Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Join the army! - No Thanks

I never really liked the idea of the army. To me it’s always seemed like the moment you join your individuality would be thrown out of the window, you’d become a number and would end up being shouted at and pushed to the edge according to the correct discipline. Never mind the fact that once signing up your kind of stuck until the end of your service which tends to involve you leaving your family behind to go and put your life in danger and to suffer from the guilt of ending it for others. Yet despite this you seem to get a lot of young guys who think it’s a really cool thing to sign up; that being behind the barrel of a gun will make you tough and the uniform/status will impress the ladies.

I’ve never liked those ‘join the army’ adverts. They seem to glamorise it, while not showing any of the negative consequences of being there. For example, there’s the one in the swamp where they’re sneaking through with guns. It makes it look really cool, but in reality it would take years of hard training and being shouted at to even get there, and then once you do, well you’re stood waist deep in a disgusting smelly swamp with the possibility of being shot at (not very glamorous at all in my opinion.) No, I think I’ll stay home and experience it through my games only.

Speaking of which, there was also a time when new recruits were found by using video game to lure them in. Personally I’d class that as manipulative and invasive. I don’t actually blame games or films for glamorising war a little, because they are built for entertainment purposes only, and as long as the audience knows this it’s not a problem, but to use them to target new recruits is just wrong in my opinion. I actually, personally, don’t find war games to be that entertaining anyway. For example, I recently tried out the highly praised Modern Warfare (the first one) after its price had been reduced. It feels like the game is trying to be flashy, but it doesn’t look pleasant to me at all. Everyone looks alike, wears the same stuff and are therefore quite flat and unlikeable as characters. They also boss you about way too much as they lead you through the level like some stupid wooden puppet. I guess in that sense it is quite realistic as I no longer feel like an individual within the game; it’s more about the team as a whole, but it does make for slightly less enjoyable game play. Mind you, I have played team-based games before and enjoyed them, because I’ve still felt like I stand out and get a say. In a war game I’d actually like to see more realistic dialogue between the characters to show their emotions and bonds, and to hint at an actual feeling towards what they are doing, (i.e. wiping out dozens of lives while putting yourself at risk.) They would therefore contain more depth and would show that war is not all about running around with flashy weapons and shooting people (as fun as that is in a virtual sense.)

I also remember when they tried to recruit people from my school. They came round to give a presentation and a lot of the boys and some girls got very excited over the fact that these big army dudes had arrived. I wasn’t too impressed having to sit there and watch them babble on about how joining the army would involve travelling around the world and meeting new people. Once again, it felt a little untruthful to me and our young minds at the time were happy to lap it up. I understand the fact that these things need to be done, otherwise nobody would ever join, but some people I’ve met just seem to be completely deluded about it. When something like that will affect your life in such a big way, I think it’s important for people to know exactly what they’re in for.

I once went out on the town with a couple of other female friends and we ended up being approached by these three guys. They seemed to try to hit on us by telling us they were leaving the country to go Iraq the next day. I don’t know whether this is true or not, if so I got the feeling they’d only joined up because they were too stupid to do anything else. I also don’t know why this was suppose to impress me, I imagine it would actually be quite hard for partners waiting back home while their loved ones go out to war, and preferably I’d like a boyfriend who isn’t into all that stuff (which John isn’t.) Anyway, they ended up asking us what we do and I told them that I was training to be a game developer (they also looked at me quite shocked when I told them I was a fan of Counter Strike). They started going on about how we wouldn’t be able to do those jobs if it weren’t for them protecting us, and that they didn’t mean anything compared to what they were doing. Ok, fair enough, maybe being a game developer isn’t a life saving sort of career, but my other friend said she wanted to be a teacher which I’d say is a pretty important role in society (especially if it keeps more people like that from being released out into the public.) But no, apparently what everybody else does with their lives is pointless and unbeneficial; in that case why even bother laying down your lives for our sakes.

If those guys had been lying it was very disrespectful to the actual genuine people who go out there, if they had been telling the truth then they were obviously in the belief that joining the army would bring them attention and respect. If somebody signs up knowing the danger, because they want to stand up for their loved ones and what they believe in then they do get my respect (in that case war can actually be quite honourable), but people like those guys don’t. I find a lot of young people are like this, and they go out there and die way too young before they’ve even had a chance to experience life. I really don’t think it’s right to encourage this sort of behaviour.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Musings of the Musically Minded

Why is it, whenever I tell someone I like rock/metal music they automatically assume I’m a narrow minded idiot that won’t listen to anything that doesn’t involve screaming like they have their balls caught in a vice and contains at least three quotes from Hitler speeches in the lyrics? Yes I do listen to mostly rock and metal but my library contains anything from System of a Down to Eminem to Johnny Cash. Then you look at their library and it’s anything that happens to be in the chart, which in the last few years or so has been a bunch of RnB and Dance, and not much else; well apart from last Christmas’ number one. The point is these people listen to a maximum of maybe 3-4 genres and only listen to what Simon Cowell tells them is good and yet, to them, I’m the one with narrow taste.

