Category Archives: Most Agreeable Moments

Fallout and the splendid sound of silence

fallout3xbox360“Speak to Colin Moriarty”. It was the task that will always define Fallout 3 for me. As I traversed the wasteland in search of high adventure, there it was, always sitting at the top of my quest log.  It was at around the 60 hour mark I finally made my way to Moriarty’s Saloon, took a seat at the bar next to a lady of the night, and used my way with words to convince Moriarty to tell me the whereabouts of my father.

And then the true adventure began.

But I joke about the time it took to speak to Moriarty because it, in a lot of ways, defines my long and enduring relationship with Fallout 3.  So captured by the Capital Wasteland that simply existing in it was enough, so much so that hours were spent traipsing aimlessly about the wasteland, taking in the sights and the sounds.  It would be weird to call Fallout 3 some sort of escapism from the vicissitudes of everyday life, because it was hardly a beacon of light for humanity, but in some ways it became the game I’d go to merely to exist and explore somewhere other than the here and now.  To get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

If you’ve ever driven along an empty country road alone, no other cars in sight, you’ll know just how soothing spending time in your head with just the radio and the road for company is.  Fallout 3 recreates this feeling almost perfectly with walks in nature to the soothing tunes of the Ink Spots or Billie Holiday proving to be a veritable dalliance with luxury in a world that can barely offer them to its inhabitants.  Because those moments of respite, when you’re not fighting for your life against the men and mutants that want to take it from you, are some of the most relaxing video gaming has to offer.

More than once I found myself finding a seat alongside an irradiated lake or an abandoned cabin next to a collapsed freeway and just sitting.  Sitting and starting at the screen watching the world go by.  Watching the occasional crop of dust fly by or a stranger with his lone brahmin walking alone a dusty trail way off in the distance.  Because amongst all of the despair humanity brought upon itself and if you look closely, past the derelict buildings and the mutilated corpses, post-apocalyptic Earth is a beautiful place.

After the hours upon hours spent in the decrepit former capital of the United States, I felt as though I was actually the long wanderer.  I was the guy that rigged the election in the Republic of Dave.  I was the guy that ended poor Harold’s life in Utopia. But more importantly for me, it was me walking around in my own company, watching the sunrise and sunset. It was me enjoying the silence of the wasteland.  And as I looked I up at the stars it was easy to forget that humanity was on its last legs.  And that for me was some kind of bliss.  Who knew the end of the world could be so relaxing?

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Most Agreeable Moments – Speedball 2

speedball_2_brutal_deluxe_2The road to the top is a long and bloody one for Brutal Deluxe.  Week after week the boys run out onto the field and pour their heart and soul into the game, putting their bodies on the line, all for a taste of that sweet Speedball victory.  They may start as a bunch of young Division 2 upstarts and plodding veterans, but one by one they take their opponents down, on their way to glory.  Damocles. Steel Fury. Violent Desire.  They’re all notches on your belt on the brutal path to the top of Division 1.  And what a violent and satisfying path it is.

Speedball 2 isn’t unique in the feeling of accomplishment it brings with it – there is just something about sports games that gets me.  Whether it be the number crunching of the Football Manager series, or the Master League that made Pro Evolution Soccer such a time sink for me in the Playstation 2 era, there is something to taking a bunch of wooden-spooners up the ladder to a premiership.  But Speedball 2 is a bit special in the way you do it.

And so you train your rag tag bunch of blokes, you work them to the bone in the gym, and buy them as many pairs of Bitmap Shades and Power Gloves you can carry.  But no matter how hard you train, no matter how much blood sweat and tears your boys poor into winning, you’ll need help from the superstars of the game. And so you pony up the big future bucks to buy the Robbens and Sneijders of the future sport world.

They may be expensive, but it’s these mutants, these freaks of the game, that will be the difference between success and failure. And that’s worth saving your pennies and enduring some hardships early on in your Brutal Deluxe campaign for.

I say mutants because they kinda were just that.  Blokes with bionic eyes and tattoos on their faces.  Fellas who look a bit like they’ve come from a galaxy far far away.  And a guy that looks a bit like the love child of Prince and James Brown.  While they look like a freak show though, on the metal arenas of the Speedball tournament, they’re right bloody monsters.  It was always a violent game, but with these freaks on the field the blood flowed thick and fast, along with the bodies of the heavily armoured players as they fell heavily on the steel floor.  It’s this controlled violence that set Speedball 2 apart from other sports games.

And the moment you take to the field with your first superstar is a moment you remember.  The pace of the game changes and the game slows to a halt as the ambulance takes to the field and the game’s casualties pile up.  Winning by points is a victory, but winning by taking out the other team, well that’s an absolute drubbing.  And it’s a drubbing that becomes a distinct possibility when you’ve got bloodthirsty half-cyborgs on your side.  Speedball 2 is a blood sport after all, and when you’ve got Raw Messiah on the ropes in the final, you’ll be thankful for every drop of blood your lads are letting onto the floor.

