Monthly Archives: November 2012

My Wii U has arrived!

Well, this is a bit of a turn-up for the books – I got home from work to discover that my Wii U has arrived A DAY EARLY. Thanks ShopTo.net! I’m not quite sure how this has happened, but I’m glad I didn’t bother queuing up at HMV on Oxford Street tonight…

Well, this is a pleasant surprise…

Sir Gaulian should also be picking up his Wii U very shortly, so check back here tomorrow to read our first impressions of the console. We’ve both gone for ZombiU and New Super Mario Bros. U, so we’ll see whether we can get some Australia-UK multiplayer going…

Like a delicious chocolate selection box, but with video games and cables.

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Wii U Powered by Pikmin

It turns out that the Wii U is actually powered by tiny little Pikmin running around in the machine. This confirms my long-held theory that processors are a myth and that all computers actually work by a combination of magic and tiny little beings running back and forth.

Here’s the charming animation you get when you transfer your Wii save data to the Wii U – I challenge you not to smile when you watch this.

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I Love The Smell of Narrative In The Morning

I’m not a big fan of first person shooters set in real-world conflicts. I played through the first Modern Warfare game a while back, and I found the whole thing just a little bit… distasteful. Like I said in my review, I’m not quite sure why you’d want to recreate that great war feeling in your living room.

Digital portrayals of wars all too often end up trvialising the actual conflict to the point where they’re little more than firefights between “goodies” and “baddies”, but at their very worst they can end up as propaganda-like displays of “tub-thumping jingoism“, as was the case in the recent Medal of Honor: Warfighter. However, despite my disdain for games set in modern conflicts, I was intrigued enough by the reviews of Spec Ops: The Line to buy it for myself. Why? Because this is a game that sets out to tell a story, and does it with aplomb.

The game takes Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as its inspiration (indeed, the Colonel Kurtz-style antagonist is called John Konrad), but it shifts the setting from Vietnam and Africa to a devastated vision of Dubai in the near future. Enormous sandstorms have destroyed the city, forcing the residents to flee and leaving skyscrapers buried in the sand. Konrad’s squadron volunteer to help with the evacuation, but soon all contact is lost with them. Eventually a distress signal is received by the military, and your squad of Delta Force operatives is sent in to make contact with the survivors, but all is not what it seems…

The Dubai setting is an inspired choice, laden as it is with messages about the hubris of capitalism. The foolish opulence of the city – an aquarium in the middle of the desert! – has been reduced to tatters, with silk curtains becoming tents for refugees and silver necklaces being melted down into bullets, the only currency that matters now the apocalypse has descended. The ruined city provides some of the most memorable images I can remember witnessing in a video game, from ocean liners washed up in the desert to leaning skyscrapers half-buried in the sand, with herds of oryx leaping across burnt-out cars and abandoned suitcases.

Into this hellhole wander the hapless Delta Force trio of Walker, Lugo and Adams, and perhaps what impresses most about the game is that you’re quickly made to care about what happens to these grunts. In most war games I’ve played I can barely remember the names of any of the characters by the end, but in Spec Ops I was transfixed by the tale of these three soldiers. It helps that the voice acting is excellent, and the interactions between the three run the full spectrum from light-hearted jokes to unnerving pathos, with each soldier displaying a unique and memorable personality. Most importantly though, the characters develop and noticably change over the course of the game, which only serves to bring home how one-dimensional most other video game characters are.

I would dearly love to tell you what happens to them, but I’m afraid that to say anything about the plot would generate massive spoilers – all I can say is that you have to play this game for yourself, it really is astonishing. Perhaps what impresses most is the way that the game uses every tool at its disposal to further the narrative – even down to unexpected messages on the loading screens. The music is also excellent, a mixture of an evocative and brooding original soundtrack mixed with some classic licensed tunes from the seventies that perfectly fit with the Apocalypse Now vibe. One of the stand-out scenes occurs when you first encounter Radioman, a sort of DJ version of Dennis Hopper’s photojournalist who presides over a home-made radio station like a ringmaster of the absurd: as you infiltrate a run-down TV studio covered in bizarre grafitti he begins blasting out ‘Hush’ by Deep Purple, and suddenly all hell breaks loose. And it only gets crazier and crazier from then on in – pushing further into Dubai feels almost like drifting away into a dream.

