Monthly Archives: March 2015

The UK game chart is complete nonsense

For some time now, the UK music chart has combined numbers for streaming with physical and digital sales. The UK game chart, on the other hand, only counts physical sales, and as a consequence it bears little resemblance to the reality of what games are actually the most popular.

Chart1_V21

Courtesy of MCV

This week, trade publication MCV attempted to cobble together their own chart based on a combination of digital sales and physical sales, and the difference between their chart and the ‘official’ one was astounding. For a start, Cities: Skylines was number one and Hotline Miami 2 was number four, yet neither game appeared on the official chart at all.

MCV says that attempts have been made to create a combined digital and physical chart before, but they have ultimately failed – mostly due to a reluctance from publishers to share data. But there seems little point in continuing with the current charts when they’re so wildly inaccurate. In fact, Kotaku UK have taken a stand and vowed not to report the official charts because, in their words, they’re ‘bullshit’.

I agree: and I’d rather live in a world where Hotline Miami 2 beats sales of FIFA and Call of Duty. Which makes me wonder: how have other recent indie games fared against the so-called ‘big’ gaming franchises?

Courtesy of MCV

Courtesy of MCV

2 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Review: Little Inferno

Little Inferno launched alongside the Wii U, but I only picked it up recently in a sale – and what a fantastic little game it is. It’s the sort of thing I imagine Tim Burton would make if he ever turned his attention from films to video games.

Little Inferno

Conceptually, it’s defiantly odd. You’re presented with a fireplace – the Little Inferno Entertainment System – and you can order all sorts of bizarre things to throw into it and burn. Burning things gives you money – hey, why not? – which you then use to buy more things to throw into the flames.

The thing that glues it all together is the intensely weird narrative, which involves the unsettling Tomorrow Corporation, a weatherman in a balloon, and the exceedingly creepy girl next door who sends you more and more bizarre messages. Very little is revealed about the background of the game world or why you’re sat there throwing things into a fire (along with everyone else in the world, it seems), which is all for the good – it’s left to your imagination to paint in the blanks.

The things you’re given to burn are wonderfully strange. They include a ‘sleeping idol’ that emits a baleful, low-pitched drone when you burn it; a clutch of spider eggs; a blowfish; menopause pills; and even the moon, which has its own gravitational field. It’s all very weird.

There are plenty of digs at consumer culture here, along with some knowing nods about the addictiveness of video games (“I just can’t stop staring into the fire…”), but for the most part it’s willfully obtuse, which is fine by me. Little Inferno is very short, but it’s also highly entertaining and pretty much unique – and most definitely worth seeking out if you’re a Wii U owner.

Little Inferno screenshot

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Is this the end?

Like most kids that grew up in Australia in the 80’s and 90’s, I was a very active kid. Sure, video games were there and I liked them, but you were more likely to find me kicking the footy around or having a knock or two of backyard cricket before dinner, than you were to find me sitting in front of the telly transfixed on whatever game was gripping the neighbourhood at the time.  I loved my Game Boy, I loved my Amiga 500, and later on I loved my Playstation, but there’s always been a niggling little something in the back of my mind that made me think I could be spending my time more wisely, like time gaming was time wasted.

And that continued into my teenage years, where again games were there, but they were never at front and centre.  While there were games that absolutely captured me, I made a conscious decision that they wouldn’t be what defined me, that it was the poorer cousin to the other things that made up who I was.  Sure, there were the moments where we’d all get together and huddle around the old-arse telly, passing ’round the old Xbox Duke controller where we’d take turns striking each other down with light sabres Jedi Knight style, engaging in the great Australian pastime of sledging while doing so.  But that was usually when the first signs of dehydration were starting to hit after hours upon hours of cricket at the school oval across the road in 40 degree weather.  Games were almost always an afterthought, and quite frankly, we’d all much rather have been bowling the odd bouncer at each other’s heads or watching the ball sail back over the bowler, than engaging in a venerable frag-fest.

