Definitive Proof: Games As Art.

•October 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

There comes a point where you outgrow posters on your bedroom wall. It might be that they don’t appeal visually any more. It could be that a significant other thinks they’re childish. Maybe you bought a house, and the idea of sticking Blu-tack to the wall until it hardens and strips off paint and plaster when you try to remove it later makes you feel a bit uncomfortable.

But you haven’t stopped buying games, and if you’re buying physical copies, chances are your local game stores of choice throw in “exclusive” posters or artwork as an incentive not to buy anywhere else. It seems wasteful to just throw this stuff out, so why not turn your game art into art ?

And if you’re anything like me,  (i.e. addicted to buying collectors editions), you can make it functional as well.

Take one canvas. (Sorry about the blurriness on this shot)

gameart_canvas

Take a pile of posters/prints/artwork, or as in my case, collectors edition game world maps.

gameart_maps

Arrange your design on the canvas using up all available space. With some clever arrangement you can overlap negative space and clumsy game logos which don’t add to piece.

gameart_design

And when you’re happy with the design, take a reference photo to help remember what overlaps where, and work out which order you’ll need to affix the individual pieces to the canvas. Then with a hot glue gun or adhesive of your choice, stick everything down, add some eye hooks and some picture wire, and hang!

gameart_final

And that’s all there is to it. It looks good, moves easily, and makes use of all those posters/maps that have been sitting in the box since you bought the game. Hang something like this above your desk/monitor and you’ve also got a handy reference for when you play those games!

Of course the downside is that adhesive application pretty much means you can’t ever change this layout or reuse individual pieces, but let’s be honest, you weren’t going to anyway.

The Stanley Parable Parable

•September 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This won’t take long, because everything that can be said about this game about games can be said fairly succinctly.

The most amazing thing about The Stanley Parable is just how clever, how aware of games it is. It’s almost at the point where talk about the game, where reviewing it in any way, is entirely meaningless. It knows what it is, it understands the tropes it works within, the constraints of game design, the attitude of players, the roles of people within this technological age, and is absolutely not shy about telling you, the player, exactly what they are.

The Stanley Parable is its own analysis, its own critique, and almost, its own review.

It’s not perfect, of course. There are two areas which could have seen improvement. The constant references to clichés around “wasting life” on computers/games, needing to go outside etcetera, are a little insulting.  This is an argument for the previous generation, not the current one. That said, this game is hyper-aware, so this could be commentary in and of itself, but it’s certainly not presented that way, seeming instead to look down on players for daring to enjoy games.

The second problem is that the game’s branching narrative structures and commentary are so good, one wants to see and hear them all, but each attempt, whether a “win” or “fail” state, means returning to the same introduction scene, and starting all over again. This gets tiring, even though the game itself is semi aware of how you’re playing it, and will occasionally alter the beginning sequence, running through the same corridor and hearing the the same commentary the tenth time in a row means only the most dedicated will see everything this game has to offer. But it wouldn’t be at all surprising to learn that this is intentional. It’s that type game.

Everyone interested in games needs to play The Stanley Parable. It is a masterpiece of game commentary through game design and humorous narrative. There is nothing else like it, and it’s brilliant.

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Thanks for your patronage

•August 27, 2014 • 1 Comment

Okay, this has Officially Become Ridiculous. Text following may contain swears. I haven’t decided yet.

Calling journalistic integrity into question because a writer donates via Patreon, or supports a Kickstarter, is stupefying. “Ebert argued critics should never review anything they played a part in creating.” I was told. Here’s exactly why this makes no sense. I didn’t. I didn’t have a part in creating it. I gave some money to support a cause, or a person, or some work. I am not a shareholder, I am not an owner, I don’t have a financial interest in the outcome of the final product. I barely have an emotional investment, beyond “the industry needs more of this”.

“Kickstarters need to be disclosed.” I was told. Here’s why this is bullshit.  (So I guess I am being sweary.) Buying a game does not effect my ability to evaluate it. Maybe it does affect yours, and if that’s true, you should probably think about not reviewing stuff any more because boy are you terrible at it. I buy games all the time. ALL THE TIME. You don’t even know. I’m buying games RIGHT NOW. I have so many games. What I don’t have, is a reason to sell them to you. I will, if I chose, write about them, and tell you what I thought and why I thought it. But the fact that I have given money, doesn’t incline me to say nice things.

