Just A Little Something.

Found this comic strip and it gave me a chuckle.


Grand Theft Auto: Rothbury

I love tabloids. I find them so very, very entertaining. Much in the same way that one would find a clown funny, as opposed to say Bill Hicks' style of entertainment.

The Daily Star is the epitome of such guilty pleasures, a shitty little snot rag that does not deserve to be called a paper. The Sun has more journalistic integrity that farce. However, it’s still worth picking it up every so often (don’t ever pay for it though, dear God they don’t need encouraging) and leafing through it.

You will not find such a magnificent collection of human stupidity outside of the Darwin Awards. Everything that’s wrong with the country is the fault of Islam. Nick Clegg is a 20 foot tall fire breathing lizard who will destroy what Islam leaves behind. Your taxes are being used… TO PAY FOR THINGS! Non white people are living in Britain and raping our women! WOMEN HAVE THE VOTE!

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little here, but not by much. I suppose you’re wondering what this is doing on a videogames blog, and the answer to that is simple. The Daily Star recently published an ‘article’ concerning videogaming designed to inflame the slack jawed yobs that take this crap seriously.

If you live in Britain, you’ve probably heard of Raoul Moat. He recently led the police and army on a manhunt that lasted several days after shooting several people including his former partner and her current lover. You can read the exact details over on the BBC. Now, given that this has only just started to blow over (at least on a national level), what would your first assumption be on seeing this image while browsing the internet?

Whatever you assumed, I’m guessing you didn’t think it was actually real. For one Daily Star journalist though, this was the first thought to cross his mind. Jerry Lawton, I salute you. You’ve managed to take a poor taste joke and turn it into a national phenomenon. He actually took this seriously and wrote a piece on it, even going so far as to interview the grandmother of Moat’s former partner about this non existent game, adding extra grief and stress to what must already be one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through. Smooth Jerry. Real smooth.

What amazes me is no one at the Daily Star, not even the editor looked at this for a moment and thought “Seriously… what professional multi million company would be sick enough to create something like that?” It would be business suicide. Rockstar are not that stupid, and while they create violent- adult games, they are not going to cash in on such a specific case. Yes they’ve made some very… risqué content, and some very violent games, but they have never targeted a specific incident or individual.

Too bad the Daily Star lacks their dignity.

To add to the farcical nature of this story, Jerry Lawton remains unrepentant about the whole affair, even after the Daily Star issued an official apology and retracted the story. From his Facebook page:

"Baffled by the fury of adult gamers, these are grown (?!?) men who sit around all day playing computer games with one another who've today chosen to enter the real world just long enough to complain about my story slamming a Raoul Moat version of Grand Theft Auto! You would think I'd denied the Holocaust!!! Think I'll challenge them to a virtual reality duel....stab....I win!!!"

Wow. What a twat. What a brain dead, out of touch twat. I think the quality of this tosser’s journalism speaks for itself in that he didn’t even bother to get a response from Rockstar about this ‘game’- something which could have saved him and his paper considerable embarrassment.

Still, at least he had the decency to refer to his horseshit as a ‘story’ rather than ‘news piece’ or ‘article’.

I’d be angry if this had occurred in anything other than the Daily Star. As it stand the fact this it did just compounds what I already know and what I opened this post with: The Daily Star is a total and utter pile of crap as a news paper. However, as a source of entertainment (and often left discarded in public cafés, especially supermarket ones), it’s tough to beat. So well done Mr Lawton, you’ve proven you have the journalistic ability of a chimp, degraded and embarrassed your paper even further and given me a bloody good laugh at just how incompetent you are.

On a serious note though, it does scare me how many people may have actually believed this. Would they have been as quick to accept if someone said they where making a big budget movie about Moat? Or a West End play? I doubt people would believe it right off the bat. There remains a lot of prejudice and simple ignorance regarding the role of videogames in society, and the type of people adult gamers are. This sort of crap only cements that, and that is something we should be worried about. I’ll leave you with that, and also Destructoid’s response to Lawton’s Facebook post:

Nice to see that Lawton conveniently left out the bit where he used a poorly doctored image that any idiot could have ascertained was fake, the bit where he used a 69-year-old grieving grandmother for his own ends, and the bit where he cobbled together a shitty little article full of lies that got taken down because it was a load of crap. Hilarious that he references the "real world" when his article was based in total fantasy to begin with. Maybe Lawton's the one who needs to step away from his computer and face reality.


