Archive | October 2014

Art Styles and Clever Design

One thing I think most people struggle with creatively is starting. People tell me they “just can’t do it”, and honestly, that’s crap. You just aren’t trying hard enough.

For example, I often hear people say “I can’t draw”. Well, I say, that’s because you don’t practice enough. We aren’t born with the ability to draw, and we aren’t born with a crippling aversion to drawing. If you can’t draw, it’s simply because you haven’t had the practice.

To start drawing, find something you like and put pencil to paper. If you’re anything like me, it’ll look awful – but at least you’ve started, and now you’re on the way to being great at it. In the immortal words of Jake the Dog:

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Having said all that, there are certain shortcuts we can take regardless of skill level. There are different techniques to any given creative field, a lot of which can help with starting a new project or skill.

We recently looked at a technique for conceptualization. In this case, we were trying to create a concept for a vehicle in a racing game. Mine (pictured below) was among the worst of the lot, but some really looked great.

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(I was born with a crippling aversion to photoshop)

The technique we used is known as “Photo Bashing”. Photo Bashing is the process of combining other images to create a completely new one, as in the above example. I used bits of a jet ski, a motorbike, an umbrella, a fire alarm, some gears and more, and managed to create a motorbike (it isn’t my proudest moment).

This is a relatively controversial technique, mostly because of copyright issues. Obviously, collecting large amounts of images and claiming credit for what you create is going to be an issue from time to time. I agree on some level, but I don’t think photo bashing is really used for plagiarism. Rather, it tends to be used for conceptualization – because it can be used to create quickly, it’s ideal for people working to a deadline, for example.

This doesn’t mean that nobody uses it to plagiarize, of course. Credit should always be given to the original images, quite unlike what I’m doing. I did find it helpful – there’s no way I’m skilled enough to create the above image from scratch without the use of this (or a similar) technique.

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Close enough

The point is that this technique (and others) can help with quickly breaking into a creative field. While they aren’t necessarily ideal for building your skillset, they help with building confidence – seeing that you can create something that’s ordinarily above your skill level is a good feeling, which also helps to build interest in improving yourself.

If you’re the kind of person that says “I wish I could do this”, go and do it. Stop having a cry and complaining to people, because the problem is with you. For example, I wish I could sound less righteous on my blog, but it isn’t going to happen without some practice.

100 Word Story

EDIT:

Had to take the story down! The competition won’t accept a story that’s been published and while I plan to change it a fair bit anyway, I thought it was best to be safe. Thanks to all for the feedback, and I’m happy to send it to anyone that asks.

User Interfaces in Games

This post is going to be about different User Interfaces in games – I’ll list 3 that I think are successful, and talk about why I like them. Different genres need different interfaces, so 3 may not be enough to cover everything, but I’ll try and talk broadly about what works well.

Firstly, diegetic user interfaces. Diegetic UIs are interfaces that exist within the world itself; this means that the player may see that they’re injured because their character is limping, or their clothes are torn. An example is Dead Space:

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For those who haven’t played the game, the UI is famously entirely diegetic. The health bar is displayed as that line of lights on the player’s back; as the player loses health, the bar goes down and changes colour and when it’s empty, the player is dead. Similarly, the smaller semi-circle is the display for “stasis”, a resource in the game. The inventory is handled in real-time through a holographic display that the protagonist interacts with.

This is great for horror – not only is the inventory handled in real time (which adds to tension), but it also helps greatly with immersion. Since there’re no displays jumping out at you, it’s easy to forget that you’re simply playing a game, which is obviously great for horror. It’s used in other games, as well:

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This screenshot is from Far Cry 2, which generally used a non-diegetic interface (ie. minimap, ammo display). However, the map was both real time and diegetic, which added to immersion and made for interesting gameplay mechanics. Having to check your map while you were driving ended badly for many, many players.

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The final diegetic example above is from Metro 2033, which had (in my opinion) a fantastic UI. The game relied generally on in-world cues, such as the objectives existing on a clipboard (seen above). When on the surface, your remaining oxygen is displayed on a watch worn by your character, and the remaining durability on your mask is displayed by the screen cracking and breaking.

I think that it works well for immersion above all, which in turn is great for horror and story-driven games. However, I think there are quicker and more practical ways to do a User Interface, in my opinion. I don’t believe that a diegetic interface would work for something like Team Fortress 2 or any Mario game. For instance, I can’t imagine a way to display a score diegetically inside a Mario game, or how to display a scoreboard in a multiplayer game.

