Archive for the ‘THE NEWS’ category

Can’t Buy Me Love

November 10, 2010

CoD: Black Ops is the entertainment event of the year, y’all! Hundreds of millions of dollars are almost guaranteed to be spent on shooting foreigners in the face by all and sundry this christmas season. Game retailers are saying prayers of thanks to their greedy materialist gods.

To demonstrate how culturally important it was, Black Ops had a glamorous launch event at Battersea Power Station. The chap off Big Brother’s Little Brother was there and everything. So was (and this is a blast from the Jurassic Age) Sophie Ellis-Bextor* and also some chap from boyband Blue. Excellent. Games have made it, brothers and sisters. We’re in. We’re recognised. Testify! CODMODWAR2 made, according to the Guardian, $1bn worldwide, and that’s the kind of money that makes even James Cameron raise a jewel-encrusted eyelid. The fact that the Guardian wrote up the piece which I am plagiarising so gloriously here is evidence – games make money, and now people care.

The numbers bear examination, though (by someone other than me, ideally, but I’m the one with the keyboard and the chip on my shoulder). $1bn is a lot of cash. Avatar itself made twice that, admittedly, but most films don’t come close. Games are making someone an awful lot of money, and that has been equated to Going Mainstream – market penetration is what I mean here (I think). But money doesn’t necessarily equal acceptance. $1bn is the sort of money to make someone pull up short, twang their red braces and suck air in through their teeth, but making a lot of money isn’t the same as playing to a large audience. Avatar made twice as much money as CODMODWAR, and it did this at around $10 a pop. COD was selling at around $60, I believe. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to guess, then, that Avatar attracted an audience roughly ten times as large as COD. We’re not in. We just feel like we are.

We’re going the wrong way. Games have lept from ghetto pastime to money spinning Super Big Business without anything in between. Games are celebrating, and being celebrated for, profit. The industry’s ambitions rarely go further than baths full of money, and in doing that, by focusing on the genres and franchises that fill the baths the quickest, we are boiling away and reducing much of the artistry and experimentation that games grew up with. Activision wants to produce at least one title from each of it’s main franchises each year. SEGA have put the brakes on new games and new ideas, instead concentrating on sequels to their proven IP – so more Sonic, Football Manager and Total War, less originality. The publishers have found an audience happy to pay again and again for a certain type of game, and so the game keeps coming. The audience isn’t expanding, and rather than growing, maturing and broadening as it ages, gaming is narrowing, and becoming One Thing Only.

This is bad news for us, EDRites. Imagine a world in which the only games produced and sold are sequels, the same game tweaked just enough to justify the next £40, but not enough to actually be any different. Endless stultifying repetition. Sequel after sequel after remake after cover version. This launch event is, in some ways, a sign of that. It is a sign of the gaming world’s long-standing desire to be cinema, but a cinema without the arthouses. A cinema populated entirely by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal films.

Money is fine, and money is important. But it can’t be everything.

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*Gilbo’s dad likes her.

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What I Did On My Holidays

October 5, 2010

As you might have noticed, it’s been a bit quiet around here. Month after month has gone by with nothing of any kind from the ElectricDeathRay Internet Word Emporium. Dead calm. It’s been sort of spooky actually. Day after day of that charming young lady below, staring out hopelessly into the world wide web, with only the gentlemen Googling for Jeanette Voerman pictures* for company. Poor girl. What a tough time she’s had. Somebody should stump up the cash and play Borderlands with her to make it all better.

Anyway, what with one thing and another, we’ve been gone a long time. While we were away, sunning ourselves in the exotic fabled lands of Work**, the world of games got up to all sorts of tomfoolery. This included, but was not limited to;

  1. All Points Bulletin (not-quite-GTA-online) was released.
  2. All Points Bulletin (not-quite-GTA-online) collapsed in shame and failure.
  3. PSMove (or whatever it is they’re calling it now) was announced and demonstrated. Terribly exciting. Imagine if they’d thought of it five years ago! It would have revolutionised gaming!
  4. Microsoft properly demonstrated Kinect, nee. Natal. No more playing with virtual children / dogs. Now you get to… Actually, I am genuinely not sure what Kinect is for.
  5. 3DS! This was announced as well. It’s like a world inside your DS. If your DS was brand new and cost five thousand pounds. And only worked from one angle. And probably gave you headaches (hypothetical – please don’t sue me, Nintendo).
  6. Exciting new flavours of CODMODWAR were announced. Some of them had fancy names, like Medal of Honour or Bad Company.
  7. F1 2010! Fast cars that sound like lawnmowers started appearing in adverts on websites. Later, people got angry when the AI cheated shamelessly. Except the AI didn’t really. Except it sort of did.
  8. Randy Pitchford whisked Duke Nukem Forever away from right under George Broussard’s bankrupt nose, and made it into a real game. He then ruined all the jokes by showing them to howling American journos over and over. Sigh.

