Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Making a game out of art


fish[2]Draw Something is a craze that is sweeping the nation. For those of you that don't know, it is essentailly Pictonary of smartphones, you draw a image to represent a word and you opponent has to guess the word. Pretty simple and accessible, not to mention hugely successful, as the creators OMGPOP have just been brought for $200 million by Zynga. My house has omgpopnot been immune from it's effects with my wife playing it obsessively on my tablet.

Though she takes a far more artistic approach than most people. She draws backgrounds, sets the scene and then does the details. It is quite impressive to an unartistic soul like me. She would freely admit to enjoying drawing, however she rarely does it. She has done more artistic endevours in Draw Something in the last week, than she has in the year before. Now this gets me to my point, all the game is really doing is giving her a reason, or I guess even an excuse, to do what she already rock_bandlikes, but normally has no motivation to do, in this case drawing. It has gamified the act of creating art, you could say.

So if a little phone game can turn the act of drawing into a game, much like Rock band gamified music and Wii Fit made a game of excercising. So why can't we gamify the less, well, fun aspect of life. Why can't make a game out of work, school and the everyday chores that we have to do. Imagine at work if you had tasks with clear goals and a small reward for the successful completion, not unlike a mmo. Seems to me that is what work should be like, but rarely is, in my experience anyway. Can't see the way we live and work changing significantly in the future, but I can still dream.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Off topic: The Flash #1

DC comics have recently gone a little mental with their numbering system. The have rebooted pretty much all their franchises as part of an event they have called the 'New 52' referring to the 52 comics a month that are published by DC (or the 52 multi-verses that exist in the DC cannon) this all started about six months ago now, however as something of a lazy blogger I will now talk about the only New 53 series that I'm reading, The Flash. 

The Flash has been my favoured cape-less hero since the early 90's when I saw the damned awful yet highly entertaining TV series that run for one terrible yet fun packed season. After picking up the trade paperback 'The Flash: Rebirth' recently I decided to get 'up to date' with the red clad runner. 

Reading everything between Rebirth and the first of the New 52 as collected volume's it was quite an event when I managed to locate all six of the single issues on E-bay (and asked my local Forbdiden Planet to start saving them for me.) In this blog however I am going to specifically talk about issue one.

DC comics have never felt the need to organise a reading list or timeline for their publications and often the fan made ones are flawed, so after reading Rebirth, Dastardly rogues, Road to Flashpoint and then Flashpoint I felt that issue one of the reboot was the next thing to read. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Ok that was unexpected



fish[2]Somewhat to both my annoyance and joy, Sega have confirmed that they are bringing Binary Domain to my beloved PC. Having recently proffessed my admiration for the game, stating that had it been on the PC, I probably would have brought it. Apparently Sega want me to put my money were my mouth is.

I have to say I was very surprised by decision to port it over. Unlike the recent, alan_wake_collectors_edition_pcexcellent, Alan Wake PC port, Binary Domain sold pretty badly on the consoles. One of those decent games that didn't get a big enough push or came out at the wrong time. I was reminded of Rayman Origins, another game that was ported to the PC a few months after a, pretty poor, sales reception on the consoles. Both games sold poorly, despite, especially in Rayman's case, positive critical reception. It seems odd that the developers decided to spend more rescources on porting it over to the PC. I am not complaining, the more the merrier I say, still seemed like a questionable bdbusiness decisions.

Then it occurs to me, I saw that Binary Domain was coming to the PC on a Kotaku news article, and most of the other big gaming sites had similar posts on their front page. So Sega, with one quick press release, have suddenly got people seeing the name of their game all over the gaming web. It seems that pc conversions are news, as Alan Wake shows, and I wouldn't be surprised if this prompted sales of the console versions as well as the upcoming PC version. Essentially getting a soft relaunch. As a marketing tool it is cheap and effective. Hell you only have to look at the stupor that the potential Dark Souls PC port has currently got the internet into.

dark-souls-pc-release-is-coming-probablyI am certainly glad that we are getting these games,  but I would rather get them as the same time as the console version,  than stuck waiting to see if it it happens.  The PC is already known for getting versions after the consoles, the Assassins Creed series has been notorious for this, for example. I guess we with have to put up with a few more of the "look PC gaming isn't dead because  Developer X is bringing big game console game Y to the PC" headlines for a while to come.

