The ultimate non-gamers’ game

Video game awards tend to feature the triple A titles that get a mainstream crowd foaming at the mouth and beating their chest in excitement. Television channels like Spike TV have hyped up the medium and what’s expected from the ceremonies to be a glamorous affair mostly filled with traditional gamers and the odd B list celebrity who “remembers playing that Mario thing” with a relative. But this year saw the start of something very interesting by the people who organise Nottingham’s annual GameCity festival. The aptly named GameCity Prize 2011 gathered not the hardcore but the extremely casual and even non-gamers to award what they felt was the best game of the year.

The group included actors, comedians and politicians and were given the Summer to play through seven unique titles that GameCity hoped would start conversations about where video games are today and what they mean to the players. As you would expect, the nominees are all cult classics in their own rights and included: Child of Eden, ilomilo, Limbo, Minecraft, Pokemon Black, Portal 2 and Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP. A formidable list if ever I saw one and to me, there are two titles that stand out because of what they’ve done for the industry. They are Portal 2 and Minecraft. Now, for full disclosure, I haven’t played Minecraft but am fully aware of its impact and the unfaltering love of its players. Personally, I wouldn’t call it a video game in the traditional sense and instead would say it’s more if a fantasy toy box, a modern day Lego if you will. And while I would have preferred to see Portal 2 crowned king, it was Minecraft that picked up the award.

So does the fact that Minecraft isn’t as much of a game as the others (there are very strong arguments for and against and to play devil’s advocate, I’m going against it) mean that the awards are a bit of a farce? No. The fact that GameCity got a group on non-gamers talking and playing games is already a huge leap in the right direction and all the games in the list are the perfect examples of what makes the industry great. Minecraft may not be a ‘game’ in my eyes compared to, say, Limbo, doesn’t mean that’s not to say its influences will be felt in more traditional games in the future. And like it or not, the folks that nominated it the best game of the past year are the kinds of people publishers are desperately trying to figure out how to attract. From Minecraft you can jump to Angry Birds and from there onto the slightly dubious world of Facebook gaming. All three areas are huge and have companies like EA altering long term strategies for. They’ve even favoured such areas over the 3DS in the past.

Back to the point, the awards are an interesting if not altered view of video games and one that should arguably be taken a little more seriously than the aforementioned glitzy shindigs normally promoted. What would be even better is if there were two parts, one with non-gamers and one with a mix of hardcore enthusiasts. Two winners would be announced and how close they were to each other would be an even more interesting conversation.

Battlefield 3(60)

The mediocre single player campaign in Battlefield 3 didn’t put off a number of gamers over the weekend who picked up a copy of the game. I’d imagine the reason for this was because very few of those early adopters give two hoots about solo play and were keen to kick some arse online. With marginally more robust service and arguably greater number of shooter fans, the Xbox 360 version dominated UK retail sales gobbling 53 per cent of the delicious money pie. But those players weren’t too pleased when the servers crapped out forcing them to experience the weakest part of Battlefield 3, the single player mode. That is if they felt like sticking with it at all. Not the best start for EA and their desperate (and a little one-sided) battle with Activision to be publisher of the greatest FPS. Still, the sales were positive and from what I hear, all is well when trying to get online so give it a few days and all will be forgotten. Though it does make the online pass packed with nearly all games seem a little ironic.

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest games this year may have sold the best on the Xbox 360 but it’s Sony that is selling more consoles in the European territory. So far, the PS3 has sold around 3.5 million units whereas both Xbox 360 and Wii are hovering at the 2 million mark. Does that mean these kinds of games are more profitable on the Xbox 360? The figures to suggest that’s where publishers should maybe focus their attention when doing timed exclusive DLC – a practice becoming more and more common. Microsoft were smart enough to snatch up all of the Call of Duty DLC packs first until 2012 but Sony are offering patrons the chance to download all the Battlefield 3 DLC a week earlier than the Xbox 360 and PC. In contrast, the fact that Battlefield 3 sold better on Microsoft’s format may also suggest gamers are getting tired of such exclusivity deals and will buy a game for whatever they feel most comfortable on.

GTAV

Less than a week after the modern take on Grand Theft Auto turns 10, Rockstar Games has announced GTAV by no more than a simple Tweet containing the hashtag #GTAV. Right now, the only thing known about Grand Theft Auto V is the logo that adorns Rockstar’s website with the first trailer scheduled for next Wednesday. Don’t expect much footage however, the publisher tends to tease their products by artistically crafted snippets but it’ll be enough to get many major sites scanning it frame by frame to see what’s hiding within. The five in the logo is reminiscent of a that found on an American five dollar bill. Whether that is any indication of what to expect is anyone’s guess.

One of the many older rumours surrounding GTAV was that it could well be a launch title for Nintendo’s Wii U and the timing of this announcement may well support that rumour. Latest educated guesses is that the Wii U will launch next Summer of Holiday season which is around the time I’d expect to see another GTA since the fourth game came out in 2008. But who knows, this trail of thought could go on for ages so lets just see what next Wednesday has in store.

