Monday, 5 December 2011

New Games Journalism

An ideal review of a video game would strive to be completely objective in nature, analyising the graphics, gameplay, narrative and qualities of said game. In short - delivering the hard facts. However, the end-result would likely be a long list of statistics and credentials that upon reading through them would push us in to such a state of boredom that chewing off our own feet would seem an attractive deviation. Furthermore it probably wouldn't make us want to buy the game. Thus, we've established that boring reviews are a no no. We are human-beings after all; we have short attention spans and need to be entertained! Enter New Games Jounalism (or NGJ).

NGJ adapts a subjective, opinion-based view-point when reviewing a game. The reviewer aproaches the subject with more flair, and offers their own, individualised criticism on what they believe makes the game good or bad. This already begins to sound more appealing, however, certain issues affect the judgement of said reviewers. They too are human, and are prone to laziness or being biased.The issue is no longer whether the review is more appealing to read but whether it is reliable or effectively, of any use as a review.
If you're after a good, non-biased, honest review you might as well ask this to write you one

Despite popular belief game reviewers don't chill out with a select few games, their favourite beverage in hand and a casual couple of reviews to submit by the end of the week. In a realistic scenario a game reviewer is saddled with numerous articles to turn in on time for a monthly deadline in which they have very little time to truely explore the subject matter. Instead they write based on what they have heard or their initial impressions. This causes reviewers to churn out reviews that are half-baked and not as informative as one would like, or worse, written in a way that is purely biased. An example of said biasism is when a writer is hired by a magazine owned by a console in which the review is expected to reflect positively on the game in order to generate sales.

"Getting to grips with the demands of any professional role is a gruelling task but there are techniques that you can learn to manage their workload effectively."

However, other important factors affect the calibur of a games review, such as how engaged a reviewer is with a game. It is unlikely that most reviewers even play most of the games they review, and when they do they only tend to play a few hours worth for a general impression; this is either down to a lack of adequete time or more importantly, whether they were even sent a copy of the game to play in the first place. In order for a reviewer to properly devote themselves to playing a game there needs to be a buzz; a spark of interest for the game. This is often supplied by what people are saying about the game or where the interests of the reviewer themselves lie. And in a lot of cases these interests are shared on a national scale. 

An example of a magazine that tends to score games with a biased mentality is the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu. Their methods of scoring particular games have been questionable. A game that continues to score well with Famitsu with every iteration spawned is the Dynasty Warriors series. The series is currently at its 7th game and western reviewers have evidently had enough with the repetitive gameplay, sub-par graphics and lack variation between releases over all. IGN's Colin Moriarty cited the gameplay as being "simply too much of the same thing over and over again to have any sort of broad appeal" and awarded the game 5/10. Gaming Bus awarded the game a C+ and overall stated that "there was no real challenge to be had". A few big magazines and websites didn't even bother to review the game. Thus it can be established the game was relatively unpopular in the western hemisphere. Famitsu awarded DW7 a score of 36/40.

A similar game, which I personally enjoyed, but again failed to gain much appeal in the west was N3: Ninety-Nine Nights. The game had similar gameplay elements to the Dynasty Warriors games but boasted a grander scale and a more innovative combo branching system. However, reviewers gave the game similar treatment as the DW games and instantly started linking comparisons. This further demonstrates how reviewers are influenced by other games they have played and often compares them to the games they currently review. In conclusion reviews were generally poor and on par with reviews for the DW games. Famitsu scores N3 a 37/40.

Now it may seem the magazine simply favours the style of gameplay offered by both games, however I have derived a different conclusion...
If you added both their ages together they'd stll probably be considered jailbait...

Both games feature several iterations of the school-girl archetype; a popular theme in Japanese media. I believe it is this recurring theme that lends itself to overall scores awarded to these games. To further concrete my theory I present exhibit B:

   Obviously highly regarded for its realistic physics engine.

