Thursday, 17 July 2008

I've got a fever...

Rock Band: I tried out Guitar Hero a while ago and I was rather unimpressed. The game was too far removed from actually playing guitar and I really didn't get on well with it. But I still wanted to try Rock Band. Mostly, I just wanted a chance to try out the vocal section as well as the drums. I must say, the vocal section is lots of fun and I really enjoyed it. Although, I did find it difficult with songs I didn't know well (or even ones I did but didn't know the lyrics to, such as Welcome Home by Coheed & Cambria). The addition of the tamborine (or cowbell on (Don't fear) The reaper) was interesting. On some songs it was good, whereas others it just felt really out of place. I had another attempt at the guitar/bass and found it to be a lot more usable than when I first tried it. As for the drums, I found them to be pretty horrible. Being an actual drummer, I just didn't get on with the layout of the "drum kit". It also didn't help that what I was meant to play was nothing like what I would actually play to any of the songs. Maybe with practice, I'd get on with it more, but for now it just makes me feel stupid. Overall, the game is definitely great as a group game, especially if you just set it on the lower levels and worry more about having fun than accuracy.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Mod me up

I've always enjoyed the customisable elements of games. Often I'll find myself enjoying building my own character a lot more than I do the actual game! Some games take it even further and you enter the wonderful world of modding. My first introduction to modding was through my favourite game, Total Annihilation. There's all kinds of mods available for TA, including things like fan-built units and maps, but the one that really got me was Warhammer TA. Back in the day before Dawn Of war existed there wasn't really a good Warhammer game, so Warhammer TA was a great stop-gap. It allowed you to use the Warhammer units but in a game that had great gameplay and mechanics.

Sticking with Total Annihilation, the world of modding has now brought about Spring. Spring is basically a total recreation of the original TA but in a fully 3D environment. This means that you once again get to use the great gameplay elements but it updates the parts of the game that have now become dated. It's also opened the door for even more mods along the lines of Warhammer TA as the code is now open source, so even more of the fundamentals of the game can be changed.

So, what's the appeal of modding? From a player perspective, it allows you to manipulate the game to do what you want with it. It allows you to be creative and play with game elements that are personal to you. From a game designer perspective, it allows you to prolong the lifespan of your game and to add functionality without any cost to you (and sometimes it can even help you make money).

Modding is becoming an essential part of many modern games. Whether in its simplest form of character creation (such as in an MMO like World Of Warcraft) or allowing the use of user-created maps. Some mods work on the game's mechanics and gameplay in order to make the game behave the way they want (such as Project Reality for Battlefield 2). There's even games like LittleBigPlanet where the entire point of the game is modification, with the completion of levels allowing access to new elements that can be used in the level designer. Or there's things like the Spore Creature Creator which has been released separately ahead of the actual game itself. The implementation of hard drives in consoles is now allowing modding to happen on console games with things such as downloadable content, etc.

The world of modding can make great games better or at least great for longer. They can make them more challenging or simply more surreal and humorous. They also allow fans to give something back to a game (and possibly community) they love.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

A few more from the IOCT

So, in preparation for tomorrow's open day, I had a run through a few of the games the IOCT has for its other consoles.

Super Mario Galaxy: So, other than a bit of Super Mario 64 back in he day, this is the first proper Mario game I've ever played (honestly, I was always more of a Sonic fan). I've gotta say this is one of the most fun games I've ever played. The controls feel really natural and it's a lot more comfortable than holding a standard controller. The concept of the game is great too. It really does interesting things with the concept of a platform game in a 3D environment. The changes in direction/orientation can get confusing at times, but it's still fun. Definitely a game that makes me wish I owned a Wii.

Xbox 360:

Ridge Racer 6: This game is horrible. While I'm not so great at racing games, I still usually find them enjoyable. This one isn't. The cars feel annoyingly slow. My car was apparently doing over 100mph, but it mostly felt more like I was doing 30. The handling is bad too. The slightest nudge of the analogue stick would just send my car into a skid. The music was horribly annoying and repetitive as well, with no way to change what was playing. All this annoyed me so much, I couldn't even be bothered to finish one race.