Then, if I try to explain this to them, I’m suddenly an elitist that refuses to listen to popular stuff on the sole grounds it’s popular just to be non-conformist (ignoring the fact that by being non-conformist you are conforming to the non-conformity but that’s beside the point). I listen to what I deem good, and that happens to be stuff that’s not as popular as the likes of JLS.

Or it can be the other way round, “You like metal, ergo you like Slipknot”, no, that’s not how it works. I like Powerman 5000 ergo I like metal (or industrial metal if you want to be pedantic), not the other way around. With the likes of the ‘popular’ metal bands, I don’t necessarily like them, Metallica have a few good songs but I don’t go mad yet when people find this out they give me a look like I just squatted down and laid a cable on their new shoes.

One more thing, ‘metalheads’ often get stereotyped to be an aggressive and hostile bunch, this is not the case. I’ve been to my local metal club a countless number of times and never seen a proper fight break out (discounting mosh pits, obviously), then I’ve been to my local indie/alternative club no more than ten times and seen at least two fights, following this pattern at a Hannah Montana concert you would actually get murdered, horribly, in the face. It’s actually full on genuinely friendly people in my experience, not exactly the kind of people who will strangle you with a bite chain, drink your still warm blood and use your genitals in a bizarre satanic ritual like society would have you believe.

And going back to Britain’s second favourite narcissist, Mr. Cowell (the first can be seen one seat over from him on Britain’s Got Talent) we have the X-Factor. Ok, I admit, I like it, I watch it every year despite complaining about it but I do question what would happen if someone auditioned and instead of singing Chasing Cars or You Raise Me Up they sung Empty Walls or Scars, both are arguably just as emotional but they weren’t sung by ‘popular’ artists. They’d get turned away at the first hurdle, or at the very least told to sing something else, even if they nailed it (on a side note, I’d love to see someone sing I Almost Told You That I Loved You, just because it would be hilarious).

Then it goes to the finals when the closest thing we get is ‘Rock Week’ which just turns into about 6 renditions of murdering various Queen songs and a preview of the butchery the Glee cast did to Don’t Stop Believin’. Any other week they will sing really obscure songs (Gummo anyone?) yet as soon as Rock Week comes around there’s a not a single song that everyone and their dog hasn’t heard.

Not to sound too pretentious here but music is an important aspect in life and an art form we’d all miss if it was gone, it defines culture, it puts across emotion and it’s a way of expressing oneself without the need for a deep and hidden meaning like with usual ‘art’ as Jo was talking about in her last post. We should appreciate music for what it is, not what’s its not. As the saying goes, music is the language of the soul, though; going by this then Dizzee Rascal’s soul must be sat at the back of English class eating the glue.

Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings. ~Robert Benchle

Friday, 23 April 2010

Why is the general opinion of students so low?

I’m a student at Sheffield Hallam University, and I’ve noticed a trend with people in the UK. The word ‘student’ seems to be a byword for ‘a lazy, unproductive little scumbag with no respect for rules and regulations’. Or so it seems to me anyway. I was on a forum a few weeks ago, and I noticed a thread titled ‘How important is the student vote in Sheffield?’ I checked it out, since I am somewhat interested in the upcoming general election, this being the first one where I am old enough to vote. A few posts down in this thread someone had said (from the profile I saw he appeared to be a middle aged businessman type) “Why should students care about the general election? They’re all too busy getting drunk and having sex”. I don’t know about any other students, but personally I find this quite offensive. Yes I am a student. I also have a part time job working as a cleaner for a cleaning contractor company, I co-own a business for my placement year, and, although I do enjoy a good night out as much as the next person, I go out drinking at the VERY most once a month, but it’s usually more like every three months.

So, I don’t fit into that category whatsoever. But, since I’m labelled with the term ‘student’, people seem to think that of me anyway. It’s really not fair to just lump everyone into one category based on a label. It’s like saying all black people are terrorists, or all catholic priests abuse children. Now if anyone made either of THOSE claims, I’m sure they’d get picked up on it almost instantly. So why not with students? People on the forum I mentioned seemed to be supporting this guy’s argument, just on the assumption that all students fall into this category. I posted a little later on, trying to put this point across, and I was more or less ignored. It’s completely unfair for people to be treated in this way, yet it seems to be happening more and more. It happened when I was growing up too. For being a young teenager, I got judged by the standards of the type who stand around on street corners menacing passers by and drinking while underage. People tend to judge based on assumptions made before they even meet someone, not on individual cases. Well that’s my rant for the day done. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Can games be classed as art?

Another time old argument about games revolves around whether they can be classed as art or not. Films have their own category of titles that have been claimed to be art, yet every time games attempt to make advancement this way they get beaten back. Why is this? People who aren’t gamers seem to lack the capacity to be able to take games seriously, and if a game tries to portray a serious issue or get somewhere in an artful award ceremony you can bet a sea of complaints will follow.