PSVita is a little more expensive than you thought

The PSVita now has an official UK price tag, set last week when Sony announced what us folk here in Blighty are expected to pay. And as with pretty much everything video game related, we’re getting screwed. You’ve seen the numbers by now, the Wifi only model has an RRP of £229.99 and the all singing all dancing Wifi plus 3G will set you back £279.99. Converting those figures into American dollars will only add insult to injury but needless to say, it ain’t pretty.

Much like the 3DS which may not have had an official UK RRP, the price was initially £229.99 and soon dropped once online retailers and supermarkets found ways of subsidising costs. I would like to think the PSVita will experience the same fury of price competition close to the February 22nd 2012 release date but Sony have made it quite clear in the past that they’re not budging when it comes to RRP. That’s fine, the PSVita is a beastly piece of kit with a gorgeous OLED screen and has oodles of potential to right the wrongs of the original PSP but one thing that’s not been at the forefront of press releases is how not all games can be saved directly onto the game card (via Kotaku). Some, like the poster boy for PSVita, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, requires a memory card to save progress. Proprietary memory cards that is meaning we’ll be paying overly inflated prices for standard hardware. Exactly how much isn’t known but if the Japanese figures are anything to go by, a 4GB card will cost ¥2,200 or £19 whereas a 32GB card is ¥9,500 or £78 (roughly).

To make the most out of your PSVita, it looks like a proprietary memory card is essential, a concept not seen in gaming since the last generation now that most systems and devices come packed with a hefty hard drive or indeed capabilities to save to humble SD cards. Will this hurt day one sales of the PSVita? Probably not. Those lucky enough to be early adopters will most likely find it to be an annoyance rather than a deterrent but it’s not all that welcoming to future consumers. When many are touting this to be the last generation of dedicated handheld devices, I would have thought the PSVita wouldn’t come with little surprises like this because the more people they can get on board, the better for Sony.

I want the PSVita to be a hit. I want it and the 3DS to re-ignite the glory days or handheld gaming but I’ve been slightly burned by picking up a 3DS so early and can’t quite get the bitter taste of the PSP – or its lack of attention from publishers – out of my mouth so am somewhat apprehensive about getting a PSVita. Who knows, come February I may have the cash for one. As long as these scratch cards deliver something…

UPDATE: It turns out that the choice whether or not to save directly to a PSVita game card or memory card has been left up to the publishers not Sony. The reason? Because saving to the memory card means that game can have post-launch DLC. But those which save directly onto the game card can only save in that way so from the get go we’re to have a minor fragmentation in software. Lets hope it stays minor too.

No lefty mode for Skyward Sword after all

For most things, I used my right hand but when the rise of shooters began on consoles around the late 90s, I became a southpaw gamer. The reason for such a turn of events was down to GoldenEye on the N64 and its control method. I chose to use the analog stick to aim while the C buttons controlled my movement and hence forth I was trapped in the world of the lefty. It was a weird place, not due to the company but rather the negativity that came with it. Like those who invert their controls, lefties who complained that a game had no southpaw support usually received an unhealthy amount of hate from the normos. And for a long old time, games that excluded left handed gamers from the control options were plentiful. Despite loving stealth action games, I never got into the Splinter Cell series for that very reason but I forced myself to relearn how to play games in order to play Gears of War and thankfully for my hobby, I’m no longer a lefty.

But southpaws had a leader, they had a character who kicked large amounts of butt all by slashing his sword with his left hand. He was Link and until his debut on the Wii, was a lefty. The percentage of Wii gamers however were not and since Twilight Princess had you waggling the Wii Remote to use the sword, it made more sense for Nintendo to make the new Link right handed. It didn’t matter too much because the precision was lacking in TP so gamers needed to do little more than shake their fists however, Link’s next adventure in Skyward Sword is different. It uses the Wii MotionPlus with added tracking for specific angled attacks. Originally, IGN reported that the game would have a lefty mode meaning not only would the player swap hands, so would Link but Kotaku has found out this isn’t the case.

Stephen Totilo of Kotaku and outed lefty didn’t feel the lack of a left handed mode made a huge difference to the game but if Nintendo want to go that little bit further in making players believed they’re assuming the role of Link, it wouldn’t have been much bother to simply swap hands depending on how your personally play Skyward Sword.

