22 Oct 2010

Prof. Richard Bartle's GDC Online 2010 Talk

Richard Bartle is widely credited (along with Roy Trubshaw) with the creation of the worlds first virtual world, and his insights into current MMORPG developments are widely respected and derided in equal measure it would seem.

In this talk which was given at GDC Online 2010 last month, Prof. Bartle relates the thought processes that he thinks have been neglected in the development of todays MMORPGs and how he and Trubshaw made MUD.

A very enlightening talk about how MMO developers can recapture the immersion and expression which he found that he had created in MUD.

M out

18 Oct 2010

25 Years Ago Today...

...A little known company, famous only in the their home country for making playing cards, released a little white box of electronics which plugged into a television.

That company has been a world leader in videogame technology ever since. Releasing 5 home consoles and dominating the portable gaming market for decades, they have led the way in innovation and ingenuity (sometimes succeeding, sometimes not) and brought us some of the most memorable moments  and characters in gaming's short history.

That company is Nintendo, and 25 years ago today they release their Nintendo Entertainment System (called the Famicom in Japan) and changed the world forever.

Happy birthday NES.

M out

17 Oct 2010

The Magic Number

I'm going to take inspiration from RPS for this weekly event, but with a twist, I will be scouring the internets in the intervening 7 days for articles that catch my eye. I will then bring you three of them that share a connection and list them in this post, whilst discussing their contents. Lets us begin.

13 Oct 2010

Its strange isn't it?

How we become dependent on our technology?

There are people who, like some kind of neo-luddites, disconnect themselves from anything technological in order to 'get back to nature', or 'slow down'. While I have a kind of grudging respect for them, I don't see the point.

In the last 50 years human ingenuity has come up with hundreds of gadgets and technological marvels which have the potential to make us more productive, more creative and less parochial than those who live a mere 2 generations before us.

We have devices that allow us to communicate with people on the other side of the world, and they fit in our pockets. We are connected to each other's knowledge in so many ways that we really have no further excuse for ignorance and prejudice.

As those who follow my twitter or Facebook are aware (two more technologies that are having a huge impact on our societies) I am without my own computer for the first time in almost a decade. I am currently writing this on my wife's laptop, which I only have access to while she's not using it. It has none of my collected thoughts on it, none of the little apps that I have installed and forgotten about but that I really notice the lack of. It also has none of my games and is incapable of running any but those released a good 5 years ago.

Seriously, its like having a piece of my brain removed. I use my PC as a repository of random thoughts, doodles, and other miscellany. Its as if certain key parts of my memory have been excised, parts that may well be incidental but which nevertheless play a large part in making me who I am. Its disorienting, debilitating and the only cure is to throw money which I don't have into buying new parts.

I had thought that a new power supply would be the answer to my problems, but the power supply arrived and it turned out to be the motherboard. The new motherboard I have (which I bought in relative ignorance of new memory standards and CPU compatibility) is not going to take the memory that I already have. Its turned into an epic clusterfuck and I'm getting frustrated with the whole enterprise.

I should consider myself lucky I suppose, that I have access to other computers which I can use to get may daily dose of connectedness, but its not my computer. The whole endeavour has highlighted to me how dependent I have become on technology, how enmeshed my life has become with a network of devices. How much of a cyborg I really am. We truly are living in the future.

M out

11 Oct 2010

Razer giving away 1337 goodies

To commemorate getting a whole bunch of friends on Facebook Razer, makers of gaming peripherals are giving away a huge stash of loot.

This stash includes:

Razer also have 1337 unspecified prizes to give out to those who sign up.

So click here to sign up now, and go like their Facebook page.

I have to say that whenever I've encountered Razer products I've always been impressed with the funtionality and build quality. I've had my Diamondback for a good long while and have not had any issues with it.

M out.

In the interests of full disclosure, if you sign up using the links above it increases my own chances of winning. That being said I wouldn't be promoting the contest if I didn't think the prize was worth it. May the best man win ;)

9 Oct 2010

Do Ya Like Big Robots?

Just a quick post to point you in the direction of http://big-robot.com. An indie games developer comprising Jim Rossingol ( games journalist and writer of RPS and PC Gamer fame, he also wrote quite a good book which I have yet to read), James Carey (who you may remember from projects such as RPS's Shotgunity project, but who otherwise doesn't seem to exist on the internet) and some other guy. Oh okay its Tom Betts, who apparently is a master of the arcane art of coding things.

According to the latest post, they are currently working on two projects, which is quite ambitious for a small, and relatively new indie dev. The first looks to be a sort of indie Sim City, though I sincerely hope its more than that, and the second is a more experimental affair through which big-robot will be playing with the Unity engine and figuring various stuff out.

I'll be keeping a weather eye on their progress and will gladly help out with playtesting (hint hint) anything they throw my way.

Its going to be interesting to see what a games writer comes up with in terms of games, one would hope that Jim's wide experience of the medium and outsiders eye will not be afraid to head off into waters unknown. We'll have to wait and see I suppose.