Perfect Dark Zero: As I've said before, I'm not a big fan of FPS games and this is no exception. My main gripe is the way the movement/camera controls work on a console. Somehow I always end up having no idea what I'm looking at or what direction I should be going in, etc. I much prefer a third-person view, as it means that when I need to be close to something, I don't have my view completely obscured. Other than my standard gripes about FPS games, it was quite a good game. The visuals on the 360 were great and the storyline was interesting. If it had been more of Tomb Raider style third-person game, I probably would've really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

More X-men

So, I'm not going to bother to date this as these posts are now so erratic. I'll just give my opinion on the game.

X-men Legends: Rise of Apocalypse: So, I've covered the original X-men Legends game before. Most of what I've said applies to this game as well. The controls are pretty much the same and so's the gameplay. The major differences are obviously the storyline and the characters. Due to the story involving the Brotherhood of Mutants and the X-men teaming up, you get a much wider selection of characters (even at the very start of the game). This makes for a game with more scope than the original and also means you're not stuck playing the same characters over again. Another change is how things like experience points and equipment are applied. The first time you get anything, you're given the option to manually apply them or to have them applied automatically. You can also select whether to keep this behaviour throughout the game. This is a great feature as before, whenever I reached a save point, I found myself interrupting the game for a while as I sorted all my characters out. Definitely a game to pick up for anyone who enjoyed the first game.

Monday, 19 May 2008


So, I'm meant to be talking about online gaming communities. The problem is, despite the fact that I have a lot of experience of online communities and I've studied them before, I have little to no experience of them in a gaming context. I don't play anything like World of Warcraft or Ultima Online. I don't play games anywhere near enough to justify investing the amount of time a subscription based game would require (not to mention the cost involved). Also, of the games I do play, I don't really play online. However, I do know people who have been involved in these games. I even have a friend who met her partner through WoW.

The attraction of these games is obviously the fact that they offer an experience that a single player game can't. The experience of playing with humans. In its simplest form, this is just the fact that, no matter how well a game is written, your opponents can never be as interesting as a real human opponent. The simplest example I can think of is playing Worms. The AI was rather uninventive, so while it could place a shot with almost pinpoint accuracy at times, and deliver maximum damage, it couldn't compare to the destructive power I could wield by using fairly suicidal tactics. Playing against people changes this. You get that inventiveness and unpredictability in your opponent.

And then there are the community games. Where the allure isn't that you're playing against people, but that you're playing with people. The co-operation element. That inventiveness and unpredictability is now on your side. And not only that, but the other players have to decide how co-operative they wish to be. In a normal online community, peace and harmony and working together doesn't have any reward other than itself. In a game, that co-operation is key. You have to work towards that common goal. But there can still be those of a mischievous or vindictive nature who decide to work against this. How the community then deals with this is another interesting facet of the experience.

Then there's the other layers of the interaction between the members of the community. You have the option within the game of merely keeping interaction to game-related things or you can take it further. A game community could become something very much outside of the game, where it's a community of its own, merely brought together because of the game. So another attraction is the idea that these communities can transcend what the game offers. Relationships are not limited to what is beneficial to progress in the game but can encompass whatever the members enjoy.

Then, there's the other side of an online community. The darker side. Antagonism and a lack of co-operation. In these instances, the game allows players to be more active in their reactions to these things. If someone antagonises their community, they aren't just given the option to ignore them or block what they say, they're able to fight them off. To counter antagonism with (at least simulated) physical repercussions. They allow you to actually punch a loudmouth in the face.

Gaming communities offer what other online communities do, but with attractive extras that the environment of a game allows. The players are engaging in a simulation and that simulation brings them together through shared ideals. But it can also cause them to clash as opposing ideals are inflamed by the ability to simulate conflicts as real engagements.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

08/05/08 - 15/05/08

Haze: An interesting game. I've said before that I'm not a big fan of first person shooters and this hasn't really changed that. The concept is good and makes for an interesting experience, but it doesn't change the feel of the game enough that it stops being an FPS. I think I may have enjoyed the game more if the demo I played had allowed me to play the rebel missions as I found the way I could attack my allies much more interesting. Shooting a rebel while under the influence of nectar is nowhere near as fun and shooting out another soldier's nectar injector and watching them go crazy.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

