Monthly Archives: January 2015

Bloodsport – futuristic sports are inadvertent commentary on human frailty

MLFMutant League Football eh, yeah, that old chestnut.  You know the one that everyone talks about seemingly every five minutes, pining for its return, practically begging to take to the field as a mutant with tracks instead of feet?  Yeah, well it was one of seemingly hundreds of ‘fantasy’ sports video games that took a shotgun to the sports we know and love, blew their brains out, and left them covered in blood and more extreme than ever before.  And we loved it, so much so in fact that I’d hazard a guess that anyone over the age of 25 has a special little place in their heart for at least one of those virtual bloodsports, Mutant League Football or otherwise.  Extreme violence was the next evolution of sports in the 90’s and we lapped it up.

I would’ve been about five years old when I first got my taste of blood, with the Bitmap Brothers’ futuristic gaelic footy-ice hockey hybrid, Speedball. And it was great.  But it wasn’t until the second game, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, that I fell head over heels in love with the series.  Taking Brutal Deluxe to the top of the tables as with any other sports game was a real treat, but it was the getting there that was the real joy, as you build up a rag tag bunch of souped-up hardly-humans ready to send anyone that stands in your way to hospital.  And hospital you will send, as you rack up points for laying the bodies of your opponents out on the cool-hard steel floor, bringing play to a screeching hault.  Violence is part and parcel – practically a prerequisite – for victory as you come up against the likes of Violent Desire and Steel Fury in the pursuit of greatness.  The future of sports and society more broadly is a violent one, if you ask the good people of the video game industry.

Fast forward 10 years, multiple generations of hardware later, and we got the closest thing to Speedball 2 in a decade, in Deathrow.  But nothing had really changed, and while the game was a fantastically solid piece of software, the personality that Speedball 2 exuded was gone.  But it didn’t matter, as people like me couldn’t wait to satiate our taste for blood, under the guise of a sports game.  Sadly the audience had moved on and sales were low, so while Deathrow didn’t fall far from the Speedball 2 tree, was simply built on sentiments of a bygone era.  So with nowhere to go the futuristic sport genre simply disappeared.

But the ideas and concepts of those games lived on, appropriated by other genres looking to ignite a spark in the player base, ending up with games seeded with far more macabre premises like The Club.  Balls has given way for guns, and goals for kills, and bloodsport really meant just that.  It was effectively the gladiator of the modern day, the lower classes being exploited by the wealthy, made to hunt down and kill each other for their entertainment.  But it was still futuristic sport built on the foundations of societal breakdowns, with less stringent rules and regulations and care for human well-being, and with excessive violence being the glue that holds it all together.  The Club isn’t your traditional sports game, but underneath all the third person shooting and headshots, developer Bizarre Creations was leaning on the same premise that the Bitmap Brothers had almost two decades before.  Futuristic sports and violence in these worlds came packaged together in a neatly tied together bundle.

In fact it usually is the excessive violence that is the only major departure from the sports our kids play at school and we all see on television.  When we’re given the opportunity to make changes to our sports, make them more fantastical, it’s perhaps a sign of the times or the industry that violence is the first place we go.  We could have players with wings or time travel – we could even have teams of jedi – but instead we put spikes on the players’ gloves and call it a day.  It is perhaps indicative of our contempt for our own species that we envisage a dystopian future for ourselves, where even the rules on the pitch are lost in the fullness of time.  But that aside it also shows an inherent awareness of just how finer line there is between civility and disorder, how if we remove the rules we’re no better than your common animal.  Or mutant in the case of Mutant Football Leagues.

