Thursday, 29 November 2012

Dota2: Launching Dad's Army

Morning internet! It may come as a surprise to none of you that I have always had a keen interest in competitive online gaming, particularly the Warcraft 3 Mod come international gaming sensation Defence of the Ancients (DotA). DotA is a cross between a strategy game and an action RPG; a so called multi-player online battle arena or MOBA because nerds love acronyms almost as much as we hate sunlight. Recently the modders who made the original DotA were taken on by Valve to make a stand alone version of the game running in it's own engine. It is fast becoming a global e-sports phenomenon with huge cash prizes and people playing all around the world to be the very best like no one was before. Also it's crazy anarchic fun:
Below all this crazy team fighting and shouting of commentators there is actually a deep strategic game with almost 100 heroes you can play as, each with their own specific skill sets, strengths and weaknesses. I'm not going to lie to you, the learning curve is so steep it's almost a vertical wall and it can be hard to know where to start but that's where I come in. I've been playing DotA and Dota2 for over 3 years - I'm no expert but I have a vague idea what I'm doing and I have 4 free passes for the Dota2 beta. A full team includes 5 people. I have therefore decided to share this amazing game with you. I am building a Dota2 team made from people who have never played Dota2 before. I call it Dad's Army
A great British tradition
If you want in here are the rules of entry:

  1. You must have never played Dota before. Other MOBAs are fine but the less experienced the better.
  2. You must have a computer that can run Dota2 at better than minimum settings and a decent latency internet connection.
  3. You must speak English at a competent level.
  4. You need to be available at around 8PM GMT every other Monday for team practice and general LULZ.
  5. You must not think the internet is SRS BZNS.
Now you're probably thinking "why would I want to waste my time playing games with you Simon? You're kind of an ass hole" well I have a good answer for this. Late next year Dad's Army will be entering some kind of competitive Dota2 competition and we are going to win. I want to see if in just one year a group of people who don't know each other can become a competitive e-sports team. Are you up to the challenge? Are you up for a laugh? I only have 4 places available so let me know either via Facebook or in the comments if you want in.

Stay Crunchy Internet

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Bronies: an Internet Intervention

At the beginning of this year a friend of mine wished me a happy 'Winter Wrap Up' just as the weather was getting warmer and fresh leaves were starting to show on the trees. Confused by her phrasing I asked her what she meant and she linked me to this:
Towards the end of 2010 Power Puff Girls creator Lauren Faust had re-imagined My Little Pony for a modern audience; and it turned out that the result was a charming and well written show for young girls that taught the values of getting along with people who are different to you and the power of friendship through troubled times. Having long been a fan of PPG I decided to check it out and have since watched a couple of episodes (about 10). The new art style and snappy dialogue make it hard to dislike (even if it is for kids) and at times genuinely laugh out loud funny. I was also surprised to find out that a few of my friends were also watching the show and had been for some time (I was quite late to this particular party) and I discovered that in a few short months it had achieved a sizable cult following. Did I mention that said cult following is weird as shit? Unsettlingly strange? Lovecraftian in its oddness? No? Well let's begin with some images to illustrate my point:

Wait is that a picture of a cartoon pony with a Frank Herbert quote next to it? It totally is! NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE. I know that this week's post may cause me to step on some toes (particularly those of some people I know) and I apologise if I cause offence but seriously people, can we stop taking cartoon ponies so seriously? It's getting stupid. A few months ago a tiny gangster kid threatened to stab me because I laughed at his pony stickers at a yugioh tournament. Let's all chill the fuck out. Also stop invading my anime conventions, you're creeping me out (which is tough to do in such a crazy environment)
Hahahaha what? There is nothing sexy about MLP. I checked with the Furries and everything.
Speaking of anime conventions I think I've noticed a trend in the popularity of MLP. Lauren Faust created a show that features 6 cartoonish representations of feminine characters having fun together to promote friendship between cliques of young girls (I assume). But there is another cartoon based medium that uses this tactic to appeal to sweaty awkward young men. I am talking of course about Moe Anime.
So Kawai
Moe is a pretty complex concept but in this context essentially means creating female characters in anime who make male viewers want to protect them and enjoy their cuteness as opposed to flat out want to fuck them. Once you've been exposed to a character you enjoy in that way enough however you start to develop deep love like feelings for them (and you also may want to have weird sex with them). I've seen it happen. But don't just take my word for it, here's some clips from the show pictured above (K-ON)
and here is one of the top rated comments:

It would appear that the archetypal social identities of the Mane 6 (the fashionable one, the sporty punky one, the shy kind one etc. etc.) have attracted the freaky Moe crowds who have been programmed by years of anime abuse to respond to this kind of thing. Now however they have all these feelings that aren't even attached to fictional people and it confuses them. Young men are falling in love with ponies and they are very defensive about it. So if this describes you or you are currently composing a death threat or other angry correspondence to me it's time to take a deep breath sit back and say this to yourself aloud: "They're just cartoon ponies. I may have a problem." A few years ago I had a similar word with myself concerning anime girls and it worked wonders for me.

Stay Crunchy Internet

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Slenderman: A Ghost Story for the Information Age

Evening internet. It's Halloween tonight and fell winds are howling around my house as sallow faced goblin like children roam the streets in search of sugary treats. On this ghostly eve I would like to tell you a tale most chilling. A tale of an otherworldly being who stalks the woods and forests of the world; an enigmatic being who patiently watches and waits for its chance to steal you away to somewhere else, never to be seen again. A faceless terror who could be watching you right now. I am talking of course about the Slenderman
Run if you like but it won't help
The Slenderman legend dates back to the 1600s when families who lived around the black forest in Germany would tell tales of "Der Großmann" a tall fey creature who would steal bad children away into the forest. Below are two reproductions of wood cuts from that period depicting what is believed to be Der Großmann (also known as "Der Ritter")
Note the inclusion of an hourglass in both pieces, possibly symbolising Fate or Death
In more recent years there have been many sightings of Slenderman although its appearance has changed somewhat. From a distance Slenderman appears to be a tall thin man in a business suit. On closer inspection however eye witnesses have reported that Slenderman has no face and limbs that are much longer than a humans. It also may just look like it's wearing a suit due to markings on its body. In many cases Slenderman is also seen with many branch like tendrils sprouting from its back which can easily support its (and your) weight, appears to have the ability to teleport short distances and occasionally psycically dominates people do do it's bidding as "Proxies".
Even in 2009 you are not safe
Slenderman has become the subject of a number of Youtube channels and even a popular Indy Game
but there is one fact about him more shocking than any of what I have said so far. Slenderman is an utter fabrication. In fact I have socks older than Slenderman. It was created back in 2009 in this thread on the Something Awful forums. All of the images I have used so far are from that same thread. I had the privilege of watching events as they unfolded back then; as one picture, one creepy idea spawned an entire mythos which (via the work of some very creative individuals) retroactively wrote itself into history.

Slenderman has always fascinated me because it's a concept so creepy and engaging that it would appear people want to believe in it. Mix this up with the internet and you get a whole bunch of people suspending disbelief in a similar way that one does when viewing a card trick; deep down you know it's fake but part of you wants it to be real. In the cold light of day you know its all made up but put someone in the woods at 1AM and they believe in Slenderman. Hell I think I've seen him near my old family home at 6PM.
Ol' Slendy taps into something primal in all of us: he's just human looking enough to be easy to miss, just twisted enough to be frightening and just original enough for you to remember him. He's the subject of the greatest ghost story ever told. Also he's right behind you. Made you look.

Happy Halloween Internet

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Errand of Mercy: A Gentleman's Podcast

Evening Internet! For those of you who don't know I totally have a podcast; it's called Errand of Mercy and is almost on it's 20th episode. I make it with a friend of mine with whom I made an award winning student radio show back at university. You should check it out right now. Sometimes we make dick jokes. Other times we talk about how One Direction are a gang rape trial waiting to happen. There's something for everyone.
We aren't nearly as two dimentional and cartoonish as this picture suggests... Honest

Stay Crunchy Internet

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Pop Culture References: The Killing Joke

