Monday, 29 October 2012

What I’m Playing now – October 2012

It’s been a while since I posted anything about what I’m playing, partly because I was in writing dissertation mode, but partly because I was finding some trouble connecting with new games; that has changed and I seem to be all games up with not quite enough time to play everything now!  So without further ado:

I’m spending a lot of time in Guild Wars 2 at present, it is an easy game to play but they've taken a lot of bold decisions.  With a one off payment you can play everything at present and that’s quite a leap of faith.  It will be interesting to see where it goes.  I have coughed out some money for some extra bank space (although tbh you get 25 or so slots and I could have coped without it) and have some gems stored up that I’m waiting to spend.  The game doesn't force micro transactions in your face though and the model means that the designers have taken out a lot of the ‘givens’ in an MMO that they often want you to do to take up your time.  For example I can mail items from anywhere – there’s no mailbox – this means that I don’t spend that time running to the nearest one.  Equally I can deposit crafting materials at any time from anywhere, it’s a very novel change.  The game is also visually very pretty and the level of detail put into many points that very few people will see (the sewers for example) is phenomenal.  If they can sustain it then it might well be a keeper.  I am slightly worried by the whole ‘end game content’ thing issue but, having just hit 80 (the games current level cap) we’ll see how that pans out.  The leveling down system is extremely well managed [you level down to the zone level you are in] and very effective, meaning that I have successfully played in newbie zones with friends and it’s still been just as fun and almost as dangerous for both of us.  The Halloween event has been great and, for a new game it’s remarkably bug-free.  Enjoying it so far!

Next up has to be X Com which is a brilliant game.  Like many people I played some of the original material, although I don’t remember being obsessed with it.  This remake / new version is an exceptional game.  I have enjoyed every single moment playing it.  It’s hard to say more than that really!  I’ll talk in more detail briefly but if you’re in a rush skip ahead, although only after buying the game!  The game takes you into an alien invasion story and is a turn based game where you move your squad around through a series of ‘kill the alien’ variants of mission, which have some procedurally generated maps keeping things ticking over even when it’s a ‘grind’ mission.  On that subject: to build new stuff you have to collect components which sometimes means you head out to a UFO just to salvage it’s parts!  Even these missions are a lot of fun and as I player you get very attached to the personalities of your team (Emma ‘Death Dog’ is my current ‘team leader’). 

The story is nicely done and the variety of builds and load-outs including my ever newly discovered alien technology is welcome.  The cinematic shooting and running is well done giving a movie like quality to the proceedings.  It’s fast paced and keeps you wanting more.  X Com is a great game and I’m enjoying it immensely.  In case it’s not clear I think you should enjoy it too!

Moving mobile bound the first game that needs mention is Tell Tale’s The Walking Dead.  Everyone is saying (pretty much) how much they love this... I’m no exception here.  It’s described as a point and click but to me that puts me in mind of Monkey Island and clicking monkeys and wrenches to open manhole covers (or whatever).  

The Walking Dead is a far cry from this.  I’ve been playing it on the iPhone (it’s also available on the PC and other mediums).  I think it’s more of an interactive story than anything else, but it’s a tremendous example of one.  The choices you make feel like they matter and the story is woven very cleverly around characters who you support and these choices continue on to the following chapters.  I’d *love* to get my hands on the storyboard for this game and I’m playing through it again with different choices, and I still feel like there’s more I’m missing.  The artwork is very reminiscent of both comics and television series and the voice acting is nicely performed.  One of the other things that makes TWD interesting is its episodic format.  There are 5 episodes and they’re being released slowly but surely and at the end of each one there is ‘next time on the walking dead’ – which all serve to make it much more like a tv series.  Whilst I rather like this (it’s something to look forward to) I, like so many, am somewhat fractious about the waiting time.  It’s not that I mind the wait so much as I mind that it comes out on PC ages before the iPhone version, which if nothing else means that I have to rigorously avoid spoilers!  None the less it’s a great piece of work and I’m very much looking forward to episode 4.  I hope there’s a Season 2!

Next comes a guest appearance for Robot Unicorn Attack from Adult Swim and Mediatonic – I know that this is an older game these days but it’s still one I’ve only just picked up and I’m playing it from the android store.  It’s a very fun and horribly addictive side scrolling running game where for no readily apparent reason you play a robot unicorn running along to ‘Always’ by Erasure.  You have to jump gaps and spear star shaped obstacles whilst collecting bonus.  Sometimes you are joined by dolphins.  It’s really worth a look if you haven’t played it already. 

Super Hexagon has had quite a look in as well and it’s something I keep coming back to, it has the same pull factor as Robot Unicorn and is an incredibly frustrating but always keeps you trying game of avoiding shapes that spin toward you with unerring inevitability!  The sound track and voice work add to the game and make it that much more playable.

Finally I come to Buddha Finger from Lady Shotgun and here is another game you must definitely download right now.  Go on. 

 Done it?  Played it?  Good, then you know what I mean.  

