Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Whooo exams are over. Minecraft time.

On Monday I finished my last exam. This has been a long time coming and now I finally have time to do the things I want to do. Like play Minecraft guilt free and till 3AM.

Also I don't know if some of you have noticed but Bethesda has released the newest game in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim. While sounding more like an uncomfortable sexual position rather than a highly anticipated video game I decided it was about time I started playing Oblivion. Then I remembered I gave it to a friend of mine for safekeeping while I did my exams. What was I to do? Instead of giving it too much thought I just went back to playing Minecraft.

Yes folks, about a week or so ago Minecraft went into full release. Or went 'gold' so to speak. To be honest I'm just glad they brought back creative mode. So now I can build my giant fortresses without being bothered by trivial things like gravity and exploding green penises.

Anyway I'm going to keep this one short this week because I'm too busy discovering things to do with my new found freedom. Like watch re-runs of Stargate Atlantis.

Till next week when I have something better prepared. Like that Splinter cell review I said I'd do ages ago.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

OPINION: Developers Aren't Punching Bags.

As exams are still eating my life this weeks post is from Elizabeth Danger. She is a freelance journalist who writes for Level 3 and Save Game Online. Thanks for stepping in Liz. I owe you one.


I can't help but feel I've been a little too hard on BioWare about the future of Mass Effect.

I was looking at the BioWare Social Network forums yesterday, and among the shame-filled ocean of creepy topics about Tali and what her sweat would smell like (and the accompanying fan-made chemical formulas,) I noticed how much criticism the direction of the third game is getting from its own fans.

While I tend to avoid the BSN forums like a plague unless something awesome goes down (such as David Gaider standing up for gay romance options in Dragon Age 2), I found myself thinking about the fandom circles I do participate in. While small and more of a social circle than anything else, I can't help but again notice how damned harsh we are on a game that isn't even completed yet.

I've done a little bit of reflection on this matter and I have to admit I'm guilty as charged. But why? Why is it that I'm so passionate about this game being a success? Why am I so obsessed with it being the perfect game?

Probably because I'm so emotionally attached to it.

Say what you will about BioWare, but they know how to pull you in and not let go of you. BioWare is one of those developers that writes characters so well-rounded and interesting that you find yourself tempted to delve into the world of fanfiction just to fill the void once you've finished the game. DA2 may have been extremely flawed in its gameplay and even execution -- for the record, I didn't think it was awful, but I tend to roll mage, and not much has changed in that class -- but it still caused me to cry during its more tender moments.

Some complain that Mass Effect 2 shoved off their favourite characters and feel ripped off, which in itself is testament to how well those characters were written in the first place, but I found the story and characters so enthralling that I actually didn't leave my apartment for two days to play it. Okay, that might be lack of responsibility. Maybe.

When a series causes people to become so emotionally attached to the characters and the story itself, you can't really be surprised when the fans get very protective of something they love. It's not new, either. We all remember how the Star Wars community reacted to the changes that were made to the Blu-Ray release; a few more alterations and I'm sure they would have been ready to storm Lucas Ranch with torches and pitchforks. On a smaller scale, there was outrage that 'Bananas in Pyjamas,' a show most of us haven't actively watched in about a decade, had made the change to 3D animation. So of course, you can imagine the reaction the Mass Effect community has every time there's a whisper of change.

Again, though, I think I may have been too harsh on BioWare. Sometimes we forget that behind all the poorly thought out marketing moves and morally questionable forum moderation, there's still a developer with heart that gives us some really good games. Fans, I think, sometimes forget that BioWare is the developer who gave them the games they love so much in the first place. BioWare developers take chances and experiment, and if they hadn't, you wouldn't have had the game you so desperately defend at every corner now as though it's your child and the 'mainstream' AAA game market is some kind of enraged bear.

Surely, if these guys gave us a game that we take so much joy from playing, we can at least give them the respect they deserve and trust them with the third installment. I can remember fans being almost as sceptical about the second installment and look what we wound up getting! Sure, Dragon Age 2 wasn't the best game it could be, but comparing any Dragon Age games to any games in the Mass Effect series is like comparing apples to oranges.

My parents like to tell me this joke, which I think is more wise than funny. A man is driving in a rural area, and one of his tires goes flat. He pulls over and realises that he's left his tyre-jack in his garage at home. He remembers seeing a house a few miles back, so he sets off on foot to ask if they have one he can borrow. He walks for a few minutes and thinks to himself 'lucky thing that house is in walking distance at all! This will be easy, I'll just ask him for a jack, change my tyre, drive back and return it.'

