Monday, 17 September 2018

Goodbye Forces of Geek! - A 7 Year Gaming Retrospective

This one's a biggie. In both word count and importance. I decided to leave Forces of Geek to work on other projects and freelance sites. Buckle up, this over 2000 words. Originally published on Forces Of Geek on September 7th 2018. 


I’ve written for Forces of Geek now for just over 7 years but sadly, the time has come to fly the nest. Thank you to everyone who has read my work over the years, I’ll be back to write the occasional piece but until then I thought this would be a great opportunity to write a retrospect chronicling my favourite games of those aforementioned years.

2011

There were three games that stood out to me back in 2011, the first of the bunch was L.A. Noire. As a fan of schlocky, noir films like Gilda and Double Indemnity I was excited for this games release and Rockstar did not disappoint me. The motion capture was a definite highlight in this game, I had recently seen Aaron Staton in Mad Men and Ray Donovan so to see him as the protagonist in L.A.Noire, looking exactly like himself blew me away. 

The technology was incredible and being able to interrogate the characters by interpreting their facial movements and body language made me feel like a real detective. Not only that, but the writing was detailed and borrowed from the entire film noir canon, I especially adored the nods to The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential. 

In 2011 I also enjoyed playing Portal 2, so much so in fact that my husband and I decided to acquire the NECA figurines of Atlas and P-Body to use as wedding cake toppers three years later. For us, the symbolism was that if you could play Portal 2 on co-op mode with your other half then you could make it through anything that life throws at you. Portal 2 embodied everything I love about multiplayer co-op gaming; the team work and patience, the cursing under your breath and the exasperation. 

Atlas and P-Body - my wedding cake toppers!
The third game that drew me in that year was Alice: Madness Returns, a game I love so much that I have since made myself a costume from scratch and cosplayed at conventions as Alice herself. I really enjoyed the creepy imagery and dark, visceral storyline that plays out (that’ll be the inner goth in me that I let out on occasion).

2012

The year of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, a year that I as a Londoner couldn’t escape, so naturally I delved into the world of video games to try my best to ignore all of the sport and activity.Two of the games that come to mind were sequels in their respective series’, both number threes that begin with ‘M’ weirdly; Max Payne 3 and Mass Effect 3. 

Now I am one the defenders of the original ME3 ending, for me, it ended the only way I felt it could regardless of the choices I made in the game. However, if I’m perfectly honest, the best thing about this game was rebuilding my tattered relationship with Kaidan after getting it on with Garrus in the previous game (what was I to do? I thought Kaidan hated me so I moved on…a girl has needs and Garrus is great at calibrating)!

Max Payne 3 was a really well-rounded game with an excellent soundtrack from HEALTH and it genuinely surprised me  because I found myself spending an awful lot of time in the multiplayer mode which somehow, I was good at. Admittedly, this was probably the real reason I was enjoying the multiplayer mode so much but I enjoy good ego massage from time to time! 

Despite it’s winning soundtrack (seriously, check it out on Spotify) Max Payne 3 wasn’t my favourite game of the year. The game that received that accolade and that I instantly fell in love with was a brand new game, an original IP at a time when everything out there was just another sequel, Dishonored. Now this game absolutely captivated me, I loved the story, the world, the game mechanics that changed depending on how you played and the supernatural, steampunk feel of the whole series. 

2013

This was the year of Grand Theft Auto V and I had an absolute blast playing this alongside my friends online. Within the single player story, I very much enjoyed switching between three main characters and I appreciated the stripped down social aspect that the last game had pushed so heavily (I hated having to go bowling with cousin Roman, forced socialising irritates me in real life, let alone in games). The game as of writing is currently ranked number two in the July software charts, helped by the recently released GTA V: Premium Online Version back in April this year.

Another game that stood out in 2013 was BioShock Infinite, the finale in the BioShock series. I’ve long been a fan of this series and Infinite turned out to be my favourite, mostly because it answered questions from the previous games and I really enjoyed the character of Elizabeth and the airborne cities. It added to the previous underwater setting of Rapture with huge, sprawling cities in the sky and as such felt like a fresh take on an already excellent series.
  