For those of you that haven’t (yet) I’ll explain a little more.  Buddha Finger uses the iPhone like it should be used on a touch screen platform.  There’s no unwieldy screen based d-pads and I don’t have to drag the view around in a stilted fashion.  Instead all I have to do is press touch points in an order indicated on the screen (by a number next to the touch points).  You have to do it as quick as you can to beat up your opponent.  As the game continues you are rapidly introduced to different varieties of tapping (such as repeated tapping the same dot before moving onto the next one) – I won’t go into too much detail because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but suffice to say there’s enough variation to keep you interested and amused for some time.  Put this together with a fun tongue in cheek storyline which is a wonderful pastiche of kung fu movies meets gangster vibe, a beautifully fitting score and you have the makings of a classic.  I fear that the game’s innovations will lead to other people trying to copy it but the polish and style this game has will set it above cheap imitations.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Catch 22

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.  (Catch 22, Joseph Heller)

It’s an age old situation and one that I’ve encountered before.  Actors face the same thing*: to work you have to have an equity card.  To get an equity card you have to be able to demonstrate ‘2 years’ of work.  This sort of conundrum used to lead to actors often having to work in Theatre in Education tours or delivering panto at old people’s homes just so that they could get a job (I should stress that there’s nothing wrong with either of these things, it’s just not necessarily where said actor saw their career!).

So here I am, and I’ve worked damn hard for the last year on an MA, and for the last 8 years as a production manager.  I look at a lot of skill-sets listed for producer jobs and it does rather feel like they could have been written for me.  All bar one crucial line: “Requires minimum 2-years experience working as a producer on a game” (or similar)

The worst thing is I sort of agree!  With game budgets being what they are, often in the many hundreds of thousands of pounds bracket, why would you want to chance someone who hasn’t worked in the industry before.  Why would you want to train someone up to do the job.  That does lead to the question: “Where do you new producers come from?”  and I have been told all sorts of things.  The message I came off the course with was that QA was not the route into games work.  It was an opinion held very strongly by lots of people too – the message went something like this: “What we want in our studios is a really good QA team, so if you work really hard and are really good at QA… I’ll want you to stay in our QA team.”  Again – I really understand this mentality.  I am genuinely not bitter.  In a way it’s making me want it more, and I’m up for the fight, as yet I’m not seeing the end game, but I’m ready to fly some crazy missions!

So there we are: Catch 22, it makes sense, darn it.

*This has changed a lot now, not least because a lot less people are members of a trade union any more.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Education and games.

Justin Parsler (who lectures at Brunel and is a senior designer at Mediatonic) wrote this rather fine article which is in Develop.

Have a read, it rather highlights some of the good things about 'Games Education' and Brunel's courses especially. It can be found here

(Brunel was also featured in Edge just recently here)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Adventures at Eurogamer

Eurogamer was nice.  Which is to say that I had quite a good time there.  I wasn't blown away by very much but it was certainly worth going.

Notably I tried the new Sim City (Which I think, just to confuse old-timers is called Sim City), it played nicely in the brief go I had at it, and had a similar feel to the old games.  In fact if you imagine Sim City crossed with windows 7 (or the microsoft ribbon perhaps) then you'd be quite accurate.  I thought that it looked a bit more cartoon-y than the most recent Sim City that I have played, a bit more like The Sims.  But again, it played well and I took some glee in building a power station in the middle of their test city and then building houses around it.  I'd love to know what happened!

I tried the new Tomb Raider game, which really lived up to all that I had heard about it.  Now, that left me with mixed feelings.  It played quite well, although as a friend of mine said, it lost some credibility when you couldn't fall off the log in the tutorial!  The graphics were nice, the sound was good and I liked that I was thrown into doing some hunting straight away - it seems like there might be some interesting mechanics there.  What I also felt was that all the things I've heard about it being 'uncomfortable to play' were accurate.  Now let me say that there wasn't the 'threat of sexual violence' which I have heard mentioned from others, but there was a lot of Lara being hurt and in a grim situation.  When she fell she was in pain, when she jumped it felt difficult.  It felt 'trying' and I am not sure in a pleasant way.  The other thing that was noted by people I was there with was that she seemed to be (when on the walkie-talkie) a girl in need of help from men.  Now it was only the beginning and perhaps this was the start of a Lara who learns empowerment from the game, but if not then it will be a slightly depressing trend.  I'm left with mixed feelings on the game truth be told.

I didn't try but saw other people trying the new Assassins Creed.  It looked pretty spectacular.  There was some sneaking around with a mean looking crossbow and some sailing of ships which looked very well done.  I have enjoyed the Assassins Creed games thus far and this looks like a nice new installment.  They had very nice artwork too.

Fable: The Journey was an interesting experience.  I think I'd have had a better time of it if I had used a Kinect more before, as I found the way to throw fireballs accurately quite tricky, but I was quite impressed.  It looked like a pretty game and the experience was interesting.  Would I want to play it for many hours?  It's hard to say, but I can see where the appeal might be.  My problems certainly weren't with the game itself, but with the Kinect (having no buttons is such an issue).  The developer there from Lionhead was lovely though and great to talk to.

Watching Tokyo Jungle was an odd experience - you play an animal on the Tokyo streets which have been taken over by other animals and you need to hunt and stay alive.  So it seems a bit like GTA but with animals Bear in mind however that by the looks of it you get to start as either a Monkjack or a Pomerian.  So it's like GTA but you're playing the postman!  It does look like you get to unlock other things like dinosaurs and the people playing it were clearly having great fun!  I was going to put in my pictures of Tokyo Jungle, but actually the box sums up the game so wonderfully:

Hitman Absolution looked very good and Dishonourerd seemed to be grabbing a lot of interest.  X-com looked like a lot of fun.  Needless to say about a billion people (I have exaggerated for effect) Call of Duty 49 Black Ops 36 (numbers have been changed to protect the innocent) was grabbing a lot of attention too.

I came away having enjoyed the experience but I can't say that I was blown away by very much and I was surprised how similar a lot of the games looked.  There was a lot of FPS games or stealth assassin-y types.

It's worth mentioning that Earls Court, as ever puts on a great event (although the water was expensive!)

I await the next 'new thing' with excitement, but I'm not sure I saw it at Eurogamer.