Saturday, 21 January 2012

Review Thing: Saints Row: The Third

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It's impossible to talk about this game without talking about some Rockstar games, so I'm gonna do that a bit.

I'm not a game historian and I haven't got the time right now to go look on Wikipedia or google an inevitably insightful article called The History of Rockstar, but with my broad brush I'm going to paint a picture: Rockstar is a developer which used to make games about killing people. Now they make games about individuals who are mired in the ethical quandries of killing people, and some people think this is art.

The argument goes that, despite not being very good either as narratives or games, these titles at least display an intention to have something to say, and so should be commended for going above and beyond games that don't 'say' anything. This is wrong. These are games in which the player is in control of the protagonists retarded brother, a la Lenny in of Mice and Men, interrupting the protagonist's personal journey for redemption or peace of mind with a single-minded desire to murder people by shooting them in the face. In Red Dead Redemption, tortured cowboy John Marston is looking for the man who betrayed him and left him for dead. It is convenient that in order to do so he must kill hundreds of people with lots of finely-tuned weapons and a machine gun mounted on the back of a horse-drawn carriage.

Some people figured it out: Call of Duty isn't about politics or patriotism or anything like that. It's about finding an excuse for the elation we feel when slaughtering humanoids. It's almost comical the lengths the game goes to to justify what it is you are doing: THE RUSSIANS THEN LIKE TOTALLY INVADED EUROPE AND BLEW UP A CHILD AND SHOT UP AN AIRPORT THOSE DICKS. Games like Red Dead Redemption provide nothing more than a strong excuse. Marsden's quest for redemption and reconciliation is an internal justification, which contextualises the actions of the player as necessary for the advancement of Marston as a chess piece in a series of events constituting a 'narrative'. Don't let this distract you from the fact that these games are still juvenile power-fantasies as have existed for aeons in the pantheon of videogamedom. These games are lying to you.

Saints Row: The Third only lies to you a little. The majority of it is absolutely bananas, so tonally it can accommodate you playing the game for the story or playing the game how you want (that is to say, like a maniac). There is a mission where you play as a toilet. You run up to people and melee them and you play the same animation as usual, except you are a toilet. The lid flaps up and down. If you cannot see the genius in this then really don't know what to say. To list all the similar bits I liked would ruin the only part of this game worth talking about. Whilst the game is a succession of inventive contexts, the gameplay remains consistently only just above average the whole time; not well designed, just well written.

I thought this was charming at first. It was a game that liked fast cars because they go VROOOM. It was a game that liked guns because they go BANGBANG and make people fall over. It was a game that wallowed in itself, yelling proudly from the rooftops 'I symbolise nothing!'

Once I'd finished the game's missions, I searched it's overworld for more of this insanity. After a short while I realised what I was actually doing was playing this other, really boring game where you go from one floating 'for sale' sign to another pressing the y button to make various numbers go up and down. If the number that I needed to be up wasn't up enough I could go into the pause menu and make it go up automatically, an ability I had received as a reward for going up to signs and pressing the y button. If I really wanted something to do there were mini-games to play, but I only put up with that shit in No More Heroes because it was necessary for progression and satirical. This is neither. This is doing a number of activities just as much as I want numbers to go up. Do I want that? Should I want that? All I know is that I wanted to play this game a whole lot more when it was lying to me.

Let's talk about Grand Theft Auto again. I was eleven years old when I 'played' San Andreas. Usually when I say I played x, I mean 'having engaged with the content of x in a manner of which the developer intended'. I don't classify using the disk to hold my page in a book as 'playing' it, even though I paid for the disk and I could do that with it. Neither do I 'play' Alan Wake when instead of moving to the next trigger I try hopelessly to jump off a bridge. Though I say I 'played' San Andreas, I never touched more than like two missions. I played this other game that was there on the disk, where I put all the cheats on and ran around killing a whole lot of people, usually in really fucked up ways.

There's a lot of moral outrage about that kind of thing, but lets forget the question of whether those games were right or wrong because that question is always boring*. Let's consider for a moment why people were outraged: this was a game that let people engage in violent acts, and for many was a kind of implicit endorsement of said acts. Now I dont tend to think that the folks at rockstar want people to buy a sniper rifle, find a good spot and kill as many police officers as possible, but I think they're well aware of the nihilistic power fantasy it represents, and they've gone to lengths to accommodate that.

