at Felix. Just because he was dressed like a wanted criminal? What an asshole. After hiding behind a rock and getting changed, I guess the guy forgot about us. He was happy to talk nonsense to Felix about his job, so I guess that's cool. However, he'd also just chased Felix in to the wastes whilst shooting at him. This made him pretty unpopular, and also in the middle of nowhere. He was also wearing an NCR disguise, which Felix could really do with having if this pans out anything like I expect. So, Felix puts some dynamite in to his pocket, which is a great feature that is still great the twentieth time.

Primm is a surprisingly big town containing surprisingly little. By the time Felix arrives, it's been more or less taken over by Powder Gangers in great outfits. The little western side of town has a handful of NCR troopers in tents, and the original residents of the town are holed up in the Vikki and Vance casino (a building Felix would quickly and thoroughly burgle), but mostly the town was dominated by aforementioned prisoner types, holed up in the Bison Steve Hotel. Irritatingly, it turns out the guy who knows where Felix's would-be murderer went has been kidnapped and is being held inside said Hotel. Never one to want a fair fight, Felix sneaks in, frees the captive and sneaks out with him, only having to beat two innocent criminals to death with a tire iron in the process. Turns out the man who shot Felix in the head continued along the road. Couldn't have figured that shit out without having to run in to a hotel full of insane criminals I guess.


Felix Kluge outside the Bison Steve Hotel, October 2281


The guy Felix was forced to rescue is whining about how the Sheriff died or whatever and how Felix should get a new one. You get pretty inured to this shit, playing videogames. I'm basically just accepting of the fact that obviously they'd choose Felix for the role of picking the new sheriff, on account of how he's never been to this town before and knows nothing about law enforcement. Deciding to repay their trust, Felix walks to the prison nearby and selects a convicted felon to rule the town. This goes down very well with the local population. With a sheriff installed, the citizens finally leave the casino, getting in to a big fight with all the Powder Gangers I didn't kill earlier, and doing Felix's 'job' for him. It wasn't really his job anyway so he doesn't even feel bad a little bit. After he's finished looting all the corpses, he notices one Primm resident has a rather baller outfit. Sadly the old dynamite-in-the-pocket routine didn't run so smoothly because the guy noticed it was happening. He also had some beasty revolver so we had to run outside of town and hide behind a rock until he was close enough to beat to death with a baseball bat.

By this stage Kluge has killed four people purely because he wanted their clothes. Someone is coming out from the town to investigate what was just happening though, some weird young really tanned guy with a white flat top. Looks god damn hideous. Don't really want to be caught next to the corpse of this guy's friend whilst wearing his clothes, so Kluge runs off in to the wastes. After maybe 10 steps a Powder Ganger shows up and says he has a present for Felix. It's a lie though, he just wants to kill him with his friends.
There are a shitload of Powder Gangers in this game. All from that one little prison? I mean that prison is still full of guys, and even discounting all the ones over the wastes, they have four camps, those guys in the Bison Steve, the ones in Vault 19 (this is a spoiler) and the ones in Nipton (also a spoiler), with a few more dotted around, like the ones who attacked Goodsprings. That's a lot of guys, but whatever. Anyway these guys have attacked Kluge because apparently they hate him. Not really sure how I've wronged them so severely, and a few hours ago they were letting me walk around in their prison, so fuck these guys. Felix heroically runs back towards Primm, where that rancid grey flat-top guy is investigating the murder of his pal (by me) and gets him to fight the Powder Gangers for him.

That shit dealt with, Felix heads over the wastes to Nipton, on the way seeing a horrible mutated dog-human get beaten to death by a herd of Bighorners. Turns out Nipton's gone to hell, it's all on fire and shit, and the only guy around is this complete tool that Felix was going to bludgeon to death before being distracted by barrel cactus plants. I mean hey, that guy was a dick, but maybe I can cook some cool shit with this fruit. Is what Felix would have thought.

So yeah Nipton all got burned down and all the population killed of enslaved by the Legion, using some fruity lottery. I guess these guys have a certain style if nothing else. The leader of the group, with his weird voice like out of date caramel, or a rat pretending to be a sexy mouse, is cool with Felix just strolling around though, and even gives him a little job to do. So he's okay in Felix's book. After doing his job, Felix continues on up the road, getting in to a few fairly unexciting encounters until finding a pretty radical ranch.


