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Casual Vs. Hardcore!111
Posted on Monday, December 8 2008 @ 12:55:41 Eastern


Can I ask you a question without sounding like a life insurance advertisement?


How would you classify a 'casual' game? Conversely, what about 'hardcore'?


Do you consider yourself to be a hardcore gamer? What about your family members? Your friends? Your dogs? Mr. Jenkins the magic dragon who cries tears of jellybeans?


Moreover, who the Hell cares?


I believe that the phrase 'the game appeals more to a [casual/hardcore] audience' is about as over-used and over-rated as its pseudo-arty industry counterpart: '[the feature] adds depth to the experience'. The former, and variations thereof, is the epitome of bad videogame journalism and there's a lot of that about as it is. How does one define what is a 'casual' or 'hardcore' game? It simply doesn't make any sense, especially when this description applies more to a player's attitudes and their own style rather than what a game is. I'm taking a very vague stance on this, but hopefully it'll provide some discussion amongst my faithful readers.

Let's take World of Warcraft to begin with, shall we? The internationally acclaimed massively multiplayer seems to be forever stuck in a twilight of being 'casual' or 'hardcore', depending on who you ask. This is the fundamental issue with attempting to categorise a title in such a way; it relies entirely on subjective opinion. What, according to reviewers, causes WoW to be a 'casual' experience, then? If you ask many of these self-proclaimed journalists, they'd argue that the implementation of more quests cause the experience to switch to a more mainstream focus. However, I'm sure we all know one person who has already blasted through the new content, hit 80 and are now sauntering through the wonderful collection of raids. They did all the quests available, but does that make them a soft gamer? What's to say story arcs and collection boar hides make it 'casual'? I used to play Lineage II back in the day, logging in for about an hour every day to grind on giant spiders and bandits. It honestly featured the same mobs for 20 levels consecutively, but after a while the whole rigmarole became therapeutic, even enjoyable. Oh, look! I like killing the same monsters over and over! I must be a hardcore gamer! But if I only played for 7 hours a week, then surely I must be casual? Its an inherent contradiction, which defies such attempts at defining either 'casual' or 'hardcore'. Its ridiculous; the same goes for if I only raid for three nights a week on WoW, and don't play for any other time. Is it casual? But I'm clearing the endgame, so I must be hxc 4 lyf, surely?

Furthermore, I suck willy. Not really, just checking you're still reading. Anyway, I was reading UK-based GamesTM this month, in which they ran a feature about designing controls for games. The Fable 2 guy talked briefly about adapting buttons for a 'casual crowd'. Eh? Can someone please explain how mapping controls can be either casual or hardcore? Surely there's simply either 'easy to use' or 'a fiddly piece of ****'? Industry individuals using such idiotic buzz language which is even further detracted from its original context does nothing but upset me. Its bad enough this fad has penetrated the journalism side of things, nevermind the developers.

My point is this: There is no possible way to establish what is a 'hardcore' or 'casual' game, as it mainly comes down to the person playing and their own style, rather than what the game itself presents. No title 'demands' you invest time into it; its always going to be an optional hobby and how long you spend playing (or how intensely) is dependent totally on the folks with the controller in their hands. I'm addicted to Peggle. I'm casual-hardcore.


Scott Constantine writes for The Three Rs and Honest Gamers. He has been alienated by The Escapist and ridiculed by PC Gamer UK. He would like to go for a two-minute trolley-dash under your petticoat.



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What Can We Expect In WoW's Future?
Posted on Thursday, December 4 2008 @ 16:13:13 Eastern

Hi guys. Another World of Warcraft post, so be warned. Earlier this week I hit level 74 on my warrior and completed a series of quests which led up to an assault on the Wrath Gate in an attempt to draw the Lich King (the main antagonist of the expansion) out from hiding in his big, icy lair. A lot of stuff happens during this attack, which I'm sure many of you have already witnessed. Anyway, as predicted, things don't go as planned (it would suck if the big, bad guy of the entire game died when the player ain't even level 80 anyway). Following the destruction of the combined forces of both the Alliance and Horde, total war threatens to break out between the two factions.

