I have killed a lot. I’ve rarely felt bad about it during or afterwards.

In videogames, success depends on the death of others, whether it’s an infinitely respawning slime in a cave or the fictional President of some South American country you have to snipe from a mile away. Generally, no matter how realistic the situation, the people you’re killing just don’t matter.

There are two occasions when I have felt genuine remorse, revulsion and regret upon dealing out death in games. I’m going to tell you about one of them:

In Grand Theft Auto IV, you kill a lot of people. There isn’t really any other way to interact with them other than through violence. You can shoot them, hit them with a car, engage in fist fighting or simply hurl a cup of coffee at them. Your choice is limited to VIOLENCE or NO VIOLENCE.

After engaging in violence with one gameworld character and chasing him round the block a couple of times, I ended up colliding heavily with an innocent lady. We both fell over. I was first to rise and in doing so I accidentally sent her tumbling to the floor a second time. Again she went to retrieve her coffee cup and get up. But this time, on purpose, I manoeuvred my character into her. She fell onto the steps to her own front door. She uttered something, an expletive perhaps. I was menacing this woman without actually hitting her.

I noticed that the game hadn’t treated my actions as a form of aggression. No one else in the game world was paying any attention to what I was doing.

I continued to push the woman over. Each time she tried to get up I would walk or run into her. I stepped on her back as she struggled on her hands and knees. I stood there humiliating her. She forgot about her coffee cup. She managed to stand, tried to run away, screaming. I chased her and knocked her over again. Police cars drove casually past, people on the street ignored her desperate pleas. Over and over again I sent her sprawling, over and over again she screamed.

Eventually, she stopped trying to get up. She was dead.

I felt terrible, sick. I felt nervous, that if someone had been watching me play, somehow, over my shoulder, through the curtain, they would know what a monster I was. That I’d cheated the system made it even worse. In a game world where life is cheap, her death hadn’t meant anything at all.

To the anonymous lady. I offer you my apologies and also my gratitude. Your life meant nothing in your world, but it resonated in mine.


Buses.

Buses in London easily have enough space for 3 big pushchairs/prams. BUT, as if that level of actual usefulness was too much – to counter it they’ve installed a big metal bar from floor to ceiling which doesn’t travel straight down, but bends. So it’s very difficult to even fit 2 buggies in.

That clearly wasn’t enough either so there are signs everywhere saying “MOVE OR FOLD YOUR BUGGY IF A WHEELCHAIR USER WANTS TO USE THE SPACE. THIS SPACE IS NOT REALLY FOR YOU BUT YOU MAY BEGRUDGINGLY STAND THERE, IF YOU REALLY MUST”

Wheelchair users cannot move into the space because of the big bar if there are buggies present at all.

So therefore you end up in the ridiculous situation that you trepidatiously step on to the bus, knowing at any second you may have to flee with your particularly unimportant young child, wherever you are, whatever the conditions. And if you don’t have to you’ll probably have to move right off the bus just to let a wheelchair on and endure all manner of tuts and rolled eyes because the bus is probably already late.

I even heard someone say “Well buggies didn’t used to be so big, did they?” when I mentioned the bar. Well no they didn’t, but they have been for a bloody long time and since then they’ve made new buses that don’t accommodate them, which seems to be an order of magnitude more relevant.

Anyway, the bar is ostensibly there to secure wheelchair users in while the drivers are hooning round corners and regularly checking their brakes. In Finland, they use a little strap instead. Which doesn’t make a whole cross section of society feel unwelcome. Not to mention a separate network of buses and transport services for anybody with mobility difficulties.


Dear NBA.TV,

In answer to your question:

“Why were you dissatisfied with NBA LEAGUE PASS? What, specifically, could be improved?

Please be as specific as possible.”

Here is my answer:

Kobe angry. Kobe always angry.

 

Firstly, The user experience over the different platforms is horrible.

It could be greatly improved. So far this last season I’ve had to ‘unlock’ my account several times. I AM THE ONLY PERSON WHO USES MY ACCOUNT. I’ve emailed the useless customer support about this but there was no resolution to the problem.

I love the NBA, but I’m sick of fighting a battle with the apps in order to try and use them. Wake up – people want to to use the service over different platforms. I might be watching on my phone, ipad, xbox, laptop, and Chromecast if there was an app. Where is the Chromecast app COME ON!

