Monthly Archives: October 2013

The problem with GTA Online – and a pact to the PS4

Let’s start off with a simple fact here; Grand Theft Auto 5 is awesome. A vast world that’s living and breathing, and ready for you to jump into and mess around as you see fit. With that simple but brilliant formula in mind, it would make sense that Grand Theft Auto Online would take this idea and crank the fun meter to maximum – After all, things can only get better when you throw a bunch of other players into the mix, right? Well, as it turns out, that’s actually wrong.

Weirdly, the main reason for this lack of fun doesn’t come down to the game itself. It’s a bit poorly designed and the connectivity issues in the first few weeks are pretty much well known to everyone who tried to play it, but it’s still pretty entertaining. Nope, the main thing that cripples the game is the players themselves, evidenced when you merely look at any forum and read about people’s experiences. You see, the second you ride up to pretty much anyone in the hope of teaming up for fun, 99% of the time they’re going to shoot you dead. Never mind whether you have anything worthwhile, whether you’re unarmed, or anything else in between, chances are you’re going to end up with a bullet between your eyes – and that instantly and crushingly limits what you can do.

GTA crew

Screenshot is misleading. No-one is dead in this image. (Source; Nerdist.com)

I’ll admit there is some strange fun in warily edging up to someone and them doing the same, wondering who will be the first to fire a shot, but whatever the conclusion of this dance of death is, it doesn’t leave much satisfaction gameplay wise… Either you’re dead as per usual, or you will pass each other by, because it’s not worth trusting anyone with anything anyway. Even if you strike the one in a million shot and find someone who’s willing to put up with your presence for more than ten seconds, they’re probably not wearing a microphone anyway… And let’s be honest, even if they were, it’s hard to strike up a rapport with a total stranger as you work out fun stuff to do. And that’s not counting the fact people will place bounties on you, hunt you down, send muggers on you and so on – the list of ways for people to be jerks is endless.

The end result for me and many others, therefore, was a game trying to invoke a social experience turning out to be the more anti-social experience of them all. With the main highlight of multiplayer corrupted everything else limps behind – I tend to do missions on my own because other players tend to slow you down or simply do not co-operate. Races, likewise, see everyone shunt each other all over the place even when it’s stupid to do so. Only deathmatch modes survive with no harm as they encourage the killing, but they’re not the most exciting things either. In the end I abandoned any hope of a long lasting enjoyable experience, and wnet back to single player with my head hung low.

And then I played online with friends.

And goodness gracious me – does the whole thing transform into a thing of beauty. For about six straight hours me and two buddies just laughed constantly, effortlessly finding ourselves in weird situations and often dying in them in increasingly more hilarious manners. Suddenly, GTA Online went from being a soulless boring mess into the greatest fun I’ve had in multiplayer in a long time, all with only the addition of two friends. We stole fire trucks and fought the police, threw ourselves out of choppers in an effort to try and obtain the most satistfying crunch on the concrete below, and more besides… The transformation in how the game was played was immense, and though it is such a cliché line to say, it’s a night I won’t forget in a long time.

Finding more to Multiplayer

So you may be thinking “It’s more fun with friends, duh, what else is new.” – but it made me come to a realisation. You see, I’ve always been a bit more of a lone gamer. I’ve never been the one to go over to a friend’s house just to play games all day, and always play the role of the lone sneaky gunman when it comes to pretty much every multiplayer game that allows it. It’s all fun and entertaining, naturally, and it’s not like I’m complaining that I didn’t have people to play games with… But none of that really sticks in the mind or made me laugh as much as those few hours on GTA online. Then, when I came to think of it even more, I realised a lot of my strongest gaming memories came with playing with others – grabbing a multi-tap and playing WWF SMackdown 2 with three other all New Year’s Eve many years ago…. Desperately trying to record an awesome goal from Pro Evolution Soccer me and a friend got purely by chance… All stuff like that, that just makes me smile and think games are truly awesome.

So, with the Playstation 4 heading my way it’s release date in a mere couple of weeks, I thought it would be interesting to make a pact with myself, and hopefully have as much fun with the next generation of cnsoles as possible. The pact itself is simple;

I endeavour to play more games with friends or good online communities, and get more out of multiplayer than I have done in the past.