Evening internet! Some of you will be glad to hear that my month of posts about games is now over! So now it's time to get back to what I do best: drinking whiskey and sounding slightly self righteous (this is a blog after all, I have to keep up to quota or Google will shut me down). As you may have guessed from the title this week's post is about pop/geek culture references and how they are killing humour on the internet. Let me start by saying that I am fully aware that I may be one of the people murdering comedy with 'jokes' about  Watchmen, science fiction and various other things from the nerdier side of the fence but someone's got to speak up and it may as well be me. I'm also going to do my best to avoid too much analysis; E.B White put it best when he said "Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."
Don't get me wrong, I like a good laugh as much as the next guy but in recent months I've seen a lot of things like this cropping up on my facebook news feed from people who I generally find tolerable at worst:
This is not funny, it's just a bunch of characters labelled with their defining features. It's funny in the same way that the following picture is funny:
which is to say not at all
Essentially the author has said "here is a collection of things I know about, if you're cool you will know about them to and laugh because I have stated facts about them". The comic strip currently has almost 3,300 shares and 5,200 likes on Facebook so people also appear to be buying into this concept. They appear to be laughing at it to show they are also cool and sending it to their friends who are doing the same thing as the picture spreads like a virus of stupid hipster bullshit.
here we see said virus multiplying via mitosis in host cells
So what we have is something that is 'funny' but isn't actually funny at all; it's simply a barrier to entry. If you get the joke you laugh and are let into some kind of conceptual club on the internet. But it's not a good club, the music is shitty and everyone is wearing Joy Division T shirts that are too big for them and pretending to enjoy themselves.

So why does this bother me? I don't enjoy clubbing - conceptual or otherwise - and I don't need to laugh at unfunny things to prove anything to anyone so why am I annoyed? Nerdy culture references done right in the real world are a great way for shy people to instantly connect with one another. You hear someone say something or see a specific design on an accessory or piece of clothing and a new line of dialogue is instantly opened up. One of the first times I actually talked to my current girlfriend was at a costume party when we were both teenagers because I was the only guy there who knew she had come as Link not Peter Pan.

Millions of quiet people make millions of first time connections because of this kind of thing; the internet has taken something that's a force for societal good and used it as a cheap excuse for lazy humour. What was once a tool for inclusion is quickly becoming one of exclusion and that's the real joke.

Stay Crunchy Internet

PS. It appears this entire post decrying hipster bullshit boils down to "I was doing something before it was cool and now everyone else is doing it and it sucks" wow... Irony's a bitch.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Eurogamer: A Weekened of Gaming

First of all let me apologise for A) the lateness of this post and B) the lack of a post last week, I was prepping to leave for London and trying to get all my podcast editing sorted so I didn't have time to write anything. I spent this weekend just gone with the lovely damselgaming on press passes at Eurogamer Expo in Earls Court and we played many, many games. Many thanks to Eurogamer for letting me attend for free! If you want to hear about the general feel of the expo and some of the odder experiences I had while there feel free to listen to episode 17 of my podcast (wow that's two plugs in one paragraph, it must be pretty good!) which will be out later on this week. I've decided to keep this week's post purely review based so I don't ramble on too much. So without further ado lets play some vidya gamez!

Dishonoured: Hey Ho and Up She Rises

Let's get this straight: Dishonoured feels a lot like a spiritual successor to Thief, one of my all-time favourite PC game series so obviously I enjoyed it. In the short demo mission that was on offer on the gaming floor I was tasked with sneaking into the lab of an alchemist, kidnapping him and getting him to an extraction point. If you read damselgaming's review you'll see that she took a very different path to me but accidentally ended up on the right track towards her objective (a testament to good game design). I however chose to follow the game's prompts and sneak my way in over the rooftops using a combination of darksight (allows you to see enemies and their FOV through walls) and short range teleport to avoid and evade guards. I was impressed by how non linear this felt; even though I was following instructions and moving towards a waypoint I could take basically any route along the roof tops I wanted and nothing was out of bounds. My powers all also had very short cool downs and very little mana usage so I could use them as tools as opposed to powerful one shots to escape. I eventually made it to the lab, killed the guard on the door, snuck inside and sleep darted the alchemist without revealing myself. I then - carrying his body - teleported off a fire escape into an apartment next door, and realised my extraction point was across an unguarded courtyard below. No problem, quite an exposed area but I just had to sprint it. Then from the left of the building I heard a strange WHIIIR CHUNK, WHIIIR CHUNK, WHIIIR CHUNK sound and a Tallboy (shown above) strode into view. I decided to try and avoid him and teleport to an adjacent rooftop but missed the jump and fell to the courtyard right next to him. He instantly turned towards me, articulating his armour plates to face me so small arms couldn't damage him. He drew back the strings of his bow and fired an explosive arrow at me. I froze time. Everything stopped, his deadly arrow hung in the air, I dashed between his legs and - still holding the alchemist's unconscious form covered his exposed back in sticky grenades. After a few seconds time sped back up to normal pace and the Tallboy exploded spectacularly. I did not look back.

