De omnibus dubitandum
13 Jan 2011
What do you get when you take one of my favourite FPS games, and then throw in not one but two of my favourite authors – both of whom produce material that’s firmly on the gritty, violent and thought-provoking side of the Sci-Fi spectrum – and mix it up thoroughly?
You get this: Crysis 2
Sequel to the superb Crysis, this game is scripted by the indomitable Richard Morgan – known for his Takeshi Kovacs novels and the genre-defying The Steel Remains – and has an accompanying adaptation novel written by the unparalleled Peter Watts – author of the amazing and mind-blowing Blindsight, arguably the best science fiction novel of the past decade.
I’m afraid to get too hyped up about it, because we are talking EA and they have a knack for not living up to expectations and/or ruining games with great potential, but the involvement of these two authors can only be good for the final product.
Morgan’s violence, mood-setting and grittiness mixed up with Watts’ science, plotbuilding, attention to detail, and existential angst should – in theory – add up to something very special indeed. We’ll keep a close eye on this game, that’s for sure.
11 Oct 2010
I have a confession to make: I cheat in games.
I’ve never played Crysis without the God Mode on. I use a third-party trainer in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to make sure I never run out of ammo. Without the unlimited health trainer for Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena I’d never have been able to finish the game.
And more recently I’ve used a trainer to make my escapade in to Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty a bit easier and more enjoyable.
Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to do that. Blizzard has recently banned over 5000 Battle.net accounts for cheating in Starcraft 2.
Now here we have to make an important distinction: cheating in single-player games vs cheating in multi-player games.
In multi-player games you’re going up against other players. It’s your skill against theirs, your tactical decisions versus theirs. A level playing field is paramount here. You need to know that when you win or lose, you do so by the merits of your own skills and those of your opponents – not because of any cheat.
So cheating in multi-player is a big no-no. I’ve never cheated in any multi-player game, and I never will. Cheating in multi-player is morally wrong.
But in single-player, you’re just playing against the computer. You’re not hindering anyone else’s enjoyment of the game. You’re just playing the single-player game how you want to. And I believe that is your right. You paid for that game, and you have the right to do with it whatever you want. And using cheats are a great way to enhance your enjoyment of the game – they’ve sure helped me out on some tough levels.
Blizzard, however, disagrees with that notion. Blizzard thinks that cheating in single-player is on par with cheating in multi-player. Blizzard believes that cheaters in single-player games deserve to be entirely banned from playing the game.
That is, of course, an utterly ridiculous notion.
In single-player, no one is affected when you cheat. No one else’s gameplay is influenced in any way. The only thing you’re doing when using cheats in single-player is make the game a bit easier for yourself.
There are millions of entirely valid reasons why people cheat in single-player games. Perhaps they’re stuck for time and really want to finish that level before they have to go to bed early for a big day at work tomorrow. Perhaps they’re not as quick as the average 12-year old button-masher and need a little edge when faced with that enormous Zerg horde. Perhaps they just want to focus more on enjoying the storyline and focus less on getting through those tough levels.
Whatever the reasons, players should be allowed to cheat in single-player. In fact, many games (Blizzard’s included) come with built-in cheats for exactly this reason.
The players being banned from Starcraft 2 are those that use third-party trainers, tools that exist outside of the game. Apparently using Blizzard’s own cheats is fine, but using third-party trainers is not. I’ll leave the technical distinctions between the two out of this already lengthy blog post (hint: it’s got to do with single-player achievements), but suffice to say that I believe Blizzard is being more than a little hypocritical here.
In fact, I think Blizzard is utterly, totally, and irrevocably wrong here.
It’s my game. I paid for this game. I own it. I will play it exactly how I damn well want to. And if you want to stop me, fine.
Next time I won’t pay for the game – instead I’ll just download a hacked copy off of a P2P network. Next time you, Blizzard, won’t get a fucking penny from me. I will avail myself of an illegal copy, which will allow me to play the single-player game exactly how I want to play it.
I don’t care about achievements, I don’t care about multi-player either. I just want to play games in the way that I enjoy playing them. And you, Blizzard, have overstepped the line with your latest mass-ban. You’ve gone too far. You’re hard at work alienating a large portion of your user base, and by doing so you’re actively harming yourself and your entire industry.
P.S. I haven’t been banned from SC2, but it’s likely that I will at some point in the future. I actually hope that I will – I think I may have a strong legal case against Blizzard if they ban me. I may know a few lawyers who’d be more than willing to take up such a high-profile case….
1 Feb 2010
Last weekend I spent about 10 hours playing Mass Effect 2. I won’t bore the non-gamers out there with superlatives on how fantastic it is, what a totally immersive gaming experience it provides, and how utterly compelling the story is.
Except I just did, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make today.
For most of videogame history you as the gamer didn’t have any moral choices to make in a game. You were the Good Guy and the goal of the game was to defeat the Bad Guys.
This gradually changed as gamers grew up and videogame designers got more comfortable with moral ambiguity in a game’s storyline. Now a lot of games allow the player to make choices that directly or indirectly affect the plot and outcome of the game.
Back in the day when these types of games first came out, I always chose the ‘evil’ options. In any Star Wars game I was the Sith Lord, choosing the Dark Side of the Force while betraying friendships and killing good guys.
In the first Fable I was so thoroughly evil that halfway through the game my character had already spawned horns and caused entire villages to evacuate at the first sight of me.