THIS is why people own consoles!

Today I had an impromptu trip to town where a local store (Home Bargains) had the PC version of Guitar Hero World Tour compete with wireless guitar for the minor sum of £9.99. Obviously with this being the first time I had ever seen a PC guitar in the wild I snapped it up and skipped home excited to become a real life pretend rock star.

The guitar its self is identical to the console version however the button that would usually be marked with a PS logo or a silver and green X is blank, its well made and feels solid.

I installed the game and plugged the wireless dongle. Window detected this instantly and installed the drivers (from the installed game I assume) and clicked the icon. This is where it all goes wrong.

Hex chimes in - SWTOR

Star Wars: The Old Republic has been the topic of some debate recently here on Quest Hard. People tend to have vastly differing opinions on it. As an MMO player I think its a high quality product with a huge lack of real originality. As a Star Wars Player I think its at best a washed out pale interpretation of the universe we have grown to love. However as a gamer, pure and simple, I love the games combination of scifi themes and classic questing style. Its lack of innovation in a sci-fi setting is actually the thing I like... let me explain.

Remember Tabula Rasa? I do. It was doomed early in its life and things got worse when its father absconded into orbit. The game was vastly flawed but one of the reasons people could not forgive these flaws was that they has nothing familiar to hang on to when they (as MMO players) approached the game. The controls had more in common with a shooter than a role play game and the quests usually involved a 'saving private Ryan' style action adventure. Then there was that whole thing about respec/clone tokens and god knows what else. 

The Old Republic saves us from confusion by letting us enjoy classical MMO game play with a heavy sci-fi theme. Then, instead of thanking Bioware for their mercy we complain about its lack of innovation. This is unfair for a few reasons. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Expectations, and why I cancelled my SWTOR sub

After reading Tobold's blog, I started thinking about my expectations for SWTOR. I did not have high expectations of the gameplay - on the contrary, I expected it to be pretty standard and even a bit too standard.

I also did not have high expectations of the story. I am a huge Star Wars fan, and read dozens of the novels. I knew that the stories in the game wouldn't be the best Star Wars stories ever.

So I bought the game with low expectations - or so I thought. And when it came to the gameplay and the story, I was not let down. The Jedi Consular story was actually rather interesting, and the gameplay was OK. Not great, but not bad either.

But there was one thing that did not meet my expectations. See, I really love the Star Wars universe. And I have a good idea of what a lot of the places and planets look like. Lots of these impressions come from the movies, others come from the comics and the novels.

Take Coruscant for example. In my head, Coruscant is busy, loud and smelly. There's loads of creatures everywhere, hurrying from one place to another, selling stuff, talking, laughing, fighting. The sky is full of ships. There's so much to see, there's always something going on, wherever you look. The city is a whole planet, and still it seems like there's still not enough place for all its inhabitants. Coruscant is a megacity, the center of the universe. 

Now the SWTOR Coruscant is nothing like that. It kinda looks like Coruscant... But it's very clean, and everywhere I went, it was pretty empty. There's also hardly any noise. Where are the billions of inhabitants? Where are the shops, the apartments, the bars and the offices? This is not a megacity, and it definitely doesn't look like the center of the universe. This is not Coruscant, it's just something that tries to be like it.

So I was wrong. I DID have high expectations for SWTOR – I had very clear expectations on what the world should be like, what the atmosphere should be, and how it should feel to be a part of this amazing universe. And my expectations weren’t met. So I cancelled my subscription – not because the gameplay was just ‘just ok’, or because the story didn’t appeal to me, but because the world just didn’t feel right to me.

