Why graphics aren’t that important in games

We’ve reached critical mass in how good graphics are in games. It can be considered to be an amazing technological accomplishment to see photo realistic characters which really turn heads and make people gasp in astonishment. Yet at the same time eliciting the uncanny valley, a term coined by Masahiro Mori in 1970 which an artificial human feels pretty much exactly genuine but the familiarity feels strange and causes fear and uneasiness to observers.

Seeing graphics like this is maybe unsettling to some but it’s also style over substance. We’ve reached a point now where you can see every pore on a characters face. Big deal, I just want a story in my game – a meaningful one that doesn’t feel like a tech demo. Making choices and controlling the characters destinies is what should matter the most in games. It’s what makes gaming a unique past time in contrast to film, TV and theatre.  Now everything feels scripted to cater towards showing off what the designers want you to see.

Granted the visuals do provide some genuine wow moments but they should compliment a video game not define it.  Occasionally games such as God of War will come along that will pair beautiful visuals with amazing gameplay to produce a winning combination. On the other hand, beautiful visuals can also be paired with mediocre gameplay most typically in games like Call of Duty that provides the same features just with a new coat of paint.

Kids these days always go on and on about graphics. It’s the first thing they latch onto when talking about an upcoming game release. I managed to get my nephews playing the games I was fond of when I was their age and they’d scoff at the graphics but the reason I was showing them my childhood games of yonder years is because of the significance of the gameplay. The graphics are superfluous because at the time  practically everyone commented on how good the graphics looked yet today admittedly they do not look as good as games released recently. I remember playing the Lord of the Rings The Two Towers video game in 2002 when the film footage transitioned into in game footage I thought it was so impressive now it just seems jarring and odd. It’s the reasons why remasters have become so popular recently. Everyone wants to experience classic games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Bioshock and Crash Bandicoot without having to wince at some of the dodgy graphics.

Despite the wrinkles, old games still have a lot of value, they crafted an experience not defined by sheer technological power but by gameplay that kept you hooked. Some games like Halo, Ocarina of time, and the early Call of Duty games pioneered so many iconic gameplay features. Now these features have become commonplace it’s important to continue to shake up the longstanding formula or build significantly upon it and not just polish up what came before.

Why the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 is considered the best Star Wars game ever made

The graphics may look blocky and primitive by todays standards but this game provides the ultimate Star Wars experience.

Every May 4th I play Star Wars Battlefront 2 to celebrate Star Wars day. This game encapsulates everything that’s great about the movies on one disc. Unlike that other pay to win travesty that was EA’s reboot the ideas and concepts in this game are created with a legitimate pride and accomplishment, the maps were relatively expansive but look like a Rockstar open world game in comparison to narrow boring corridors of the EA cash grab franchise. That is enough poo pooing, the original Battlefront 2 was crammed full of game modes that are still fun to play to this day.

 

The story was the first Star Wars game to bridge the gap between episode 3 and 4 and although their is no glossy cutscenes, it’s just pre-recorded gameplay with narration the story is however filled with pathos conveying the average Stormtroopers perspective of all the famous Star Wars battles. The locations and scenarios are faithful to the films while also telling it’s own story. The objectives are thrilling; they must be completed in good time in order to receive additional reinforcements if not the level is lost. There is also  a good mix of action on the ground as well as ship to ship battles in which you had to destroy different parts of your enemies capital star ships were really fun especially playing with a friend.

 

Instant action was a great game mode allowing to customise the battle to your liking. You can choose how many soldiers you wanted on the battlefield along with the amount of points needed to play as a hero character. I’ll never get tired of playing as Luke Skywalker, throwing my lightsaber like a boomerang to take out 10 Stormtroopers at once. Hidden away on instant action was the Mos Eisley Assault level in which all the Star Wars heroes and villains from all 6 films (at the time) duked it out. Seeing Han Solo take on Darth Maul was just sheer craziness.

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My favourite game mode however was Galactic Conquest which was like a game of Risk but instead taking control of planets instead of countries. Playing this with 4 other players 2 on one side 2 on another was an amazing experience. It could last for such a long time because of the power struggle especially since some planets were harder to conquer than others but it was so intense trying to gain total control of the galaxy. Purchasing the right bonus was vital all of them had a positive or a negative and could equal out your opponents’ bonus. This mode really fleshed out the strategy involved and made the game more than just a Star Wars movie simulator. Considering the potential length of this game mode it provided an opportunity to earn kill streaks with certain weapons granting you with a more powerful weapon. These made you a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield and was immensely satisfying to earn the award weapon permanently.