In a perverse way, these overly violent takes on sports we don’t think twice about playing in real life, appeal to us on an almost primal level.  But perhaps most strikingly, these often dystopian futuristic blood sports are the proof in the pudding that when it comes to sport, violence and physical aggression are generally accepted by society.  You only have to watch a game of Rugby Union – a game I love dearly – to see that sport is held to entirely different standards from other often more artistic mediums.  We accept it as part of the game, and govern it accordingly, through very strict rules and regulations.  The NFL players practically wear chain mail, cricketers wear helmets, and Rugby tackles are strictly monitored to mitigate the risk of spinal injuries.  But it’s still there, and in fact, is often an integral part of the game in real life.  Despite the increased prevalence of violence, there isn’t a big gulf between Speedball 2 and the sports we watch week in and week out, cheering as players hit each other with enough force to move mountains.  Video games just take this to the next logical extreme, making physical harm and violence an incentivised part of the game.  And Speedball 2 just happens to be the best example of it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 1.23.16 pm

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From The Armchair: Bye Bye Club Nintendo

ArmchairWhat ho, chums!

So no doubt you’ve already heard the news by now: Club Nintendo is to close later this year, which will be very sad news for fans of free tat. Perhaps ‘tat’ is being a bit harsh, but there’s no denying the fact that the stuff being hoiked through the UK site is not a patch on some of the free things they get abroad. Whereas the US and Japanese fans get free games, we get… golf balls and wrapping paper. I kid you not.

Still, all this stuff IS free, so it seems churlish to complain. Although having said that, slogging through all those marketing questionnaires to claim your Club Nintendo stars sometimes felt almost like having a second job. And you have to have a serious amount of stars in order to get anything partway decent.

See? Golf balls and wrapping paper.

See? Golf balls and wrapping paper.

I’ve only ever managed to get three things through Club Nintendo in the 12 or so years of its existence: some Mario themed hanafuda cards, which were pretty cool but ultimately fairly useless; a Pikmin keychain that looked amazing but broke after about a week; and a Yoshi cuddly toy, which is one of my favourite things ever (apart from Fire Emblem amiibo, natch). Yoshi-san is currently still in his wrapping, as I’m planning on giving him to Merriweather Jr when he arrives later this year. Although having said that, I may have to carefully ‘look after’ Yoshi myself until MJ is old enough to treat him with the respect he deserves (i.e. not puking all over him). I reckon he should be mature enough at about sixteen.

The Yoshi plush toy. Too good to give to a child.

The Yoshi plush toy. Too good to give to a child.

So a mixed haul from Club Nintendo, then. Perhaps its demise is no bad thing – although I still think the very fact that Nintendo has a loyalty programme is an indicator of how differently the company goes about its business in comparison to Sony and Microsoft. No wonder Nintendo fans are so devoted.

Nintendo has promised us that Club Nintendo will be replaced with a ‘new scheme’, although they’ve yet to release any details. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will be linked in to some sort of gamer account that will let you transfer your profile between machines more easily, as the current system is a right pain. What are your thoughts on Club Nintendo’s demise, and what do you want as a replacement?

In other news, I was pleased to see the reception to my article on Kotaku UK about Douglas Adam’s Starship Titanic – last time I checked it had been shared on Facebook and Twitter over 2,000 times, which put a big smile on my face. I’ve just finished another one, so hopefully it will appear on their website in the not too distant future.

Toodle-pip for now!

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The PES-FIFA paradigm – how video game abstraction helps on a foreign field

PES5Being a migrant-built country founded by Brits and living in a city made home by a wave of Italians and Germans, it isn’t surprising that Football of the soccer variety came naturally to plenty of kids at my school in Australia. While Adelaide is a city in love with its Aussie Rules football, for a while there growing up I was more likely to come across kids wearing shin guards than mouthguards, and crying “HAND BALL!” over “Hand Pass!”.  Like cricket, the sport of roundball comes naturally to me, meaning the games based on it also do.

Because of that, throughout the early to mid-2000’s, I always favoured Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series to EA Sports’ FIFA franchise, meaning that while i’d buy PES every year on the year, I’d only really dip my toes into the FIFA pool once every few years.  And that was the perfect way for me to get my football fix – PES was always going to be my football diet staple, but dalliances with EA Sports’ series was the ‘there is such a thing as too much of a good thing’ dessert.  And it was this way for a lot of my football-playing friends both in Australia and abroad – the United Kingdom was PES mad for example – with PES being the go-to game for get togethers and solo seasons.  FIFA was a distant, distant second.