The fact is, while I’ve always played video games, I have always held a level of contempt toward the people that play them.  While I have a perhaps inordinate level of respect for professional sportsmen and women who dedicate their lives to being the best in the nation, I find those that do the same in pursuit of being the best at ‘e-sports’ misguided.  In my country sport is almost a cultural lynchpin, it is the thing that holds so much of our social fabric together, bringing people together in a way nothing else can.  And the art of the analysis that follows is practically worthy of a nobel prize.  While I sit here internally praising the greatest minds of the cricket world – the way Shane Warne analyses the game of cricket in such minute detail – I am simultaneously thinking about just how much of the analysis of the video game industry is either (1) personal selfishness being passed off as financial analysis, or (2) pointless ranting in the service of legitimising the medium.   The internet has perhaps exacerbated my personal contempt for video game culture and is something that is increasingly impacting both how I play video games and how I choose to write about them.  But really it’s this pervasive negativity about everything that is making me disengage from the internet altogether.

So where does that leave me?  Well it leaves me in a position where I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to care about the video game industry.  It leaves me in a position where I’m starting to disengage from any semblance of social media.  But most importantly it’s taking away my drive to play video games the way I used to – and perhaps even more importantly driving me away from wanting to write about them.  And that’s a hard thing to come to grips with. So as the summer of cricket in Australia comes to an end, and the Super Rugby season hits full swing, I find myself thinking about where video games fit in to it all.  Whether they’re a main attraction or just a sideshow, a consolation prize, something to pass the hours during the odd month there is no sport on in the country.  And then and only then I’ll be able to answer one very simple question. Is this the end?

10372177_10152891610832416_342564314534306846_n

What the f**k, mate?

25 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Day one patches: now it’s just getting silly

I just read on Eurogamer that Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is getting a 16 GB day one patch on Xbox One.

16 GB.

That’s actually bigger than the hard drive on my Xbox 360 (that’s right, I never upgraded, and somehow I’ve managed to make it this far through judicious deleting and a reliance on physical media).

borderlands

It’s not much better on PS4, where the day one patch is 8.3 GB. But the astonishing thing is that this game isn’t a brand-new entry in a mega franchise that the publishers are desperately pushing to get out for Christmas. It’s a re-release of Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the latter of which came out first in October 2014. So why couldn’t this 16 GB of data be included on the game disc?

The publishers say that the main reason is that it’s to include the Claptastic Voyage DLC, which came out too recently to be included on the disc. But they also say that the patch addresses “various bugs” and they “strongly recommend” that all players download it.

So why not just delay the game by a week or two, giving the devs time to add this “essential” patch to the game itself, rather than force players to sit through a lengthy download process when they attempt to play the game? 16 GB will easily take a couple of hours to download for most people, and could even take all night for some people with slow internet connections. And let’s not forget those unlucky few who have download limits on their internet supply, for whom this patch could end up costing a pretty penny.

Why inflict this annoyance on your customers? Is it so important to meet the Easter deadline? Or is the reason more coldly financial – was this game rushed out to be released before the end of the tax year in April, and therefore bolster the publisher’s profit margin for 2014/15?

There’s been a worrying trend for bigger and bigger day one patches recently. Patches are a boon in terms of providing the ability to fix bugs that creep through to the finished version, but increasingly they’re used as an excuse to release games in an unfinished state. And in the case of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, we’re not even talking about a new game.

I’m tired of waiting for an enormous patch to download whenever I play a new game – it’s time that publishers started thinking of their customers more than their profit margins.

14 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Review: Weapon Shop de Omasse

TM_3DSDS_WeaponShopDeOmasseI picked up Weapon Shop de Omasse for a pittance in a Nintendo eShop sale a few months back, and I’ve dipped into it a few times over the past few months. It’s the perfect example of a game with a winning idea that’s let down by poor execution.

The set up is that you’re an apprentice in a fantasy weapon shop, and it’s your job to supply would-be adventurers with the right swords, axes and cudgels for the job. You forge the weapons through a rhythm-action mini game, and the more accurately you time your hits, the more powerful the weapon, and thus the greater the chance that your customers will be successful in their quests.