 

Although it was just a novelty the hunt mode was awesome too. It pitted you against the natives of a planet against their invaders such as Wampas versus Rebels, Gungans versus Battle Droids and Ewoks versus the Empire. All these game modes were so great any one of them could’ve worked in their own Star Wars game. It’s a shame that it’s impossible to play this game online now but its legacy will hopefully live on with Xbox One backwards compatibility.

 

 

How games have matured over the years

The new approach taken in the God of War series to tell a story of a dysfunctional relationship between father and son has really highlighted how certain long running games haven’t aged well due to certain features that kind of detract from the gameplay experience.

The case in point here would be the old God of War sex mini games in which Kratos takes a break from tearing people apart like cheesestring and gets it on with some sexually aroused women who want a strong battle hardened war hero for some cheap thrills. Simply put they’re totally unnecessary and not the slightest bit erotic. I watched a compilation of these sex scenes for research purposes of course and although some may say they’re misogynistic I think they’re laughably bad because of how pathetic they are.

Now that this feature has been dropped in favour of a more humanising portrayal of a man who lived a blood soaked life trying his best to live normally and bring up a child, this immature feature has evolved itself into signifying the development of not just the gameplay but the story too. What is interesting that the gratuitous violence in the past games lends itself to this great backstory for Kratos. Santa Monica studios clearly gave a good, hard look at these games and thought to themselves, ‘yes its great to play as an unstoppable mad man but wouldn’t it be more interesting if we give him a bit more depth?’

In an interview with Polygon, Game director Cory Barlog acknowledges that Kratos had to change, he say; “I feel like as I get older, I’m looking at things a little bit differently. This lesson that I hoped to pass on to [my son]: that the concepts of strength and emotional vulnerability and the ability to sort of be free to feel the range of emotions, that these are not two warring or diametrically opposed concepts.”

With the release of Bioshock Infinite and the Last of Us gaming has very much emulated cinema to not just let you live out carefree actions but now very much challenge players. God of War, Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite all convey a bond between the pratagonist and a younger follower. In the old PS1 and PS2 days these games would just be considered to be escort missions but they’re far from that by weaving in Kratos’s son, Atreus within a helpful gameplay feature for combat and puzzles while also being an integral part to a brutal mans gradual realisation of caring for someone.

The God of War franchise overall has partially been rebooted because of this. It’ll be interesting to see if Rockstar follow suit, by not necessarily toning down the level of violence but by adding a twist to the carnage you can create in Grand Theft Auto. How about an outrageous playable female character? This emergence of maturity has also effected gameplay too by stripping it back while still making the experience feel familiar. Some may lament the loss of this more over the top style but it hasn’t completely been forgotten the old God of Wars games have been remastered so they do have some merit. This maturity however, is overall extremely positive it shows that gaming isn’t lowbrow entertainment anymore, God of War highlights that more than anything. Instead, it is an interactive, provocative experience that has the potential to league an even bigger impact to cinema due to the choice in action being made by the player.

The Importance of the Single Player Experience.

Is it game over for playing on your lonesome?

There has been a back and fourth recently regarding the future of single player experiences. A feature in games that has long been a mainstay and a priority over multiplayer has now lost importance due to online popular arena shooters such as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite and Overwatch. On the main menu screens a games single player option has practically gone away. EA’s Battlefront 2 brought back its single player mode after much criticism from its omission in the previous game, however this mode was clearly an after thought and was only 6 hours long. And most recently their have been rumours that Call of Duty Black Ops 4 won’t have a single player campaign. You can kind of understand why though there has been a Call of Duty game coming out every year for 15 years now. Coming up with an excuse to shoot things must be very difficult.

It’s also clear that EA has little consideration for story driven narratives in the games they produce with the scrapping of the anticipated Star Wars game written by Amy Hennig the creative director behind the first 3 Uncharted games. The game would’ve explored Han Solo’s character and adventures.

Hennig discussed the main reason why the project was scrapped by saying to polygon;

“There is also this trend now that, as much as people protest and say, ‘Why are you canceling a linear, story-based game? This is the kind of game we want,’” said Hennig. “People aren’t necessarily buying them. They’re watching somebody else play them online.”