The next type of UI that I’m talking about is competitive FPS. I like them because they’re generally fairly simple, while still getting a lot of important information across quickly. Namely, I love the interface in Team Fortress 2:

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The UI has slight differences in each mode, and the above screenshot is actually a relatively empty example. This is Arena mode – the remaining lives of each team are displayed at the top, with the status of the capture point shown at the bottom. Ammo and health are shown at the bottom right and left respectively, with a small area designated for chat. The chat area disappears if nobody talks for a certain amount of time, which saves on screen real estate.

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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is extremely similar, though it displays armour, selected weapon, remaining money and a minimap as well. I think it does a good job of doing so without taking up too much more screen real estate, though I do question if the mini-map could be placed somewhere else. I’m not sure where, honestly, but I know when I’m playing I spend most of my time looking at it (I’m not a good player). I think there’s probably a better way to display a minimap that lets the player look at it more easily and regularly.

On that note, I think that FPS games are one of the worst in the sense that they’re so rarely improved upon. I believe they do their job fine (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), but I wish more developers would experiment with the tried and true formula. If they don’t, we’ll never see an improvement, whether or not we need one.

Finally, MMORPGs. MMOs are typically very interface heavy, and they’re interesting to talk about. The first MMO game I played religiously was RuneScape, because I was one of the coolest kids around;

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RuneScape isn’t necessarily the prettiest or best game, but it was the best free-to-play game around at one point. The interface has since been completely overhauled, but this screenshot shows what it looked like when I played, as far as I remember. I think it was fairly terrible, frankly – it takes up a ridiculous amount of screen real estate, and displays a lot of useless information. There’s no reason the inventory couldn’t collapse when it isn’t open, for example. They’ve since changed these things, but I haven’t played in a long time, so I can’t give an informed opinion of how it’s turned out.

The classic example, and the next big MMO I tried, was World of Warcraft.

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World of Warcraft has an alright interface. While it displays quite a bit of information, it does so without taking up an enormous amount of screen real estate. At the time of writing, the game is about 10 years old and still going strong, but the UI has only received minor updates from Blizzard. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the UI is great – a lot of fan-made addons have been developed to replace, alter or enhance the Interface, meaning a complete overhaul honestly isn’t necessary.

It does it’s job, and it does it fairly well. I used to think it was pretty great, until I played…

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This is a screenshot from Elder Scrolls online. This game displays all the same information much more concisely – obviously, it’s in keeping with the UI found in Skyrim, but with some MMO trappings. These two screenshots may not be a fair comparison, as the Elder Scrolls Online also shows a chat, XP bar and inventory, but the above screenshot doesn’t have them.

I think MMOs are in a tricky place, because they need to display such a large amount of information without taking up too much screen space. It’s a genre I think needs massive improvement by someone who knows what they’re doing. As I said with FPS games, there needs to be a drive to improve on these industry standards. I understand the risk – no small amount of money goes into these games, and several lives depend on their sales. Still, we’re already stuck into a rut with UI – this isn’t necessarily to say that the UIs are bad, just that at this rate there’ll never be an improvement.

Review: The Stanley Parable

When I first booted up The Stanley Parable and got to the main menu, I saw an image of a computer monitor; on that monitor was that same image repeated endlessly, like a hall of mirrors. The point here, of course, is that the player is also looking into a monitor in real life, which is also showing that same image. This kind of self-aware meta narrative is indicative of the experience that The Stanley Parable offers throughout. The game simultaneously criticises and questions video game narrative cliches and ‘tropes’, such as the notion of free will inside a predefined and finite virtual space, or whether there’s any real difference between victory and defeat inside a game, when each outcome has been predefined and calculated by the designers anyway.

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While these points are certainly interesting in their own right, does The Stanley Parable manage to work them into a fun, interactive narrative? I’d say the answer is a resounding “mostly”. The game begins with a brief cutscene, showing the protagonist Stanley working away at his dull desk, in his dull office. We’re told that Stanley follows his orders day in and day out, but then one day the orders stop coming. Worse, all of Stanleys co-workers have disappeared. It’s here that the player takes control, and with the guidance of an incredibly well-voiced narrator, must get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the office building Stanley works in.

The game plays in first person view, with only two buttons – interact, and crouch. In my time with the game, I didn’t actually find a use for the crouch button, but the interact button is used consistently throughout. The aforementioned narrator is the players guiding force – with no interface or heads up display, the player must rely entirely on the world around them and the narrator for clues as to what to do and where to go. The Stanley Parable is not a puzzle game, nor an adventure game – rather, I’d define it simply as an interactive narrative. It’s a game about games, and tells a story that can only truly be told through this medium. In that sense, I believe it’s an incredible success – however, I’m not sure it’s necessarily ‘fun’.

