March 30

Should Games Skip Cutscenes Altogether

g8Videogames as a medium for storytelling have often taken cues from movies, and the clearest example of this is the use of cutscenes. Pac-Man is quite often said to be the first game that used cutscenes rather than transitioning directly from level to level with no intermission. After the player beats each stage, it would play a short vignette depicting simple scenes of Pac-Man and ghosts chasing each other.

Whilst these little scenes are quite obviously a long way from how modern cutscenes are used in games, the core concept is the same.

The game takes away control of the character from the player for a sequence to introduce some sort of new information. The duration of these sequences can vary widely – Konami’s Metal Gear Solid series is infamous for having lengthy cutscenes, with Metal Gear Solid 4 clocking it at more than eight hours of cutscenes – and can be used for a wide variety of purposes.

They are used to introduce characters, develop established ones, provide backstory, atmosphere, dialogue and more.

However, despite their ubiquity in modern big budget games, cutscenes are not necessarily the best way to tell a story in a game. There have been many highly acclaimed games that used few cutscenes, instead preferring to allow the player to control the character throughout the whole game.

Half-Life 2 by Valve Software is currently the all time highest scoring game for PC on review aggregation site Metacritic, and it only has one cutscene at each end. Control is rarely taken away from the player for more than a few moments – excepting an on rails sequence towards the end – and much of the background information that would be shown in a cutscene elsewhere is instead shown through scripted events or background details in the environment.

But are Half-Life 2’s unskippable, scripted sequences that different from cutscenes? After all, the player often cannot progress until other characters finish their assigned actions and dialogue – so why not just use traditional cutscenes and be done with it? To get truly unique experiences, we mustfirst look at what makes videogaming unique as a medium for storytelling. Unlike film, where the viewer has no control over the action, or traditional tabletop games, where players actions have verylittle in the way of visual outcomes, videogames provide an unique opportunity to merge interactivity and storytelling. Games like Gone Home, Dear Esther and other games in the so called ‘walking simulator’ genre have been lauded as great examples of the sort of storytelling that can be unique to games.

However, to some gamers, these games are presenting an entirely different problem – although they rarely take control away from the player, they also offer very little in the way of gameplay themselves. Indeed, Dear Esther has no way the player can affect the world around them – the only action that can be taken is to walk along a predetermined path to the end of the game. There is no way to ‘lose,’ no interaction with the environment, just what amounts to a scenic tour with some overlaid narration. So, despite the lack of cutscenes in the game, the almost complete lack of player control and interaction in the first place means that there is little to differentiate it from an admittedly quite protracted cutscene.

As videogames are currently exist, there seems to exist a sort of dichotomy between traditional storytelling and gameplay. For a game to tell a story to a player, there must be some degree of limitation in what the player can do – either a temporary one in the form of a cutscene or scripted sequence, or by limiting the players actions for the course of the game. Perhaps future games will be able to integrate a great deal of player interaction with compelling storytelling. But that won’t be accomplished by taking the players control away and forcing them to watch a short movie instead of letting them play the game.

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March 21

Video Games The Perfect Escape

g7Why oh why did you say yes to that last shandy? The kebab seemed like a good idea but your mouth now resembles the inner lining of Phil Jupiter’s underpants. And to top it all off, you’re stuck in a lava filled dungeon and some b*****d has kidnapped your princess. Where did your life go so horribly wrong?

I’ve got news for you, it’s much, much worse. It’s not that you’re hungover playing Super Mario Brothers, it’s that you spend your life “working” at a computer located in a sterile office surrounded by drones. Your only escape? A Friday night binge drinking session down in Clapham, tonsil tennis with a rather suspect femme fatale and bouncing around 8-bit levels crushing the skulls of Goombas with your immense chubby Italian plumber girth the next morning (she didn’t come home with you).

Computer games started out as something completely innocent. I remember my cousins having a version of Pong that despite being an absolute nightmare to plug into the telly, was good fun for ten minutes. Bouncing the ball around with the paddles was hardly Wimbledon. What was, was the 8-bit version of the AELTC’s prestige tournament which was one of the first games I played on the Master System. Still to this day the game mesmerises me, with added career mode, I can’t help but feel I’m there on Centre Court. Especially as I couldn’t play tennis for toffee.
These days, games such as the Grand Theft Auto and Halo franchises take escapism to whole new levels, allowing you to explore entire cities and indulge your wildest fantasies whilst piping hordes of bad guys. There’s a magazine on my desk right now emblazoned with the word “hero”, if only. And whilst escapism is almost at its absolute peak (barring virtual reality), it started way back in the 80s and had as much of an impact then as it does now.

Adult life fundamentally, hasn’t changed much in the last thirty years. Despite numerous advances in technology, supposedly to make life easier, for most of us it’s the usual 9 to 5. Slaving away to line someone else’s pockets only to come home at some ungodly hour completely exhausted. Eat your dinner, stick on the telly, sleep, repeat. Rather crudely, I hypothesise life requires five different needs: achievement; relaxation; emulation; competition and belonging. At the moment, sitting here in a non-descript office I feel tense, bored, lonely and as if this is just another day to kill on a road that is seemingly going nowhere. No need is being fulfilled, I want to be at home playing video games.