Phew. Big list. Some of that stuff would clearly benefit from the precise and unforgiving word-laser fired by the ElectricDeathRay. After a few more hours with F12010 (which would make a much better name for a telly programme about aliens and explosions in space) I may even have some thoughts to force upon you all.

I haven’t said a word about what I did on my holidays. What a tease I am. Well, I played Outrun a great deal. And Alpha Protocol – rest assured, you’ll be hearing about that at some point. And that thing on the Xbox where you chop people up with a chainsword and then shoot them in the face. Main problem with the last two?  Not enough drifting. Or dodging meteors. Or being dumped by your girlfriend for not ramming enough civilians off the road.

Stay frosty, y’all. I’ll be back.

Probably.

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*All true. I checked the stats. All our hits in the last month or so have been forwarded by the Google search “Jeanette Voerman”. Try it. We’re surprisingly high on the list of places to look at hot Vampire chicks from videogames. Or, you know. Don’t try it.

**Bloody Thomas Cook diddled me on this one. L’Hotel Salaire-Esclavage Sans Signification is a lot less welcoming than you might imagine.

Pay 2 Play

March 24, 2010

Erk.

GOOD NEWS, GAMERS!

At last, those considerate people of the internet have come up with a way that social outcasts like you and me can encounter the Females.  Here is a tantalising nugget from the press release

“On GameCrush, players can find their perfect PlayDate through browsing their profiles and chatting live with them. Players can then purchase a live one-on-one private gaming session, complete with two-way video and text chat.”

Oh my.

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Trouble at the Top: Infinity Ward Layoffs

March 2, 2010

Interesting times over at Infinity Ward, eh?

For those of you not glued desperately to an intronet all day long, let me fill you in.  Two of the top hombres at IW, president Jason West and studio boss Vince Zampella (short for Vincent I assume, but as a responsible paraphraser, I take no chances) have been shown the door by Activision generalissimo and all-purpose bogeyman Bobby Kotick, apparently for “insubordination”. Better and more reputable version of the story from our Go-To Guys here.

Strange how Actvision have usurped EA as the big bad wolf of the games industry. A few years back, EA were terrible monsters relentlessly forcing gamers to buy copy after copy of FIFA (it’s a football game, apparently). Now though, EA find themselves the plucky underdog boldly championing poor mistreated proles like me and you, while Activision’s Dark Lord terrorises various news sources with words like “monetize” and phrases about the annual exploitation of intellectual property.* What’s more, ask me about CODMODWAR2’s developers twenty four hours ago and I’d have nothing but venom for them. Turns out we’re now on the same side. Isn’t life funny, eh?

So what does this mean for CODMODWAR? Treyarch take the reins, I assume, and make something even less inspiring than their predecessors. Which, in all honesty, will make very little difference. Gamers will probably buy the next in the series irrespective of developer, as brand recognition is a powerful thing. Did the change of developer do any harm for the Guitar Hero franchise? Did it bums. That’s assuming the developer changes – this is all happening at the top, after all (although fearsome muscle was deployed to the IW offices today to keep those dangerous developers in line, so who knows what’s going on over there).

Whatever happens, casually discarding a pair of gentlemen who played a major role in gift wrapping a vast fortune in greasy cash seems a peculiar decision. Maybe Activision feel confident that the brand is strong enough to sell hugely no matter what – Kotick has been refreshingly up front about not caring about the quality of the games his company produces. It must be a worrying time to be a games designer.

Interesting story, and bound to get interesting-er as time wanders on.

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*Whenever you hear the words “intellectual property”, you know you are in dark and treacherous waters. Who uses those words? Money men, that’s who. As human beings who confine their vicious heartless pillaging and slaughtering to virtual worlds, we quite rightly wish humiliating medical conditions upon these vile creatures.