And that’s because while it may not have had the real life TV presentation or the fancy true to life graphics of FIFA, PES did have a great grasp of the feel and flow of that 90 minutes on the pitch.  And it had it in spades.  Its nuanced approach was made to appeal to the diehard football fan, and appeal it did, as every gathering of a bunch of mates turned into a celebration of the best representation of virtual football on the market and inevitably ended in a virtual penalty shootout.  Oh the stories I could tell you about classic PES 5 matches both in the lead up and during to the 2006 World Cup.

But FIFA was a different beast, preferring flashy style and arcade pacing, splashed with amazing presentation to cover it all up.  That’s not to say it wasn’t a good game – it was – but it was also an incredibly abstracted version of the sport.  While the rules and core concepts were all there, and the real life teams and players made it look the part, it never quite felt right.  Of course to the average punter, it was a bloody sexy version of a ridiculously approachable sport, and so for them it was the perfect entry point to one of the oldest simulated sports in video games.  If they hadn’t played a football game since International Soccer on the Commodore 64, or Kick-Off on the Amiga 500, FIFA was the best entry point.  And in America, it quite simply WAS football games for most people, sitting right next to Madden and NBA Live on store shelves.  But for many of us that were raised playing the game, it was the hobbled little brother that never quite learnt how to ride his bike without training wheels.  And so we sledged it and those who played it.

But that’s football.

When it comes to American sports – the baseballs, the gridirons, the basketballs – hearing that a game doesn’t capture the nuance or subtlety of the sport it is simulating instantly catches my attention.  Of course saying that is meant to be the video game industry equivalent of slinging an enormous pile of shit onto it and then cutting off the water supply to the shower.  And to most people, its effect is just that, and they stay well away from the virtually excrement-stained piece of software.  But for me it’s the consumer equivalent of the fifth lights coming on sitting on the starting grid of an F1 race, my foot is poised on the accelerator and my hand is on shifter ready to go.  And EA Sports’ NBA Live series fits that bill to a tee.

It’s the PES-FIFA paradigm, only in this case, I fall on the FIFA side of things.  For me, an american sports luddite, all I need are the basics of the game.  Can I throw a ball through a hoop?  Tick.  Can I pass the ball?  Tick.  Can I scream BOOM SHAKA LAKA while I hang off of the ring?  BIG TICK.  Fans of the sport may deride me for my rather simplistic take on their beloved hoop ball, but to me, pulling off a full court press or a zone offence means absolutely diddly squat.  Or on other words, the NBA 2K series while excellent, is far too complicated to be an entry point to the sport in games. Like those FIFA-playing Americans before Major League Soccer grew in popularity on the back of the introduction of the ‘Beckham Rule’,  I really just want to have a good time running a ball back and forth on a field, and hopefully score some goals in the process.  But if I have to remember 639 different button combinations and 24 different set pieces to do it then count me out.

And guess what, NBA Live doesn’t require that, just as TV Sports Basketball didn’t 20 years ago, and the myriad of PS1 games in between didn’t.  While the days of arcade sports games are seemingly long gone, there is always going to be room for the game that doesn’t quite nail it, and comes off as a bit of a shell of the sport on which it’s based.  The purists, like I was with Pro Evolution Soccer, will always be critical of over simplification of their beloved sport.  But for the FIFA crowd of old, the casual consumer and perhaps foreign player that just wants a taste, just enough is good enough.

NBA Live

 

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It’s a statistic: No, baseball is absolutely nothing like cricket.

ShaneWarne99Bats and Balls.  That’s where the similarities end.

