madden_92

A recent radio show in the UK quoted a survey as suggesting that our favourite music, the songs and bands that we love forever, is that which we hear aged 20-21. The chances are that’s a made up survey… it wasn’t a great radio station, but it does raise an interesting question. The truth is, I spent most of my life listening to the same artists without a lot of variation so I don’t feel qualified enough to comment on the musical side of things but, looking at the ages quoted, it does suggest that it isn’t the music itself that influences us, but our experiences that we associate with it. At that age we are perhaps freer than we ever were or will be again and that has to reflect in our memories of that period in our lives. In our busy hectic lives that we all lead (speaking of which, how have I got time to write this and how have you got time to read it!?).

When I start to consider my favorite games and experiences there are certain titles that I can place up high on a pedestal. But thinking about it, I have to wonder what it was that earned them that lofty perch. Let me present you with a list:

Command and Conquer: Made sweeter still by the fact that to enjoy it’s multiplayer fruits we were forced to get our dads to ship the PCs over to my house to link them up. It was the equivalent of climbing over barbed wire to get at strawberries. If you have only ever experienced modern day networking you have no idea how much of a pain in the ass that was. God I sound really old. Ultima 7: Competing with my friends to see just how much havoc we could cause in this free roaming environment that was a joy, years before anyone else did it. As far as I knew.

Madden 92, NHL 2001 and Championship Manager 2. Off the top of my head, whilst sitting on a plane, those were the titles that immediately struck me as being my favorites. It’s a mix, there aren’t any avant-garde classics in there that will make the hardcore fanatic nod in appreciation but I don’t care at all because, taking my assumptions about what makes people love a particular song or band, it’s not about the game anyway.

I have my memories. Command and Conquer gave me a four hour local network battle on my dining room table when, after seeing my friend building a massive army of Mammoth Tanks, I sold all my base, everything that I couldn’t make disappear and created a guerrilla force of Stealth Tanks. The rest of the afternoon was spent picking off his forces one by one in a tense battle, the intensity of which was ratcheted up 100% because it was against my friend. Sweet Jesus you’ve never seen anyone as mad as he was when he realized that after two hours of destroying harvester after harvester he didn’t have enough money to build a new one… I had him!

Championship Manager 2 represents the holidays after my GCSEs and A-Levels. Ten or so weeks of solid gaming joy with my best friend as we spent season after season trying to better each other. We must have laughed for ages when Manchester United bought Solskjaer off me for 18 million despite the fact I’d nabbed him on a free transfer only six months before. This was the same friend who, several years before, I had enjoyed many scraps on the football field in Madden 92. I never managed to win. I never cared at all. They were the best weekends of my life.
I could go on and maybe discuss more titles, add some more to the list and bore you with other stories but I won’t. Well, maybe just one more, but it forms the basis for what I believe in here so it’s important.

In the first year of my final semester at University, my housemate and I set out to play an entire season on NHL 2001. We picked a team each, 82 games, 20 minute periods, the whole lot, everything. We couldn’t have played more hockey. Several months later after we had ended the regular season with many a great game under our belt, some against each other and a whole host of stories to chat about over beer, we reached the Playoffs. By then, I was considerably better at the game than my good friend and was winning games well. After some close moment in the Playoffs we faced off against each other in the Western Conference finals. I won. Easily. I never played for the Stanley Cup.

Now please remember the amount of time that we’d dedicated to playing this season. A total of 82 hours game time alone, not to mention all the extra minutes tweaking teams, making trades and all the other general things that get in the way of getting a good night’s sleep. But I had immediately lost interest in the game after I had knocked my friend out. Would I have felt different if he’d been knocked out earlier, or failed to qualify for the playoffs? I don’t really know. But suddenly, the game just didn’t matter. I’ll always remember that game but it clearly wasn’t because of the superb balancing or exciting game play. It was the moments I spent alongside my friend on the sofa, cheering each other on in the close games, brothers in bitterness following the unfair losses. If my love for the game had been for the game itself then surely I’d have carried on, played those extra few games and taken the cup home. But it never happened. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a completist when it comes to things like that, especially when I’ve put so much effort into getting that far. I just… didn’t fancy it.

These days, when I don’t have the time or the personal freedom to spend as much time playing games as I want to I am increasingly finding myself looking for love. I feel like a lonely teenager, or worse, like an unhappily married man (I’m not!) wishing he was back at the time in his youth when he was dating everything that moved.
So what’s the solution? Online gaming has to be the way forward. There’s obviously a perfectly good spot for single player experiences in the world and games such as Oblivion have shown that a strong single player experience alone can still lead to a game of the year. But single player games will suffer a continuous fate of constantly being usurped in graphical quality as the years, even months, go by. Oh we all claim that we aren’t graphics whores but everything’s so much better when it looks pretty… you love it… admit it. Games like Counterstrike have shown that strong team play, great multiplayer design and sense of community will keep a game being played for years and graphical updates are just heralded as welcome new features rather than a reason to “get back into the game”. Starcraft’s celebrity status in South Korea is another example. The experience available to players in that system are second to none and ensure its longevity… right up until Blizzard announces its sequel… anytime soon… Blizzard…? Eh?