According to the designers over at Blizzard, this little fiasco signals the end of the first 'Act' of the expansion with two still to follow. What can we expect from these forthcoming patches, then? Well, join me as I make some well-educated guesses:

Most Likely:

Moar Dragonz

Malygos, who leads one of the dragonflights in-game, is the first major dragon to be killable since the game's release. Blizzard seriously don't care about character shields, and will probably continue to make such key players in the lore into boss encounters. As such, we can expect at least one other dragonflight leader to die. But who? Even if this is true, how would they work it into the current storyline?


Until Wrath was released, many speculated that Neltharion (also a dragonflight leader; specifically the black one) had been captured by the self-proclaimed 'Queen' of the dragons, Alexstrasza, and was being kept under her close guard. However, opinion has shifted away from this theory after old Alexxy positioned herself in the middle of the Dragonblight to fight against both Malygos and the undead Scourge. Her main encampment is located at Wyrmrest Temple - an ancient Titan city. Underneath this structure lies a small lobby, known as 'Chamber of the Aspects', which includes five doorways, four of which are empty. The last is a portal to the Obsidian Sanctum, a black dragonflight-orientated area. It is obvious that, over time, the developers intend to implement other encounters related to the other aspects.


Or do they?

Think about it. We're already fighting alongside the reds, the greens are busy pratting around in their fantasy world, the bronze lot are dealing with the darker side of their own flight (who are messing around with the past) and the blue dragonflight have been destroyed. If anything, it makes sense to portal the players to other groups of blacks across the world (or even further), slowly eliminating that aspect alone, instead of needlessly fighting against other dragonflights. As long as the fights and locations are kept varied, it could turn into quite a good story arc, especially if it climaxes with Deathwing's defeat.


Extra cool points to Blizzard if he smokes a hookah during the encounter.

It is claimed on WoW Wiki that Deathwing is actually somewhere in Grim Batol, carrying out some evil experiments on his fellow flight members. This does not detract from my 'Chamber Of The Aspects Portal' idea, though: It could simply be a gateway to some inner lair within the old Dwarven city.

Alliance vs. Horde

As anyone who has completed the 'first act' will realise, Varian (who's the Alliance's new poster boy because Fordragon - Stormwind's former guardian - kicks the bucket) is a bit of a nutter. After the betrayal of the equally crazy Forsaken at the Wrath Gate fight, he goes a bit insane and attempts to kill Thrall. Unfortunately, the bint Jania comes along, freezes everyone and teleports the Alliance forces back to Stormwind.

'That's the end of that,' you may think. However, I wouldn't be so sure. Given the focus on PVP that this expansion has brought us, I'd safely bet that we see this possible conflict heat up a little more.


Currently, the main focus of inter-faction warfare is set around two major locations within Northrend: Wintergrasp and Grizzly Hills. The former is an entire area dedicated to siege warfare, whilst the latter features more open-ended gameplay, orientated towards guerrilla strategies. Still, we are yet to see all-out combat between forces, as most of the conflict is kept to isolated areas (battlegrounds being a key example). Now, I'm not going to suggest that Alliance camps will suddenly spring up outside Horde cities. Hell, there's enough moaning about town raids on PVP servers alone! Still, perhaps the inclusion of more 'assassination' quests? After all, Varian is already giving the level 60s quests to kill the Forsaken's Blightcaller out in the Plaguelands, so why can't we have similar escapades for the Horde, too?

Scourge

These guys are now the main, key enemies of the expansion. With the blueys out of the way, the undead seem to be the more prevalent threat to all life on Azeroth. We've already had the whole 'zombie invasion' thing, so what can the developers possibly do now to improve on the epicness of that event? What possibly could be better than a zombified Melaisis?


Well, to be honest, nothing really spring to mind. This isn't solely a testament to how awesome an undead version of myself is, but rather: How do you 'up' the standards from that? What will the final encounter with Arthas actually be like?

Ideally, I'd hope for the real battle with the Lich King to be worth talking about. I picture the siege upon Icecrown to be a mixture of the 'Gate' events of Quel'Danas combined with Ahn'Qiraj's opening. An epic questline would have to be completed, requiring the greatest players on the server, in order to get even close to Arthas. In the meantime, the rest of the populace should be donating to the war effort. Turn-in NPCs could make a come-back, or other means.