Famitsu awarded Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2 35/40, despite it being a mentally stagnating game in which the only objective was to dress your chosen girl in increasingly smaller swimsuits. The game reviewed poorly in the west and the sales reflected this. However, this does note denote the fact that sex sells; western reviewers just need action along with their sex in order for it to be a winner though.

A game that constantly seems to review well in the west, with the sales reflecting this, is the Call of Duty series. Every iteration follows similar gameplay mechanics, themes and a focus on war. The gameplay is tight and the graphics are solid, however the formula changes very little with each iteration. I wonder if the popularity of the franchise lies with current affairs and consumers underlying patriotism and desire to fight for their country. Perhaps the publishers pick up on this notion as the armies in the current game: Modern Warfare 3 seems to mirror current sides of the ongoing war. This begs the question as to whether this game sells because of the scores provided by gaming magazines or simply because consumers and reviewers already have similar tastes.  

  They appear to follow the middle-eastern system for car-parking

There is evidence to suggest that consumers' ideals differ from reviewers however. Okami was highly praised by reviewers and had brilliant gameplay and very stylish graphics. Unfortunately it sold terribly. It seemed the reviews and exposure the game received didn't help sales, which brings up the question of whether game reviews directly affect sales and how much do they influence consumers' decisions.

It seems the unique graphical art-style couldn't save this dog

Personally I tend to use game reviews only as a guideline on what to expect out of the game. I often find the reviews rely too heavily on comparisons to other games to make a point, many of which I haven't played before rendering the review useless to me in that respects. I also find certain parts of the reviews contradict earlier statements, making composition slightly confusing on a whole. Games that often get insanely high scores turn out to be disapointing to me; am I the only one not star-struck by Skyrim? I don't tend to read game reviews as much anymore since alot of sites have started to use video reviews to get their opinions across; a far more appealing scheme, especially since the average person would prefer not to read through a wall of text.

I believe when it comes to my own writing I would like to say I review the game without bias, however I am highly influenced by things I like and will often search for qualities in a game just for an excuse to rate it highly. Therefore I am biased and highly opinionated, which is a fault but common amongst human beings. I would however like to achieve a marriage between objective and subjective in my review.

Informative - 4/10
Bias - 7/10
Corrupt - 8/10
Lazy - 5/10

Overall - 6/10

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

My personal gaming history

From a very young age I always had a love for bright visuals and colourful imagery. I had only ever been able to experience this through cartoons I had watched or books I had read. This changed at the age of 4 when I had played my first video game. The concept of being able to control the moving pictures on the television screen was new and exciting to me. The first game I ever played was Super Mario Bros. on the NES; and from that moment on I began my obsession with video games.

The first console I owned was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and with it I had all the major Super Mario games and various other titles. Super Mario World and its Sequel, Yoshi's Island remain to be two of my most memorable experiences. I love the charming 2D sprites and the colourful worlds Nintendo's artists had created and the innovative and addicting gameplay. Fundamentally, I associate Super Mario with excellent platforming and also with my childhood. I don't think any game has sparked such a tremendous amount of nostalgia for me.

Getting older I began to play a wider variety of games. I began to play fighters, my first being Street Fighter 2 which I imedietly fell in love with and continue to play to this day. I also discovered RPG's which became a new addiction to me; The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy series being 2 of my all-time favourites. I loved the idea of having complex, interesting characters work along side eachother in a team which was fully customisable. Another aspect I particularly enjoyed was the deeper, more engaging storylines.

A game I played recently that really captivated me was Silent Hill 2. The characters were complex, original and completly messed up. The fact that non of them followed the stereotype of being pristine looking and highly-polished, instead opting for faulted and in some ways, unattractive is what made them so appealing and memorable.The world of SH2 is also very intriguing; the pepetual fog and the concept of hearing what you cannot see is particularly terrifying. I also loved how psychologically distressing some of the levels were; when the main character, James comes face to face with the monstrous Pyramid Head from behind bars, only after prolonged consideration do you realise that the creature is infact the protagonist's own reflection.