I grew up on a healthy diet of cricket. Sport is so entrenched in Australian culture that it’s kind of hard to escape, with backyard cricket an afternoon and family gathering staple, and television programming and ratings being quite literally dictated by what sports are on the telly.  From the two different versions of the Footy Show shown on primetime thursday nights – depending on if you’re a Rugby or an AFL city – to the five days of lounging about watching the beauty of a cricket test match play out, Australia is sports mad.  But of all those sports nothing gets me more excited than the sound of leather on willow cricket season brings.

Strangely though, until very recently with the release of Don Bradman Cricket 14, there hadn’t been a ‘must-have’ cricket game since Shane Warne Cricket ’99. EA sports had a few cracks – and decent ones at that – but for cricket fans across the world we were left languishing with a few half-baked sequels to that classic Playstation game that is probably still the best way to spend an afternoon with a few mates and a couple of beers. Basically, cricket as a sport is severely underdone in the video game sphere, and for tragics of the sport like me it has always felt like an enormous void in my yearly gaming rituals.

So I turned to the next closest thing in baseball, which while enjoying mild successes downunder, is tenth in line to the venerable cornucopia of sports we aussies follow with cult-like vigour. But boy I have played a hell of a lot of baseball games over the years.  I was a Hardball tragic back in the Amiga 500 days and more recently played more hours of the recent The Bigs and The Bigs 2 than I care to admit.  And on the back of that thirst for video game representations of America’s favourite pastime, I entered the world of Sony’s baseballs series, MLB: The Show.  And the early signs were good . It has bats and balls, it has catches, it has balls flying over the boundary, and it has runs. The terminology had me feeling right at home from the get go.  But as I dug into these games, I realised that despite some superficial similarities, baseball and cricket are absolutely nothing alike.  And so the learning curve began and I realised that I understand absolutely nothing about THAT American sport.

Despite that, since 2012 I have bought MLB: The Show every year, hoping that it will click one day, and the game of baseball will suddenly make sense to me.  But the Picking up MLB: The Show for the first time in 2012 was a bit like being bowled a wrong’un.  Not because I didn’t understand the mechanics of the game – after all it’s not a terribly complex sport – but because the flow of the game was foreign to me.  After the first game, which I seem to recall having a final scoreline of 3-2 against me, I scratched my head confused at what had just happened.  What seemed like an hour had passed and I had only managed to hit a handful of balls to the effect of scoring a handful less runs.  And my pitching was even worse.  What sorcery was this, “this would never happen in cricket”, I thought to myself.

And it wouldn’t happen in cricket.  It’s not unusual to see a batsman score upwards of 150 in the modern five-day version of the game or have run chases of upwards of 400 runs per innings.  In a recent four-game test series between Australia and India, two batsman alone put on far in excess of 1000 runs, something that while perhaps unusual isn’t necessarily atypical.  Your average decent test player has an average of around 50 runs per innings, at a strike rate of somewhere around the same number.  Cricket like baseball is a game of statistics, but while victory in both is based around some of the same metrics, numerically they almost couldn’t be any further apart.

All of these stats have a tangible impact on the game, because it changes my approach to the game, in much the same way it would a player out on the field.  Strategies win and lose games in both codes and pacing is a key to implementing those strategies.  I know that in cricket if you’re looking to speed up the over rate or slow down the run rate of the batsmen, I know to bring a leg spinner into the mix at one end of the pitch and bring in the field to make him play defensively from his crease.  And guess what in a good cricket game the same logic holds. So if my fast bowlers are getting smashed to the boundary too often and going for 15 runs an over, it’s time to rotate the bowlers and change the field.  It’s all in recognising where the game statistically is on average and changing your game plan accordingly.

But what is average in baseball?  If I’m scoring three runs a match with a batting average of 0.2 is that normal?  If my pitcher is pitching an average of two balls per five pitches is that average.  What about fouls, they seem to happen all the time, but that doesn’t seem quite right.  How many runs are scored in an average game? And so as I continue my yearly baseball journey through the lens of video games, the questions go on and on, and what I thought was a decent understanding of the sport crumbles, something that is reflected in my incredibly poor record in the games.  My pitchers are shithouse and my batsman left swinging at air most of the time.  And after all that what I’m left with is a feeling of betrayal and hopelessness, that The Bigs series is a mere shadow of the game it represents, and that i’ll never truly understand what has Americans excitedly drinking that terrible Budweiser beer by the litre while sitting staring at their television.