It's got some boxes to put my shit in, some plants, a campfire, a bed, and I guess some fences and shit too. Kluge duly stores his shit in said boxes, steals the unique cleaver 'Chopper' from the stovetop, and has a little nap. It's nice to have a house, and this one is a shitload better than that shitty presidential suite you get later on (that is a spoiler).

On the final run to Novac (Novac is where our current tidbit of clue is leading us), we pass a little unit of NCR troopers. They look okay, I guess. The uniform's okay. They're out patrolling, which is maybe fairly noble. It seems a lot like work, though, and Felix isn't really feeling this shit. And he doesn't really mind when they get slaughtered a few dozen metres up the trail. Continuing on, pretty soon Felix sees a couple of dudes he can totally get on board with.

Hell yeah. Whatever Felix is up to, it's not as good as whatever these two lads are doing, and he wants to be a part of it. Sadly right now he still has to deal with the fact that someone shot him in the head and then stone cold walked away like he didn't give a shit about it. Passing a ranger station, Kluge ducks in for a minute. There is one solitary ranger in here. Great station assholes. Put some dynamite in her pocket to steal her shit, works like a charm. Annoyingly, her ranger outfit isn't a disguise. This shitty NCR uniform Kluge stole outside of Primm weighs 26 fucking pounds for 2 DT. Shit is most definitely hampering his ability to operate effectively (i.e. carry 200 bottles of nuka cola and pretend to be those Legion vets he saw earlier). Felix trashed the outfit then, because he aint wearing some fruity shit with a neckerchief just for no reason.
It's night time by the time he rolls in to Novac, and the god damn hotel desk is closed. Isn't night time when people want to use hotels? This place is being run terribly. Nothing to do except wait around in the lobby for daytime.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Wasteland Lover 2: Felix Kluge

Now that this is going on a blog, suddenly my character has to have a name. Can't run around the wastes under such monikers as Sweet Baff or Cram It. I hate thinking up names, so for a little while, whenever I need one for whatever reason, I've had a few tactics. Went with my favourite one this time, which is stealing names from the Bundesliga. Heard about a midfielder playing for Schalke 04 called Peer Kluge, which is just a fantastic name. Took the surname for my own, then added the first name of his Schalke 04 manager. I'm like the Tarantino of names, except I'm not a complete fucking imbecile.
Name down, next up is face. I followed what I outlined before, and it ended up like this:

I am not some fruit, I had no real goal here beyond making something I wouldn't completely hate looking at for ages. Hopefully you feel the same way. If not, fuck you, that shit took me ages. Like five minutes just on his jaw. The Mass Effect facemaker is much better. This shit has a lot of options that make no sense. Like there is an option in 'tone' called 'eyebrows' and it does absolutely nothing as far as I can tell. All the options for changing the nose use fucking esoteric terms for different parts of the nose. I thought I was doing okay knowing what a philtrum was, but now I have to know exactly how wide I want this guy's sellion to be. And ultimately you can hardly change it anyway. Poor facemaking software.

Anyway, next came stats, and I went for hell-of-generic and standardised.



Bearing in mind I pick up Small Frame in a moment, we have 6 6s and 1 5 (sorry Charisma. I didn't drop you down but you are still terrible.)
Right after you pick the stats you have to answer all these questions, and then it tells you what skills you should have. Then it lets you change them, which everyone who has ever played this game definitely does. This interview shit is fucking terrible. Nobody wants it. It didn't use to be there. At least, knowing it was meaningless, I could just skip through it all and pick Melee, Sneak and Survival like I already knew I was flipping gonna. Also picked up Small Frame and Good-Natured like I fucking said I was going to.
Then I stole everything of value (and several things of no value) from the Doc's house, and stepped out in to the wasteland.

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This game is marred by its opening frankly. This whole town is fucking awful and has almost nothing to do with anything. All the characters in it are gross verisimilitude-destroying failures. I can just about see why you'd need a tutorial, in case somewhere in the world there existed a person who had never played a single videogame before in their life, but had still managed to ease through the fucking cheek-sallowness sliders. Yeah, there's really no one this tutorial is for. People know how to play games, and people that don't know how to play games tend not to give a shit and do not want to learn. There are good ways to do tutorials, like Left 4 Dead, which has a tutorial you don't even fucking realise is being given. This is the exact opposite of that. It's very weird having this stupid town and its population of children's tv presenters in the same world as the rest of the game.