The opposite, if anything. If I gave you $100 for your Kickstarter, you can bet this reward tier included a game, and probably some physical loot, and if your game is released broken, I’m not going to say “GEE THIS IS A SWELL GAME”. Consider buying a coffee at a café. Firstly, giving money to the barista doesn’t mean you “play a part in creating” it, secondly, if that coffee is good, you might say something like “This coffee is pretty nice.” If the coffee is average, you’d probably just shrug, and if someone asked you about it, you’d make a non-committal noise. The worst case scenario is the coffee is bad, in which case, you won’t ever buy coffee there again, and might tell others to avoid it. You might, if it is particularly bad, demand a refund, and if anyone asks about that coffee, you’ll slap their face for reminding you about it. What you won’t do, is lie, just because you paid for the thing, and hey, the barista seemed like a nice guy, and you know he used to work at a place where the coffees were great.

There is nothing at stake, nothing to compromise integrity for, when you support a Patreon, or a Kickstarter. Disclosure should not be required because it has no bearing on anything. All it does is giving someone something to point at and say “well this is biased.” It’s no different to buying a game at retail, or pre-ordering one, or buying one of the million Early Access games on Steam. In each case that money is used for the same thing. It pays the person/developer/publisher for what they do. Sure, the allocation of funds is different, but ultimately it boils down to the exact same process each time. Your World of Warcraft subscription pays the people who made, and support it, and allows Blizzard to keep making expansions. Your Call of Duty 17 (I presume that’s what it’s up to now) pre-order ensures there will be a Call of Duty 18. Your Patreon support says “I am paying for your good work.” Your Kickstarter pledge (hopefully) brings an original idea into the gaming world, and maybe the end product won’t be great, but maybe it will be enough to convince publishers with more money to throw around to allow developers to try new things.

If my integrity is in question because I backed a game I’d like to see made, on Kickstarter, then it’s in question because of every game I’m interested in, because of every game key or disc I’ve received from a publisher, because of every developer I’ve ever spoken to, because of every game I’ve ever purchased, played, watched a trailer for, or raised an eyebrow at.

And so is yours.

If It Bleeds

•July 5, 2014 • 1 Comment

This update to this most infrequently updated blog bears perhaps the most tangential of relationships to games, gaming, and the games industry, in that it’s mostly about cosplay. Specifically, about a costume I made – one that’s arguably more at home in cinema than games.

My fiancee recently had a birthday, and decided a party with the theme of 80’s sci-fi, action/adventure, and fantasy, in the realm of TV and movies, was the best way to enjoy said birthday. After much procrastination I decided I’d become The Predator, of “if it bleeds, we can kill it” fame.

I learned that I enjoy the cosplay process, from design, to build, to wearing, when I decided to embody Gambit a couple of years ago for a friend’s birthday, and since some of you may also be interested, I thought I’d give you all a quick insight into how I went about it.

Hey cheri

Me as Gambit – hey cherie

I really wanted to keep to a “as cheap as possible” budget, but you’ll find that some of the items in this costume are far from cheap – I happened to already own them so you may need to find substitutions.

 

Stompy Boots
One of the easiest elements for me, was this pair of New Rock boots. New, they were $280, but I’ve had them over a decade, so for me, $0. Purists may note that Predator doesn’t wear boots like this. Generally he has bare-ish feet, sometimes sandals, sometimes sandals with spiky blades jutting forward. I honestly couldn’t be bothered with making feet/shoes, so these black/silver industrial metal boots from the school of near-enough-is-good-enough were just the ticket.

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Cost: $0-280
Effort: 0

 

Shin City
Predator has some fairly chunky shin armour, and lacking knee-high boots, I decided some soccer (football) shin guards would give the desired effect here. I thought about extending them with cardboard to cover the knees, but in practicality, that wouldn’t have worked easily, and probably wouldn’t have looked very good if I’d done it in a complex manner.
I picked the shin guards up, second hand, from Savers, and a few coats of paint later…

GOOOOAAAAALLLL

GOOOOAAAAALLLL

Cost: $5
Effort: 15 minutes painting, a couple of days drying.