The cities in these games weren't intended to be simulations. Policemen didn't get called from the station and drive there. Citizens weren't rushed to hospital. Hot dog stand owners didn't have wives to feed. So when people in the games media call these 'living breathing worlds' they are stupid and maybe indicating there is something wrong with their brains. The minutia of these worlds are clearly generated as you turn the corner of every street. Go up a crane and look below, and the sollipsism of these worlds is patently obvious. These worlds gain their power from how they superficially represents an urban environment, not how the game simulates one. Each story mission occurs in the same environment populated with enough agents to make a car chase exciting as you rocket past them. My eleven year old self was perverting this.

I mean what was I doing, really? I was living out the fantasy of going out into the street, stopping a taxi in the street and shooting him through the windscreen**. This city to me was a crude representation of human activity that I could use to live out violent fantasies without the consequences of being shot dead or being arrested or even having it reflect on my character. I wasn't a person who did violent things in the real world, even though, and despite the fact, I had some desire to.

So in Saints Row 3 if you shoot a random civilian they flip through the air ridiculously. The police show up and after a few minutes you begin to notice that the civilians aren't there any more. It's just a load of buff dudes with guns shooting at you. Same with gangs. I used to get into fights with the police in GTA, but there I was going fucking crazy in a city to scare people and have the police come after me, and then I get to bazooka a police car, because that caveman part of my brain thought that was so fucking cool. Eventually the army would show up: the army! I'd kill them too, steal their tanks, it was pretty cool. Getting the gangs to hate you in Saints Row 3 causes them to send big muscled dudes who can flick cars away, a guy with a flame-thrower, and Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim. The decision to have being in trouble feel like that probably came from a slide in a Powerpoint presentation early on in development titled 'enemy variety', but what it means is that going crazy in a city doesn't feel like going crazy in a city. It feels like playing a video game where enemies keep attacking you, especially when you get flying motorcycles with gatling guns or tanks with laser beams. This isn't a call to realism, it's a call to representational simulation, you feel me?

When I was enjoying this game, as a series of well-designed linear missions set in an interesting world connected by at the very least outlandish narrative tissue, I noticed that his game loves its toys but cant think of anything interesting to do with them, so it just kinda gives you them and asks you to figure it out. This would be cool but, like I said, going crazy in this world has no representational value, and frankly has no game value either, since the coolest things are usually aerial vehicles, and enemies can't really effectively attack you while you're up there. There is also no opportunity to, say, come up with a strategy of using the flying motorcycle you got to complete this mission faster. So you get all this cool shit that's no fun to use in this world and impossible to use in this mission. This is reason #2345 this game is not as good as Volition's previous Red Faction Guerilla, which I'm now content to write off as a fluke.

Saints Row The Third superficially resembles a kind of heightened GTA III, but inside it's rotten core of a heart it's just a GTA III that's divorced itself from reality so completely that it violent escapades aren't so provocative. It doesn't appeal to that fucked up part of my brain that wants to just randomly murder people, and accusations of encouraging violent behaviour seem trivial*** in the face of it's absurdity. Beyond attitude it's not really a very interesting game. Do you want that? Are you looking for that? Or are you looking for a game that doesn't lie to you as much as play with you, nodding and winking at it's own adolescent absurdity? I don't know. Who are you? Why am I asking you again?

* The answer is neither! I am a philosophy student and am qualified to say this.


** was this only added in GTA IV? I can't remember


*** Accusations of sexism + a severely fucked up sense of sexual morality are not however. Women in this game are constantly parading themselves around with little more than two strips of fabric placed over their giant swinging mammary glands. There's also an explicit division between men and women's clothes that largely hinges on how much cleavage was programmed into your character at the outset. The only way to not look ridiculous as a woman is to wear men's clothes, and while I appreciate that they give you that option (as well as the option for men to do vice versa), I'm made more than a little uncomfortable by the suggestion that women are creatures whose sexuality must perpetually be on show.


And MY GOD is this game afraid of sex. It is full of sexy characters who are supposed to be adults but the only things implied to actually be doing it are varieties of basically mute sex workers. The only explicitly sexual act reference in the game is when a man is anally raped repeatedly by leather clad gimps in an S&M club. In the world of Saints Row sex is a means be which people control each other, and a form of violence perpetrated by sick, crazed individuals. My understanding was that this game was developed by grown-ups but I'm not quite sure.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

In case anyone was wondering...

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Yes I did make another game. It's a two-player game called Our Conflict is Meaningless that I made for the Blitzkast a few weeks ago. I started and finished it in 4 hours, so it's a bit rough.

