Thursday, 29 January 2009

Ph34r my l33t sp34k....

Gaming is often associated with geeks and nerds that lock themselves in their room, browsing forums and usually being quite ‘pro’ online. Now a lot of you would argue that this is generally not the case as lots of people play games from Mums and Dads on the Wii to students on the Xbox but I disagree.

Playing games and gaming are entirely different aspects.

Playing games in general can be quite casual and is more associated with consoles. Get a few mates round and have an evening in, socialising and mocking each others abilities on Gears of War.
Online gaming, however, is completely different. Ranked matches, kill/death ratios and impressive achievements makes online gaming an entirely different experience. It’s not about socialising or having fun, it’s competitive and all about how much better you are compared to all the other ‘noobs’.

All over the world, national LAN parties are held so gamers can compete against one another, testing their skills. For online gamers, this is all part of their culture. But this varies from the casual gamers culture of meeting up and having fun.

For me it is a bit of both. I would consider myself part of two major gaming cultures.

First off there is the casual side of my own culture. I will regularly sit in a flat with a handful of my close friends and play a variety of Xbox games from Rockband to Halo 3. This is fairly social as I am interacting with people and holding conversations, which makes for an enjoyable and entertaining evening.

But then once a week, there is the LAN side of my culture in which me and the same handful of mates go to a small gamers society.
It’s scary how, by changing the setting, culture and games we adopt different attitudes and goals. We no longer socialise or interact as we take our seats at individual computers. We become extremely competitive, hell-bent on taking each other out in the most humiliating ways.

It’s no longer about having fun, it’s about who’s the best! (and it’s very rarely me)

Overall I would say games occupy a considerable amount of my life but then it’s not because I want to be the best ( thought that would be nice). It’s because I enjoy watching how it affects our behaviour and attitudes towards others, whether it be within casual games or online.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

And so the shit hits the fan

One of the major concerns facing the games industry at the moment is the economic recession. Many other loved companies and industries have fallen hard in these difficult times but so far the games industry has been seen as ‘recession-proof’.

Could this be a result of Nintendo’s recent record breaking success and mass-marketing strategy? Whilst other consoles have been appealing to traditional gamers, Nintendo have expanded beyond that boundary and appealed to more casual gamers. It’s been a success so far but are casual gamers more likely to cut back due to the recession than ‘hardcore’ gamers?
Surveys and interviews have shown that many gamers don’t intend to cut back on their spending. But is this really due to the recession?

Most gamers are children and teenagers that have no responsibilities such as paying bills or the mortgage. Their disposable income is free to be spent on entertainment luxuries such as games. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the games industry is still ‘recession-proof’.

The fear of spending money will mean that more hardcore gamers will expect more for their money. No longer will £40 for a mediocre game be acceptable and so many games and companies may potentially be hit hard by the recession.

The challenge that will then face the industry is the quality of the games being produced. Not only does the gameplay and graphics need to be breathtaking but it has to be done on a significantly less investment as the gamers’ budget will be limited.

As for the future, we may see an increase in the quality of games being produced yet the quantity may lack somewhat and so many companies might find it hard to survive.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

It came from the mist...

It’s very rarely that I watch a film with my hands held up to my face, transfixed on the screen through the tiny gaps between my fingers in some miserable attempt to shield myself from becoming too involved in the film.

However, today’s film ‘The Mist’ did just that.

I’ll admit that I did sit through the initial appalling acting and forced dialogue with a criticised look across my face but when the mist rolled over the store I felt as if I was there with the rest of the cast.

No doubt my cries and whimpers uttered feebly throughout the rest of the film confirmed to my surrounding colleagues just how involved I’d become. The last time that had happened to me with a film was with ‘Cloverfield’.

It would seem that thrillers where nothing really happens, hit me the most. You view the film through the eyes of the people there. I love it when all you can hear is the odd inhuman sound, yet you never really see what is happening beyond the confined crowd of people. I suppose what really interests me is the reaction of the people. How everyone is actually shit-scared and behave in abnormal ways, whether it be fixating on rescuing someone or turning to religion.

It’s also nice to watch a film that hasn’t been utterly Americanised. By that I mean the plot remains intellectual and unexplained, not blatantly spelt out with colourful magic-markers. I also particularly enjoyed how the film darkly ended, no rounded up summary or explanation, just an abrupt end. A sad end nonetheless but all the more realistic and horrifying.

But then ‘The Mist’ seems to be a contradiction to everything I thought to be important. A major part of my blogs is the discussion of gameplay and the importance of storyline. The film, however, didn’t seem to have that strong of a storyline, yet it is one of the most captivating films I have seen.

However the film was all about the ‘shock’ factor. Could the film ever be seen again with the same, thrilling, reaction?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Can we all think outside the box?

What is creativity? Who can be creative? What does it mean to possess creativity? Is it an acquired skill or are we born with it?

Although creativity is a widely used term within many industries, it doesn’t seem to particularly define anything. As an artist, I associate creativity with art and most likely so do the general population, I believe that creativity or being creative is an expression of oneself, that usually results in something productive such as an artistic creation.

However, does being creative just limit to areas of art? A few of my close friends are currently studying Engineering and Electronics and they would strongly argue that the production of circuit boards is an art. So does that mean they are creative?
Or does it mean that the term ‘art’ can be as widely diverse as term ‘creativity’? But then, and this is even more thought provoking, is being creative limited to just art and that art is more widely applied?
Fans and supporters may argue that a game of football is an art.
Surgeons and doctors may argue that a medical procedure is an art.
Can bricklaying be considered an art? Or even the process of cooking and mixing ingredients?