After all, it’s also been revealed that this new Zelda game was never meant to have motion controls, going back to using good old buttons instead (reports Siliconera). This I would have liked after not being a huge fan of waggle gaming (to clarify, I like the Wii and Nintendo games but don’t always appreciate shaking the remote or nunchuck when a button would be easier). After finishing Twilight Princess, producer Eiji Aonuma got to work on Skyward Sword with Hideomaro Fujibayashi directing. It was Fujibayashi who said to use Wii MotionPlus  but Aonuma wasn’t convinced until Wii Sports Resort was released and its mini games had similarities to some of Zelda‘s mechanics (like archery). Aonuma was satisfied but while this was going on, poor Ryuji Kobayashi was busy finishing Skyward Sword‘s combat using buttons. That was soon scrapped and replaced with what we have today, a full Wii MotionPlus experience. It’s a bit of a shame since I’ve been getting used to battling in Zelda with ease on the 3DS in Four Swords and Ocarina of Time and it would have been interesting to see if Skyward Sword would have played the same if it lacked motion support. Would you of had to fight enemies using specific strikes of the sword or was that added purely because of the added precision of Wii MotionPlus? And would removing that meant we’d get ‘just another’ Zelda game? Honestly, I don’t think I’d have minded if we did.

Co-op effect

Mass Effect 3

So it’s finally official, Mass Effect 3 is to include a multiplayer mode. When the news first broke yesterday, no one quite knew what the details of this mode and naturally the fears of a compromised single player campaign floated to the top of the internet. After all, it has been said that ME3 will be the most accessible for newcomers or a wider gaming audience and tacking on a multiplayer mode would certainly help this. But before things got out of hand, BioWare forum aficionado Chris Priestly posted on the official site that the multiplayer component will actually be a co-operative mode, mostly separate from the campaign. I say mostly because, as Priestly stresses, the new addition is designed to compliment the campaign not withhold content to solo only players. The better you do in co-op, the higher Commander Shepard’s ‘galactic readiness’ stats go up but you can just as easily do this on your own in the campaign.

Good news then. If you want Mass Effect 3 to be a one player only game then you can have just that. And the development hasn’t been affected either. A new studio was formed in Montreal to take care of all things multiplayer while the folks at Edmonton got on with the main game. Remember that infamous job posting from June last year? This is the result.

The co-op mode will allow up to four players to, well, all that’s been said so far is fight in what’s being called the Galaxy at War System, influencing Shepard’s stats as they do so. Sounds like it could very well be a horde equivalent which would fit within the concept of Mass Effect. And if it is to be as minimally intrusive to single player as BioWare promises, a horde mode that doesn’t necessarily need much narrative feels right. What the co-op will also do is introduce a brand new set of characters to develop because Shepard is exclusive to the campaign and his story ends with Mass Effect 3. But the franchise will not. Bringing in new characters that players can directly interact with is a great way of bridging future Shepard-less titles. And why no deathmatch or usual multiplayer modes? Because that would be stupid.

More details will be coming soon but at least the will they won’t they saga of Mass Effect‘s multiplayer has come to an end that shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. Well, here’s hoping.

Battlefield, dull? You’re just not playing the right bits…

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I haven’t been one of the lucky few who have got their hands on an almost complete version of Battlefield 3 but have read a number of posts from those who have over the weekend. So how’s it looking as a usurper to the Call of Duty thrown? Well opinions will always be divided on which is the better game but B3 to me has lost foothold in their climb to the top by having what a lot of people are calling a dull single player campaign.

But how can this be when the multiplayer looks and plays so very promising? As did the gameplay videos EA have touted in various trade shows and conferences this year. Kotaku asked executive producer Patrick Bach the same thing and was told

“To be honest, a big part of what single-player in Battlefield is is a tutorial for multiplayer, quickly adding “It’s not a training mission, it’s not a shooting range—it’s an emotional roller-coaster at the same time as it shows you all the bits and pieces of the game. It’s a great introduction for the multiplayer. Because when you go into multiplayer for the first time, it’s very dry, it’s very ‘Here I am, with my gun, what do I do?’ While single-player brings you more on a journey.”

The Call of Duty franchise is equally guilty of this and despite the added narrative and Easter eggs in Black Ops, it felt the most like a free-flowing shooting gallery. However, according to the previews, so does Battlefield 3 only it sounds as if there’s even less personality to it. But does that even matter? The vast majority of gamers who will buy either of thins year’s big military shooters won’t touch the single player component and dive head first into multiplayer. They don’t need or want a tutorial for online play and will most probably find both games to be the most fun they’ve had since the previous title so a weak campaign isn’t really a big deal. Plus Battlefield has always been a multiplayer-focused game and it was the Bad Company series that introduced a grand storyline to follow. Personally I fall into the minority with shooters as I tend not to play a lot online preferring to fight on my own. So a good campaign is more important to me and it sounds as if, once again, I’m going to be a little disappointed.

That’s fine, these games aren’t made for me, they’re made for the millions of competitive multiplayer fans charging across Xbox Live, PSN and PCs every day. I had hoped that the direction which EA appeared to be taking the series in was to be an all-encompassing FPS, combining a Bad Company campaign with traditional Battlefield online battles but the latest buzz from The Guardian paper is that Bad Company may make a comeback after all. I also hoped that all the trash talking from Jeff Brown towards Activision would actually mean something and EA would release a game superior to Modern Warfare 3 in every way. I get the impression that in reality we’ll be getting something that fall short in all the same ways Call of Duty does.