Give Band Hero A Break

December 18th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts No Comments »

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What is it with all the whinging about Band Hero? Why bother with such displays of rock snobbery? Anthrax fans don’t waste their time whining about the music of Michael Bublé. Do they? So why is Band Hero getting so much flack?

To me it seems that complaining about Activision producing Band Hero is a bit like complaining about Walkers making Cheese & Onion crisps because you only like Ready Salted. Or it’s like complaining about Ferrari making cars in yellow because you think they only look good in red. The fact is that if you’re moaning about Band Hero then it’s probably because it’s not aimed at you. Read the rest of this entry »

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Confessions of an Achievomaniac (Part Two)

September 19th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts No Comments »

The Game Within The Game

Microsoft may have popularised in-game achievements but reward badges, both in single titles and across multiple games, have been around for ages. My first proper full-blown obsession with a reward system was in the game City of Heroes.

City of Heroes is a superhero-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game that launched back in April 2004. Its badge system arrived several months later as part of the second free update of the game. It was a seemingly minor inclusion at the time, alongside the more headline grabbing embellishments such as power re-specification, the much requested inclusion of capes and two brand new game zones, but the reward system was arguably one of the most important additions ever made to the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Open World Storytelling

September 14th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts 1 Comment »

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I don’t know how important a role in gaming history the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 will ultimately play but it seems to me that we will look back on this as being the open world generation. This style of game may have been introduced to the mainstream in the days of the PS2 but it’s become incredibly popular during the current console cycle.

Games like Crackdown, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Faction: Guerrilla have all featured large, expansive playgrounds as have RPGs like Oblivion and Fallout 3. Titles such as inFamous, Prototype and the outings of more traditional characters like Spider-Man and The Hulk have been set in sandbox environments to more effectively showcase the super-powered abilities of their protagonists.

The developers of these games have tried to create worlds without walls. Of course virtually all game spaces are finite; there are always some obstacles or boundaries that prevent you from falling outside the game world into the abyss. Open world games, though, try to give the player realms so vast, so detailed and realistic that they forget they are inside a digital cage.

But the bigger the developers make the worlds, the emptier they can potentially feel, particularly from a narrative point of view. Open world games bring a whole host of problems when it comes to storytelling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Confessions of an Achievomaniac (Part One)

August 29th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts 2 Comments »

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My name is Strident and I’m a badgeaholic. An achieveomaniac. A trophy junkie. Whatever you want to call me, I am obsessed with reward systems in games.

I wasn’t always the same. In the old days, in the time before achievements and trophies, I could quite happily play games just for sheer pleasure alone. Now I’m older, my time seems more precious and those on-screen notifications of each new accomplishment allow me to kid myself that I’m doing something productive when I’m gaming; even though those points and trophies have no real-life value. So why do gamers get so obsessed with accumulating virtual rewards? Systems, like Microsoft’s Achievements, speak to the inner collector in many of us, prodding our hunter-gatherer instincts into life.

As a child you spend your time being constantly rewarded, or at least being asked to seek rewards from society. Good behaviour earns stickers and treats. Outstanding or landmark performances bring certificates and awards. Whole organisations, like the Scouts, are based around completing specific targets in order to work towards badges. After just a few years of life you quickly amass a collection of paper, cloth and cardboard that forms a physical representation of your accomplishments. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dr Cathy Gale and Cmdr Jane Shepard

August 16th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts 1 Comment »

Video games are regularly criticised for their depiction of women. All too often female characters are simply over-endowed, empty-headed eye-candy; there to be gawped at or act as the swooning love interest for the muscle-bound heroes.

I guess it’s not really that surprising. Video games as a medium are still in their infancy. The majority of titles are, at their heart, action-adventures aimed at a largely male audience. Strong female characters weren’t exactly a feature of many “blockbuster” action-adventure films back in the day.

In fact current video game writing reminds me very much of the James Bond films of the sixties and early seventies especially when looking at the way female characters and ethnic groups are treated. You could probably write a whole article comparing elements of the recent Resident Evil 5 game with the 1973 Bond film Live and Let Die.