Achievement is the easy one. Those who are successful in life and who feel they are living a good life can point back to a string of achievements. Whether it’s continual progression through the ranks at work, bringing up offspring or jumping out of a plane, nothing beats feeling a sense of achievement. For those starved of such events, video games offer up an easy alternative and its impact is almost immediate. Going back to early arcade games such as Pac-Man and Asteroids, you’re instantly rewarded with level progression and score accumulation (sometimes to reach the feted leader board). Home entertainment systems such as the ZX Spectrum brought games like Manic Miner to the fore. This rise raises the other point that these needs don’t just relate to adult life but to children as well. For kids growing up, a sense of achievement can be gained from doing well at school, well at Physical Education, being praised for good attendance etc… How often would this really happen? Sometimes at primary school, I would feel a greater sense of accomplishment after nailing a few levels of Sonic than at anything I’d done during the day. With the xbox360 console, Microsoft brought the “Achievement” points system based on unlocking hidden secrets or even just by completing levels. Why did they do this? We all love rewards, even more so when they’re obvious. As unnecessary as this development was, it adds another level of achievement to the subtle one already existing.

This brings me to the next “need” – relaxation. Or should I say, Relaxation through detachment. There is no point in me going home to play a computer game where the protagonist is a Customer Service advisor who has to answer the phone and respond to emails all day. They say that during lunchtime it’s advisable to have lunch outside of the office, so that your mind is taken off work and relaxed accordingly. Video games work on the same principal as in they can take you out of work, out of your home life and into something much more wondrous. The aforementioned Super Mario Bros is a great example. I believe it’s the first true example of an ethereal world where you can explore and unlock hidden rewards at whim. Earlier consoles and computers had games containing hidden levels given, but the graphics and memory available pre-1985 struggled to do anything on this scale. Throw in a hero story where you’ve got to rescue a princess and you’ve got the whole package. I could talk about detachment all day long but the upshot is that video games take you to another world at the flick of a button where you can easily forget what your life is really about.

As I mentioned previously, I was bog awful at Tennis when I was a kid. Someone who was not awful at tennis was Stefan Edberg. Although Wimbledon on the MS was licensed, it contained no real players’ names. But my word, did one of the characters look like the Swedish maestro himself. When you’re growing up, role models are important. That seems like a rather obvious thing to say but how many kids lack the proper role models in everyday life? We look up to people and we want to emulate them. We see them achieve great things and we want to achieve them ourselves. When we can’t do something, video games (especially sports titles) are an easy way of emulating our heroes. I played World Cup Italia 90 on the Mega Drive way more than I should have purely because it was the only way of recreating the tournament that I had available. Emulation even boils down to just wanting to be said Italian plumber hero (one was also rather useless with the ladies) or a spiky blue hedgehog thwarting an evil genius.

Emulation follows on to competition. There is nothing like beating a game. All that coding and you’ve still beaten the CPU. Have that Edberg. It’s also great to prove you’re the best at the something, that you’re better than your peers. At work, I have few peers simply due to the mediocrity of my work. Do I want to be better than them? The feeling is hardly tangible. Competition is good for the human spirit. Constantly being challenged is how people get better and successful people thrive on it. The rewards are sometimes obvious, a big trophy, a big pay rise – but sometimes they’re not. Video games offer competition on all levels. Beat the CPU, beat your friends, beat the world. Video games offer a challenge when life falls on its backside. Want an arena to prove you’re better than your mates? Hold a Days of Thunder on the NES competition (not all were impressed… ). Multiplayer games existed in abundance from the days of Pong and now video game tournaments have evolved into a multi-million dollar industry of their own.

That brings me to my final point – belonging. Sega or Nintendo? If you’re into retro gaming that question alone is probably stirring something inside you. Why? Because choosing a console isn’t just about choosing a machine to play with, it’s about choosing a gang, a way of life that’s got be better than its counterpart. Kids and adults alike feel segregation on a daily basis. I was lucky at school as I had good friends with whom I still socialise with to this day. Others were not so lucky. When you move into the professional world it’s only natural that you want to work for a company where you belong. In your personal life, it’s only natural to want to live somewhere in a home with people you love and where you feel you belong. Even before online gaming with its vast communities and friendship came into existence, simply by saying in the playground whether you were a Mega Drive or SNES guy started positive chat about Sonic or Mario alike. They weren’t just consoles, it was who you were.

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March 13

5 Tips to Follow While Buying Computer Games

g6Computer games are extremely popular these days. There are so many choices out there for us to select from and this makes it all the more difficult. However there are certain tips that you must essentially take into consideration in order to nail your purchase. Below are some important tips that you must never fail to consider.

1. The demo of the game

There is a very large majority of computer games that are releasing and with these games the demo also releases. Thus it is only wise if you try out the demo game before actually going ahead and buying the entire full version of the game. This will obviously give you a great chance to know the game better and make good decisions in future while playing it.