 

Wrist Blades and Computer
I’m fairly proud of these. The base for each is another pair of shin guards I picked up from Savers ($5). On each side I glued a piece of PVC pipe I bought from Bunnings ($2.50). The detail on the pipe is all default design. I have no idea what they are used for in the real world, but once you start looking at costume builds it’s amazing what “everyday” objects can become in the right setting. The rest of the wrist blade was thin cardboard, given stability with some packing foam from an SSD box cut to the same shape, then wrapped with masking tape and spray-painted.

Stabbylicious

Stabbylicious

For the wrist computer I had an idea, which I spoke out loud: wouldn’t it be cool if there was a phone app that looked like Pred’s computer, and you could press it to produce Predator sounds – like a Predator soundboard. I had grand visions of hiding a Bluetooth speaker in my helmet, and initiating the iconic click-clack of mandibles from the app.

I then promptly forgot about this idea and built a wrist computer facsimile which was okay, but nothing special. My fiancee then piped up – “what about that app?” Oh shit. I immediately went to the Play Store and found a predator clock app. No soundboard, and it didn’t have a timer/countdown feature, but it would do.

To house my phone, I used the packaging it came in – a perfectly cut resting place. I had to redo the window overlay, and make a new top lid, for which I used other parts of the phone packaging. The thin cardboard and masking tape made for surprisingly good detail – though not as elaborate as images I found online, it was again, “good enough”. I secured the lid with a black twisty-tie, barely visible. The hinges are simply masking tape. I could have made these a bit better, but… time was running out.

Accidental Weyland logo on the top, I swear.

Accidental Weyland logo on the top, I swear.

Cost: $7.50 (not including my Nexus 5) – $430
Effort: About 3 hours of designing, cutting, gluing, masking, and painting. A couple of days total drying time.

 

Gloves
Predator has gloves. They don’t look exactly like this, but they are fingerless, and this was easy. A few bucks from Arthur Daley and no further effort.

Billie Jean is not my lover

Billie Jean is not my lover

Cost: $5
Effort: 0

Cod-piece
It turned out this was annoying to wear, especially bending/squatting, and over the course of the evening it was starting to come apart. You don’t realise how often you do things like bend down to get something until your restricted when you try to do it. Anywho, lesson learned – I’ll make the next one less wide, if ever I do this again. There’s no big secret here, it’s just cardboard, cut to shape, masked, then glued together, spray painted and then finally glued to the back of a cheap “leather” belt (buckled at my back) which I already had lying around.

IMG_20140518_144901[1]

Cost: $0-10
Effort: Relatively easy. About an hour.

 

Chest Armour
This is actually a motorcross chest guard, which I already had from when I was Gambit. It was originally black, and with one side painted red, I simply flipped it over and applied some silver to the black underside. To buy this new, you’re looking at about $80 from a retail store.

Look at the Gambit pic waaay above. Same thing, different side.

Look at the Gambit pic waaay above. Same thing, different side.

Cost: $0-80
Effort: 10 minutes painting, couple of days drying.

 

Thigh Guard and Pauldron
The base in each of these was a pair of thick foam workmans kneepads (designed for people who are on their knees, tiling, gardening, whatever), and the additional… leaves?… are masking-tape-wrapped cardboard, glued on underneath. I used a heavy-duty stanley knife to cut a “chip” in the thigh guard, and used the back of the blade to score battle-scars into both. I found the foam soaked up a LOT of paint, and took a long time to dry. The included elastic/velcro straps made them easy to attach to the belt and shoulder of the chest piece respectively.

Thigh way or the highway

A burden to shoulder

The thigh's the limit

The thigh’s the limit

Cost: $15
Effort: 1.5 hours, a few days drying.

Helmet
Easily my favourite part of the costume, but the most complex and time consuming. Luckily there are a range of options for a range of budgets. I used a motorbike helmet as a base, and this cost me nothing because I had it spare, and I used the images in this post as a guide as to how to go about it. You can actually buy professional, legal, protective motorbike Predator helmets, and they look awesome, but you’re also looking at $800+. This guy made one from scratch, using cardboard, so if you can’t (or don’t want to) pick up a cheap helmet second hand, this is your guide.

So as you can see in the the other guide I found, it’s the original helmet, masking tape, cardboard, and for the jaw/brow ridges I used the thicker foam in the SSD packaging I had.