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There are several routes that can be taken through the office building and beyond, with each path leading to another branching route, eventually taking the player to one of the many different endings on offer. Each ending can be reached in a matter of minutes, but there are so many that the average player can be expected to spend a few hours on this game at least. This brings up the best thing about the game – the narration. On a repeat play through, I was following a path I’d taken previously. Since I’d experienced it all before, I was rushing ahead of the narrator’s directions. At a point, he stopped his usual narration and berated me for trying to rush through the game – playing classical music in an attempt to ‘calm me down’, while the door I needed to pass through stayed locked until the music ended.

The narrator in The Stanley Parable owes its success not only to the incredible voice work of Kevan Brighting, but due to the way it weaves into the players actions. At the beginning of the game, you’re told to continue through the office building and solve the mystery of your missing colleagues. Since I’d already kicked into my typical gamer mentally, I spent the first few minutes trying to open every door and interacting with everything around me, which caused the narrator to say that “Stanley spent the first several minutes fiddling with everything, for no apparent reason”.

It’s here that The Stanley Parable finds great success – the game is quite literally an interactive narrative. Early in the game, the player is presented with two doors. “Stanley walked through the door on the left”, the narrator calmly proclaims. Of course, as a player, you’re free to choose to do what you wish – meaning that if you’re anything like me, you took the door on the right. This causes the narrator to question Stanley’s listening capabilities, but continue to try and direct him to the correct path, which (of course) can be ignored again and again.

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Inaction is a perfectly reasonable decision as well, with its own set of outcomes. The point that The Stanley Parable seems to be making is that no matter how clever the player thinks they are, no matter what decisions they make, they’re still well and truly trapped inside a finite and carefully designed world. There is no real victory and no real defeat – each is just another path designed to be experienced. Each rewards the player with new content and narration, with no path feeling as if it’s worse or better than any other.

The narration is usually hilarious and extremely witty, which really helps sell the cleverness of the game. I laughed out loud more than once while playing, and I expect I will when I go back to it. The simple controls make the game extremely easy to pick up even for people completely new to video games – however, that leads me to one of my major criticisms.

Put simply, people who don’t play many video games just won’t get it. They won’t understand what’s going on, and there’s a good chance that a lot of the narrative will be lost on them. If you’re not a big video game fan, try the demo – it’s different from the main game, so try it either way.

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Otherwise, there’s no real gameplay to be had here, though I felt the fantastic narration and thought provoking questions more than made up for this. At times, the game was much too dark for me – I had to adjust the brightness on my monitor just to see where I was going, which often still wasn’t enough (something unique to this game, so far).

Still, I enjoyed my time with The Stanley Parable and I think other video game enthusiasts will as well. If you have only a passing interest in games, maybe give the demo a spin – this may not be right for you.

Game Genres, Criticisms and Opinions

For this post, I’m focusing on several game genres and discussing which I think is the definitive game for each genre. Please, take this with a grain of salt – I’m not objectively stating that I’m correct (though I totally am), just giving my opinion. If I think multiple games fit into a given genre, I’ll list them. This post will be in a list, with each point focusing on a separate genre. I’m hoping to generate some discussion, so feel free to reply with your own commentary and thoughts on this list. As a quick note – I can’t cover every sub-genre, but I’ll cover a couple, such as the stealth genre. I also won’t cover every type of RPG in the world, but I’ll separate into Action RPG, Japanese RPG and Western RPG. Enjoy!

First Person Shooter

Most influential game: Doom

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This is a hard one, but I consider Doom to be the most influential first person shooter of all time. There are lots of great ones: Half-Life 2, Halo: Combat Evolved, Goldeneye 64, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Castle Wolfenstein – the list goes on. Each did something huge for the genre, but I chose Doom because it was the FPS that perfected the genre standards still used today. This is probably the hardest genre for me – I didn’t want to split this into sub-genres, because I think I’d be here for days if I did. I’d argue that Doom was the most influential just because of the standards it set – things like multiple weapons, multiplayer deathmatch, a (pretty crappy) story.

The most honorable mention would go to Castle Wolfenstein, because it came first and did a lot of these things as well. I chose Doom over Wolfenstein because I feel Doom improved upon Wolfenstein’s formula, but I’d argue the improvements made to Doom haven’t been nearly as significant since. There are things like unlockable weapons for multiplayer in modern games, but I don’t believe they significantly change the core experience that was introduced with Doom. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe any FPS has – all the way from Half-Life: 2 to Destiny. The one big improvement other games have made (especially Half-Life: 2) is the story, where Doom really suffered. This is a very tricky genre to choose, but I think Doom shines through for these reasons.