Also, I am a member of the Poppenkast now, which is a really cool thing!

Also also: I have been neglecting this blog. I would like to say it's because I'm working on a huge project right now (which I am) but it's mostly due to a lack of motivation. OH WELL.

Let's Kill Hitler is the worst thing Moffat has ever written for Doctor Who.

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Let's Kill Hitler 

What a wonderful title! That's what I thought six months ago when I saw it come up at the end of the mid-series finale. It's the archetypal Time Travel fantasy - going back in time and stopping the most evil man who ever lived, retroactively punishing him before he could carry out his atrocities. It's also a Doctor Who episode that writes itself: someone wants to use time travel kill Hitler, but just like River said in The Impossible Astronaut: revenge isn't his thing, and just like the man himself said in Vincent and the Doctor: life is made up of good things and bad things and each define us.

Spoilers below for, uh, well pretty much everything.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Little Thing

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I make youtube videos now.

Monday, 4 July 2011

New Game

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Yes, it's true!

An Important Announcement.

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People, I understand that you hate me, but it's never been more important that you listen to me than it is now. Stay calm and prepare yourselves for what it is I have to say.

Ricky Gervais is a robot dog.

I'm not sure about the where or hows or whys yet. I'm not sure if this is localised or whether you should stay indoors. I'm not even sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. The only thing I know is that I must go forth and spread the word. I imagine this is what Moses must have felt.

Go home to your loved ones, look them in the eyes, and say 'I love you and Ricky Gervais is a robot dog' then embrace them. Today we are all but men in the eyes of God.

Friday, 24 June 2011

E3 COVERAGE DAY 11: Exclusive Interview with the Creative Director of Hitman 5.

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The future.

So what did you set out to do with the new Hitman game?

Don't you mean 'Hitman: Absolution'?

I literally could. Not. Give. A shit.

Well, with 'Hitman Absolution' we set out to make a game that captured the stealthy aspects of the old games, but refined those mechanics until all that was left was a thick, juicy Pulp. We then reconstituted this something that more or less resembled a Hitman game.

Oh, that sounds a lot like what Ubisoft did wi-

Shhhh.

Splinter Ce-

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Shhhh. We know what you're going to say, but we want you to know that this is totally different in every way conceivable. You see, Conviction was muddied by a tumultuous development.

Haven't you been making this one Hitman game for like 5 years? Haven't you also been hit by massive layoffs in that time?

Well, the other difference is that Conviction was made by the French. The dirty, dirty French.

Oh, well I don't know abou-

We're Danish.

Okay... Umm... So, uh, why did you set out to destroy everything people liked about your game?

Well, what we figured was is that gamers pride themselves on the franchises they follow. To them it is an integral part of their identity. They don't play the games they love because they love them in a lot of cases. They play them because they know them, and because they want to continue knowing them. Even when the series becomes terrible over time, fans still flock around the latest titles, just to be 'in-the-know'. How many shitty Sonic sequels are we at now? like 8? And there's still this hardcore fanbase that buys that stuff, right, because it's part of their identity - it's an integral component of who they are. It's not even a social aspect, where they talk to other Sonic fans about how much sonic sucks. No, it's sadder than that. Nerds grew up with these things and they cling to them as hallmarks of their identity, even if they don't like them any more or the people behind these franchises never cared about them in the first place.

What we figured was that Blood Money was one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed games of all time, so all the hard work was done. Hitman is a 'thing'. A tumour on the game industry that won't go away until we destroy it intentionally or kill it through incompetence. People are going to buy the next game just because they liked the last game. In fact, people are going to buy the next game as a statement of just how much they liked the last game. When fans inevitably start their 6 page write-ups of how Absolution is 'the worst game ever', they'll begin with 'I was a huge fan of Blood Money'.

So then, we have those people sewn up nicely. What comes next is appealing to everybody else in the world, which is hard but we've come up with a few solutions to manage it. Firstly, we'll appeal to those people who love shooting stuff with guns and hitting people with things. God bless these caveman-brained cretins. They're the ones whose gaming diet consists of Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Michael Jackson: the Experience (for when they fancy trying something different). They single-handedly keep this industry afloat. They're also not intelligent enough to have an existential crisis, which is why we call them 'long-term consumers'.

What's the criteria for pleasing these people? Guns, Explosions, Dead People, more Guns. We have all of those. In fact, even if we didn't have all of those, all we'd have to do is put them on the cover of our game and these fuckers would still buy it.

... You're done?

Yes.

You're insane.

'No, no, the other thing'

What?

