Review: Remember Me

remember-me-pal-box-xbox-360Dontnod Entertainment is clearly a developer to watch. They scored a well-deserved hit with 2015’s Life is Strange, as noted in my end of year list, but it’s worth looking out 2013’s Remember Me to get a glimpse of the studio’s early brilliance.

The game struggled to find a publisher at first – infamously, several publishers said no to the project because the main character was female. According to creative director Jean-Maxime Moris:

We had some [companies] that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.’

We wanted to be able to tease on Nilin’s private life, and that means for instance, at one point, we wanted a scene where she was kissing a guy. We had people tell us, ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.’ (via Eurogamer)

It’s a shocking exposé of the biased, outmoded thinking that goes on behind the scenes at games publishers, as well as the contempt in which gamers are seemingly held – as if we’re incapable of imagining ourselves in a body of the opposite gender, something that female gamers are forced to do quite regularly thanks to the dominance of male lead characters. The fact that millions of men already play as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider seemingly has had little influence on the games industry as a whole. This glimpse behind the scenes also reveals a publishing mindset that still thinks video games are predominantly played by men, even though this is blatantly not the case and hasn’t been so for quite a while.

remember me tower

So, the very fact that Remember Me was released with a female lead – a mixed race, sensibly attired female lead, no less – is cause for celebration. Even though it really, really shouldn’t be in this day and age. But until we get representative diversity in the gaming characters we’re given to play, until the day that playing a game with a female lead character – or a black lead character, or a gay lead character, or any one of the many poorly represented groups in gaming – is so typical as to be utterly banal, until that day we should celebrate every victory of equality and sense over biased, lazy stereotyping.

And seeing as we’re on the subject of female leads, Nilin proves to be an exceptionally well-crafted character. I’ve played many games where by the end I’ve all but forgotten the main character’s name, but by the end of Remember Me I found myself genuinely caring about what happened to the troubled Nilin and her dysfunctional family. She’s a character with doubts, strong yet vulnerable, utterly reliant on the resistance group that guides her, yet never altogether trusting of anybody. She’s interesting, in other words.

And the same could be said of the game’s setting – in fact the developers’ inspired vision of a future Paris is probably the game’s biggest draw. The futuristic towers built on the decaying remains of the sunken, flooded capital are stunning, and I felt compelled to find out more about everything that happened to this once-proud city. It’s the look of it more than anything else, perhaps – the colour palette is vibrant where other futuristic games, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, are stark. It practically looks like a Renoir watercolour in places.

That’s not to say it’s original – far from it. We’ve seen the towers of the elite built over the slums of the poor many times before, notably in Beneath a Steel Sky. Likewise, the amnesiac protagonist has been a trope since the year dot. But it works here because it’s all done with such care, such confidence, such elan. The attention to detail throughout is just exquisite, from the traditional Montmarte cafés with robot waiters to the vending machines for happy memories.

remember me cafe

And speaking of memories, these are the game’s raison d’etre. In a dystopian future, memories can be wiped, inserted or traded as currency. The people are addicted to experiencing happiness and wiping out bad thoughts, but the game explores this to its logical extremes, culminating in a prison where the prisoners’ memories are confiscated when they enter and returned when they leave – in other words, they spend their sentence utterly unaware of their crime. I recommend reading Sir Gaulian’s excellent article for more on the social and economic consequences of the corporatization of memory.

As a ‘memory hunter’, at several points you have to steal or remix memories from NPCs, and the remixing in particular is a delight. A scene will play out in the character’s head, and your job is to rewind and remix it to make them think something else. It’s a really clever and original idea that is sadly used far too little in the game, but it works wonderfully when it appears.

Another clever idea is that Nilin has customisable combos with various regenerative, powerful or chaining attacks that can be switched around and bought in a menu screen. I don’t recall seeing anything like it before, and it comes across as a brilliant idea at first. But towards the end I found myself relying on the same set of combos again and again, and ultimately the combat lacked the depth of the carefully balanced combo lists of other brawlers like Bayonetta.

Other criticisms are that the ending was a little flat compared to the rest of the game, and the plot got a little confusing in places. But all in all I thoroughly enjoyed my 10 or so hours with the game – and I’d thoroughly recommend searching it out for something a little different.

remember-me-sacre-coeur

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Home Sweet Home

The world of Mad Max is a disgustingly grotesque and decrepit wasteland. But despite the apparent vicissitudes that a fecund Earth gives rise to, there is something strangely comforting about the desolate world, and amongst the death and despair there is an overwhelming beauty to the wastes. As the belching roar of the mechanical gods echo in the distance and the screams of the broken ring out across the plains, and as I observed humanity tearing itself apart in order to survive, I felt strangely comfortable and disconcertingly at home at the end of the world.