This isn’t a horribly serious pact, of course. In no way am I taking a blood oath and killing myself if I don’t keep to it, because after all, I do love being the sneaky lone gunman a lot of the time. It’s just an idea, a little experiment that will hopefully stir up as much entertainment as I have had recently. Perhaps my best efforts won’t even work – I presume the amount of times I get called a faggot will increase exponentially, at least. But who knows? Maybe great things will happen and I get sucked into an online community, having more fun with games than ever before…

I’ll keep the blog updated with how it goes, anyway. And you’re always welcome to come and join me…

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How to screw yourself over on a gameshow

Human stupidity has no boundaries. It’s a simple fact of life, proven by doing such mundane things as finding a video on Youtube, and scrolling down to the comments section below. The curse is even endemic in gameshows, where you would think the allure of prizes or not looking like a fool in front of millions of people would be enough to make people think twice before behaving in an extremely dim manner. But, if anything, gameshows only seem to quantify the issue to stunning levels. How is this the case? Well, let’s take a look at some examples of foolishness in motion…

“I’m going to gamble”

Example show; Bullseye, The Chase

Let’s start with a scenario; you’ve beaten off all the stiff competition and performed admirably when it came to every task that’s been put in front of you. Yet now you’re faced with a decision to make – risk it all for the small chance of winning something big, or just play it safe and take home what you’ve got? Both are alluring, but the weird thing is many people seem to choose the first option even when it makes no logical sense to do so. They’ve either amassed a huge cash pile already, which would be foolhardy to put at risk, or the end task is so barbarically complex it’s not even worth attempting, but still people blindly rush into it anyway. It’s the greed factor in play, and while happy endings do happen, you far too often see crestfallen faces as the credits roll, as they watch that stack of prizes crumble rapidly away from them.

A good example case here comes from Bullseye – granted, the prizes teams would gamble did not even come close to verging on the spectacular (one episode even offered up a TV with a wired remote control), but the brutal bonus game should have been enough to scare most players off – score 101 points with six darts, with three of them thrown by the question asker, who generally had very little chance of hitting a barn door. Even if players did manage to pull it off, you had to wonder if any of them had any use for the classic grand prize that was the speedboat. Granted, more and more players got savvy and ran off with the winnings as the show progressed, but it’s still a prime example of how gambling is not always good.

I HAVE NO USE FOR YOU (Source; UKgameshows.com)

I HAVE NO USE FOR YOU (Source; UKgameshows.com)

“I just know I’m going to win”

Example show; Deal or No Deal

There’s nothing wrong with having faith in something, I think we’d all agree. It’s just that having faith in a random item holding all the cash prizes that you could ever hope for, simply because you’ve attached some sort of weird arbitrary reason to it that must prove this is the case… Well, that’s just plain illogical. Let’s not beat around the bush here – the show providing the prime example here is obviously Deal or No Deal, with so many variations of odd decision making I could probably write a book out of all of them. It’s even weirder when the game is clearly about playing the statistics – you work out whether you’re likely to blow the big money, or not do any better than your current standing, and then bail out accordingly. The statistics do get far more fiendishly complex than that, but the general idea of not just blindly charging forward when all the warning lights are telling you to stop is always readily apparent.

Yet the odd decision making process rambles on – People will hold on to not opening a box because their kid sneezed out a snot trail that looked like it, or open a certain number first because that’s how many times they’ve tripped over today… It’s bizarre. Another failed show called the Colour of Money saw people pick colours instead of numbers, racking up the oddities even further. You didn’t pick the colour “Salmon” even when your Dad has distinctly shown you should, as he’s a fisherman? No money for you! And it’s all your fault, even though anyone with two brain cells will tell you it’s just luck.

“I’m not a team player”

Example shows; Golden Balls, Divided

Sometimes things can go gloriously on a game show, wherein the nice guy is set to win it all and we can all beam at our television screens happily, knowing that he can finally afford to take his kids to Disneyland. But oh no! The final game involves working as a team to get the money, and the nice guy loses it all due to the purest form of evil – one person just being a total and utter jerk. We’ve all seen the type – the selfish fool who thinks they’re the greatest gift that the planet has ever seen, utterly believing they deserve everything and everyone else deserves nothing. To make things even worse, it almost leaves a foul taste in the mouth when they manage to pull it off, or at least mess it up for everyone else. Game shows are meant to be light entertainment, damn it! How can it be possible to hate someone this much?