I’m not really a fan of the “art community.” I use to be when I did Art and design at school, and attempted to continue it at college. In the end I quit in order to focus more on my programming and game design skills. I still enjoy drawing from time to time, but when I do I can now do what I want on my own terms. I remember in art being given a huge speech about how it was a creative, passionate subject, yet being present in that class somehow managed to kill my own interest in it. The fact is I feel like I can be more free and imaginative thinking through the logic of a program than I ever could be in art where I was constantly being told off for not wanting to take the modern approach. How can a subject be free and creative when everyone is expected to follow the current trend – that’s how it felt to me anyway. I didn’t want to make any of that naff talentless stuff you see in art galleries these days, like messy beds, signed toilets and block coloured canvases. It feels like it has no point, except to convey a meaning that you can’t really get without reading the sign, and even then it’s not very enjoyable to stare at for too long. It just feels like in order to get it you have to be in the exclusive art appreciation club yourself, otherwise if you’re like me you’ll find most art galleries to be incredibly boring places. (I apologize to any art lovers reading this right now, but there are a lot of people like me who would just rather sit home and play games over visiting a gallery any day – Louvre being the exception of course :P.)

Anyway, I started to think of myself as being the logical artist. When I design my games I think of it as a craft, and what I’m building is interactive art – a lot more exciting than any static painting. Designing a big game will involve a large number of concept artists, designers, script writers, programmers and sound engineers. That involves a lot of skill and time, but the end result should be fun, enjoyable and probably a lot nicer to look at than any of that modern art. If you look at the following definitions of what art is there’s no reason for why games can’t be considered as art themselves:

“The products of human creativity; works of art collectively; ‘an art exhibition’; ‘a fine collection of art’ – Google

I think it’s perfectly safe to say that a game is a product of human creativity, and I’m speaking from experience – well I felt like I was being creative at the time when I designed that RPG anyway.

“The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” –

In all honesty I don’t find most fine art that aesthetically pleasing. I go back to the messy bed example – why would I find that beautiful to look at? If I did I could just stare dumbly at my own bed every morning minus the gallery entrance fee. On the other hand games, graphically and through style can be very aesthetically pleasing.

“Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture, and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.” - (I’m glad to say games are actually mentioned further on down the article.)

I’d say games are capable of affecting the senses and emotions, be it tension, fear or distress (I wrote an article concerning this a while back, Are games deeper than films?) It states that music, literature, film and paintings are included in the category of art. Let’s just break that down a second. Games contain music (check), games contain literature(check – creative scrip writing/dialogue), games contain film (check – Animation in cut scenes) and games contains paintings (check – well they involve creating drawings and paintings for concept art anyway.) You could even say they involve sculpture in some way if you can include 3D modelling into that. Games overall involve more craft than all of those mediums put together, so how come some people still can’t accept them as art?

Art also feels to me like a realm of elitists. If you look at film for example, not all of them seem to be considered in an artful way. On numerous occasions popular films have lost out on awards to more artful, less heard of films, such as the biggest movie of all time Avatar loosing an Oscar to Hurt Locker. It feels like popularity and entertainment value means nothing compared to something that shows a meaning (same problem I had with fantasy art VS modern art.) It’s no different to stating games are artful and then being forced to give an example (thinking hard on the spot, most would reply with something like Okami or Psychonauts.) These are very good games, but in the crafting process I imagine they would take no more effort and time than any other game. By the very definition of art, there’s no reason why all films and games can’t be classed as art. I was actually forced at one point to sit through a showing of art films created by students, and I was left pretty unimpressed. Most of them were dark, depressing and pointless, plus I wouldn’t really ever watch any of them ever again – give me Avatar any day.

Games of course, will always overall be classed as an entertainment media first, but then so is film and literature. When it comes to discussions of art however, I see no need to dispute the fact that games are an art/craft in any shape or form. If people can’t accept that then I guess I’ll just say that they even transcend art to be something better that more people can actually appreciate over messy beds.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Stealthy Shenanigans

Now, anyone who’s known me for more than a few microseconds will tell you I am not normally a patient (nor quiet) person, when it comes down to the crunch I like to get stuff done as quick and with as many explosions as humanly possible as a result my skill at stealth in games is somewhat... compromised.

Metal Gear Solid, Assassins’ Creed, Thief and the likes never really appealed because basing an entire game round, effectively, waiting, was never my idea of fun but these games have their place and I can see their appeal to those of us blessed with the ability to sit still for more than 7 consecutive seconds.

My problem lies with games that will add the odd stealth level/mission in the middle of an otherwise very unstealthy game and often this is done badly, off the top of my head I can think of at least three Zelda games that do this, none of which made it enjoyable and it just felt like a chore to get into the rest of the game. I want to stab things in the face when I’m playing a sword game, not go Solid Snake on their asses. Throughout my many playthroughs of Wind Waker I actually managed to devise a route where you only had to sneak past a grand total of two enemies, the real irony was this route involved getting captured because it started off at the holding cell, when you’re intentionally throwing yourself into the arms of the enemy, so you can escape, all integrity of the stealth situation goes swiftly out the window. I’ve often thought “Oh I fancy playing through Wind Waker again... oh, but that means I need to do the stealth part, I won’t bother” and when a game does that developers, it’s not a good thing

Another example is Fahrenheit (again, Indigo Prophecy if you’re in America) , I’m currently nearing the end of this and loving it, perhaps not as much as Heavy Rain but still a fantastic game. The issue is a couple of sections have flashbacks to when the lead character was a child and these involve possibly the most tedious example of stealth in the known universe. The AI is pretty poorly programmed and seems to detect you at random, the controls are clunky and while ok in a normal scenario they are god-awful when trying to weave around spotlights and it’s just, not really needed. The scene could have just as easily (if not more easily) been implemented by an action QTE-type sequence like every other action sequence in the game but instead they opted for something that would make a legitimate torture device.