With the rise in popularity of Twitch, story driven games essentially just become free movies that gamers can stream to their followers. This really harms the huge production costs of games when people just choose to see someone else play the game and not participate themselves. Granted seeing someone else play the game could be a great promotional tool but seeing someone else play a game from start to finish kind of diminishes  interest in the games story. It’s the reason why games like Fortnite are doing so well because you watch the game solely for its gameplay. Watching someone else’s experience in a multiplayer game is probably a lot more different and interesting than yours.

It’s not all doom and gloom for single player games though. Games like Horizon Zero Dawn, A Way Out, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild and the recent release of the semi-rebooted God of War prove that gamers want an experience where they can take part as an awesome hero in an engaging story.  All these games provide different and innovative gameplay mechanics that twist the formula from previous instalments in there respective franchises. These games are however risky to make with game companies drifting away from creating original stories into creating  micro-transaction riddled experiences that cheapen the game you’re playing.

Jade Raymond, former executive producer on Assassins Creed believes theirs still untapped potential for playing solo, in a statement to segmentnext she says;

“They’re definitely not dead. I love story-based games, that’s sort of what I started out in. It’s what I always traditionally played. I think there’s so much still to explore in terms of narrative games and new takes on them. And I think it’s something that’s in a sense the holy grail of games.”

The overall impact single player games have on the industry may have lessened slightly especially to certain games companies such as EA and Microsoft, which is a shame because every 90’s kid remembers those Harry Potter games EA made which told  J.K Rowling’s stories however supplemented it with other objectives to suit the gameplay. It’s a shame these companies abandoned in what some believe to be a mainstay in video game design while Nintendo and Sony prospered by providing familiar yet fresh experiences. The overwhelming success of God of War proves that. Its story between the once hot headed gratuitously violent demigod Kratos and his son prove that this direction for the video game industry is a right and meaningful one.

 

 

Everything you need to know about Guardians of Victoria

Tallstory Studio has launched an indie gogo campaign for their first big and ambitious PC Game, ‘Guardians of Victoria’. Gameplay is very Temple Run-esque consisting of fast paced race to the finish all the while thinking on your feet to escape the clutches of Jack the Ripper in a steampunk style backdrop of a Victorian city in the sky.

Avoiding obstacles at a fast pace isn’t the only thing players should concern themselves with. In ‘Guardians of Victoria’ you must prevent The Ripper and his minions from reaching you in a multitude of ways from using special character abilities from collecting firefly dust scattered around the level, in addition to the varied character combat methods.

Replayability looks very high with the three playable characters varying considerably from each other. This provides various options and tactics some of which I’m sure the developers haven’t even discovered yet. The characters include Brella, a young orphan whose special ability consists of slowing down time to relieve the tension of attacking enemies. Her umbrella isn’t just for keeping her dry it can be used in combat to wallop enemies and glide over hazards. Don’t mess with this orphan.

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The other two characters consist of Cutlass, the sky pirate. She proves efficient in double jumping and lives up to her namesake in carrying a cutlass, a bit more of a conventional weapon than Brella. The third character is Firearm, a kind of steampunk cyborg who has a personal vendetta with Ripper due to the loss of his limbs. Firearm’s special ability comes from his marksman ship by slowing down time to fire a well-placed shot. His mechanised legs also allow him to run faster. Perfect for a shoot and sprint tactic.

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‘Guardians of Victoria’ also has a great emphasis on story with character designs really conveying their personality and plight in this world ruled by a tyrannical force. The characters were assembled by Zeal an ex ruler of Victoria before it led to anarchy. His consciousness is now turned into a bizarre looking mechanical contraption. You might be surprised that Guardians of Victoria is crammed full of lore. This is not just a game you could play 5 minutes of; it really demands your attention through the imaginative environment it creates.

The release date remains unconfirmed however Tallstory studios have been given the greenlight by Steam with a hopeful release within the third week of September. However, Tallstory studios need support from the community to assist development and to branch out onto mobile platforms. If you want to donate to the indie gogo campaign and find out more about the game you can do so by following this link.

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/guardians-of-victoria#/story

What are some of the most intriguing indie games of 2015?

Big blockbuster games are dominating gamer’s consciousness. Star Wars Battlefront looks epic, yeah we know. Metal Gear Solid 5 The Phantom Pain looks amazing, well obviously. We don’t need to address this. Those games are trending on Facebook and Twitter whenever a minuet bit of information is announced. It is now time to let the indies also have their moment to shine amongst the titans of gaming such as Halo, Uncharted and Fallout. Sony and Microsoft gave us a tantalising glimpse into some visually striking games with unique gameplay concepts at E3 2015. Here are some that caught Breakthrough Gaming’s attention.