And now we have the fantastic Xbox Live to help us get those gaming experiences back. I can slot just enough in before my girlfriend catches the late train home from work, although obviously I want her to get home as soon as possible of course (/escapes). Thinking about it, Xbox Live helped get me another quality gaming experience recently with Gears of War. I have to admit that the gloss, shiny as it is, did not detract me from what was essentially a basic game. Certainly not something that will stay with me forever. But then a casual conversation at work led to a whole evening of glorious co-op game play. It wasn’t the slickest of experiences but that can by no means be blamed on Gears of War. It was pretty much my fault that I was rubbish, consistently lagged behind my suffering friend and only turned up after he’d managed to kill everyone. But it was great. It took me a while to stop myself running about like a loon, intermittently looking at the ceiling and the floor but it took me no time at all to enjoy the conversation right from the start, as well as the banter that followed five minutes later when “Dom” realised that “Marcus” was somewhat of a liability and was probably going to be responsible for his death, many times over.

And now we have Valve own efforts through Steam which you know is just going to work brilliantly well and lead to Team Fortress 2 taking over the world. Yeah whatever, online been gaming has been around for ages but it’s only really now that it’s becoming accessible to so many people. It’s becoming the norm and soon there isn’t anyone who’d going to be satisfied with slotting a goal past a diving keeper in Pro Evo without knowing that somewhere, anywhere, there’s a smug kid about to cry into his control pad that “that’s the ^%(&^ fifth time you’ve *(%^$& beaten me you *$%£$!”. Who’d expect such language from a 6 year old?

This essay has been as waffling as listening to your dad down the pub as he runs through a list of the bands he went to see when he was younger, before he had to look after you and waste his money and time. He had his friends, his girlfriends, his experiences. We’re exactly the same now although you do have to admit it’s in a slightly nerdier way. There’s a whole other essay to be written on whether gaming is nerdier than gigging and music… but to save whoever it is that is going to write that essay, yes it is, leave it alone. But going back to the shaky fact from the radio show that kicked this whole thing off, just enjoy the games you enjoy and how you play them. This was my interpretation of that statistic presented by scientists at a rubbish university. Just ignore me. In my opinion, and in my little world, there’s no doubt that my favourite gaming experiences stem from sharing encounters, matches, discoveries, victories and losses with my best friends. In 20 years time if I’m lucky, I’ll be sitting down the pub with my son or daughter boring the crap out of her as I explain that when I was her age we didn’t have it so easy. We had to put up with EMS/EXT memory, dodgy sound cards… dual… core… processors. How things change.

But some things won’t change or fade. Seriously… John only used to beat me every time because he played as Miami ’72… no way I’m forgetting that.

This article originally appeared on Gameplayer.se (clearly before I started working on a rival to Steam!)

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games_for_windows2

Ebony and Ivory, live together in perfect harmony… side by side on my ergonomic keyboard, oh why can’t we?

I don’t have an ergonomic keyboard as I don’t really understand them, but the conflict between PC gamers and Games for Windows is a fact that’s very real.  What can I do to solve this? The campaign starts here:

Step One: Start to Build Bridges with High Profile PC Gaming Community Leaders

Will Porter – Former Editor of PC Zone

Rob says: hello Will

Rob says: Are you doing well?

Will says: alright

Will says: Have had a nice day – my mum came up and brought some cakes

Will says: hooray for cakes!

Rob says: i was just talking cake with someone too

Rob says: cake all round

Rob says: I was wondering, being PC minded and all if you might help me

Rob says: I am starting to piece together a blog as shameless self promotion

Rob says: and wanted to gather people’s thought on Games for Windows in the form of a Haiku

Will says: You want a haiku from me?

Rob says: well, it need not be a haiku… a poem of some sort might be nice

Will says: Something to do today! At last!

Rob says: i’m not paying

Will says:    😦

Rob says: but you can retain the rights

Will says: Excellent

Rob says: i felt that asking people’s opinion of GfW was asking for trouble and if it was in poetry form it might help calm them down

Rob says: i could be wrong of course

Rob says: please do take your time… you may email me whenever you finish

Rob says: and thank you very much

Will says:

The wind gusts through trees
Avoiding Games for Windows LIVE
Because it is shit

Rob says: oh well that’s perfect

Will says: I thought so

Rob says: I might just post this conversation… I kind of like the way it went. It turned your lovely haiku into a sort of Shakesperean “play within a play”

Rob says: Would you like to retain the rights to this conversation too?

