Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Massed Effect

So I decided to replay the Mass Effect trilogy.

This is not, in and of itself, a major announcement. Games are meant to be replayed, afrer all,  and each game in the series has an ingame achievement for playing through at least twice.

But the Mass Effect series is a special one, to me. It's a series that took me through a gamut of emotions, that I became emotionally invested in. I believed in Jock Shepard, my original ingame incarnation, and cared for the characters that joined him on his journey. The choices I made through him still resonate strongly; some of them made me pause the game and think. Some of them made me cry.

This time I want to go through all three games with some form of critical eye. The story of Jock Shepard is done, for better or worse, so this time it's Jessica Shepard's turn.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I fought in a war

I don't want to shoot at people anymore.

There's a series of Rock, Paper, Shotgun articles I enjoy - Gaming Made Me. In my edition of GMM there would be mention of many a first-person shooter: Doom, Half-Life, GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Counter-Strike. They all played a major part in my formative gaming years, contributed to my tastes and playstyle and personality. Even now the two Borderlands games have pride of place as the only games in my Steam list to be marked as 'favourite'.

I've been a soldier in eras past, present and future; secret agent, space marine and scientist super hero; mercenary, policeman, criminal; Duke fuckin Nukem and a succession of immortals in arenas. Is it possible that I've played hundreds of shooter protagonists? Can it be true that I've clicked-to-shoot millions of bad guys/bots/monsters/innocent bystanders?

Yeah, probably.

And I just don't want too anymore.

I'm not sure if it's encroaching age and impending fuddy-duddery, and an element of paternal shame kicking in (can't let the boy see me kill so many things!), or even just being generally bored with the boring genericism of mainstream gaming; it even might be all three. I've (very briefly, admittedly) played Call of Duty and Battlefield in their recent incarnations, spent some time in Planetside 2 and had a go at various other FPS and 3PS shooters over the past few years and I just can't be having with them anymore. At least, not the ones that seem to think that realism is their raison d'etre (except when it comes to how much blood the human body contains). 

Borderlands I can play, because it's stylised. Yeah, the vast majority of the targets available are humanoid, but they're caricatures, grotesques. While I'm sure someone spent a lot of time and effort crafting the individual models and art assets within the two games, they don't look like real people. They're not avatoid versions of people I pass in the street, speak to everyday. Uncanny valley aside, the digital representations of  humanity in video games is now getting to the point where we really need to stop and ask ourselves, "Why are we shooting at these real people?"

Yes, movies have real people in them who pretend to be shot and killed. But I'm a passive spectator when I watch something like that happen on a TV or cinema screen; in a game, I'm controlling the protagonist and I'm firing the representation of a gun, and the digital bullets are "killing" a polygonal abstract that is supposed to be a human being.

Fuck that, man. I want to talk to the monsters

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Perpetuum

A few weeks ago I had a Steam chat from my old EVEcorp CEO. The conversation went like this:

Him: "There's a new MMO. It's like EVE, but with robots. I'm thinking of getting the band back together"

Me: "I'll get my coat"

And lo! Statecorp version 2 did thusly arrive within the world of Perpetuum Online, which didn't really notice, and just got on with things as normal.

It's been a funny few weeks in a world populated by robots that walk like they badly need a shit. There's a hardcore population of deeply bitter gamers who all seem to be psychologically damaged in some way but are, at the same time, incredibly nice. The population seem to be so glad that there's an influx of new players that they're falling over themselves to help us out, giving us free ingame items, and helping us out with research into the more advanced stuff. They're not shy of shooting us either, although people do tend to get told off on the killboard for harassing the new guys. It's all so very condescending.

About two weeks in, I must admit that I was pretty sure I wasn't going to play anymore. Despite the draw of being part of the State group again, there wasn't much going on ingame that made me want to log in on a daily basis. That changed not long after our great leader's first article about us on the wee website he runs appeared. Literally, within hours, the corp population blossomed from 20-30 up to 120. Admittedly most of those people who joined, including some of the Statecorp old timers, played for a few hours and left, but the explosion did make me realise that there was something to keep me logging in, a reason for playing and for devoting hours to the game.