A few minutes pass. 'I hope he doesn't think I'm going to steal it,' he thinks to himself. 'It shouldn't take long, hopefully he's okay with it.' He continues walking, and he keeps envisioning the situation. 'Oh man, what if he's in the middle of dinner with his family or he's fixing his own car? He's gonna be really angry with me if he is.' He can see the house in the distance now. 'Shit. He's going to be really rude to me and probably ask me for money or something. I can see it now.'

He gets closer and closer to the house, only a few minutes away. 'He's gonna shout at me!' He thinks to himself. 'No, he's gonna full on abuse me for asking a stranger for a favor! What an asshole! I can't believe it! I'm only asking to borrow something and he's not going to help me out for no reason at all, and be rude to boot!'

Eventually, the man arrives at the house and knocks on the door. An elderly man comes to the door, and before he can even say hello, the first man shouts "Stick that jack up your ass!" and storms off.

This is what fans, including myself, seem to do. We spend so much time convincing ourselves that games are going to be terrible that by the time they're released, we already genuinely believe they're just awful when in fact we should be excited about these releases.

I guess what I'm trying to ask fans to do here is to essentially cool their jets and take a step back. I know it's a big ask and it's probably like politely asking a fire to not engulf one's home, but I really don't like seeing people be so harsh and sometimes borderline abusive about something that isn't really up to them in the end. Maybe knowing that BioWare does take community feedback into account like it does has gone to a few heads and given a false sense of privilege. Maybe it's just a case of the most vocal being the most crazy. But I've actually never seen a community get almost offended by the concept of change like this. We need to start giving developers credit where it's due, I think, and this goes for any game series.

So, BioWare, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for every time I flipped my shit at you over the concept of multiplayer (which I'm pretty excited about right now, to be honest). I'm sorry for nitpicking over changes to the squad lineup; I'm sure you've got it written in a way that will leave me just as pleased as I would be if Thane were a part of it. I'm especially sorry for losing my cool over things that haven't even been confirmed to be true. I'm going to try and save my outrage mode for after I've gotten my hands on the game.

It's BioWare's game just as much as it's the fan's experience. Mass Effect 2 was a great game, and I think the best thanks we can give them is to let them finish the series as according to their own vision.

Unless they kill off Garrus.

Then they can go to hell.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Free speech - the dilemma

I origionally posted this on my personal blog (where I just talk about non-gaming stuff, yes it does happen) and I thought it was relavent to post here.

The topic of free speech has been weighing heavily on my mind over the last few days. Being the son of a left-wing-Marxist-scholar-revolutionary has taught me a few things. One of those is to uphold the right to free speech. The reason I started this website is because the 400 character limit on facebook was restrictive to the point that I felt I couldn't make my point. That in some way my right to free speech was being impeded by not being able to rant on the internet.

I can't remember who said it (some french bloke I think around the time of the first revolution) but the saying is 'I disagree with what you say but I'll die for your right to say it.' I take that saying very seriously and as annoying as it has been sometimes, I've stuck to it.

Recently a very good friend of mine has come under fire for putting forth her opinion on an ad she found offensive. She stated her reasons and put forth logical and convincing arguments. To which in return she gets called a fat hairy lesbian among other horrible things. Oh and death threats, can't forget about the death threats. Now this is the kind of stuff I'd expect on 4Chan (A.K.A the arsehole of the internet) but not in the civilized parts of the world wide web.

I like to think that gamers are rather tolerant people. With games like Mass Effect where you work with (and if you are so inclined get freaky with) aliens how could you not. I still like to think that gamers as a whole are, but of course there are idiots in every bunch. It's these people that are making me question my belief in free speech. On one hand these people should not be allowed to say this kind of stuff, let alone be allowed to breed, but on the other hand they are well within their rights to say it. I'm feeling really conflicted on this issue and it is something that weighs heavily on my mind.

I feel like I should do something but what? I suppose all I can do is say 'hey... stop that, not cool dude.'

Actually I think I can.

There's nothing wrong with debate. Matter of fact it's great. Its how ideas are formed and forged and allow for people to think on a subject in a deep and significant way. But how are you making any kind of intellectual contribution by simply calling someone a fat hairy lesbian? If you disagree, fine but put forth an argument and make your reasons tangible. If you can read, spell and you are familiar with how to use a computer then it would stand to reason that you can make a counter-point. Because by just name calling you just make yourself look stupid. Like you're too stupid to enunciate how you feel about the subject. 

Think before you type.