The main problem with the above two examples is that you have no means of offence, my idea of stealth involves knives, suppressed weapons and tranquillisers, taking out people tactically and moving bodies to low traffic areas, not just playing ‘red light, green light’ with whatever enemies happen to be nearby.

Stealth is fine in games when it’s actually relevant and done well, and is at its best when it’s an option, you can choose to sneak around the level picking off targets with a silenced handgun and get by unnoticed and, if you’ve done it right, unharmed. But you always have the option to go all guns blazing if you mess up, or if you just feel like it, ventilate anything with a pulse and make it to the end of the level doped up on morphine from the numerous medikits you’ve had to use. It’s always nice to have the option then you can play the game how you enjoy it. A lot of the time a stealth game will spawn so many enemies on you after being spotted it may as well just skip all the formalities and skip to game over screen instantly and this, is what puts me off them.

A third example is Team Fortress 2 (hear me out here, ok?) now I love spy, and it’s my most played class with more than double the time of my second most played (solider). Somewhat contradictive given my last five paragraphs I know, but the main point is it has the choice for stealth (ok, technically this could be applied to any multiplayer FPS, TF2 more so as you have cloaks and disguises). If my urge to makes things explode reaches critical mass or I get bored of sneaking around I can switch classes and do something else, most of the time in this situation I’d have to switch games.

And that’s what it should all be about, choice, don’t force me into a specific tactic or type of play unless it’s absolutely imperative because the story forces it, give me the option to carry out the mission as I see fit. I have to be in the right sort of mood for stealth and if I’m playing an otherwise very action orientated game I’m not going to be in said mood so don’t force it on me. Stealth has a time and a place when done right, but when done wrong it can ruin a game faster than if it was published by Ubisoft.

"Here's what I have that you don't: a functioning liver, depth perception and a pulse!" ~ Spy (On dominating Demoman).

Friday, 16 April 2010

Political Incorrectness

A week or so ago (at the time of writing this article) it was in the news that comedian and Mock the Week ex-panellist Frankie Boyle was being criticised for making a joke about Down’s syndrome as he offended a woman in the audience who had a five-year-old child with the condition. Frankie Boyle has never been the cleanest of all comedians and has a reputation for making rather blue jokes, knowing this why did the woman in question go to see him? She claimed to be a fan so it’s not like she didn’t know what she was letting herself in for and more importantly, what makes it ok to tell racist/sexist/homophobic jokes or jokes about other conditions but not Down’ syndrome? A joke is just that a joke, and should be treated as such, if you are easily offended don’t go to see comedians with a reputation for being offensive, and furthermore, don’t be a hypocrite about it. Either all jokes at the expense of a minority are fine, or none are. Let’s not start making a hierarchy of who it’s ok to rip-on and who it’s not ok to, because that’s when the bigotry does start.

This leads me to the topic that is the title of this article, political correctness. There are so many things we aren’t allowed to say because certain people might find it “offensive” but who actually decides what is offensive? The people who are part of the minority that the PC-enforcers are trying to defend or the enforcers themselves? Because in my experience it seems to be the latter. We apparently can’t say blackboard and have to opt for chalkboard because blackboard might offend [black] people. I’ve spoken to a few black people and none of them have agreed with this, “It’s the colour of the board” one reasoned, which is true so why can’t we say blackboard? Or Baa Baa black sheep? What next? Going to have to opt for white or “really dark grey” when picking out new hardware, which on that note, why isn’t whiteboard “offensive”?

Surely it’s the context a word is used which deems whether it’s offensive or not, not the word itself, homosexual can be just as offensive if not more so than queer depending on the context. If it’s used in a gay rights debate and someone arguing against says “Being queer is unnatural and against god and you’ll burn in the fiery pits of hell for it” how is that any different to if you replaced queer with gay, homosexual or bum bandit? It’s not, and it’s still just as offensive. As long as a word is used in a satirical or light-hearted manner I don’t see it as an issue, and if you think it is, you are the one with the problem. Stop being offended on behalf of minorities and deciding what is offensive to a group which you have no idea what it’s like to be part of.

I can tell pretty distasteful jokes; I’ll be amongst the first to admit that but that doesn’t mean I’m a chauvinist, it just means I know the time and the place for humour and I have a simple understanding of irony which most people nowadays seem to be deprived of. I don’t have a problem with any group (apart from maybe stupid people and Halo Fanboys, actually maybe they’re the same thing...) but I don’t see why I should change what I believe in to appease some bigwigs who didn’t quite make number 10.