It's... it's like that line. From Superman?

I don-

WRONG!

I want this interview to be over.

One thing we noticed with previous Hitman games is that people would look at a situation and think 'I have too many options', or 'I have to live with the consequences of my actions for like 20 minutes, which is no good'. What we decided to do was reduce the amount of things you can do so that these people would stop thinking that.

But those sound like the people who don't enjoy the game on a fundamental level.

You're absolutely right. These guys are the kind of people who always wished they could play stealth games but just never got into it because they didn't have the time or it didn't resemble the games they already play in enough numerable ways. These people don't actually enjoy stealth games but wish that other people thought they did. They, like the hardcore fans, seek to use games as an augmentation of their identity, except these guys aren't even basing it on something they liked originally. There is no nostalgia for them. There is no memory of 'that time in Blood Money when I...'; it doesn't exist. They haven't had a positive experience that they want to last as an epoch of game design. They want games they don't play to play like games they do play. They want the illusion of choice without the drawback of potential unsuitability to their wants. We hare happy to oblige them with their request.

That's very nearly almost evil.

Thank you for your time.

I think I say that.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

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"I wondered if the single most damning thing about video games is the fact that one could argue, legitimately, that 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is a better game than L.A. Noire"
Tom Bissel's LA Noire review. 

Saturday, 4 June 2011

E3 Predictions 2011

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SO ARE YOU READY FOR THE E3 COVERAGE HERE ON OCTOPUS IT IS SURE GONNA BE SOMETHING ILL BE ON THE SHOW FLOOR AND ILL HAVE SOME INTERVIEWS WITH RANDY PITCHFORD AND MAYBE IF I HANG ROUND THE NINTENDO BOOTH LONG ENOUGH WE'LL GET A LOOK AT REGGIE OR MIYAMOTO OR REGGIE AND MIYAMOTO TAKING PART IN SOME KIND OF SATANIC RITUAL OH JEEZ ITS THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN OH YE-HA THERELL BE SOME BRAND NEW GAMES THAT I KNOW ABOUT BUT I AM NOT TELLING YOU ABOUT BECAUSE WELL I DONT REALLY KNOW BUT WOWEE DO WE HAVE A SHOW ON OUR HANDS

I will actually be trying to cover E3 in some capacity from my home here in London. Despite petty geographical matters I will be trying to post some kind amateurish commentary on events which, let's be honest, is the absolute worst kind.

But anyway, E3 hasn't actually happened yet, so I'm gonna do some pre-E3 stuff, namely: predictions. ARE YOU READY!?!?!?!?!(!?!?!)

Microsoft
I expect the big thing to come out from them will be Kinect games. It sold great despite having absolutely no notable software to show for itself, so I think Microsoft really need to get some out there to keep it's momentum going.

There's already been some leaked boxart for both Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Mass Effect 3 that shows a 'better with Kinect' logo on the box, which is indisputable evidence of some hybrid Kinect/controller stuff incoming. I think there are a great deal more than just those two, and I promise to methodically smash each one of my fingers in with a hammer if Gears of War 3 doesn't have some kind of Kinect functionality. I also expect some Kinect-only games, but if Microsoft has quasi-Kinect 'core' games and full-Kinect 'casual' games in the wings, they're gonna use E3 to showcase the former at the expense of the latter.

There's no getting over the elephant in the room: The Big Thing going into E3 is the new Nintendo console. Do Microsoft try and go all out for their core fans to tackle them head on, or do they continue playing catch-up to the 'broad audience' like they did last year?

Either way, I don't expect a lot. There'll be a new Halo (probably 343's Combat Evolved remake), and maybe we'll see what Peter Molyneux's working on, but I don't think anything too surprising is coming here. Microsoft aren't really known for their exclusive software anyway.

EA
Okay so... Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3 and The Old Republic are the big ones. I expect those to consume the most time at their presser, with stuff like SSX and their sports titles mopping up the rest of it.

EA went through this period of super-creativity a few years ago, but now I can't think of a single game they have coming out that isn't a known quantity. Even Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3 are pretty easy to understand. They're games that I don't really need to hear anything more about: Mass Effect 3 will be a shootery-RPG type thing. Battlefield 3 will be a shootery online type thing. There, done.

Looking at their line-up, I don't see anything big, which leads me to believe they have something up their sleeve. Dead Space 3? Dante's Inferno 2? No matter how many dicks I offer to suck, no one wants to make Mirror's Edge 2, so that's not happening. Are they finally gonna show what Respawn are working on? If they do, they have a good chance of walking away as the talking point of the entire show, especially since Bungie's Activision project is expected to be a no-show.