Cinemania

March 1, 2010

Sam gets down "to business"

Increasingly, games – particularly first-person-shooters – are guilty of using two words: Realistic and Cinematic. They’re kinda paradoxical in many ways, but used often nevertheless. Case in point: Far Cry 2, a great, albeit flawed shooter that trades on both its cinematic values and realistic combat. Of course, it fails somewhat at both, being neither cinematic nor realistic. But it trades on them all the same. Picking holes in realism is pretty easy. How can a game, for example, possibly be ‘realistic’ if it asks you to fix every single engine ever made with a short twist of a magically appearing screw driver? Only a mini-game would be less stupid. Cinematic meanwhile, is less easy to fault.

The obvious contender is – as always – Call of Duty, a game that actually requires fairly little input to look impressive. Take away the mighty graphics and the noise, you’ve got a game of very little brain. This must be ‘cinematic’. It’s big, dumb and (mostly) fun, but what started with scripted sequences in games like Half Life and Gunman more than ten years ago has been stretched and stretched until you’re left with games that have six hours of gameplay and two hours of ‘cinematic’ mission briefings. Like blockbuster action movies, these games confuse cinematic intentions with real depth, but while ‘real depth’ in a movie means character, narrative, script and so on, in a game it means gameplay.

Rather nicely, this brings me on to Serious Sam HD (HD means High Definition, fact fans), which has recently been re-released both on PC and via the Xbox Live Arcade. It is splendid, and it’s splendid because it reminds of everything that used to be good about first person shooters. SSHD doesn’t claim to be ‘cinematic’ or ‘realistic’, it is a game, and it makes no bones about it. Whereas Half Life says, “How can we make this bridge explode realistically”, Serious Sam laughs and blows it up by throwing angry exploding skeleton horses at it. When Bioshock asks, “What separates a man from a slave”, Serious Sam guffaws and fights hordes of men with exploding hands. Yes, there’s a theme here, and the theme is blowing shit up.

It’s twitch gaming at its utter best – a form of gaming that died out with Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament – and it doesn’t care. The irony is that had this been released at the turn of the last decade, it would have been panned as stupid and backwards, but now that all we ever get is ‘cinematic’ and sodding ‘realism”, it’s like breathing pure oxygen. Just don’t have too much, right?

New (Old) Games!

January 28, 2010

I am unwilling to sever the delicious tension you must all be feeling as you await Comrade Gilbo’s upcoming King of Games, but I simply must. NEWS WON’T WAIT. Look who’s back!

Well, sorta. Good Old Games (that’s GOG.com to you and me) have reached an acquisitive hand into antiquity, and returned grasping a deal with Activision, predatory ne’er do wells of the moment. But what this means, excitingly, is that old Sierra games are now being made available for download on their website. Other Activision (and, since the merger, Blizzard) games should follow as well. Now admittedly they’ve only got flawed isometric RPG Arcanum and flawed point ‘n’ click-er Gabriel Knight up so far, but consider the possibilities! Leisure Suit Larry. Space Quest. King’s Quest. WarCraft. Diablo. This is encouraging stuff.

So get yourselves over to GOG for some Gabriel Knight. Despite its flaws, it has a place in people’s hearts and is an important part of our long neglected heritage. When you’re done, check back, as I’ll be slinging up some half-baked thoughts about gaming’s recent rediscovery of it’s origins.

Have fun, you kids.

The Quiet Man Speaks Out

January 25, 2010

Iain Duncan Smith adding immeasurably to the debate.

Oh dear.

The Quiet Man, Iain Duncan Smith, has decided that when it comes to videogames and their place in society, his is a voice that simply must be heard. IDS has long been something of a giant on the gaming scene, having designed six highly regarded deathmatch levels for Quake 3 some years ago (Br0k3nS0c13ty_DM2 is still considered something of a classic by the diehards) and written some extremely influential pieces for most of the higher profile gaming publications. His address last year to the Games Developer’s Choice Award was very thought provoking and had a huge impact on some of last year’s indie hits. His reasoned, well-thought-out statements on videogames and their influence add a welcome voice to the debate, and can’t fail to increase understanding of games and gamers in the British public.

Oh hang on. No, it appears I’ve gone and got my facts mixed up. I’m terribly sorry. It appears that actually Mr Duncan Smith is just indulging in some alarmist mouthing off to appeal to middle aged voters with a poor understanding of games culture, and has (and I feel fairly confident in saying this) never played a videogame in his life.*

Silly me.

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