If you start drawing lines between what can be said and what can’t that’s when you start separating people from the rest of the world which is exactly what people in minorities don’t want and that’s what bigotry is all about; treating people differently because of their differences and when you do treat them different it highlights their differences which again is not what they want. It’s political correctness itself we should be fighting, because it’s the exact opposite of what being “correct” is all about. The day we start calling gay people “sexually challenged” I’m moving to Iran...

“Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred” ~ Jacques Barzun

When Gamers Cheat!!!

The last article I wrote related to A.I. and how a game can make you feel cheated (When A.I. Cheats!!!). Continuing on with the theme I have decided to cover the issue of when gamers cheat!!!

In single player games I never really quite got the deal with using cheats or walkthroughs. After all, why spend that much money on a new game if you’re not even going to play through it properly. (Same reason I like my games to be challenging. If I complete it too quickly it doesn’t feel like its been worth what I paid for it and I’ll end up sitting agitatedly before the end credits regretting that I ever became so hooked in the first place.) Admittedly, when I have had walkthroughs placed before me I’ve had a little itch inside my skull daring me to have a look. More often than not I will cave, especially if I’m not sure where to go next. (I hate it when a game is unclear as to where you should be at a certain point. It’s the worst kind of stuck; wasting hours running backwards and forwards for the right location.) Sometimes people will use guides and cheats in a game on second play-through, either for fun (exploding/naked characters... etc...) or to find anything that they happened to miss the first time through (Final Fantasy I’ve found is terrible for having a lot of hidden quests and items you just couldn’t locate without either luck or instruction.) I guess in this case, it’s more understandable, either way however, why should it bother me? Each player to their own and all that...

... but then there’s online games, in which I find cheating to be unforgivable. It seems to me that there’s always one player who wants to ruin it for the rest, and it’s very unfair after having paid for the game for someone else to then dictate and affect how it should be played. Besides, what’s the point in taking part in a competitive match if you’re just going to cheat to win; it’s undeserved and dishonourable; yet if you beat everyone by your own skill it gives you a much greater boost because you ‘actually’ earned it. Of course you shouldn’t really go to these kinds of extremes (, but it’s still enough to make decent players boil with anger inside. In such cases, I will exit the game and not enter another match with that player ever again, (tried complaining once to get people banned, but didn’t make an ounce of difference without proof.)

I use to be really into the multiplayer side of “Resistance: Fall of Man.” I had a clan and we were pretty good at it. I worked really hard on my profile in this game, getting my kill count greater than my death one, attempting to get more wins than losses. Yet the moment somebody cheats in this game is messes up some of your well earned stats, (as you tend to get randomly put into matches in this game, it’s not really possible to avoid cheats. It’s just a case of if you get suspicious, leave!) At the start there was mostly talk of how certain people were using lag switches, which cause them to look Skippy on your screen making them hard to hit. (unfortunately if your connections acting up a bit you can also be mistakenly accused of this.) I never really noticed that much of an issue here but later on in the games release, a bug was found that allowed people at certain points in the map to walk outside of the walls. They could still shoot you through the walls, but you could not see or hit them back. Soon after this announcement I found myself in this very situation. My friends and I kept dying really rapidly on the spot after re-spawn and for a while we just thought that maybe the other team were really good. As time went on however, it became more and more obvious that they were abusing the glitch as we never saw the other team members. Now I’m the kind of gamer who hates quitting even when losing so I attempted to continue for as long as I could; needless to say, it was a complete slaughter. My clan felt pretty down and angry afterwards; we’d spent time practicing and getting good at the game, all of which meant nothing the moment we entered that match. What was worse was the fact that there was also nothing we could do about it. They’d gotten away with it and would probably continue to ruin other people’s enjoyment of the game.

Tibia is an MMORPG in which I have also come to notice people cheating. They like to use algorithms on their characters, which controls them and gets them to attack monsters. This allows them to leave the game and to come back to a high-level character. It’s a risk as most people who spot these bots will kill them on sight (although the botters high-level friend may end up being sent out to hunt them down), but some are really advanced and will try really hard to create the illusion that there is a player involved (such as getting them to post ‘hello’ when another player passes by.) For starters, this really irritates me because what’s the point of playing a game and yet not being present at the keyboard; coming back to a powerful character, it’s like getting a reward without all the work that other players like John and I put into it. Secondly, these people then often use these cheaply created high-levels to power abuse other players. Botting has also caused suspicion amongst the community and several times I have been mistaken for it and been attacked; giving me no choice but to set their beards alight to teach them a lesson. Once again, like in Resistance, it’s hard to do anything about it. You can’t report them because you have no proof. (Silkroad Online also had problems with bots, to the point where a lot of fans including myself, turned their backs on it.)