Dishonoured surprised me because it's the only stealth game I've played where discovery doesn't feel like the end of the world but you always feel hunted and in danger. It's slick, stylish, full of character and appears to be playable in any manner of ways. The setting borrows a lot from Thief as does the gameplay (if you want it to) but it would appear Dishonoured is standing on the shoulders of giants, not retreading old ground. Play it.

DMC: Devil May Cry: Silent Hill on Speed

We have converted the Angst to Badassery
I've never really liked DMC, it's always seemed like a rebellion simulator for teenagers and Dante always seems to strike the wrong chord of douchebag for me but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by DMC: the gritty reboot. Obviously the enemy design and core hack and slash of it is good because it's a DMC game but two things really stood out to me as impressive:
  1. Dante's lines appear to be written by a much smarter person with English as their first language. He's much more bearable and occasionally genuinely funny. A first for me.
  2. The game world is phenomenal. The idea is that you're trapped in a city where the local government and media are all demons in disguise so everything starts off looking like any old american metropolis but the moment a CCTV camera sees you everything twists, stretches, deforms and splits creating a hellish other-world not unlike that seen in Silent Hill. Then the bad guys turn up. Then you violently murder them. The environment also actively works against you; streets twist into truncated dead ends as you try to advance and walls press in on you prompting quick thinking platforming sections.
These improvements have actually made me want to buy a DMC game for the first time just because I want to know what Ninja Theory are going to do with it.

Halo 4: Mediocre Chief

Unfortunately there was no single player demo for Halo 4 at Eurogamer which is a shame because it looks like its going to be pretty damn good. All we had was the multiplayer demo map which was mediocre at best. It felt clunky, unresponsive and shallow. While all the other console FPS developers have been innovating and tweaking to offer the best multiplayer experience possible Halo appears to have changed the colour of some of its guns, reskinned the energy sword and gone "welp! Pub anyone?". I did not enjoy it and was let down by the lack of single player epicness. I'm not sure who the're selling to but it's not me.

Crysis 3: Becoming the Hunter

2012 appears to be the year of archery in games
Crysis has long been a flag around which many PC gamers - myself included - have rallied. It's beautiful to
play, immersive, exciting and fun. Crysis 3 appears to be more of the same but in a good way. I had a go at it's multiplayer and things have changed very little, some new weapons and perks but the core things that made playing online in Crysis 2 are sill present. I played a round of my favourite game mode Crash Site which was as anarchically fun as I remember followed by a new game mode called Hunter. This pits a large team of non augmented soldiers against two invisible nanosuited Hunters with bows and arrows. The bows were very powerful and accurate but had a slow projectile speed and reload time. The normal soldiers also had motion trackers which bleeped when Hunters were close. It was balanced, tense and simple enough to pick up quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Hitman: Deadly Mistakes

Let me start by saying that I didn't complete the Hitman Absolution demo running on the game floor and I'm fine with that. I'm used to Hitman being quite unforgiving and difficult and I'm glad they chose not to dumb it down. Most of the tension in Hitman comes from knowing that one wrong move, one errant twich, one body left unhidden can ruin hours of quiet, deadly work and removing that difficulty would undermine the spirit of the series. One rather hilarious mistake involved me accidentally taking an innocent bystander hostage at gunpoint prompting the huge crowd around me to totally freak out. I laughed so hard I almost fell of my chair then restarted the mission. Speaking of crowds the masses of people in hitman are the best I've seen since Heavy Rain; they move, flow and interact like real people; that is until you spook them. Then they start moving like scared fish. Almost as if they have a collective conciousness. It's quite unnerving. 