To come back on the issue discussed by Tobold, I also think it is much more difficult for SWTOR to be successful than it was for Everquest because it has to live up to much higher expectations. And it seems like the game is doing great, so I’m really happy for them. I think they really pulled it off. But me, I will probably not resub anytime soon. 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

I am enjoying my TOR of the galaxy



fish[2]Ok fine, I guess it is time to talk about The Old Republic. My Sith Warrior is now level 14, I have cleared the first planet and have covered a good chunk of the second. In previous blogs, and twitters, and emails and conversations I have been fairly critical of TOR's lack of innovation in the mmo space. And you know what, I am entirely correct. However this doesn't stop it from being a great game.

In The Old Republic the narrative is king. Every single quest has a reason behind it, all, usually, excellently voice acted. They are pretty varied, though there are still some basic kill quests, these are largely for bonus xp and unnecessary. Hell in one case I actually managed to talk my way out of violent situation. In fact there have been several quests that have multiple conclusion options. I am trying to play a nice Sith, which entertains me greatly. I haven't sith-warriortried the good guy side, the republic, yet but I love the back stabbing and in fighting of the Imperial story line.

The combat doesn't stray too far from the mmo norm but is very well done, making you feel powerful early on and regularly taking on groups of 3 or 4 rather than the usual one on one. I love my Sith Warrior's approach of jumping into a group from miles away and doing a force stomp. Ok yeah I am still essentially pressing number keys but fun none the less. I have even done a flashpoint, instanced senarios equivelent to other games dungeons. They are, unsurprisingly, very story focused and very involving.

The one thing I noticed myself doing, which is an exception of me for an mmo, though not a Bioware game, is running around, following the story and tor_classes_546xcompletely forgetting about the leveling process. Every now and then I level up and I say, oh yeah it's an mmo, go get my training and then forget about levelling again. So I am in the odd situation of being excited about an mmo for the first time in ages, I kind of like it.

However my brain is still trying to ruin it for me. It keeps questioning what will happen when the story runs out. The combat is good,  it looks nice, hell I even like what they have done with the crafting, but if the story stops I am not sure there is much to keep me playing.

There can be an Art to making a game



fish[2]I just finished reading Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun, which is the seminal book on game design. It is a pretty interesting read and got me thinking about how I view games, even if I didn't agree with all of it. I have been considering my games as toys blog from a while back, and thinking that perhaps rather than classifying certain games as toys, art is actually far closer to the truth.a-theory-of-fun-Koster

Take Minecraft for example. From my point of view, art is content that gives you pause for thought and can be interpreted in several different ways. As a creative statement on the perils we all face, and as a opportunity to be creative,  not just to overcome game obstacles but to push your imagination, it is easily as valid as a novel or art-house movie. Similar statements could be make about the Sims and the way it can be used to mirror lives.

Is the average game Art? No, but then again neither is the average movie, or novel, or perhaps even painting. Hell I know Minecraft has done very well for itself, and I think if we are going to look for games that can be construed as art, they are going to come from indie developers, much like indie films. I think there are certainly artistic aspects to certain games. Skyrim is a prime example, were there are lots of quests and such, however it is just as valid to go and live a live in the game, as this person has. He has turned a video game into an art piece essentially.

I don't think the day will ever come when art games are released by big publishers, however the indies will always be there to make the truly thought provoking stuff.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

How do I find a good game?

Recently I have been on something of a 'Flash' binge. I have read literally every Flash book since 'Rebirth' right through to New 52 Issue 6. That last sentence won't mean allot to you unless your pretty 'into' comics. This is the thought that this blog is fleshing out. When I decided to start reading The Flash I actually had to do research  to find out the best place to start reading the series.  As pretty dedicated gamers we assume that knowing what to play is a natural thread for anyone but like my problem of what Flash comic to read do 'new' gamers know what to play? 

My logic is this... some one who is just getting 'into' games would naturally have a starting point. lets assume our fictional new gamer is called Todd. Todd is 25 and married to Tina, she is a brain surgeon by day and stripper by night and..... no wait, I'm digressing into a whole different sort of hypothetical situation.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

To MUD or not to MUD?

 I believe that there has never been a better time for MUDs to make a comeback. Actually, I believe that this is already happening, although they will of course always stay a niche genre.

Looking at for example – probably the biggest mmo forum around - the increase in threads about MUDs lately is quite striking. Talking to fellow mmo players, I often hear that they are interested in trying them out, but don’t know where to start.