But I persist and still play MLB: The Show every year, hoping that it will click one day, and the game of baseball will suddenly make sense to me.  And I enjoy it a hell of a lot, even if most of the time it’s like trying to read heavily faded elvish while wearing 3D glasses.  And because I never quite feel I’m playing it right, the stats pages fly over my head, and my game plans are largely stochastic selections from the batting and pitching roster.  But while the nuance is lost, the magnificence of the game remains, and I still get giddy when I see the ball hit for six over the boundary.  Or is that a Home Run?  I’ve forgotten already.

For a better – and AMERICAN – take on the sport of baseball in video games, and sports gamers in general, I highly recommend THE SPORTING GAMER from our friend over at MURF VS. Follow him on twitter @CTMurfy.

In cricket we'd call that an illegal bowling action

In cricket we’d call that an illegal bowling action

 

 

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A Numbers Game: why the maths behind old sports games make them priceless pieces of history

FMIf you’ve ever sifted through the pre-owned section of your local games store, or scrolled through the seemingly endless video game listings on ebay, you know just how little value we as people place on old sports games.  Every year like clockwork, developers and publishers push out a new version of their sports simulator, while the old versions are traded in to get yellow stickers slapped on the front of them and are sold for a dime a dozen.  It’s a sad sight, but one that’s inevitable when you consider how quickly rosters become outdated, and how much money there is for companies that revise them.  It’s the way of the world.

But as historical records I am fascinated by these obsolete pieces of plastic.  Aside from giving us the ability to recall and replay our favourite sporting moments with our favourite athletes, it also gives us an insight into multiple unrealised realities. They are the version of reality driven by enormously complex algorithms, based on estimations of any particular athletes’ perceived strengths and weaknesses in any given year. These old games are at the very least a piece of history and tangible realisation of sentiments around players and teams in that year. But if you think about the potential behind these enormous mathematical machines they are so much more. And it’s all in the numbers.

These old sports games are ways to track how players rose and fell, and for that reason alone they are priceless.  Every year these stats and attributes sheets are painstakingly filled out by teams of people, capturing every nuance behind a player’s behaviour on – and increasingly off – the pitch. But behind all of this was a predictor of future success – a  ‘potential’ stat acting as an upper bound and in a lot of ways an error margin for player development.  We all know Lionel Messi turned out to be one of the greatest players ever to don a pair of shin pads, but that was never going to be a given.  Injuries, poor form, poor training, low morale – all of these things contribute to how good ol’ Messi could’ve turned out.   It is from these numbers that, in conjunction with player action, the world takes shape.  Every time the little loading disc spins, and the splines are reticulated, the game is performing probably hundreds if not thousands of equations to find one of probably infinite possible outcomes for each and every fixture.  This may be in some ways no different to most games that we play and enjoy, but there’s something about seeing into the machine and watching those cogs turn and the numbers play out, that makes it more mesmerising if brave.

And of all the sports simulators on the market Sports Interactive’s Football Manager wears its numbers most proudly on its sleeve. Rather than hiding its mathematical prowess behind a series of slightly more abstracted 1’s and 0’s, it practically made an artform out of keeping its numbers at front and centre. It is as mesmerising as it is a masterpiece, and anyone that has ever played Football Manager and has even a passing interest in the sport will tell you of their time on with it like they were Sir Alex Ferguson sitting on the sidelines of Old Trafford leading their team to victory. Of course what they really mean is they stared at numbers on a spreadsheet for hours on end. It is the most beautiful game of the beautiful game.

And that’s because staring at spreadsheets is a fine art.  Taking punts on a young talent is one of the more satisfying feelings, and I’m convinced that balancing your team subject to budget constraints is the way algebra should be taught in school.  Watching what plays out season after season, as youth become senior players and new blood comes into the squad is what gives the game legs and keeps people coming back year after year.