Whether it’s because I was surrounded by familiar accents and right hand drive cars, or because Mad Max’s sweeping vistas and sparse landscapes were strangely familiar, I found myself pulling over to the side of the road and hopping out of the car to take in the sites and sounds of the world. With my trusty petrol-fuelled steed by my side, I would embark on day trips with only the water in my flask for company, roaring through the countryside in pursuit of the perfect sunset as the daylight fell below the wasteland. And as I sat atop a cliff overlooking a toxic stretch of earth while night fell, it made the perfect backdrop for a portrait with the Magnum Opus, exhaust and flames spewing into the carbon soaked atmosphere. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say.

But it was also the people that inhabited the world that turned the beauty of the world into something more. Witnessing humanity’s stubbornness in the face of seemingly inevitable death is testament to its desire to live. Finding worship and salvation in the most unlikely of things, old gods replaced with new ones, gods that are more relevant to the new humanity. Gods of divine making are replaced with those borne by humanity’s past triumphs. The roar of a V8 is the sound of god, and its messenger his driver, a Saint. Belief hadn’t gone away, it just changed shape, to better reflect the new human relationship. In a world where killing was systematic, people uniting around things of their own making and finding common ground in the past achievements of their collective species, well it was inexplicably comforting. So much so that it wasn’t long before I was finding worship in my own mechanical angel. The world was broken, humanity desolated, but in my car I started to see hope.

I saw a lot of contemporary humanity and modern day Earth in the world Max Rockatansky inhabits. The landscape was bruised and broken and its people and their belief systems were forcing them into almost inevitable conflict and bloodshed. But despite this, despite the systematic killing and the almost unassailable end of life on Earth, and despite the agreement of mutual destruction of humanity and its world, there remains an impossible beauty to be witnessed and an unbreakable optimism for the future. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take the total annihilation of the Earth to start to appreciate what we as a species have achieved in manufacture, all the while appreciating the all-encompassing beauty of our world.

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Strategy games just ain’t cricket, but they probably should be

ScoreBoardTestAUSI don’t play tabletop Warhammer, but whenever I walk past a Games Workshop retail store, I feel like I’m never more than a well-aimed fart away from blowing in there and blowing my money away. Not that it’s really my cup of tea mind, what with all the painting small figurines and general socialising with people who aren’t really my crowd, required to get the most from the experience. But strategy games absolutely are my cup of tea and there’s an ever-present part of me that fears what would become of me if I were to accidentally He-Gassen my way into the store.

Which is why I’m so fond of the Blood Bowl video games, satisfying my innate fascination with and curiosity for Warhammer, without the need to set foot into the world of Warhammer proper.  Plus, you know, I quite like sport in case you haven’t noticed. But the main problem with Blood Bowl and its sequel are that they’re just not cricket.

Thank god, I hear you all say. Bear with me.

Whenever I mention cricket to people who don’t watch or play it, the conversation invariably turns to how boring it is.  “It’s just a load of graphs and numbers” people say “they spend more time looking at field placements drawing arrows and circles than they do playing”.  That is partially right, too.  On any given day of a five-day test match, hours are probably spent analysing everything from batting averages to strike rates to average bowling speed, permeated throughout the 7 or so hours of a day’s play.  Sport is almost always a game of numbers, but cricket is more than most, which is precisely one of the reasons I can spend hours watching, reading about and talking about the greatest professional sport in the world, and even now and then write about the statistics of cricket.

If you take a look at the three aspects of cricket the game – the bowling, the batting and the fielding – is a venerable cornucopia of interacting numbers. Taking just the smallest passage of play in the game, that is a single ball of an over, there are numerous factors that determine the outcome of that interaction.  The speed of the ball, the length of the ball down the pitch, the reaction speed of the batsman, the power of the batsman and the size of his/her bat, and a proxy determining the judgement of the batsman in shot placement all play a part in the outcome of that ball.  If the ball has been hit, distance travelled by the ball, the distance and speed of the fielders and the speed of their throw, and the speed of the batsmen between the wickets. Cricket is a machine, an unpredictable one at times, but a machine nonetheless. It is a beautiful mathematical equation that starts the moment the selectors choose their best XI and ends with the last ball or wicket. It is the place at which the beautiful meeting of leather and willow occurs and the numbers governing our fair game start to do a little cosmic dance to determine the outcome of each ball, each over, each inning, and each game. I honestly just cannot get enough.

