On Battlefield 1, Player Characters and Ethnicities

So in October the newest entry in the Battlefield video game series comes out- Battlefield 1 set, for the first time, during World War 1. I’ve had a few chances to play the Multiplayer Open Beta on PC and I’ve really enjoyed it for the most part. Generally I kind of struggle keeping up interest in multiplayer shooters nowadays because I get to the point where I feel there’s nowhere left for me to go- Another round of death, explosions and Gas? Fine, I guess. More endlessly capturing and losing points? Eh, whatever. It all feels a bit… pointless (Which seems somewhat accurate to WW1, I guess?). The last big multiplayer games that really gripped me were Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 1943, but whether I’d still enjoy them if I went back remains to be seen. Maybe I’m just growing out of mulitplayer games for the most part. Still though compared to other multiplayer experiences, Battlefield as a series still offers some engaging, exciting and atmospheric moments that do genuinely make me feel like the small part in a larger conflict.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Something that’s coming up a lot online when discussing this game and a lot of games like it though is the age-old problem of revisionism. Now Battlefield 1 has, to its credit, done well in avoiding these tropes but not everyone agrees. Many feel that the inclusion of so many player ethnicities (you an essential chose your players race/skin colour etc in the loadout menu) is inaccurate or anachronistic. Many forum posts and comments have bemoaned the idea of such a diverse battlefield, and especially to anyone other than ‘white’ serving on the Western Front. It’s partly a problem that I think stems from looking at WW1 as what David Reynolds called the “Literary War”. There’s been much written before about annoying tropes surrounding the perception of WW1– such myths as the ‘ignorance of tactics’, the ‘unmoving and pointlessness of the conflict’, the ‘Donkeys leading Lions‘, and perhaps worst, the intense focus on the Western Front only, disregarding the often pivotal theatres outside of France and even Europe. These all surfaced again when Battlefield 1 was revealed, and something that has increasingly bothered me is the pervasive idea amongst some that including people of colour in the conflict (especially on the Western Front) is somehow historically inaccurate or (to use their own words) “pandering”. Character models in the game from only what I have experienced have been all ranges of ethnicities, colours and creeds on both sides, something that is certainly not outside the range of believability. Apparently though, to the denizens of gaming communities across the internet, this is inaccurate and unacceptable.

In a reddit thread (that I’m using as an example- it’s merely one of dozens that I’ve seen crop up in the past on the subject, of which many are put in a lot less moderate terms) that I guess is attempting to highlight how ridiculous it is to include people of colour in various armies, you will find numerous comments that purport that the Western Front was somehow a “white front”, only populated and fought by white Europeans. For example-

Most countries did use some colonial regiments, but the European part of the conflict back then had mostly white Europeans. Even in WW2 in the European theatre that was still the case for the most part. I understand people like their ethnicity being represented in a game, but you cannot make history more diverse, it just doesn’t work that way.

As someone pointed out in another thread, while the comment in question said ‘mostly’, what they were actually arguing, and what many posters in the thread are saying, is closer to ‘wholly’, which is, in my eyes, both uninformed and ignorant to just how many nationalities and ethnicities were involved and stationed on the Western Front. Here’s another comment on why the inclusion of black characters is somehow an insult to the Harlem Hellfighters-

Because the Hellfighters actually fought in the European theatre… Dice is just finding random groups of Black soldiers and making them the mainstay of the Europe conflict..

As well as-

Yeah, no. Use Google to look up photos of the trenches sometime and count how many non-white faces you see.

To set the record straight, Colonial troops made up large and significant parts of the British and French Army in WW1, specifically on the Western Front. At the same time the BEF fielded 70,000 men, The Indian Army represented the largest volunteer army in the world, with 150,000 of its 240,000 men ready for immediate service. By November 1914 Indian troops were holding positions around the Ypres. Alongside them were thirty-seven battalions of French troops from Senegal, Africa, Algeria and Morocco. It was many of these men that would later bear the brunt of the initial gas attacks in Flanders in April 1915. As historian David Olusoga puts it-

“By the time the maneuverings of 1914 had fizzled out and the Western Front had stabilised, the fantasy of the “White Mans War” had, like other assurances of the war, been exposed as naive.”