2014

When Destiny was originally released in 2014, I was a regular player and spent countless hours grinding on it with my friends. I always like to support Bungie because the early games in the Halo series mean a lot to me, having played them obsessively during my formative years. So, naturally I got behind Destiny at launch and was fortunate enough to have some friends to play alongside regularly which made it all the more satisfying.

Good times...

Another Dimension

I wrote this for Forces of Geek in May or June I think but I've been a bit behind in updating my blog and can only apologise. I blame a hectic family month and too much paid freelance work though for the latter, I am certainly not complaining! I hope you enjoy it!


Every existing art form is subjective and is the result of a variety of perspectives. Whether you consider them art or not, video games rely heavily on one specific kind of perspective, namely their dimension. Don’t worry I’m not about to get all super string theory on you, I’m sure an alternate version of myself is doing exactly that in another universe. Nor am I concerned with measurements or their mathematical bases, after all I’m no architect or mathematician (except in one of those infinite universes where I am, of course). 

What I mean by dimension in the case of video games is the physical space in which gameplay takes place, the environment and the camera angle. Lines, planes and cubes form the basis of these various dimensions but I’d really rather not discuss physics, vectors or geometry at great length, so let’s ground them in gaming terminology.

Wherever you are sitting as the player, the camera placement is key. Is it fixed or moving? Does it shift or change? A video game’s relation to movement and the space that gamers occupy mean that these dimensions can be broken down even further into directions that we can move. 


There’s up/down, left/right and forward/backward. It used to be the case that a game was either one of these. Whereas now, games utilise all three of these directions. This began when gamers were afforded the ability to control camera movements and the POV of protagonists. This is when analogue sticks became a permanent feature on games controllers. No longer could you just move from one side of the screen to the other or simply move forward, now you could look around you, move your perspective and explore more than a 2D matte background. 

For example in Final Fantasy VII, during the opening scene, a train arrives in the station and the characters leap off and quickly take care of some soldiers. This transitions from CGI cut-scene to a static rendered background with 3D model characters running through the image. At the time this was all very seamless and you felt part of the action but it’s quite apparent that the quality of the image and detail between the world and the people in it, is massively different to how it felt back then.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The earliest forms of painting and art were 2D, so it’s no surprise that early video games followed that same pattern until they too developed. As someone who enjoys both art history and games, I like to think of The Bayeux Tapestry as an early form of non-interactive side scroller. 



Tim + Alex + Friends (Including Me) Kill The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Avengers Assemble!

I was asked by Tim+Alex to submit a piece for their site about my favourite scene or moment from Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as part of a retrospective and I gladly obliged! You can check out their site and follow them both on Twitter should you so wish to follow their great content (and you should), I'll include the links below. Without further ado, here's the piece I wrote which was first published on their site on July 26th 2018:


"For me, there’s a single film in Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that sets the overall tone for the comedy in the entire franchise. Sure, Iron Man has plenty of sardonic quips but before Kenneth Branagh’s Thor came along, humour wasn’t something I associated with the MCU.

As much as I enjoy a good action scene or a well drawn out character arc, ever since the release of Thor in 2011, I’ve found the one facet of Marvels behemoth of a film-verse that outshines all other elements and resonates with me most is its humour.  

Thor’s anachronistic, verbose Asgardian language coupled with his inability to fully grasp or understand the social graces and behaviours of the modern day time period make for some comedy gold. Unlike Cap, who is rather like a bemused grandfather who doesn’t understand kids today with their new fangled gadgets, Thor’s complete lack of awareness struck a comedic cord that I’ve craved upon every new Marvel release.  

It’s hard to pick my favourite scene or moment because so much of this film made me howl with laughter, from the pet shop scene where Thor asks for a cat or dog the size of a horse to ride to the scene where Thor is sedated mid-sentence “You are no match for the mighty Th…” all of these moments along with Thor’s culture shock make for some excellent and improbable screwball comedy.