Another thing I particularly liked about the game was the way it handled collectibles. I’m generally quite averse to going around and picking up random junk within games (I think the flags in Assassin’s Creed scarred me for life), but here the few pieces of ‘intel’ you pick up provide genuinely interesting insights into the characters in the game, and I eagerly looked out for them as I went, hungry for the secrets they reveal. This is the way to do story in video games: drip feed the good stuff.

And after all, story is Spec Ops‘ raison d’etre, and by the end I was left wondering why all games can’t tell a tale this well. Spec Ops plays on the strengths of video games in that it provides you with important choices, but it’s also sensible enough to remain mostly linear so as not to dilute the storytelling. Most important of all, because you’re the one performing the actions in the story, you’re made to feel complicit in everything that happens, for good or bad. I was moaning a few weeks back that there seems to be a general confusion in the video game industry about the best way to approach narrative in video games and that most game stories often feel almost like an afterthought, but Spec Ops clearly shows that not only can video games tell stories just as well as films or books, they can tell them in a way that simply can’t be done in any other medium.

[Penned in shock and awe by Lucius Merriweather.]

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Grappling with Wrestling video games

I have never, ever liked wrestling.  That is something I have worn on my sleeve as somewhat of a badge of honour as long as I can remember.  The theatrical garbage, ‘the so bad it’s funny and yet somehow still bad’ acting, the stupid uniforms, the cliched wrestlers, they all scream ridiculous and bad taste.  And the list goes on and on.  Wrestling fans, don’t stop reading because predictably, unfortunate as it feels, I will be starting the next sentence with a but.

But recently I have come to understand what it is exactly that makes it such a worldwide phenomenon.  Perhaps the theory that the number of brain cells decreases as you age is truer than I thought, or perhaps I’ve just acquired a more mature outlook on things and become more of a lover and less of a hater, but wrestling in the last 12 months has piqued my interest to a point where the massive marketing push being undertaken by THQ for WWE ’13 is raising the hairs on the back of my neck with excitement.  Which is equal parts embarrassing and awesome all at the same time.

But the fact that I can be genuinely excited about something that less than 12 months ago didn’t even register in my brain as anything worth paying attention to is cause for celebration.  And that is the wonderful nature of video games (and life if you want to get all existential) – their ability to both inform and entertain in ways that no other media can, often leading to new interests and obsessions.

It wasn’t until I explored professional wrestling for myself, mainly through the eyes of video games, that it really began to come alive.  2011’s WWE All Stars, my first foray into the world of simulated wrestling (in two ways),  was a history lesson dressed up in bright lights and fancy effects.  The game was a simple and intuitive brawler draped with enough wrestling attitude, history and nostalgia to last the average man a life time.    And Delving into the storied history, the rivalries, the glitz and the glamour of the WWE was refreshing and simply balls to the wall fun.  But more than that wrestling is and seems to always have been, in some ways, a microcosm of the fantastical and addictive beast that is American culture.  Picked straight from the headlines the sometimes ethereal story lines, as bombastic as they can be, are a window into what was big in America and what was on the minds of the people at any point in time, in a theatrical and over the top kind of way.  And as ludicrous as it can all be, it’s hard not to love what it attempts to do.

This isn’t all without caveats, however.  For each piece of interesting trivia I read about the WWE, there are as many if not more that are beyond comprehension if not outright offensive or wrong.  But that is exactly why video games are the absolute best way for newcomers to experience the legacy of a cultural icon.  Not only because video games can pay adequate homage to the bombastic and over the top nature of wrestling by making the impossible not just possible but commonplace, but also  because it allows it to be viewed through a lens that has been carefully prepared and curated by people who love the sport and want nothing more than to celebrate it.  Meaning all of the low points are conveniently swept under the rug to present the WWE at the best of its game.  Which really when you think about it isn’t that different from a museum or cultural institution.