In summary, I hate cheating in games! There’s just no point to playing a game if you’re not going to do it properly. In single player games it’s not so frowned upon, as some people deem it necessary to improve their experience, other times they can be useful or fun. In multiplayer games, unless agreed upon by all players present, it should be a definite NO! It’s selfish to go and ruin the experience for another person just to benefit yourself (not that I can see any fun in cheating; it’s not like you’ll get any bragging rights for doing so.) There should definitely be more ways in games to deal with these little pests and the developers themselves should put more care into maintaining good solid communities; having too many unruly players and cheats usually results in a game being abandoned by the very people who actually care about it.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Online Communities

The internet really is a wonderful thing. It’s opened the gate for so much intellectual enlightenment and the spread of knowledge in the world has never been easier. You’d think we’d have a beautiful, shining bright utopia by now, since the internet has been around for decades. Unfortunately, every time mankind finds a wonderful new technology someone has to come along and spoil it for the rest of humanity. Look at TV. It was good entertainment for years. Then along came Big Brother and it turned into a mass of people watching a bunch of people sat around a table arguing over whether they want to have bread or eggs for supper.

Anyway, now that rather tangential opening is out of the way, to the point of this post: online communities. I was always shy in my early days on the internet, as I mentioned in my earlier post about communities in EVE Online. I never really bothered talking to anyone, as I wasn’t sure what to say to them or the correct etiquette for how you are supposed to behave when you meet people online. Then I started playing the online game Tibia. For anyone who doesn’t know, Tibia is a fully real-time non-instanced online MMORPG. The first thing that struck me when I went out into the hunting areas was that every time I approached a monster with another player nearby they would start yelling “MINE!11!1!” at me like some sort of crazed hobo in the centre of pretty much every major city in the world, wildly gesticulating and picking a fight with thin air. Needless to say every time this happened I turned around and ran the other way since I had absolutely no idea what was going on. In the first part of Tibia you can’t be attacked by other players, not until you reach level 8 and travel to the mainland. So I reached the mainland and started exploring, killing things when I found them. One day I was hunting in a dwarf mine and I started attacking a dwarf in low health that was running towards me from off the screen. All of a sudden this high level character came running after the dwarf, and seeing that I’d killed it he started attacking me with a huge sword or some-such. I was confused and ran. Luckily he didn’t kill me and stopped once he’d driven me out of the cave. I was like “what the hell was that for?”, then he explained that there is apparently a social rule in Tibia which means you don’t attack something that someone else is attacking, thereby stealing experience points off of them. Well excuse me for not instinctually knowing something that had never been explained to me before you know? As well, this rule only ever seems to apply to other people. If you enforce it against someone else, someone who is trying to steal your kills for example, and attack them, they will, without fail, bring their high level friend to wreak vengeance upon you. This is what bothers me about online communities.

It seems to me that people make things up as and when they need it to suit themselves. Take First Person Shooters for example. Once I was in a high place with a sniper rifle. I saw two people come round the corner, one chasing the other. I got a headshot on the one in front, then the one chasing him moved neatly into my scope. Needless to say I shot a second time and got another headshot. Then the second guy accused me of camping. Well excuse me for taking advantage of a situation. What in that split second of thought that I had when the second guy was in my scope was I supposed to think “oh, wait a minute, if I pull the trigger I’ll have taken two shots from the same place, and so I might be accused of camping, so I’d better not do it”? Besides, taking two shots from the same place isn’t camping. It’s called good strategy. It just seems to me that most of the people you meet on the internet are either bad losers with an ego problem (about 95% of the FPS players in the world from my experience)or complete idiots whose sole purpose in life seems to be to cause grief for others (the latter is your common or garden variety troll).

The subject of trolls brings me neatly to forums. Now I’ve had a mixed past with forums. For every intellectual person you meet on a forum who is actually capable of holding a decent conversation, you seem to get at least 5 idiots who want to infuriate you just for the fun of it. I’d be a much more frequent forum-goer if I could just ensure that I wasn’t going to come off feeling utterly frustrated and wanting to shoot the first person/animal/inanimate object that looks at me funny. The internet really could be a great place to meet people with similar interests. For instance, I’m in my twenties and I like Pokémon. I could go out there and try to find people of a similar interest and age to hold conversations about the subject with. But no doubt I’d also be bombarded with comments like “lol ur a fag cuz u liek pokemon”. Terrible grammar aside, I think they’ve completely misinterpreted the meaning of the word ‘fag’ there. But this is what I mean. I can’t go out and use the internet as it is supposed to be used, because I’ll just be bombarded with stupid comments like this.

On that subject, there are these stupid internet abbreviations that wind me up too. You generally find most of them in the typical troll’s vocabulary. Words like ‘cuz’ ‘tonite’ and ‘dat’. I mean seriously. If you want to shorten because, use ‘cos’ not ‘cuz’. I’ve never even heard anyone pronounce ‘cos’ as ‘cuz’. As for the other two, is it really worth shortening tonight to ‘tonite’ 6 characters as opposed to 7? Or that to ‘dat’ even. 4 characters to 3? Is that even worth it? I mean seriously, what are you going to do with the approximately quarter of a second you save from not hitting that extra key?

Well that’s my rant for the day over. Pretty tangential, but oh well. That’s what this blog’s for. It does say general belligerence after all.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Problem with Perfection...

Nowadays games are getting closer and close to emulating real life, but it seems like the closer they get to achieving this goal, there more glaring their faults become. I often finding myself thinking “if they did this, then why didn’t they do this, this and this?” when playing these games.