IMG_20140517_213911[1] IMG_20140517_220416[1] IMG_20140517_233913[1] IMG_20140517_233926[1] IMG_20140518_024913[1] IMG_20140518_024933[1]
The laser is something I built myself. I originally bought a book light from K-Mart ($10) and was intending for it to be a humorous shoulder-cannon (obviously way too small), but then I had a great idea – what if I turned it into a laser-sight? I had been unable to find a laser pointer anywhere, and decided this would fit the bill.

Some thin strips of painters tape to form an upside-down mercedes-style symbol, taped up the edges, and then spray painted the face of the light black. Paint did NOT want to stick to the surface of the clear light cover, and it took… I don’t know, like, 10 coats, with drying time in between each to black it out satisfactorily. I then removed the tape and was left a beautiful tri-mark of clear plastic the light shone through. Now I could have maybe masked with painters tape over the black, but I was out of time and also worried the tape would pull the paint off given how much it didn’t want to stick in the first place. So I just painted the whole face red. It took three or four coats to make it sufficiently red – the first few being a little too pink when I turned the light on. I was also conscious of not coating it to the point NO light would come though. I wanted a red glow. That done, I simply glued the light on to the helmet (which by this point was otherwise complete).

Terrible paint job, but...

Terrible paint job, but…

...effective

…effective

Now, the dreads. God I love the Predator’s dreads, but short of a visit to Clark Rubber, I wasn’t able to find rubber/plastic hosing that looked, felt, or moved right. In the end, I bought a length (10m I think it was) of black rope ($15), made of some synthetic material. Then I estimated a length, and cut. I used a cigarette lighter – which I had from years ago when a friend decided to quit smoking and gave me all his lighters to make it more difficult for him to light up (I don’t smoke) – to melt/fuse the ends of the cut lengths to stop them fraying. I then glued them one-by-one to the back-underside of the helmet rim.
It was enough for a couple of layers. Purists again may note the predator has rings/beads in his dreads, but I couldn’t find anything suitable and decided it was too much work.

The one thing I REALLY wanted to do but did not have time for, was make the helmet smoother. There were two options I evaluated – fibreglass, and bog (bondo). Both of these would have taken way too long, but if you look at the result in the tutorials I’ve already linked, you’ll see they look amazing. I’d consider redoing the helmet with one of these if I were planning to wear this costume again.

 

The finished product. Pay no attention to the Jessica Rabbit.

The finished product. Pay no attention to the Jessica Rabbit.

Cost: $25-800+
Effort: 5 hours.

 

Skin
This took hours. Like, five, or more. Thankfully, it wasn’t my time. When it comes to arty stuff, I just lack talent. Okay, so perhaps I should refine that, considering the juxtaposition of this post, on this blog, on which I am creating “art” of a sort with words, while describing how I creatively put together a costume.

Firstly, I didn’t make this design up. I used pictures as various references, a small stretch of imagination to replace bits I thought were too hard or time consuming, secondly, I guess I mean “fine art”. I’m hopeless at drawing, painting, sculpting, working with clay, wood or metal. So the paint job on the skin would literally have been impossible for me to do. All credit here goes to my fiancee, who IS artistically talented.

The legs are women’s leggings, with a textured kind of lizard/reptile skin pattern that’s really only noticeable up close, especially in the black bits. The top is just some white/grey/green thing I found somewhere. The paints are acrylic, and were mixed into the various colours you see here. The graduated colouring and patterns were all envisaged (again) by my fiancee. She used paint brushes and sponges for the effect, and, wow.
The tattered bits of rag which I hung from my belt to cover my butt are just cut up bits of old bedsheets. We already had most of the painting materials, but we bought a couple of colours and a sponge.

IMG_20140523_151335[1]

Cost: $30
Effort: 5 hours, drying overnight.

 

Hiding My Face
This was tough. With a little foresight I might have done things a little differently here. The problem I needed to overcome was the helmet visor was clear, meaning you would see my distinctly human face, ruining the Predatorial illustion.

This is the effect I needed to avoid. Also, handy tip to Predators out there: you can't eat through your helmet.

This is the effect I needed to avoid. Also, handy tip to Predators out there: you can’t eat through your helmet.