You have to remember that Arthas is supposedly one of the most powerful beings around at the moment (despite him being barely taller than my Night Elf). When his personal lair is invaded, it should be felt by all of Azeroth; not simply a tiny minority of the server population.

Least Likely:

Old God Rumble

Now for the fun options!

Its implied at various points throughout Wrath that there may be many Old Gods loitering about. Despite being defeated thousands of years ago, the remains of these ancient beings still appear to be causing chaos across the land. Aside from C'Thun in an old-world instance, there's a beast known as 'Yogg-Saron' dwelling beneath Grizzly Hills. Yoggy is currently throwing a hissy fit because the old, ruined World Tree penetrated its lair. There is great potential here to slip in an encounter, especially if reason is given for the Old God to be even more pissed off (Arthas attempts to tame it, maybe?).


Furthermore, there's still a possibility that the Nerubians (semi-arachnids) may worship a god different to Yogg-Saron, but it makes little sense for two different ones to be so close together.


An opinion that no one seems to have considered, is the big blighter above. She is a giant sea goddess, worshipped by a bunch of walrus-men on the shores of the continent. Oacha'noa (that's her name) is absolutely bloody huge, and gave me the creeps when I first called her up. Honestly, there's a tall pinnacle off the coast of Dragonblight, and this bint dwarfs it easily. She is involved in this one quest only, and gives advice to the player about what the aforementioned talking walruses should do regarding the war with the Scourge and blue dragonflight. I didn't pay attention to her, though: I was ******** myself.

However, she definitely has potential to become a raid boss (despite her being a re-skin of the Lurker Below in Serpentshrine), especially if - oh, I don't know - she becomes somehow corrupted.

The Ressing Of Galakrond

Galakrond - the father of all the dragonflights - was laid to rest in the middle of the Dragonblight in Northrend. Unfortunately, his remains are being dug up by the Scourge and Arthas wants to resurrect him as the ultimate frost wyrm. Sly, Lichy!


The Scourge's evil plans are foiled by the player leading up to the Wrath Gate event, but surely their efforts could be restarted, given the reward? However, having a raid boss who is supposedly as strong as a Titan flying around may be a little too far for WoW's developers.

Huge thank you to WoW Wiki for the inspiration and images. Kudos, gang.

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In Loco Parentis
Posted on Tuesday, November 11 2008 @ 11:22:39 Eastern


 

in loco parentis

Or, simply, ‘in place of a parent’. Cutting to the point this month: Should games teach our children?

No doubt if I went out onto the street and asked this, I’d be subject to ridicule from passers by; they’d claim I was insane, that videogames breed hatred and glorified violence for children, as well as probably suggesting they demonstrate how to host a rainbow party or something. We all know that these misconceptions hail from deviancy amplification spirals* caused by a mixture of mass media hype, crowd psychology and my previous blog entries, but can if we ignore all of those things for a minute, and play on the fact that games teach children.

I’m not necessarily talking about ‘Brain Training’ for the DS, either. When I was a kid, I’d watch adverts on television that promoted independent consoles and PC games made by Disney or some crap, like ‘Learn The Alphabet With Timone And Pumba’. Mother dearest saw my interest in such devices, but also noted that I was beyond the age of needing to know what noise a cow made, or the lyrics to Lion King songs. Instead, she went out and bought me a Super Nintendo. Almost two decades on, I still find myself defending my parent’s decision to buy me a games console, instead of something that which has been founded to be educational to kids, or at least make the Disney Corporation that little bit richer. The SNES did so much more for me than a simple learning toy would have; the endless reams of written dialogue in Breath of Fire II taught me how to read faster, Super Mario World perfected my hand-eye co-ordination and Super Mario Kart showed me how to be a competitive arsehole. All the while, my mum would encourage and play with me whilst feeling secure that I was having a good time, wasn’t going to go rampaging out onto the streets and I was actually increasing basic skills I’d need for later in life.