Dodgy crowd dynamics aside Hitman Absolution is tough, crisp and tense. I cut my gaming short not because I had had enough but because I knew I would be there for ages casing the locale of my assassination finding escape routes and firing angles. I was afraid I would get too into it and I'd have to be kicked out at closing time. This was the only game I played all weekend that made me feel like that.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown: Keeping it Real

X-COM used to terrify me as a child (especially Terror from the Deep); not knowing where your enemy
was and having to try and search for them while simultaneously trying to defend against surprise attacks was a tense juggling act that I was never very good at but it stuck with me. As a result I was very excited to give X-COM: Enemy Unknown a go; it was the first game I played of Eurogamer Expo. I am pleased to say that 2K games have stuck to the original's turn based format - a bold move in today's fast paced world - and it has totally paid off. The single player has also kept lots of important mechanics such as the focus on base building and research as well as combat. The combat itself feels exciting and fast paced while still turn based. You can do things like order your troops to go into overwatch so they shoot the enemy as they move in their turn or use suppressing fire to pin them down (an action that results in squad members blind firing from cover during the enemy's turn). I loved it. Fans of the original will love it and so will anyone else who likes squad based combat with a touch of global strategy.

Assassin's Creed 3: the Death of Originality

the AC3 demo I played was slick, smooth and above all soulless. It was basically a bit meh. Read this review to find out more.

COD Black Ops 2: The Main Event

So there's no mistaking that Blops2 was the headline act of Eurogamer Expo: it had a massive 50 person gaming arena set up that took up about a 5th of Earls Court's floor space with it's own bouncers (to keep the kids out) and a massive queue. I was expecting it to be kind of rubbish after all Halo 4 and AC3 were both massive let-downs, why would this be different? It was the Nth COD game set in the near future and MW3 had turned out to be an insipid boom fest so I was expecting less than impressive multiplayer gaming. I was very surprised.

To begin with Blops2 only allows you to take 10 items into battle if your playing online. That includes weapon mods, perks, streak rewards, grenades and equipment. This makes for some tough choices. Do I want a scoped semi auto rifle or the Extreme Conditioning perk? Can I really afford to not take any grenades if I need a powerful side arm pistol? This adds an extra layer of strategy before the game even starts. Once the bullets start flying though everything feels tighter, brighter and more responsive than other COD titles, it would appear that Blops2 really takes the Xbox360 to the outer limits of what it's capable of without sacrificing much in the way of frame rate. I did terribly (I'm not great with console shooters) but I managed to steal another team's Care Package and got my hands on a Death Machine. Then the party really started.

Over all I was pleasantly surprised by Blops2 and with rumours of a branching single player story and multiple endings abound it looks like the single player campagin could be just a surprising.

Stay Crunchy Internet

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Black Mesa Source: Sights and Sounds

So last weekend I played through Black Mesa Source with notable freelance gaming journalist damselgaming who wrote a review of it before I could even blink. As a result I have very little to say about BMS because she has put it very well herself and I would have to be derivitive.

One thing I would add to her comments is this; the sound design of BMS is astounding. New voices, new voice acting, new audio cues and creature sounds make the atmosphere of the game much richer than the original. The soundtrack alone is breathtaking; Blast Pit has a gradually building minimalistic piano accompaniment that makes its rotting concrete and rusted steel vastness haunting and poignant (while you're not being attacked by giant armoured worms) while the grand finale of Questionable Ethics has a musical score which got me so pumped I ended up dying several times because I was playing like a spacemarine (and not a theoretical physicist).

The other thing I have to add is a few HD screenshots of the mod. Some of which reveal some interesting design decisions:
The Xen Tentacle, shortly before killing a scientist

A Gargantua staring me out. A few seconds after this he reached into the corridor and cooked me with his heat rays. Yes that actually happened

Two marines, shortly before explosive neutralisation

The rocket towards the end of On a Rail

Launching the Rocket

The new Black Ops Assassin model. Notice the spring heeled boots  are almost identical to the long fall boots from Portal. Is this Aperture tech being used by marines or did Aperture Science send in their own kill team for Freeman? This little detail is one of the things that makes BMS so fun.