Ice Cream, indeed.

Speedball2Celebration

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Most Agreeable Moments – Viva Piñata and the nature of nurture

There was something wonderfully magical about Viva Piñata. It was easy for tending to one’s garden to border on obsession, as building a sustainable ecosystem through both the comfort of nurture and the ruthlessness of nature, had me running home from work at lunchtime to briefly play god from the comfort of a beautifully manicured garden.  From the second my first Whirlm crawled into my garden, who I proceeded to affectionately and maturely name Bellend, Rare’s world was the place I’d go home to at the end of the day.  It was my secret garden, complete with trampoline.

And from the humble beginnings of your first Whirlm the garden will grow and so too will the ecosystem of the creatures that inhabit it.  All manner of delightful looking creatures will stumble across your garden, sniffing around the edges, wanting to call it their home.  And it will become your life’s purpose to accomodate them, to find a way to coax a couple of heart-meltingly adorable Galagoogoos onto your land, and then to get them randy enough to have a good old root in their lavish hutch.  And by Jove you’ll have the best damn pedigree Piñata in all the land!

But before all this, you have to learn both the wonders and vicissitudes of life, that it can be beautiful at the same time as it can be cruel.  As your ambitions as a gardener grow, and the beautiful family of four Whirlms you’ve tended to aren’t enough anymore, you’ll become ruthless in your pursuit of garden biodiversity.  First it’ll be a Sparrowmint.  And then another.  But at some point you’ll want more than just the Bellend family and a couple of Sparrowmints hopping around on your perfectly mowed lawn.  You want a Fudgehog and you want it bad.  And that’s the precise moment your mind shifts from ‘maternal’ to mega-lo-mania.

Just moments after you’ve seen the once lone Bellend raise a family of his own, with a wife and couple of kids roaming about the garden, you’re forced to the watch the family be torn apart.  It all moves in slow motion as the Fudgehog that has been scoping the garden for days, watching the Bellend family from the outskirts of your prefab paradise, swoops in and attacks the unsuspecting littlest Whirlms.  And a bloodbath ensues – or rather a lollybath – as the Fudgehog tears into paper exteriors to get to the deliciously sweet insides.  But at tragic as it was watching the garden intruder tuck into little Bellend Junior and his sister Bellendette, that was the moment was when I realised that Viva Piñata was literally making me call the shots on nature, and decide which species would live and which would die and which I would sacrifice for the betterment of the garden.  And so while you farm your flock of adorable and fluffy Goobaa it’s impossible to not feel guilty that you’re doing it knowing full well they’re head for the slaughter at the hands of a nearby carnivore.

For me Viva Piñata took hold of my innate desire to play god, while tapping into that little obsessive corner of my brain to keep me throughly occupied with the more micro curating of an aesthetically pleasing but functional garden.  A beautiful flower here, a lovely water-fern there, a gate to ease racial tensions everywhere.  But while the game masquerades as a nice little sim-like game with cute-as-a-button characters and myriad of items both decorative and function to fill your garden with, it is actually a game that rather covertly teaches you about the fragility of biodiversity. And the  worst part is that every step of the ecosystem’s food chain lives or dies by your choices.

No one said playing god would be easy.

SparrowMint - Viva

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Most Agreeable Moments – DOOM

I could write about Doom all day. And believe me I’ve tried.  And tried again.  For me it sits right next to Wipeout as one of the games that made me sit up and pay attention to games as more than just a thing that I did when the sun went down or the ball was hit over the neighbour’s fence.  It the sort of thing that set young tongues wagging at school, sharing our stories of ultra-violent debauchery, putting into carefully crafted prose our tales of triumph against the dreaded Cyberdemon and his Barons of Hell.  There are plenty of things that define one’s childhood, and for me, Doom absolutely sits right up there next to the rather more pedestrian fandom I held for the likes of Alan Border and Ayrton Senna.

And nothing has changed.  Doom is still great more than 20 years later simply because it had so many of those “AHAH!” moments that are hard to shake even though things have moved on.  It was nothing short of one of the most important games in my 30-odd years playing video games.  Because it seemed at every turn something was there that changed expectations about the medium.  And when there wasn’t a thing that made you go “mmmm”, the blood-soaked action was just so fast and frenzied that there was simply no time to notice.  Doom was a deserved cultural zeitgeist, and I feel ever so slightly for kids of today that don’t get the experience first hand the impact it had on the industry, and at a more personal level the sheer glee it brought to kids of my generation.