Japanese Role-Playing Game

Most influential game: Final Fantasy

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I’m starting to realise that every one of these is going to be difficult to pick. Similarly to Doom, Final Fantasy wasn’t the first of the genre, but I feel it set the standards for years to come. Final Fantasy was to be Square Soft’s last game (hence the name), but the massive success of the game allowed them to continue to this day. It had a class system, classic turn-based combat, equippable gear and an epic story (for the time, at least). Not only did it spark the biggest JRPG series in history, it’s been remade thirteen times since it’s initial release, which should give some idea of it’s popularity.

It also made cliches such as the world map and vehicles for traversing popular in the genre. The fact that the game has been so frequently re-released and successfully garnered positive critical reviews made me put it at the top of this genre. There are so many honorable mentions I don’t want to list them all, but I think the first Final Fantasy fits neatly at first place.

Western Role-Playing Game

Most influential game: The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind

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This was actually a fairly easy one. To me, Western RPGs are dominated by the Elder Scrolls series, which in turn is dominated by The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind. The only other game I considered was Daggerfall – but to be honest, I haven’t played it enough to give an informed opinion. From what I’ve gathered, Daggerfall had a much (much, much) bigger world, but most of it was empty or flat out impassable, because it was largely randomly generated.

Morrowind was entirely hand-crafted and still huge, which made each area a thrill to explore. More than that, it had something I don’t feel has been repeated, especially not in The Elder Scrolls series – an interesting, alien world. Morrowind itself (or rather, the island of Vvardenfell) was incredibly fun to explore. Unlike Oblivion, which was a cut and paste Middle Earth-like high fantasy world, Morrowind contained bizarre and fascinating landscapes and environments. There are towns and buildings built into giant mushrooms, wizard towers that couldn’t be explored without your character having the ability to levitate, fields of rock and ash, demonic ruins and more. The exploration is unparalleled in the genre, as is the world-building and narrative. I’d argue that the sequels and other games have improved on the combat, which was honestly pretty terrible in Morrowind, but being able to pick anything that wasn’t nailed down (quite literally) and interact with every character was incredible.

Oblivion did improve on some things, such as the combat as was previously mentioned. It also gave NPCs more personality and life, or at least attempted to – other characters had schedules they followed every day, getting up in the morning, eating food, going to work and then going back home in the evening. This led to some interesting in-game stories that weren’t found elsewhere, such as a character who sleeps in a different woman’s bed on weekends (as in, not his wife, who he normally slept with). However, I still feel that Morrowind was the bigger, better balanced and more interesting game.

Action Role-Playing Game

Most influential title: Diablo 2

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This was a fairly obvious choice for me, but I’m honestly not very experienced in this genre. Diablo 2 was one of the most well-received and classic games in history, that was patched again only months ago, despite Diablo 3 having been released since. Diablo 2 had all the essentials for the genre – mountains of loot to collect and improve your character, interesting randomly generated areas to explore, great online and offline multiplayer (that scaled difficulty according to the amount of players in the party) as well as an interesting story and universe. Sure, Diablo came first (obviously) but Diablo 2 more than doubled the classes, a much improved story, a relatively huge world, more gear and different difficulties. It’s for these reasons that I consider Diablo 2 to be the most influential ARPG thus far, more so than Diablo or Diablo 3.

Real Time Strategy

Most influential game: Starcraft

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This was a hard choice for me. Starcraft II, Warcraft I, II and III, Command and Conquer and more come to mind, but I ended up choosing Starcraft because I think it’s influenced the RTS genre more than any other.

Namely, Starcraft had multiple races that played differently, but were each as strong as each other. Starcraft also began the brutally hardcore world of competitive “e-sport” RTS gaming, with Starcraft II continuing the trend. South Korea has three channels (or did, I’m not sure if they still do) that were entirely dedicated to Starcraft, as well as arenas built specifically for competitive play of the game. Starcraft catapulted Blizzard from “successful” to “stupidly successful” and was the biggest influence on their other RTS series, Warcraft.

Incredibly successful competitive mode aside, Starcraft had a full-scale sci-fi story that was quite well-received, as well as a very well-selling expansion. While I wasn’t actually a fan of the game, there’s no denying the wide reaching influence of Starcraft in the genre, with the impact of its ideas still felt today.