When World of Warcraft came out I only chose an Alliance Night Elf because my buddies played Alliance, but I really wanted an Undead Warlock to wreak havoc with. (I’ve since become totally committed to my NE Druid but that’s mostly because of the class’s überness.)
And don’t even get me started on one of my all-time favourites: Carmageddon.
But games got more refined, and what started out as simple black & white choices between good and evil has now turned in to a landscape of shades of grey. The Bioware game studio is considered a master of games with moral choices, and their latest product has left me feeling rather, well… confused.
The game I’m talking about is of course Mass Effect 2, and the confusion stems from a sudden inability on my part to make ‘evil’ choices.
Mass Effect 2 is a sequel (of course), and I played the first Mass Effect twice – one as the ‘good guy’ and one as an evil bastard. I thoroughly enjoyed both versions. The ending of the game wasn’t affected too much, but the whole feel and mood of the game changed. Overall I wasn’t too bothered by the choices I made, I just wanted to play the game to its full potential.
Mass Effect 2, however, has changed things. ME2 offers abundant opportunities to make moral choices, and many choices are pretty straightforward – kill or let live, steal or give back, lie or be truthful.
But some choices you have to make aren’t so monochrome. Do I intimidate and hurt this man to give me vital information that can save lives, or do I go easy on him? Do I kill this repentant bad guy, or do I let him go and trust he won’t commit more crimes? Do I shoot the frightened hostage aiming a gun at me, or do I try to talk him down from his panic?
And those are just the direct choices. The game is rife with choices that have deeper meaning and longer-lasting repercussions. Do I take the quick and often violent way through missions, bullying and intimidating my way around, generating more money for myself and my team members so the better, bugger guns are available faster and I can save the universe more efficiently? Or do I walk the straight and narrow path which invariably makes it more difficult and challenging, but the trail of corpses and devastated lives in my wake will be considerably thinner?
What used to make these choices so easy is the realisation that it really was just a game I was playing. Pixels on a screen, bits and bytes, lines of code, all that jazz. But Mass Effect 2 is such an advanced game, graphically and gameplay-wise, that you don’t feel like you’re playing a game. You become immersed in it, you are part of the game, and the choices you make in the game somehow reflect on you as a person.
And because of this I find myself unable to make any choice in the game that could be considered ‘evil’. Sometimes the morally grey choices leave me almost paralysed because I can’t figure out what the best option is. Occasionally I loathe myself for shooting the bad guys, even when they’re shooting at me, because the game succeeds so magnificently in painting its characters as real living beings. Even the aliens seem real, which is a truly amazing feat of game design.
So I’m confused. As with the first game I want to play Mass Effect 2 twice, making radically different choices in each session.
But I already know I won’t. Not this time. The game is too good, the voice-over acting too convincing, the digitally generated facial expressions too real. A part of me wants to be the bad guy again, rampaging my way through the gameworld, uncaring and unfeeling.
But that’s not who I am in the real world. And because of that, in Mass Effect 2 I can’t be that person in the game world either.
16 Apr 2009
Ten Ton Hammer has published an editorial about EVE Online. Specifically, about the type of unhinged player base that EVE Online boasts.
“I was approached by one of the leaders of Red Alliance… but almost immediately we were down the rabbit hole. Much to my surprise, the RA director didn’t want in-game information from me; he wanted us to use the forensic resources of our intelligence agency to trace down The Enslaver’s home address. At a coordinated time, armed with this information, a RA member would apparently cut the power to The Enslaver’s house in the real world, and in EVE a RA capital fleet would assault the abruptly pilotless Titan. Yikes.”
I play this game. Mwhahaha.
9 Feb 2009
Ever since I played the demo I’ve been waiting for this day: the full version of Auditorium is now available.
The strength of the game is its music. Every container represents part of a musical score. As the particles fill the container, the music associated with the container plays. This adds an element of hypnotic beauty to an already fun game.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have about 56 more levels of Auditorium to play. See you in 2011. Maybe.
10 Dec 2008
Wired Magazine has published an interesting article about Real Money Trading (RTM – using real money to buy virtual money and goods in games like EverQuest, World of Warcraft and EVE Online). As an occasional customer of RTM traders I found it a fascinating exposé.
Soon enough, amid the daily grind of his obsession, he would see in the game itself a way out of the bleak hole he had fallen into. He would take a clear-eyed, calculating look at what he and his fellow players had been doing all those months—at the countless hours they’d given over to the pursuit of purely virtual but implacably scarce commodities—and he would recognize it not just for the underexploited form of productivity it was but for the highly profitable commercial enterprise it might sustain. He would spend the next half decade bringing that business to life. And though some people would hate what he was building, and others would want to take it all away from him, there would come a day when Pierce, eight years older, could look back on an accomplishment that was bigger than he had ever envisioned—and stranger than he would ever comprehend.
While the article sheds an interesting light on the somewhat shady world of RTM, I get the impression the author has an axe to grind with the RTM-scene as a whole and the topics of his article specifically. The article’s author wrote a book about his own experiences in the RTM world (and doesn’t neglect to plug it) and seems to go out of his way in the article to put some people in a particularly nasty spotlight. But he’s subtle enough about it that Wired’s editors seem to have let it slide.
7 Nov 2008
Mary Meeker from Morgan Stanley gives an annual presentation about the state of the internet at the Web 2..0 Summit. While I often think that big corporate analysts tend to be out of touch with what’s really going on, I felt that this presentation gives a good overview of what’s going on and where we’re headed.