I’ve had to tell each different platform that I DON’T WANT SPOILERS – I DON’T WANT THE SCORES ON SCREEN. Why, why isn’t this the default setting? WHY? I’ve ruined half a dozen games because I’ve had the temerity to log in on a piece of technology that I hadn’t before. Preferences like that should be applicable over all devices!

Where is the Chromecast app?

KG angry. KG always angry.

 

Xbox Live app: Takes forever to load. Had the same background music for 2 years. When it loads up and for some reason it’s logged you out again (AGAIN!)…what is the video that begins to play automatically? Oh look it’s a highlight video of last nights games which I have to try and close down frantically before I’m rewarded by my investment with more spoilers. THANKS!

Xbox Live app: Oh it crashed, let me skip back to where I was in the game because the app doesn’t save it. (Why doesn’t it save it?) Wait, to get to the 3rd quarter I have to ‘Fast Forward’? Oh my God that is EXACTLY how I want to spend the next 7 minutes of my life, thank you very much.

Xbox Live app: Watch one game (wow, you got lucky), the system auto plays the next game – which is kind of fine, right? Except it has never ever ever worked. It instead flips through each one telling me there was an error streaming it. So to watch 2 matches in a night I have to quit the app and load it again.

NeuLion. I know you guy made the app because your stupid name is plastered everywhere. YOU SUCK.

Video quality. going on the video quality I receive at various point of different NBA matches I might assume I am using a flaky 3G signal from a cave in the middle of nowhere. WRONG! Wireless or wired to my fibre optic 100mb Nordic super reliable for everything else connection, I have matches flicking from reasonably high resolution (JOY!) to a full screen rendition of a 90s realplayer video.

I can’t begin to list the ways you could improve it here. You need to overhaul the User Experience. I’m not consulting you on it for free in this text box which no one is going to pay attention to anyway. But pay someone to, and pay them a lot and make sure they are really good at it.

Kendrick angry. Yeah, we get it.

Finally:

You want like €20 a month for this service. That is a premium price. You provide a service that is not in any way premium. That is why I quit my subscription half way through the season.

I love the NBA. I hate not watching it. But I also hate fighting with your apps to watch it. Both situations make me sad.

Thanks, I hope you improve next year – and I sure hope you continue the group discount option I noticed on the playoffs!

Steve


Banner Ads from the 90s

Low rent adverts with crazy flashing “10,000th visitor” animated gif styles, which pop down after loading the page. So I go to click in the search box and then the whole page is pushed down as the ad loads and is displayed, which means my cursor is now possibly over the advert.

Sorry did I jog you?

This annoys me when trying to adjust my search term too. So let’s say I type something into the search box, press enter and then I quickly see the results aren’t what I want, or I forgot a word – I click into the search box again and start typing and … hold on, as the page has loaded it takes me out of the search box. What this means is if for example I’m trying to delete one word from the search term I originally entered, I tap backspace a couple of times and then the page takes me out of the search box, so that pressing backspace now navigates me backwards one page for each press. Bloody annoying.

Pop ups

Now Chrome blocks pop ups by default, but they still signal an unwanted intrusion. I didn’t grab a picture but I noticed these a few times while looking on the bay today.

The eBay DJ

Not sure if it was a rogue advert, but all of a sudden music exploded out of my computer. I wondered if it was Spotify, but no, after flicking through the dozens of tabs I had open it was eBay. Great! Everyone loves autoplay ads.

All your search belong to us

This little pop up reminds me that they are watching me (only just caught it as it was fading here but you get the idea. Arguably it’s quite useful, but absolutely isn’t needed as a pop up.

In case you missed the ads earlier.

I’m no stranger to online ads. I work in Social Media, my wife works in online advertising and marketing. I know what is a good example of an advert and what is horrible. This doesn’t match up with some horrors I’ve seen (shame on you The Economist & Rolex) but this list of ‘sponsored links’ pretty bad and unnecessarily large.

All of these things add up to give me a bit of a flea market impression. Arguably that’s what eBay is! But come on – I’m sure this is not what they’re aiming for. Using the mobile version and the app is a lot better and cleaner an experience.


This isn’t a review.

I bought Mage Gauntlet the other day. I was quite excited about it, I haven’t been nose deep in an adventure/RPG type game since Okami probably. The idea of some 16bit style action in this vein was alluring.

On iOS, ten minutes is enough time to go to the app store, search for a game, buy it, install it, play it, realise you don’t like it and delete it. (Or, realise you do like it, go to your forum of choice and rave about it, or ‘twitter dat’.)