Silent Hill 2 tapped into something that I believe is still new territory in gaming; it created a psychologically invasive experience, filled with subliminal messages and genious artistic execution. I believe that with the constant tidal wave of first-person shooters and action adventure games dominating the market that games like SH2 have little chance of reapearing in the industry. Even the Silent Hill series on a whole seem to have strayed away from their roots and opted for more action-orientated games. Now games striving for such unique premises at times fall short or just fail to sell as well.

However, games promoting originality and character seem to strive more on the downloadable market place. Games like Limbo took a simple concept and married it with unique visuals and challenging gameplay. I would like to see more games released in a similar vein, whether it be over xbox live or through retail. My dream would be to play a game that could transport you to a living, breathing dystopia which would allow you to interact with computer-controlled characters as if they were people and change things in the digital world around you. An ideal way of playing this sort of game would be through a virtual-reality interface like VR goggles and wired gloves that recognise motion. This sort of technology has been explored before but not to great depths. Either way it will be very interesting to see what the industry produces next.

Monday, 14 November 2011

A history of computer games, part 3: 2000's

In the year 2000 Sony released the Playstation 2 which sold incredibly well upon release due to an already established consumer base, strong support from 3rd party developers and the backwards compatability option allowing gamers to play their original Playstation games on the new system. It was this option that gave the PS2 its edge over the competition. The PS2 overtook its competitors and remains to be the best selling video games console of all time.

A year later in 2001 Nintendo released the Gamecube. It was the first Nintendo console not to utilise a cartridge-based game medium and instead used 80mm mini-CDs. The console suffered from a lack of third party support and its launch titles were not as well received as on previous consoles. The Gamecube went onto to receive a stigmatism and became labelled as a "child-friendly console" and ill-suited to hardcore gamers. Nintendo tried to battle this notion with games suited to an older audience like Resident Evil 4 but ultimately couldn't compete with the the PS2.

Around the same time the Dreamcasts life came to an abrupt end. This was due to Sega being unable to compete with the PS2 and releasing games lacking in quality. The Dreamcast even released a number of Playstation 1 ports during its cycle which looked rediculous running on the technically superior Dreamcast. When the Dreamcast sunk, Sega pulled out of the console wars and re-appeared as a 3rd part developer. Suprisingly enough, Sega went onto produce a majority of its titles for Nintendo's console, even allowing its mascot, Sonic to appear in games for the system. This formed an alliance between the once warring companies.
In 2002 Microsoft, known for its personal computers and Windows opperating software joined the console wars by producing the Xbox. The console was technically more powerful than the competing consolesand also focused on an area which had not been extensively explored yet: online gameplay. The xbox sold at a lost towards the end of its cycle but the sales of games were high in profit. Halo: Combat Evolved was the Xbox's flagship title and sold in its millions, going on to become one of the best-selling shooters of all time. Towards the end of the sixth-generation of consoles the Xbox and the Gamecube were neck and neck; however the PS2 ended the era miles ahead of the competition.
At the end of 2005 Microsoft released the Xbox360 and began the seventh-generation of consoles. The console was technically superior to its predecessor and offered an enhanced and refined online gaming experience. It had a strong selection of launch titles and sold well. A year later Sony released the highly-anticipated Playstation 3 but ran into an array of unanticipated, potentially lethal problems. The first mistake Sony made was to retail the PS3 at a shocking price of $600, and the second mistake was to release the PS3 without a strong selection of launch titles. In order to maintain resonable profits, Sony decided to retail the PS3 in the UK at a staggering £425. The seemingly unreasonable stunted sales of the PS3 in North America and the UK causing the PS3 to fall behind in the console wars. Sony justified their pricing by referencing the built-in blu-ray player. Ironically, the PS2 continues to outsell the PS3.
Meanwhile Nintendo released the Wii, and instead of deciding to focus on the consoles technical capabilities it focused on gameplay innovation and marketing. Nintendo's previous console, the Gamecube, appealed to younger gamers and a more family-orientated market. Nintendo took this cue and decided to focus their marketing strategies on families with children. This proved successful and Nintendo sold more consoles than the competition and contiues to be the best selling console.