Finished Dragon Age: Origins

There's something very sad about finishing a game you have really enjoyed. This is especially true of RPGs, the effort that goes into creating characters and story, and the length of time you're playing mean you can get quite involved with everything that's going on. Once that comes to an end, you're left wanting more, but you can't get it. Sometimes you can get expansion packs or there may even be direct sequels, but even they will eventually be exhausted.

I think loathing the fact a game has finished is one of the highest compliments you can give a developer.

I just finished Dragon Age: Origins, and I am not a happy bunny. While I do have a few qualms about the writing towards the end (some of the side quests just seemed lazy), on the whole it was very well executed and I enjoyed the entire experience immensely. The last few battles in Denerim where very frustrating though, and I didn't care for the whole army mechanic, especially as the Dalish where about as useful as a mercury tea cup. Plus the last fight against the arch demon was a little anticlimactic. He's been built up and up over the course of the game and I walked all over him. Mind you, I did save the mage support for that battle and they seemed to do most of the work.

These are just nit picking though. Honestly it was a great experience and I'm sad I didn't complete the game sooner. I've already ordered Awakening on Steam and I'm planning on spending the next few days of my life playing it religiously, as I have done with Dragon Age: Origins over the past couple of weeks.

In case you're wondering I had Alistair kill the arch demon (he wanted to do it so why not), I put Anora on the throne, and Morrigan left because there was no way in hell I was letting her raise a child with the potential to be as powerful as a God. The epilogue was mostly positive, but I forgot to kill the dragon at Haven which caused a few people some hassle, and Orzimmar has apparently seen better days after Harrowmont took over.

Kudos to you Bioware, I look forwards to Awakening.

Oh Maker...

Fell me like the darkspawn... and make inroads in the south...

Bioware, you've done it. You've created sex dialogue that's even worse than mine. And most of my girlfriends have complained about me being too quiet.

Video Review Of Fight Night Round 4

Best viewed in HD on YouTube itself:

My Most Hated Videogame Design Flaws

I spend a lot of my time when I write about videogames picking apart the really negative aspects of even great games. My review of Nier being a fine example of cynical nature, although in all fairness, it is a dire game. While I don't consider myself a critic, I do complain a lot, and I've noticed there are certain issues that keep cropping up with videogames time and time again.So I've created this list of 6 of my biggest annoyances with videogames.If you're looking at designing a videogame, then take these on board.I don't have any professional qualifications to support these opinions, but at the end of the day I've been playing videogames since shortly after I started walking and reading.So, in no particular order:

1.Quick time events.

People who've watched the video review of me and Betamax (drunkenly) reviewing Bayonetta, will know that I hate quick time events with a passion.I've also railed on these in Dante's inferno too.The problem I have with them is that they are, quite simply pointless.There's no skill involved in a quick time event, you just need to either mash a button as fast as you can, or press it quickly when it appears on screen.This is all about an arbitrary test of reflexes, or how quickly you can push a button.

Quick time events can work in videogames, for example the last remnant does them pretty well.One of the Naruto games on the 360 also makes creative use of quick time events as a sort of versus event between two players.The problem is that they often crop up totally out of the blue (resident evil 4 and 5) and the only function they serve is to make you reload your game because you were not expecting them, often interrupting entertaining 'catch a breather' cut scenes when they do.The other problem is the fact that they are often put into situations where they have no purpose at all.Look at the doors in Dante's inferno, something that prompted a big rant in my video review of that game.Why?Why do you need a QTE to open a door?What's the point?What does it add to the game?

There's also the fact that after a motorcycle crash a few years back, my hands are f###ed.It's really hard for me to do those mashing button sequences, and I'm not the only person out there with joint problems.

In summary, if you want to use quick time events, make them a part of the gameplay itself, and always ask two important questions; do I need player interaction at this point, and why is a quick time event best suited to this situation?

Read The Whole Piece Here.

Do You Worship The Batman?

I try to keep this blog about gaming, but some things are just so good they need to be shared. First of all, have a quick read of this news article. Don't worry, it's only short.

Here is all I have to say on the subject...

