Sunday, 4 December 2011

A brief rant on games journalism

Let me take a moment to babble some more; the topic is game journalism (it would seem). GO!
     A few things have always bothered me about game reviews, most of which boil down to the fact that they’re notoriously objective. I’m fairly mathematical in the way I think- I assign accurate percentages to about 78% of my thoughts (oh god, I didn’t even do that on purpose), so I do fully approve of objective rating systems. A review’s purpose is, after all, to deliver information to the reader in order to allow the reader to decide whether to buy Game A or Game B, and if Game B scored 1/10th or 14% or whatever higher than Game A, that decision is made that bit easier. No, what I mean when I refer to objectivity, is all the outright redundant information reviewers feel they need to deliver. “MGS4 has a much wider range of weapons than it’s predecessors”. “Resi 4 has slightly sharper graphics on the Gamecube than the PS2 version”. And my personal favourite, said about many, many great games: “It loses points due to simply not being long enough”. Journalists: logic suggests that if you are marking a game down due it lacking in longevity, this means that you are disappointed because you wanted more of it, right? And if you wanted more of this game, that means you enjoyed it, right? Or am I missing something? Because lack of longevity is the worst reason I can think of to knock off points, and yet it’s one of the most frequent complaints that seems to completely destroy the reputation of some genuinely brilliant games.
     …Anyway, where was I. Ah yes. I was whining about people whining.
     Writers can complain about or sing praise for all these things a game can be lacking in or overcompensating with, but really: does it matter? How much does it affect the gameplay, and how much is it going to change your experience of the game? Graphics are important- they can turn an amazing game into a truly beautiful game. But can dated graphics actually ruin a decent game? And does it REALLY matter whether it’s in HD? (Actually, I suppose it does in some cases, where you’re expected to have either a HD TV or a microscope just to read the migraine-inducing bloody text…)
     Take Oblivion, of the Elder Scrolls series, for example. I played it a little once and yes, it’s a well-made game. It has a huge world with endless possibilities and some mighty fine graphics and animation (not so much on the people, but I could put up with that. I’ve seen worse). But I just…didn’t enjoy it. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, and it’s not not my thing, I should love it. But I couldn’t get into it. Contrast with the very little-known game Shadow of Memories, a game about a man who keeps getting murdered, and has to travel back in time to save his own life. Now there is some dodgy character modelling and awful animation, complete with truly cringeworthy voice acting. It’s just a horribly made game. But you know what? However poorly executed, it has a great story, and every chapter leads you from “what the hell am I supposed to do here…?” to the next part of the main story, and back to “aaaaah, I seeeee!” with elegance. It’s an amazing game that I finished with every ending, even the extra “New Game +” endings and the “Super-Awful-You-Just-Failed-At-This-Game-You-Complete-Berk” ending.
     What I’m trying to say is, yes, magazines can give us the solid information so we, The General Gaming Public, can decide our own opinion on a game, but that really doesn’t tell us anything about the game itself. What’s it like to step into the overworld for the first time? Will The Big Plot Twist make us go “WHOA.” or “I totally saw that coming” (without spoiling The Big Plot Twist, preferably)?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

How it all began...

…And now I suppose all that’s left is my own history of how I got into games. Yeah, it’s one of those ‘origins’ episodes, I suppose.
     The first time I played a video game was when I was 4- this was 1996, smack bang in the peak of the 90’s, back when TV was (j)awesome and we all wore jelly shoes (which got lost in the sea. You didn’t even need to be near the sea, they would get lost in the sea. One day science will grant us the technology to brave tonnes of water pressure in order to find out more about our ocean, and what will we find? Jelly shoes. Gugles of them.). My neighbours handed down Ye Olde Commodore 64 along with a bigass crate of games, about 5 of which worked (and even those were dodgy, I remember the crash screen well…). And so the first game I played was Space Invaders, probably starting my trend of playing games years after they were popular (I started playing Disgaea recently), closely followed by Paper Boy, Battleships and some Scooby Doo game (TV spin-off games sucked then, too, I recall). And that was my only gaming experience for a few years, until IT came along.
     I think me and my friends talked about nothing but Pokemon for at least 2 years. Most people didn’t even play it, just watched the godawfully awesome anime (but we who did play the games were the total bosses). Ironically, as I type this out in Microsoft Word and see that little red line under the word ‘Pokemon’, I think pretty much the exact same thing I thought when I saw that red line 12 years ago; “Why the fork is Pokemon STILL not in the bloody dictionary!?” So this was 1999, when the Pokemans were just getting popular over here; the late 90’s, the age of Nickelodeon, Sunny D (with all the E numbers), SMTV Live and the word ‘wicked’. It was around this time that I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house playing copious amounts of Crash Bandicoot. So copious that my parents offered to get me a home console of my own; it was a choice between a PS1 (“the one that Beth has”) or a Nintendo 64 (“the one with Pokemon”). My answer was something like “POKEMOOOOOOONNNNNNN”.
     And oy vey, did I make the right choice. Pokemon games aside, nothing on the PS1 could ever even HOPE to match up to some of possibly The Best Games Of All Time. The Banjo-Kazooie games, for example. Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie were just MADE of pure British humour, and the fact that most of it went right over your head when you were 7 or 8 only makes it more genius when you play it years later. Only Rare would think of the name “W. Anchor”. And then there’s the menu (“Seaman's surprise"...?) in the bar owned by the Token Obviously Gay Character and his transvestite barmaid. Oh, and this was back when games were hard, too; not false difficulty, but honestly, genuinely difficult.
     And then there was Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I don’t care if Ocarina of Time came with gold bars and chocolate, Majora’s Mask is the best Zelda, hands down. There is really nothing like those last few minutes of the three-day cycle, when the saddest, most epic music begins to play, and the clock in the bottom of the screen turns to a countdown. Majora’s Mask was so different to the rest of the Zelda series, and so much darker.
     Anyway, the mid-naughties were when I discovered other JRPGs than Pokemon, with Final Fantasy X (the last decent Final Fantasy game to be made), later followed by the Shin Megami Tensei series (the best of which being Digital Devil Saga, which has some really amazing character design and the most epic of soundtracks) and Phantom Brave (and eventually it’s predecessors, Disgaea and La Pucelle. See what I mean about playing games years after they’re popular?). And so that makes up the bulk of my gaming taste; RPGs and old-school platformers (…and the odd point-and-click).