Good luck guys.

M out

8 Oct 2010

The Future of Videogames - Part 2 - Between Man and the Machine

Between you and your game lies the realm of the interface. Advances in technology are beginning to open up new ways for the player to interact with the game. In this part of my 'Future of Videogames' series (part one of which can be found here) I will look at some of these emerging technologies and imagine where they may take us.

7 Oct 2010

Are we living in Gibson's Future?

"20 years ago, it was another world. Now, its our world. Its where the banks keep your money" - William Gibson, Today Program, BBC Radio 4, Oct. 5 2010
In 1984, a book came out which now seems eerily prescient. It predicted a world enmeshed in a network of computers. Everything was connected, from toasters to telephones. Business was done over this network, battles were fought and crimes were committed. In the two and a half decades since its publication, the world has become the one represented in it, or has it?

Rock Band 3 - Finally a Music Game For Real Musicians?

There was one thing which cause real guitarists and musicians to look down upon the peripheral based Guitar Hero and Rock Band games. They were just pretend. Whether this disdain came from resentment of the fact that any amount of skill with a real guitar could put you at a severe disadvantage when playing the games (a friend of mine who is a very good guitarist was rubbish at guitar hero) or simply a kind of artists snobbishness (an activity that made non-musicians feel talented for a lot less time and practice than 'proper' musicians) is up for debate. The simple fact is that the first generation of these games were just that, games.

6 Oct 2010

Tobold Scaling it Back

Tobold is notorious among gaming bloggers. Admired and derided in equal measure by those who read him.

I was sad to read today that he's scaling back his blogging activities. I have a great deal of respect for him as a blogger and while I don't always agree with his views (he doesn't like EVE and doesn't understand how people can find it fun) He generally has some interesting things to say about MMOs and his vision of the perfect one.

The latest series of posts from him and Nils regarding what makes a game 'good' , is exactly the kind of discussion that needs to be had, if only to dispel the notion that sales = quality and that there can be any kind of subjective measure of a game's 'goodness'.

He cites the reason for this down-shift in his blogging is that its all become so predictable. He gets the same commenters, making the same comments, on almost every post. To the point where he could write those comments themselves and properly attribute them to the right commenters. I would contend that by blogging about MMOs from the perspective of a WoW player he has left himself open to the e-peen waving of the gearscore whores, as that is basically what that game has become.

Games, especially virtual worlds, are about getting the players to tell themselves and each other engaging stories. If the only story you have to tell is that you've beaten an instance for the umpteenth time and only have to do it x more times to get this bit of awesome gear and then your score will be y. Yeah, its going to get boring.

He says in his post that he's going to play more and write less, well I would give him this piece of advice:
Play more, and play widely. Play everything that comes your way and go looking for anything that doesn't. Build a picture of the wider gaming landscape and get as many different perspectives of what a game could be as possible. Then maybe you'll have something that you feel is worth writing about."
I'll still be following his blogging, its a shame there won't be as much of it as before though.

M out

4 Oct 2010

My Gaming Life

I thought it was about time I laid out my life in games for you, so you can get an idea of my experience of games and gaming and what I feel qualifies me  as a credible source of gaming opinion and information.

My first experience of a video game, that I can remember is playing the Star Wars arcade game in the early '80s. Flying down that wireframe trench was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my then short life. Not long afterwards I received an Amstrad CPC 464 for Christmas and I've never looked back since. 

I've always been a PC gamer at heart, from the days of my old 464 until the point at which my dad got an IBM 386 in the early '90s, my contact with consoles was limited to those of my school friends. While I loved the simple 'plug-n-play' aspect of the NES and Sega Master Systems, my first port of call for playing games has always been something with a keyboard (and eventually a mouse too). I bought my first console when the Sega Master System II was released and hardly played it, preferring to fiddle about with the Autoexec.bat of my dad's PC trying to get the latest demo to run from the coverdisc of magazines like PC Review and PC World.

When I moved to university I took an underpowered and monochrome laptop with me which was no use for playing games so I finally gave in and bought a PSX. Those were the heydays of Tekken and Metal Gear Solid and I shared many an enjoyable evening with my uni flatmates learning special moves and sneaking my way around government facilities. But, one of them had a PC and I took every opportunity I could to grab some time on it.

We had no internet at this point and only one PC so network play was nigh on impossible but many games of Worms were played and turn about was taken when playing games like Z and Quake. It wasn't until I left uni (having dropped out of a Chemical Engineering course, I realise now that I should have taken the Comp. Sci. place I had been offered) and returned to my parents house that I discovered the joy of an always on connection. 

I've been pretty much permanently online for the last decade (apart form a few breaks here and there) and have watched gaming grow from something that is done alone in a study or bedroom, into  something that can be done anywhere on almost any hardware. 