For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about: a MUD is just like an MMO, but instead of graphics, there’s only text. In fact, the first MMOs were called graphical MUDs, as they are basically the same type of games, but with a layer of graphics on top.

The first MUD was created in 1979. That’s a long time ago. Hell, I wasn’t even born then. Nowadays, you hardly hear about them anymore, but they still exist and lots of people are still playing them. One problem – and at the same time this is also an advantage - with MUDs is that it’s really easy to start and run your own MUD.  This means that the playerbase is very dispersed: there are literally hundreds of MUDs available, but most of them only have a handful of players.

You might ask: why would I be interested in playing a text-based game, if there are also hundreds of shiny sparkly MMOs to play? Well, playing without graphics also has its advantages. For starters, since MMOs are so much more complex to make, some systems are just too difficult to implement, or take too much time to implement. While an MMO dev would work a year on an MMO with just combat, questing and crafting, a MUD dev could implement at least 10 times as much features in that amount of time. In addition to that, the setting in MUDs is often much more creative and imaginative, because it doesn’t need to be translated into graphics.

So if you’re interested in trying a MUD, but don’t really know where to start, here’s a little guide:

You can never go home



fish[2]Despite the continual moaning i brought The Old Republic and played about 3 hours of it last night. I must confess, I had a very enjoyable time and I do like it. However that is a subject for another blog, now I am going to talk about why I brought it. I finished up playing Skyrim, which is a giant consuming game with hundreds of things to do, that I had played for over a hundred hours. But when I had done all the quest lines, the main story and everything else of note, I had to leave it there.

But that left me feeling a little sad, I realised I rather liked have one massive all world-of-warcraft-freeconsuming game to play, and this got me thinking of when I used to play World of Warcraft. The fact that it has been in the news recently (hell even on this site), made my desire to play it stronger. So I activated a trial on my WoW account, and created a new character, and played for a couple of hours. Then I got bored. Despite endless amounts of patching and updates, it is still very much the game I fell in love with 5 years ago.  Unfortunately, much like an old ex girlfriend, WoW is comfortable but not exciting in any way. The thought of playing through the familiar, even with the Cataclysm changes, was the opposite of enticing.

I keep going back to WoW, but that was the last time. I think it is a case that it is simply too familiar, even content I have never seen before. I am at heart a explorer, and Blizzard simply have nothing I am eager to see any more.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Tighten the Valve on that Box



fish[2]So the Steam box. That is a thing that might be happening, if the rumours are to be believed. Thats right apparently Valve are looking at entering the console market with their own set top box. Of course pc's that go under your telly are nothing new, hell Alienware announce a range of them not to long ago, so why should we get excited about the prospect of a Valve Alienware-X51-Puts-Gaming-Desktop-Power-In-A-Console-Shellconsole.

It could be claimed that Valve, more than anyone, are the biggest proponents of PC gaming. They "own" that space essentially, and if they expand into the console market it will only have a positive effect. I say this because chances are it will still be linked to a Steam account, and I would hope that any game you buy for your PC, with also be on the console. With the Steam cloud service, we might even get to the position where you can play a game from laptop, to pc and then to console, and pick up exactly wher you left off.

Valve-Steam-Box-ConsoleAlso if the rumours are to be believed the tech would be easily upgradable. If it can reach the holy grail of plug and play hardware, such as pulling graphics component outs and replacing it wth another, that’s an exciting prospect. And one that could give new PC sales the much need shot in the arm.

Finally it would encourge even more devolopers to create PC games, be it new titles or just a PC versions of the PS3/360 version. Given the success of PC games of late, it is hard to believe that isn't going to happen more anyway, but every little helps.

However I find it unlikely that Valve are actually making a console. Bear in mind the pure costs of building and marketing a console is phenomenal. Valve are undoubtedly very wealthy, however they would have to Steam-Box-original-copyrisk practically every dollar they have to make a go of it. That seems a pretty outrageous risk. However if Valve were to have a strong word with hardware manufacturers  about creating a hardware standard, especially given the hardware survey data they have, the tech people are going to listen.