So how can we develop and write strong female characters? How can we lift videogame writing out of the 1960s? Strangely enough a trip back to the 1960s could be what’s needed. A journey back in time to look at an old TV programme, originally broadcast in black & white in the United Kingdom called The Avengers. Read the rest of this entry »

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I Hate Mario!

July 7th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts 3 Comments »

Well actually that’s not true. But it’s a slightly better title for a blog post than ‘I have completely indifferent and ambivalent feelings towards the lead character and any of the supporting cast in Nintendo’s most popular videogame series’.

I don’t spend hours chuckling at grown men running around in plumber costumes on You Tube. The Super Mario Bros theme tune isn’t set as my ringtone. I don’t get warm fuzzy tingles when I see pictures of crocheted mushrooms and knitted turtles on the Internet. In fact it takes a Wikipedia search for me to find out I should be calling them Goombas and Koopa Troopers.

I understand why you guys love him. I really do. It’s just a passion that I’m completely and totally unable to share. Read the rest of this entry »

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Defining Games

June 16th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts 3 Comments »

I found the discussion on Episode 15 of the Big Red Potion podcast fascinating. Sinan, Joe and their two guests were attempting to come up with a definition of what a “video game” is. They weren’t saying that this was a necessary or even particularly worthwhile endeavour, but rather (as with many Big Red Potion episodes) just using it as a good excuse for an intelligent conversation about gaming.

It got me thinking about how I’d personally define what a video game is. I suppose, like Big Red Potion, I should start by thinking of a good definition of a “game”.

For me, a game is ‘play’ within the boundaries of rules. These rules could be agreed beforehand by the participants, exist already as part of their shared culture or arise and develop organically through the action of play. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Joy of Text

May 14th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts 3 Comments »

How would you like to come face to face with an eighteen year old version of yourself? It’s what I feel I’ve just done and it was a very weird, but wonderfully nostalgic experience. Strangely, it wasn’t through finding an old diary, letter, photograph or videotape. It was from playing a game. Let me explain…

Back in the early nineties, when all the cool kids were playing with their Amigas and Atari STs, I was still well into the adventure game scene on the ZX Spectrum. These were proper adventure games. No flashy graphics (in fact, usually no pictures at all) but lots and lots of highly descriptive prose.

Back then classic text adventures, such as Will Crowther’s Colossal Cave Adventure, Infocom’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Magical Scrolls The Pawn and Melbourne House’s The Hobbit were filled with more head-scratching puzzles, devious mazes and slimy monsters than you could shake a pointy stick at. Most of the games tagged “adventures” these days are a walk in the park in comparison.

In a text adventure your greatest enemy was usually the software parser which attempted to translate your two or four word instructions into something the game would understand. Many hours could be spent attempting to come up with the right “verb noun” combinations. Did you have to OPEN BOTTLE or UNSCREW LID or perhaps PRISE TOP? It was certainly a good way to build up your knowledge of synonyms. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is Burnout Better on the PS3?

March 3rd, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts 3 Comments »

I’ve got both the 360 and PS3 versions of Burnout Paradise. On the surface they’re identical. And yet, I’ve enjoyed playing the Playstation 3 edition a lot more. Why is this?

It’s worth pointing out that the 360 version was my first experience of the game. I liked it a lot. Although I’ve always loved the idea of racing games I’ve never been any good at them. Burnout Paradise was different. Here it didn’t matter whether I crashed or not. In fact, a lot of the time it was encouraged. I also didn’t run up against the same gameplay brick walls that I hit in other titles. There’s always that one race which stops me from progressing any further. Here, I could choose my own path. I could do the events that I was good at. It didn’t really matter that I wasn’t any good at racing. Read the rest of this entry »

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What is 800 MS Points Worth? (DLC Roundup #1)

February 15th, 2009 Strident Posted in Comments & Thoughts 3 Comments »

As I’ve been buying (and playing) a lot of downloadable content recently I thought I’d do a quick blog entry writing about my experiences. Browsing the Xbox Live Marketplace, I was surprised to find that the four packs I bought all cost 800 Microsoft points each, even though the offerings were very different. I thought I’d give my opinions here on each batch of material as well as spend some time discussing whether I personally feel they’re worth the money.
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