It Was Awesome.

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Good times at the Ozfur #2 server. Nothing’s more amusing than admins screwing around. ūüôā

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Hail to the King

Like just about every sane person who played FPS in the nineties (4chan readers: Nostalgiaf4g) I’m… well yes, excited about Duke Nukem Forever. After countless remakes and letdowns, it’s finally coming out, reuniting us with the crude wonders of the Duke and his cheesy one-liners.

I’m not going to delve into the game’s development history too much, because goodness knows, you can only stomach so many letdowns and in any case, everyone else has already said everything decent about the subject. However, I was drawn with interest to the 2001 DNF trailer for E3. Apparently nearly the entire thing was pre-rendered cinematics, but it was still based on a design – oh, and how the design has changed.

Initially, DNF was intended to simply be epic. The pinnacle of the series and, indeed, a shining example of FPS for years to come. Indeed, if 3D Realms had fulfilled the game behind the trailer, it would have been, if not groundbreaking, then surely a mark of brilliance. Evidently they didn’t learn from the lesson of ambition over capability that was Daikatana, and failed to meet any kind of development deadline.

Now, ignoring the developments in the mean time, the 2011 release seems to be almost the exact opposite. Instead of doing anything new, it seems to be a fairly standard FPS, released in a genre that is becoming increasingly competitive. What it does do, however, is outrageous, over-the-top, mature fast-paced action. The game isn’t going to do anything particularly new – but what it is going to do is stand out in the realm of military shooters and sci-fi ripoffs like a sore thumb. Or, because this is the Duke, a sore middle finger, pointed squarely at a retreating spaceship.

Despite everything, I’m still looking forward to DNF, just so that the series can be packed up (or revived), we get a nice¬†humorous¬†FPS, and maybe developers will see this, come out of their shells a little bit and make some fun games again.

Not that I’ll be able to experience that, of course. It’ll be banned in Australia. As always.

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2011 – A New Hope

2010 was a difficult year for gaming. Nothing particularly brilliant stepped into the spotlight – that is not to say they were not good, it was just the lack of anything groundbreaking. More than anything else, the PC was hit hard. Yes, the console generation has been strutting around with their shiny new motion gimmicks, while we sat back and watched the trickle of titles falling into our world.

Thankfully, this looks to be remedied this year in stunning style, and nowhere else is this more obvious than the FPS genre. I am not an expert in music, but it is rather as if all the best artists of the late nineties suddenly returned in this new decade to deliver their music in an entirely new context. In particular we see the return of the deliciously crude-but-fun subgenre, with titles like Serious Sam 3 and Duke Nukem Forever. Meanwhile, People Can Fly, of Painkiller fame, have come up with their own killfest in the form of Bulletstorm, which seems to mash together arcade-style combos in a classical linear FPS, complete with stunning set pieces. The interesting thing is that these games were in their element back in the nineties, when pop culture still thought Wayne’s World was funny, but how they stand up in 2011 is anyone’s guess. Moving on, we have some other interesting upcoming releases, like Brink, and of course there’s always the highly anticipated Portal 2 and Gears of War 3. Outside the genre, there isn’t much to talk about, but there are some truly beautiful screenshots coming out for Elder Scrolls V and there are whispered hints of a release for Black Mesa – A HL2 mod designed to faithfully recreate the original Half Life.

So, as far as gaming goes, 2011 seems to be the year of the Return of the Fast FPS, and it’s going to be, to coin a phrase, freaking awesome.

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Not actually afraid of the dark

The alt text test

My ill-fated venture into the world of webcomics continues with this little strip about Amnesia. Seriously. It is a scary game.

You have to work at it, though. Most horror games one encounters nowadays are prone to putting your nerves on edge and then striking while the iron is hot, trying to do everything with dark corridors, liberal amounts of blood, and cheap scares. This is all very well, but it feels more like they have to weaken you with atmosphere before they can set your nerves a-ringing.