Edit: All signs point to them revealing their Insomniac exclusive. That'll be it then.

Ubisoft
Firstly, I think a large portion will be taken up with a playable demo of Assassin's Creed Revelations, just like with Brotherhood last year. Secondly, I think an even larger portion of the show will be taken up by Tom Clancy stuff. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier went silent a while ago, despite the fact it's supposed to be out by now, so I expect that to pop up again (in fact, the boxart pretty much confirms it will be). Aside from that Kotaku already blew the lid on a new Rainbow 6 set in New York, and Ubisoft Toronto are working hard on a new Splinter Cell, so maybe that will show up?

In fact, I think the conference is going to be more or less exactly the same as last year: 'gamer games' (shooters + Assassins Creed) to start, followed by casual shovel ware, followed by a short collection of some weird creative stuff like From Dust and the new Rayman.

Part of me wants to believe Beyond Good and Evil 2 is coming but part of me also really wants to throw things out of windows just to see what would happen. There was a rumour a short while ago that Ancel had postponed it until after he completed a game based on the new Tintin movie. Peter Jackson first began collaborating with Ancel because he loved Beyond Good and Evil, so if it turns out he is stopping that from happening just so he doesn't have a guilty conscience about his Tintin movie I will personally find him and be mushed into a pulp by his extensive security detail. It's something that needs to be done.

Sony
Ummm.... I don't own a playstation of any kind, so I don't really care. Sorry.

Nintendo
Like I said: the big news is that Nintendo is showing off a new console.

So what we know so far is 1) it's coming next year 2) it'll have a touch screen controller and 3) it'll be easily more powerful than Xbox 360 and PS3. IGN tried to assemble something comparable to the console using commercially available parts, but the exercise was somewhat misguided considering the final console won't run windows, and will be optimized for playing games. It's safe to assume it'll be far more powerful than what they mixed together, but how powerful that is exactly remains to be seen.

In regards to the controller: I have absolutely no Idea how the thing is supposed to function. It's gotta be able to play current-gen titles, so it's gotta have dual analogue and heaps of buttons AND a 6 inch touch screen. Not only is it hard to imagine as a physical object, it's hard to imagine how much this thing is supposed to cost, especially if the Nikkei report is to be believed, and this thing is actually a handheld in it's own right. Will there be a non-touch screen controller in the box with this thing sold seperatly? Will it support Wii controls? I wish I had faith in Nintendo to pull it off, but the Wii and the 3DS have damaged my faith in the company's ability to pull this off.

Very, very recently there was a list of games claiming to be from somebody who works at the ESRB. I cannot for the life of me find the original source, so, against my better judgement, I'm going to quote an article from Destuctoid:
One of the more popular Project Cafe rumors going around right now comes from someone who claims to work for the ESRB, an agency which is tasked to rate the appropriateness of everything vidoegame related, even the trailers. This ESRB employee claims to have seen the video that Nintendo will be showing at E3 to promote Project Cafe --or, as they call it, "Current" -- and the list of games they've named from the video is pretty astounding.

This list includes: a new mini-game collection, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros. 4, Endless Ocean, Pikmin, Kirby, a new Zelda collection, Animal Crossing, Kid Icarus, Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario., Dead Rising 2, Street Fighter 4, Resident Evil 5 "or something that looked like it," Silent Hill Downpour, a new Suda51 game that is "not No More Heroes" but is about "something hunting demons," "some mech game," Trauma Center: Current Crisis, Soul Calibur, Tekken, GTA V, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, "some Metal Gear Solid game where you play as a girl," "some cyber punk game" that looks like Snatcher, Gradius, Contra, Castlevania, and "Fallout 3 or 4."
I wouldn't give it much credence, but then I saw this on my twitter feed (click to enlarge):


Of course, the post could have been based on the previous rumours. It's entirely possible this is a load of bullshit, and come Tuesday I'll look silly having believed it, but right now they kind of look legit. We'll see.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

I Revoo Doctor Who: The Almost People

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So, uh, wow. Who'd have thought that last's week's decidedly dull opener had this up it's sleeve? There was only two ways it was really going to pan out: The Almost People would continue to build up slowly and awkwardly without coming to a satisfying conclusion, or it would take the world that it had set up in the first part and just go for it with as much energy as it could muster. Thankfully it was the latter.

Oh hey, guess what: spoilers!