Conversation and Poem Copyrighted Will Porter February 2009

We may have a very long way to go. How can Games for Windows make friends? This is going to take some thought. That thought will come in part two. Blogging is all about cliffhangers right?

game-pics

Chatter is rising today about a lovingly put together rant over at The -Minus World discussing the most awful examples of games based stock photography. It’s a 30 odd pic mashup of wide-eyed yuppies in nice shirts,  irritatingly punchable children and endless beautiful women holding third party controllers like they are a family member’s knob … and so on. As one commenter pointed out, this is a situation that plagues all industries:

” I too am a graphic / web designer and I swear to god I get so sick of the stock cliches…it applies to all genres.

I do a lot of business sites so I get to deal with “Happy Customer Service Rep Girl with a Headset On” or “Board Room Meeting with All Politically Correct Parties Represented – Young Guy, Old Guy, Black Guy, Hispanic Guy, Asian Girl, White Girl…” I can’t believe I actually have to pay money for them!”

After a few moments thought I think we can quite happily blame PR and marketing for this one. I can’t think of any reason why somebody in the games industry would want to use one of these shots. We don’t need them to market our products, they are just there to illustrate games to a wider audience. Strangely, the wider audience for games usually consists of angry tabloid readers warming up for a flaming torch-lit rally against chavs… so they don’t need those images either.

Perhaps simply blaming PR and marketing is wrong. I’m going to sit this one down squarely in the Nintendo camp. Their insistence in making fist fulls of yen selling Wii’s to morons aching for the Karaoke machine of the 21st century is to be massively applauded. Their use of pretty girls chatting about T-Shirts on animal crossing is a direct link to the dumb animals you seen gawping at each other in these still shots. And here’s the problem; still shots of gaming son’t work. When you’re sitting playing a game it’s not exactly ann interesting site… I’ve even been known to dribble. You get the odd moment of leaning into a corner, ducking a shell or laughing at a friend’s own goal and, as Nintendo has proved, watching people have fun is as pleasurable as seeing a baby laugh but only when you’re actually seeing it happen. You simply cannot capture gaming in a picture without it either looking dull or embarrassingly lame.

I look forward to the first PR team to put out a mini-campaign, targeted at the bloggers out there, promoting their hardcore title as a lifestyle chump-fest. A flash based “ring everything on this picture that makes you want to be sick” viral would work nicely thanks very much. People laughing at nothing (check), consoles unplugged (check), fist-pumping twats (check).

Photographers will need to think very hard about how people look when they are playing games even though Nintendo’s ads look perfectly realistic on the whole. The DS ads are a little shaky, but watching the Redknapps play on their Wii makes me feel like I’m in the house with them before dissapearing upstairs to take a souveneir from Louise’s bedroom. Bottom line… take photos of people actually playing games, don’t tell them to high-five, shout “yay!” or look attractive. Then it’ll all be fine.

dead_end

Starting a new blog is like sitting in front of a new sheet of paper, and I hate using pens these days. Every time I start to reach the end of a sentence my arm starts aching. I am slowly devolving but I can still stab at buttons with my finger tips, sometimes several at a time. This is my third attempt at a blog. The first came when Blogger was still charged for and resulted in nothing more than a free hoodie, courtesy of Google, when they sold up and moved to the big city. The second was a half arsed attempt to enter the world of meta-PR whilst I toiled away at Take 2. It was stupid because it was totally unofficial yet I still couldn’t say or reveal anything controversial in case it cost me my job. So if I went on a press trip I couldn’t blog about it in case everyone who wasn’t there got stroppy. Waste of time, but I got lots of hits from Denmark and I have no idea why.

So this time, what’s what? I wrote a few articles for a Swedish gaming site a couple of years ago which I always considered quite poor but they got really good responses. If I can find them at the end of typing this I’ll post them here, here and here . So I’d say things like that would be interesting if I can think of good ideas. That’s hard, couldn’t do this professionally I assure you. The majority of posts will probably be text versions of the stuff I bore my girlfriend with whilst we’re watching TV, but with an obvious tilt towards games related stuff. And I can’t go into everything I jabber about or I’ll simply be another Internet bitch and the world already has to deal with huge numbers of them.

I’m not aiming to do anything amazing here, or revolutionary, or get thousands of readers because, right now, I doubt I have anything useful to say. I won’t get myself into that dead end situation where I promise the earth and deliver Aylesbury.

Update: I decided to bring my writing home… so please do check them out (Empty Worlds, Love at First Site, Losing at Madden 92)