If you are making a game for iOS, it’s pretty important to remember that you are always only one button press away from being quit. 

I played Mage Gauntlet for about 10-15 minutes. This got me: through the intro screen (got some hats for this), through a few walls of (rather dull) text and into the game. Here I ran from screen to screen (to screen) I met a wizard, the wizard disappeared.

That was it. One button away. That was my boredom threshold and that button got pressed. Our first date was over, don’t push notify me, I’ll call you. I think I went into the relationship with good intentions. I wanted what the game was offering, yet here I am bitching about it. Will I go back and play it again? I’d like to say yes but in the real world I just don’t know.

Creating a game in the 16 bit style on iOS is wonderful. It’s a chance to combine the powerful nostalgia many of us have with new ideas. It can involve taking the best bits of the era with the power of hindsight, chopping out the bad bits, leaving out the filler and taking advantages of the host platform, the new tech, everything we’ve learned from back in the day and an enormous amount of gaming experience.

One of worst approaches to take when recreating a Super Nintendo type isometric adventure is to include the parts we may have really wanted back in the day but are obsolete now or even huge negatives. In the 90s, games cost a million pounds each, we got one or two a year and wanted them to last as long as possible. Now we have access to a million games that cost a pound each and we demand they deliver fun at high speed.

In this instance I find it infuriating that such obvious lessons or guidelines or whatever spider sense you should have when developing for iOS are swept aside when it’s all so crucial to the success of the game. You don’t need data driven design, A/B testing, metrics, stats analysis and interpretation to know these things – they’re obvious – and if they’re not obvious to you because you’re so involved, get someone who’s not to tell you.

Mage Gauntlet should lose the long intro, get me into the game immediately and then give me the story when we have built that gamer/game relationship up. That first ten minutes should be the start of a James Bond film.

And that’s my ten minutes up.


Ode to a buddy

19Oct11

This post is about Halo: Combat Evolved.

Halo was, is, a tremendous experience and I was lucky enough to experience both the multiplayer (countless trips round London dragging consoles, pads and leads) and singleplayer fully. I got lost in that game many times, I loved it. I loved being in that world.

Anyone who’s played Halo deeply and lovingly will understand.

Today though, I come to honour a friend.

Part of the beauty of Halo was that you could dick around for ages and do stuff you weren’t really supposed to (i.e. it didn’t further the story) as much as you liked. I played the game through ‘straight’ so many times that dicking around and inventing new games within the game became the game. Through this unstructured form of play I made an accidental discovery that would affect my view on games permanently.

I found that if you carefully shot the arms off of a flood infested Elite, he could no longer harm you.

2 shots later and like a disgusting alien faced affectionate bipedal dog this creature comes bounding up to me and… nothing. It’s just hanging with me, all up in my face, examining me. I inspected him, looked right into his tendrils, and after a while, after running a few laps of the immediate area to see if he got bored (he didn’t) I started to like this guy.

A new quest was born. How long could I keep my new, literally unarmed buddy from harm?

The answer was, incredibly, a very long time. We journeyed through the level together very very carefully. He couldn’t jump which made things tricky. Other enemies would come along and start shooting at him. Sometimes he’d get hit with some stray plasma fire, I could hear him whelp with pain. I felt conflicted shooting other flood, I wondered how he would feel about it. But he was devoted, unflinching in his loyalty, and so was I. We spent hours together conducting our secret affair, during which I developed a bond, I gave him a personality, I talked to him. I told him it would be ok, even though in my heart I knew that if we did get to the end of the level, he wouldn’t make it through the next loading screen.

Eventually, while dashing from rock to rock, he caught one too many plasma shots from an Elite that knew no better, and fell.

As he lay on the snow, the distant gunfire was drowned out. I stood next to him in the open just waiting. I didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t want to leave him there, forgotten. He meant more to me than any of the marines had, and I had really liked some of them. After a time I left. I finished the level and sat in quiet contemplation during the long long loading screen.

Here lies the best friend I’ve ever had in a videogame. You had no cut scenes, no dialogue, no name. The game pitted us against each other, but somehow our friendship worked. It’s been almost ten years since we met. I’ve searched but never found anyone like you.

This one’s for you. My buddy.


Monstermind is the beast-in-beta Facebook game sprung from the grimy dubstepping fixie-riding London loins of Bossa Studios. And guess what?

It involves building a city.

Excuse me I just passed out for several hours thanks to acute déjà vu.