However, the scene that solidified my love of humour in the MCU was the diner scene. Thor is ravenously eating and drinking after arriving on Earth/Midgard, he downs a whole cup of coffee then exclaims, “This drink, I like it” to which Darcy barely has time to respond “Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it? Isabela makes the best coffee in town” before Thor throws his mug to ground and shatters it. Only to call out majestically “Another!”, the transition from pure slapstick to Chris Hemsworth’s sincere but stoic expression never fails to make me laugh. 

I remember being quite taken aback, despite reading comics for many years and knowing that comedy does indeed exist in them, I hadn’t yet experienced that same level of jocularity in the MCU. It felt like a rarity to be watching a Blockbuster fantasy movie that had action, drama and comedy in it. 

Thor’s character has developed immensely throughout the franchise and his comedy moments have continued to dominate my favourite scenes, Hemsworth is so damn charming and funny that Marvel Studios utilised this going forward and in Thor: Ragnarok, it shows".  


So, there you have it. My favourite moment of Phase 1. What I found interesting is that two other contributors chose the same scene or film. Does this mean I'm boring? Maybe. But does it also give my opinion validity? Damn right it does! 

I'd love to know other people's thoughts on this, let me know in the comment section what your favourite moment is.

In the meantime, follow Tim Maytom and Alex Spencer on Twitter and check out their website, Tim+Alex here.

Monday, 6 August 2018

9 Unpopular Gaming Opinions

Written for and published by Forces of Geek July 2018


The internet lives and breathes opinions, they’re practically oxygen. Whether earnest or trolled, opinions are emotive in a way that facts just aren’t and humans are emotional beings. That's why it’s becoming harder to review and critique games. 

Few games journalists (or any journalists for that matter) are able to put aside their biases and review a game solely on its merits and flaws. Not because they lack the ability to do so or are bad writers, but because unbiased, factual writing is considered boring by most. Of course they could stand by their work and retain their integrity (and I believe they should) but I also can’t deny that integrity cannot pay their bills or feed them in the way a bit of hyperbole can.

As reading habits change and the onslaught of information and content vying for our attention exponentially increases, only the more sensationalised or emotive content being produced is being seen. We’re in an age where clickbait is more important to news sites than factual content. Because facts are dull and often logical and hyperbole and gossip are far more appealing, no matter how illogical they seem.

Not surprisingly, the more illogical a tagline is, the more people will click on it. Even those who are only looking because they are questioning its validity are still adding to the overall views or providing ad revenue without realising. Thus, the cycle continues because many editors will only accept writing that increases profits or views. 

Of course, I’m not saying we’re all slaves to our online lives because we’re all evolved human beings here, right? We all know that one person’s opinion is simply that, their opinion…RIGHT?! Yet, the animalistic, territorial, knee-jerk reaction in us forces out an emotional response to most things and depending on our own opinions, a slew of insults or indignation erupts like a geyser, spewing out online. 

So today, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and stoke that fire by listing a handful of really unpopular gaming opinions that I’ve seen on social media in recent years (some of which are secretly mine so good luck trying to guess).

1. Final Fantasy VIII is better than Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VIII improved upon VII in all aspects and it had the guts to reimagine and break apart the mechanics of its predecessor. Just one example of many, instead of powering up spells through levelling up, you now steal them from enemies and you craft your own weapons. 

FFVIII even upped the sci-fi elements, including cool futuristic settings like Esthar City, time travel, space kissing and it includes a main character with a sword gun! I applaud FFVIII for breaking away so dramatically.

To re-invent a game in a franchise is a generally a good thing, otherwise the games in that franchise become carbon copies of themselves. Also, Final Fantasy VII is over-hyped anyway.

2. The Last of Us is mediocre at best

Yeah, you heard me. TLOU is mediocre. Its gameplay is repetitive and the story is pretty much a glorified The Walking Dead TV episode in which very little happens. There’s so much praise regarding the story and while it’s not bad, it’s just okay so I really don’t understand all the awards it won.

I enjoy stealth elements in games but even the stealth in this game is boring, you throw the same conveniently placed items to distract enemies and take them down with ease, there’s no danger or skill involved. Oh, and Ellie can’t swim huh? Cool, you can use a pallet for her to float on. Fortunately, there are always pallets floating around whenever Joel and Ellie need to cross water. 

