Tuesday, 7 January 2014

One Game a Month

  For those of you who are unaware, there’s a website/project at onegameamonth.com. As the name suggests, the idea is for people to make one game every month. As someone exploring the world of game devs I’ve decided that this year I’m going to have a crack at it.

  My first reason for wanting to try is that for a long time I’ve been in something of a rut when it comes to making games. Plans for TextQuest III got a little out of hand and after working on it for about a year I still don’t feel like I’m anywhere near finishing it. Although I do still want to finish it and plan on continuing to work on it every now and then I felt like I needed to take a break. After not really doing any programming at all for a while I had a weird brain wave at about 3am. That brain wave ended up turning into Rotoshift and it renewed my excitement for developing games. This was also about the time I heard about One Game a Month. In an attempt to get my game out there a bit I submitted Rotoshift to the One Game site.
  I didn’t really think much about it after that to be honest. But for a New Year’s resolution I decided that I’d learn to develop games in Unity and set to work on making a 3D version of Rotoshift. A few tutorials and a fair amount of hard work later I’ve more or less finished Rotoshift 3D and considering how quickly I put it together I thought I had a shot at One Game a Month. 
  I’m not totally sure how well I’ll do as I have to do it alongside a University course, but I’m hoping that it will push me to create a bunch of (hopefully) interesting games. Ideas are running a bit low at present but I have something to work on when Rotoshift 3D is finished, it might take a bit longer than a month to make though.

  It’s an awesome project though, so check it out. You can also keep up with my game dev shenanigans on Twitter (@Hacksaw79) and whatnot if you so wish!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Winter (Steam Sale) Has Come

   A few days ago, Steam’s Winter Sale hit. Both the best and worst part of the year for gamers; the best, because tons of PC games are going cheap, the worst because tons of cheap games still add up to a lot of money. Luckily enough I’ve only dropped £1.40 so far. As good things come in 3s I thought I’d share 3 games that I heartily recommend and 3 games that I’m hoping become dirt cheap so I can pick up without hurting my wallet too much, already hurting from Christmas as it is.

What I’m Excited For


As mentioned before I have already dropped a bit of cash on the Steam sale, and that little bit was on Braid. I first heard about Braid while watching Indie Game: The Movie and didn’t have a clue what was going on with its mechanics. Therefore I instantly became fascinated by it! As well as that, it’s a heavily stylised 2D side scroller which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite kind of game (think Limbo, Rayman: Legends and possibly Fez, although that’s more like 2.5D). Mostly it’s the time bending nature of Braid that intrigues me, I loved Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and haven’t found a game that lets you manipulate its flow in any meaningful way since.

Game Dev Tycoon:

Alright, so this game I’m sort of in two minds about. On the plus side, it’s a management game that’s about making games, therefore a genre I’m interested in and a topic I’m interested in, as well as being oddly meta. The only issue is I can see myself liking it too much and spending all my time playing a game about making games instead of actually making games.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted:

Ridiculous Steampunk British Survival Horror seems to be the genre of choice for Sir, You Are Being Hunted. Let’s be honest, that’s everyone’s favourite genre. I think it may have already been on a daily sale but unfortunately I missed it, so I’m hoping it’ll pop up on a Flash sale before Steam’s winter festivities come to a close. It is an early access title, but it just looks so brilliantly bizarre that I can’t resist. After all, how could one possibly resist a game that features a ‘British Countryside Generator’?

My Recommendations


Magicka is an absolute joy to play. One of the funniest and best written games I’ve ever played, it’s an excellent send up of all the tropes and over-used mechanics of the Fantasy RPG genre.  I suspect the true strength of the game lies in its multiplayer, which I haven’t had a chance to try yet, but it’s still very playable solo.

Age of Empires II HD Edition:

Age of Empires II is one of my favourite games of all time and the HD edition is a brilliant remake. AoEII is still the benchmark that all other RTS games are judged by for me. The only thing I ever disliked about the original was how much of a pain it was to set up a multiplayer game; a process which has been vastly improved in the new version. There really are few things as satisfying as steamrollering your friends with a vast array of trebuchets.

DotA 2:

Probably the reason I’ve barely spent anything this Steam Sale. One of the best Free-To-Play games there is around; DotA 2 is a great way of distracting yourself from all the sales. It took me a while to get the hang of, and to be honest I’m still not that good at it, but once I’d found my feet it started eating up my time like you wouldn’t believe. I may well soon brave facing other human players, but I’m still cutting my teeth on bots at the moment (and it’s still so much fun!).

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Online vs. Offline Multiplayer

  If I’m entirely honest, I’m not really a huge fan of online multiplayer. It rarely feels like anything more than playing against AI controlled opponents to me, except perhaps the in game chat suggesting slightly lower levels of intelligence.

  I’m not going to suggest that we should go back to the days where multiplayer was limited to each player using a different part of the same keyboard though. That was never that great. Neither was playing a 4 player game on split-screen on and old TV that was barely big enough for 1 player split-screen. But there’s something vastly more enjoyable about playing games with people who are in the same room as you as opposed to on the same server as you. I rarely look back on my gaming past and think ‘You know, it was really great when you needed an extra peripheral to have more than 2 players in a game.’ (Although I’m sure I still have a PSone multi-tap lying around somewhere). But technology has advanced a great deal in the world of split-screen gaming. Half of a TV screen nowadays is probably about the same size as an entire TV screen was back in the heady days of the original PlayStation so the crowded screen issue isn’t so much of a problem. As well as this, the vast majority of controllers are wireless and consoles can handle 4 at a time out of the box; this has made controllers a bit more expensive though which is a bit of a pain.

  It’s the social aspect of having to share a screen with your enemies that makes split-screen multiplayer so great though. Firstly, being in the same room as them, you probably already know who you’re playing with; there are probably long running rivalries and in jokes that can and will be called upon for the purposes of trash talk. The anonymity that online multiplayer gives us takes that away. The sheer quantity of other players you come across online makes it very difficult to form any sort of meaningful rivalry or competition. The ability to screen peek also adds an interesting level of strategy: it can offer a huge advantage, but if it’s done too obviously people will turn against you. Of course, screen peeking is technically cheating, and I would never do it. Ever.

  On balance LAN multiplayer probably the best type of multiplayer, as long as everyone's in the same room. It takes most of the advantages of playing online but without the drawbacks of limiting the amount of screen room available to each player. But it still keeps the intimacy that adds to the competitive spirit you get whilst playing a split-screen game.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

One More Turn...

The semester is drawing to a close at University and the workload is beginning to ease off. As a result, I finally have time to sit down and just play games again. Although, over the weekend I found myself playing Civilization V at 4.30 am. Whilst it’s ok to have the odd gaming binge here and there, it got me thinking about what it was about Civilization that could keep me playing it for quite so long despite my ability to remain awake slowly depleting.

The Civilization series is widely renowned for its ability to keep people playing for ‘one more turn’ but it is by no means the only game that can easily turn a quick gaming session into an all nighter. In my experience, turn based games are much more effective at doing this. What gives these games an edge is that a turn is not a standardised measurement of time so it can be harder to keep track of time than in say, Skyrim, where it’s fairly simple to say “alright, it’s 11 o’clock now, I’ll play for another half an hour then leave it.’ But with a turn based game you might say to yourself that you’ll play one more turn find that you didn’t really have an awful lot to do in that turn and insist that it didn’t count as a complete turn.

Another thing that gives Civilization an edge is its complexity. If a player were to set themselves the goal of taking over a city they might have a rough idea of how many turns it would take, but the sheer amount of ways in which their plan could change or go wrong can vastly change how long it will take. More often than not, some new goal will present itself while achieving the present goal. For example, you might just be about to take over a new city, at which point an enemy civ suddenly declares war on you and takes one of your cities. Of course, you can’t allow such a transgression to go unpunished and taking that city back suddenly becomes very important.

I’ve talked about Civilization a lot because I think it’s the epitome of the ‘one more turn’ phenomenon, but it’s by no means the only game to have that effect. The Total War games have kept me up way past my bed time on more than one occasion (the same can be said for my Dad!). Creative Assembly are a bit more forgiving than Firaxis in the respect that battles are fought out in real time so they break up the turn based campaign a bit more, especially when you’re unwilling to lose your biggest army because you’re tired and not thinking straight.

Ultimately good gameplay and a gripping narrative will keep a player playing (whether that narrative is predetermined or simply set up to be possible by the developer). There’s nothing wrong with an all night binge here and there, but it can become problematic if you do it too often! If you’ve had any particularly bad onsets of ‘one more turn’ syndrome please leave a comment!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Hello, I'm New Here

  The gaming community has grown massively in the last few years, with games like Grand Theft Auto 5 and Call of Duty: Inevitable Annual Release Ops Warfare selling millions of copies worldwide. However, it's not always easy being the new kid on the block when it comes to video games, so much so we even have a special word for it...n00b.

  Most games are intrinsically competitive, even in when you don't compete directly there are often score boards and rankings, and this can create a certain amount of elitism - literally when it comes to rankings. Being able to quantify how good you are at a game can make it difficult for a newcomer though as it singles them out and creates an expectation that they won't be as good as someone who is ranked higher. It's not necessarily an incorrect assumption, but the issue is that the new player's inexperience is highlighted. If a more experienced player were to make a mistake, the rest of the team might be more willing to pass this off as simply messing up; whereas the reaction to a newcomer making a mistake tends to be a bit more vitriolic. Shockingly enough, this doesn't tend to improve the new player's skills.

  So why don't gamers offer carefully thought out and constructive criticism rather than listing all the profanities they know? Part of this is certainly to do with the fact that multiplayer games are often very intense and fast paced so there isn't really time to offer advice. The intensity and pace can also mean that tensions are running high. It also comes down to the fact that the information other players are provided with are very limited - a kill-death-ratio doesn't offer any context. If someone is being repeatedly sniped as soon as they spawn it will reflect poorly on them statistically even though it has little to do with the player's actual ability. It's also difficult to tell someone how to improve if you're not entirely sure what they are doing wrong in the first place. Finally, in games with class systems or games like League of Legends where each character's playing style is specific other players may easily be able to recognise when another player is performing badly, but not know how to play as that character any better themselves.

  There are truly wonderful moments when playing a new game though. Sometimes you reach a point where everything just clicks perfectly and you just play brilliantly. From time to time another player might recognise this and congratulate you. One of my own personal frustrations with online gaming is that people tend to be a lot quicker to criticise than they are to praise. It is quite possible that I'm just awful at games so I experience more of the bad than the good!

  So if you're new to a game, try to ignore the trolls, and if you're playing alongside someone who's not doing so well, try to be more constructive than simply saying someone's bad. Chances are if someone's new, they know they're not so good yet and reminding them isn't going to make them any better.

  If you've had any particularly good or bad experiences when starting out at a game please leave a comment below!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Are Video Games Art?

There's been a fair amount of debate over whether video games are art. As a gamer and someone greatly interested in the development and creation of games I find it hard to argue that they aren't. But there's also the question of whether it is important if games are art or not.
  So, is it important? Roger Ebert once asked in an article entitled 'Video Games Can Never Be Art': "Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?" There's certainly some validity to this and I'm sure a lot of people who would play games would agree. I suspect many players of Angry Birds or Doodle Jump don't spend an awful lot of time thinking about how the game was made and the creative process that's gone into it, and as long as they are enjoying themselves then the game is successful; whether or not it's considered art. Even in more expansive games like Call of Duty I suspect the majority of the fanbase is perfectly happy to 'simply enjoy themselves.' But films, books and plays and so on are widely accepted as art, and many of the audiences of these are perfectly content to just enjoy them on face value, so I think it's fair to say that just enjoying something doesn't mean that it's not art. Indeed, studying Shakespeare plays in an attempt to enjoy them on a deeper more artistic level used to make me dislike them. I think it's important for games to be recognised as art, at least in some cases, because I feel by saying a game is not art then it implies it can only be appreciated on face value and I just don't think this is true.
  Perhaps one of the simpler arguments for video games being art is that they contain art. Either taking this literally in the form of graphical assets and soundtracks or the slightly more abstract idea of the story being art. But at the same time an art gallery is not art itself simply because it contains art. Another question with video games being art is where you draw the line. If a video game is art, then can a board game be art as well? I think the distinction has to be drawn that traditional board games don't tell a story in the same way a video game does. Narratives can come out of board games though, particularly more complicated games like Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer. But these are very loosely constructed narratives and simply result from the rules of those games; whereas narratives in video games tend to be more imposed on the player. For example, in Halo the story has been completely laid out by the developers, the player experiences this similarly to the way someone would experience it as a movie. The only real difference here is that the player experiences it from a different frame of reference and has a certain degree of choice about how the characters get from point A in the story to point B. Less linear games, such as Skyrim, perhaps blur this line a little as parts of the plot can be ignored or changed depending on the player but in these cases the player is still choosing from a set of narratives pre-made by the developer. If we look at Skyrim there is little obligation to play through the main quest line, but if the player chooses instead to follow the Thieves Guild story line, that story line has still been predetermined by the developer and the player only chooses how to get from one part of that plot to the other.

If you think I've missed anything out or you disagree with me or just want to share your own views please leave a comment!


(Also, I'm fairly new to this, so any suggestions on how I could improve would be welcome in the comments as well!)


I've been wanting to start a blog for some time now, and figured I'd probably been waiting long enough. Also, I'd never really known where to start until I stumbled across Blogger. I've found that a lot of discussion about video games on the internet tends to be be in the form of a flame war, whether it's the recent PS4 vs. XBox One conflict or the ongoing war between the Battlefield, Call of Duty and Halo series, and I wanted to try to start a more level headed conversation on the topic. So this blog is going to be an attempt to approach video games and the culture of video games in a less confrontational way than it has been done before.

I hope you enjoy it!