The epitome of these experiences was embodied perfectly when I graduated to the N64 and got my large, bony hands on a copy of Ocarina of Time. I feel that most of the Zelda series’ hype comes from reviewers and fans alike having a similar experience to mine: We were entering the golden age of videogaming, as well as beginning pre-teenage years myself. Not only did me and my friends spend hours discussing the many ways to progress through the challenges that the game faced (providing some sort of social lubricant for high school years) but also me and my mum used to play the game together; her dictating what route to take with help of a guidebook and I would take action on screen. They were good times indeed and Ocarina was able to introduce themes and emotions into my life that both my parents and teachers had neglected to talk about directly. Alongside giant spiders and disembodied hands came topics of unrequited love, jealousy and hubris**. Ocarina was, at heart, a coming-of-age tale which happened to reflect exactly what was going on in my own life at the time. Whilst it is difficult to claim that a single game alone shaped my teenage personality, it definitely taught me things about life that – otherwise – I certainly would not have considered until years later. Movies and television often attempt to convoy these emotions and messages, but these media forms remain ineffective to the average 12 year-old. Ocarina was able to show me and thousands of other children my age the values of loyalty, compassion and honesty; ethics that are essential to be a functioning member of society, but are notably overlooked by most children, especially since most of the time these themes are merely presented to us in the form of rants at sermons or boring school sessions.

Questions of morality have been reprised in recent years; the last major title to dabble in such gameplay that I certainly played was Mass Effect. Such games are cited as a way for children and adults alike to test out their own ethos on life, as well as aiding immersion. All the same, this element of choice doesn’t promote an exactly positive way of thinking as the good old linear classics once did. Seriously, who ain’t gonna choose to blow up the Council during the final space battle; because I certainly did! The fact that negativity in games is permitted and even encouraged for better rewards really makes such titles less of a learning tool, which could also give reason to why the mass media’s in-house ‘experts’ loathe them so much. Instead (if developers want to proceed with my idea of a moral-enforcing tool) games should make the good choice more obvious and realistic. With Mass Effect, there really isn't a 'bad' ending: Blow up the Council and you'll take it over and save it and you get a place anyway. The effects of blowing up the main leaders of intergalactic government should have been shown more clearly and accurately than 'oh, well, looks like we'll lead it instead then!'. At the same time, its still important to give the player freedom and the grounds to do whatever they wish, but harsher consequences should be enforced for those who opt for negative actions.

That being said, I'm not saying that all games should aim to teach children about life. Ocarina didn't even intend to, but its ideas were presented in such a way that they were subtly woven into the game. There is a huge amount of plotholes in the first third of the title alone: Why does Link accept his fate and proceed with what the Great Deku Tree says without questioning it? Why does he delve into a strange series of unfortunate events optionally? Why does he sacrifice his own innocence to save the land? Because Link is a silent protagonist, we never really know his motivations for getting caught up in the craziness; we never know his opinion on any of the many strange situations the player encounters, or why he still continues to fight. Link does not have to justify his choices, which is something that many games end up focusing their entire story to doing, usually for dramatic effect. Emotional exposition on behalf of the character can have the adverse affect to what many developers believe. Take Tommy in PREY (one of my favourite FPSes): Due to some great voice acting and timing, he usually reflects what the player is thinking (like shouting 'woo!' whenever a boss goes down or '****! Oh ****!' when, y'know, his girlfriend gets turned into an abomination) but many fans of the game believe Tommy is a bit of a selfish, reluctant arsehole due to various points of the game where he displays such characteristics, despite them making him be more 'human'. Children are using game characters as their role-models, and although many will criticise that Link's silent nature and willingness to go along with whatever people tell him as two major personality flaws, the negativity that the likes of Tommy spurts out explicitly dwarfs Link's pitfalls. The latter hardly lives a positive impression on our young, but it is at least better than influencing them in a totally evil way. Sure, we can understand the sacrifice and pain Tommy is going through and therefore expresses his emotion through anger. When a kid sees that kinda behaviour, they don't read as deeply into it as we do. Whilst Tommy is a violent, misunderstood fellow who has to resort to violence to battle genocidal man-eaters, children see the following, simplified equation:

Guns + Swearing = Saving The World = Cool


It is on these basic principles that children gain their moral grounding on. As such, whilst games are a great way to teach children the ways of society through a fantastical and interactive setting, it is also imperative that we monitor what kind of influence our children are exposed to without being too restrictive about their fun. While basic principles can be recommended to developers of how to make their games more beneficial to those who end up playing them, we definitely can't dictate that they should include only mentally productive content. I could have ended up with arachnophobia from Ocarina of Time, after all. By demanding companies only include features, storylines and characters that support a benevolent and cheery cause would ultimately detract from the fun factor of playing games. Besides, why would a kid be playing a FPS with a foul-mouthed main character? Why should the entertainment value of the game have to suffer because pre-teens may decide to convince their irresponsible parents to pick it up? These folks only make up the minority of the overall gaming population now, so why should we deliberately concentrate on making games to satisfy them or increase their morals? As I said in the beginning of the article: The stuff we learn from gaming experiences is often as an indirect result of them. Brain Training doesn't appeal to me (and wouldn't as a child, either) but learning the delicate workings of Human Nature through character interaction in Breath of Fire definitely does. Deliberately aiming a game (and, even worse, marketing it as such) as a 'child-friendly' experience can produce very 'unfun' results so even their target audience will be put off from picking it up.

Adults should moderate what children learn from gaming – from any genre. They should judge reactions to what their kids are playing and decide for themselves whether or not their child will be affected in a negative way for continuing playing, not simply expect for the developers to include a reflection of humanity's good side. In loco parentis should not exist with gaming, but rather the stories and morals that certain titles teach can be a helpful guide for children which isn't presented to them in lecture format, as well as a tool for parents to help teach, but sole dependence on games to teach your kids is an absurd idea which will probably result in them growing up as Duke Nukem as their idol, or something***.

*God, I ain’t half laying in on the big words this month, eh?

**Love: Ruto’s lust, platonic between Saria and romantic with Zelda. Jealously is presented behalf of Ganondorf, with his sole desire to possess all three elements of the Triforce. Hubris is shown throughout, ranging from the main antagonist, to figures such as Talon or the Zoran king who believe themselves better than their peers and close their eyes to the growing darkness; in each case it comes back to whack them in the face.

***Fox McCloud man maself.



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Take Down Tethyr! [Random WoW Quests]
Posted on Thursday, November 6 2008 @ 15:28:58 Eastern

Due to the success of my 'How To Be A WoW Zombie', I came up with this little narrative of a recent questline me and a friend completed.

Legends tell of a great sea beast that lives in Dustwallow Marsh, on the coast of Kalimdor. Many had s...   read more...

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Becoming A Zombie On WoW
Posted on Monday, October 27 2008 @ 02:52:34 Eastern

Not really intended as a Devil's Advocate article, but enjoy anyway.

Please note that this is about the World of Warcraft 3.0.2 patch. For other zombie-orientated madness, check out Valve's upcoming Left 4 Dead, the Half Life 2 modificatio...   read more...

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Developers and their Communities
Posted on Tuesday, October 21 2008 @ 11:44:10 Eastern



Also known as ‘The Fallout 3 Fiasco’.

Recently, Bethesda Softworks have taken a few direct hits to their ego from certain establishments over public relati...   read more...

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Videogame Violence Is Wrong
Posted on Monday, September 1 2008 @ 10:20:29 Eastern

Firstly, I'd like to profoundly apologise for the following. Instead of justifying my (quite radical and unorthodox) views with firm facts and figures from Ambiguous University #136, I'm instead going to cite pure...   read more...

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Defence of the Gamers
Posted on Friday, August 8 2008 @ 12:26:26 Eastern

"I HH8 JACK THSOMSPoN!"

"HE DONT NO WUT HES ON ABOUT!"

"ITZ A LOAD OF ****!"

Following the August 4 murder of a cab driver in Thailand in which the assailant claimed he was tryi...   read more...

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"Haha! Now I shall reveal my TRUE FORM!"
Posted on Monday, March 3 2008 @ 11:18:57 Eastern

I’m sick of it.

I’m tired of game writers, who not only have the cheek to put the player down a linear adventure full of irrelevant side-quests and escort missions full of adrenal...   read more...

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Games Don't Need Movies
Posted on Monday, February 4 2008 @ 09:50:17 Eastern

“Games don’t need movies!”

Movies need games, though.

Think about it.

You're a studio with a whole team of actors, casters, set producers and animators, just sitting around. No place to go because th...   read more...

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