While perhaps not as mathematically complex as the Football Manager games, more ‘active’ sports games also provide this same sense of satisfaction, particularly as the games get more advanced.  Creating the ultimate team in Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 means more now than it did in Pro Evolution Soccer because the inherent function driving the outcomes of each player’s statistics is more complex.  In some ways it is seemingly more random, but that is a far better reflection of the world of sport than predictability.  In FIFA 2004 I built Feyenoord into the ultimate team of Dutch superstars and was unbeatable.  But as history has shown, that same team of superstars didn’t manage to win the World Cup is testament to just how many outcomes there can be when mathematics are involved.  When people say ‘on paper they are the best team’ they’re talking numbers, and as almost every sport on the planet has shown, the number’s don’t always add up.  Favourites are only favourites on paper.

And that’s why there’s something immensely satisfying going back and playing old Football Manager games or other long-running sports series.  Going back to Football Manager 2006 and buying up Messi for a bargain basement price of 5 million pounds knowing he became the superstar is a fascinating experiment, and one that only these old sports titles afford us.  Going back and playing through Ronaldinho’s glory years in Pro Evolution Soccer 5 or the FIFA series equivalent is a nostalgic trip, but it’s also ways to change history.  Ronaldinho didn’t have the long and prosperous career many had hoped, but in your world, that Ronaldinho of 2005 can fully realise his potential and bask yourself in the glory associated with it.  It’s that amazing feeling of leading your team to victory that hasn’t changed throughout the history of sports games, and one that keeps people coming back year after year to trade in their old copies for a cool ten bucks of the newest version.

But when you remove the player names, the teams and the glory,  it’s actually the numbers and the maths that keeps people coming back.  It may say Manchester City or Southampton at the top of the screen, but it’s really the numbers behind the scenes that makes the game so compelling.  It’s because football in a lot of ways Football Manager is an enormous forecasting tool, and one where you can prove your mettle against real life Football Managers, in a virtual way.  But it is also a fixed point from which various realities are created.  As the numbers crunch and goals are scored, it is effectively creating one version of a reality that could’ve played out, leaving other realities behind.  If you’re into time travel, or multiple realities or dimensions – or just nuts about numbers and probability – sports games should automatically tickle your fancy.  And when the real outcomes are known, which is the case with older sports games, it is effectively like watching a Doctor Who episode.  Only more athletic.

Games are fundamentally built on mathematics, and our behaviour in those games is driven by numbers.  We all chose the Chicago Bulls in NBA Jam because the numbers were higher,  and we all min max in role playing games because statistically it serves our path through the game better, and we all made Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed in NHL ’94.  But it is when these numbers are transparent that things get interesting.  To think that people are watching players and ranking them on countless attributes is an amazing thought, one that is a tangible record of how players were regarded.  But the idea that we can travel back in time and change sporting history is one that I quite simply cannot ever get over.  And so while these games change and evolve, leaving the antiquated mechanics of their forbears in our wake, I can’t help but feel that their intrinsic value of these games as time machines is higher than their pre-owned labels indicate.  As games they may not be up to snuff, but as an electronic abacus and forecasting tool, they’re absolutely priceless.

NBA Jam

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Games can be gateways to greater cultural awareness, and mirrors to someone else’s world

CaoCaoWhen I was a kid I was fascinated by Monkey Magic (commonly known as Monkey).  I would watch reruns on Saturday mornings, staring at the screen in sheer wonderment, admiring just how different it was from the world I lived in.  The design of the costumes, the demons, the world, not to mention the stark contrast of its heroes to the world of comic books and cartoons, it hit something of a nerve in my brain that practically implored me to read further.  And so I did.  Finding out just how culturally significant the story of Monkey is for chinese buddhist mythology gave it an air of gravitas that no english literature i’d read ever did.  And that kickstarted a life-long fascination with the east.