Indian cavalry from the Deccan Horse during the Battle of Bazentin Ridge

Indian cavalry from the Deccan Horse during the Battle of Bazentin Ridge

I think it also it’s important to recognise that front line troops (the ones you may find ‘while googling to look up photos of the trenches’) were only a tiny proportion of the huge machine that operated in the theatre. While the French were more than keen to pour, as Charles Mangin put it, “Reservoirs of [colonial troops]” into the front lines (Some 500,000 wore the uniform of the French army and manned the trenches of the Western Front), most black British troops (with the exception of a small few, see Walter Tull) were used as mass labour behind the lines.

Ironically, the Western Front during those four years of conflict was possibly the most ethnically diverse place on Earth at that time. Muslim prayers were held in the Fields of Flanders, Indian Soldiers observed the Eid Prayers before sitting down to share celebratory meals with their Indian Comrades of other faiths. Ramadan was observed in trenches, troops from the Punjab marked the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi. In British Barracks and hospitals Chinese labourers (Over 100,000 men served in the Chinese Labour Corps) entertained troops and their own countrymen, marking Chinese New Years and Dragon Festivals. French troops were particularly entertained by displays of Tai chi and Martial Arts.

To quote The Worlds War

“The Great European War- as it was then still called- became the greatest employment opportunity in history, and hundreds of thousands of men, from some of the most beautiful lands and islands on earth descended upon Flanders and Northern France. They came from Bermuda, Macedonia, Malta, Greece, Arabia, Palestine, Singapore, Mauritius, Madagascar, Vietnam, Fiji, the Cook Island, the Seychelles.”

To put it in perspective, take the Halbmondlager. This German prisoner of war camp is one of the most bizarre and overlooked parts of the war on the Western Front. It housed almost 5,000 Muslim prisoners who had fought for the Allied side. The intended purpose of the camp was to convince detainees to wage jihad against the United Kingdom and France. Living in relative luxury, the camp included the first ever mosque built on German soil, all intended as part of a “Jihad Experiment” which the Germans thought would help turn the colonies against British and French rule.

Halbmondlager, Germany's First Mosque.

Halbmondlager, Germany’s First Mosque.

This problem is really bigger than a video games portrayal of soldier diversity. At the end of the day Battlefield has included ethnicities to represent more of its player base, but the reaction or veiled excuse to the inclusion of non-white non-Europeans in the conflict as somehow “inaccurate” is further examples of the pervasive and very real white-washing that occurred after WW1. Call me a cynic, but I feel many of these critics aren’t so much disliking the inclusion if black characters in Battlefield purely out of ‘historical accuracy‘. I think this is best exemplified in the strange division between ‘black’ and ‘white’ characters, as if they somehow represent two distinct groups. Even forgetting the British and French, the German army wasnt some homogeneous ‘blob’. To quote again The Worlds War, we’re talking about “30000 Danes, 3 million Poles, other minorities like Serbs, French, Luxembourgers. Even Germany was a patchwork of 5 dutchies, 25 federal states, 4 kingdoms, principalities, annexed provinces, The Hanseatic League… Germany was less than 50 years old and the extent to which each of its nationalities considered itself “German” varied massively”. It’s just for some reason when it comes to debates like this, it boils down to simply the difference between ‘white’ & ‘black’, which I imagine comes a lot from the influence and predominantly American audience. For some reason in a video game with respawning, point control and magically fixable vehicles and planes, the most unbelievable and unacceptable thing is to include a bit more diversity in character models for the games audience to (optionally) enjoy. To quote one commenter-

They’re not even complaining about inaccuracies. They’re fine with the abundance of tanks that work like modern vehicles and the fact that almost everybody is carrying a prototype weapon that probably never saw actual use. Nonwhite soldiers though? Completely unbelievable.

Highlanders and Indian Dogras sitting in a trench, 1915.

Highlanders and Indian Dogras sitting in a trench, 1915.

If you’re interested, here’s a fascinating book called “Our enemies: 96 character heads from German prisoner of war camps“, a propaganda book published by Germany to show the public the faces of various “exotic” or “Alien” soldiers from around the world Germany was fighting against.