Out with the old, in with the new.

GREAT SCOTT! Every white board in the Questionable Ethics Laser lab is filled with physics and diagrams in the distinct style of all 4 science teams that were working there before the Resonance Cascade. 

All the physics objects in the main laser lab ready for science!

Only the cup survived. Right on mug! There are at least 5 different mug designs in BMS, one of which has the Chuckle Brothers on it. How's that for detail?

The hydro electric dam. Pretty!

These bitches just got scienced.

Lambda Core , in all its gleaming glory

The gateway to Xen before powering up, breathtaking stuff.

As you can see, BMS is quite the labour of love. Play it now.

Stay Crunchy Internet.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Something for the Weekend: Black Mesa Source

This week marks the culmination of over 8 years of blood, sweat and tears. This week is the week when one of the greatest fan labours of love in gaming history comes to fruition. On friday at midnight Black Mesa Source is relesed.

Black Mesa Source is a mod for Half Life Two that recreates the entirety of Half Life in glorious current generation HD graphics. It features re-recorded high fidelity voice acting, remastered audio design and fully re-rendered character models and environments built from the ground up in Source. All you need is SDK 2007 to play it (if you have Half Life 2 on steam you can install it via the tools tab of your games library) and it's completely free.

Currently the game only runs up to where you enter Xen in the lambda labs (about 3/4 of the way though the original) but they are planning to add the last quarter of the game when it's done. Made by the fans, for the fans and completly free. Prepare for Unforeseen Consequences.

Stay Crunchy Internet

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Free to Play. The Future of Online Gaming?

I think we can all agree that free stuff is awesome. Tell me a new fast food chain has opened near my house and I will probably not be that bothered. Give me a book of vouchers for it that includes offers of free stuff and I am there. Even if I know the food is terrible. Even if the company has been outed as anti gay and is inundated by self righteous types with signs.
Your protest is lame and I will punch through you for free chicken
We all want free stuff and in a perfect world everything would be free but this is the capitalist western world. Perfect it aint. On that subject few aspects of our lives are more dominated by the whims of global mega corps than gaming, especially online gaming. MMO's are a global phenomenon that have become a massive part of our generation's culture and they don't come much bigger than World of Warcraft (WoW) an MMO with an 8 year pedigree, a sinister relationship with rodent behavioral studies and an annual turnover that makes a great deal of medium sized companies look like lemonade stands. WoW is immersive, addictive and  apparently massive amounts of fun. It is also paid for via subscription. I have always had an issue with this. As a teenager I was heavily into Runescape and for a time I paid a subscription fee monthly to be a full member so I could play the other 75% of the game that was denied to free to play members. I know what it's like to play an MMO like WoW. That's probably why I will never play it.
Well that and this guy

Microtransactions Vs Subscriptions: Innovation Vs. Addiction

It would appear however that recent years have seen the rise of a new business model for online gaming: free to pay (with microtransactions). Essentially the developer makes their game free to play but adds in game items/ currency that the players use real cash to buy. An old boss of mine from Games Workshop always used to say something that has stuck with me to this day: "a good business decision is one that makes us (the retailer) and the customers happy". I feel that free to play is a step in the right direction for us customers in terms of the amount of control we have over the online gaming industry. If WoW is an angry landlord that you have to pay rent to every week with the constant threat of eviction then games like League of Legends, Team Fortress 2 and Star Trek Online are genial comic book shop owners. I don't go out of my way to buy my yu-gi-oh cards and hobby supplies from the small independent comic book store in my local village because they have the best choice; I do it because I respect the guy who runs the place. He's a pillar in the community. He even DM's games of Dungeons and Dragons during school holidays because the local kids can't DM a game themselves.
You gotta go where everyone knows your name
The free to play business model forces companies to put us first as customers instead of acting like drug dealers. Subscription based online gaming relies on keeping people addicted not keeping them happy. Free to play games however rely on patronage; they need you to enjoy things enough to invest money in them as a kind of thank you. Take League of Legends (LoL) for example; it has an in game currency (Influence Points) which you can earn by playing the game (the better you play the more you make) and a separate currency you can buy (Riot Points). Riot Points and Influence Points can be spent on new characters to use in the game while only Riot Points can be spent on skins for your characters; superficial improvements that make you look cooler on the battlefield.
Some of which look insanely rad
While you can buy a cooler look for your favorite character however, you can't buy power. There are items called glyphs which give you an early game boost in power and these can only be bought by Influence Points. In short you can't buy your way to the top, that takes skill, experience and a bit of grinding. You win because you can look cool, Riot (the company that makes LoL) wins because they may make some money and you win again because putting lots of money into the game can't buy n00bs an easy victory. I have played LoL for 3 to 4 years and recently gave up on it in favour of DotA2 (I was always a DotA boy from the beginning). In those 3 to 4 years Riot has made over £200 out of me. Not through subscriptions but because I wanted to give them money. They created a world and I played in it and had fun. So I bought some stuff in game because I could. No tricks. No creepy psychological exploitation to keep me addicted to their product. Just good honest fun. That's how this industry should work.