Throughout the past few years a number of gaming franchises have developed and escaladed into big sellers. An example of this is the Call of Duty series which contiues to sell exceedingly well with each iteration and has accumliated a large fan base. However, statistics tell us that game developers are losing more and more money every year. An ex-Sony representitive claims that as much as 70% of all games released lose money. Could this be due to the increased budgets for video games and sales being unable to match them, or maybe that consumers just arent interested enough in certain games anymore? Either way the future of the video games industry is an uncertain one.  

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A history of computer games, part two: 1980's - 1990's

1977 saw the first video game crash which caused a huge quantity of video game companies and their consoles to go bust. This was largely due to the excessive number of less-capable consoles and Pong duplicates being sold without profit; thus causing a glut to appear in the market. The release of Taito's space invaders in 1978 essentially ended the crash with its resounding success and thrusted the video games industry into its golden era.

Video game arcade cabinets could now be found outside the arcades, in shopping malls, eating establishments and other areas. Other popular games by rivalling companies started to appear like Namco's Galaga and Pac-man. Sales of arcade cabinets increased dramatically with revenue in North America reaching $2.8 billion by 1980. The video game industry even managed to surpass Hollywood and the music industry by 1981 and more game consoles were begining to appear in homes.

Second-generation consoles, such as the Colceco Telstar and the Mattel Intellivision were being released. While both were successful products they failed to out-sell their main competetor: the Atari 2600. I personally believe that Atari had a more desirable line-up of games and the controller was superior to the other two consoles' controllers. The Intellivison featured a strange numeric keypad that wasn't particularly easy to control and the Telstar didn't feature a controller at all but an interface built directly into the console making it even less practical. The Atari's controller revolutionised gaming with its brilliant joystick controller which has survived in variations to this day.

Then Atari went on to produce to produce their next console to compete with the ColecoVision: The Atari 5200 which featured improved hardware and new range of games. However the console suffered from one fatal flaw: The controller was unresponssive and completely impracticle. Its size and appearance was also highly unapealing and ironicly, the 2600 continued to outsell the 5200.

The video game industry was booming until the arrival of the personal computer which not only catered to video gaming but also marketed itself as a proffesional business machine unlike the numerous video game consoles designed for a specific function. This meant more households were purchasing computers rather than consoles. Another area in which video game companies failed is in correct copyrighting protocals, meaning 3rd party companies could produce games for the Atari 2600 without Atari receiving any of the profit. The assembly of 3rd party game programmers was brought about by the lack of recognition they received from video game companies. They had fixed salaries, regardless of how well their games sold and were denied proper acrediting. The first 3rd party company in the video game industry was Activision.

The above and the fact that numerous companies, even businesses that wouldn't be remotely associated with gaming like Quaker Oats, began producing games. This flooded the market with games and consoles. Furthermore, Atari began to lose it's standards and began producing lacking games such as the Atari's version of Pac-Man which featured glitchy gameplay and disapointing graphics. However, the last straw which irrevocably broke the gaming industry was Atari's E.T. Not only did they pay Steven Speilberg in excess of $25 million for the rights to produce the game but they only allowed for 6 weeks to produce and ship the game. The game did not sell, and they were left with 5 million unsold copies. Not only were Atari producing poor quality games, but they insisted on selling them at full price. This caused consumers to start purchasing cheaper games from 3rd party companies. Atari gained only 15% growth in 1982, but had promised as much as 50% to share holders. This led Atari's stocks to crash and led to the great crash of 1983.

It would seem that the video game industry was dead, but a Japanese company called Nintendo decided to try and market their console, the Famicon to the western audience. In 1986 they released the Nintendo Entertainment System and it became an instant success. Nintendo analysed the market and ensured they didn't repeat previous mistakes made by the industry. For one, they produced a special lock-in chip that would only allow games endorsed or aproved by Nintendo to run on their system. Not only did this mean that they could regulate what games appeared on the NES, ensuring quality but it also allowed them to receive a sum of the profits from games produced by 3rd party companies.