Not really going to go in to it, because it really is that rubbish. I helped out around the town and eventually fended off the 'invasion' of the town (by six people, three of them wearing only shorts). But mostly I just went from house to house stealing everyone's shit.

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Because:
A) Fuck this town and everyone in it.
B) It's really easy to do and I probably need all these boxes of detergent.
C) Feeble Felix Kluge can't really get in to fights that often on account of his small frame and all that, but the audience still has to know he isn't made of the finest moral fibre. Probably a poor fibre e.g. flax.

This goes down mostly successfully. Highpoint being stealing from the leader of the people who were about to invade whilst he has an argument with one of the residents (he had a stealthboy). Lowpoint being when I got cocky, stealing from the shelves of the shop while the shopkeeper was right there, and then selling everything back to him. He caught me and nearly shot me to death before I ran far enough away and I guess he just forgot it all happened, and I sold the rest of his shit back to him.

So yeah, I was born, I ran around and looted the town, then saved it from the bad guys. All set for heading off into the wastes in chapter 3.


I got to level 2. Picked Confirmed Bachelor, which is the perk that lets you chat up other guys who are in to it. Hilariously, there is much messageboard moaning from guys who somehow selected this perk without realising that it blatantly makes your character gay. I took it because it's great that it exists, and because I need as many non-violent ways to get through shit as possible. This was the stupid tutorial town and I came extremely close to dying twice. I might pick up the corresponding perk to make me a multi-gender smoothtalker, or maybe I'll just stay the most desirable homosexual in the Mojave.
Along with the stealthboy, I got the Powder Ganger guard armour off Joe Cobb and a baseball bat off one of his friends. A decent weapon, the equal-best armour I'll ever be allowed to equip, and my first disguise. Hooray. I also did some cooking at the campfire. This shit is way more radical than I thought. I cooked the legs of a giant mantis in wine! I thought this shit would be much more caveman. This is fantastic.

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Wasteland Lover 1: The Intro. What and Why


I thought about writing a review. I read a lot of reviews, even after playing the whole game. I'm not exactly sure why. Played the game a lot when it came out, more than I have played any other game since I was 18 even. Didn't want to review it when I could be playing it, and by the time I had got over wanting to play it all the time it had been out 6 weeks or so, and reviewing it felt pointless. I mean, it would have been pointless anyway, but this just made it especially so. Plus I'd already stated most of my most trenchant points in conversation anyway, so there'd be a lot of retreading, or whatever. So yeah, I never did.
Fallout New Vegas has four endings, and I wanted to do them all. I left a lot of quests unfinished and places unexplored on my first go through the game, so there would be new shit for later ones. Goes against my innate completionist/perfectionist, but that side of me has totally faded as I've grown up anyway. Much rather do something enjoyably than well.
So, the main problem with New Vegas isn't the bugs, like I'd say if I was some weak journalist. It's that it's too fucking easy. My first go through I had it on 'Hard' setting (normal mode is for wimps, babies, toys and lame fucks) with the Hardcore more also enabled. It really wasn't that hard, so next go, I put it up to Very Hard and decided I wasn't going to wear power armour (like older Fallouts, it's the armour, especially power armour, that really reels in the difficulty). But, since I knew the game fairly well by this stage, it was actually even easier than before.
So, I got to talking with videogame journalist-for-hire Sam Balthier about ways to make an additional playthrough difficult enough to be engaging enough for a third run-through of the game.
The shit we discussed piqued my interest. Seemed it would necessitate playing the game slightly differently, require more thinking or whatever. Basically, I wasn't most likely going to bother playing this through a third time before, and after I wanted to fucking write this shit down.