 

Sources-

The World’s War– David Olusoga

The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire– BBC

British Library Website

Race and War in France: Colonial Subjects in the French Army, 1914-1918

Germany’s grand First World War jihad experiment– Telegraph

Advertisements

Life is Strange, Its Mechanics Stranger

Life is Strange Episode 1 Spoilers Ahead.

life-is-strange

A lot has been said about Life is Strange, the new point-and-click episodic adventure game by not Telltale Games, who currently run what is probably the largest game-genre monopoly in history, but rather by Dontnod Entertainment, makers of 2013’s Remember Me. As many have pointed out, some aspects of the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Many of the characters are walking clichés, there is some god awful “down with the kids” conversations that just do not work. It also has some very… odd lip-syncing issues. Despite this however, it does do a lot right: interfaces, presentation, a good value for money episode that doesn’t make you feel slightly cheated (cough cough The Wolf Among Us) or drags on too much. And I’ve enjoyed it too- I’m doing a Let’s Play of it on my channel, and as a big fan of both Point and click-style adventure games to more artistic works like Gone Home and Dear Esther, it’s a very welcome breath of fresh air in a market that was starting feeling slightly stale from an overload of Telltale products (I love you guys, really, but I’m beginning to feel a very definite air of derivativeness recently).

life-is-strange-7

“If only there was some law enforcement agency I could inform! Drat!”

The problem I have with Life is Strange, however, is a pretty big one. A pretty big, glaring gameplay mechanic that I feel simply doesn’t fit within the context of the story or game: time travel. Yes, our main character Max discovers during a pretty out-of-place school shooting (seriously, our main character should have maybe put more thought or worry into the fact that someone in her school is carrying about a loaded gun other than just maybe giving the headteacher a quick tip-off), that she has the ability to turn back time. This is essentially the main mechanic of LiS. You explore the environment, interact with people and make decisions like any other point and click. The difference, however, is that you can immediately undo each option with a  quick rewind. It makes for some novel puzzles here and there, but it leaves me with two big gripes. Continue reading

Flobathon!

So one of my favourite YouTubers KurtJMac celebrated the “Flobathon” this weekend, a mammoth 12 hour livestream celebrating the end of the forth season of Far Lands or Bust, as he continued to walk through the world of minecraft toward the Farlands in the name of charity. You can still donate over at Farlands or Bust, and you can of course find his videos on his YouTube channel. I’ve been subscribed to Kurt since about episode 5 or 6 of his Minecraft LP (just before he started his adventure to the farlands) and it was his series that introduced me to Mindcrack and inspired me to start making videos. Since then, he’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and has been featured in a  multitude of news and magazine articles. So for all those reasons and more, go Kurt! However the main point to all this was to show off some awesome artwork a buddy of mine Sebs did, depicting a bunch of us who were hanging out in IRC watching the Flobathon and eating pizza like a bunch of collective badasses. I can now tick off “Featured in Seb’s art” from my bucketlist. Find more great artwork here!

Life made

EssRec- Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

EssRec! My genius marketing term for Essential Recommendations in which I rattle off essential recommendations; be it books, films, games, trailers or whatever. This is my very first ‘EssRec’ so I thought I would start it off with a bang! An unconventional, wordy and incredibly niche bang! but a bang! nonetheless. Allow me to introduce you to:

Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

by Brendan Keogh

Information at Goodreads, Available from Amazon, Gumroad.

Bang!

Art by Daniel Purvis

I’ve spoken before about how I believe Spec Ops: The Line to be one of the most important games in modern video game history. From its sweeping criticisms of modern game design, war, the effects violence and killing in both the real world and it’s portrayal in entertainment, a story line that deals with complex issues such as PTSD, war crimes and the current political climate and characters that are so real and developed you feel a definite, if at time strained and regrettable connection with, Spec Ops is bold, brash and unapologetic as it forces you to experience a spiral of escalation and ugly look at the true human condition. It’s a game I’d recommend everyone play and experience and please, please if you have not or do not know the story don’t read this book, and don’t spoil it for yourself! This game is meant to be played without any knowledge or expectation of what you’re going to experience. The ignorance and shock of going into this game fresh is its defining feature.

