Survival of the fittest

With the most inconvenient timing imaginable, during the longest period of bright sunshine to have graced the UK, my desire for gaming horror has once again risen to the fore. So, naturally, I dug out my copy of Resident Evil, made it as dark as possible (not very as it turned out) and plunged once more into the mission that turned into a nightmare; to be reminded once more of what an amazing example of survival horror that it truly is. The fixed position camera angles create an extremely restrictive view point which only serves to ratchet up the tension; never truly allowing you to see around corners or across full rooms or corridors. This is incredibly effective as a fear inducing tool as often you can hear enemies before you see them, but can never be quite sure how close they are to you or exactly where they are without taking the plunge and moving forward into the unknown. The audio team for this game did a superb job, perfectly weaving a net of strange sounds, suspicious noises, zombie shuffling and flashes of spine tingling music as you explore your way through the mansion. Visually, the game still looks good today. With detailed rooms and excellent enemy animation, the game looks real enough to create scares. The most successful thing this game does however, is that it really manages to evoke the emotions of a true survival horror. You truly do feel alone and isolated and completely defenceless as you explore ever deeper into the mansion’s secrets. With little health and ammunition, and flight being the only real option for survival, the game really does emphasise survival over action. If you have not played this game I urge you to do so; turn off the lights and crank up the volume and enjoy. I realised however, that for me the scares have been dulled somewhat by over familiarity, so I decided to explore a genre that I have always somewhat neglected. Rather than reach for Resident Evil 5 or 6, which have lost all feeling of survival horror and have moved fully into the action/combat genre, I promptly bought Silent Hill 2 and 3 and I’m eagerly waiting for them to arrive. I have also discovered some classic horror games which look like absolute gems despite their age. Indeed, the lack of graphic power does seem to have forced the designers of some of these games to use real ingenuity and creativity to create an atmosphere of terror. Below is a link to a video which contains many of the horror games that I think look like excellent examples of the survival horror genre. I hope the video inspires you as much as it has inspired me, also please feel free to let me know of any games that may have been missed of the list.



Shiny Blastoise

Yesterday I came down my stairs to find a package waiting for me on the mat next to the door. Excitedly I opened it, already knowing it would be the shiny Venomoth Pokémon card that I had ordered for my collection. As I slotted the card into the folder containing my very nearly complete collection of the 151 original wizard of the coast Pokémon cards, (including a very lovely shiny Blastoise), several thoughts struck me at once. Firstly, at what age does Pokémon card collecting become no longer acceptable? (Then again, some people collect stamps, and Pokémon cards aren’t that different to stamps right? At least Pokémon are more interesting.) Secondly, I began to question why Pokémon is still able to captivate a man in his early twenties. Nostalgia? Partly. Mostly, however, it is because the Pokémon games are some of the finest hand-held RPG’s in existence rivalled only, in my opinion, by the original two Golden Sun games.  Since the release of Red and Blue in Europe in the mid-nineties, Nintendo have had the formula spot on. The game is a perfect blend of clever battle mechanics, exploration, NPC interaction, questing and an outstanding soundtrack loved by millions. This is a feat which has been attempted by other hand-held RPG’s but has rarely been achieved. What makes the Pokémon games stand head and shoulders above the rest, however, is the capturing and collecting aspect of the games alongside the nurturing, and raising, of your Pokémon and watching them evolve. No other game I have played has managed to make collecting and levelling up anywhere near as fun and immersing as the Pokémon series. So, despite some of the questionable Pokémon designs of the last generation, I am hugely looking forward to seeing what Nintendo will do with X and Y on the 3DS. The addition of a new type and the opportunity of seeing all your favorite Pokémon in gorgeous 3D visuals will hopefully make X and Y a wonderful installment in the series. In the meantime, I can always hope to lay my hands on a shiny Charizard for my collection as I unashamedly indulge my collectors urge. 



Gaming Escapism?

While discussing the relative merits of Skyrim a few days ago, a friend said something to me that got me thinking about the way that some people view games and gamers. To boil it down to just a few sentences his argument was that in order for a game to be judged good or worthwhile it needs to break ground as a game, offer something new; but also should strive to be a work of art, and in a sense should better the person playing it. My response was that, given the nature of games being a mode of entertainment, shouldn’t the measure of a game’s success merely be judged on whether it is enjoyable to play? Games can be works of art, but they don’t have to be to be good games. Obviously, games breaking into new ground can be wonderful, but then a hugely enjoyable game built using familiar stories or scenarios are not therefore automatically bad games if they are done well. RPG’s are a great example. It could be said that most RPG’s are pretty similar; wandering around doing tasks to level up and make a few numbers go up. But this misses the point entirely. What makes many RPG’s great is just how fun and engrossing they are (whether down to fun combat, exploring etc) despite the fact that the overall formula is highly familiar. As for betterment I felt that this is missing the point of gaming somewhat. The argument was then made that if all it took for a game to be judged ‘good’ is whether it is enjoyable or not, then there is merely a sense of escapism about gaming. To a certain extent this may be true, but I prefer to think of it in more positive terms. Rather than escapism, games can be just a way to relax, a mode of enjoyment which does not need the sense of betterment that is so often pressed upon us in other areas of our lives, such as to look good or to strive for success at work or through academia. Games, like films, offer us the chance to experience and live out scenarios that just are not possible in the real word; such as lands riddled with small monsters that you can catch and raise; or entire worlds that you can explore and are full of elves and goblins magic and so on. Games are often something of a guilty pleasure for me, something that is done in time which I know should usually be spent writing my dissertation or picking up extra shifts at work. If this is to be a guilty pleasure then the most important thing I want from my game is a sense of enjoyment and gripping excitement. If the other values mentioned above are also present, then this is a bonus.


