Playing With Orphans

Playing With Orphans

Written by Baltharan on the 23rd of November 2012 at 23:49

Sometimes a moment in a game can make your day. Playing Assassin's Creed 3 I had such a moment.

Racing my way to an objective I noticed some orphans and fully intended to ignore them.

Something stopped me. Unlike previous Assassins Creed nuisances, like beggars or crazy men, they didn't get in my way.

Perplexed, I chose to perform a few tricks to see how they reacted. I leapt between ledges and wall jumped back to their feet to see how they reacted.

They whooped, cheered and expressed they're amazement. So much so that when I threw a handful of coins they completely ignored them.

Eager to please my enthralled crowd I climbed to the top of a building. From my perch I could see and hear them cheer me on. I threw more coins and this time they lapped them up.

Hopping away towards my objective one orphan looked up at me. With wide adoring eyes he said ‘we won't forget this' and my stone cold assassin heart flickered with light for just one fleeting second.

It was a rare magical moment in gaming.

Many games try to achieve such interactivity with NPC's. In Fable 2 & 3 it was a significant mechanic. In Red Dead Redemption such moments served as a nice bridge between story arcs.

Whether it was performing a jig for a crowd or saving a trading cart from bandits these games tried hard to make you feel a connection to something otherwise insignificant.

However, Assassins Creed did something I haven't seen before. The interaction was so unique, so embedded and so in the moment it felt perfectly realised. It didn't break from the world the game had thrust me into. It made it feel more real.

Assassins Creed 3 isn't the huge leap forward we had all hoped for. It's a good game but not ground breaking. What it does it does well but it never sets the bar or pushes expectations beyond anything expected.

However, in this one brief moment I experienced something unexpected. I experienced something new, something so well-crafted it gave me hope. Hope that when consoles finally get around to supporting the capabilities and desires of what developers can achieve we are in for a whole new level of realisation and emanation of reality in pixel form.

A World Without Internet

A World Without Internet

Written by Baltharan on the 27th of September 2012 at 17:25

It's possible that like me you take technology for granted. It wasn't until a recent camping holiday with friends to the pointy end of nowhere that I realised the full extent of my dependency on modern comforts. Up between cliff and ocean my phone signal was nil, and worse my internet connection was non-existent. The first couple of days in this strange and uncomfortable new dynamic were really tough, how was I supposed to check the news? How could I keep tabs on my friends without actually speaking to them? And what was I supposed to do without the internet to tell me what was worth checking out and what wasn't? I'll be honest; I was a bit all over the place. Much like a break up at first I was angry; frustrated at the end of what had always been a harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship. Then I was mournful, saddened by the loss of a good friend, finding myself wondering what they were up to without me. Finally I reached a point of acceptance, my phone signal was fractured and weak, the internet wasn't coming back anytime soon and the closest thing I had to a video game was the old and beat up House of the Dead arcade machine at the campsite reception. There was only one option left, I had to move on, had to figure out life without the technology I'd become so used to.

So what was the first step? I had to ask myself how people lived before the World Wide Web took over our day to day happenings. How was I going to find somewhere good to eat or an evening of decent entertainment? How does someone Google search the real world? I found the answer, not nearly as effortless, nor as informative as Google but entertaining none the less - Tourist Information.

For those of you unfamiliar with such places let me explain. Tourist Information is a quaint place, this one certainly was anyway, a sort of shack halfway up a hill adorned with various useless knick knacks that I was reliably told were all for sale, presumably for people with too much money and not much taste. Rather than having a search engine Tourist Information has a person, in this case a smiley little old lady. I didn't catch her name but it was probably Doris. Before I could start browsing Doris put me through a sort of initiation test whereby I was required to tell her my name, where I came from, how old I was, why I came to this part of the country and what I thought of the weather, all in all significantly less information than Apple want from me every time I update iTunes. After having successfully navigated the maze of questions and idle commentaries such as ‘It's not always raining like this' I was given permission to browse. Doris idly chit-chatted away as she pulled a variety of glossy and colourful sheets of paper from a large a shelf stacked full of them. The strange documents were relatively similar to web pages, big and varied typefaces, words punctuated by pictures and contact details should I need them. Try as I might though I couldn't for the life of me work out where the forums or user reviews were though. This meant my friends and myself had to use our own judgement about the qualities of these places and try to decipher the strange code the colourful documents used such as ‘rustic', which we quickly discovered is Tourist Information slang for ‘old and dilapidated' when we walked into our first ‘rustic' restaurant. Somehow using only the little information we had and our own judgement we were able to draw up a shortlist of things to do during the day such as go-karting, bowling, pool as well as some places to go during the evening like the local nightclub or comedy venue.

Another method we found for getting around the lack of internet was talking to people, strange though it was without a headset or keyboard we set about finding people we could talk to about our local surroundings. One such person was the most opinionated Dutch man I have ever met, he owned a pancake shop which was instantly appealing and would only take the tiniest bit of prompting to launch into a ten minute tirade about any given subject. Finding this amusing my friends and I took turns to see what topics we could get his incredibly detailed opinions on. Money, Politics, Weather, Sport, you name it we asked and he answered very thoroughly. This was good. I had found my user reviews and forums all rolled into one Dutch Pancake shop owner.