And the lord Bruce said to his disciples “Go forth my children, and look not upon me as an icon, nor a role model, nor an inspiration. Be inspired by not by my tales of one man against many, nor should you be entertained by them. You should instead attend at Westboro Baptist church, whereupon you will be subjected to two hours of hypocrisy at sub zero temperatures, where you will be incited to support the death of thousands of your own people, and venerate the persecution of homosexuals and closed mindedness. Woe my children! Think not of how my message teaches the youth that they should stand up for what is right, regardless of the odds. Think not of how my material entertains millions of adults in its many forms, providing escapism from a life of drudgery. Go now you lost lambs, go unto the cold, limp embrace of the Westboro Baptist church, and learn that regardless of what you think, ‘tis more important to dedicate your life to a two thousand year old message that has been corrupted and perverted by evil men throughout the ages, than to spend some time enjoying a comic book, or a movie, or a television show starring Adam West. Renounce all these things, and not just the shitty Joe Shumaker films, especially that three headed abomination starring George Clooney.”

Thus spake the Lord Bruce, and ended “And you shall know, that my name is THE GOD DAMN BATMAN, when I lay may vengeance upon thee.”

Dragon Age: Origins- What Keeps Me Interested?

In my latest attempts to beat the fallow, I’ve turned to Dragon Age: Origins. Several of my friends started playing this, so I decided to dust the grime off it and take it for another spin. To my surprise, I’m actually quite enjoying it.

I got Dragon Age on release date, and played it for several hours as a human noble. Eventually though, I got bored stupid of it and left it by the wayside. This is actually true of most Fantasy RPG games that I play in this style. Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights (1 and 2), and so forth. I don’t know what it is about these games- I usually really enjoy them, but for some reason I end up putting them down one day and never coming back. Strangely, this also happened with FF VIII, and FFXII (although I have to say I dislike the latter, but found VIII to be pretty fun. Sorry Spoony).

So what is it about Dragon Age that is actually holding my interest in this way the second time around? What can I extract from Dragon Age that could be applied to other games to make them better? I've narrowed it down to a few points, so let’s have a butchers.

I’ve had rants about videogame writing before, so I’m not going to repeat them here. Suffice to say that generally the quality of videogame writing is appalling. In Dragon Age though, this is not so. Bioware made big claims that Dragon Age is aimed at a more mature audience, and to my surprise I found they where actually right. Most ‘mature’ games are actually just a string of blood and tits, and while Dragon Age certainly has these… assets, the characterization, presentation and dialogue are all very mature. Emphasis is placed on tough moral decisions, and looks at areas such as racism, responsibility versus freedom, tradition versus rights, sexuality and so forth.

It’s very rare to see such a mature and interesting look at these fields in a videogame of all things. And while the game does let itself down at times with cheap shots and poorly executed dialogue, for the most part, the thought and ideas behind the quests keep me interested. It’s better than the standard of writing found in most fantasy games, which is ‘save world’ and not much else. Again, Dragon Age does have the ‘save world’ meta plot, but the stories woven inside that are far more interesting and emotive that those found in other fantasy RPGs.


This is everything the gambit system in FFXII should have been. Simple, clean, effective and actually useful. Now the gambit system was all of these things, but the rest of FFXII failed it. The way the game played meant that in the early hours the gambit system was just too simple to be useful, and the need to actually buy the commands for use in it was just stupid.

In Dragon age, the only thing you need to buy up for the tactics system are the slots- everything else is just there and ready to go. The result is that you end up able to create some phenomenally interesting and useful set ups right off the bat. Unlocking Tactics slots lets you refine these ideas further, but Dragon Age gives you plenty of options right off the bat.

For example, my preferred set up is to give Alistair the best armour I can and have him use the threaten mode to draw Aggro. He also uses taunt on any enemy that’s attacking my mages. The result is that everyone wails on Alistair, and between his armour, some buffs and an ungodly Con score, he can take it. Add in tactics for him and other characters to use interrupts like shield bash and dirty fighting to lower the DPS against him, a healer to automatically heal him (using one of their tactics slots), and a poultice command if his health gets really low- and you have a set up which keeps the entire party safe.

This sort of in depth scripting is an excellent example of something that’s been missing from these top down RPG games for a very long time- it rewards you for thinking laterally, coming up with good tactics and shaping characters to work together. It also means your tactics meld together seamlessly with the precision you only get through automation. Plus it saves you pausing every 5 seconds.

An excellent world.

In his review of Dragon Age, Yahtzee rather unfairly accused all fantasy writers of ripping off Tolkien. And while that may be true, many authors have taken the formula and done something interesting with it. Dragon Age is one such piece. Interesting set ups and ideas like the Elves being recently released slaves, the dwarven socio-political system, the circle of the magi and so forth, distinguish it from other fantasy settings which just offer the same standard ideas and presentations.