I tried pulling a tshirt over my face and putting the helmet on, this worked, but it was very hard to see out of. I thought maybe some self-applying window tint or contact might work, but I should have done this BEFORE making the helmet, which I had not, any attempt now would be futile, almost impossible to work inside or outside the helmet, and would undoubtedly bubble and look terrible.
Actual tinted/iridium visors would work, but these are expensive – in the realm of $80, and again I would have needed to have done this BEFORE making the helmet. It was looking like the t-shirt was the best option. Then it was suggested to me to use my ninjutsu hood. A safety pin would pinch the bridge of the nose bit closed and I could make-up around my eyes to blacken any visible skin/eyelids etc.
And THEN I remembered that I had a couple of sunglasses lenses I’d hung onto from a pair of broken sunglasses. I was actually thinking I might use them for an Adam Jensen cosplay attempt at some point (maybe I still will), but I knew they fit around my eyes pretty well – I can hold them in there with no support from anything, but moving my face means they fall – so with the ninjustsu mask to hold them, it just might work. And it did. Face completely invisible under the helmet. The only issue was the lenses would fog with all of the breathing I would do.

 

Ninja mask with one sunglass(?) lens

Ninja mask with one sunglass(?) lens

Cost: 0
Effort: 10mins

 

Accessorise
Miscellaneous things I used on almost all components in this build were:
Cardboard: $0 (boxes from package deliveries)
Masking tape: $5
Spray paint, silver/black: $20
Hot glue gun: $100
Glue: $10
Stanley knife: Already owned, I don’t recall how much it was, but it’s fairly industrial.

Total cost: $230 (thanks to owning a lot of expensive parts, but budget replacements could be made with a
little extra effort)
Total work time: ~18 hours, and a few days of drying.

 

Things I’d do Differently
Better scissors. I literally got a blister on my fingers from using crappy scissors.
Give myself more time. I could have made things – especially the helmet – so much better but I procrastinated starting the project.
I though getting some glow-in-the-dark paint (or one of those squeezy pens, if they still exist) would have been cool for replicating Predator blood, but didn’t have the time or energy to find it.

So there you have it. A budget predator costume that looks pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

Normally I might sign off an article like this with a Predator quote, but he doesn’t really say much that’s quotable, and I don’t know how to type that mandible chattering noise, so I guess this will write up will just fizzle to an end. Thanks for reading.

The full costume, ready to be worn

The full costume, ready to be worn

 

No chest piece

No chest piece

 

With chest piece

With chest piece

 

With my fiancée, Jem.

Trivia: The Predator is engaged to Jem. Truly outrageous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BioShock: Infinite Stupidity

•April 7, 2013 • 3 Comments

This will contain BioShock Infinite, System Shock 2, and BioShock spoilers. If you haven’t finished the games, and/or don’t want spoilers, go away.

BioShockInfinite1

BioShock Infinite is perhaps the most complicated method of saying absolutely nothing I’ve ever encountered. I enjoyed its audio direction, music, voice acting and art. Its moment-to-moment writing and dialogue was pretty good. Level design and pacing wasn’t bad either. But as a story? As a cohesive whole?

The issue I have is that nothing is ever really explained. Well, it kind-of is, in a pseudo-science sort of way, but it’s that same kind of explanation that causes you to ask further questions like: …and? So what? Why? What does that mean? This is important how?

I feel as I write this, that I may just be re-hashing Clint Hocking’s Ludonarrative Dissonance in BioShock piece, just with a new *Shock game. The thing is I never experienced that dissonance when I played BioShock. It felt like a wonderful, and almost meta, explanation for why we as players follow the requests and instructions of those in the game. It’s easy to say “because the game is linear, and developers made it that way”, but BioShock took that and turned it upside-down by making it a narrative device. It was an exquisite development I never would have seen coming.

The small bits of dissonance I suppose I felt were mainly in the opening scenes; I’d never  randomly inject myself with a syringe I found lying around, and I’d be very unlikely to put myself in a bathysphere when my best chance of rescue following a plane crash, would be to remain in the building that casts light for hundreds of kilometres across the ocean. Maybe I’d consider modifying its output to include some kind of morse-coded message. S O S perhaps. Once I was in Rapture proper however, I felt the progression and justifications wholly believable, and unlike Clint, was never broken from the telling within.

Similarly in System Shock 2 the progression thanks to, and then betrayal by, Shodan, felt completely justified. The war against the biological menace consuming the ship took an unexpected turn when it became clear that I had simply been a tool for the malevolent AI, and all of a sudden my enemy was not who I thought it was.