Anyway I’m not here to gush about the game, but rather this Brendan Keogh’s brilliant 177 page piece about it. He writes a book that is the perfect companion piece to the game and will keep you thinking about Spec Ops for years to come. He goes through the story chapter by chapter, missing nothing, questioning and analyzing everything. His criticisms, comparisons and references are spot on but also have a brilliant accessibility his writing isn’t pretentious or overly academic (which is, admittedly, what I thought I was going to be in for when I bought it)- Keogh writes like a true fan of the game, speaking honestly about his experiences with it- both good and bad. The best part is his charting of the characters journey- pointing out the flaws, mistakes and shifting intentions and mindset of the main character. Killing is harmless is a good remedy to a problem that plagues video games, especially ones as complex and detailed as Spec Ops– that of length. Games that run over dozens of hours and that potentially take you days to finish are hard to follow at times- understandably, how are you to remember the intricacies of a two-minute conversation after hours of gameplay and other scenes? There’s no ‘Previously on Knights of the Old Republic’ like you’d get on 24. Keogh’s piece bridged the gap nicely, and his in-depth look at the music and soundtrack was a particularly high point, as it was something I’ve been hoping to find discussed in depth for some time.

I don’t want to spoil anything else- either the game or the book, but I would recommend it highly. Well researched, fulled referenced and very well written, it’s great read if you’ve just played or enjoyed Spec Ops: the Line. The best way to enjoy it, I found, was to read a chapter of the book, then play that chapter in the game. You’ll see things you never noticed before, I swear.

Finally, If you enjoyed Spec Ops or Killing is Harmless, I can also recommend a brilliant two part Extra Credits video on it (Part 1 is spoiler free, part 2 is all spoilers all the time!) and the review on Zero Punctuation (hint: he likes it!) as well as a pretty good analysis by Errant Signal. If you’re in a reading mood, this piece by Tom Bissell is very good. Enjoy!

Spec_Ops_Preview_Code_08

My Games of 2013

So, 2014 is upon us and with it comes, exciting new releases, a changing front to PC gaming with the new Steam OS and Steam Machine and the start of the next-gen arms race as both consoles (and the WiiU, I guess, hoping into battle blindfolded and drunk) go to war. Because of this giant change looming on the horizon, I thought the game releases of 2013, especially towards the end of the year would dry up in anticipation for the PS4 and XBOXONE release, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This year has been a tidal wave of incredible games, and titles that have actually changed the genre- instant classics like The Last of Us, which I believe has one of the best story stories and two of the greatest characters in any game I’ve ever seen. The only other game that I feel affected me in the same way TLoU did is Spec Ops: The Line, and possibly The Stanley Parable (all three for different reason and in different ways).

On the topic of The Stanley Parable, I think 2013 has been the best showing for indie games so far. This year my playing time has been taken up by so many Independent games, many of which I’ll probably return to more often and have had more impact on me that many triple-A titles I’ve played not just in 2013, but in the past few years.

Either way, I thought I would run down my favourite experiences of the year. They aren’t in any particular order, really, just a run-down of my personal favourites.

Games released this year:

Papers, Please

glorious_arstotzka

This time last year, I was about to record one of my very first play-throughs of a game for my channel. My steam library wasn’t the horrendous 50/60 title monster it is now, so I had few games to choose from. I thus opted to try and play an online flash game that I had come to love. Since I’m a pretentious ass, it of course wasn’t something fun to watch like Happy Wheels, but instead an almost unheard of game called The Republica Times. In this game, you are a nameless bureaucrat who is assigned a job at the government-run Republica Times newspaper (sound familiar?). You are tasked with filling out the papers front pages with stories that can balance government newspeak propaganda with stories that can keep the public happy (turns out they love news about the weather. Clearly a game made my a Brit). The game takes a more complex turn as you try to instigate a  coup by creating discontent among the public. Although I never got the video to work (thanks a lot, FRAPS), it’s still a brilliant game and I regret not have pursued a video LP of it, just for more hipster “I played the original’ bragging rights.