These are mostly still present in Dragon Age, but that gives us a basis that is already familiar on which the writers have built the unique elements. By creating a ‘vanilla’ fantasy world, there’s no need to waste time expositing about standard crap to ensure you understand the ins and outs of the situations you are getting involved in. This leaves plenty of game time to be devoted to the unique aspects of the world setting. In many games, either too little attention is paid to the basics of a whole new setting, leaving you scratching your head about the most basic parts of the society, or the game is just going for ‘Generic Fantasy’ with nothing to differentiate it. Thus by mixing the two Dragon Age lets us explore it’s uniqueness, but with a comfortable and familiar backdrop.

I always look forwards to what I’m going to find next. The intrigue, the setting, the quests, everything has an interesting twist or some sort of hidden idea, or even just something new that I haven’t seen in the fantasy genre before.

So there we go, a few bits and pieces that keep Dragon Age: Origins interesting where other fantasy RPGs have failed. I hope to see more of these in the future, and kudos to Bioware for pulling it off so well. I still can't quite figure out what put me off the first time though, but I do remember the difficulty spiking very badly just before I called it quits. Perhaps Bioware fell to one the deadly sins.

I Will Not Be Buying Starcraft 2.

I don’t often take a stand when it comes to consumerism. Recently though, this trend has reversed a little as I find myself refusing to buy stuff based on a matter of principle. For a capitalist dog such as myself, this is a notion that is actually quite alien. It first came around with the iPhone 4. Now, I am an iPhone user, and yes I'm aware there are better and cheaper smartphones out there, but when I picked up my 3GS, even the Android app store couldn't compete with the Apple app store, and that was the deciding factor. With the leaps and bounds the Android store has made lately, if I was buying a new phone today it would probably be a HTC Evo.

Given that I'm on contract though, I did give thought to the idea of upgrading. However, due to problems with the iPhone 4's retina display, the Chinese sweatshop reports and of course the king of all engineering cock ups, the antenna that doesn't work when held in the left hand, I refuse to buy something that is so totally, utterly broken. Apple's blazé response doesn't help matters. I refuse to upgrade my phone and hand over my cash not out of cost or expense (although these are certainly factors), but because I refuse to pay for a broken item.

And now I have decided to forgo purchasing Star Craft II. This is a surprise to me, as I love RTS games and Star Craft II is far, far cheaper than an iPhone 4. There is nothing, financially speaking to stop me buying this game. I'd even booked time off work to play it.

I always knew Activision had become the latest subject of hate in the gaming industry, especially after their little spat with Infinity Ward. However, I hadn't realised until recently just how much of a f###ing prick thier CEO is. Bobby Kotick is a disaster, the single worst thing to happen to gaming since... since... since Daikatana.

Let's take a look at some of his quotes eh?

"We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games."- Because as every wage slave knows, hating your job ensures that you do it well.

"I think we definitely have been able to instil the culture, the scepticism and pessimism and fear that you should have in an economy like we are in today. And so, while generally people talk about the recession, we are pretty good at keeping people focused on the deep depression."
- Wow. Why would you run a company that way? I'm not a business man, but even I know that good morale is an essential part of a business. He's probably gunning for the sick system.

To be honest though, why should your average gamer really give a shit about how this man runs his company? Well, aside from sparing a though for the poor bastards who have to work in that hell hole (a hell hole I remind you specifically engineered to be as unpleasant as possible, including withholding pay you're f###ing entitled to), Bobby Kotick is going to destroy the gaming hobby.

Allow me to explain through example. I enjoy comic books, and while I don't get involved in the history and culture of them as much as I do video games, I do know a little- most taught by Linkara. During the 90's the comic book industry entered what is often referred to as 'the dark age'. Characters where all drawn in the style defined by Robert Liefeld, hugely muscular men and impossibly thin, hugely bosomed women, all with skin-tight suits, shoudler pads, shit tonnes of pouches and of course the most ridiculous guns imaginable. Story went out the window as comics tried to be 'edgy' and 'cool' rather than having a good narrative and high quality or interesting art work.

All this came about because of the zeitgeist of the time, and comic book makers latched onto that popular Liefeld Formula; guns, muscles, tits and not much else. for the comics, this turned what should have been a blip into around a decade of the style feeding itself as people got suckered into the crapfest and threw money at it. Eventually, people realised just how stupid this style was (both in terms of art and narrative), and stopped buying dark age stuff.