BioShockInfinite3

In Infinite, I was on the back foot straight away because religion is something I have strong negative feelings for, and the idea of accepting a baptism would never fly with me. Then the justifications for the happenings in Columbia go so far beyond the possible as to be unbelievable. Like one of those horrendous Star Trek episodes where the away team beams down to a planet that developed exactly like Earth, with the same evolution, timelines, historical figures, exact down to a tee, only NAZIS WON THE WAR; and all the writers need to justify this stupidity is “it’s an infinite universe”.

Time and spatial paradoxes give Irrational an excuse for anything, but it’s frustrating in the extreme to be presented with a bunch of half-baked ideas and stories that are torn away with the fabric of reality. I spent the entirety of the game playing in a sort of anticipatory glee. “I can’t WAIT for the twist that explains this and makes me feel stupid for not realising it while simultaneously amazing me with its simplicity.” – is what I thought right up to the end. I continued thinking it through the credits, through the scene at the end of the credits and right up to the reappearance of the game menu.

The twist never came. It was exactly what the game said it was all along. The fabric of time and space, blah blah blah.

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The problem with this kind paradoxical story-telling is that it’s stupid. and here are a bunch of reasons why:

Booker/Comstock: I’d worked out the protagonist and antagonist were the same person in the scene where Comstock starts ranting for Booker to tell Elizabeth what happened to her finger, and Booker then opens Comstock’s skull on the pedestal bowl of what I presume was holy water.  The ending baptism scene that implies refusing baptism leads to the creation of Booker, and accepting it rebirths him at Comstock might have been kind-of clever had it been at the start of the game, and now we were receiving this explanation. But no, we’re just told that this is something that happened before, and this is why things are the way the are.

Why are those the two options, by the way? Why is that on one hand, you’ve got a guilt-ridden ex-Pinkerton, and on the other an evangelical zealot? Where is the version of Booker that just goes and has a wife and kids, living on a farm in the countryside?

Is/was Booker even a Pinkerton? We’re told that he is – he admits to doing terrible things – but we’re also told by Lutece(s) when they bring him into the Columbia reality, that his mind is inventing stories in this universe. Is any of his guilt real, or is it invented? Was he really at the Battle of Wounded Knee?

What debt did Booker have? To whom was it owed? Was this real? Why did he need to pay it with a child as opposed to money? Why did he need to pay it to himself (Comstock)?

Why did Comstock need booker to give the child over? He can create tears in time and space – just open one next to the crib. The child would be gone in a matter of seconds and Booker would never know how.

BioShockInfinite6

Elizabeth: It’s not really clear what Elizabeth being harvested for. Lutece(s) create the distortions in reality, the rips and tears that allow them access to anywhere through time and space, so why do they need Elizabeth? Assuming they do, how did they know she could do it? She’s a baby and there is no indication her infantile mind created these phenomena sub/unconsciously.

Assuming that whatever the Elizabeth-harvesting is doing is necessary from Comstock’s point of view, why would Comstock take only one Elizabeth into his reality? He has access to all of them. Build a thousand towers, a million, each with an Elizabeth inside.

Why does future Elizabeth rain fire and brimstone down on the New York/Earth? Yeah yeah, she was tortured/brainwashed. But she has the wherewithal to know it’s wrong, to bring Booker to the future, to write her past-self a note to ensure it doesn’t happen, and then send Booker back with it, but she can’t feasibly stop murdering hundreds/thousands of people because “it’s too late”?

But we already know that there are multiple realities and paths of the past/future – who says the same thing isn’t happening in a thousand other realities? Why is only important to stop this happening in this one? There’ll be others where everything is fine. Surely if you fix one you need to fix them all?

BioShockInfinite2

Other really stupid stuff:

Okay, so we WILL fix them all. The way to do that is to kill Comstock/Booker. Drown him at the initial baptism that causes the split. So why are we killing the Booker who has been through all the events of the game? It’s too late – killing that guy has absolutely no impact on past events. You need to go back in time and kill THAT Booker. Okay maybe we can assume it is in fact that Booker, and having his brain mashed with memories of the game events explains why we know everything we just experienced. Why is this the only turning point? Why is killing him in only one reality, saving all the others? Surely there are other dimensions where he’s still undergoing the baptism? It’s an infinite universe, remember? Everything, in every form, is occurring right now, somewhere in it. It is not possible to end him in all universes, because they’re all happening, all the time.