Top Ten Annoying Multiplayer Moments

Ok, so here is a great video explaining the only slight downside to multiplayer gaming, courtesy of FlamesOnFire1212. Many of these moments have happened to me on numerous occasions; some of them have been perpetrated by me. (I have to admit to being a Pikachu user on Smash Brothers. However, I do not usually spam lightning.) Please comment and let me know some of your most annoying multiplayer moments.




Multiplayer Madness

So, with the next gen consoles well and truly around the corner it would seem that the central theme running through all three consoles (apart from the strange fixation with watching netflix) is the idea of greater connectivity with the online world, and more specifically, with online gamers across the globe. Online gaming has been well and truly established for some time now, but these new consoles will take online gaming to the next level by making it even easier to connect with those across the world. This has caused some a certain degree of inner conflict to my morning. On the one hand it seems great that we can now reach out and play with millions of other gamers. However, it saddens me to think that the emphasis on 4 player multiplayer games on a 4 player console has slipped somewhat. The current and previous efforts from Sony and Microsoft, with their 2 control ports each, have demonstrated that 4 player gaming has not been high on their list of priorities. However, even the WiiU seems to be moving away from being four players together to play multiplayer games (I can’t imagine many willing to fork out the money necessary for four WiiU pads to get the most of the console). This is a shame because when it comes to multiplayer experiences Nintendo are the undisputed masters of the game. From childhood to the present day there have been many hours burnt up with three of my friends playing four-player Goldeneye, Super Smash Brothers and, of course, Mariokart. Online gaming just doesn’t seem capable of recreating or equalling the frenzied atmosphere of four-player gaming on the same console. It lacks the shouts of triumph as Ness soars off the screen for a KO, the screams of frustration of being shot in the head, again, by the Farsight rifle on Perfect Dark and, best of all, the cry of ‘Have a blue shell of doom to the face!’ as you zoom past your opponent on the finishing line past an enormous blue mushroom cloud. Even lesser known titles such as WarioWare and Crystal Chronicles really did offer up a whole world of excellent multiplayer gaming. I’m sure that there will be some great multiplayer titles over the horizon, indeed the next instalment of Smash Brothers is in the pipeline, but it seems that the focus of multiplayer gaming does seem to be shifting to the online realm. I guess I’m just hoping that new generations of gamers have the wealth of quality multiplayer titles that I enjoyed and still do enjoy to this day. Please comment and let me know the games of choice for your multiplayer gaming sessions.



Gaming Addiction

Video game addiction: how I’ve missed you. Since the age of seven I spent most of my time hurrying back from school or other such tedious chores to continue another adventure in whatever gaming fix I had at the time. My first gaming experience was Goldeneye on the N64 (a game which lives up to the fame and fondness in people’s memories) and after that my love of games was kindled. So, the majority of my childhood/teen years were probably what most people would see as a textbook case of misspent youth and hardly what most people would describe as productive This may or may not be true but the fact remains that there is a certain pleasure to immersing yourself in a gaming experience; defeating the villain, completing the quest, catching them all. Iconic moments experienced by a whole generation immediately come to mind; stopping the moon from crushing clock town, Joanna Dark’s showdown with the Skedar leader, sneaking through Goldeneye’s Facility, Link opening the doors of time and, of course, choosing between 3 Pokemon in Professor Oak’s lab. However, in the last few years something unexpected happened. Gaming fell by the wayside, lack of time and money contributed to a lack of enthusiasm for the next gen consoles. No longer was I taking the role of a plumber or a bear with a bird in its backpack. I was worried that I had lost forever the total immersion and enthusiasm for games that I once had in such abundance. Happily in recent days three games have come along to rekindle my gaming passion: Pokemon Heart Gold (by no means a new game but one which I somehow missed first time around), Elder Scrolls and Dark Souls. The quality of these three games is outstanding; RPG’s at their finest. The world created in the Elder Scrolls universe is so detailed and compelling that you find yourself completing menial tasks which, in the real world, would be ridiculous but in the context of the game are hugely enjoyable (usually fetching or finding for reasonably ungrateful people). Dark Souls manages to be outstanding in a completely different way; the combat is streamlined and sublime, the world is beautiful and fascinating and the difficulty level is genuinely tough. The first defeated boss really does create a feeling of utter triumph and skill. Similarly, defeating the Elite Four with a band of Pokemon which you have raised from New Bark Town all across Johto to Indigo Plateau is no less compelling after nearly 20 years of Pokemon. Now that my love of games has been re-ignited, suggestions for new games would be appreciated.