The whole thing is looked on with embarrassment by many comic book fans, and while the period did give us characters like Cable and Deadpool, most regard it as an artistic quagmire and would rather treat it like that filthy cousin who comes to visit every so often- smile and nod, and hope he goes away soon.

What does this have to do with Bobby Kotick? Everything. Kotick is probably the Liefeld of our time, the catalyst through which any individuality in gaming is quashed. As it stands, we're not far from a dark age anyway. The economic recession has spawned a plethora of knock offs and sequels, with many publishers and devs focusing on markets that have done will with in the past, rather than trying to create something new. But you can't squeeze the life out of a title forever, eventually you just need to let it go and work on something new. Look at the Jaws movies. Hell, look at the Starwars prequels. The longer you milk something, the worse it gets, and Kotick won't stop wringing a franchise dry until it doesn't pay its way anymore.

I think Tim Schafer said it best:

"You can’t just latch onto something when it’s popular and then squeeze the life out of it and then move on to the next one. You have to at some point create something, build something.”

Kotick's plans are to create a single game, charge stupid amounts for extra crap you need to play it (Guitar hero), charge for lots of DLC, and then expand on these ideas with even more DLC and even more peripherals. Then you start making sequels and spin offs and repeat the process. Try to cut out any element of the game that's making other people money but not you, including consoles...

From a business perspective, this is genius. For a gamer, this is hell. Nintendo, much as I love them are already guilty of this sort of thing- recycling the same game over and over again with very little ingenuity. Which to be honest is a really odd thing as in terms of hardware, Nintendo are always leading the curve. The N64 fires up analogue and BAM, everyone's using analogue. The DS uses a touch screen and BAM, kills the PSP dead. the Wii uses motion sensing and... well you've seen the displays of Kinect and Playstation Move at E3.

Kotick is stamping out this sort of innovation, he is trying to turn Activision into another factory of mediocrity, churning out endless sequels and expansions rather than making things which are fresh, new and interesting. We've already got WAY too much of this in the hobby, and we don't need to loose a once great publisher to the whims of some stupid f### in an industry whose consumers he doesn't understand. Kotick may be accountable to his shareholders, but he's also accountable to gaming. If we don't make a stand it's going to lead to the stagnation of the hobby as an art form, and a drop off in the number of new and original ideas and games. Even Starcraft will get old. Even COD.

This is why I will not buy Starcraft 2. I will not support Activision's attempts to denigrate my hobby. Kotick needs to do what EA did a few years back and realise how much the public are starting to hate his company- that he is his own worst enemy. I'd ask you all to support me in this, if you really love gaming.

Bobby Kotick, I'm Sorry But You Really are a Grade A* Wanker.

"I think we definitely have been able to instill the culture, the skepticism and pessimism and fear that you should have in an economy like we are in today. And so, while generally people talk about the recession, we are pretty good at keeping people focused on the deep depression."

Wanker. Total F###ing wanker.

Oh Pete.. Pete, Pete, Pete...

My friend Allegra recently joined the world of console gaming by purchasing an Xbox 360. Excellent, more friends with controllers. However this morning she declared that she needed to burn it. The cause of this outburst? A quote from ‘some games developer’:

"Films, TV, even hallowed books, are just rubbish because they don't involve me- it's a sea of blandness."

My curiosity was piqued. Who in the industry would have such an outburst? My mind raced trying to decipher the quote. Had Gabe Newell declared himself lord and master? Had Cliff Blezinski finally gone in off the deep end? I turned to the BBC to find out.

Peter Molyneux? Really? Oh Peter… how could you succumb to this sort of thing? What could drive the man to such lunacy? Declaring everything a sea of blandness? Has he read a book recently? Did he see Star Trek? Did he watch Battlestar Galactica?

I used to really like Molyneux. He has a real passion for what he does, and I think he’s genuinely enthusiastic about pushing the boundaries of gaming for the sake of his art, not just for the money. He’s stated he’s enthusiastic about Kinect, and wants to incorporate it into Fable 3.

His games are always entertaining, Black and White remains one of my favourite games and while I think the Fable games are more like toys (to get the most out of them, you need to play with them rather than play them), I still enjoyed them and look forwards to Fable 3. Dungeon keeper is a game I still play when I can get it to work on Windows 7 and theme park devoured huge sections of my youth.