I heard “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” fairly early on, and was waiting for the twist that explained it. Oh, some guy was stealing music from the future or something. Yay, I suppose? I guess he was profiting from it?

Heads? Tails? Bird? Cage? Throw at announcer? Throw at couple? Mercy-kill? Let live? None of these mean anything. Okay the Throw option is player morality on display, as is the mercy killing. But the others? Here are two things with no explanation, choose between them for no discernible reason or impact.

There’s a huge amount of racism in the first half and then it goes away. The game never says anything about it other than: here it is. It doesn’t say why it exists (period/setting perhaps?) and whether we should be approving or repulsed by it. My reaction is the latter, but there’s no reason a racist playing this game would question his/her moral values here, which is deeply troubling.

Justifications like “Because it does”, spoken by Elizabeth in the final scenes. Extremely lazy writing to try and get around the issues caused by time-paradox stories.

Perhaps for an American audience, founded on “ZOMG FREEDOMZ” (this phrase is in the US constitution, look it up), the game is thematically relevant to something. For someone living outside that country, it comes across as trite. Perhaps this game is indeed targeted toward an audience of frat-guys.

Rapture for some reason. I’m guessing this is this *Shock game’s attempt at driving home a meta-meaning. You, the player, go through these gaming motions time and time again. You do the same things, for the same reasons, no matter how its dressed up by developers. In comparison to the rest of the game’s story, this is brilliance, but compared to BioShock I find it lacking. In all honesty, my favourite part of Infinite was seeing Rapture again even though it made no sense whatsoever.

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Ultimately, Infinite says nothing. At the end of its 10 or however-many hours BioShock had a morality, it had an outcome that aligned to that morality. Infinite on the other hand had nothing. Its twist was that “yes, the thing we told that was actually happening throughout the game, was the thing that was happening at the end.”

An infinite universe, of infinite possibilities means that one could never possibly hope to have an effect on enough of the others for those changes to matter, and therefore, ultimately your actions are meaningless. Is this the story, the great meta-lesson? That we’re infinitely small, unimportant? That our actions, played out on a cosmic stage, have less impact than a drop of water in the ocean?

If so, I have to now take back everything I’ve said above, because this is a masterful telling. Causing a player to divine this meaning by presenting them with none is nothing short of genius.

But this is just me reading something into it, it wasn’t your intent, was it Irrational?

Irrational?

You magnificent bastards.

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The Death of a Dream

•February 5, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It’s actually quite a bizarre realisation to have, to know that you’re not going to even apply for your dream job.

- me.

One of the things I used to like to do was browse jobs within the games industry. I’d check out game developer websites, read through the job listings, and see what I was qualified to do – either through experience or through education/certification. Let me rewind and provide some context, for those unable to divine it from the mere fact I’m writing about this.

I grew up with games at a time when not everyone did, and when I was around 15, there two things I wanted to be when I grew up. One of those, and the more recent one, was a writer for PC PowerPlay. The magazine had just started at that point. I loved every word and thought writing about games would be pretty much the second best thing I could imagine doing. The other, older, almost more basal desire, was to make games. I wanted to help create the things I loved more than anything else.

Throughout the years I’ve never let it go. This desire to make games has been there, subconsciously, consciously, and I regularly see what’s on the job market in case I can finally do it; and today I realised I probably never will. The moment came while browsing the careers section of Blizzard’s site, reading the job description and knowing I’m not only qualified, but in all probability over-qualified for the role. It’s within my current career stream after all, and  all bragging aside, I’m quite good at what I do.

But I’m not even going to apply, because at some point, life happened to me. I have a mortgage. I’ve been in a single relationship for over a decade. I have room to move upwards in my company if I want to, and options outside of it if I want those instead.

Part of me still wants to apply, because it’s fucking BLIZZARD, and because it’d be interesting to know whether I actually would get the job (meeting a job description is hardly the end of the story). But I’m not in the habit of wasting people’s time. I’m so established here, with life going well enough, that to uproot and relocate to Irvine California feels more like effort than adventure. Especially considering I would in all likelihood need to take a pay cut to do it.