A select few other companies rose up and took Nintendo's cue such as Sega and their console, the Genesis. This started what was reffered to as "the cosole wars" with both companies producing, not only quality games, but a wide variety of gamestyles. No longer were video games confined to tennis simulations or the countless space-themed shooting games but a whole range of different genres began to appear. Action adventure games and role-playing games were only 2 of many new genres that oppened up. The concept of producing quality games on a select few consoles in the industry became a staple and continued over to modern gaming and consoles.

Another area in which Nintendo took the reigns was of the hand-held video game console. The Gameboy was released in 1989 and was a world-wide phonomenon; never before were gamers able to take their gaming experience on the go. Sega took its cue and released the Sega Game Gear, a similar handheld showcasing its own line of games.

In 1992 Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega released the Sega Megadrive. Both consoles boasted 16-bit graphics capabilities and a higher standard for video games. Each companies mascots and their games: Mario and Sonic both became flagships for their respective consoles and were hailed as some of the greatest games in the history of video games.

At this point Atari was was being pushed into the background; the Atari 2600 had become obsolete and the Atari 5200 failed to impress. They released the Atari Lynx soon after the Gameboy and Gamegear was released and failed to sell as well as the competition. Being more expensive and offering a less exciting library of games saw its downfall. In 1993 Atari relased the Jaguar in attempt to overtake the competition. Atari relied on the fact that their console was 64-bit - essentially 4 time the graphical capabilities of the competition - and even went as far as to slander Nintendo in their adverts. The console was a huge failure due to the lack of quality flagship titles, 3rd party support and games that were poorly developed. At this point Atari ceased to produce consoles and later re-appeared as a 3rd party developer.

In 1994 Sega released the Saturn: A 32-bit console that used CD-based games as aposed to the more expensive cartridges it used in its previous consoles. At the time Sony also released their own console: the Playstation which also featured 32-bit processing power and a disc-based game medium. In 1996 Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 along with it; which is recognised as the greatest evolution in 3d platforming that has shaped the way games have materialised to this day.

During the next few years notable games such as Resident Evil, Golden Eye and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were being released and boasting exciting new gameplay styles and raising the bar for video game quality. All three consoles were selling well along with their games, though Nintendo and Sony were overtaking Sega.

In 1999 Sega released what would become their final console: the Sega Dreamcast. The dreamcast sold well thanks to the support of launch titles like Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Marvel vs Capcom and House of the Dead 2. This allowed the Dreamcast to enjoy success during its first year until the release of Sony's next console: the Playstation 2.  

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A history of computer games, part one: 1950's - 1970's

The concept of the computer game began as early as 1947 when Thomas T. Goldsmith, Jr and Estle Ray Mann requested the production of a device they called the "cathode ray tube amusement device". It consisted of a video screen which displayed a blue light meant to represent a reticule, a knob used to maneuver the dot and a button used to fire; which resulted in a blurring of the dot if the target was hit. They produced a simplified target-firing simulation in which an overlay made to resemble a World War 2 radar was placed over the display unit. The object of the game was to destroy the planes, which was achieved by swiftly lining the reticule up with enemy planes and firing at them. This was the precursor to future video game development.

In 1952 A. S. Douglas produced an interactive noughts and crosses game on a similar device called a EDSAC computer which also utilized cathode ray tube. This, however was not intended as entertainment but rather to support a thesis on "human-computer interaction". The game involved challenging the computer to a game of noughts and crosses, which demonstrates an early use of artificial intelligence in gaming.

In 1958 William Higinbotham created "Tennis for Two": a game which utilized an oscillioscope, an analog computer and two primitave controllers; a closer set-up to modern gaming components. It displayed a side-view of a tennis court and a ball that needed to be hit over the net from both sides. Whats interesting is that the ball actual encorporated an accurate physics engine. Unlike the previous two entries this game was produced purely for entertainment purposes; a concept carried through to modern game producting.