First off is the graphics, which always seem to fall into the realms of the uncanny valley, people just don’t look quite right for reasons we can’t always put our finger on and they look rather creepy more than anything else. Not someone you’d want to wake up to see sitting on the end of your bed frankly. It’s not just with people though, environments and items too, I find some games look too perfect, everything is pristine and looks brand new. Everything is neat, tidy, straight and looks brand new and that’s just not realistic and in some sense ruins immersion.

Then we have actual faults in the gameplay, or the writing which is the main focus of this article. First up, GTA4. A lot of people tend to complain about this for the whole “friend” system that was introduced because you had people ringing you mid-gunfight to ask you if you wanted to see pixelated boobs, which I don’t, for a number of reasons. But, my main issue with this is it’s in no way realistic, why is there no option to invite more than one friend out? That’s both more realistic and more efficient to build up friendships, plus characters could interact with each other a la Mass Effect/Dragon Age for more fun times. Also, why are their only a handful of friends? Towards the end of the game [Spoilers Ahead] you meet up with an old childhood friend and do a few missions for him then at the end of one of missions phone him up, tell him to take care and that’s it – done. So you can go for a drink and be best friends with a guy you’ve known for about half an hour, 27 minutes of which was spent ventilating drug dealers but you can’t with a guy you’ve known since childhood? Maybe it’s just me but that seemed a little off and when GTAIV was trying as hard as it could to be realistic something as odd as that sticks out like a sore thumb for me [End Spoilers].

Second game to receive a verbal lynching is The Sims 3 which I find suffers a similar fate, I appreciate this could probably be fixed with mods but nevertheless it still feels a little off. The moodlets, a new feature added to Sims 3 that give a bonus or penalty to your Sims mood based on recent events or their environment but they don’t seem right to me. Getting married or having a child gives you a bonus for a day or two, can’t speak first hand here but surely after a wedding you’d be stoked for a big longer than two days? Having an accident in front of your crush gives you a negative one for a few hours (again not speaking first hand but if I did that I’d be livid for weeks). Splitting up with a partner will always yield the same penalty regardless of if your Sim has been with them for three hours or three months. I appreciate I’m probably nitpicking here but it’s just something that bugged me and it wouldn’t have taken much development time to make this a little more realistic, something Maxis where clearly trying to achieve. There’s loads of other things that bugged me too and it feels like for every step forward The Sims 3 took over The Sims 2 it also took one step back and this is the first thing that comes to mind.

On another note, more of qualm with a genre as a whole and not a specific game but shooters that pride themselves on being realistic when they are anything but. You get shot in the knee, you ain’t walking, simple as. Shot in the back? You’re probably going to be in too much pain to move, or worse. Of course, one bullet resulting in death or incapacitation would ruin the fun of the game so this is unreasonable to expect but how about we stop calling them realistic? People complained how Modern Warfare 2’s story was “farfetched” and “too Hollywood” yet no one raises an eyebrow when people will happily stand up after they’ve received a .50 sniper round to the stomach and start unloading into you. Seems a little silly to me. Yes, Modern Warfare 2’s story was very Hollywood, but so was every gunfight, bullet wound and knife injury.

With games like Ratchet and Clank, Saints Row and Pokémon then I find I don’t care about their faults in basic logic, because they don’t try to apply them in the first place. But the moment a game tries to achieve realism then all its faults seem to glow brighter than Christmas at Graham Norton’s.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

When A.I. Cheats!

You know that feeling, when you’re stuck on a game for hours on a boss battle; the sweat is pouring from your brow and your muscles are tense from frustration; you can feel your heart beating faster and you’re about to blow, possibly chucking your very expensive game controller to the floor or at the head of your best friend sat next to you. Know it well? Well I’ve always prided myself on the ability to keep calm; to not act as described above. I always brag about how I enjoy the challenge and I can keep trying over and over repeatedly until the task is complete. It’s mostly true, except, I admit, to nearly blowing a fuse during Pokémon yesterday. There is one thing in a game that I really can’t stand, and that’s when something happens that’s unfair because it’s weighted against you; when the A.I. cheats!

I bought Pokémon Silver on the day of its release and I had been enjoying it very much. It had felt a bit weighted here and there, for example, hypnosis used against me seemed to hit way more than it really should do (considering the fact that it has an accuracy value of 70), but it wasn’t enough to make me feel aggravated at all. My team isn’t the strongest team on stats or types, because on a proper play through of a Pokémon game I like to use what I like; I am however, a bit of a grinder, so I spent a fair bit of time strengthening them up. It’s not that I want to be overpowered, I don’t like my games too easy after all, but there’s something about the training aspect in Pokémon that I enjoy.

Anyway, I came to the elite 4 in Johto feeling pretty confident because I knew my Pokémon were a higher level than any of the ones I would be up against. The first 4 members weren’t too difficult. They were a tad annoying with their evasiveness, but in time I managed to take them all down. Then I came to the final, Lance, who uses Dragon type Pokémon. I had always really liked Lance since meeting him because of his choice of type, and that cool hairdo/outfit. Unfortunately my liking for him soon died; he was a nightmare.

