The Elder Scrolls Online beta impressions

One of the biggest draws of the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online is the possibility of taking the core and foundation of the beloved series and placing it in a living, breathing, populated world. What if the arena of Cyrodiil allowed you to bet on and watch competitive, dynamic matches between heroes controlled by real people? What if your cohorts in Skyrim’s Mage’s Guild were your real life friends? What if you could siege a bandit camp safe in the knowledge that your buddies-in-arms actually had your back and were holding their own in the fight?

It’s a lofty goal, considering the logistical and balancing issues related to crafting a massively multiplayer online game. Yet as a huge fan of the series and a gamer who doesn’t spend a lot of time playing MMOs, I went into the recent beta hoping to find encouragement that the game I’ve been hoping for is on its way. What I ended up finding was a game with some very familiar (if quite watered down) elements of previous Elder Scrolls games. It certainly looks the part, but in key areas the imposition of a very familiar (and effective) MMO structure comes at the cost of things that make the Elder Scrolls games great.

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Titanfall: impressions for those who aren’t shooter fans

If you’re like me it takes a special kind of first person shooter to hold your attention. So much of what makes many current shooters popular — twitch gameplay, adversarial online multiplayer, crafting loadouts from unlocked items and perks — appeals to me in a way, but really needs something else behind it to keep me motivated. So it was with some trepidation that I began playing the Titanfall beta last week, and I spent quite a lot of time playing it until yesterday when it closed.

So often this game has been compared to and contrasted against Call of Duty. I was never sure whether this meant it out-CoDed CoD, or whether it meant it took the genre and made it something I would actually enjoy. Since I’ve only ever played online Call of Duty in short bursts I won’t insult fans by attempt to make an in-depth comparison, but I can report that I had much more fun in the week of Titanfall beta than I ever did in a CoD game post Modern Warfare. Here’s my impressions on what you might find in Titanfall that isn’t prevalent in many other competitive shooters :

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Seven games I’ve loved

This year the editor’s over at IGN editors are celebrating Valentine’s Day with lists of their favourite games. What this has me thinking about (other than ‘I’m going to shamelessly lift that idea’) is how the love we feel for our most fondly-remembered games is more often than not informed by the connection we personally formed with it, rather than any objective aspect of its design or contents.

The concept is as true with games as it is with romantic love. The object of your affection can of course be influenced by popular opinion, by fashion and other superficial factors (as exemplified by the very concept of Valentine’s Day), but much more powerful are the experiences that happen directly between the object and you, or that are given special meaning because of your personal circumstances or where you happen to be in your life at the time. The result in romantic love is that the person eventually takes on a meaning and a beauty that only you can see, and it’s the same with video games.

I’ve attempted here to ignore regular measures of quality or popularity and instead compose a list according to what games hit me right in the feels when I remember them. I’ve ranked them just by impulse (there’s no way I could accurately condense 20 years of gaming memories into an accurate and all encompassing list) and left out some games (like Mario 64) that I don’t feel I have anything unique to say about.

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Third-person adventure game cliches that always suck

As a genre that’s grown and been improved upon since the mid-nineties, the 3D adventure game has more than its fair share of tired tropes and recognisable cliches. Some of these are fine and to this day serve a good purpose.

Being washed down a river or tube and having to steer to avoid obstacles, for example, is common but usually a fun stage transition. Having an unkillable enemy or crumbling floor follow you while you sprint ahead without the luxury of being able to make a single mistake is just as common, and can be done right.

Conversely, there are tropes that have stuck around in adventure games for decades, which we all know and recognise and that almost always suck. I present a small selection of them here, in order of least to most common and sucky:

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Cranky Kong complex: the imposition of narrative

In the lead-up to the release of a new Donkey Kong game, and the reveal that the cantankerous Cranky Kong will be appearing as a playable character, the discussion about how Cranky fits in with the overarching narrative of the Kong saga has been re-ignited. No, seriously.

When the old man character was first introduced reference was made to the fact that he is actually the titular ape of the original 80s Donkey Kong, long since retired, making the current Donkey Kong a younger relative.

cranky dkc

The wealth of discussion and debate and evidence floating around that seeks to establish a narrative thread between such a hugely varied and numerous collection of games is part of of a pretty weird impulse we as consumers of media share. We’re desperate to find meaning, especially narrative meaning, in the connection between experiences that share commonalities, even if that connection would seem to be overwhelmingly not narrative-focused. Does this imposition of narrative make for a more enjoyable gaming experience? Does it hinder?

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Wii Sports and the state of Nintendo vs next-gen

Almost exactly seven years ago Wii Sports had the entertainment world in a frenzy. Wii consoles disappeared immediately at launch at wouldn’t be able to sit on a store shelf for longer than five minutes until July. Oprah gave out Wii consoles with Wii Sports to hysterical and tearful parents. Dedicated gamers trying to hookshot their way through Twilight Princess and rediscover old favourites on the Virtual Console found their machines hijacked by grandmas and cousins looking for their fix of tennis and bowling.

Today Wii Sports relaunches as an online service for Wii U, offering the same sports as before with updated graphics and control, online play and a competitive feature that groups households into regional clubs and pits them against each other. Except the leaderboards and online lobbies of Wii Sports Club are as bare as those empty shelves were seven years ago. The excitable Miis gathered at the virtual tennis court to see families come from around the world to face each other are viewing little more than an empty and yellowing block, and the rental shoes at the bowling alley are getting so little use their odour could almost pass for that of a regular shoe.

While the reintroduction of the Wii Sports brand might initially have given hope that Nintendo was gearing Wii U up for a battle against the next-gen consoles for a piece of the mainstream mindshare this Novemeber, the fact that it’s seemingly failed to arouse any interest in the press or amongst the casual crowd can be put down to a worryingly recurring cause: Nintendo simply didn’t tell anybody outside their hardcore fanbase it was coming.

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Giana Sisters: pretenders to the Mushroom Kingdom crown

In 1987 a humble little game with a difficult-to-pronounce title and cover art that makes me grin every time I see it was loosed on various consoles including the Atari ST and Commodore 64. The Great Giana Sisters is only one of many games of the era that took its cues from the near-inimitable Super Mario Bros, but this game did such a good and successful knock-off job that Nintendo mobilized the lawyers and Giana was eventually withdrawn from sale.

gianacoverThe 26 years that followed held some interesting turns for the Giana brand. Creator Armin Gessert founded Spellbound Entertainment in 1994, which developed mid-tier games for 15 years before releasing a brand new Giana Sisters game for the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately Gessert died of a heart attack that same year, and in 2012 Spellbound went into administration.

From the ashes of that company though came Black Forest Games, a group whose first order of business was to hit up Kickstarter and fund a brand new Giana Sisters game for the modern age.

See while side-scrolling arcade platformers with an emphasis on precision, tight control and interesting character abilities was plagiarism in 1987, and a drop in the ocean on DS in 2009, today it’s something many players are dying to return to after the inflation of Hollywood AAA games and the perceived dumbing-down of Nintendo’s own 2D platformers.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a release last year, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams — billed by Black Forest as the spiritual ‘grandchild’ to the original Great Giana Sisters — is now arriving on Nintendo’s Wii U.

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