I guess the restrictions and their reasoning run roughly like this:

No wearing shit with a DT above 5

Like I touched on before, it's the armour that really makes this game easy. No PA is one thing, but nothing over 5 is crippling. Can't even wear a leather jacket. Basically all this allows is the little grimy clothes with radical names like Merc Cruiser outfit and Raider Blastmaster Armour. Luckily, that contains all the best looking shit in the game anyway. What it also allows, and I get a feeling this might be crucial, is disguises. There are Legion, NCR, Great Khan and Powder Ganger disguises all at 5 DT or below, so that whole thing is open to play around with. They're not really necessary at all normally, but I'm guessing they might get more mileage when any sucker can kill you.
This was the idea the rest were based around, the nexus of the whole concept or whatever. A DT of less than 6 means you'll look way better (and we all love taking photos of our guy, hence this whole fucking thing) and the game will be hard enough to make you think.

No getting your fucking addictions cured by the doctor lady in five minutes for like fifty woolongs

Drugs are powerful shit. Even with essentially no armour, a shitload of drugs could still make you pretty baller. This way, you can still take them - and as this much of a wimp, it's likely I'll want the aforementioned shitload - but you have to deal with the consequences like a big boy.
Addiction curing is much too easy and cheap in this game anyhow, making shit like Fixer totally worthless except for a couple of quests in Freeside. My most memorable and fun playthrough of Fallout 2 was as a jet addict (in Fallout 2, you couldn't cure addictions at the doctor, but they did pass over time. Except jet. Jet was for life (yeah, there is a quest to make an antidote, but that shit is for babies and I did not touch it)). Being a legit addict if you play around with drugs, searching for Fixer, saving your last dose for either a big fight or to stave off a headache, should be fun.

No repairing shit

This one is another pretty big dampener on a lot of dudes' parades. I'm not sure how far I'm going to go with it. What's definitely out is swapping caps for CND with some repairing NPC behind a counter. Repair kits, maybe. But I don't have that much of a problem with like-for-like merging in the Pip-Boy, especially for the sake of saving some unique weapon or whatever (some of them look nice, plus they're sad to lose), but probably Jury Rigging should be out. Or maybe not, I don't know. Repair isn't amazing without it.

No companions

Companions are overpowered. And by companions I mean Boone. Although in fairness, most of the rest are too - especially Veronica - but Boone is just fucking egregious. I'm actually going to break this one for a couple of reasons:
I'm playing Hardcore mode (obviously) and if they die, then they're dead. No reloading that shit. I'm aiming to side with Caesar's Legion too. Not a lot of the companions are cool with that, notable fan-favourite Arcade Gannon and Boba Fett-fan-favourite Boone. So I wont get a whole lot of free reign. The reason being, I'm writing this shit up on here. Figure a companion dying or leaving me will make this shit better reading.

No save-scumming

Ironman that shit. If you die, you can reload. Anything else, fucking deal with it.

Character

Guess I might as well laden myself with a few more restrictions during character creation, huh?

Stats

Min-maxing is still as good as ever (pro-tip to beef up your character: dump CH, probably PE and possibly LK depending on your build. Over 6 IN isn't really necessary, especially if you take educated early). So this time I am having no part in it. Gonna put my free points where I want, but those 5s are sticking around. I'm going to be a lovely well-rounded human being.

Skills

Tagged guns before, plus it's very good and very generic/boring. Done explosives before too (can't recommend them enough though, they are too fantastic) and unarmed as well. Melee seems like just about the worst combat skill going (except perhaps having only explosives), so lets go with that.
Speech is too fucking good. Might build it later, but I'm at least giving the wasteland a chance against me.
Mostly I just didn't want to tag anything I've tagged before. Along with melee, sneak and survival are my picks. Sneak for running away from everything that can effortlessly kill me (everything), and survival for getting by in the wastes after I run away.

Traits

Small Frame and Good-Natured. I'm already going to get dicked in fights, so I might as well fucking emphasise this aspect of my personality or whatever. Plus the good sides of these traits will be nice.

Physique

Black or hispanic, clean-shaven.
Every motherfucker who played this game played a white guy with a beard. So fuck that. And since I'm a white nerd, by playing as an asian guy I might as well just get a fucking Thane Krios tattoo, or kill myself, or whatever. No.


So i guess that's pretty much my brief. My plan is to side with the Legion, be a dick to the NCR, be a dick in general, see Lily's little quest because I haven't yet, maybe activate ARCHIMEDES if I feel like it, finish as many quests differently to how I've done before/how most people do them/avoid the 'best' endings, and most of all just have this not be boring shit.

keeping people playing games

The way to get people to revisit games in not with achievement points.