Stealth

Most influential game: Metal Gear Solid

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Readers of my blog will know that Metal Gear Solid is my absolute favourite series of all time, so there was no doubt which game would fit into this genre. As a matter of fact, I’d argue that Metal Gear Solid has a good chance of being the single most influential video game of all time, with only maybe two other games that could compete (both of which are Nintendo games).

Metal Gear Solid famously put the focus on stealth, instead of flat out murdering every other character in the game – that’s still very much possible, but once the player’s been spotted the odds are heavily turned against them. That, as well as the focus on narrative driven cutscenes made in-engine rather than being pre-rendered changed the way people looked at narrative in games. The narrative itself was much more intricate and interesting than most games before it. Every stealth game is compared to Metal Gear Solid and for good reason – this is the definitive stealth game, and if I had more time, the rest of this post would be dedicated to this game.

Adventure

Most influential game: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

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This game is one of the aforementioned “Top 3 influential games of all time”, alongside Metal Gear Solid. While it isn’t my personal favourite from the series, the success and influence of Ocarina of Time is undeniable and vast. OoT was the first 3D Zelda game and delivered on every possible level.

As usual, players take the role of Link. As usual, he’s off to save Zelda from series villain, Ganondorf. What was essentially different was the gameplay – in a series that had always been 2D, the shift to 3D excited some and worried others. When the game was released, everyone was blown away – OoT is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time.

The game featured a massive intricate world, with a day and night system as well as several towns for the player to visit. There were many dungeons, enemies and items. It basically did what Zelda always does – but it did it bigger and better. I don’t really feel the need to explain the game too much more, since you’ve almost definitely played it.

The influence of this game is felt in nearly every genre, but especially action / adventure games. This was the first 3D Action / Adventure game to have many of these features, and it’s still considered one of the best. The quintessential masterpiece, Ocarina of Time is still played and loved today.

Horror

Most influential title: Silent Hill 2

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When writing this, I was torn between Silent Hill 2 and the first Resident Evil game, but settled on SH2. Silent Hill 2 famously never relied on “jump scares” or gore, but rather a constant unsettling dread. There was nothing worse than an empty hallway in Silent Hill 2 – where you could handle a zombie or five in Resident Evil without too much worry, the dread and paranoia that Silent Hill 2 brought were (and, in my opinion, still are) unparalleled to this day.

I’d actually say it isn’t the scariest horror game of all time – a title I believe belongs to Amnesia: The Dark Descent – but it’s the one that’s scared me for the longest. I remember barely being able to press on when playing Amnesia, but after playing Silent Hill 2 I’d be unsettled for hours.

The story is fantastic, with an incredibly famous and well executed twist. The subject matter of the game has become more relevant as time goes on, and it’s certainly rare to find someone who has played this game and doesn’t agree on the incredible quality of the game.

Platformer

Most influential game: Super Mario Bros. 3

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You could stop reading this blog right now, go to the smallest village in the most poverty-ridden country on Earth, and there’s a good chance someone there will have heard of Mario. If you’re reading this, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that you’ve heard of him. He’s the most famous video game character of all time, and I’d say he always will be.

He’s appeared in more games than any other character. His influence is so wide-spread, there’re no characters that he can be realistically compared to in terms of success and popularity. Really, any Mario game from the NES would have been a good pick, but I chose Super Mario Bros. 3 because I believe it did the level selection best, as well as interesting powerups, level variety and more. The game was fun the entire way through, absolutely riddled with secrets and was the perfect level of challenge – possibly a little too challenging in sections, at least for me.

When I was talking about the top 3 influential games of all time, I’d say this is realistically my top pick.

That’s it! I’d like to go more into detail on each one, as well as fit some more genres in. I could barely scratch the surface of any one of these games, much less why they were so influential, but I hope you got some idea. I’d love to here some feedback on this list, as well as other people’s opinions and thoughts, so feel free to comment.

Thanks for reading!

Introduction to Myself, Influences from Gaming and What I’m Currently Playing

So, it’s occurred to me that I haven’t done a proper post to introduce myself, despite talking about myself in a few previous entries. That, and it’s a course requirement that I write a blog entry to introduce myself, so it’s probably a good idea.

At the time of writing, I’m 22 years old. I was born in Australia (still live here) and fell in love with video games as soon as I was old enough to figure out how my thumbs worked. I hated high school as I went through it, though I loved spending time with my friends there. I dropped out of High School after Year 10, and started studying film at TAFE. While I enjoyed it (and I think I was a fairly decent camera operator and producer), I couldn’t see myself doing it full time. Unfortunately, there was no chance to study game design where I was living, but I wanted to follow my greatest passion, so I moved to Melbourne and started studying where I am now.

