Friday, 6 July 2012

Life, Liberty, and Civilization: Part 2

Finding the real meaning of any work of art is a notoriously difficult thing, and it certainly not easy with a game like Civilization which isn't overt about it's messages instead it relies upon allowing its mechanics to resonate with its players and allow its meaning as Thomas Jefferson might have put it 225 years earlier 'self evident'. The concept of self-evident truth is universal, but in all its forms & variations it remains incredibly elusive next to impossible to reproduce, rationally de-construct or describe, but its something that games have always been very good at.

This is Civ's implicit promise to the gamer, 'play me' it says 'and it will all become clear' 'this is how the world works' 'this is how a civilisation must be'. A player is expected to gradually come to see this truth, and that anyone who does not understand and accept it is fated to fail, for their civilisation will not 'stand the test of time'. Its a message that is driven home every step of the way as a player advances into the future.

All men are created equal 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Life, Liberty, and Civilization

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

That sentence begins what is undeniably one of the most important documents of western civilisation. But while I doubt those words can ever resonate with me as they can with anyone born in the land of their origin, the promise implicit within them still has the power to speak to me across the expanses of time and the Atlantic ocean. They expound to me a sense of a shared human experience, and a faith in the potential of every individual. They are in a very real way the heart of the American ideal.

In particular when I look at those words I see the great paradox of western democracy, born from the essence of two philosophies who's ongoing conflict has helped define modern life.
I'm going to talk about that paradox, the slippery nature of truth, how history makes some more equal than others, and the enduring power of hope. But mostly I am going to talk about a how a video game helped me understand these ideas. How it began a series of games which has for over 20 years remained approachable and bipartisan, while providing ongoing conversation over what the ascendancy of western democracy means. I'm going to talk about Civilization.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Learning to Loose

When I look back at all the time I've spent playing games over the last 30 years I think probably the most significant moment was when I finally realised that failure didn't automatically mean I couldn't have fun.

I was 17 at the time and going through a “Power Gaming” phase. Winning was everything to me, I'd spend hours fine tuning my tactics, looking for ways to win. It didn't matter to me if something wasn't in the spirit of the game the only thing that mattered was victory. If things went wrong I sulked and blamed the dice. As you may have guessed by now another way of saying power gamer is 'a bit of a asshole', or 'not much fun to play with or against'. I think there must be something about the way that the minds of young male gamers develop that seems to lead a lot of teenagers down this particular rabbit hole. Its a cliché but you only have to look around in pretty much any online multi-player game and you will people not unlike my younger self, to whom the only thing that counts is being number one.

Thankful my salvation was on it's way in the form of a game of Warhammer Quest, a over zealous Dungeon Master (DM), and a cowardly vampire. 

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Abbott Sessions

To anyone from my side of the pond the name John Peel really needs very little introduction, he was a near universally loved fixture on BBC Radio, honest, intelligent, warm to audience and bands equally. For forty year he played a eclectic mix of whatever took his fancy, championing new and obscure artist and showing a rare genius for putting into words what everyone felt*.

There has long been a preoccupation in games criticism about finding a master critic to call its own, a Robert Ebert to bring a authoritatively voice to a highly contentious medium. I don't think the Brainy Gamer podcast's Michael Abbott is ever going to be that sort of figure, however he has showed signs that he shares some of the qualities that made Peel so important to the development British music.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

I was never any good at skiping

“if dialogue can be skipped in games, then why not combat?”

I cant help but wonder if  perhaps another question should be asked, that if ANY element of a game can be skipped without effect then why is it in the game at all? 

When combat is totally meaningless wanting to skip it is not only fine, but the rational response.*

Any time I play a game and see a character hacked down in combat one minute, and up good as new spouting his life story the next, my heart sinks a little. It just seems sloppy devaluing both the gameplay and the story, and gets progressively more jarring more strictly delineated a game places these elements.

It just seems so limiting, I need to see more if I ever want this to stop skipping from being a rational choice for me. What about companion npc's who are in danger when I enter combat? or characters who expressed themselves through actions as well as words? Perhaps even combat paced to allow for moments of calm where dialogue can occur.

These don't seem like they should be unreasonable hopes, there are already great examples in both traditional narrative media (such as films and tv) and in games themselves.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Dice Mountains of Madness : My time with Elder Signs iOS

H. P. Lovecraft's Cthuhlu universe has been the subject of a lot of games down the years, and Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror a series of board games is commonly considered to be one of the most effective interpretations. Sadly my experience with that lineage is somewhat non-existent, so when I picked up their spin-off game Elder Signs on iOS it was on the basis of the strength of my affection for the mythology and board games in general.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Meme Machine

A Grenade rolls down a hill, as the the Wizard serves Hot Scoops, while a Puffin cries Baboo and Jeff Goldblum backs into Samuel L Jackson's arm.....