1. Cuphead

Heavily inspired from those kooky 1930’s Disney cartoons, Cuphead may look cutting edge but the game has been painstakingly brought to life by hand through cell animation. This is a phenomenal feat in games design that has never really been seen before. The gameplay however doesn’t operate as a traditional sidescrolling platformer, this would’ve been too much of a challenge to create hand drawn. Instead, the game operates as a kind of boss blitz mode in which you fight one boss after another. It has been reported that Cuphead will also be very challenging as well as incredibly zany, delivering on the old school Disney vibe.

 2. Beyond Eyes

There maybe tears ahead after playing Beyond Eyes, a game where you have to guide a young blind girl through unfamiliar territory to find her only friend, a lost cat. It is no doubt that Beyond Eyes will be full of emotional heft through creating this isolating experience. The games watercolour aesthetic is refreshing and is totally fitting in replicating the gameplay style of not being fully aware of your surroundings. Sherida Halatoe, the games developer described to Gametrailers that the game was a one-person project and was influenced from real life experiences, Beyond Eyes is very much a passion project in this sense. What makes this indie title so intriguing is the clever sensual experience the game delivers from first hearing the sound of water trickling and assuming it to be a water fountain at first and then through closer inspection the running water was actually a mundane drain pipe. Playing as a character as unique as this vulnerable girl really breaks the mold of traditional gaming.

3. No Mans Sky

Created by 13 developers based in Guildford, England, No Mans Sky is going to be one of the biggest and most ambitious games ever made. Consisting mostly on exploration through the vast reaches of space, No Mans Sky has scope to spare, especially for an indie game. The developers still remain tight-lipped in what you have to do in the game. All we know is that your goal is to reach the centre of the universe, all the while satisfying your curiosity by landing on planets to roam around them and taking part in space skirmishes.

4. Firewatch

With no conflict involved in this first person psychological thriller, communication is the main aspect of Firewatch. Delivering a mysterious yet kooky narrative completely through radio chatter, Firewatch plays on the player’s emotions. A solid cast, which includes Mad Men’s Harry Crane who delivers the conversations with wit, intensity and intrigue. Developers Campo Santo Productions, hope to deliver an engaging story full of twists set in the hauntingly beautiful wilderness. Overall the suspense and the strange intrigues, despite what little story details we have got we know that mission objectives involves patrolling the woods and that the voice acting is some of the strongest seen in an indie game.

5. Ashen

Ashen’s unrealistic blocky character textures don’t hold this game back from being a stunning game visually. This open world adventure puts emphasis on co-op exploration and puzzle solving. You play as characters that have no facial features but instead use body language to express themselves. Set in a world inhabited full of strange creatures where there is no Sun, Ashen will be a truly haunting experience for players. The game is already compared to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, two games which proved the artistic nature of video games. Ashen will most likely be held in that regard too when it comes out for Xbox One.

Why do people Cosplay?

It can’t be ignored that geek culture is definitely on the rise. Super hero movies rake in so much cash at the box office, video games are also the highest grossing form of entertainment. It is hardly uncommon to know someone who hasn’t watched a bit of Star Wars or have a certain interest into a fantastical story. Despite some sneering and confusion from people who just don’t get the devoted love people have for fiction being a geek is practically the norm.

Interestingly enough, the extras that played Stormtroopers in the original Star Wars films are a little perplexed by the cosplaying scene. Paul Kirby who attended his first autograph signing at Collectormania Milton Keynes. described his role as just another job. To him seeing fans dressed up at the convention made the people he worked with on set look normal. From his perspective the job was an absolute grind. Having to stay in a boiling hot costume for hours on end was not fun or desirable. At the time Paul had no idea how iconic the Stormtrooper character would’ve become.

The growing trend of cosplaying is testament to this. For those unfamiliar Cosplay is short for ‘costumed play’ which involves a fan of a particular film, T.V show, anime or video game to dress up and embody that character. Describing what cosplay is about is the easy part, describing why people do it is a challenge. It is more than likely a sense of conveying the ultimate passion for a certain fandom. This makes it fun and exhilarating even though to some not versed into the inner workings of what you’re replicating you look like a bit of a plonker. What can’t really be denied though is the extreme effort put into certain cosplays. It takes weeks, days and maybe even months in producing a creative replication of your favourite character.