WWE Legends of Wrestlemania (THQ, 2009)

So video games are both the preserver and gateway into new worlds both real and imagined.  But where it all really started for me, the fascination with wrestling, was in one of those overheard conversations that make you feel like all conversations you’ve had that day are boring and benign.  I’ll paint a picture –  three 30-something men, obviously with professional white collar careers going by their tailored suits, skinny ties and well-polished italian leather shoes were talking about something with such excitement and investment that it was hard not to be curious about what they were talking about.  I stopped and removed my headphones just far enough to hear their conversations a little better.  They were talking about the latest wrestling event.  One of the men proclaimed that it was better than Wrestlemania 2000.  Another recounted some of the best moves as if he was telling a tale of his own victory to entranced onlookers.  While the other yelled out ‘spoilers’ and begged and pleaded for his two friends to say nothing more as he couldn’t make it to their house to watch it the night before. It was this fandom, this clearly tongue-in-cheek respect that was clearly the centre piece of social interaction between this group of people that gave me a new found respect for this thing that I had been aware of and not only ignored, but derided my entire life.   In a way the vigour of the conversation legitimised the pastime for me.  Or rather made me jealous of what I was clearly missing out on by outright dismissing professional wrestling to that point.  Video games gave me the push, but it was seeing the way the people were reacting to their passion for the WWE that made me fall off of the edge toward understanding.

Funnily enough this new found interest (rather than obsession) has not blossomed into anything resembling full on fandom.  I will likely never watch a live wrestling event, follow the latest and greatest soap opera-esque story lines out of the ring, or wear a t-shirt with ‘my favourite wrestler’ emblazoned across the chest.  But at the same time I won’t look down on the people that do from my ivory tower while proclaiming them to be brain dead idiots.  Because like people who watch B-movies, soap operas, read comic books or listen to the spice girls mockingly, people who like wrestling likely aren’t taking it seriously and are just using it as a way to brighten up their day and connect with the people around them.  And even if they are taking it all seriously, more power to them.   Because if this is anything to go by, not understanding something isn’t justification for criticising it.  And let this piece be a lesson in tolerance.

<written by Sir Gaulian who has since purchased five separate wrestling-based video games>
Want to know more?  Try:

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Amazing Zelda Fan Art

It fascinates me how gaming has gone from being a niche hobby to something that’s firmly ensconced in mainstream culture (even if there’s still some way to go before it gains widespread acceptance), and for evidence of this you need look no further than the burgeoning fan art community. The current generation of artists is the first one to have grown up under the spell of video games, and a quick look at deviant ART reveals no shortage of video game influences.

Some of the fan art involves interpretations of modern game heroes, but much of it also has a tint of nostalgia, and some of my favourite artwork features Link from The Legend of Zelda. In particular, I love the below interpretation of A Link To The Past, which is part of the Videogame Remakes series of pictures by Orioto. I like the way it captures the sense of forboding and the enormity of the quest to come. (You can find the original here.)

Through The Night by Orioto

Zac Gorman is deservedly famous for his video game-inspired artwork, and I particularly like the pic below, which is both funny and a little poignant. He’s used Link as his muse many, many times over the years, and I urge you to check out his excellent work with all possible haste at http://magicalgametime.com/. (You can find this Zelda pic here.)

Just one of Zac Gorman’s many excellent Zelda interpretations.

This black and white pic of Link, also by Zac Gorman, is another of my favourites – like the Orioto pic, I love the way it emphasises the frailty of the character.

Lost (in the ) Woods by Zac Gorman.

Finally, I’m also a big fan of the artwork of Link-obsessed Lara Crow over at Toastmonster. I particularly like this interpretation of Link’s remarkable ability to roll up stairs, and Lara even featured Link on her wedding invites.

Does anyone else have some amazing video game fan art they want to share?

[Penned in artistic admiration by Lucius Merriweather.]

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