Wagon-wheel graph: runs scored per shot placement

Wagon-wheel graph: runs scored per shot placement

And then of course there’s the field placement, which in and of itself, is its own game of chess. Where the captain puts their fielders is according, again, to numbers, as they try to coax the batsman into knocking the ball to the man. It is part preventative and part psychology, as the bowler bowls to his field, balancing aggression and defence. They’ll be willing to balance out give and take, to give away a few pawns just to claim the queen, and get one step closer to check-mate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, my fondness for videogames in most cases, is based largely on the same basic factors as what makes chess and hence cricket  such an appealing proposition. Sure it’s a game of athleticism, but perhaps more so a game of strategy, and a game of wits and brains.  And when you consider this aspect, along with the battle out in the middle between bowler and batsman, cricket in and of itself isn’t terribly different from a turn-based strategy game.

Sending your best off-spin bowler in? Why not move someone to silly point or silly mid off in the hopes of a Boon-esque moment? Have a left arm bowler bowling around the wicket at a right hander? Why not have a few blokes in the slip cordon and a gully to catch that a thick-edge from a seaming ball.   It’s this rock-paper scissor mechanic that, if you’ve played a sneaky game of Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics – even Pokemon – you should know exactly what I’m on about. You understand the importance of having your team in the right positions, of exploiting weaknesses, and of doing your numbers to maximise your chance of victory. Sure, some of you may scoff at the ‘yobbo’ nature of Australia’s favourite pastime, but know that at its most basic level that video game you’re playing isn’t that different from padding up and heading out to the middle of your local cricket oval.

But cricket video games have never really captured the strategic side of the ‘gentlemen’s game’. Sure, they have attempted to simulate the ‘game’ of cricket, in much the same way as the Football Manager series, for as long as I can remember. I could lose hours to setting my batting order, juggling my bowlers, and setting my field. But somehow despite the hours flying by, it never felt like anything more than chance, despite the serious number-crunching that I’m sure was going on behind the scenes. It was strategic, sure, but it didn’t really capture the magic of the game.

Cricketcaptain2002

Which is why Blood Bowl is the perfect template for a cricket strategy game. If cricket is a game of rock-paper-scissors, and is basically an interaction between numbers, there is no reason it couldn’t take a leaf out of Games Workshop’s famous table-top fantasy sport. If cricket is a fight between bat and bowl there is no reason it couldn’t take the form of a turn-based battle. Imagine balancing out your batting order according to strengths and weaknesses, finely tuning your line-up according to on side and leg side ability, or ability to play shots off the back of front foot. Or conversely bringing in a bowler whose strengths are bowling fast and full at a player who has a low ability to play defensive shots on the back foot.  And when it comes to fielding, well that’s just about as suited to a grid-based strategy game as you get, just add a sprinkle of player movement and the roll of a dice and you’ve got yourself a game.

“But I hate cricket” I hear you say.  Well superimpose mechanics found in traditional turn-based strategy games on top and you’ll start to see that not a lot separates cricket from the your favourite interactive electronic fare. Remember the Judges from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance? You’ve got your field restrictions. Remember the ‘burning aura’ mechanic from Jeanne D’arc?  You’ve got your perfect batting partnership. Many constructs in videogames are designed to mimic human relationships and dynamics, the likes of which are applicable to sports team cohesion and even adversarial relationships. They may seem as disparate as Vegemite and jam, but it doesn’t take an enormous logic leap to see that underneath the difference in audience, cricket and your turn based strategy game aren’t that different.

So try as you might to distance yourself from that loathsome outdoor activity known as ‘sport’, you may be surprised to know that the delta between the two socio-cultural structures isn’t as large as you’ve always thought.  In much the same way as Blood Bowl bridges the gap between sports fans and Warhammer fans, a thin aesthetic or thematic veneer would be all it would take to make strategy game fans into cricket fans and vice versa. And If I can satiate my innate thirst for games driven by numbers, then I can safely walk past Games Workshop without the pervasive fear that those Heinz Baked Beans will betray me, and send me into a world I’m just not willing to be a part of.

