Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Gaming for the uninitiated

I'll start with a question.

Which of the following people are computer gamers?

Answer: All of the above.

Yes, that's right, all of the above - Although I'm sure you initially thought it was Person A.

Person A in fact, is Tyson and he likes to murder prostitutes and steal their money on Grand Theft Auto IV. Person B, Barbara, prefers to stab unsuspecting people in the back before riddling their still writhing corpses with machine gun fire on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Finally, Person C, Timothy, likes to create outrageously fabulous costumes for sackboy on Little Big Planet.

That's right people - gaming has gone mainstream. No longer is it the last respite of the damned, bespectacled, pale skinned and nerdy. No, it has now invaded the lives of just about every person in the developed world.

Only recently, I overheard a conversation between two elderly(ish) ladies during which the phrase 'Dead Space 2' was mentioned several times. Stunned and intrigued, my ears perked up to intercept the fact that one of the ladies was buying an x-box game of this name for her grandson and was imparting some rudimentary knowledge of the subject to her acquaintance.

For the uninitiated, Dead Space 2 is what is known as a 'survival horror story' game. In the game, you assume the role of a chap trying to escape from a zombie infested space station.
In essence, survival horror story games of this type are much akin to fairground ghost trains in that you follow a predetermined 'track' whilst repeatedly being accosted by all manner of illuminous plastic monsters and minimum wage carnies with nothing better to do than terrify already frightened children.

My point is that recently, games have crossed the void into the popular consciousness. Unfortunately though, for people who are trying to decipher this arcane world of noobs, spawn-rapers, XP whores and spammers, it can be a daunting journey.

So, for those of you wishing to dip your toes into these virtual waters, the following should give you a well rounded induction into the world of 'gaming'.

So what is Gaming then?

'Gaming' as a standalone term, is the description of the hobby/pass time of playing computer/video games. In this sense, Gaming does not refer to the enjoyment of scrabble, cluedo, trivial pursuit or indeed any other non computer based entertainment form. Nor should it be confused with anything to do with hunting Deer, Pheasants or Grouse.

The term 'Gamer' is a reference used to describe those people who actively participate in the playing of computer games.

More recently, there has been an influx of people who claim to be gamers, but have in actual fact merely been duped by the marketing machine and have bought into the new phenomenon of 'family gaming'. Family Gaming is usually achieved by means of a device that requires the player to perform complex bodily motions to accomplish goals. Such games are usually played in the company of others and often lead to much hilarity all round.

For most people wishing to get a taste of playing computer games, 'family gaming' is probably the best thing to start with. Unfortunately, barring the odd exception, the games available are usually fairly basic and repetitive. The exertion factorinvolved in family gaming can also lead to real life physical injury or structural damage - which really defeats the purpose of gaming in the first place!

True gaming is somewhat different. For a start, no level of physical exertion is required whatsoever. A gamer need only pivot their fingers and thumbs in order to achieve the full gaming experience.

The games themselves are usually more complex and require a larger investment of time and emotion from the gamer. People have literally changed into snarling, feverish mutants in the pursuit of success in some of the more involved 'true' games.

Got it! So where do I start?

In order to participate in the hobby of 'gaming', you will require a game playing device - known more commonly as a computer games console. You can also use a regular computer (PC) to enjoy gaming, but to be honest, for a beginner, this would be like Stephen Hawking attempting to ascend Mount Everest with little more than a penknife and a cigarette lighter for climbing gear.

Upon attempting to acquire a game playing device, spotty teenagers in high street computer games retail shops will often try to confuse you with complex jargon.

Ignore their otherworldly lingo and know that there are only two devices you would require in order to begin your gaming odyssey.

1) Microsoft X-Box 360 (xbox)

2) Sony Playstation 3 (ps3)

Now, I could bang on here about the pros and cons of each device, but it's been done to death (x-box vs PS3). All that needs saying is that both are pretty similar and the only really important difference is that some games available for one device are not available for the other.

If cost is important to you, the x-box is a bit cheaper but as you end up having to buy loads of additional shit for it, in the end both devices probably work out around the same price all in.

What about the Wii you might be asking?

Nintedo Wii

Well, the Wii is one of the aforementioned 'family gaming' devices. The makers of the Wii (Nintendo) have proven pedigree in the world of gaming, but they know as well as I do that the Wii is just an almighty cash cow and has provided a way for them to approach previously untapped areas of the potential gamer market, such as grandparents, uncles and mother-in-laws.

Both Sony and Microsoft have copied this innovation and designed devices that replicate the family gaming experience on their respective gaming devices, but they will both be fully aware that this merely a diversion from the business of true gaming.

Too many games!

So now that you have purchased either a PS3 or an x-box, what do you do? Well, you buy a game for it.