By 1962 Steve Russel produced "Spacewar!", said to be the first video game intended for use on a computer. Russel didn't think to copyright his game at the time since the computer the game was played on was roughly the size of a refrigerator and cost $120'000 to run, however, Spacewar! became the blueprint for countless future video games. The game introudced more advanced gaming mechanics: two players controlled a ship each where the goal was to shoot eachothers ships whilst avoiding being shot themselves. The game also encorporated a representation of a 3D playing field which hadn't yet been attempted.

In 1966 Ralph Baer and Bill Harrisson invented the first game system that could be hooked up to a standard television set along with the first form of the light gun. Both huge strides in video game technology. They produced a game called "Chase" which involved a square chasing another square along with 6 other games including a target practice game.

In 1968 the DGC Nova minicomputer was created, which involved putting all of the computer parts into a single box - the same principle applied to video game consoles as well.

1972 saw the release of what is widely believed to be the first real video game and the first to reach wide mainstream appeal. Pong, produced by Atari, took the same concept as "Tennis for Two" and produced a 2-dimensional interface displaying two paddles and a line down the centre of the screen representing a net. Two players would take part in trying to hit the ball past the opposite side of the screen to score. It ran on the Magnavox Odyysey: the first home video game console. Iterations of Pong would later be ported to numerous future consoles and was the game that initiated the start of the video games industry.

After this point in time more video game consoles and computers were being produced and released: examples of these were the Altair 8800 (1975), the Apple 1 (1976) and the Commodore pet (1978). But probably most notable of the time period was the release of the Atari 2600, which many recognise as the first commercially successful video game console. It was also the first system to introduce the joystick, which would form the archetype for future controllers and later, analog sticks.

About Me

My name is James George Oakes and I have loved video games since as far back as I can remember. Growing up I was always drawn to the colourful visuals of the early 16-bit games (super mario all stars being my first game and the SNES being my first console). I was always curious as to how these magnificent moving pictures were created and fascinated by the depth of imagination that went into them.

I was born in England but moved to the middle east when I was 3 and continued to live there till I was 18. Experiencing life in such a different habitat was an interesting experience and allowed me to gain a much greater perspective of the world. Navigatting the interior of a pyramid in Giza, Egypt and exploring the vast city of Dubai are amongst my most insightful experiences. I am of English, French and Indian heritage, but I don't feel my origins have played a significant part in shaping the person I am today - I would probably credit that to people I've met, places I've been, books I've read, music I listen to and films I have watched. However it can be argued that video game producers today posess the ability to create a virtual emulation encorporating all of these concepts into one coherent experience.

Another huge factor in my life is the art I appreciate and the work I produce myself. I love traditionalist art techniques and recognise Leonardo DaVinci as possibly the greatest artist to ever grace history. His highly accurate workings on the human anatomy fuel my own love for the intricate shapes and personality of the body. I especially love to draw faces as I feel a single facial expression can tell an entire story about what the person is feeling. I also prefer art, especially encorporating people, not to be too "pretty", as I feel it simply offers a shallow representation of the subject matter. I find grotesque imagery to be far more real and thought-provoking.

My dream job would be to become a character design artist for a gaming company such as SquareEnix or Konami. I am unsure as to whether SquareEnix would want me as the characters of the Final Fantasy series (a personal favourite of mine) tend to be pristine and particularly lacking representations of what real people are like. I would love to produce intriguing characters that were faulted, visually and mentally but also entirely unique.

The skills required for such a job position are: having an excellent grasp of building anatomy partnered with exceptional drawing skills. A good feel for composition, perspective and colour theory and a good understanding of texture and surface quality. Extensive experience with digital painting programes as well as traditionalist materials and ofcourse, a vast imagination. Ofcourse self-management skills would also be an essential asset.

I believe I have good drawing skills but there is great room for improvement and the agency to learn more. I will also need to become acustomed with using digital painting programes and a graphics tablet, which I am looking forward to working with. I believe I also have alot of imagination but there is definetly more that can fuel it. I also believe I have good knowledge on what might appeal to the target audience and what might intrigue them. I am greatly anticipating the learning experience ahead of me and the oppertunity to improve myself.