Having been given an extensively list of places to avoid we decided to eat at the only place our pancake serving guide hadn't mentioned a place that clearly wasn't created with smelly campers like us in mind, sat in a corner and waited on with an air of pomposity we dived into our meal and sipped our beers engaging in the only type of conversation we could without the internet available to tell us all that was new in the world, reminiscence. It was nice to take a stroll down memory lane, with most things we are all forward looking people and our normal discussions are about what is just around the corner or what we hope will happen in the not too distant future. I was reminded of things about my friends that I had always known but had somehow been overlooking such was the extent of our collective progressive nature, undoubtedly fuelled by internet culture where today's news is old news and everything must keep moving forward at a new and ever increasing pace.

It turned out that it wasn't a bad thing that I had lost my connection to the rest of the world, even though it was harder I'd had a lot of fun exploring my own significantly smaller world. It occurs to me now that Internet, video games and social networks are like any other good thing and that too much can lead to an unhealthy dependency and cause neglect of things that seem less important in the all encroaching glow of computer monitors and smart phone screens. Of course as soon as I could I was straight back on the internet but at least now I was a little a bit wiser and aware that a world without it wasn't the end of the world.

*The author of this blog would like to point out that he wrote this with his tongue firmly in his cheek. He is in fact slightly less socially retarded than he portrays himself in the above text.

Love in Gaming

Love in Gaming

Written by Baltharan on the 14th of September 2012 at 20:40

She took my breath away. Her amazing blue eyes, at least twice the size of anyone else's, sucked me in. Her sumptuous curves were impossible to miss, barely concealed by the skin-tight cat suit she wore. I couldn't help but marvel at her cubic expressionless face as I whispered sweet nothings into her pointy ears and combed back her impossibly spiked hair. I LOL'd at her jokes, she ROFL'd at mine. Undoubtedly this was love. If only she wasn't a World of Warcraft creation.

Love stinks! Take it from me, a lonely bachelor. Typically all the passion and excitement is exhausted in the first couple of months, the lofty and admirable plans of both parties never come to fruition and the most exciting new thing is that new cinema release that you don't really want to see anyway. Is it any surprise then that more and more gamers are finding love in the virtual world? I don't mean dating sites like match.com where the rules are the same only the format is different. I mean an entirely new kind of relationship where loyalty is more about standing side-by-side against an army of enemies than about not looking when someone attractive walks past you in the street. The type of dating where a typical evening is spent raiding dungeons rather than deciding whether to watch the Apprentice or How I Met Your Mother.

Most gamers don't have any objection to people finding love in online games, but is it smart? How much is love for the person and how much is love for the game? Is it the game you look forward to seeing or your partner? Games are designed to entice us, to draw us in and make it feel that the virtual world matters. The virtual meeting pace is already filled with enough excitement and wonder to keep us joyfully coming back for more, could it be possible what people are mistaking for love is actually excellent game design? Are people are falling for the game rather than the person? Dr Clay Routledge argues that games can have varying affects on people's personalities. In his article he refers to research that suggest test subjects became friendlier and more helpful after playing certain games. Could it be that performing actions in a game affects our perceptions of real life situations?

One couple that I'm sure would argue the contrary is Jim and Erica Plowman. They met in a Gears of War death match and repeatedly murdering each other seemed to be what sparked that love story. Surely the grim and gruesome world of Gears didn't have any influence on their feelings for each other. However consider the thrill of falling for somebody in real life, the excitement, the highs and lows, the predatory instinct, the overwhelming desire to prove yourself and showcase your skills again and again. All these things are emulated in Gears of War and its not difficult to see how in the human brain, millions of years older than the gaming medium, could mistake the enjoyment of playing a game for the feelings of falling in love.

I can see some definite advantages to developing a relationship through Gears of War. In real life how often do you get a heated and passionate exchange of weapons where sparks fly as readily as bullets? Where man and woman meet on an eternal battlefield and find something within each other that shines through the bleakness. Where every time your partner annoys you can blow their brains out or chop their head off safe in the knowledge that no matter how many times you kill them they will return completely unharmed in just a few seconds.

Astonishingly some gamers have even built relationships in games where the focus is less about killing each other and more about killing mythological creatures. Paul Turner and Vicky Teathe met online playing Final Fantasy XI and struck up an unlikely relationship as Andurus and Branwen, a human warrior and a tiny elf like mage. Asked about how the relationship developed Vicky described how Paul being willing to sacrifice his avatar to save hers had attracted her and had created an incredible bond between them.

I think I speak for the majority of men when I say that we know saving a girls life is a pretty effective way to make her fall for us but despite braving the nightclub dance floor more times than I care to remember I am yet to encounter any hungry monsters attacking a beautiful damsel and haven't had the chance demonstrate my selfless heroism. Unlike reality a game world allows the player to express parts of their personality that they might never express otherwise. It's possibly the only situation where anybody can be whoever want to, they can look how they want, speak how they want and behave how they want. It's the type of freedom only achieved in real life through significant investment in plastic surgery and mind-bending narcotics. I can't help but wonder if Paul would have been as heroic if he didn't know resurrection was just moments away from any fatal encounter.

But let's not get carried away in imagining a future where meeting the love of your life while playing your favourite game is the norm. Let's consider the potential victims of this new type of relationship. Both Paul Turner and Vicky Teathe left existing relationships after meeting in game and a quick google search will reveal numerous stories of relationships ruined by people pursuing extramarital activities through their game consoles. The attraction for people looking to stray is obvious, a virtually anonymous meeting place, largely cut off from day-to-day life but easily accessible at any time. If we are to embrace this cultural shift in meeting new people we need to be careful it doesn't develop into a seedy, sinister and deceitful community. After all in online gaming anyone can be whoever they want to be and that level of anonymity can lead to some very undesirable consequences.