Is this man really that arrogant? He’s made some excellent games, but that in no way qualifies him to denigrate the other arts. It’s a lot like Roger Ebert’s recent faux pas, but in reverse. I can see Peter’s claim, an interactive medium like a videogame is an excellent platform for a story, but he’s missing one important fact- most videogame story writers are total, utter hacks. Very few videogames have genuinely involving and interesting stories, characters and settings. This is to be expected, it’s only in the last 15 years or so that we’ve had the technology to create something more than a few blips on a screen, something worth actually assigning a story to. By contrast, film makers have had about a centaury to build on their art, and writers? Pfft. So long as there’s been a language, there’s been someone peddling stories.

A videogame is very different from a book, and is also different from a movie. We’re still learning what does and doesn’t work in videogame story telling. Remember the utter failure that was the FMV game era? Hideo Kojima can’t seem to get his head around the fact that people actually want to play games, rather than watch hour long cut scenes. Games like FFXIII and Dragon Age try to get around the problem by giving you endless shit to read, moving the game closer to a book.

The issue is simple. If a person wants to read, they will read a book. If they want to watch something, they watch a film. A game is something you play. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Back on Peter Molyneux though, I hate to say it, but the story telling elements of his games are… average at best. The Fable games are short. Really, really short. And when you get down to it, there isn’t that much in the Fable stories when you compare it with other titles such as FFVII and the last act of Red Dead Redemption.

They’re good games, don’t get me wrong, but ‘Setting the standard to which all other RPG’s will be compared?’ Sorry Peter, but people still compare most RPG’s to either Morrowind or FFVII.

Molyneux has a habit of overhyping his games, he’s done it his entire career, but to accuse other media of banality is one step over the line. Peter, I can understand you love your work, and you have a passion for games that very few other developers posses- but you need to reign in your tongue from time to time or else the backlash is just going to make you look like an idiot. Right now, in my opinion what used to be an almost child like enthusiasm and fire has turned into simple, plain arrogance.

Having an opinion on the other media is fine (Hell I think 90% of TV is a pile of crap), but making blanket statements like that just makes you look foolish at best, and a narcissist at worst.

Playing In The Sand.

I was going to write a post on Blizzard’s new Real ID system, but given that

a) I don’t use Blizzard’s forums,
b) Everyone else has done it already and
c) Blizzard have scaled back the implementation of Real ID-

It felt like a waste of my time and yours. I would like to make a point though that Blizzard have not abandoned these plans merely scaled them back, and so Battle.net users should continue to fight them if they feel their privacy has been infringed.

Instead I’d like to take a look at a phenomenon that has taken off in recent years of video gaming- the sandbox. In case you’re not familiar with the term, a sandbox videogame is one wherein you are given a large open map, and very few restrictions on what you do. Typically, scattered around said map will be many little diversions such as missions, mini games, resource gathering, random encounters and so on. In many respects, a sandbox is very similar to an RPG, and it’s from that genre that a new generation of ‘sandbox shooters’ has evolved. Recent examples include Red Dead Redemption, Crackdown 2 and Just Cause 2.

Strangely, I didn’t really notice the sandbox until quite recently when I picked up Prototype, which makes little sense as I’d been playing GTAIV well before then. I think the reason I noticed it in Prototype was because it was the first sandbox game where I started to notice the shortcomings of the style.

Now, I’m not going to launch into a hate speech about the Sandbox idea- many excellent games have been built around the concept- but you have to admit that it does have some issues that seem to pop up every so often. So let’s take a quick look at the Sandbox, the good and the bad.

The key idea that makes the sandbox so much fun is the freedom that you’re given. Rather than moving from level to level and doing the same things over and over again like you would in a non sandbox game, each time you turn one of these titles on you’ll get a new experience. Pop Modern Warfare 2 in, and while you’ll have a good time playing the single player mode, once you’ve completed it nothing will surprise you. With Red Dead Redemption though, you never know what to expect. Even after completing the main story line, random encounters and strangers who pop up can help keep the game fresh and interesting.

Of course, there’s also the satisfaction that comes from discovering something new, especially if you do so before any of your friends.

However, on the flipside if they are not well executed, sandboxes can quickly become a tedious annoyance. One trend I’d like to see end is this desire for bigger and bigger worlds. All I can say is this- bigger isn’t always better. There’s nothing wrong with having a big sandbox, hell if it’s too small there isn’t much point. The problem is more one of density, and this is a very tough thing to get just right. If the world is too dense, then you never get anything done as you’re constantly waylaid by requests for aid, random missions, gathering a resource you may need later and so forth. If it isn’t dense enough then it defeats the whole purpose of a sandbox as travelling between locations just becomes padding as nothing happens.