In 2002 I landed a job that was, at the time, my dream job. Sales Assistant at GAME on my local high street. Yes I know its a menial and thankless job for little pay, but I was working with computer games. During my time at GAME I also started my first blog (long lost to the mists of the internet now) and wrote about whatever was in my head. In 2003 I discovered MMOs, and starting with Earth and Beyond (now defunct) made my first forays into a wider world (or worlds). I left Earth and Beyond not long before it was shut down, because I had found another sci-fi MMO to take its place; EVE Online.

During the six and a half years I've been playing EVE I have also been playing other games. I am not one of the many EVE players that restricts themselves to EVE and nothing else. I have owned (and still own) another 2 consoles in the shape of an Xbox and its offspring the 360. I may also own a PS3 at some point in the future, but that will be under duress and against my better judgement. I have played a variety of MMO games including (but not limited to) Planetside, Star Wars Galaxies, WoW, Aion, Guild Wars, Entropia Universe, Second Life, Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, LoTRO, Everquest II, Free Realms,  and City of Heroes. I've always had EVE going in the background though and it will be my first love.

In no way do I restrict myself to MMOs however. I try and keep abreast of the latest PC and console titles but gaming is an expensive hobby so I haven't managed to play everything that I've wanted to. The world of gaming is wide and varied, and there are so many games that no-one person can hope to play them all, and some of them you probably wouldn't want to anyway.

So here I sit, today, at my computer typing away and posting my thoughts on gaming for the world to read. I'm doing the two things that I enjoy the most; playing videogames and writing. I think about games a lot, I play games alot, and I hope to write about my thinking and playing on these pages in a way that is engaging, entertaining and informative. I'll concede that the majority of my audience are going to be gamers, but hopefully I'll be able to write so that non-gamers can gain some insight and understanding of the medium, as a counter to the misinformation often published by more mainstream media sources.

So stick around, leave the odd comment, and lets play.

M out

3 Oct 2010

Gamers Vs Ebert - A Fight No-one Can Win

It would seem the controversy surrounding Roger Ebert's assertion (which he sort of retracted) that videogames could not be art is still running. In the post, Mr. Ebert posts clip which a gamer, calling himself nofec, has cited as blowing movies out of the water and Mr Ebert responds with a clip of his own. I'll reproduce them here.

nofec's clip which features Okami on the PS2

Mr.Ebert's clip from Myazaki's anime My Neighbour Tortorro

As is my usual style, I went to write a short comment berating them both for continuing this ultimately pointless debate and it turned into an epic ramble. So, instead of hijacking Mr. Ebert's comments thread I'm going to post my response here instead and merely link to it in the comments of that post. So below find the comment I was going to make in full.

Mr Ebert and nofec,

Games are art, movies are art they're just different kinds of art.

There are things that movies can do that games can't, but equally there are things games can do that movies can't. Same with sculpture and literature and music, and drama etc. etc.

And nofec, thats no way to make an argument winning point. You start from the premise that the worth of the clip you link to will be self-evident to everyone (and without the context of interaction that is the heart of every game its pretty meaningless anyway.) This is a common mistake when arguing a point like this. The whole point about art is that what it is and isn't is entirely subjective. Nothing is ever self-evident, you're going to have to be more convincing with your argument. The same, however, could be said of Mr Ebert's clip. Must try harder, see me after class :P

Whatever artistic value each clip has is ultimately given to them by those that experience them (and I'm including the experience of making the art in the first place.) So saying "look at this isn't it awesome?" may be a great way to share your perception of an artwork (whatever form that work may take) but you shouldn't be surprised if every so often the reply comes back: "Meh, its OK I suppose but it does nothing for me."

I can see the art in both your clip and Mr Eberts (amazing film btw, my 4 yr old loves Miyazaki-san's work, as do I. And Okami is one of the few mainstream game titles that really does deserve to be called art, along with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) but thats not going to help anyone, I can also discern the differences between the two mediums and why some people might not get either one.

From a critical standpoint you cannot say that one is better than the other, simply because they are so different. Its like saying that the sound of a violin tastes better than cerise. It just doesn't make any sense. So why don't you simply agree to disagree and admit to each other that there is value in both viewpoints? Continuing the debate is a pointless exercise as it is obvious that neither side is going to be convinced by the other. Let's just let it go eh?

There is also the risk that if either side wins (Games are never art and never will be art/Games are superior to film and always will be) the sum of human culture will be lessened by that victory? In my opinion the more different viewpoints there are of art and what it is (and there are approximately 6 billion and counting at the moment) the richer and more diverse our culture  becomes. This is something to be treasured, to deny that is to make us out to be less than what we are.

It is not the place of games to blow movies out of the water, and neither is the reverse true. You both may perceive that they accomplish this (from your contrasting viewpoints of course) but it is not the purpose of either medium. Their purpose is simply to be, and add to the great melting pot that is our culture, teaching each of us about ourselves and the rest of humanity in their own ways and in ways that each of us will perceive differently.

M out