3

Then came Papers Please, with its incredible music, beautiful aesthetics and a killer soundtrack and gameplay. There is nothing this year that tops the incredible achievement Lucas Pope, the games creator, has done in creating fascinatingly in-depth gameplay, story lines and moral choices within such a simple idea. I always describes the game as ‘analog’ to people when I tried to explain it. The process of playing the game is almost on a  digital tabletop- you move around paper and check for mistakes of discrepancies in forms, you consult manuals and rules, you issue questions and, often, make decisions on nothing more than your gut feeling. It creates the perfect system of giving you essentially a sandbox to operate in- there is no hand holding, or button pushes that can solve problems through some magical interface. It’s done with your eyes and your own mind. Add to that a perfect, subtle story that can be ignored or pursued at your own will, with endings that reflect both approaches with no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to play. Papers Please is my new game to show to people who have no idea how a game works. It’s the closest I’ve found to a game that melds the fun and interactivity of a tabletop board game or card game with the complexities and storyline that can be brought out through a video game platform. It’s the one game I’ll be playing over Christmas, not because it’s my favourite, but because I think it’s the best game I can use to show my parents and family what video games can really achieve.

Tomb Raider

Tomb_Raider_2013-11

Probably the biggest surprise for me this year was just how much I enjoyed the new Tomb Raider reboot. The only reason I bought it was because I thought it would be a fun game to let’s play on video (however a content ID quickly shut that down for me) and my history with the Tomb Raider franchise has been frayed at best. The first problem is that I suck at puzzle games, the second is that I get scared by the smallest, most minuscule of things (case in point: Gone Home) and third is that Tomb Raider games always felt like a one hit band that had achieved an incredibly successful first album before failing to live up to it in subsequent releases as it was outpaced by similar acts. Tomb Raider: Legend and Anniversary (which is a bit of a cheat, since it’s a remake of the original) were the only sparks of life in an otherwise dull series. However, the opening moments of Tomb Raider are both gripping and face-wincingly brutal.

Tomb Raider is the best reboot of a series I’ve ever played. For one, it’s learned from the current climate of games without simply copying more successful genres and pasting a familiar face on top. Naughty Dog’s Uncharted is the elephant sized adventure game in the room when it comes to discussing or comparing these games, but as a huge fan of Uncharted, Tomb Raider in no way feels like a copy or rip off of the series. Sure, the combat & health system feels remarkably similar, however Tomb Raider takes Uncharted’s combat mechanics and builds on it with its frantic, brutal and terrifying scramble for ammunition and bloody melee system. While Uncharted feels like you’re playing as the happy-go-lucky, Indiana Jones-impersonator, cracking jokes and punching out stereotypical baddies like a perfect action film, Tomb Raider forces you into the underdog position and makes every battle terrifying, gory and a fight for survival like Lara is stranded in a  holiday camp for all the monsters from The Decent.

To be fair, Tomb Raider's homage to this scene was better than the film

To be fair, Tomb Raider’s homage to this scene was better than the film.

Lara, while we’re at it, feels like she just wandered off the set of the girl-centric horror The Decent, and you can see clear draws of inspiration from the film. The brutal treatment of Lara, the incredibly realistic animations and immersive voice acting connected me to her character in ways a lot of games usually fail to. Actual character development (which, to be fair, is very central to the story) and emotional changes within Lara humanize her and allow us to connect a character that was traditionally nothing more than a pair of tits and guns fighting dinosaurs.

Finally, the visuals need mentioning. Tomb Raider is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen on PC or console in the past few years. While everyone was fawning over Crysis 3 and it’s picture perfection of bland, boring and dull photo realistic depictions of  grass and buildings, Tomb Raider snuck in with an entire Smörgåsbord of set pieces and landscapes. The approach of having ‘zones’ of the island to explore and complete is both a  brilliant evolution to Tomb Raider’s traditional gameplay style and more modern approaches to an open world. Everything from terrifying caves full of weirdo rapists, cliff side’s with vistas over reefs with every type of shipwreck from the rafts made the moment man crawled on top of a piece of floating driftwood to high-tech Costa Concordia copycats (love, I love boats okay? This game filled that obsession nicely), WWII-era military bases or beautiful Japanese castles, were all exceptionally detailed and well made. Not to mention Lara’s Batman: Arkham-style model that carries all the horrendous bumps and scrapes she picks up over the game, and the  upgrades that actually appear on the guns, strapped and sellotaped on in a true survivalist manner.  Tomb raider had one of the most detailed and varied game worlds I’ve ever seen and much like I felt after played Uncharted 2: Drakes Fortune, I’m unbelievably excited to see what the come up with next. Hopefully I just wont be as disappointed as I was with what Naughty Dog came up with for Uncharted 3