The game show Golden Balls provides a neat little example of this. You and another person pick a ball at the end, one saying split, and the other steal. If you both pick the split ball, you split the money. If one person picks the steal ball they get all the money alone, but if you BOTH pick steal no-one gets anything. Nine games out of ten always saw both players being the friendliest people alive and agreeing to split, only for two steal balls to inevitably rear their ugly heads. I do love this little conundrum, though – do you pick the steal ball if you have any inclination the other person might do the same, just to screw them over? Personally I think just picking split and going home with nothing seems the wisest move, because at least then you have the pride of knowing you’re the better man…

However, perhaps one of the greatest examples of one of these jerk moves in action comes from a little known daytime show called Divided. An attempt to all agree to split the money in three ways that are grossly unequal leads to a massive argument that leaves pretty much no-one redeemable. Seriously, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion…

“I have no idea what I’m doing”

Example show; The crystal maze

And finally, we have the example of the player that is so astoundingly unaware of anything they should be doing that your palm is bound to hit your face at terminal velocity in an alarmingly short period of time. They’re nice enough, but after doing the wrong thing for the third time despite basically being hit over the head with the rulebook, it’s hard not to curl up in a corner and cry yourself to sleep. You could argue that perhaps they are just startled by the lights or have not seen the show before, but many of the best examples of this rule in action come from shows that were wildly popular at the time. Did these poor people not know what they were getting into? I’d honestly feel much better if they didn’t.

The best example here? The good old Crystal Maze. Despite (Or, quite possibly, because of) having a whole team to help you out, the amount of times players did not even grasp on to the premise behind simple tasks was startling. Yes, the fact there is a set of controls in front of you probably does have some relevance. Please stop annoyingly ignoring the fact they’re moving the little car in front of you. It’s even been shown that the team working behind the show had a good old laugh at the expense of some teams who, to be honest, probably deserved it. Suffice to say, none of these teams even went on to win.

So there you go, a perfect checklist of things you should probably not be doing if you even find yourself playing for big cash prizes. Take it all in, memorise it, and perhaps you won’t end up as the laughing stocks of the future…

Have a nice death – the joy of the Roguelike

Here’s an obvious fact for you – dying in video games isn’t fun. That slow, sinking feeling as you watch the last of your health being whittled away, knowing that your last save point was about two hours ago or that you’ve just cost your team the match, is generally something to be avoided. Well, not always. Because there’s a little genre out there called the roguelike, and to my great surprise I’ve found that death can be the greatest joy of them all.

Let me explain – I’ve been playing a lot of two specific titles over the past few weeks, those being FTL: Faster than Light and Spelunky. And while these aren’t the most perfect examples of the roguelike that are out there (With that award going to stuff like Nethack and Dwarf Fortress, which both terrify me), they still maintain the key aspects of randomised gameplay and brutally hard difficulty that define the genre. They have also maintained my attention for far longer than they should have, considering I’m sort of a perfectionist where even the slightest hint of failure rather gets me down. So why have these games gripped me so much? To me, it comes down to three simple points; excellent design, unintentional hilarity, and the greatest sense of reward there could ever be.

This has not gone well.

This has not gone well. (Credit; Forbes)

Let’s start with the first point by talking about Call of Duty. No, wait! Bear with me! You see, anyone who has played a Call of Duty game online will attest to the fact the many deaths you will encounter can be pretty damn annoying. But it’s often not the deaths themselves that infuriate – it’s the circumstance. You run round a corner away from fire, and then fall over dead due to lag compensation. The spawn system decides against your will that under an incoming missile is the perfect place to spawn you. And so on. You catch my meaning?

Well, that sort of stuff never happens in roguelikes. The controls and design of them are so perfectly done nearly every death comes down to your own fault, in such a way that you’re more likely to accept your fate with a hearty chuckle at your own stupidity than with an angry toss of your joypad at the nearest wall. It’s not the game’s fault you didn’t plan ahead and buy more fuel for your ship, nor is it the game’s fault that you didn’t check for spikes before flinging yourself down the nearest pit. It’s yours, and that’s strangely pleasing when more and more games seem to shift the parameters of victory further away from your total control. Yet maybe sometimes something incredibly random pops up and kills you in a way you’d never predict. That’s not exactly fair, but it’s also a perfect example of my next point…

…That these games can result in the most hilarious of scenarios that lead to your untimely demise. An example for you – I was doing well for myself on FTL one time, with a ship packed with a good crew and plenty of supplies. I was on for the best run I’d ever had on the game – and then I jump into a new sector, containing a massive enemy ship packed with so many weapons it tore me into tissue paper in less than 30 seconds flat. Unfair? Perhaps, yes, but the sheer and utter devestation that happened in those 30 seconds was hard not to laugh at. My crew were wildly running round in a panic, fires were starting in pretty much every room, and there were blinking warning lights everywhere – it was the perfect example of a beautiful disaster, one that was a joy to look at in a perverse sort of way. Spelunky pulls off similar feats – for instance, an explosion off-screen once set off a chain of events that saw several shopkeepers ruthlessly attack me while I frantically tossed bombs like a madman, subsequently blowing up half the level while leaving me grinning madly. It’s stuff like this that means you will tell stories of your deaths to your friends, not with a frown on your face, but with a smile. And that’s a truly awesome thing.