It’s a neat twist on the old RPG formula, and my initial experience with the game was great, but it quickly gets ludicrously repetitive. New weapons are introduced periodically, but the way you create them is the same, and – most frustratingly – the actual forging minigame feels annoyingly imprecise. It seemed almost random as to whether the weapon would come out ‘dull’ or a ‘masterpiece’. There’s also little room for emerging complexity – new metals and ores are introduced, but they don’t seem to have any impact on the game, and you can safely ignore them with no effect on the gameplay.

One thing I did like was the slightly naff humour of the game. The game was created by Japanese comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai, and with its laughter soundtrack and regular outbreaks of applause and boos, the game felt like one of those ubiquitous Japanese panel shows, where guests pop on, eat something ludicrous or watch an amusing video and then engage in asinine banter. Despite having only the faintest grasp of Japanese, I used to love watching these shows when I lived in Japan – perhaps because they were so different to the TV I grew up on. So if nothing else, the game reminded me of some happy times back in Nippon.

However, despite its best attempts at humour, Weapon Shop de Omasse quickly became unforgivably dull after the first few hours. I stuck with it in the hope that the ending might offer an amusing conclusion, but if anything the game gets worse as it goes along, and the ending is horribly disappointing. Rather than redeem the game, it made me question why I’d bothered to stick with it.

ES2-620x

8 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Placemaking: Dead Rising’s Willamette Parkview Mall

WilametteThe moment you step into the corridor that leads into the vast and open plaza that is the setting for Dead Rising, you are in Willamette Parkview Mall.  From the lazy Sunday afternoon muzak that plays across the loud speakers, the way the light pours in through the large pane glass windows onto the expensive but daggy patterned floor tiles, to even the more simple of things like the way the virtual mall is designed, it all perfectly depicts a place we’ve all been to at some point in our lives.  It isn’t a place designed around a game premise, it is a place that just happens to be a perfect place for a game premise. You see Dead Rising’s developers created, or perhaps recreated, the perfect real life environment.  Put the zombies aside for a moment, and if you can briefly put aside shoving a shower head in a zombies head and run blood straight from their brain, and the mall feels like a living a breathing public space.

From the outset the game’s artists have created even the smallest details in painstaking detail.  From the kitsch logo designs of the chain stores scattered around the outside of a cluttered food court that at capacity wouldn’t be inviting enough to spend any time in over and above how long it takes to scoff down your meal, to the lairy turquoise and electric blue carpet and mock film advertisements that adorn the walls in the Colby’s Movieland cinema, Willamette Parkview Mall is like any other you’d find scattered around the suburbs of most western countries. It’s so real you can almost hear the parents yelling after their annoying children and the loud teenagers engaging in their post-pubescent mall-based mating rituals. SeafoodDR But as someone that worked part time in a supermarket while I was at University, it was Seon’s Food and Stuff located in the still under construction North Plaza, that really grabbed me and tickled my nostalgic fancy.  From the kind of cool but still a bit ‘by committee’ decor and discombobulating layout of the store, to the ridiculously energy inefficient spread of the dairy produce areas, it had all the hallmarks of your modern day one-stop shop supermarket that made it feel almost real.  Need MEATS or SEAFOOD?  Well look no further, Seon’s got you covered.  If you can’t find what your after, our friendly manager Steven Chapman will be able to assist you, to make sure you go away a happy customer.  When he’s not trying to kill your with an armed trolley, that is.  I did say almost real.

Seldom does a game come along where I feel like I ‘know’ its world inside and out, where I’m not constantly looking over a mini map, or even worse entering a menu to find out where I need to go. Even Dead Rising’s sequels never quite gave me that same level of familiarity, and although I came to love both Fortune City and Los Perdidos, they never quite matched how well I came to know that bustling shopping mall in Colorado.  When Otis said there was a man in North Plaza, I knew exactly where he meant.  When he told me there was a bloke that needed rescuing in Al Fresca Plaza I didn’t even need to stop at the information desk and ask for directions.

It’s a rare thing when a game accurately represents the world around you and accurately captures those minor details you often take no notice of in the real world.  But it’s quite another when the game makes you feel like you’re somewhere you know like the back of your hand.  Dead Rising does both, and if it wasn’t for the zombie apocalypse taking place in the halls and plazas of Willamette Parkview Mall, I’d swear it was located somewhere close to my childhood home in suburban Adelaide.