Civilisation V: Brave New World

Civilization-V-Brave-New-World-Wallpaper-HD

Civilisation V was released in 2010, and after 2012’s first expansion God’s and Kings, the game was finally completed with 2013’s Brave New World expansion. I say this because Civ 5 on release felt like an unfinished game. It was beautiful, addictive and expansive but when compared to the exceptionally deep Civilisation IV it felt lacking and shallow. It feels slightly akin to the shockingly disastrous launch of EA’s Simcity reboot which saw the game crushed under the boot heels of negative fan, critic and public reaction. One of the games numerous problems was it’s depth- Simcity had stripped out all the depth and scope that Simcity 4 (notice a trend here?) had implemented in place of flashy visuals and simplistic gameplay. Now, Civ 5 was nowhere near as bad as Simcity, however it followed a similar path- Civ 5 looks beautiful and plays wonderfully but at the cost of depth and replayability. After a few games of Civ 5, I had burnt out- late game was so familiar that after one or two games you felt like you were just running the numbers.

However, Brave New World changed all that. After being quite disheartened with the series, I picked up God & Kings and Brave New World on sale, expecting little but ending up blown away by the new game in front of me. Brave New World is a perfect fleshing out of the late game that the base game was lacking. The more in-depth diplomacy options give much more flexibility and strategy for players who prefer to pull the strings from the background, and the addition of some brilliant new Civilisations to play as add some of the most interesting and original gameplay I’ve seen yet.

Take, for example, my new favourite civilisation Venice; a civ that limits you to one playable city. It offers a completely different approach to gameplay. Instead of spreading out, you must micromanage and focus on your single city. Soon, you can purchase other city states (however only as puppets, you cannot control what they build or produce) but not settle your own. What you end up with is a civ born for the defence or ‘puppet master’ player, who wishes to work in the background while other civ battle it out. On top of that, the addition of trade routes allow you to trade and manage between your own cities and other Civs like never before. Maybe you wish to set up a city in a desert, deprived of food but rich in oil and uranium? Go for it, but only if you have the infrastructure to support it from other cities. Maybe you wish to become a pirate, building a navy and raiding trade routes between players, demanding a random? Or, avoid fighting more than ever- culture victories have been expanded massively with the tourism & archeology features. Now, creating works and opening borders creates tourism in your Civ, sending out musicians to tour and diplomats to other cities boosting it and spreading your influence over the globe. The new civ Brazil capitalises on this and much like Venice, plays so uniquely it feels like an expansion in itself. Archaeology allows you to send archeologists all over your world, digging up old battlesites and antiquity sites that can be placed in museums or made into attractions for culture and tourism boosts. Brave New world feels like a true expansion: it adds to an already expansive game without breaking it and adding hundreds of hours of new gameplay to it. It’s turned what was a brilliant multiplayer game into an even more immersive experience.

Also, XCOM squads. This is why I love you, Firaxis.

Also, XCOM squads. This is why I love you, Firaxis.