None of the enemies in this game (Clickers included) are even remotely scary or hard to deal with. Side characters and enemies (except Clickers this time) are forgettable and personally, I think Joel and Ellie are both extremely dull characters and their connection is unbelievable.  

3. The original Mass Effect 3 ending was perfectly fine

Even before the patch, that ending made perfect sense to me. It didn’t undercut players previous choices like people claimed it did. Those decisions still mattered throughout the game. Just like in life, we have choices throughout but we don’t get to decide when and how it ends. 

It perfectly encapsulated the human experience and is incredibly philosophical. For me, it couldn’t have ended any other way.  Also, the game writers own their stories, fans don’t get to take ownership of something. If you can do better, why aren’t you a games writer?

4. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is wildly overrated

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Are Video Games Just Modern Day Page Turners?

Written for and originally published by Forces of Geek June 2018

Life is forever getting in the way of important things - like gaming. Whether it’s your job or spending quality time with your loved ones, there are always other commitments that detract from gaming. I would argue that life has always been this been this way as long before commuters were playing games and watching TV shows with their faces glued to mobile devices, the Victorians had a similar phenomena and had a hard time putting down books. 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_Edward_Perugini_ak1.jpg
Back then a combination of cheaper labour and production cost meant books were more widely available and with literacy improving due to public libraries and schooling this meant that reading was no longer for the rich or educated. Technological advances in the latter part of the 19th century were also to blame, as gas and electric lighting became more accessible allowing people to continue to read long into the night without the mess of gas lamps or the dimness of candles. 

No longer an idle pursuit or time wasting leisure, books were everywhere and reading was heralded by many in the pursuit of education, advancement and cultural progression. Though, much like todays video games, reading was also reviled by many people. These critics felt that too much reading would corrupt the lower and middling classes, giving them ideas to act out against government or maybe even copy the fictional crimes they were reading about. Sound familiar? 

Over the course of my life, I’ve seen countless attempts to decry video games in a similar vein. “Video games cause violence”, “Video games are bad for peoples health”, “Video games are for kids, grow up” “Stop sitting so close to the TV”, “Go outside and play”, “Do something more worthwhile with your time” - all of these phrases and many more add to the ill-informed view that gaming is either negative or a waste of time. Even now, when gaming dominates the entertainment industry.  

More often than not, Victorian women were often criticised for losing themselves in books, criticised for living in fantasy worlds of make believe rather than their real, duty bound, tangible lives. Although this reasoning came from a patriarchal need to keep women in their place (the kitchen/bedroom) but the same criticism can be applied today for video games as many gamers are often berated for spending too much time playing games or enjoying their fictional game worlds.   

In a game, you can discover who you are by becoming anyone and honing skills you never thought you had or even needed. Of course, that is not to say that critics are completely wrong as there are cases where you can become obsessive, lose who you are or even find yourself enamoured with a fictional game world. Gaming addiction is a real thing problem that needs to be addressed, one needs only to look at the potentially dangerous addiction of Starcraft fans, especially in South Korea, many of whom will play without eating for days! See also the hundreds of reddit posts from fans trying to quit. 

Monday, 9 July 2018

What Sonic The Hedgehog Taught Me

Written for and published by Forces of Geek June 2018


When I was a young girl I was enrolled as a foot soldier in the notorious Nintendo-Sega Wars. I had no choice but to pick a side because neutrality and pacifism were not options on the mean school playgrounds of 1990s Britain. 


I had been exposed to both Nintendo and Sega, as well as other games consoles but one of the first games I ever completed (not to mention I was good at) was Sonic The Hedgehog (1 and 2) so naturally, I fell into the Sega camp. 

Despite the warring factions and name calling that occurred, I never faltered because Sonic The Hedgehog taught me many things. I want to share those life lessons with you:

1. Hedgehogs are cool

Hedgehogs, simultaneously cool and cute ^.^

Don’t believe me? Well, here come the facts: A hedgehog can run over six feet per second, or 9.5km/h which is damn impressive for a mammal of its size. 