I really just aspire to work in the Game Design industry in any capacity I can, though I really like the idea of writing for games. At present, a lot of games don’t even hire writers, but it’s definitely a legitimate existing job (and my personal dream). Though, as I said, I’d be ecstatic to be employed in the industry in any way, at least initially.

My last post was about influences from outside gaming, but most of my major influences come from video games (of course). I’ll try and narrow it down to three major influences, but I might accidentally go a little overboard. Firstly, my biggest influence in the world of gaming and my personal favourite series, Metal Gear Solid.

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It’s just about impossible to summarize the plot in a single blog post, but I’ll give it a shot. The story follows two characters with terrible names, Big Boss and Solid Snake. The story is essentially split into two major acts across about 8 games, roughly split in half for each character. Initially, the story follows Big Boss, who is the ‘genetically perfect soldier’. Solid Snake is his clone – they look the same (at least, at first) but have vastly differing personalities.

I don’t want to go too much into the story – well, I do, but then I’d be here all day. The story is vast and convoluted and rightly receives criticism for use of retroactive continuity and some terrible explanations, especially in Metal Gear Solid 4. Despite that, I’ve always found the story to be incredible. It combines extremely thought provoking themes (such as struggling with self identity, genetics and genetic memes, technological determinism, the dangers and realities of Orwellian society, and many more). What I really love about this is that it covers these themes through an absolutely ridiculous story, complete with Vampires, giant nuclear-equipped walking tanks, cyborg ninjas, and cyborg ninjas fighting vampires on top of giant nuclear-equipped walking tanks (no, really, that happens).

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It’s not all narrative, though.  I’ve always loved the gameplay, and the way the narrative and gameplay tie together. Hideo Kojima (the creator) is often criticised for lengthy cutscenes and I’d certainly agree, but the attention to detail in his work is amazing. Not only are there hundreds of hours of recorded (and completely optional) dialogue to be had with the support team in any given game, the way you interact with the world has always been deeply detailed. Examples being that the aforementioned conversations with change if your character is hiding inside a cardboard box, or wearing a crocodile hat, with characters praising or criticising the protagonists decisions accordingly. Each object usually has some level of interactivity, such as being able to shoot any bottle or interact with most things long before it became the industry norm.

I’d like to just write an entire blog on Metal Gear Solid, but I’ll move on (for now). This next one is a game I loved for everything but the story, which is practically non-existant, as is typical of the series; The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

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If you somehow haven’t heard about The Legend of Zelda, I’m not sure why you’re on a blog about games. Just in case, each game follows that little green guy (named Link) as he travels the world to save the princess Zelda. That’s not always the case – often Zelda doesn’t need saving – but it always follows Link on his Zelda-related adventures.

The games are very light on their plot and what I just described pretty much covers every game. Where they really succeed is the gameplay – the sense of adventure is great in every single entry, and each brings a change to the formula of the series. I remember when I first played this entry – Wind Waker – and I remember hardly sleeping for days.

The change that this particular game brought was that it was set in a world mostly covered by an ocean, which meant that the player primarily traveled by boat. This was a first for the series, as no other game had any form of sea travel, but it otherwise stayed true to the regular formula.

WW Boat

The other obvious difference was the art style. This is the quintessential example of a cel-shaded game, and the sense of adventure and fun it created is still unparalleled for me. I’ve never wanted to see the world as much as I did when I was playing this game the first time, and I’m not sure I ever will. Sure, some of that was probably because I was quite young when I played it, but there’s no doubt this game is a masterpiece of the genre and has been a huge influence on me. If you look through my blog, the turn-based RPG I made a few months ago was largely inspired by the feelings that WW instilled, but also the graphical style.

The last two examples I put forward are quite main stream titles that I expect most readers to be at least somewhat familiar with – this next one is possibly an exception, unless you’re quite game-savvy. The last of my top 3 influential titles is the Suikoden series, but specifically Suikoden 2.

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Suikoden 2 is a turn-based RPG for the Playstation 1, and actually received a less than stellar response initially. It’s one of those frustrating cases where it didn’t sell as well as it probably should have, but received incredibly positive criticism. Like many turn-based RPGs, the bulk of the game comprises of turn-based combat with multiple characters (6, in this case) fighting various monsters and evil empires with spells, weapons and special techniques. As far as that goes, it’s quite par the course and doesn’t offer up anything particularly exciting.