This has also not gone well.

This has also not gone well. (Credit; Tom Francis)

Then, finally, comes the rare times neither of the above happens. You’re not a moron, and the random number gods smile upon you. And then the roguelike throws up yet another kind of fun, as you beat level after level with ease, laughing merrily away as you know the game tries more and more desperately to brutally kill you. The sense of reward in doing well in these games is far, far higher than most others, which generally give you stacks of ammo in one corner and a checkpoint every five seconds. The tantalising allure of getting all the way and beating that final challenge is also another glimmer of joyful hope that flickers every time you hit the restart button for just one more go, a fact I both love and hate, generally because it means I often end up going to bed far later than I should playing the damn things.

So, in essence, it’s these three elements combined that I consider define my enjoyment of the roguelike. It’s not a genre I’d ever exclusively play or single out, mainly because I would actually still like to win from time to time, but it has made death fun to me… And that’s something I would have never thought truly possible.

A block to blogging, and why I don’t care about it.

Let me open by saying when I started this blog, I made a personal pact with myself (sealed with a blood contract and everything) that I would not talk about events in my life unless they were notably monumental. The reason for this was very simple – I don’t lead a particulary exciting life, and I’m pretty sure no-one wants to read about it anyway. Yet in this very post I’m sort of going to break that blood pact, perhaps unleashing fiery demons on us all, just to talk about one simple fact – blogs are hard.

I’ve tried to write blogs before over the years, and I once even bought a fully fledged domain and hosting in a particularly dedicated attempt, but all those attempts (quite clearly) failed. A large part of this was down to the fact I was just really lazy, but another part of it was simply because I hadn’t planned things out very well. Those attempts were riddled with weak posts about a boring trip to London I had or some other menial matter, and it never worked. With this attempt I wanted things to be different – not filled with the drab or the dreary, only with sharp and concise posts I had put some thought into, about whatever I wanted to put thought into. Trouble is, I hadn’t thought about the end result.

You see, with the few posts that are already here, I’d flicked through topics such as sonic levels to game shows to the fallacy of a rising technology. I’ve also had ideas bubbling in my head about talking about the crisis in Syria, writing joke captain’s diaries from my experiences in the game FTL, and even adding my own stories. But this left me with no clear theme, which all my time of studying journalism and media had taught me was quite bad. It left the audience confused, the professionals said, and I agreed with it.

Sonic and sincereity - not the best buddies.

Sonic and sincereity – not the best buddies.

If you come to this blog for a laugh about Sonic, suddenly being faced with a deep analysis of Syria and its issues is going to put you off, and vice versa. You may want the stories, but not the humour, and seeing the latter will just scare you away. The list goes on and on, and the fear of posting something that didn’t fit and made the place look unprofessional and weird made me… Well, not post at all. Which, when considered, is probably the worst outcome that I could have come to, on the simple basis it’s rather foolish. And it’s that realisation that made me change my viewpoint.

You see, in the end, this blog is never going to be a shining beacon of professionalism or coherency, nor do I want it to be. After all, the two or three people total that will probably end up reading this probably don’t even care about all that, and if they do and never come back, I’m not really fussed about it. I don’t know where the site will end up – I’m quietly thinking of somewhere with a new name and its own domain if things continue to go smoothly – but whatever shape it takes, it’s always going to be something I’m going to enjoy just tipping out thoughts and ramblings on to. So hooray for that, eh? I can tell you’re all so excited by the prospect.

Anyway, I’ll shut up about my existential blog crisis now. Of course, I’ve not exactly been deathly quiet on the writing front. A few prompts from Reddit have led me to flex my short story writing muscles, and the results can be viewed at your leisure via the links below. I do hope you enjoy them. Although I don’t care if you don’t.

The first of the three lies
The waitress, the morgue, and the spiral notebook
The lift announcer

And my personal favourite – Supremesonic and StoryTellerBob’s adventure – co-written by popular Reddit user StoryTellerBob, it’s a 3,000 word adventure of severe oddity!