In the UK, we have very few poisonous animals, one of which is the adder but hedgehogs are so badass that they’re not even affected by the venom. 

They also eat bugs, slugs, chilli dogs and other nasties that like to ruin crops and damage gardens so essentially, they’re helping us to live our very best lives. 

Shakespeare even referenced hedgehogs in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest (that’s one for all you literary nerds…like me). 

One last fact, baby hedgehogs are called hoglets and if you don’t think that’s both cute and insanely cool then are you even human? 

2. This is an echidna:

Image: Wikipedia Commons
That is all.

3. Exercise is important

Regular exercise is a necessary requirement for good health, Sonic knows this and so should you. It’s also especially important to get some really decent sneakers, trainers or runners. What you call them is up to you but if your treads don’t cut it, they will slow you down. Good running shoes are an investment, look at Sonic’s…they’ve lasted for over 25 years. 

Image Credit: Bakaotaku (Flickr)

4. Be nice to animals

Now, you don’t have to go all vegetarian or vegan on me but treating animals with respect is a key lesson in the Sonic games, whether your two-tailed best friend or small, simple woodland creatures that have been kidnapped by Dr Robotnik, be nice to them all (even if your best friend does slow you down sometimes). 

Don’t be like Robotnik, experimenting on animals is cruel and these games are the reason I began my teenage years experimenting with makeup and hair products that weren’t tested on animals.  

5. The sea is evil

Underwater levels in all games, not just Sonic games taught me that the sea is pure evil. Many dangerous enemies lurk below the depths and as mammals we’re not meant to exist unless we’re above sea level because…well…oxygen. 

Sonic taught me this all too well, so next time you’re underwater and hear *that* music…get out before it’s too late. Or learn from Sonic’s failings and learn how to swim, it’s an important life skill after all. 

A Long Time Ago On A Console Far, Far Away

Originally written for Forces of Geek May 2018





There have been more Star Wars games than you can shake a stick at (a stick that may glow and go “whom, whom" when you wave it around) over the last few decades. Everyone knows that George Lucas made most of his millions through the toys on the first movie but the late seventies was also a time when video gaming started to become a big thing and the wish fulfilment of being able to play one of your favourite characters or even just explore the star wars universe was now a reality - a jagged blocky reality, but a promising one nevertheless.

There are countless Star Wars titles covering many genres over the decades that range from legendarily good (Knights Of The Old Republic) to laughably bad (Han Solo dancing in the Bespin carbon-freezing chamber in Star Wars Kinect). After the launch of various Lego/film tie-in games Disney acquired LucasFilm (and therefore LucasArts).

LucasArts have made great Star Wars titles but more than that they have made some spectacular games outside of the popular franchise: The Secret Of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Day of The Tentacle to name a few. And once they hit their stride they were the market leaders in good Star Wars games, you only need to look at their back catalogue to see that they’ve created over sixty individual titles in the franchise. Arguably, their best in the series was when they teamed up with Bioware to make Knights Of The Old Republic - without that game being as huge as it was, we wouldn't have games like Mass Effect and its successors. 

But I digress; LucasArts to me, has always been a cool company that comes from a great independent place however, that all changed in 2012 when Disney bought out LucasFilm (because Disney feel the need to own everything) and then proceeded to lay off LucasArts employees, out sourcing to other companies. LucasArts continued to function as a video game licensor with fewer than ten employees. In the process multiple future in-development projects were cancelled. And what have we had since then? 

While the cinematic universe and board game scene have been getting stellar releases that have been genuinely mammoth successes, the biggest video game titles we've had in the franchise are the Battlefront reboot series. 

I wasn’t sure at first how this reboot would differ or if it was entirely necessary so I played the beta alongside my husband and a couple of friends. The first positive was that I could play split screen with my husband, something that we have little option to do anymore in most AAA titles. I also felt that the multiplayer was incredibly fun and it felt as though I was part of the universe in the same way that I really feel like Batman in the Arkham Asylum games. The lack of campaign was the most noticeable issue for me, that and the game is quite limited. I mean, there’s only so many times you can play the same levels.