2. Your system requirements must be cross checked

The latest computer games that are releasing these days have a lot of requirements as far as the system is concerned. In case you feel that your computer is in no way successful in meeting these requirements, you must give up on the game or at least purchase a new computer for yourself.

3. Multiplayer options

This multiplayer is obviously similar to the mass multiplayer options. You should know that these types of games allow the players to play with more than one player. No matter what, these are still very fun and exciting games and are games in which you can either shoot or frag the other players. You can also come together and develop another online character.

4. The piracy of the game

The piracy of a software is unfortunately a very common occurrence in games these days. Thus it should not be considered at all. The gaming piracy has become very difficult in recent times. The users who pirate the games may any time be forfeiting the great ability to play with any of their friends online. It is anytime better to go for an original game rather than a pirated one.

5. The rating of your game

All games are judged on the basis of an ESRB rating. It determines how violent the game has pronounced to be. Always pay attention to the rating of the game as it can affect your overall experience. You might prefer a violent game over another non- violent game but this is not the case for everyone. It is one of the important things to remember.

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March 5

Why I Love Counter-Strike or How to Play Counter-Strike

g5Today I like to talk about an integral part of my computer/technology career. Unexpectedly, it is my skill on the game called Counter-Strike. I would like to impart to my readers my knowledge which helped me to be regarded as sort of an “expert” on the field of the said game. More than anything, I want to teach you how be the best on it. Also, I would like to discuss the significance it has in my life and the potential it has to touch others’ lives too.

I can’t imagine life without Counter-Strike (specifically the version 1.3 one). Needless to say, you can tell that I am nostalgic about it. I heard about the latest version that the makers of Counter-Strike are developing right now, which is Counter-Strike Global Offensive. I can already see the importance of your experience on playing Counter-Strike 1.3 on becoming good on that latest version; which can become handy especially now that on the tournaments of these stuff, you can get something over a million dollars as a prize.

So, let’s go into the heart of it: how to be good on counter-strike 1.3? Number 1, Brightness. Enemies are hard to see with the default brightness of the game. Meaning, if you are not the server of the game this is a necessity (this might seem unnecessary but trust me it is. It sounds senseless but it is not). So, to be able to do it, type “map de_dust” on the console. Wait for the console to take you to (guess where) de_dust. After, click ~, and type and enter on the console “brightness 999.” After that, enter “map de_dust” again. Wait until it gets you to de_dust again. Just now, it has the perfect brightness which will surely help you differentiate someone who is your enemy and friend on the game.

Number 2: Controls. Before even starting to play the game, go to the controls part. Click defaults. After that, change how you can buy with F1 instead of B; and how to buy bombs with F4 instead of M. For those of you who are curious, this would make you buy weapons, ammunition, and bombs faster which will make you more efficient on the game. Note, buy ammunitions with F1 + 6 and F1 + 7, instead of the alternative version. Trust me on this.

Number 3: Don’t be the server as much as possible. This is quite crucial. The most important reason why is that you would not be able to use technique number 1, which is the brightness part. There is simply no way of doing it. Plus, if you are playing in an internet cafe, which is what most likely is the case (because that is the easiest way to play it with other people; trust me), you cannot quit just anytime that you want because you would annoy other players. When you quit the game, other players will be disconnected to the game too. I would not worry so much on this certain technique, but I just thought you should know something about it.

Number 4: Weapon choice. Let’s face the elephant in the room. The only best weapon choice for the game is the sniper one. Pair it with pistol F1 + 1 and you have a perfect combo. The key here is practice. Train using the sniper one so that you kill enemies precisely as fast as possible and you would always be good to go. Plus, if you master using your pistol to kill enemies with headshots that would be a plus. Not that I am overselling, you can try other weapons but this would always be the perfect combo/one.
Number 5: Strategic positioning on the game. This is about where you go on the game (the path you choose). The trick here is choosing maximum efficiency. What I mean here is choose your position on the game so that you balance your safety and ability to kill enemies in the best way. Players on this game are very vulnerable. You can get killed in literally an instant. Protect yourself as much as possible without losing your ability to kill enemies. Since you already chose your perfect set of weapons, this would be like a walk in the park. With a sniper, choose a place where you can use it such that you are hidden but at the same time has the vision to hunt your preys.

Number 6: Map choice: you only have three options for this: cs_deathmatch, de_dust, de_dust2. Why? It is really tempting to say just because when you are already into the game, because it is just the way it is. However, for beginners out there, it is just the way it is because it would make the game fairer if you know what I mean. There is no special treatment and/or unfair advantage for either teams. Therefore, players equally enjoy the game (which is always a good thing).

Needless to say, it has a significant impact on my life. More than anything, it taught me how to be a team player and accept defeat graciously. It is a game where you can be yourself, make mistakes, get defeated or win with no pressure or someone judging you. Personally, it is a good environment to be in as a child. It might also added to my tech-savvyness. Despite it’s violent connotation, I disagree that it has negative impacts on anybody. So far, it didn’t lead me to be violent to other people. Contrary, it made me more compassionate, warm, and social.

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