I don't want to talk about Lara Croft

I just looked through my collection of games to see which had female protagonists. Discarding any games that allowed you to select from a number of characters (such as Soulcalibur or Mortal Kombat), I was left with one. It's a game that came with my PS2 called "Red Ninja: End of Honour". I've barely played it as I found even the tutorial mode frustrating. Looking through the manual, one of your options is to use your power of "seduction". Thinking practically, if I were a ninja, I wouldn't dress the way she does. I think it might be hard to concentrate on sneaking up on people when you're worried about your breasts falling out.

There are two different gender issues in gaming. The gender of characters and the gender of players. And then of course there's the third issue of how these two interact. Of course, when I say "gender", I don't just mean whether a character or player is male or female, but the entire spectrum of gender. You can take this to the extreme and you'll end up with a character like Birdo, but that's unnecessary. A character like Samus Aran, doesn't sit definitely at one end of the gender spectrum. She's a very masculine character. She runs around in a big suit, shooting a big gun at big monsters. But take that away and she's very much (physically) an attractive, athletic, woman. Who can contort into a ball.

From a player perspective, when I have a choice, I tend to choose female characters. I will admit that this is usually from an aesthetic standpoint. Extended watching of a character such as Sophitia appeals to me far more than one like Astaroth. But looking deeper into things, female characters appeal to me more as they have more depth. In a male-dominated genre (especially in things like fighting games) the female characters have to be made more appealing in some way. They can't simply be made infeasibly strong and powerful, so more inventive routes are taken, resulting in better characters. Once again looking at Soulcalibur, the appeal of a character like Ivy is not just aesthetic, but in how her weaponry works and can be utilised in interesting ways.

Playing Fahrenheit gave me the opportunity to alternate between playing a male main character and a female one. I quite often chose to play as Carla when given the choice as I enjoyed the nature of the character and the possibilities I was given when playing her. However, as well written as the character was, the narration fell down at the end. For some reason it's decided that she needed a relationship plotline. This results in her telling Lucas she loves him (and subsequently having sex with him and becoming pregnant with his child) after only knowing him for a few days. This becomes even more preposterous if you factor in various other elements of the story, such as how she was previously pursuing him as a murder suspect. Not to mention the fact that Lucas' (ex-)girlfriend recently died and that (arguably) Lucas himself is actually dead!

This isn't so much just a symptom of games though. In every form of narrative media, a female protaganist, no matter how strong, will more often than not need a male counterpart. In the Fifth Element, Corben needs to tell Leeloo he loves her before she can destroy the evil entity. Ann Veronica's rebellion is only catalysed by her attraction to Capes (and is subsequently quelled by her marriage to him). Silk Spectre is nothing without Dr. Manhattan or Nite Owl. In a world where things are designed to sell, social norms are perpetuated. Fantasies are reinforced. You'd be surprised just how often this is the case. If you're a female character, you're going to end up sleeping with a dead guy.

So what about the issue of male players playing female characters and vice versa? Is this situation a real exploration of gender roles? Is the player using it as a tool to experiences alternate facets of their personality in a "safe" virtual environment? For some, this may be the case. Games are largely simulations. They are fantasy and wish fulfilment. The opportunity to be another character and to do things you can't do yourself. Whether this goes as far as gender crossing depends on the individual. For a game like Fahrenheit, the opportunity is to be a detective (as well as a fugitive), whether the fact that you're a female detective matters, is up to you. In a game like Metroid, for much of it the character isn't even identifiably female. There's not even the aesthetic differences that male and female characters usually have.

And there you have it. Gender representation in games works just the same as it does in other media. Games are made to sell and so they will follow along with what is wanted by who they're selling to. Gender is something personal to everyone, so how they experience the representations of it in games is just as personal. Extreme representations of gender in gaming will always happen as these work best in a fantastical scenario. No one wants to save the princess who could fight her own way out. No one wants to be the little girl with reasonable fighting skills, facing a huge monster.

And I did all that without once mentioning Lara Croft. Oh, damn.