But that still leaves ‘creativity’ feeling a bit vague. Some would argue that being creative is resulting in something new and original, which I believe to be true. Making the same t-shirt a couple of times isn’t as creative as designing a new one. Dancing the Macarena isn’t as creative as dancing your own dance. But this implies that anyone can be creative - dissolving the popular illusion that it is only limited to artists.

From a scientific point of view, creativity is considered to be the process of the right side of the brain, so this would argue that anyone can be creative. But then different social backgrounds and cognitive development can have an effect on how creative a person is.

A good example of this is children. At some point in our childhoods we have all had imaginary friends or played pretend games with imaginary worlds and characters. This would support that we are all born with creative traits and that it is not an acquired skill. A persons level of creativity from then on is determined by the paths we choose in life. Some children are encouraged to become better at maths, some at sports or in my case, art.
So although creativity is a natural ability it can be developed and encouraged by various social processes from an early age.

But are we constantly creative? Many artists are moved by inspiration and muses ( I know I am!), we need motivation, a starting point in which to be creative with and express ourselves. But then that would mean that life in general is being creative, every choice we make, every conversation we have is being creative as it is original and new to us and it is expressing ourselves as human beings.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

To play game or to game play, that is the question?

Where better to start but with a dictionary definition of gameplay?

Gameplay - not found
Game-play - not found
Game play - not found

Well that was a helpful start. In that case I will start with what I believe gameplay to be.

To me, gameplay is about the experience and enjoyment a player receives from a game. It may sound vague but everyone looks for different gameplay experiences. I personally hate getting my ass kicked and dying over and over again so the gameplay of online fps games doesn’t appeal to me at all.
However my friend may not like driving repeatedly in laps and so the gameplay of driving games wouldn’t appeal to him greatly.

The term gameplay may not be so easily defined as it’s too wide of a topic. There are many different styles and genres of games that appeal to the many personalities and lifestyles of the general public.
However gameplay is an important aspect, we may not know what it is but we know it’s important.

If gameplay can be defined as an overall gaming experience then surely that is an important aspect of all games, a good gaming experience means good sales, as more people will enjoy playing it.

But how do you compare the gaming experience of CoD4 to the gaming experience of Mario-kart or Final Fantasy?

One article I looked at even suggested that gameplay excludes graphics and sound but I think that’s absurd! Without graphics or sound you’re just staring at a blank screen and that isn’t very good gameplay at all!

I’ll admit that sometimes I play games muted or with my own music on but that’s because the in-game music is either repetitive, boring or just plain annoying, which would imply that it afects the overall gameplay as I am not enjoying an aspect of the game.

This blog is more ranty and more personal than my others but that is because I can’t really talk about other people’s gameplay experiences because the whole point of them is that they are personal experiences.

Which sadly brings us no closer to defining what exactly gameplay is. The wider definition could be that gameplay is the overall gaming experience that is achieved through all in-game aspects such as sound, style, handling, level design, characters etc. but the more personal definition of gameplay is how we experience and interpret the games as individuals.

Whether this is achieved through sheer coincidence or clever production planning, either way I can’t wait to find out for myself.

The Beginning, The Middle and The End

A good book can keep me immersed for weeks, a good TV show can keep me watching for days, a good film can keep me entertained for hours and a good game can keep me occupied for months. Well at least they used too.

When it comes to books, films and TV shows there are very strict aspects that need to be addressed. They all need a beginning, a middle and an end ( well not in most TV shows today such as Heroes and Lost), they all need an exciting conclusion to an epic storyline and they all need characters.

However games also need an interactive environment and storyline, which separates it’s characteristics from other media such as book, films etc.

In my opinion, good games are those that draw influence from characters and storylines that would typically appear in books. I much prefer reading a book to watching TV as a book allows readers to immerse themselves into the storyline. Twisting plots and vivid descriptions allows the reader to create their own images of what the environment and characters would look like. This obviously isn’t replicated in games as they have their own visual representations but games that have climaxes and useful, energetic plots can keep players interested for days.

However for all games, the key playable character is the most important aspect to get right. The main character of a game is the interactive connection between the player and the game environment, without it we would merely be a spectator watching a film and as far as films go, they can only maintain our attention for a few hours.

Films strive to be visually exciting, to dazzle and impress the audience with stunning scenery and breathtaking visual effects. Although, should you ever find yourself in Disney World, they have a shed-load of 3D films in an attempt to ‘involve’ the audience but they just tend to scare the hell out of me. Anyhow, films tend to capture an audience visually rather than through the story, which can sometimes be rather disappointing. But then a book has hundreds of pages to let a story unfold and a film has a meagre two hours.

To me, I find that action or comedy films are the most appealing as comic scenes and visual gags rely on facial expressions, which struggle to get across in books, and watching a fast car chase is more interesting than reading about one. But then vice versa. I find books about mystery or sci-fi more appealing as you can let your mind run riot with the descriptive passages and you can pick up on the little details that aid the flow of the plot.

My all times favourite book, that I can read over and over is written by the fabulous Dan Brown. ‘Angels and Demons’ is an amazing book that consists of dramatic twists and short suspenseful chapters that make it practical to read. I also adore the charismatic lead character an the plausible historical depictions are intriguing. It is much like the ‘Da Vinci Code’, yet another brilliant book. It sadly received a mixed review but if morons read it and get offended because they think its is real then what on earth are they doing reading books in the first place. Dan Brown clearly states that his book is fiction!

However, that doesn’t mean a can’t go to Paris and run all over pretending I’m on a quest to find the Holy Grail as a little dream of mine.