By the time the Idle Thumbs podcast bowed out after two years of consistently entertaining shows, it had established a distinct vocabulary and culture of its own. Since then I haven't found any other show that has quite managed to be quite as smart while at the same time not taking itself too seriously.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Finding a good podcast

Its been interesting to watch the ongoing debate of how the internet is changing games journalism from the sidelines over the last couple of years. New fads have come and gone often simultaneously condemned as a threat by some and lionized as the savior of the medium by others.
Despite all that it was simple practical lifestyle considerations which changed the way I consumed games media most.

I'm someone who's mind wanders hugely when unoccupied, so when I decided to join a gym to improve my fitness I started looking for podcast to keep my mind busy while my body was given a workout.
So I started listening to gaming podcast
I found that often their conversational format was a lot easier for me to engage with than written work

The big problem I faced was finding out what podcast were worth listening to. There's no such thing as dedicated podcast review site (probably for very good reason) neither was Itunes of much help, and I primarily found myself searching the forums of the bigger gaming communities (such as Penny Arcade, RPS, and GWJ)for recommendations.

So as part of my effort to get myself writing more I'm going to try and make a effort to fill that gap by writing a (initially) Bi-Weekly podcast review.
I will be keeping these reviews under 500 words and trying to get across what I personally enjoyed about each podcast while providing practical information which would be useful to anyone wanting to get the lowdown on a particular cast.

I'll be posting these reviews on a Sunday and each one will feature:
-A Short review describing themes covered, the atmosphere, and what makes it worth paying attention to.
-Average Episode length
-Normal upload day
-Topics: General gaming, One genre, Cultural anecdotes etc
-Format: Panel show, Interviews etc
-Best Episodes: Examples of the show at its best which would hopefully be a good in point for a new listener.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Intentions for 2012

I'm going to try to avoid the trap of setting specific goals, it can become far too discouraging to set a goal and fail it due to circumstances outside my control.
So what I'm going to do is set up my intentions this year, they will guide the decisions that I will make without giving me a binary fail/success state.

To not be ashamed of my work
I have never had much confidence in my own writing. Some of that obviously comes from being dyslexic and the trouble that gives me with spelling and grammar. However if I'm serious about getting better, I can't afford to be precious about it.
I will do this by both pestering close friends and family to look at what I do more, as well as taking a deep breath and politely asking some of the writers who I respect on the net for their opinion.

To write regularly
I'm going to try and make sure I post at least once a week. Pretty much the one piece of advice about writing that is universally agreed upon is that if you want to get better at it you need to do it as much as possible.

To learn a programming language (to a level where it's actually useful)
I've recently started learning Python, it's pretty interesting but so far it's more at the stage where it's an intellectual exercise than a practical skill. My aim this year is to grind through to a stage where I can make practical use of it.

To finish my Boardgame
I was working on my boardgame 'Shadows' most of the second half of last year. I've got to the stage where it's mechanically complete on paper. This year I need to start playtesting it, sort out any balance issues, and then produce artwork for myself or/and talk to other people I know about contributing. Then I need to make the big step of looking for a publisher.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Space Marine: A 40k fan's view

My half tonne genetically engineered superman rockets into the sky, two giant jet engines strapped to his back, and a hammer the size of a small truck gripped between his hands.
Reaching to top of my flight arc, I feel like doom incarnate a living personification of the Sword of Damocles. Hanging in the air for a moment, before plummeting towards a hapless victim.

There were times when I played Space Marine when just for a second everything just clicked into place. In those moments it was hard not to smile, the game made me feel like a unstoppable force of nature full of momentum and power. At its best it was a intoxicating and potent example of the sort of power fantasy that has increasingly fallen out of favour as games have begun to seek mainstream cultural acceptance.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

My Personal Games of 2011: Part 3 The Winner

My Game of the Year: Bastion

At the very least I think Bastion was a brilliant example of what a smaller indie game developer can achieve if they give themselves a tightly defined design remit. It had virtually no missteps, by keeping its aims tight it accomplished everything it set out to do.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

My Personal Games of 2011: Part 2

1st Runner Up: Deus Ex Human Revolution

Riots, global recession, media manipulation, civil wars, and a growing disquiet at emerging influence of technology on society, that's the 2027 of DXHR, did you think I was talking about some other year?

Monday, 2 January 2012

My Personal Games of 2011: Part 1

So once again its list time. Time for everyone on the Internet to declare what their best games of the year were. I've always felt that the game of the year concept was a very arbitrary one.

So I've decided to do mine a little different this year. With my gaming habits now heavily weighted towards picking up titles in sales instead of at release,I find myself considering games in an environment of far less hype than I used to.
For me a game of the year has to be experienced which is very much of its time. A game that was not just released in 2012 but reflected it in some way.
I am obviously aware of the game with a three-year development cycle to never truly be a response to events in the year of its release, But I think I can content myself with games that reflect the the Zeitgeist without demanding them to actively create it.

So my choices will all be games that I feel I could not have got the same experience from if I'd played them in any year apart from 2011.

My experience of 2011 was the year to find the way an atmosphere of uncertainty, indecision, and confusion in popular life. Such slippery concepts have always been an anathema to the heavily emphasised rules an goals that form the backbone of most games, and they ascension to primer to place on the news agenda may explain why are some of the more straight forward and traditional games I have played haven't made my list.