It’s hard to get right, and even worse when you consider that there doesn’t seem to be much of a ‘perfect density’. For example, in Red Dead Redemption you don’t want that much happening as there are lots of exploration tasks such as the treasure hunting and survivalist challenges. You’d be put off if bandits attacked every five minutes.

On the flipside of this though is Prototype. Being an out and out action game, you want to make sure the player is never more than about 30 seconds away from something they can get involved in, even if it’s just a random spat between the army and the infected.

I don’t think Prototype did a good job of the sandbox element to be honest. Now it wasn’t awful, but half the time it felt like I just wasn’t doing anything. As dramatic as the travel is, after a few hours running up a building, back flipping off it and gliding to the next one looses some of the charm. Once this occurs, travel is just dull. A little more to do apart from dull mini games would have gone a long way, as would shrinking the map a little.

The best iterations of the sandbox though are still to be found in RPGs. The Elder Scrolls series have done a great job with their worlds. If wondering through the wilderness you rarely go more than a few minutes without something happening, be it a random encounter or something more sinister. Things lurking within the woods always provide a source of entertainment and stumbling across a strange door or daedric statue is always interesting.

Linked to this is the fast travel system- something many sandbox games have. I think this is the yardstick by which you can judge how good a sandbox game is- the more you use the fast travel system, the poorer the game. Think about it this way- if you’re always using the fast travel to instantly move from one mission objective to the next, then it means the world holds no interest for you. If you’re not interested in exploring and looking for other things to do, the game’s sandbox element has failed. On the other hand, if you only use it every so often or when you want to make some progress on the story to unlock more areas, then the sandbox element is clearly strong enough that you don’t feel time spent moving from A to B is wasted, and is going to be somehow rewarding for you.

Just Cause 2 was a game where I was always using the fast travel. I can appreciate how Panau has been wonderfully crafted as a living, breathing island with lots of locations and roads, people going about their daily lives e.t.c, but exploring that world was not rewarding. It took ages to get anywhere, and I never seemed to find anything interesting while I was moving. To be fair though, I’m in a minority here. Most people like Just Cause 2, or at least find it entertaining.

As a closing note, not every game needs a sandbox. Many people have riffed on Final Fantasy XIII, accusing it of being linear (myself included), but if you stop to think about it for a moment, the strength of this game lies in the combat and the combat alone. Everything else is pretty weak, but the combat is an incredible amount of fun, and saves FFXIII from being consigned to far lower scores. Without a sandbox element, the game can focus on quickly shuttling you to the enjoyable bits- and this is probably the best argument against the sandbox idea.

In a sandbox you always need to go looking for the fun. In a linear game, you just need to sit back and all the fun comes to you so long as you keep playing. You’re far less likely to have boring bits. Some might say that’s a pithy attitude to take, but at the end of the day it’s apples and pears. Both linear and sandbox titles can be fun or awful, but it’s important to remember that a sandbox needs a little more effort to pull off than a linear game.

Some Games Do Stand The Test Of Time.

I have to say that I may have been overly unfair to Deus Ex in my previous post. I’ve tried and tried and tried, and I’m getting to grips with how the game plays, but honestly I still don’t think it’s the world beater that people hype it up to be. Honestly, there have just been better games released that use the same key ideas. The Elder Scrolls come to mind, as does Fallout 3.

But the purpose of this post is not to earn even more ire from the gaming community by beating it’s nostalgic memories, it’s to take a look at games which have defied convention and actually aged well. Reading over my posts so far, I’ve been quite negative, so hopefully this will add a spark of positivity to this blog!

1. Tetris.

When people think of classic games, this is one of the big three (I think we can get to the other two later in this list). Tetris managed to defy the years thanks to once simple trait- it has the key hallmark of any truly addictive ‘casual’ game- easy to learn, hard to master. The premise of Tetris is so simple that anyone can play it, and yet there are layers and layers of variations and tactics woven into the game play. Different people have very different ways of playing the same version of Tetris.

Speaking of versions, Tetris has had more knock offs and variations than any other title I can think of, ranging from including power ups, to new blocks, to matching specific bricks rather than forming lines- Tetris has spawned a plethora of games, and defined a genre of its own. Even today, Tetris remains popular thanks to its simple control and goals, combined with addictive game play. There’s also an element of hate in there too, something many younger gamers get when they play classic games- “If it’s so simple, why do I suck at it?” millisecond reflexes and a custom made gaming rig will not help you ‘beat’ Tetris. For that, you’re going to need sharp wits and actual skill. Tetris is also responsible for one of the oldest debates in video gaming history- Floating algorithm, or realistic gravity?