Cricketfieldingpositions

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Every Star Wars Game Ever, or: How I Ended Up Writing A Never-Ending Article

Here was the pitch I made for the Star Wars article I just wrote for Kotaku UK:

Every Star Wars game ever, from worst to best

Exactly what it says, complete with many, many snarky comments. Particularly about Star Wars Kinect.

It seemed a simple enough pitch, an article that would involve a fun stroll down memory lane in a similar way to the ‘best of Konami’ article I wrote a while back. Unfortunately, when I made the pitch, I hadn’t quite realised just how many Star Wars games there are…

Despite excluding handheld games, mobile games, browser games, pinball and ‘edutainment’ games, my list still featured around 70 titles, all of which needed pics or videos, and all of which needed to be reviewed and rated. It took FOREVER.

2000px-Star_Wars_Logo.svg

Still, it was quite fun to write it up, and I even came across one or two Star Wars games I’d never even heard of before – the ‘strap-on’ Star Wars Millennium Falcon CD-Rom Playset springs to mind as a particularly weird and obscure one.

Inevitably, I got a couple of details wrong, as readers were more than happy to point out in the comments (it turns out that World of Warcraft came out the year after Star Wars Galaxies, not just before, which is how I remembered it), but all in all I’m pleased with the result. See what you think for yourself:

Every Star Wars Game Ever, From Worst to Best

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Lucius Merriweather’s Most Agreeable Games of 2015

Better late than never. Following Sir Gaulian’s rundown in the middle of December, here’s my list of the creme de la creme of 2015 – a year in which I found myself playing my 3DS and Wii U more than anything else, despite all of the exciting goings on elsewhere. Indeed, 2015 felt like the year that the ‘next-gen’ consoles really got going, with games like Fallout 4 and Arkham Knight finally providing bona fide reasons to invest in a PS4 or Xbox One.

But having said that, I’m still working my way through tons of brilliant games from yesteryear, and if any game defined my 2015, it was Xenoblade Chronicles, a Wii game from 2011. I reviewed it back in September after spending well over 100 hours playing through its enormous campaign, and it’s easily the game I played the most last year. Other notable games I finally got around to playing included Alien: Isolation and Heavy Rain, along with the brilliant Remember Me (which I’m currently playing through and loving every minute). But in terms of games that actually came out this year, this little lot have been keeping me busy…

The Best Games of 2015 That I Actually Played

Monster-Hunter-4-Ultimate-key-artMonster Hunter 4 Ultimate

After being introduced to the series with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the fourth game, and I even got a snazzy limited edition New Nintendo 3DS XL to play it on. The latest entry is a big improvement on its predecessor in terms of the single-player campaign, and I love the new verticality to the levels. Basically, when I wasn’t playing Xenoblade in 2015, I was playing this.

affordable space adventuresAffordable Space Adventures

Few games have really taken full advantage of the Wii U’s idiosyncratic control system, but this game used every facet of the console’s quirky controls to brilliant effect. As a single-player game it’s fine, but with two or three people it becomes an absolute riot. Who’d have thought that being an engineer could be so much fun? Don’t answer that if you’re an engineer.

code name steam eagleCode Name: S.T.E.A.M.

I’m a sucker for turn-based strategy games, and the 3DS is perfect for them – Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is still one of my favourite games on the system, and I loved Fire Emblem: Awakening.  So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this: a strategy game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s monsters along with various heroes from American literature. The lack of a map was initially jarring, but it quickly proved to be an inspired decision that really encouraged careful exploration, and Eurogamer rightfully highlighted Code Name STEAM as one of the great ‘Unsung Games of 2015‘. Yes it’s a little unbalanced, and those chunky visuals are an acquired taste, but it’s still a true gem.

trailer-project-zero-maiden-of-black-water-trailer-annuncio-release-eu-18227-640x16Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water

I was tempted to put Splatoon in this slot, but to be honest I played Project Zero far more, even though on the surface it’s a ‘weaker’ game. It’s repetitive, yes, and it’s hardly revolutionary – but it rekindled my love for a genre that’s almost been forgotten, and now I can’t wait to seek out a few more survival horror games that I missed along the way. Dino Crisis 2? Parasite Eve II? I reckon they might still be worth a punt after all these years… and imagine if they remade them.

BUBBLING UNDER: Splatoon, Yoshi’s Woolly World, Box Boy!.