I was worried when japan started to lose its grip on the industry last generation.  Not because I’m a fan of any particular japanese developer, or couldn’t live without the next entry in the long and storied Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy series, but because the games they developed were so different from anything else I encountered.  There were largely no stories about modern conflicts in the middle east, alternate takes on european history, or games about shooting sprees through modern metropolises with stories thrown in for good measure.  These were the tales of the west, and the east, well that was something a little more dare I say exotic.  Losing that could’ve been the end, for me at least.

You see learning about other cultures and places – both real and imagined – is one of the key reasons I love playing games.  But it’s learning about the world around me that really inspires me and gives me the shove I need to learn more.  It’s part of the reason Jade Empire is my favourite Bioware game, with its fantastical take on asian culture providing a fantastic insight into the regional melting pot that made asian such a historically and culturally rich part of the world.  It’s also why Asura’s Wrath – a thoroughly average game mechanically – held my attention for so long.  The world was so rich with pseudo hindu and buddhist imagery that progressing through its story was a sheer joy, if only just to see the next beautiful cutscene.

If i’m honest it’s that same incentive that keeps me playing and enjoying Dynasty Warriors games.  It’s easy to make jokes about the series’ serial retelling of the Three Kingdoms story, but unless you’ve read a little bit further into it, you probably wouldn’t ever understand just how significant it is for China both historically and understanding the country’s role in the current geopolitical climate.  It may not be my lineage or even yours, but with the rapid onset of globalisation and migration the tales of Lu Bu and company’s galavanting around the Middle Kingdom is as relevant to our collective cultures as the Italian Renaissance, the First Fleet or the decades of Western-led wars in Afghanistan.  And I think Koei’s series is just about the best place to start that journey of discovery – a journey I just about guarantee I never would’ve embarked on without.

Fast forward to this generation and Far Cry 4 is the next great big sprawling adventure.  But it’s not the guns, the charismatic Pagan Min, or stealthily taking out an outpost that caught and held my attention.  Rather it was the fictional Himalayan country of Kyrat, complete with religious and cultural detail, that captured my imagination.  I am lucky to live with someone who studied southeast asian art and artefacts, which I vicariously learnt bits and pieces of through conversation, and witnessing representations of these artefacts ‘in situ’ as it were was more exciting than it should’ve been.  “Which one was this one again?” I asked as I walked up to a stone statue sitting in a cave tucked away behind a waterfall. “I think it’s a kind of representation of Avalokiteśvara” she responded.  After an afternoon of research, I think she was right, and that is the coolest thing about the game.  It’s these little things, both in the latest game and to a lesser extent Far Cry 3, that makes the Far Cry games amazing cultural adventures.  They may not be accurate, and they may be sensational and distilled versions of cultural stereotypes, but the fact that I am compelled to find out is an enormous testament to the strength of the worlds created.  Without them, they’d just be a few bozos with guns, just like every other game about bozos with guns.

In the end Japan didn’t lose its grip on the industry, but even if it did, the willingness for western developers to embrace other cultures would’ve no doubt filled that gap.  And that’s only a good thing.  Sure we’re going to still see games spruiking just how great anglo civilisation is, but only as long as that is balanced or even drowned out by the voices and stories of other nations and people will video games continue to grow, and become the inspiring and culturally relevant artistic endeavours they should be.  Maybe one day without the guns.

FarCry4

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The Secret Society of the Starship Titanic

My article on the Starship Titanic employee forum has just gone live on Kotaku UK: http://www.kotaku.co.uk/2015/01/23/secret-douglas-adams-rpg-people-playing-15-years.

This was a fascinating article to write – big thanks to Yoz Grahame, Carolyn Wilborn and Tony Marks for their help. It’s all about the game Starship Titanic, which was the brainchild of the late, great Douglas Adams. Yoz set up a secret Starship Titanic ’employee forum’ back in 1998 to promote the launch of the game, but it evolved into something far beyond his imagination…

Starship Titanic box art

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