There are literally thousands of games out there, the majority of which are utter shite. There are however, also some real gems that should appeal to many people. You will be told, again from spotty teenage shop retailers about many different types of games that exist It is true, just like in books, films and music, there are many genres. However there are only really 4 types of games:
  1. 'Tell me a story' games
  2. 'Beat the game' games
  3. 'Beat the crap out of other people' games
  4. 'Build stuff' games

1. 'Tell me a story' Games

'Tell me a story' games are exactly what they 'say on the tin'. Just like books, good 'tell me a story' games are few and far between, but if you find a good one you get hooked.

The very best 'tell me a story' games are arguably some of the finest games ever made and although often quite short, are often cinematically on par with some of the great screen blockbusters.

'Tell me a story' games as are well structured and have a beginning, a middle and an end. You generally adopt the role of one or more protagonists - and will experience some amount of character development/character arc during the course of the game. They are littered with dramatic interludes between action based set pieces - again, very similar to books and films.

If the classic Dickens novel, Oliver Twist was a 'tell me a story' game rather than a book, you would probably take the role of young Oliver and be required to pickpocket unsuspecting people on the streets of London in order to increase your THIEVING BASTARD ability and thus progress through the story.

'Tell me a story' games have benefited from advancements in technology more than the other game types, as they are now able to look and feel more realistic than ever before. Although, like most things, the very best 'tell me a story' games are truly timeless.

In my opinion the three best 'tell me a story' games of all time are as follows:

3) Red Dead Redemption (2010)

A relatively new addition to the gaming world (2010), Red Dead Redemption is a truly brilliant game.

You adopt the role of a cowboy in the old west who has reformed from his previously wicked ways. Throughout the game you must indulge in a variety of wild-west style tasks, such as cattle herding, gun fighting and horse rustling.

The main arc of the story involves you tracking down and killing members of your old gang, who double crossed you and left you for dead.

HIGHLIGHT: Using the 'dead eye' aiming system to slow time and pepper a pesky coyote with rifle bullets, before dismounting your horse to skin the felled beast.

2) Metal Gear Solid series (1998-2009)

There are several Metal Gear Solid games, so i'll group them as one. The plot of the series is too convoluted to fully describe to here - suffice to say it's quite epic. You are placed in the shoes of a crack-commando super soldier who must attempt to avert a variety of catatrophes such as, but not exclusively, nuclear war, giant robots and armies of genetically enhanced clones...oooooh!

The game requires you to be a sneaky motherfucker and complete your objectives whilst remaining unnoticed. To aid you in your subterfuge, you are given a set of very handy espionage tools and an arsenal of high-tech weaponery.

HIGHLIGHT: Being spotted and chased by a sentry guard only to evade detection by hiding underneath a cardboard box.

1) Final Fantasy VII (1997)

There have been quite a few final fantasy games before and after no7, but needless to say, Final Fantasy 7 is the greatest of them all. The story is epic on a near unparellelled level. Your protagonist, Cloud, begins his career as a low level freedom fighter, but by the end of the game, our hero is striving to save the planet from giant comets, city sized monsters and a very scary Japanese looking dude with a giant sword (ooh err).

Like any great novel, it's got the classic mix of heroes, villians, a twist of romance and some daring escapades. There is even an unexpected death of one of the game's main characters to really pull at the gamer's heartstrings.

It's a bit of an oldie now, being released back in 1997, but it's sheer scale still helps it stand out as the greatest 'tell me a story' game ever made.

HIGHLIGHT: The fabled death scene which leaves you distraught and demanding justice!

Other notable titles: Grand Theft Auto 4, God of War, Uncharted, Gears of War, Resident Evil, Castlevania, Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls, Half Life 2, Legend of Zelda, Dead Space.

2. 'Beat the game' Games

'Beat the game' games were some of the first games invented. There will sometimes be a tenuous storyline to support the game, but it is never necessary - and rarely qualifies them to be classed in the category of 'story games'. Unfortunately, they are also a dying breed, as improvements in technology and the advent of online gaming has given presidence to the other types of games I describe.

They are usually single player games that require the gamer to strive to reach the highest level they possibly can and/or to complete the game in its entirety, be it through solving problems, completing repetitive objectives or defeating enemies. The catch is that the better you perform as a gamer, the more difficult the puzzles/objectives/enemies become.

Some 'beat the game' games are actually infinite in length. This may sound ironic, but these sorts of games are usually so incredibly addictive that it doesn't really matter to the gamer anyway.

'Beat the game' games are also pretty much timeless. They do not tend to suffer from the ravages of age as they were not necessarily designed to beat the cutting edge of technology, rather to be at the cutting edge of addictiveness. And addictive they are.

Despite being the rarer type these days, top notch 'Beat the game' games inspire an almost religious level of dedication from their followers - with some of the earliest incarnations still being played by the masses today. To get a real sense of this almost surreal dedication, watch the greatest video game documentary ever made - The King of Kong.