Either way, an exciting prospect.

Wow Trial

As I stumbled across the new and improved world of Warcraft Scroll of resurrection I was honestly shocked at how good the deal is. Now, I am not a fan of WoW but I have to admit this offer negates some of my reasons for not playing the game. If I get a buddy to send me the scroll I can level up to 80 and change realm to join them, immediately.  this mean that there is no level grind, there is no waiting, there is no re-rolling. 

This is a good offer, granted it means that there would be a huge chunk of content skipped but I could go back to that content with a new character while enjoying a level 80 toon to socialise with my WoW veteran friends. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

I feel bad for enjoying myself



fish[2]I currently subscribe to Love Film,  purely for the pleasure of renting games, predominantly for my PS3.Anyway I currently have Binary Domain, which I have to confess to liking a lot more than I expected.
Binary Domain is a cover based sci-fi third person shooter. Much to my surprise I found myself not only really enjoying the game play, but also being drawn in by the plot and characters. So this is where the remorse kicks in. After about 8 or 9 hours of gameplay I am very near the end (I believe) of a very enjoyable game, yet I have paid the developers/publishers (Sega) nothing at all for this great game. This is not the first time I have felt this way, I had a similar feeling of regret after completing Bayonetta.

Seriously it is pretty awesome

I have since seen Bayonetta for £15, but haven't brought it, as I have no desire to play it through again. I dunno it is kind of like I feel I have essentially stolen images (1)from the developers. I mainly rent games to try them out to see if I am interested in them. So it a game is crap or not to my taste (as in Marvel versus Capcom 3 recently rented, which is a great fighting game, which I am not interested in), I can happily test the waters, without getting my feet wet, so to speak.

And if a game is ok, I can happily play it, and even finish it without regret. A good example of this is SOCOM, which was a perfectly adequate third person shooter. I played it all the way through the single player, which I 257px-SOCOM_4enjoyed without loving it on any level, and tried the multiplayer which was mediocre (I have never liked third person cover base multiplayer, even when done really well). I sent it back and have never given it a second thought. Hell, I can’t even remember what it was about.

This may seem like an odd solution but I would happily, if I could, well, donate a small amount of money to the developers, without getting the actual disc copy that I neither want or need. Perhaps this is partly why my Steam list is so crammed, I pick up games from developers that I admire and trust, regardless of whether I want to play the game or not. The developers Relic are a great case for this. I love the Dawn of War 2 games, so when the company of heroes games popped up on sale I brought them, even though I tried them when they were briefly free to play and I found them hard work. I also brought a PC version of Space Marine despitecompany-of-heroes finishing it on the PS3.

I have to ask myself, if Bayonetta came on Steam for £15 pounds, would I buy it? Yeah I doubt I would even think twice about it. Worse case scenario it would sit in my games list and I wouldn't be able to get rid of it, unlike a disc box, which I fear I would just sell on. Damn another function of Steam, retail therapy, though not in the way most people mean.

Where are my bite sized games?

I am a fan of many forms of entertainment. I read comics and Manga regularly, I watch movie's and as we all know play video games. There is a trend in the time this entertainment takes to enjoy from start to finish.

In the case of comics (I like the Flash) you can buy a single issue and enjoy it for about 45 minutes and then you're done. but you can buy Trade Paperbacks of those runs of comics that are good for two or three hours of entertainment.

In the case of manga you can enjoy it in monthly collection issues (Shonen Jump Magazine for instance) this again offers a collection of 'episodes' that last 45 minutes where as the magazine as a whole can last much longer. Or you can buy collected stories as Tankōbon's that last up to three hours or so for an average reader.

Television and movie's are laid out the same way, a TV show lasts usually about 45 minutes where a movie lasts two to three hours, the same with music an album rarely lasts more than an hour.

With video games its very different. A video game last's, if your lucky for about ten hours and then separate to that most offer an on-line mode that will give you potentially unlimited entertainment. What I find interesting however is that Video games have no 'bite sized' versions like pretty much every other form of entertainment that I enjoy.