I knew it was going to be a little tricky, because I didn’t have any ice/dragon moves, but it felt hard in a way that it seemed to be weighted against me. I had decided to give Furret the move ‘Me First,’ thinking that it may be able to help me to do the damage back to the dragons. I had been looking forward to trying it out to see if it would make any difference, but to my disappointment I didn’t get the chance to, for every time I tried I got paralysed. It seems a bit weird to me that they wouldn’t use that move for ages, and yet the moment I selected ‘Me First,’ it’d get used against me, as if they knew what I was doing.

It wasn’t that what started to make my blood boil however, for I could have simply been very unlucky, but the confusion in this game is starting to get on my nerves. My Ninetails knows the move ‘Confuse Ray,’ but I hardly ever use it because when I do they’ll either snap out of it really quickly, or it won’t affect them very much. Yet in contrast to that, almost every single time one of my Pokémon gets confused, they end up hurting themselves 4 to 5 times in a row. (Seriously, it’s practically every single time and there’s no way I’m putting that down to sheer bad luck as I’ve never seen it happen that badly to an opponent yet and I don’t remember it being that horrendous in Pearl.) So what has this got to do with Lance then? Well one of his Dragonites uses the move ‘Outrage,’ an incredibly powerful dragon type move with 120 base power, 100 accuracy and 15pp. Every powerful move tends to have a negative consequence to balance it out, and this one is no exception, causing the user to become confused if they use it for 2-3 turns. Well this Dragonite seems to spam it over and over again none stop and is almost permanently confused. You’d think in the entirety of that time it would have hurt itself a few times, giving me a change to get through and strike. Well, it only happened once, and the rest of the time I was using revives constantly until eventually all of my Pokémon fell and I failed. It’s pretty overpowered being able to use this move while virtually talking away all negative consequence from using it.

Second time through I did manage to get my vengeance on Lance. I gave Nidoqueen the move ‘Dragon Pulse’ and the hold item dragon fang (even so it didn’t do more than half damage to them, and as his Pokémon are incredibly fast it meant I had to use a fair few Full Restores before getting through.) It felt so good to finally take down that Dragonite. I really hate Lance!

I really think it’s stupid when they try to make a game hard by having it weighted against the player. (In Pokémon, for example, each move has its own stats, so stick to it from both sides.) Games with difficulty settings tend to only ever improve enemy damage or armour, and allow them to see more of what the player is doing. I always thought a game should be made harder by increasing the number of enemies and making them more intelligent. (For example, in Pokémon, Sneeze is a really hard player to beat; all our Pokémon are the same level and it’s fair, but he’s good because he uses strong Pokémon, picks his moves carefully and uses them in a tactful way.) I know it’s very hard to program A.I. to be quite as good as another human player, but surely instead of relying on cheats, it could have had more tactics programmed into it. On so many occasions I also see an opponent doing the exact opposite, doing something really stupid, like trying to make mine confused again when it’s already stood there repeatedly punching itself in the face – I just don’t get it. Cheating A.I. makes you feel like all your skills or efforts in training mean nothing. At the very least, if a game is going to do that, the designer could hide it a little better so that I don’t start to sense that something is up.

*Lucario was not hurt during the writing of this article*(Well, mostly)

Monday, 5 April 2010

French = Cultured?

It seems to me that people in Britain (and America too by the looks of things, though of course I have far less experience of that being British) regard anything French as ‘cultured’. If something is said in French it’s automatically regarded as being a clever comment and wine is considered a more cultured drink than lager (Lambrini anyone?). I know wine comes from all over the world, but stereotypically it seems to be regarded as a French thing once again. This just all seems a little daft to me.

I work part time as a cleaner in a clothing shop. I was there this morning and I noticed two supposedly ‘fashionable’ (let’s not get into that one shall we? I could go on all day about ‘fashion’ – note the heavily emphasised speech marks and imagine I said that in the most sarcastic voice you can muster – but that’s not the subject of this article, so I’ll save that rant for later) T-shirts with French on the front. One said “Mais oui...” which, if my B-at-GCSE-level French doesn’t fail me means “But yes...” But yes what? But yes I will have sausages for breakfast? But yes I do like dancing the conga with Gordon Brown? But yes I did once drive around a Milton Keynes roundabout 23 times with a goat in the boot of my car while beeping my horn to the tune of the Rocky theme? You see? It sounds stupid in English doesn’t it?

The other one had a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it and said underneath simply “Ville de London”, which means (if my French doesn’t fail me once again) literally “Town of London” or maybe “London town” taken a little less literally. Now correct me if I’ve got my geography wrong here but I’m pretty sure London has absolutely nothing to do with France, and the Eiffel Tower is nowhere near London. So what does that T-shirt even mean?! If it mentioned Paris, it may have been forgivable, since Paris is actually at least in France and the Eiffel Tower is indeed in Paris. But London? I mean seriously....

The point I’m trying to make here (if there even is one to be found) is the fact that French things being considered cultured annoys me. You don’t see German things considered as cultured, or Spanish things, or Japanese things even, not as often as you see French things anyway. In my mind it just represents society’s need to be told what to think instead of making its mind up for itself.