Friday, 26 December 2008

Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse…just my rumble-pack controller!

The earliest memory I have of a games console is the Sega Mega drive (which I still use to this day). I would spend many a days of my childhood sitting on my Dad’s lap playing Desert Strike (he would let me fire the missiles) but I also used to play with him on Golden Axe II. Bearing in mind I was about 5 years old at the time, it answers the question of how easy it was to use. A simple 4 way D-pad allowed me to manoeuvre my warrior along a 2D scrolling environment. It was a simple yet effective set-up that provided hours of fun.

However the Sega Megadrive isn’t the oldest console in my household. We still have a working ZX spectrum Sinclair. It’s great to have such a range of working consoles but my word, the Sinclair is fussy. It reads games off of tapes and the slightest nudge would obliterate hours of loading time. We mostly use a keyboard for the spectrum games but with no games manuals it soon became frustrating to use as I would continuously forget the controls. My parents tell me that they did use a joystick for the arcade-style games but that broke a while ago now.

Because my parents chose the path of Sega and Sonic the Hedgehog, I never got to play on any old Nintendo systems until quite recently. The N64 has some amazing games that I have enjoyed playing but I absolutely loath the controllers. The awkward 3 handle design made it impossible for me to know which way I was holding it and, in my mind, ruined the whole experience for me.
To me, the Playstation 2 Dual Shock controllers are the best game pads. The analog (analogue?…Americans tsk) sticks are excellent to use for most genres of games. The increased number of buttons meant games could include more controllable actions, which increased the overall game-play experience.

I was therefore pleased to know that the PS3 had kept much of the original design and thank the lord for the new wireless feature, no longer do I have to sit 2 metres from the console, I can now lounge to my heart’s content on the couch at a more reasonable distance. However, I’m not keen on how controllers are trying to incorporate trigger buttons. It may fell more realistic but those horrid marshmallow triggers on the PS3 controllers are just awful to use.

The future of game controllers is uncertain. Games and consoles are heading in the direction of including the user more. Interaction is now an important feature and the Wii remote is a good example of that. The Wii-mote allows the user to play with more precision and to get more involved (though at times the sensitivity really infuriates me). But what about futuristic capabilities such as virtual helmets, would we really need controllers as well?

Personally I feel that the Playstation 2 controllers, as well as the console, are quite a successful design. There is enough buttons for the user to feel in control and the design is quite comfortable to hold for hours on end.

But for efficient game-play give me a keyboard and mouse any day.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

You say it best when you say nothing at all

Storylines…loveable, debateable, necessary? Oh, and lets chuck some mutes in there too.

In may opinion, a game needs a good storyline to keep me interested. I mean, my favourite games of all time, the fantastic Jak and Daxter trilogy, (yes I know I go on about them too much) have an amazing storyline that links all three games together. There are twists and turns in the plot, two-faced characters and villainous enemies, it kept me in suspense.

But then in all fairness some of my other favourite games such as Left 4 Dead, Guitar Hero 3 and Super Smash Bros have no storyline to speak of what-so-ever. However these games are only fun when played with friends. When I play Super Smash Bros by myself I lose interest very quickly (but then I tend to also with friends, but that’s only because I get beaten a lot and I really don’t like to lose), which brings me back to why storylines are good.

A good storyline adds another level to the gaming experience. Not only are you carrying out the physical game-play but you’re motivated to do so by the story.

A great narrative allows the player to identify with the playable character more. By understanding the history and motives of your character you become more emotionally involved and interact with the game on both a physical and mental level.

However, for me personally there is always one aspect that truly separates you from a character…the dialogue. No matter how much you know about the playable character, their dialogue always creates a barrier that prevents you from fully getting involved as it constantly reminds you that you are not them. However does this apply if you’re character is mute?

The most famous and successful example I can think of would be Gordon Freeman from Half-life but there are many others such as the playable character in GTA III. You never really find out much about that character, but I have the feeling that becoming emotionally attached to a homicidal maniac that enjoys running over prostitutes is not a good idea. There is also Jak from the first Jak and Daxter games but he magically regains his voice in the 2nd game after being horribly tortured but more about that later.

Right back to the Half-life games. A very popular series of games due to an exceptional storyline that successfully incorporates puzzles, combat and a narrative. However I don’t think it would have been as popular if Gordon wasn’t a mute. Not only does the first person perspective make you feel like you Gordon himself but you don’t have the dialogue barrier. Gordon doesn’t answer for you and therefore you don’t detach yourself from the character, resulting in a much more involved game-play.

However to pull off having a mute character, you have to have a pretty exceptional storyline, otherwise the player will feel uninvolved and bored.

In my opinion, I feel that muted characters are more successful at involving a player, as characters with dialogue is like watching a film. Yes you feel like your there in the moment sometimes but you’re always aware that you are watching a film and can never quite fully appreciate the game.

Hmmmm i seem to have gone off on a this space...

Oh! I forgot about Zelda, another hugely successful game series in which the main character, Link, never talks.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

All I want for christmas is ... a remote controlled rat !?!

Yes you heard me right. The other day I watched a lovely little documentary that explored the connection between the human brain and computers. I found the program very interesting and debatable but what disturbed me was the experiments they carried out on rats, monkeys and bulls.

I was horrified to see a poor little rat with electrodes wedged into it’s brain. As if that wasn’t upsetting enough, the electrodes allowed you to move the rat left and right. I’m against animal testing to begin with, so I was already disgusted that all of this was in the name of science!
But it made me think, at what point does this get out of control?

In 5 years time the best selling Christmas present could be a remote controlled rat. In 7 years it could be a horse! This may even affect the games industry. If the general public can gain control of real living creatures, why would they want to play simulated games?

It doesn’t have to stop there. Brain control could even extend to humans, creating soldiers that are controlled from behind the front lines. This could then be applied for leisure. Popular characters such as the Spartans from Halo could be created using remote controlled humans, allowing people to play live action games.

But enough of that…