Gone Home, Proteus & The Stanley Parable 

I know, I know- why are these games lumped together? They are in no way related in story or message, neither share any real similarities apart from a minor, tangential minimalist gameplay feature, and by putting these three together is simply fueling the flames of people who claim this kind of gameplay or story telling is not a true ‘video game’. Fine, I get all that. However, this year more than any before has been awash with debates over “What is a video game” and before I talk about these I feel I have to discuss the elephant in the room, the annoying argument that follow these experimental titles around. It’s actually quite funny seeing the shift to acceptance of videogames as an art form, before putting it to bed and going downstairs to argue whether said game is ‘actually a video game’. Flower sparked some of this debate, however Dear Esther I think created the biggest line in the sand, with total biscuit famous declaring it as “not being a video game”.  Look, I won’t go into this argument, as I don’t think anything I say will have not been said before and in better words, but why we seem to insist on taking an expanding experience such as games, that has so much scope and potential that we haven’t even yet considered, and then proceed to stick the definition in a box and say “No, this is a game. We’ve hit our limit of experimentation, please follow these guidelines” is beyond me. Christ, half of the flak every year about games like Call of Duty is originality (or the lack their of), yet any experimentation in the industry, be it games that strip back to explore the mechanics of gameplay, or level design or story, are stomped on by those who think games have to have a bloody win state or collectible items, leveling up or a gun to shoot or some shite.

Let’s stop with this debate. Because a game is on the market you wouldn’t consider a game in the traditional sense doesn’t have to affect you in any way. Let it be, let it be picked apart, played and learn from it. Don’t dismiss it because it doesn’t fall under your own criteria of what should and shouldn’t be played alongside the latest MMO or first person shooter. And no, I’m not going to start calling games such as Dear Esther a ‘Interactive experience’. There is a brilliant video on this topic by the Extra Credits guys, and while I agree whole heatedly with them, but their claim that “they barely use the term game anymore” and more of the time they say “Interactive Experiences” is just silly. Let me say game! It’s still a game in my eyes, dammit. And the onus is on you to get it put under its own tab in steam called ‘Interactive, gamplay-minimal narrative experiences’ or something. until then, I’m calling it a game like it bloody is!

800px-Gone_Home

My last point about this, is that not all games are a complete package. Take Gone Home for example. Gone Home isn’t a perfect example of how to make a fun game. It wasn’t meant to be. it’s not an exploration of how to effectively create a competitive game, or a perfectly structured shooter. Gone Home is a short story, an essay. A game that has been stripped back to two things- narrative and level design. It’s an exhibit, something you can point to and let someone experience as an example of those parts of a game. Gone Home isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a brilliant example of perfecting specific, important parts of gameplay, and it shows us how a perfected feature, such as narrative or level design, can stand on its own. Gone Home is brilliant in its simplicity- the premise of the game is familiar to everyone and the genius lies behind what you don’t see- the hours of testing level designs to see where people will go and what they will do, the patience and time taken into place and structuring the story and items around the house. It’s a love letter to game design and one that will be looked back on for years to come.

proteus-2013-01-22-96upb1588426140-0001

Proteus feels like a culmination of so many tropes and trends within the game industry from the past few years, particularly the indie scene. There is of course the looming presence of minecraft, the behemoth that hangs over every exploratory, environmental game like this.  At first, the similarities between the two seem very clear. The start in a very abstract world with little or nothing to go on, strange animals and an abstract, distinct and unique art style. But as you explore Proteus you realise that the similarities end there. You’re in many ways disconnected for the world; you cannot really interact with anything, or change the landscape in any way. The joy of Proteus comes from simply walking through the world and experiencing it. The changing music and vibrant animal & plant sounds are almost intoxicating, and you’ll soon find yourself lost in this beautifully weird and abstract land. Proteus I think has the least to say out of the three, it’s a game all about visuals and sound, but on that level I think it works brilliantly.

The_Stanley_Parable_Intro_00

The Stanley Parable is the most accessible of the tree with the most to say and plenty of targets. Thankfully, a game as broad reaching and satrical as The Stanley Parable may get caught up simply looking smug, but that isn’t the case here. The Stanley Parable has escaped a lot of criticism from the ‘This isn’t a video game’ crowd, I think because at the end of the day it is accessible and repeatable to everyone who’s ever played a game. It’s ridiculous and biting criticism of games, storytelling and the fallibility of choice in videogames is perfectly written, acted and executed. It also avoids being a hypocrite; it isn’t the Duke Nukem Forever satire of throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks, making fun of game tropes while using them to a worse degree itself. No, The Stanley Parable, from its trailers to its demo to it’s hilarious Steam achievements, is perfectly positioned to be funny and informative to all while revealing and biting to people who make and study games as an art form. It’s a brilliant game that ranks among my top 10 games of all time.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough. I may turn this all into a video at some point after I’m less busy at uni. until then, peace!

