Archive for January, 2014

The times, they are a changing.

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Gaming
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The above line, taken from a Bob Dylan song, is rather apt as we are about to revisit the late seventies. It was during this period that I was first introduced to home gaming. Before this I had only played video games in arcades during family holidays with Sega’s Killer Shark, a rear projected and very basic shooter, being my favourite.

During a family visit my Uncle showed us his latest acquisition. Looking like an electro-shock therapy machine the item in the photograph at the start of this post is actually one of the first home consoles.The Binatone had 6 built in games. Four versions of pong and two shooters and I loved it. Despite my pleading though it was several years before my father relented and came home one day with a ZX Spectrum. Technically my first PC, I spent hours typing in lines and lines of code, meticulously copied from enthusiast magazines, to create my own space invaders games. Once the plug was pulled and the game was lost. The spectrum also introduced me to the darker side of our hobby, piracy. Video rental was becoming a thing and, spotting a gap in the market, our local store was quick to offer Spectrum game rental for the princely sum of £1. Of course Spectrum games were based on audio cassettes and nearly everyone I knew had tape to tape recording in their stereos.

Pretty soon the cassettes were doing the rounds in the school playground. I had found my first sub-culture!

After the Spectrum I moved on. First came a Dragon 32 and then a massive leap to an Amiga 500. Games had moved on so far from the humble Pong. Games like Dune and The Secret of Monkey Island were cutting edge and kept my entertained for hours. I had also toyed with a Sega Master System and Megadrive but, and I know this is heresy, I can’t stand platformers. The cutesy graphics of Mario and Sonic just didn’t fire me up in the way a good point and click or action game like Golden Axe did.

And then my first child arrived. Gaming was put on hold for a few years. As my son was getting older I purchased a Sega Saturn for him to play. Games like Sega rally held his interest for hours.    Eventually a neighbour, spying my aging Amiga offered to build me a PC. A lowly 486 but it ran Wing Commander III, and Discworld the game. Pretty soon I had been swept in to the nuclear arms race of PC gaming. Upgrades so I could play Medal of Honor: Allied Assult and F22 Raptor were almost constant. It was around this time that my daughter joined the family and wild expenditure of PC frills had to stop.

Again a few years passed until the dawn of the Wii, a fun, family console that allowed for true co-operative play. I didn’t play much on it to be honest.  As previously stated the games didn’t strike a chord with me.  But then, whilst absconding to Game while my wife did the shopping I found it, the game that dragged me back. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare reflex edition. I picked it up, took it home and I never looked back.

I had always had happy memories of playing Medal of Honor all those years ago and this game was so much more.  I couldn’t wait to get to work and share what I had found. Of course I was so far behind the curve. My work mate said, “ahh yes but of course you realise that isn’t the proper game?” What could he mean? Not the proper game! It was a shooter. Yes I was using motion controls but what could be different?

I stood my ground until Treyarch released Call of Duty Black Ops. I also bought this on Wii but the doubts were placed. There could be no other choice. I had to get an Xbox 360 and I realised then what I had been missing. There were missing levels, improved graphics and better mechanics. Using the controller was a joy.

Since getting the 360 I have had my eyes opened to a whole new world. That sub-culture that I found back in the eighties is thriving. Podcasts, forums, bloggers, gaming is a lifestyle choice with as much credibility now as any other. Huge, big money, tournaments are held as often as the big sporting events and draw an equally big crowd. I now am the proud owner of a PlayStation 3, Vita and a mid-spec gaming PC and am spoilt for choice for games to play. I have tired of the first person shooter that drew me back but that’s ok. Gaming now has stories. While not quite up there with the best Hollywood has to offer it’s easy to see that that’s where we are heading. Games are now events? Don’t agree? I refer you to the latest generation console launches. Microsoft sold 2 million consoles from launch till the end of December while Sony sold 4.2. That’s 6.2 million consoles shipped to customers in a little over a month. Steam, the PC based gaming store, had 7.5 million consecutive users over the Christmas holiday. Even if we assume that some people have access to all three platforms that is still millions of people enjoying gaming. With services like playstation + and Xbox live gaming has never been more social. No longer the image of the spotty teen hiding in their bedroom, afraid to face the world, gaming is, well, hip.

It is hard to predict where gaming will be when my children reach my age. So much has changed since the late seventies that I can barely believe it despite living through it. All I know is I will be there for as long as I can.

Gamer till I die.

The best thing about Aliens: Colonial Marines.

The best thing about Aliens: Colonial Marines.

I love Alien. I mean I really love Alien.

I remember walking past our local Odeon cinema back in 1979 (I was 10) and seeing that greenish looking egg on a black back ground and reading the immortal tag line “In space, no one can hear you scream” and being mesmerised. As soon as I possibly could I watched Ridley Scott’s imagining of a haunted house in space and loved it.

7 years passed until James Cameron returned us to the world of Ellen Ripley vs the Xenomorphs with an action twist. Another fantastic movie and, for many, the peak of the franchise which cast Ripley in the role of unwilling advisor to a bunch of gung-ho, over confident marines.

However, from that point on, with two lacklustre sequels (and an eventual cash-cowing of the franchise by melding it with Predator for two more lacklustre outings) and the inevitable games, all I have wanted to do is scream.

2013 arrived and I was full of hope. Ridley Scott was back at the helm and a (sort of but not quite) Alien prequel was slated for release. Not only this but Gearbox Software, creators of the amazingly good Borderlands franchise, were bringing us, what was billed as, a true sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens. It was to feature locations from the film along with the vocal talents of some of the original cast. I couldn’t have been happier. all my Christmasses come at once. The ten year old, gazing longingly at that poster, could never have been more excited than I was at the start of that year.

Oh dear. Whilst I was one of the few that didn’t hate Prometheus, it certainly didn’t live up to the hopes I had. The long, drawn out saga of Aliens: Colonial Marines is documented else where. Developers quickly passing the buck like the proverbial hot potato. It was, and after numerous patches still is, a turd. Not even a well polished one at that. The A.I. is laughable, the graphics wouldn’t trouble a PS2 never mind a top end P.C. I have seen Xenos dancing a jig, walking through walls, even dying and floating in mid air. This, by no stretch of the imagination, is not a good game.

So, here we are. a whole new year ahead of us. The first trade show of the year was the chance for Sega to introduce us to the next stage in the Alien franchise that so many, myself included, thought was now deader than a marine exploded by an exiting chest burster. Alien: Isolation by Creative Assembly, The team behind the R.T.S. Total War series, will see us in the space boots of Amanda, Ellen Ripley’s daughter as she goes in search of her missing parent. Promising to return us to the classic survival horror of the first movie, the team are focused on a single Alien Nemesis. This, they say, will show the intelligence that the previous games xenomorphs have been lacking. There will be no weapons, except those you craft yourself, and the Alien will be all but indestructible. Interesting if they can actually pull it off. Stealthing around a nine foot tall ball of death and destruction could be amazing for a few hours but can it carry a whole game?

After last year’s disappointments, I swore I was done. no more would I be laying down my hard earned cash just because there was a new Alien something. My first reaction when the news broke was please just let it float off in to space much the way Ripley did at the finale to Alien. Just like a misguided Scully though, I want to believe! Will this finally be the game they promise? will it give me the sense of terror that must have ran through Ripley’s very soul?

I will let you know because, you guessed it, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in and I will be first in the queue.

Will I never learn?