This, for me, could be said to sum up a lot of the problems in games development today.

“If we put more achievement points in people will keep playing the game.”

That’s true, for some people. But what do achievement points mean? Nothing. They are some made up currency of excellence.

Games like Fallout: New Vegas, or Mass Effect, which feature a variety of ways to interact with the world and its characters provide replay ability through depth, exploration of a world and character. It is a good, intelligent and mature thing for games to do. Unlike Gamerscore, which is the exact opposite of that.

open letter to games developers who want to make games like films

Why do you want games to be more like films?

There are a lot of films. Hardly any of them are taken seriously. The big blockbusters are often derided by critics, who praise the more personal, or artistic, to use a semi-bullshit phrase, works of Peter Greenaway, Ken Loach or Terry Gilliam.

What is it you want from games? We already have blockbuster games, and they’re still looked down upon, if anyone looks at them at all, generally. A lot of people know almost nothing about, for example, the Call of Duty franchise. Even less know anything about fucking Limbo or any of the indie games.

Do you think any of this is to do with the fact that most people think video games are for kids because they’re played mostly by kids?

I mean yeah, if you’re male and aged 20-30 you might play games. But more killing, more explosions, more weapons aren’t going to make games be taken more seriously. That is all impulse attention grabbing bullshit, which is some MTV technique used to grab the attention of young people, kids, the same as the summer blockbuster films. Is it any wonder, then, that people think games are for kids since they seem to be designed for kids?

Games already make money. You don’t need to churn out blockbuster games.

Wikipedia:

The total revenue from first day sales in the U.S. and the UK was $310 million, making Modern Warfare 2 the biggest entertainment launch in history, surpassing (in revenue) its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto IV,[84][85] as well as items from other media types.

No one really cares about those big films either, they’re almost always just brief entertainment.

Why not let films be like films, because they’re films, and let games be like games?