On with the list.....

3) Pacman (1980)

A candidate for the trippiest game in history, Pacman is the classic tale of a floating yellow mouth that embarks on a quest to eat fruit whilst avoiding ghosts. Pacman has been drawing crowds for 30 years with it's simple cat and mouse maze based gameplay.

HIGHLIGHT: Eating a cherry and giving those damn ghosts what for. "Have that you supernatural bastards!"

2) Tetris (1989)

Russian dance music is combined with a mind numbingly addictive block building puzzle to create a modern classic. In typical 'beat the game' game style, it gets harder and harder as you continue to play it - reflected beautifully by the ever increasing tempo of one of the most memorable music tracks in the history of gaming.

HIGHLIGHT: Finding the perfect space for that nuisance L shaped block and clearing 3 lines in one shot. Magic.

1) Donkey Kong (1981)

The original love triangle between a plumber, a princess and a massive ape. The rules are simple, use the plumber's olympian agility to repeatedly traverse wobbly platforms whilst avoiding barrels that are being chucked at you by a pesky primate.

HIGHLIGHT: Getting hold of the mallet and smashing the shit out of those deadly barrels.

Other notable titles: Super Mario Bros, Pong, Sonic the Hedgehog, Gauntlet, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Braid, Doom.

3. 'Beat the crap out of other people' games

These games are all about competition. 'Beat the crap out of other people' games will often have elements of 'tell me a story' games and of 'beat the game' games, but ultimately there is only one purpose for playing them. Get good at it and wallop the fuck out of your mates/random Americans.

It is the mark of an avid gamer to have at least one game where they possess the skills necessary to crush any opposition facing them. In the early days, such opposition was sought in communal gaming arcades . I am just about old enough to remember when this was the case.

In my hometown of Wolverhampton, legend tells of an old 'Street Fighter II' machine that was situated in a chip shop on Broad Street.

View Larger Map

Youngsters would turn up on a daily basis to challenge the resident champion - a young mixed race chap with the reactions of steroid ridden mongoose. People came from far and wide to vye for his prestigious title of 'champion of the chip shop'. I heard that he remained unbeaten until the day the machine was removed. Where is he now? Who knows. I'd like to think that he might be using his powers for good elsewhere in the world - fighting the righteous battle and all that. Truth is, he's probably the same chap that keeps asking me for spare change when i stumble out of the local hostelry - still he had his moment in the sun.

With the advent of home gaming, came the opportunity for regular challenges against known opposition - i.e. your mates. Impromptu ranking systems would form, winner stays on challenges were standard and trash talking was rife. As the generations have passed, the games have changed, but one thing remains constant, the sheer delight of watching your fellow man crumble in defeat.

I have participated in competitive gaming matches during my student days, where bets were made on the outcome and near riots broke out amongst drunken students as a result of dodgy goings-on. Another story for another day perhaps.....

'Beat the crap out of other people' games have entered a new phase in recent years with the introduction of online gaming. The main drawback of course, is that you can no longer witness the decimation of your opponents first hand, but the clear advantage is that an entire world of competion has opened up, and those wishing to can now test their metal against the world's best gamers. Those with the inclination and the time to practice can become living room based world beaters. I find no shame (well not much) in admitting that I reached dizzying heights in becoming the 87th best player in the world at Burnout Paradise several years ago - a feat which in ancient times would surely have seen me showered with gold and other riches.

The list please maestro.....

3) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (often known as COD) has become a global phenomenon. I'm convinced that it is a ploy by the US government to militarise children and thus keep the war machine stocked with potential cannon fodder for its war of (on?) terror. Whatever it roots, COD has utilised the development of online gaming to produce possibly the most competitive online gaming battles the world has ever seen.

The premise is simple, you choose a set of weapons, start a game and shoot the crap out of anything that moves. When the dust clears, the person who has killed the most opponents is victorious. Its strength is also in its Class-A powers of addiction. In short, players need to keep playing continuously in order to win better weapons and earn medals that signify their superiority over their fellow gamers.

HIGHLIGHT: Killing several people in a row and receiving the temporary use of an attack helicopter with which you can rain down a volley of death on your foes. Grrrr! Aggression!

2) Pro Evolution Soccer series (2001-PRESENT)

The Pro Evolution Soccer series (a.k.a PES, a.k.a, Pro-Evo, a.k.a I.S.S) were the greatest ever computer simulation football games. In recent years the Pro-Evo series has 'gone off the boil', mainly due to better competitor games and its failure to properly adapt to online gaming. In its heyday though, it was unrivalled as a 'beat the crap out of other people' game. It took the flowing, counter-attacking style of real football and zapped it into video game format.