Till next week, peace.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

OPINION: Social Gaming And Eating My Words

This weeks post is not from me as at the moment I'm in the middle of exams (which are going fine by the way thanks for asking) and neck deep in text books. This weeks post comes from a very good friend of mine Elizabeth Danger. She is a freelance journalist who writes for Level 3 and Save Game Online. Enjoy while I go nose deep into my Psychology text book, yay.


This week, readers, I became everything I have ever hated. I've started playing The Sims Social. I still remember the feeling of almost disgust that ran through me when it was announced at E3. 'How sad,' I thought. 'People are actually going to spend time playing this game instead of actually doing what they're acting out in real life.' I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to watch their two Sims having fun instead of... you know, hanging out with that person and actually having fun with them.

And then this week, with the intent of having sexual relations with all my friends Sims (as a sign of friendly affection, I assure you,) I started playing the game.

And I actually found myself enjoying it.

We recently learned that, according to AppData, The Sims Social has surpassed FarmVille in Daily Active Users (DAUs.) I never really could get into the FarmVille thing, or any social gaming, really, so I'm having a very hard time trying to understand why Sims Social is so different for me. It goes without saying that the Sims formula is addictive enough as it is, I've been wasting my life on the franchise for almost 10 years now, and I don't doubt that the accessibility of the game is a massive pull. Because it's free, it's easy to jump right into. I remember paying about $70 for the first Sims game, which to be honest had less features than Sims Social and has left me feeling a little ripped off that it's available for free.

Once you're hooked in by the concept of a free Sims game, it's a bit of a slippery slope. In my case, I wanted to have my Sim (affectionately named Assbutt,) swapping bodily fluids with everyone I knew playing the game as a bit of a joke. I wanted that 'Whoo Hoo' notification that made me laugh so hard during the E3 keynote littered all over my friends walls. After creating my scarlet woman of a Sim, I discovered this wouldn't be so easy.

First I would, obviously, need a double bed for my Sim to bonk in. On buying the double bed, I discovered that to assemble it, I would need some items that were only attainable by performing quests, making social interactions and fulfilling Assbutt's various needs. Whatever, right? Surely I could just play for a few hours and before I knew it my Sim would be bonking her way into this joke and we'd all have a laugh about it later.

It was about halfway through my bed quest that I realised all my friends had better houses than me. To be completely accurate, Assbutt was living in a one bedroom flat with a single bed in the bathroom to make room for her computer desk while Breanna Sim was living in a mansion with a spa in the living room just because. I couldn't have this. Breanna isn't a gamer in real life, I am. I should be winning at having a nice virtual life!

It was on. I'd started this imaginary contest with Breanna purely to flex my e-muscles. First thing I'd need would be another room to house my yet-to-be-assembled double bed in, which would require 3 friends to help me in building because apparently tradies don't exist in the Sim world. I can pinpoint the exact moment of my downfall, because it was when I did what I promised myself I wouldn't do and actually actively invited friends to play the game. That was it. The minute I clicked that 'send invite' button I became everything I said I wouldn't.

While I'm yet to invest any money in this game (and trust me, I have been very tempted to,) I've invested more time than I should. I actually put off playing Fallout last night to finish a quest in Sims Social. I've legitimately had a conversation at work about the game. Before I wrote this article I was playing it. Not even the shame and embarrassment that I once felt playing social games haunts me like it did during what I have named 'The GagaVille Incident.'

Thinking about it a bit more, though, I suppose the only reason I'm even writing this confession of sorts is the stigma associated with social gaming in the gaming community. We constantly scoff at FarmVille, but Zynga makes an obscene amount of money off those casual gamers. I used to joke that social games were the vampires of gaming, and not the cool ones, either. I mean the stupid sparkly ones. Well, now one of those sparkly vampires is watching me sleep and making me choose between him and my werewolf friend and goddamn if I'm not enjoying it.

The worst thing is, however, I'm already planning how I'm going to ween myself off this game. I know I'm down the rabbit hole and I know I'm going to need to stop myself or I'm just not going to play any other games, which isn't okay because I still need to play Deus Ex and Dead Island already. I can't help but wonder if I've been too hard on those who indulge in FarmVille and Vampire Wars, maybe it's no more embarrassing than being a serious WoW player. Perhaps the stigma attached to social gaming is one we've created because we as gamers fear change, or we fear our world that has been so niche for so long becoming as mainstream as it is.

Stigma or no, spending any amount of time on this game probably isn't healthy, and my original argument still stands: I could actually be hanging out with my friends instead of sitting at a computer and simulating it. That being said, however, in the end, I can't get my freak on with every single one of them in real life (nor would I really want to,) so maybe I've found something that only Sims Social can offer me.

For the record, Assbutt is yet to bed any of her neighbours. Just like real life.