The Best Games of 2015 That I Would Have Played If I’d Had The Time

fallout_4_63529Fallout 4

I tramped around Fallout 3 for what seemed like years. I laid waste to Megaton, discovered creepy skeletons in an abandoned bunker, put a tree man out of his misery and got up to all sorts of larks on a battleship. Fallout 4 looks just as bizarre and wonderful, even if it’s as buggy and clunky as ever. But then again, the bugginess and clunkiness is almost part of the charm. Almost.

xenoblade-chronicles-x-wallpaperXenoblade Chronicles X

I came this close to buying Xenoblade Chronicles X on day one, having spent a good chunk of my year playing through the prequel. In the end though there are still far too many games on my backlog that I want to get through, and I know this game will be another 100-hour-plus adventure. It does look brilliant though – I’m scheduling it in for sometime in 2016, for definite.

batman arkham knightBatman: Arkham Knight

The emerging consensus seemed to be that this game wasn’t quite as good as the first two – but it still looks bloody amazing. I can’t wait to step into the shoes of the caped crusader once again, but I also feel like I should play through Origins first, if only for completeness. That there old Batmobile looks fun though, don’t it?

guitar-hero-live-screenshotGuitar Hero: Live

At one point you couldn’t move in my front room for plastic musical instruments: I played my way through about five Guitar Hero and Rock Band games before the genre seemed to fizzle out. It’s been a good long while since that happened, however, and guitar games feel like they’re ripe for a return. Rock Band 4 looked fun, but Guitar Hero: Live had the killer idea of using live concert footage to make you feel like you’re noodling away on an actual stage. I’m looking forward to making a proper tit of myself as I thrash away on this in my living room.

life is strangeLife is Strange

Dontnod Entertainment is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the hottest game studios in the business. After Remember Me was released to generally great reviews but reportedly poor sales (I can’t find any official figures, but one thread claims it sold just 140,000 copies), it was great to see Dontnod getting a well-deserved hit with Life is Strange – and it also vindicates the developer’s decision to press on with using female lead characters after their previous game was rejected by publishers who whined that “You can’t have a female character in games” (seriously). Life is Strange sounds genuinely different and innovative, and the only thing that stopped me buying it is the nagging guilt that I’m still only halfway through the equally wonderful The Wolf Among Us – a game I’m determined to see through before I start any more episodic adventures.

BUBBLING UNDER: Steins;Gate, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam Bros., Resident Evil Revelations 2, Her Story, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Soma, The Talos Principle, Just Cause 3, Sunless Sea, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

[As written by Lucius Merriweather in the miasma of the New Year back-to-work week.]

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Unlikely Games for 2016

One morning just before Christmas I was in full-on pre-Xmas deadline panic. I had a seemingly never-ending article due in and no end to it in sight, plus the usual pre-Chrimbo anxiety about unbought presents and uncooked turkey. But despite being pressed right up against a deadline, I just had to take some time out to write an article that popped into my head almost fully formed during the cycle to my office.

I’d been reading about the plot of the Halo 5 and was thinking about how trite it all was – Master Chief on the run, yadda yadda. I started thinking up where on earth they’re going to go next with this series, and the answer was blindingly obvious – now Master Chief is on the run from his inner demons, like the plot of the sixth series of an increasingly desperate prime-time drama that’s in danger of being cancelled.

Then I started thinking about where other increasingly hackneyed game series could go next, and the answers popped up fully formed: a Fallout game set in Slough, an Assassin’s Creed game all about Desmond, a Call of Duty game set in a playground, a Metal Gear Solid pachinko game on mobile… (sadly that last one is a distinct possibility).

Screen-Shot-2015-12-29-at-18.56.05-620x349

I quickly jotted this all down as soon as I got into the office, then rigged up a couple of amusing screenshots in Photoshop before sending it off to the Kotaku UK ed to see whether she’d be interested in publishing – and to my surprise, she was. It’s not really the kind of thing Kotaku usually go for, but she decided to put it up between Christmas and New Year to “see how it does”.

The jury’s still out on that one, as although the article gathered lots of shares and comments, not all of them were exactly positive. One wag penned this particular bon mot:

what is this trash page? who ever wrote this needs to be slapped

I think that’s the first time someone has ever called for me to be ‘slapped’ on the basis of my writing – but at least the article generated some heated responses. I particularly liked all of the Slough-bashing, e.g.:

If you’ve played Fallout then you already have a good idea what Slough is like

I feel kind of bad for taking the p*** out of Slough so much… but not that bad. I mean, have you ever been there?

Here’s the article, please share and comment, and maybe I’ll be allowed to let loose my dubious humour on Kotaku UK in the future… Or at least be allowed to write for them again.