Stay Crunchy Internet

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Metal Gear Solid: a Fan's Retrospective

Ok internet crazy news, I have managed to score a press pass for Thursday and Friday of the Eurogamer Expo; one of the biggest gaming expos this side of the Pacific. As a result I've decided to spend the month leading up to it doing some gaming posts because cool kids love gaming.
Gamers are Badical dude! 
With this in mind I'd like to talk about a series of games which is currently celebrating it's 25th anniversary. That series is Metal Gear (or more specifically Metal Gear Solid). Like many people from my generation I played the original Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation when I was barely into my teens. My dad was a touring sound engineer at the time and had just finished a month long tour with Howard Jones. He had spent a lot of time wasting hours on the road playing Wipeout with various band and crew members so upon returning home he decided he wanted to keep on playing and bought a Sony PlayStation under the guise of buying me it as a gift (back in the 90s normal adults didn't play computer games, they were for kids). To balance things out he also bought my sister a cat. That cat is still very much alive and kicking, the PlayStation sadly is not. It was the first console I had ever owned and I was super excited when he took me to Electronics Boutique to go and pick it up. He decided to go for a bundle that came with two controllers, a memory card and two games, Dad got Wipeout and told me I could pick the other one. I was momentarily paralysed with excitement. Up until this point my gaming life had largely consisted of watching my friend John play Mega Man X - A game we would later 100% complete in one sitting as older teenagers, taking it in turns to eat and catch a few hours of sleep - and the occasional arcade outing on holidays to France. Now I was not only about to own a cutting edge gaming console but also get to pick a game. After much deliberation I came across a game with the words "YOU ARE SNAKE, A GOVERNMENT AGENT ON A MISSION TO REGAIN CONTROL OF A SECRET NUCLEAR WEAPONS BASE FROM TERRORIST HANDS..." emblazoned across the back. It also featured in game 3D screen shots of what appeared to be a robot ninja and a man taking on a tank alone. It also apparently featured animated blood, gore and violence as well as mature sexual themes. To my partially formed nerdy teenage mind it appeared to be the most bad ass thing since the X men. I picked it and so began a love affair that has lasted to this day.
Unfortunately the above arrow and circle were not included


At this point Metal Gear Solid is an undisputed classic of early generation gaming. It has also somehow survived the ravages of time which is more testament to its genius than anything else. As a young nerdy teenage boy it also delivered everything I wanted it to whilst still being ground breaking and narratively complex. Metal Gear Solid was the first time I had ever seen a cut scene or for that matter, characters talk to each other for longer than a few minutes but it never seemed to become dry or bogged down by the weight of its own story (an issue with many of the later titles). The gameplay was fun, the soundtrack was immersive and the boss fights were well paced and climactic.

Thinking about it the main thing that defines Metal Gear Solid and the series over all for me is the way it simultaneously appeals to the inner child whilst being driven by a deeper more adult story. Metal Gear Solid 1 for example is a story about two brothers bred by the military as weapons without their biological father's consent who will ultimately have to kill each other because they happen to be on two sides in a war their dad devoted his life to preventing and failed. While other games would drown you in sorrow by endlessly focusing on the WAR IS HELL aspect of this story Hideo Kojima throws in a BADASS WALKING TANK WITH A RAIL GUN:
Although the core stories of all 4 Metal Gear Solid games are arcane and quite depressing they are told with such a sense of anarchic joy that the sting of sadness gets lost under Kojima's bold brush strokes leaving only a residual tang of melancholy which only enhances the game's narrative flavour.