Have a favourite place in a video game?  One that you spent so much time in it began to feel like home? Tell us in the comments. Seon'sFoodandStuff

3 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Nintendo and the perils of free to play

The big gaming news this week was that Nintendo are going to start making games for smartphones in coordination with the mobile games company DeNA. Speculation has been rife, and many have been pointing to DeNA’s reliance on free-to-play games as a worrying sign of things to come. Want to play as Super Mario? Pay $5 for a super mushroom or $15 for a pack of five – that kind of thing.

Image courtesy of Kotaku

Image courtesy of Kotaku

I can’t really blame Nintendo for moving into the smartphone market – analysts (and Nintendo’s shareholders too, I expect) have been all but demanding that Nintendo makes a foray into this potentially lucrative market, especially as sales of the Wii U have been relatively lacklustre. Particularly in Japan, there’s been a sharp move away from console gaming towards mobile gaming, so it makes sense for Nintendo to move into this area.

Nintendo has said that it sees its mobile games as complementing its console titles: the mobile games will be new, standalone titles that will presumably be expected to channel users towards the company’s own-brand consoles, or at least raise awareness of its IP, like Mario and Zelda. So in theory us loyal Wii U and 3DS owners have nothing to fear – we’ll still be getting the usual, brilliant games, and we can safely ignore any watered-down mobile offerings that appear on mobile phones.

In theory, anyway. Of course, there was the recent debut of the free-to-play game Pokemon Shuffle on 3DS, which could indicate that Nintendo sees free to play as the way forward – or at least as an important part of its strategy – on its own consoles as well as on mobile. It’s not the first free to play 3DS game that Nintendo has made (Steel Divers: Sub Wars came out a while back), but it appears to be the most successful – it’s already been downloaded over a million times.

I’ve been diving into Pokemon Shuffle on and off over the past couple of weeks, and overall it left me a little deflated. It’s actually a fun little game – the presentation is excellent, and there’s room for a bit of strategy in the match-three gameplay, plus the music is fantastic – but it showcases the worst model of free to play, where the user is constantly nagged to spend money. Each level costs a ‘heart’ to play, and each heart takes half an hour to recharge. Use all five hearts and you’ll be asked whether you want to pay to get another one and continue playing. There are two problems with this. One, it’s just so damned annoying to have your play session interrupted by someone demanding money, and it ruins an otherwise pleasurable experience. And two, it assumes that the user is an idiot. Why on earth would I want to pay real money for something that I could get for free by waiting half an hour?

Pokemon Shuffle - Ready Wallet, Player One.

Pokemon Shuffle – Ready Wallet, Player One.

I’m not against free to play when it’s done well, but I don’t particularly like f2p games that are both annoying and assume I’m stupid. Lionhead’s upcoming Fable Legends gives a good example of how f2p should be done: it’s completely free to play, but if there’s a particular character or costume you like, you can pay to keep that character or costume permanently, otherwise they are rotated every month. It’s a fantastic idea: the user feels like they’re actually getting something tangible for their money rather than just time or expendable items. Buying coins or hearts in Pokemon Shuffle, on the other hand, feels like throwing money down a well.

I’m hoping that Nintendo’s new mobile games follow the example of Fable Legends, although judging by Pokemon Shuffle, there’s a good chance they’ll follow the ‘bad’ model of free to play. This certainly won’t hurt Nintendo in a financial sense, but it might tarnish their good reputation – a reputation that was on a high at the end of last year thanks to a slew of rock-solid games that launched with zero online issues, unlike their competitors. As we know, reputations are hard to forge, but easy to lose.

Still, we don’t know anything for sure just yet: Nintendo might not even go with free to play on their mobile titles, or they might use a very fair free to play system. But if they go down the ‘bad’ free to play route, expect plenty of articles like this one, where angry parents lambast Nintendo for ‘allowing’ their kids to spend X thousands of pounds on ‘free’ mobile games.

Here’s hoping that Pokemon Shuffle was just a one-off experiment.

Fable Legends gives an idea of how f2p should be done.

Fable Legends gives an idea of how f2p should be done.

8 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay