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!