Amnesia doesn’t work like that. Indeed, it is a long time until you even encounter a foe – most of your time is spent in the dark, solving puzzles while eerie noises echo around you. It’s creepy, no doubt there, but it has none of those sudden scares or visceral survival elements of many horror games.

It has a more Lovecraftian bent, and it slowly turns from merely uneasy to truly nasty. The artistic direction is spot on, and even mundane things – like opening a cupboard filled with bones – are chilling, and then all of a sudden you’re dealing with the supernatural, and running corpses are out to get you.

Most horror games reduce the feel of being threatened by giving the player some means of self-defense: If it’s not the Dead Space heavy ordnance, you are at least able to beat your foes to death, Condemned style, or, failing that, run away very quickly. In Amnesia, you are truly¬†defenseless¬†– you have no weapons, no chance of fighting, and in any case, facing these ghoulish creatures will drain your sanity, so you must turn to your heels and find somewhere to run and hide. Even this is fraught with difficulty, because your pursuers are just as fast as you, there are few places to properly hide, and you will often encounter another one coming the other way. The upshot is that you feel properly vulnerable, and that’s quite unique for a horror game.

I don’t sleep with the light on. But I am keeping a crowbar under my bed.

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Moral Compass

The mouseover text is currently out for maintennance
This is good-natured jesting, of course. Blizzard are some good developers and their reputation precedes them. Oh, and of course, we all know the figure is closer to ten million.

So yes, despite my previous distaste, I’ve given webcomics a bash. It’s made in Garry’s Mod, because I cannot draw and my¬†psychopathic¬†tendencies mean that it’s hard to find a willing artist. Plus, ragdolls are fun.

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The Black Aut-Ops-y (Multiplayer breakdown)

Black Ops is a curious title. Ever since hype for the Call of Duty¬†franchise¬†really picked up speed, I have avoided it like the plague. Firstly because its popularity means that it is now the staple game of every Tom, Harry, and, most importantly, Dick, it means that I am rubbing shoulders with the great pricks of the internet. Thankfully most of them play the console version, but there is still an unpleasant image lurking around the series. The second problem I have had with it is the actual gameplay – as an elitist CS:S player, I am required to loathe COD’s¬†unbalanced¬†and cluttered multiplayer. It sounds like the sort of game that any fool could be good at, just by using one of the many exploits and stupidly powerful perk combinations.

However, picking my way through Black Ops for the last two weeks, I find little to complain about. Herein lies the issue: It is still not something to play ‘competitively’. The weapon balance is skewed beyond belief, with one LMG easily being more powerful than the top assault rifles. Getting in a helicopter is like climbing into a flying target, painted red and filled with dynamite, and there is something seriously wrong with any game where your knife is your most effective weapon.

I was having trouble accepting Black Ops’s multiplayer, alternately switching between total pwnage and being totally pwned, but I had just blown up a helicopter and set fire to a roomful of foes when I suddenly realised: Hang on, this is actually fun. And by that, I mean, a lot of fun. It is one of those games packed with epic moments, to be recounted later to envious friends. I wish I could share some of them here, but I fear I would rather bore you.

It’s not a game to play seriously. It’s not a game to agonise over your K/D ratio or spend hours perfecting your aim, because there are simply too many variables for them to ever be taken seriously. You can get ‘better’ to a certain extent, but it will never have that hard edge on which your skill is tested. It is a game played for fun and giggles. Gameplay-wise, Black Ops is more akin to Team Fortress than CS:S.

Oh, and how I wish I could end it there! But sadly, this is of course the age of the console. The PC is a second-hand platform now, it seems, and support for it has been atrocious: Laggy and unreliable connections, constant and infuriating game crashes, and just plain old glitchiness. To enraged cries, Treyarch recently released a patch to improve performance on multiple cores (Forgetting on their initial release, I presume, that such things exist) which has reduced crashing… a little bit. But made the client far more jumpy.