Pro-Evo was a game you played with your mates after a few beers. Fuelled by the confidence of alcohol you were empowered with the skill of Diego Maradona, the vision of Johann Cruyff and the striking prowess of Gabriel Batistuta. Victory was sweet, defeat was crushing and revenge was definitely a dish best served cold.

HIGHLIGHT: Pulling off a perfectly timed marseille roulette on your opponent, before running on and hammering in a 30 yard wonder strike. Priceless.

1) Street Fighter II: the World Warrior (1991)

The original king of the 'beat em ups', Street Fighter II marked the true dawn of hardcore competitive gaming. Given the use of eight virtual combatants from every corner of the globe, you engaged in a best of 3 rounds punch up. Memorising a vast swathe of 'special moves' and executing perfectly timing combinations of punches, kicks and jumps, you were required to pummel your opponent until their energy bar was depleted.

Street Fighter II only narrowly pre-dated good quality, widely purchased home gaming systems when it first arrived, so in a way it also marked the swansong of old fashioned communal arcade gaming.

It's timeless roster of characters has lived on in the many sequels that followed.

Repeatedly using the same move to win (this is known as spamming) until such a point as your opponent throws their controller down in anger and accuses you of cheating.

Other notable titles: Mario Kart, Mortal Kombat, WWE Smackdown, Gran Turismo, Wipeout, HALO, Tiger Woods Golf, Virtua Tennis, EA Figh-tnight, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Soul Calibur, UFC Unleashed, Counterstrike, Battlefield.

4) Build Stuff Games

'Build stuff' games are a fairly niche form of gaming designed expressly for creative types, control freaks and meglomaniacs.

They generally involve detailed design and management elements, be it in the form of creating and managing a league winning football team, commanding a military campaign, developing a fictional hospital or even designing an entire world.

Build stuff games are best played on an actual computer rather than a computer games console, mainly due to the extensive point and click requirements that lend themselves more efficiently to mouse and keyboard control. But as I said earlier, the novice gamer would struggle to traverse the complexities of PC based gaming, so it might be advisable to use a console all the same.

In essence, they are often quite similar to 'beat the game' games, but the fundamental difference is that with a 'build stuff' game, the requisite skills are creativity, planning and strategic thinking rather than lightning quick reactions and top notch hand eye coordination. For this reason they can truly be described as the thinking person's game type.

Here's some of the best:

3) Little Big Planet (2009)

Little Big Planet is the most suitable game for Art and Design Students. The veneer of this game is a simple run and jump between platforms game, such as Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario Bros. But this belies an deep an multilayered core dedicated to design freedom. Using the toolset, you can quite literally plan and create an entire game full of different styled chracters, backgrounds, playing surfaces and obstacles. As a recent game that utilises online play, you are then able to share your creations with the wider population.

HIGHLIGHT: The introduction by Stephen Fry.

2) Sid Meier's Civilisation series (1991-PRESENT)

This is exactly as described. Create a civilsation, feed it, shelter it, grow it, help it discover new technology and then go and wage war on your neighbours, plunder their natural resources and subject their population to abject poverty and/or slavery. Nothing like the real world at all....

HIGHLIGHT: Using the in game cheat, arming your civilisation with stealth bombers and nuclear submarines and attacking your neighbouring civilisatons before the poor buggers have even learned how to irrigate their land properly. Again, nothing like the real world at all.....

1) Championship Manager/Football Manager Series (1992-PRESENT)

Championship manager (now known as football manager) has quite literally ruined prosperous relationships and lost people their actual jobs. Again, the premise is simple - manage a football team. As the years have gone by, the micro-management tasks that the gamer must master has reached almost life like proportions.

Not only do you make signings, select your squad, and recruit your staff, you can now indulge in all manner and range of other tasks. Running a youth academy, developing a training programme and attending presss conferences are all now part and parcel of achieving success with your chosen team.

I genuinely think that gamers who have mastered the art of Championship Manager would be wholly able to suceed in a top flight managerial post in the Barclays Premier League.

HIGHLIGHT: Taking non league Rushden & Diamonds to the European Cup Final, and winning it in the 90th minute with a strike from the 24 year old Venuzuelan striker who you signed for a pittance when you were in league 2 and who is also now the world's most valuable player.

Other notable titles: Theme Park, SIM City, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, Premier Manager, Theme Hospital, Populous.

Thus concludes our odyssey of all things 'gaming'. If you were a layman upon reading this, I hope you now feel better equipped to go forth into the gaming world with confidence and bravado.

But finally, a word of warning. If and when you do take your first tentative steps into the world of computer gaming, you should always remember that from across the vastness of cyberspace he waits for you, lurking in the shadows like a coiled cobra. He is the Lord of the Gamers - and he will beat you. Fear his mighty power.

1 comment:

  1. its cool what u do... dont stop wana see and read more... if u can put some more videos, otherwise /bow