Metal Gear Solid was also the first game for me that turned shoot the dudes into only shoot the dudes sometimes, a step that made run and gun gameplay a much more satisfying and strategic 'sneak and shoot' affair. This play style has stayed with me throughout my gaming years to the point where my skyrim character is a stealth archer; I'm shooting at dragons with a bow and arrow in a world where people can shoot fireballs out of their hands and shout people off cliffs because of MGS1. Why? Because it's cooler that's why.

Sons of Liberty: Raiden Against the Machine

So first things first let me get this straight. I don't really like Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty. Raiden as a main character doesn't really do anything for me. It is however filled with themes of rising above your origins and escaping the establishment also it's hard not to enjoy storming a giant underwater base with Solid Snake so I can forgive its many faults; it's still a very solid game. During it's final act it also asks an important question. Why are you enjoying this? You're killing men in their droves! The blurred line between the entertainment derived from role-playing as an elite stealth operative and just wanting to vicariously shoot people in the face is often examined in MGS games but only in Sons of Liberty does the game stop and directly ask you why you are still playing. It's a bold move you have to respect. Even if Raiden is only one giant robot short of an Evangelion character.

Snake Eater: Doing it for the Kids... Like a Boss

MGS3: Snake Eater is hands down my favorite of the franchise. Its fun without being too silly, full of great areas, perfectly realised (and often wonderfully silly) characters and as a prequel it is without peer or equal. Here more than in any other MGS Kojima combines the ridiculous and the real, the harrowing and the hilarious, the Bourne and the Bond. All of the amazing boss battles (e.g. The End), spectacle (e.g the Shagohod chase) and pacing (the ladder climb) paled into insignificance for me when compared to one thing. It seems like MGS3 is the first game in which Hideo decided to stop the roller-coaster ride of fun so we have to deal with something. That something is The Boss. All of Snake Eater's wacky aping of James Bond only serves to display it's ending in even more stark contrast. 
War really is hell
I remember completing the game and weeping uncontrolably. I was back home on summer break from university at the time and my mum came in to see what I was crying about. all I could manage was 
"the Boss *sob* died as a traitor *sob* to save *sob* her son *sob* ANDHEHADTOKILLHERBECAUSEHEDIDNTKNOWWWWWWW" 
To this day she can't work out what caused that partcular episode. The final fight with The Boss and the subsequent epilogue is one of the most emotive sequences in any video game ever. Well... Maybe.

Guns of the Patriots: Maybe the World is Better Without Snakes

I have a confession to make: I played MGS4: Guns of the Patriots for the first time a few months ago. My girlfriend (also a big MGS fan) made me sit down and play it over a weekend and I loved it. It's probably the most ambitious of all the Metal Gears; Kojima and his team created an entire near future world and its amazingly well put together. It also feels like the most real of the franchise because all the patented craziness we've come to know and love can be explained away by nanomachines.
well... most of it
Getting to see the end of Snake and his constant duel with Liquid/Ocelot as a fan of the series was amazing (especially going back to Shadow Moses) and I loved every second but I have one issue with Guns of the Patriots: it seemed to have a lot less game in it than the others. The crushing weight of exposition in MGS4 makes the original seem like an article about science in the Sun: brief and simple. Don't get me wrong everything about it was amazing - the microwave corridor for example beats the end of MGS3 hands down - but it seemed that Kojima wanted to make a movie, not just a game and it threatened to leave me behind at points. It's obvious he made it for the fans however and its rare that a game corp has enough confidence in a title that they let anyone do that so I guess we should be grateful.

So What am I Trying to Say

Metal Gear Solid 1-4 are not just games, they are examples of an art form that I think defines our generation. Their continuous dedication to fun without sacrificing narrative or character elevate them above all other gaming franchises. When I am old and grey I will tell my grandchildren about A man I once knew called Solid Snake and his dad Big Boss and their adventures. Call of Duty has nothing on that.

Stay Crunchy Internet