5 Games That Definitely Won’t Happen in 2016

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Killer Instinct, parental sex, a Vegemite sandwich, and the natural order of things

SNES KillerInstinctForget all of that internet spurred groupthink nonsense about whether Killer Instinct was actually a good game or not for a minute and you’ll see the game as a fantastic insight into the wonderful decade that was the 1990’s.  At a time where the arcade was a king (about to be dethroned) and arcade conversions were the best thing since a hot Milo on a rainy day, Killer Instinct was, for a couple of years there, the biggest thing on the planet within the confines of the schoolyard.  And at a time of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter that’s really saying something.

To anyone that wasn’t there in the 90’s, it’s hard to describe how rabid all the kids were for fighting games, but trust me when I say the arrival of a new game at the arcade somewhat resembled bunch of Korean teenagers at a Got7 concert.  And in the 90’s Killer Instinct was exactly the sort of killer combo that sent the British Knights sneakers and Klue Jeans wearing youth hog wild. It came with a killer CD, it had ultra-combos, an inference to boobs, and some of the most creative finishing moves since the still-fresh Primal Rage. Killer Instinct quite simply is about as 90’s as it gets.

And as a child of that particular decade Killer Instinct will always hold a special place in my heart.  Entire days at friends’ houses were planned around Killer Instinct.  We’d trickle into any one of our houses in the Northern suburbs of Adelaide as early in the morning as possible, leaving our bikes in a pile in the front yard, and get ready for a day of fun and frivolity.  As an adult I find it hard to imagine anything, let alone a 2D fighting game, holding my attention from sun up until sun down.  But the hundreds upon hundreds of bouts of not just Killer Instinct, but any game where we could punch each other in the face, are testament to just how engaged we all were with the genre.  Win or lose we just couldn’t get enough of the genre that practically defined a generation of kids.

But perhaps most importantly Killer Instinct was a conduit for the boyish shenanigans that would ensue throughout the course of the day.  There were copious punches in the arms, wrestles to the ground, an even the spontaneous game of British Bulldog in the backyard that would invariably end with someone having to seek parent-administered first-aid for a blood nose.  Of course there was also copious amounts of talking absolute shit, calling each other dickheads at every available opportunity, and telling nonsense stories that I’ve come to learn are only funny to boys under the age of 20.

I even distinctly remember one of our mates, Daniel, painting a rather graphic picture of the time he walked in on his mum and stepdad having a good old fashioned root on the kitchen bench. Much to his disgust, we had a field day with it, adding tiny but vivid details that I’m sure to this day haunt him, particularly at family gatherings.  But as near-teenaged boys we thought it was a right bloody laugh rubbing his nose in the fact that his mum still had a vagina. Needless to say it was hard to keep a straight face talking to her at that very kitchen bench, while we all stuffed out faces full of Vegemite sandwiches.  It was awkward, yes, but bloody hell it made for a great memory.

Killer Instinct was great, but it always played second-fiddle to shooting the shit with the kids from school, the friends I’d grown up with. We weren’t friends because we played videogames, we were friends who just happened to play video games.

And that’s the natural order of things.  Friends first and video game foes second. Anyone that has followed my writing would know that I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that online multiplayer makes video games great.  And from my experience most of the fun of playing video games together comes from the familiarity of the people you’re playing with.  Whether it’s knowing that they got dacked at school that day by the kid we affectionately call “Chubbs”, or taking the piss out of a bloke for being rejected by Cara, it was these personal relationships that made playing these games together fun.  Whether Cinder beat Glacius was neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things.

Killer Instinct will always be a fond reminder of a pivotal time in my youth.  Orchid’s endowment is a reminder that puberty had hit me hard in the mid-nineties. Fulgore is a reminder of the ultimate male power trip that hits every boy in his teens.  And Spinal is a reminder that skeletons are really easy to draw once you get the hang of it.  But more importantly it is a reminder that playing with games with friends makes for some amazing memories.  Was Killer Instinct a good game?  Well for starters I don’t think that’s a question that should be answered by committee. But from where I stand it’s an amazing piece of video game history, an example of the ingenuity of British developers, but most importantly a time machine to my childhood.  Killer Instinct was the talk of the town for so long that it feels like friendships were practically forged while playing it.  But that’s not the case, and if anything going back and playing it as a disgruntled adult, reminds me of all the friends I no longer have.  And you know what?  Playing Killer Instinct online would never fix that.

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