One Year on the Internet

Well if anyone hadn’t noticed on twitter or on my most recent video, my channel is officially one year old. On the 23rd of November 2012, I uploaded my very first video to YouTube. It was… uh well, it was pretty standard for your first Let’s play video in that I was quiet, boring and it sucked! Also, for whatever reason I started an LP on a hardcore world of Minecraft, meaning if I died the whole place would get deleted. So yeah, I wasn’t the most forward thinking of chaps back then.

Either way, now that I’m at my one year mark I thought I would look back and reflect on how I’ve done and give some thoughts on the experience on a whole. A year ago, I decided to start making YouTube videos as a way to build a portfolio if I ever got into radio or some kind of job that might benefit from a pre-built fanbase. This has been my go-to answer to most people when the ask “Why the hell do you make videos?” and since I studied radio at college, they’re pretty used to me doing weird things. That said, I’ve always hoped and dreamed to actually make a living creating, writing or talking in whatever capacity and while I don’t expect Youtube to be the platform for me to make any real money, I’ve avoided telling people that it case they simply scoffed at me for being an idiot (I wouldn’t blame them, I would too) and wasting my time. However, now that we’re one year in- have I wasted my time? Is it time for me to call it quits? When I started, I made a pact with myself based on some advice I heard on an interview with Dave Chappelle, where he told James Lipton  that, while getting into comedy, his father told him: “Set a price. Set a price, and whenever it gets more than the price you set; get out”. So I said to myself I would give it a year- I’d give it my best shot and I’d see where I was in a year. Well, a year is up. Was it worth it?

If I looked at my channel today before I had started making videos, I’d probably be pretty disappointed. When you start a channel, your lofty ambitions of gaining a thousand subscribers a day is quickly dashed when you realise just how hard it is to gain a steady viewership. It can be hard for someone who hasn’t spent hours recording, editing and rendering to appreciate just how much a single comment, like or even view means to you after toiling away at making the best you have to offer. A year later, having experienced the elation of having two, three or even four comments on a video and seeing the views shoot up to almost twelve (twelve!) views after only a few hours, I’ve come to appreciate the difficult of building  fanbase. That said, I could never have dreamed the positivity and warmth people have shown towards the things I’ve created, case in point: Crappy Animations.

I’ve talked at length before about just how incredibly I lucked out with the Mindcrack animations I’ve made (for example, avoiding my near disastrous plan to upload my first ‘animation’ to a separate channel in case they weren’t well received) but you have to understand that when I started out, if I had been told my main subscriber base and thousands upon thousands of views would come from animations, I’d have laughed. I’ve gone on record as saying I’m certainly no artist, much less an animator, so the sheer avalanche of positivity and compliments I got in reaction to each and every animation has truly shocked me. I understand people may look at each video and ask how something with ‘merely’ <20000 views can mean so much to me, but this is from a guy who gets over the moon at 150 views per video (something I’m still getting used to).

Maybe this is a bit presumptuous, but I can almost feel myself looking back at this post down the line and laughing over my excitement of approaching a measly 700 subscribers, or gushing about videos that get upwards of 20 likes, but I really hope I don’t. If this year has taught me anything it’s that having a small fanbase or reach makes each and every interaction, like or  comment that much more special and unique and the be all and end all should never be a meaningless number at the top of your channel page. If I had to measure my biggest success, the greatest achievement of my YouTube hobby thus far, its been in the people I’ve met. Interacting, laughing and goofing around with people all across the globe has made for some of the funniest moments of 2013, and it’s justified every failed upload, every content ID and every restless minute trying to edit things together as time well and truly spent.

Here’s to another year!

At least, above all else, my quotes shall live on.

At least above all else, my quotes shall live on.

Skyblock : The Hidden Cost

Ever wondered what the bottom of a Skyblock looks like?

skyblock

Drew this for HiboyMC’s livestream last night- go check him out! I’d really like to run with this idea in the future and do a more detailed version down the line- this was only about an hour/hour and half of drawing and colouring. I’m also a big fan of these extended canvas scenes with hidden jokes and stuff all over the shop. Perfect example, XKCD: Click and Drag