But wait, is this city-building look simply a facade? The familiarity shouldn’t scare off regular Facebook gamers at least. This a B-Movie world where idyllic stylish retro workplaces and homes are forever under threat of attack from well known movie monster lookalikes. These monsters both attack your city and can be purchased and sent to destroy others. Forget anti-social masquerading as social, ‘sharing’, begging for golden flowers from your Aunt Jemma. In Monstermind you can send a sixty strong army of giant gorillas to smash the hell out of your friends’ towns.

I will bruck up your yard for jokes bruv

And so the important part of Monstermind is revealed, the PvP mechanic.

The instinctive action is to set up your town like a fortress. If your town hall is attacked, the lights go out in the city and nothing is earning you money. When you return to your town over gaming sessions, there is a moment just before it loads where you’ll wonder what you’ll be faced with as you walk in the door. Quite often it will be a smouldering mess of soot and rubble. Other people’s monsters have wrecked your ‘hood.

Defense options include active tanks and bombs, stationary turrets and sandbags help to shore up your perimeter.  Common sense and gaming logic dictates that this tower defense style of play is the way to go, creating a haven for the happy Farmville refugees pootling about in Your Namesville.

"I'm Quentin Wedgewood, delighted to meet you."

Upon setting foot into your demolished town, having been picked on for the 800th time by a friend’s girlfriend, you are consoled by dozens of small blue flasks scattered over the screen representing XP. So in pillaging your town mercilessly, the bullies are actually helping you, which is where the real mechanic suddenly flashes a sly wink.

It’s totally beneficial to be attacked and for others to allow you to attack them.

What it means is you can put those feelings of revenge to the side (for now) and indulge in a program of mutually agreed destruction with your best bud, ploughing their field joyously while they rifle through your lunch box for Orange Clubs. Everyone’s a winner. You get XP and tons of money when you smash their stuff up, and then more XP when you return to the ashes of Corruption City. It’s a pretty good job that keeping your townspeople happy and safe is not a gameplay requirement. Instead of agonising over each stupid little barber shop stomped and over investing time/money into perimeter defense (which require personnel, which require more residences), you can go straight to the fun part: attacking your friends’ towns with sixty giant gorillas.

Now comes the most interesting point, the part of the game that actually toys with the social bit of social gaming.

The mutual destruction works fine while both people benefit. Lower level players get huge XP smashing up a higher level town, so two players may even out level wise. Then before you know it, the noob friend you introduced to the game is the same level as you, or horrifyingly, eclipses your progress. Then you find out he’s been invading someone else’s town too.

We were not on a break

You start putting up some more perimeter defenses, “the computer player keeps getting in” you say. You’re living in Animal Farm now. There’s the accident, you return to your city and repair your town hall mid-pillage which activates all the defenses and you inadvertently destroy all your friend’s expensive monsters. This is very funny, you will laugh while you apologise, if you apologise. You attack his place while he’s rearranging some stuff. You see he’s in someone else’s town and you jump in to ‘help’, racing to get the loot for yourself. The co-op agreement has become uneasy, it remains to be seen whether you are to formally renounce it. Even if you do, it’s part of the game to take down the cities of friends. All you can do to prevent it is to funnel buckets of money at expensive laser gun placements, stunting your own progression. Assuming you are successful in your efforts to secure the town, you find yourself holed up in Pleasantville, the military having long taken over your once lovely town. You are isolated, alone. This is the Cold War, a thousand strong flying saucer army is on standby. You are a millionaire.

Monstermind is not just not without faults, it’s flooded with them. It’s buggy, slow, your monsters disappear, the connection breaks, the connection doesn’t break but the game tells you it has, you lose all your monsters once, twice, three times. Mousing over to collect items is a Facebook cliche/relic that makes trackpad playing intolerable. You’ll be cursing for a repair-all button (now there’s something I’d pay Facebook credits for). The music is incredibly loud, there is a sharp interest drop after reaching the higher levels due to an extreme lack of content. But these are things that can and may well be changed, fixed and tightened up. Facebook games are no strangers to iterating.

The essence of Monstermind, the feelings it provokes and the questions it asks of social gaming are wonderful. Too many ‘social’ games, especially on Facebook are anything but. Here is a Facebook game that declares itself overtly anti-social and in doing so disguises a clever system of interaction between players. Go and play it, and feel free to come and smash my town up, I’ve left the back door key under the rose circle, for now.




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