My copy still crashes every now and then. But for all its flaws, for all the faults and misfires, the unbalanced gameplay and the incessant undergrowth of noobs that make up the general multiplayer populace… it is a loveable game.

I’ll let you know what I think of the Single Player soon enough.

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You need something else to hate, troublesome journalists

It’s interesting to see changing attitudes in our culture and industry – specifically gaming. I am but an observer – in fact, an observer looking through a keyhole at something happening on the other side of the street through the window of the room with the keyhole – but there is still something interesting to observe: Our society operates at two ever dividing parallels. Granted, that rather voids the definition of a parallel, but you know what I mean.

I should probably initially point out that I’m not an extremist of any kind. I don’t have wide-eyed anarchistic beliefs. I don’t wave signs advertising corporate corruption. All people are human, however malformed, and that makes them do what humans do. Which is to say, act like an asshole if things are not perfect. For instance, I do not perceive the games industry at large to look like this:

This is not an accurate picture of the gaming industry (but it comes close)

But anyway, what I was getting at is the public view of the so-called ‘hardcore gamer’. Now, the biggest issue is that gamers, as a collective term, fall out with each other faster than the goons in a B-movie. I am told they will fall out even faster than newspaper editors. Some will even reject the word ‘gamer’ because of its popular image, and those that are left will argue endlessly over platforms, genres, opinions and imagery.

But whatever, here’s my opinion: The hardcore of the hard-core games enthusiast is battered and rejected beyond belief in today’s society. Learning that the casual gaming market is much larger and more profitable, most companies have opted to instead create repeated titles for it, leaving us with… what?

Crap; Misanthropic mousse; our medium, cut into cubes and served by the gigabyte. Oh sure, I’m sure most games start with a designer waking up in excitement somewhere, scrawling down a list of fantastic ideas and liberating them at the next meeting (or whatever it is that designers do), but a combination of deadlines and funding means that these concepts never reach the outer market: They are watered down, packaged for safety, built to be profitable. By the time it reaches the consumer, all that is left is a single, snivelling ‘original concept’, for games journalists to coo over in dissatisfaction. I read reviews all the time, and they have the same structure: A standard assessment of all the normal elements, from graphics to gameplay, and then a single paragraph that always starts with ‘[The game] brings the unique element of…’ followed by some obscure little detail. Sometimes it doesn’t even have that paragraph. Stick your head of creativity above the industry’s battlements, and it will be shaved off by a razor blade. Made of bank notes and credit cards.

This is, of course, our own fault. We let things slip, allowed Peggle to capture us with its innocence and let the children play with the curious ‘Wii’. We bought mainstream gore-fests and ignored experimental titles. I’m talking to you, too. Go on, idiot. Dive for your safety blanket.

My goodness, this is becoming a meta-meta-tangent of the original rant, isn’t it? I have a lot to say, but what I originally wanted to get at was our rejection in popular media. Games enthusiasts (not gamers) are dressed up as pirates, elitists, unsubtle cankers on the backside of society. Violence, the order of the day, is regarded as some kind of antichrist to the kindly shining nature of Bejeweled. And you know what the problem is? Perspective.

You would like to imagine that popular media is gaining new levels of depravity by the second, but the honest truth of it is that our society has instead decided that these levels are no longer appropriate – they have always been like this. While the parallel of the unacceptable has remained constant, our perception of the unacceptable has veered steadily away.

And, of course, it’s a new medium. Throughout history, every single new development in this area has been regarded as dangerous and evil. When the first telephones began to ring, the media was flooded with fears of catching disease from people on the other side of the line, or that it would encourage sloth. When television entered peoples’ homes, many expressed concerns of discomfort and alluded to ‘damaging social interaction’. And now with the personal computer, and the rise of gaming, we see Mister and Mrs Catalystic Journalist wake once again to trouble the masses with stories of sociopaths and public shootings. This is quite ridiculous, and I have explained precisely why before.

So what we really need is another medium for the media to latch their leeching tentacles onto. I myself am holding out for holographs ūüėČ

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