That reason, oddly enough, was to do with the potential extant in the game, the potential to build something that would have an impact on current and future players. The potential, really, to become the Perpetuum version of EVE's Band of Brothers or Red Alliance (although we're more likely Goonswarm with better manners). Thus far we've been treated as the new kids on the block, with plenty of people putting their metaphorical arm around our shoulders after they slaughter our bots wholesale, knuckling our chins and telling us to "Keep at it, little buddy!" like an eight-year-old struggling to piss up a wall. We've started punching our own weight in group PvP, but we're still prone to underestimating our enemies just cause we're in bigger bots, or horror shows like the Terrible Termis Massacre. For all the experience that some of us have brought from EVE, which is, in many respects, the game that Perpetuum most resembles, there is still a lot of learning to do.

And I'm happy about that. Perpetuum will never capture me in the same way that EVE did, because I'm burned that particular bridge, but for the moment I'm content to help build a Statecorp that can drive the game and become a power. It'll be fun even if we lose, but I rather think it'll be even more fun if we win.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


I'm thoroughly entranced by RAGE right now. It's undeniably an id game, but it has a modern day, wide-open feel. It's a glass cage, corridors wrapped in tantalising scenery that's begging to be explored. It's all so near and yet, so horribly far away.

The level of detail in the world I've seen so far is astonishing. What would probably have been featureless, blobby structures in some games are packed with incidental details, like walkways and doors and stairs - I want to explore!

I wouldn't have believed, after the crushing disappointment that was Doom 3, that I could be excited about another id game, but RAGE has made me think again. The fact that Doom 3 was a straight up remake in shiny new tech, launched into a post-Half Life world shocked and horrified me. Why hadn't they learned the lessons Valve had taught us? Why hadn't they progressed in their design and structure, to go along with their technical prowess?

It means nothing now - I've forgiven Doom 3 for (some of) its flaws. Although the id fanboy in me, the one that used to spend school lunchtimes playing the original Doom on the library PC, is long gone, I felt a little stir of him after the first hour of RAGE. It's utterly without the pretensions of the modern open world games it resembles. There's no time for character building, or wandering the world - three minutes after waking from a 106 year crryogenic sleep, you're sent off to kill some mutants, with not so much as a "How are you feeling?", or a "Here's what you've missed...". It's really quite refreshing.

The look of the game is so vastly different from id's usual dank, dark interiors (although there are some of those). The world of RAGE is quite beautiful, with a very painterly sky, and the character models and animations are amongst the best I've seen. I'm used to the bland, stultified and samey looks of MMO characters and Elder Scrolls NPCs - I'd happily have a couple of beers with kindly looking Halek Hagar if he'd give me the drugs that make him smile like that. The worried expression on Dan Hagar's face as he tells of his fears that his settlement will be overrun is actually believable, and two old guys in Wellspring - Mick, the mechanic, and old Richard, who's wife is dying - are quite scary in their reality.

It's been a pleasant surprise, this, and although I already feel that it'll only be a good game, rather than a great one, it's all but erased the memories of Doom 3's failings.

RAGE on.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In space, no-one can hear you being a c**t

Having completed the first two Mass Effect games, I can admit to being satisfied with the story so far. It's all a tad serious - there can never be enough camp in space operas - but well intentioned and I look forward to seeing the series close out next year.

My first Shepherd (male) was intended to be a downright space arsehole, and I deliberately chose the Renegade option whenever it was available. I didn't realise, at first, that playing good or bad didn't really alter things to much, apart from shop bonii and new dialogue options. It seemed to be just a matter of personal choice whether you played hero or arsehole.

In space, no one can hear you being a cunt, and no one really cares.

I'm not aware that being renegade Shepherd particularly changed the way the plot unfolded for me, and I was actually surprised when my Mass Effect 2 character import informed me that I had actually chosen the Paragon path by choosing to save the council at the denouement of the first game (although since I'm now playing for a second time with a decidedly angelic female Shepherd, we'll see what happens). I know that my conversation choices more commonly shifted to the less controversial as the storyline progressed, but I'm not sure if that's to do with my own personality, or if my Shepherd actually relaxed as time went on. I'd wanted him to be uptight and offensive to begin with, choosing a cruel visage when creating him, but he definitely mellowed. That said, it felt particularly out of character for me when he greet Garrus with open arms and a shit eating grin in ME2.

While male Shepherd was a ruthless spacer, the kind of guy who does what needs to be done and makes the sacrifices others can't handle to achieve the objective - none of the Normandy crew made it out of the Collector base alive, although only one of the squad died - female Shepherd is to be a career soldier, saved from the wreck of her colony and raised in the service. No nonsense, straight as a die and with little imagination; we'll see how long she lasts.