The realisation cemented itself here: if I’m not willing to make this life adjustment to realise a life-long dream for a company like Blizzard, who would I make it for? The answer right now is no-one. Obviously if Blizzard or Valve or whoever contacted me and said “Hey, you’re such a swell guy, we want to you work with us – here’s a million dollars.”  I’d be hard-pressed to refuse, but I’d also be hard-pressed to be awake.

So it seems my longest-held dream has died today, and the funny thing is, I’m not even that bothered.

Besides, I write for PC PowerPlay.

Borederlands

•December 18, 2012 • 1 Comment

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Four years. That’s how long it’s taken me to finish Borderlands. Four years of indifference, of completing one or two missions at a time before disinterest demanded I play something else. Then, a couple of weeks ago I decided it needed to be removed from my hard drive. So instead of refusing to spend any more time with a game that generates no enjoyment and just delete it like a sane person might, I took it upon myself to see it through to the end. Call it a compulsion, call it getting value for money, call it idiocy; I find it difficult to consume media in half-measures, be it games, movies, or books. Borderlands then could be seen as four years of tenacity, but perhaps continuing in the face of boredom was just silly.

For me, three critical and central mechanics to the game completely failed in implementation. Setting aside the story – which served well enough to establish the game world – Borderlands’ missions,  skills, and loot systems all could have benefited from further development and refinement.

For a loot-em-up, the loot lacks any real definition, and consequently, any excitement. A bajillion guns there may be, but when the variance between them is indistinct, there may as well be only one. The inherent lack of any chance to find anything particularly special was perhaps the biggest let down in this area. Looking at the successful implementation of item drops in, say, Diablo(s), shows a propensity for the game to populate the world with opportunity to obtain unique (as opposed to Unique) items with greater frequency. “Named” enemies, mini-bosses, and bosses, all presented a chance at getting some cool new gear with a significant advantage over what the player was using at the time.

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Borderlands’ approach is to provide incremental improvements or gear that is a step sideways instead of forward  – do I want the pistol that does fire damage or corrosion damage? In the end, the choice barely has any impact on the game. Perhaps you’ll chose something that aligns with your skills, to maximise the benefit, but perhaps you won’t, and each is an equally valid proposition. There’s no motivation to keep playing when there’s no reward, and the dull missions that seem inspired by the very worst of MMO quest structures don’t help.  Go here, kill things, go there collect other things. Return to mission hub, and grab all available missions, run out into the landscape and complete as many as possible before returning to do that shampoo thing: rinse and repeat.

This apathy towards improvement is also what kills the skill system. Approximately none of the skills make any difference to how the game plays, or to how the player uses their character. If you chose a sniper class at the start, you’ll be sniping a lot, if you chose the heavy class, you’ll be in at closer range. Ultimately the choice of character is the most important decision, and that shouldn’t be the case. Each skill tree should feel distinct, and offer to the player the ability to customise the character to their play style. I actually came back to the game at one point to find my skill points reset (bug? game update?), and this was after had played for quite some time without noticing anything amiss.

Diablo did this perfectly, allowing for multiple “builds” of each class, but Borderlands fails to recapture this spirit. Even the overlooked Hellgate: London (the game Borderlands rips off), implemented this system better, and while it suffered from some of the same issues of mission structures, it performed much better in the realms of loot and skills, providing weaponised rewards and unique paths for each class to follow.

Some might argue that Borderlands is best enjoyed in the company of friends, and I can’t particularly disagree. However the same can be said of Diablo, of Hellgate,  yet both were enjoyable without the need to wrestle with matchmaking systems or douchebag players. I commented recently in social media spheres, that DNF was more fun than Borderlands, and I stand by it. While DNF was terribly designed, and mish-mash of ideas and themes, it was at least self-contained. Each level may not have flowed the way you wanted it to, but it was succinct, and to the point. And it had lots of dick jokes. Borderlands on the other hand offered a mundane  meandering wasteland that was painful to traverse, and though I quite enjoyed Claptrap’s comic relief, absolutely nothing else about the game garnered my interest.

With Borderlands 2 now released, and  a lot of people calling it “game of the year”, I can only shake my head. Perhaps one day, in a fevered Steam Sale, I’ll make the regrettable purchase and subject myself to another four years Borderlands. Then again, maybe I’ll play something good instead.

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