Where it really excels is in everything else – other than the regular turn-based combat, there are two other forms of combat. Firstly, there’s dueling, which happens at various stages in the plot between two major characters. Duels are essentially Scissors, Paper, Rock, but with an RPG twist. The enemy character will give you some sort of clue as to their next move and you must counter appropriately, with your character stats coming into play throughout. Whether you win or lose, the story will often continue, though you may permanently lose major characters if you lose the wrong duels.

The third form of combat is the strategic army battles, which work like traditional turn-based strategy games, such as Advance Wars or Final Fantasy Tactics.

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Each mode plays well and requires a different mindset, though the player is mostly in the traditional 6-party setup.

The game also has a fantastic narrative – unlike most JRPGs, the game doesn’t focus on stopping a great evil and saving the world. Instead, the story focuses on personal struggles and war, with no clear definition of right and wrong (though, there are exceptions). As well as that, the game includes 108 (yes, one hundred and eight) characters to recruit, almost all of which can be added to the party and be played as. Each of these characters has their own story and personality, and if they are recruited and survive until the end of the game, each character has a separate prologue.

I think I’m rambling a little, but the sheer scope and the brilliant narrative of Suikoden 2 sets it apart from most RPGs to me. If you haven’t, I’d recommend playing it to any game enthusiasts, though it may have aged for those who didn’t play it when it was released.

Finally, what I’m currently playing. As an unemployed student, I still manage to play a fair bit, because eating and paying rent is for people who don’t have time to game. That said, I can’t afford to buy full-price titles on release, so I’m mostly limited to sales. I don’t pirate games, if only because I don’t want my games to be pirated when I start to make them commercially.

I’m currently playing The Witcher 2, because each previous attempt has ended in me getting distracted, and The Witcher 3 looks pretty incredible.

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So far, I’m loving it. As someone who plays way too many games to be socially acceptable, I’ve gotten pretty good at them, so I’ve started the game on ‘Dark’ mode. This means that as a player, I have to prepare a bit before combat, rather than just running in and killing everything.

More than that, I’m enjoying the story, particularly Geralt of Rivia (the protagonist). He’s a morally grey cynical bastard, and I can’t get enough of his interactions with other characters. For those not in the know, he’d fit right in with Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, though Geralt can handle himself a lot better.

The game presents several difficult (actually difficult, not just good and evil) decisions, each with major repercussions on the plot. As a matter of fact, a fairly early decision splits the rest of the game into two distinct paths, and you’re asked to make the decision quickly without realising how important it’s going to be. When the repercussions become clear, the game does a good job of explaining how your decision led to this moment, making the player really feel the impact of what they’ve done.

All this is without mentioning the deep RPG gameplay and fun combat, but I think I’ve spoken enough about the Witcher 2.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve also been playing Bungie’s “Destiny” (one of my exceptions to the ‘no games on release’ rule). The game was released following the biggest hype train in the world, and for several people, it didn’t deliver.

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The game has famously received mediocre reviews – while I agree with a lot of the criticisms, such as a bad loot system and a lack of content for the development time and cost – I’m loving it. I’ve been playing it with friends, and it’s a blast. The raiding in particular is lots of fun, requiring real coordination and skill to succeed. It’s a bit refreshing after rolling my face on the keyboard for years of World of Warcraft and succeeding. Bungie (the developer) has promised years of content to come, and I can see myself in it for the long run, especially with the lack of a subscription fee.

I think that about sums it up. I could talk for hours on any one of these subjects, but I’m at about 2000 words now, which is probably longer than most people care to read at once. I’ll be updating the blog more frequently than I have been, though I’m not sure they’ll typically be this long. If you did make it this far – thanks for reading!

Influences outside of gaming.

This post focuses on creative works that influence me that are outside the realm of gaming – things like books and animations that have inspired me and continue to influence my work, as well as the people that created these works.

Before I get started, though, it’s important to note that the TF2 level is still in the works – it’s just had to take a back seat recently. While it’s sitting on the back burner, it is progressing slowly, it’s just that there hasn’t been enough progress to warrant an update. There will be more to come, though.

Back to my influences – I initially found it difficult to think of any outside the realm of gaming, to be completely honest. It made me realise that I should probably expand my horizons outside of this industry. I don’t read as much as I used to, but I still found that books are a major influence. Namely, three that are very similar: Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.

In the case of Lovecraft, I actually haven’t read much, but I found “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” to be incredibly compelling.

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The story focuses on a student who, despite multiple warnings, makes the terrible decision to stay overnight at the town of Innsmouth. Throughout the story, he is pursued by inhuman creatures, who are later to be revealed as half-human and half-marine creature. What I liked about the story was the initial mystery and creepiness of the town – I’m not sure I can explain exactly what it is, but there’s something I found incredibly compelling about Innsmouth. The story deals with themes of mental degradation, abstract horror and realms outside human interpretation.