Fuck you Rockstar

Hot off the heels (not really that hot. Like a year and a half) of producing what was undoubtedly the most boring game I've played in the last five years, Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games have flopped out some kind of trailer and interview about their next project, L.A. Noire, being developed by Team Bondi, who I also hadn't heard of. There are some quotes from Brendan McNamara, the head of development (he founded Team Bondi, worked on The Getaway, and apparently is British, despite being called Brendan McNamara), and producer Jeronimo Barrera (he's all downhill after his name), and some other shit too. They haven't said a whole lot though, so I'm surprised they've made it sound so awful.
"I want this game to be the flashpoint where people start to think of games and film as being on the same level, because I'm confident they already are," whines Barrera, declaring his somewhat flawed perception of his own importance and the fact that he is an idiot very concisely. Just in case there was any doubt as to what he was getting at, he also says, "we're definitely blurring the lines now [between games and film]." Yeah, he's another one of those guys. The best bit is, he also says, "it's been a challenge to be viewed as a legitimate medium."
No shit you fucking shill. Your dream is for games to be films that take forever, look weird, are shit, have achievements, involve 30 hours of superfluous shooting and the ability to jump. This is the equivalent of a comic maker, frustrated at the lack of prestige accredited to his medium, releasing a graphic novel where every single panel is completely full of text in the search for legitimacy.
Rockstar has always, at least since Grand Theft Auto III, basically just been trying to make films. It used to be alright and they used to make great games. Perhaps they used to have a better sense of scale and purpose. A half-dozen years ago they put out San Andreas and The Warriors fairly close together. Where the promise of this Rockstar went I do not know. Those were interesting games. The Warriors was a game version of a film, but it wasn't some tie-in. The film was over 20 years old, pretty off-beat in its production, and the demographic targeted by the game contained almost no one who'd even seen it. They weren't doing it for money and they didn't feel the need to explain themselves. They were confident that the game was good enough to stand on its own, and it fucking was. San Andreas, obviously, was about a black guy. Hilariously, even now, years after this game came out and was a big success, this is still completely left-field, a wacky radical move to take which has pretty much not been repeated. I could get in to it more but it's apparent enough if you've played it, at least two other games, and met a couple of real people, or even just watched a few films.
Now though, it's all a lot of bullshit. Red Dead Redemption was the most tired and flat setting, collection of characters and plot they've scraped together yet, and this is the company who made Grand Theft Auto IV. A trick I've noticed Rockstar doing of late when hyping their own games, is just to lie and say the opposite of what has happened. For both GTA IV and Red Dead the pre-release spiel went on about how they'd completely redone the combat system, when in actuality it's exactly the same alternate-trigger-tapping shit from GTA III, which was already dated in San Andreas, and so ludicrously poor by now that it makes Red Dead essentially unplayable, unless all you wanted to get out of it was watching a really, really, really long and completely fucking shit film, with over 3 hours of blood spraying on to the camera as the protagonist skins animals, exclaiming, "Hoowee! Stinky!" And other such statements, on account of what a conflicted and complex character he is. I'm guessing the same system will be in L.A. Noire, probably with a meter-based "Hardboiled Mode" where the screen goes black and white and gets smoky and you just press one button to kill everyone with your revolver whilst making wisecracks, on account of how conflicted and complex you are.
The same system, too, is evidently being used when it comes to hyping this game. "We know we're asking a lot from players," lies Robert McNamara. No you're not. You've called this game fucking L.A. Noire. You're not even asking them to work out what this game is by looking at the cover picture, or to have to remember what it's about later. You've just named the game what you want it to be like, a testament to the glib, facile and meretricious piece of shit it will undoubtedly be. Red Dead Redemption was a lot of things, but it wasn't called Angry Cowboy Dad.
And fucking complex, moody characters. "The character Aaron plays is conflicted and has quite a lot of depth," lies McNamara again. No he doesn't, I bet all my money. These unshaven, bad tempered, extremely white characters have always cropped up as game protagonists, but the last few years it's been pretty much just them. And they are all, literally all of them, every single one, fucking awful. It's not just aping films, it's aping a really tiny view of films, and mostly aping other games what did make all the £££.
CJ from San Andreas wasn't moody and conflicted. He knew exactly what the shit was up, what he had to do, and how he felt about it. He even gave off the vibe of knowing that he was the protagonist of a videogame, with the gallows humour and detached, fatalistic wit of someone who just spent nine hours driving over women and being shot by police because a 14-year-old boy wanted him to. He was pitched perfectly for the game, and the medium. Rockstar is now giving us protagonists from films (and awful ones from shit films, at that), all serious and gruff, whilst still making games that are at by far their most enjoyable when you're flying a helicopter whilst wearing disco pants, being chased by everyone in the world because you shot the hot dog seller by mistake and you don't want to go to prison (for 5 hours) because you'll lose all your cool guns and because it was just the fucking hot dog seller why does everyone care so much, he's just one guy, how did this get so out of hand why are there tanks after me? That is what these games are for, what they have always been for and still evidently are for. But they're shoehorning all this awful shit in in this totally misguided and frankly massive unwanted push for legitimacy. Riding your golf kart through town in your disco pants, casually shooting pedestrians with your TEC-9 as you pass them before getting out and talking to David Cross and shooting down hundreds of toy planes with the four miniguns he has on the roof of his downtown toyshop, that was fine, because it was San Andreas, you were CJ, and that was what happened. Riding through the desert on your bull in your inexplicably pristine suit, casually lassoing nuns as you pass them before getting out and talking to an insane grave digging hermit with a silly voice is not fine, because you're playing Red Dead and you're fucking John Marsden and you have conflicted emotions and are so complex and it's just fucking jarring and awful.
By deciding you weren't happy just making games, and that you had to try and make them films too, you went from making great games that were genuinely trying new things out and forming what 'games' were as a medium, to making shitty, bland, overblown boring games. And they aren't even like films. And, if they somehow were films, they would be fucking atrocious films.
So fuck you Rockstar Games, you big pile of dicks.


L.A. Noire (Team Bondi, Rockstar Games) is expected out in the first half of 2011 for PS3 and Xbox 360.

Monday, 13 December 2010

i was just watching the matrix

There is no spoon/nothing good about the matrix.

You know what the matrix is?

It is the greatest comment on life in our times.

I talk, first, specifically about the lobby shoot out scene. It is interesting that a group of humans, dedicated to saving other humans, don’t think twice about killing humans to save humans. There is that phrase that circulates the internet, and protest signs across the world: Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity.