Tetris also inspired one of my favourite games of all time, Wetrix.

2. Pong

Another of the big three, pong is widely (and arguably mistakenly) considered the first video game. The great thing about Pong is that the basic idea has been built on and some really interesting ideas have come out of it. A GBA emulator game called Pong Wars springs to mind. The idea was simple enough, its Pong but you can also shoot at your opponent, meaning you needed to dodge gunfire while also trying to hit the ball. Factor in that you can’t keep up a constant stream of bullets and it adds a whole new level of tactics to the game.

Like Tetris, Pong has the rule of easy to learn, difficult to master, and while I wouldn’t suggest me and some friends play pong for an evening, a few rounds of these spin offs can be very entertaining.

For a very entertaining documentary on Pong and Pong consoles in general, check out this video by James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd.

3. Space invaders

And the third and final of our big three. Space invaders is the stuff of legend and to be honest, it still holds up fairly well. Yet again, it’s easy to learn and hard to master. Now, space invaders has also created a whole subgenre, leading into space shooters such as R-Type. Space invaders itself hasn’t aged that well, nowadays it’s fairly dull and monotonous to play, but its spin offs- the 2D side scrolling space shooter, are still popular today, several of these titles are also available on XBL arcade.

Space invaders was, and still is a game of skill, and when I go out drinking I always make sure to stop at a pub which has a retro coin-op machine for a few rounds of Galaxian, 1942, and of course Space Invaders.

4. Perfect Dark.

Recently re released on XBL arcade, I think this game is probably Rare’s finest hour. The single player was brilliant, but the multiplayer is where Perfect Dark really comes into its own. In my opinion, this game is better than Goldeneye (another title which is certainly not bad, but who’s rep is overstated thanks to nostalgia). There was a variety of game modes, levels and an excellent and varied selection of weapons (as opposed to the modern bland pistol, Assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle set ups), ranging from the laptop gun (A machine gun you could deploy as a sentry turret), to the legendary Farsight (a gun that could track you and shoot you through walls, meaning nowhere on the level was safe).

This was also the first game I played to make extensive use of bots. Me and a friend used to love filling a level with as many crap bots as we could and then staging a sort of zombie survival scenario where we would gun them down. This was also the first time I remember being outfoxed by an AI- some of the higher level bots where genuinely creepy with how quickly they learned.

There’s a degree of nostalgia here I’ll admit, but honestly Perfect Dark still holds up very well as a party game. The single player experience is a little lacking nowadays, but the sheer variety and simplicity of the multiplayer mode makes it well worth your time. I especially enjoy it now that I’m old enough to combine it with beer.

5. Conker’s bad fur day (Conker, live and reloaded)
This was originally an N64 title, but was also ported to the Xbox later on, and then added as a compatible game to the Xbox 360. This is a title that has occurred in the last three generations of console gaming.

And these are not spin offs, aside from the ported Xbox version -which changes a few things in order to take the piss out of crappy ports- this is the same damn game. People are still playing it, nearly 10 years after its release.

The game has a timeless charm and some brilliant satire. And while the movies that it spoofs have long since fallen out of the public consciousness, if you’ve watched them you’ll still crack a giggle (especially the ending where they manage to take the piss out of the Matrix, Star Wars and Alien at the same damn time).

The graphics still hold up well (for the Xbox port anyway), thanks to the fact that they really pushed the machine’s limits when the game was brought out, the game play is excellent, smooth and engaging and the extra game modes added to the Xbox port are genuinely fun and clearly have had a lot of effort put into them.

Factor in some M rated jokes (the game earned a 15 rating in Britain), and it’s a classic, highly amusing experience. My only problem is that the Xbox port of the game was heavily censored, probably because some dipshit thought that a game where all the characters are anthropomorphic animals could only be aimed at kids (those of you who know otherwise know who you are), and therefore should not feature a giant turd singing about shit.

No, that’s actually a scene in the game. And who could forget the Scouse dung beetles?

So there you go, proof that I do have a heart and don’t think anything over three years old is a pile of garbage. Remember, nostalgia is fine, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that games are not as good as they used to be- very few games actually hold their age well, and retain their ability to compete in the modern market. But if you have any other games you’d like to raise awareness of, please feel free to comment below.
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