But I’m not sure there was any one single moment in the 90’s, apart from perhaps seeing Mortal Kombat arcade machine in the flesh for the first time, that brought such unadulterated joy to scores of mollycoddled kids than hefting up the heaviest of heavy chainsaws and revving it up for the first time.  Never before, and only a handful of times since, has obtaining a melee weapon in a first person shooter been so defining.  But it was the face of the aptly named “Doom Guy” – who may or may not be named Flynn Taggart if you consider the Doom novels canon – that gave it such gravitas. His sinister but determined grin was that of a man whose odds of survival had not only been shortened, but a man who would take some semblance of glee from the chopping and maiming that was to come, who was up for the challenge.  It was Doom’s equivalent of laughing in the face of death, and as a player on the other side of the screen, it was almost like a shot of adrenaline right into the heart.

The first thing I ever heard about Doom was that there was a chainsaw in it, that you could pick it up, and that you could use it as a weapon.  I have vivid memories of my much older brother and uncles describing in gory detail the act of cutting up an imp with the chainsaw, all the while almost taking great delight in the fact that I wasn’t allowed to play it.  “You should see the blood!” they’d say before mocking me with “but you’re not allowed to”.  And I wasn’t.  So for what seemed like a millennia I fantasised about that moment, the moment I would finally get to see the fabled chainsaw in action, the moment I’d finally play the game that all the grown-ups at family gatherings were cunningly hiding from the kids’ table.  But rest assured, when I finally did get my hands on that Chainsaw, my grin wasn’t too far off of what I was seeing on screen.  It’s a shame the wind didn’t change and preserve that moment in time.

DOOM Chainsaw

 

Do you remember smiling gleefully as the words YOU’VE GOT THE CHAINSAW NOW FIND SOME MEAT appeared on screen?  Or do you have another favourite video game moment?  Join the conversation in the comments below, or on Twitter using #MostAgreeableMoments.

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Most Agreeable Moments – Halo: Combat Evolved

Playing through the original Halo again its hard to not be transported back to early in the new millenium.  It was the sort of game that made jaws drop at the time, from the way light reflected off of the shiny surfaces in a way I at least hadn’t thought possible on a console, to the sheer scale and scope of the titular Halo world, it just felt streets ahead of anything we’d seen on consoles before. Sure the Playstation 2 had been wowing us with some pretty great games, but something about Halo felt futuristic and special.  And with the controller in hand it was pretty clear that Halo was indeed Combat Evolved.

But while the seemingly perfect weapon balance and revolutionary control scheme were game changers – world beaters even – it was something far more simple that caught my attention. Mere moments an epic battle through the Pillar of Autumn, sheer seconds after you’re forced to crash land onto the mysterious Halo, an unassuming UNSC drop ship swoops into view and with it brings one of the most powerful and symbolic pieces of Halo ‘paraphernalia’ in the series decade-plus history.  And as you approach the precious four-wheeled cargo, the isolation and rapidly fading sense of hope that the vast alien landscape evokes abates,   As you slip behind the wheel of the greatest in military hardware suddenly it all feels like you could survive.  And as the explosive power of the rapid fire mounted gun on the rear of the vehicle leaves a lasting ringing in your ears, you know you’ll survive.

Welcome to the Warthog, Chief.  Welcome to the war.

There is no feeling quite like the first time you slide around a natural rock formation at speed, or send yourself and your passengers flying airborne over a canyon or a rapidly running river.  The way the rather pedestrian Volkswagen Kübelwagen lookalike handles is unforgettable, with its loose suspension and all-wheel drive making it feel more world rally championship than modern warfare, and its high speed making every moment behind the wheel feel like a desperate dash to save a life.  Hooning from skirmish to skirmish in the Warthog, while your adoring comrades take aim and rip through any grunt or elite covenant soldiers that get in your way, brought with it an almost unrivalled sense of power.  The Warthog turned the trained Spartan soldier into a feared guerrilla warrior, and to me, those first moments behind the wheel were the foundation of the Master Chief I came to know over following games.

As someone who fell off of the Halo wagon shortly after finishing the fight with Halo 3, I am pleasantly surprised by how many of my fond memories of a game that changed the way the world looked at console shooters have been proven true.  Everything from the roaring sound of the MA5 echoing through the compromised corridors of the Pillar of Autumn, to the strategic advantage on the battlefield provided for by the rather deceptively powerful covenant weapons, it all changed my expectation for what a console shooter, nay game, could and should be.  But it was the unassuming vehicle that are the basis for my fondest memories of the game, and there has been nothing in any shooter since that has quite matched the feeling of taking the battle to the convenant on all fours.  And it’s nice to know that these moments still make Halo the same special experience it was a good 14 years later.  Combat evolved, indeed.

Halo_Warthog

Did you have warm and fuzzy feelings taking control of the Warthog for the first time?  Or do you have a favourite video game moment?  Join the conversation in the comments below, or on Twitter using #MostAgreeableMoments.

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