There is no absolute idealist theory behind the motives of Neo, and Not Samuel L Jackson Lawrence Fishburne. Just fuck these security guard humans, Morpheus is more important.

Fuck a lot of people, save whoever you want.

At one point Neo is hidden behind a pillar whilst these security guards uselessly pound round after round into the barrier he hides behind. After a while when, I assume, the guards are reloading, Neo runs out and starts shooting.

The guards haven’t even started reloading, they've not even stopped shooting, he just runs out for no reason. His tactic is to run, in a straight line, whilst shooting.

He fights like someone who has learnt to fight through playing video games, which I guess is what he is exactly.

This is a very subtle and clever comment by the Wachowski brothers, or whoever made the film, and they are clearly not just dumb shits who wrote this film because they saw a mobile phone once.

But where the commentary of the film really comes into it’s own is in the final chase between the Agents and Neo.

Neo runs up a fire escape and the Agents fire their guns and miss with every shot.

Even though they are scientifically completely perfect in every way and have complete control of the universe and all physics.

The moral of the matrix is not to do with the take over of technology, but this:

Whoever you are you will always be shit at what you do.

The Wachowski brothers are a shining testament to this.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Review: The Trial

When Franz Kafka released The Trial in 1925, computers did not exist. It might take a moment for that to settle in: no YouTube, no Wikipedia, no email. Even the word processor was an invisible speck on the horizon of the future. Given all that, it’s unsurprising that he never quite got around to finishing the book. It’s a wonder he ever got started. Nevertheless, The Trial has done very nicely for itself, and now it’s finally received the greatest accolade available to any narrative artefact: a videogame adaptation.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Od, the studio behind such esoteric releases as Trigger Toe and The Lonely Berserker, has created what they call a “hyper-version” of the classic novel, an “exploding of Kafka’s brain-world, cut out of time and digitised for a generation of people who find books too heavy to enjoy.” The original plot has been ditched in favour of a multi-stranded narrative, although the strands converge at numerous key points. In fact, they barely diverge to begin with: no matter what you attempt to do, you invariably find yourself performing the same actions again and again. The clever part is how the game makes you feel that this is entirely natural, that your freely made decisions lead inevitably to the same conclusion.

In one sequence, you have the option of calling on a young lady who lives in the apartment opposite your own. It’s late at night, so there’s a chance that she’ll resent the disturbance, but it’s also possible that she’ll fall madly in love with you. Brilliantly, the game ensures, through subtle sleights of hand, that both outcomes occur every time. You have the thrill of making a new romantic contact, coupled with the pathos of immediately severing it. Similar events occur throughout, with the result that every possible permutation of human experience is condensed into 30 hours of playing time. This is one game that represents definite value for money.

There are, however, a few areas in which the good people at Od take avant-garde game design too far. Most notably, there’s a sequence that occurs in total darkness: the player has to navigate a labyrinthine office building by feel alone, responding to the vibrations of the controller pad. Although this is a nice existential touch in theory, it’s marred by the fact that it takes about 40 minutes to complete, during which time dozens of anonymous characters interrogate the player about the most mundane of his daily habits. Scrolling through dialogue options like “Why, I bathe every day without fail. Good hygiene is essential in the modern world” gets tedious pretty quickly, especially when each one provokes the same response: “The judge will be very glad to hear that, or perhaps he’ll hold it against you. One can’t be sure.”

Other aspects of the gameplay are equally frustrating. The controls are occasionally re-mapped without warning, sometimes at incredibly inopportune moments, such as when the player is standing by an open window. For a game with no enemies, in which the most hazardous feature of the environment is a balcony with a broken guardrail, The Trial has an exceptionally high mortality rate. (It’s actually impossible to play it through without dying at least once.) And if you’re thinking “Good, I like a challenge,” think again: the arbitrary nature of each death means that you never get to learn from your mistakes.

Despite these problems, The Trial is ultimately a success. It’s worth sampling just for the queasy, claustrophobic atmosphere that permeates its every scene. Silent Hill might be scarier, but then it has the advantage of being populated with disembodied legs and pyramid-headed rape monsters. The most frightening character in The Trial, by contrast, is a dwarfish court clerk with psoriasis (whatever you do, don’t agree to bathe with him).