When it comes to Stephen King, I actually find that more than his stories, I really like his writing style. Again, I probably won’t be able to clarify exactly what it is I like about his style, but there’s a definite level of empathy he creates, no matter how unrelatable his characters can be. It’s the way he combines what the characters sees and what they think – when you’re seeing the wold from the point of view of a particular character, the descriptions will change according to their particular bias and interpretation. It’s something I think a lot of writers miss – they write descriptions and interactions as a neutral third party (the author) rather than how the character would see it. I don’t believe this is necessarily bad writing, as I’m not exactly an expert, but the way King writes draws me in a lot more than most. I’d say this is personal preference rather than an objective improvement over other writing styles, but this empathy is the reason I like his stories so much, and is especially important for someone working in Games development.

CA: Premiere Of Paramounts' Remake Of "The Manchurian Candidate" - Arrivals

Pictured Above: Stephen King, the offspring of Ron Perlman and Bill Gates.

It’s not all books from influential horror writers, though. Some of my influences are influential horror manga, in the case of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk series (I have a wide spectrum of influences). The story focuses on a man (appropriately named Guts) who hunts demons across an alternate medieval Europe. The story is absolutely no holds barred – there are some incredibly explicit images and themes, and a total lack of subtlety. What I love about it is that it’s the ultimate revenge story. These explicit horrible moments that are scattered through the story serve to get the viewer to support the protagonist Guts, despite that the fact that he’s a really terrible kind of guy.

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It took about twenty minutes to find a slide without extreme nudity or gore., but that’s Guts pictured above. I’ll admit it isn’t the deepest story ever written, but it does attempt to raise questions about ethics, morality and pre-determination. Guts has been doomed to be sacrificed to Demons, and spends all of his time fighting against his fate (without much luck, to be honest). The series hasn’t actually finished – and the writer released about one chapter every two years – but I very much doubt it’s heading towards a happy place. What I like about it is the way it enforces empathy with the protagonist, who as mentioned previously s normally the kind of guy that you wouldn’t even want to talk about. He murders innocent people left and right (at least initially), but when compared to the villains he’s practically Ghandi. It also has great characters and more importantly, great world building.

As a massive nerd, another big influence to me has always been anime, everything from Pokemon to Ghost in the Shell. Specifically though, I found Code Geass to be incredibly. The story is set in an alternate future in which Britain never stopped conquering the world, essentially splitting the modern world into China and Britain (both of which occupy most continents). Also Europe, but it’s role is relatively minor in the plot. The story follows the bastard prince of Britain, Lelouch Lamperouge, as he attempts to grow a rebellion and fight back against Britain’s occupation of Japan (now known as Area 11).

Lelouch is gifted with the power of ‘geass’, which allows him to command anyone to do anything, but only once and only if he has direct eye contact. I found the story to be incredibly compelling, but more than anything I loved the ending. Without spoiling anything, the ending puts a massive twist on the entire series and changes how you think about certain characters, particularly Lelouch.

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There are some major spoilers for Code Geass ahead, so if you’re at all interested in watching the show, avoid the rest of this paragraph. Towards the end of Code Geass, Lelouch has become the emperor of Britain, essentially controlling most of the known world. He achieved this through the use of a secret masked persona, known as Zero. Once he’s the emperor, Lelouch rules the world brutally, with an iron fist. He’s hated unanimously, but feared so much that nobody stands against him. The twist comes in the final episode, when his best friend assassinates him dressed as Zero – I’m really glossing over it here, but essentially Lelouch sacrifices himself to unite the world under a certain set of ideals and essentially brings about world peace. What I found so compelling about this is that it’s truly an act of altruism – while many characters sacrifice their lives, few sacrifice their reputations. Lelouch is forever remembered as a terrible criminal and a tyrant, and he knows this is going to happen when he sets his plan in motion.

I’m not sure I’ve managed to express what I liked about these stories so much, but I can’t help but think back to all of these when I start a creative project, in some capacity or another. I’ll be more than happy if I can create something that invokes the same response in someone (even just one person) as any one of these did for me. I also may have rambled in sections, but I think I got the basic point across.

I’m also sure there are influences I’ve forgotten – I’ll be sure to write up another post when I remember some. Another important thing to mention is that, while these are great influences on me, most of my influences are actually from the world of gaming, which I’ll save for another post.

I’ll be updating this blog a lot more frequently this trimester, and hopefully I’ll have some more news on my Team Fortress 2 map before too much longer.

Thanks for reading!