Emancipation is another reason cosplay is so appealing. Once stepping into the guise of something or someone else you immediately feel different. It’s a form of self-expression that boosts confidence along with breaking the mundane aspects of everyday life for not just yourself but for others around you. It’s similar to living out an online avatar by becoming someone else. Seeing a guy dressed up, as Spiderman on the London Underground is a personal highlight. It makes that trip to work a whole lot more memorable.

Some cosplayers may have low self esteem before donning there get up. They dress up as a character to become someone else for a while. It may sound childish but what’s the point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

Local Split-screen Multiplayer Vs. Online Multiplayer

The amount of choice video games provide is very broad. Players can choose how they want to play a certain game through a variety of methods. Characters can be customised and different paths can be taken to traverse through levels. Gaming is very much influenced by choice but the options provided in playing games socially bares two possibilities. There is the old-fashioned split-screen co-op or versus, where a certain amount of players huddle around a T.V and play the same game locally. However since the boom of Xbox live and the Playstation Network there was a radical new way of playing with your mates by connecting online to play the same games. Distance barriers could now be ignored but it led to the ‘player 2 press start’ option to fade away. This is where the old vs new debate comes in. Which one of these gameplay experiences is the most superior in bringing gamers together? There is only one way to find out! Through looking at their pros and cons.

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Image Source: Flickr

 

Aspiring games developer? Then dive into Shark Infested Custard!

Located within the University of Essex’s college campus, Shark Infested Custard offers much needed support for budding games designers.  The company is founded by Industry Veteran Steven Huckle, who has worked on many games such as Sensible Soccer, X-Men 2: Wolverine’s Revenge and Need for Speed. Steven now lends his services for support and guidance for creative groups within the Games Hub. Its main aim is to create a greater presence in East Anglia for games developers, a location that lacks any notable game studios or companies. This is essentially what Shark Infested Custard is all about, providing ample opportunities for people with great game ideas buzzing around in there heads for a chance to have a career in the games industry.

For all those on the fence in pursuing a career in games development, having to work long and gruelling hours, Steven says, “I wouldn’t of been doing it for 25 years if it wasn’t really good fun.”

The six month course at the Games Hub equips games designers to not just craft games but also to take into consideration the business aspect to become multi-faceted individuals.

Steven believes this studio is very important for Essex, he says

“I think it’s vital. We used to have games companies round here but we haven’t anymore. It’s worth so much and it employs so many people and to see lots of students coming out of university and finishing their games design degree there are NO jobs for them so they’re always going to disappear off to London, Cambridge Oxford and Brighton or even all around the world. I think it’s absolutely vital the money it can bring into the region.”

This is perhaps the reason the project has the support from Essex University in supplying the office space at the Knowledge Gateway. Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council and the Eastern Enterprise Hub also help fund the Games Hub. Notable success has already came from Teaboy games who are soon to be releasing their addictive, high score beating title, Fallen. A game that requires lighting fast reflexes. The game is currently looking for testers. Additional teams include Novo games with their endless runner Bobblemania, a game which has been promised to contain a full of surprises.

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Teaboy Games have dubbed their game as the perfect time waster.

Steven also believes his project is a triumph, he added, “For the last run through we were learning all the way through. We had no idea if it would work out. We had the idea of teaching people how to make games and how to set up business but Teaboy games have gone way beyond I have imagined. The guys have been brilliant. “

It can also not be avoided the name Shark Infested Custard is just very kooky, when asked about how he came up with the name. Steven chuckled and said;

“Everyone asks me that. I was wracking my brain for months in trying to come up with a slightly childish name. I quite like childish jokes and I was sat on a train for some meeting in London and I thought I quite like that.”

Steven Huckle provides a helping hand to the teams at Shark Infested Custard.

The 10 best things about the arcades at Southend on Sea

Southend is a great place to be if you’re a gamer. Especially if you’re the old school kind who loves going to the seafront with pockets full of coinage to be guzzled away by all those fun and enticing amusements. It was once an integral part of gaming culture. Now it’s diminishing in generation iPhone, where instantaneous access to games is making the age old tradition of the arcades die out. Even the elements hamper business with the flooding that caused thousands of pounds worth of damage at Happidrome in 2013. Southend however very much keep this tradition alive despite the changes in trends. A plethora of entertainment awaits for those seeking a fun day out. It’s what the town is built upon, as a location for frivolity from the hard grind of city life that is under an hour away in London.