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What are you paying for when you buy big-budget games?

As budgets for AAA games have ballooned, they have had to be made as inoffensive to as many consumers’ tastes as possible, just to have a hope of turning a profit. So for £40 you get a bland product which may or may not work properly on launch, and after that you get gouged for season passes, so they can feed you a stream of overpriced add-ons.

I personally can’t think of many games that I’ve derived £40 of pleasure from, but some of those that do qualify cost considerably less than that. Minecraft and Terraria were priced at a fraction of what FIFA would cost me, yet have provided far more joy than even some excellent AAA games. This is possible because those indie games were made with a sensible budget by a sensibly-sized team, allowing a creative vision to survive development. For less money, you can get a product that’s more creatively vivid, though probably lacking in some bells and whistles. And that’s what £40 seems to pay for: super-smooth textures plastered all across the uninspired brown landscapes.

But there are certainly big-budget games that are worth playing. And even a few I’d say were worth full-price, like Skyrim. For all those middling AAA titles, however, there’s always the option to wait for a Steam sale or another kind of price drop. In short, it should be a rare day that it’s worth dropping £40 on a single game if money is of any value to you, and I wouldn’t take those million-dollar ad campaigns too seriously either.

Realism vs universal consistency

There have been many occasions when I’ve asked a person’s opinion on a piece of art, and they started to talk about realism. This has happened even with such works as Star Wars and Highlander. My problem, of course, is that neither Star Wars or Highlander attempt to conform to the laws of reality, instead establishing their own universes whose rules vary from the ones your science teacher quizzed you on. Ergo, to criticise Star Wars as unrealistic is like complaining a tragedy doesn’t have enough jokes.

At the risk of sounding elitist, I suspect the average consumer of media lacks much skill at expressing their opinions on said media. Whereas I, being the pretentious tool I am, have Media Studies, English Language and Creative Writing experience. As such, I feel qualified in asserting that when most people talk about “realism”, it might be more accurate to talk about “universal consistency”.

There’s a scene in Total Recall where a hologram is shot from all angles by gunfire, yet the bullets don’t pass through and hit some of the shooters. Trevor, our hypothetical everyman, might complain that this event is unrealistic, because in reality a beam of light won’t stop a bullet. That’s a hard statement to argue with. But I would propose that the scene is acceptable, because Total Recall is set in a fictional universe; if this hologram technology existed, why could it not also have a forcefield or something? Based on what can be discerned of Total Recall’s universe up to this scene, there is nothing implausible about a hologram that can stop bullets.

But minutes later the same piece of hologram technology is used to trick two guards into shooting each other, the suggestion clearly being that bullets passed through the hologram. Trevor might express approval at this occurrence, since it seems logical within the confines of reality, yet I would cry foul. You see, the two events occur in the same universe but operate on two different sets of rules. The latter event might be realistic, but it is inconsistent with the fictional universe’s rules as previously established. As such, a plot hole occurs and the believability of the fictional universe is compromised.

I am fine with a lack of realism in media. Indeed, I’m a big consumer of fantasy fiction. But any fictional universe must still operate under some kind of rules, no matter how alien they may be. It doesn’t matter that the hologram scene doesn’t conform to reality because it isn’t trying to. What I do find fault with is when the same stimulus occurs on two occasions yet yields different results. This is why I think it’s unhelpful to talk about “realism” when it isn’t realism that’s being attempted, but rather a fictional universe with different but consistent rules. As such, I find it more helpful to talk about “universal consistency”. Only by distinguishing the two can a productive dialog occur.

The Deathstalker 3 incident

Now this is an obscure discovery, but one that raises all manner of questions.

Deathstalker 3 is an underwhelming sequel to a pair of pure schlock fantasy movies, filled to the brim with tits and gore. But this otherwise forgettable third instalment contained a surprise. See this link to a Spanish version below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kyl8wKlImSE

Around 31:22, a piece of music begins playing. Watching the scene, I was suddenly struck with the distinct sensation I knew the music from somewhere. And finally I recognised that, save for a few added synth bleeps over the top, the music was unquestionably The Prophecy Theme from Dune.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4SwFhfNh1w&feature=kp

Its inclusion in Deathstalker 3 is entirely inappropriate and likely illegal, but I was proper chuffed to have noticed such an incredibly strange and specific thing in a rather obscure work. In order to recognise the full strangeness of the music included in that scene, you would have to watch a crap sequel to a cult movie, while having prior knowledge of Dune and giving enough of a crap about its soundtrack to recognise a specific piece of music even while buried sloppily under dumb sound effects.

I don’t know about you, but I find the whole affair pretty damned amusing.

Jedi Outcast won’t let me love it

The whimpers of Stormtroopers as I blast them in the face are wonderful and the lightsaber mechanics are the best I’ve seen in any game. But somehow, I have to struggle to enjoy Jedi Outcast.

I don’t think I can recall ever getting lost in a game with such frequency. There’s just something about the level design that makes it incredibly hard for my brain to get a grip on where I’m meant to be going. Not helping are a few old-school tropes I’m glad have since died, such as doors that look the same yet only some of them open, and a bizarre reliance on platforming despite the controls not being up to it. Then you have the objects that need to be pulled or pushed, but only show the force indicator when looked at from very specific angles.

Jedi Outcast has so much going for it, but the good is constantly impeded by the bad. I’ve made several attempts to get into it, and even these are impeded by the bane of replayability, the unskippable cutscene. This post is getting a bit ranty now, but if I had to cram a moral at the end of this story, it would be that even the best ideas can be scuppered by a few bad ones.

Snake Eater - Is Volgin a good villain? *SPOILERS*

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It’s pretty clear within minutes of meeting him that Colonel Volgin is a colossal cock. And despite having a fair bit of screentime, we never get much tangible reason to give his mega-maniacal ambitions the benefit of the doubt. In a franchise which features some truly intriguing villains, Volgin stands out for basically being the opposite. But simple as his character may be, I’m tempted to argue that he remains an effective antagonist.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON

Volgin’s entire manner is one of unflinching douchebaggery, and he’d make for unpleasant company even if his principal pastime wasn’t torture. The closest he ever comes to sounding sympathetic is a suggested affection for Raikov, though I can’t imagine the Colonel being a considerate lover. In short, Volgin is easy to hate.

And this, I think, is already above-average for a videogame villain. So many games attempt to set up a bad guy, yet show so little reason to care about them. If nothing else, Volgin is a memorable figure for his remarkable ability to be an utter arse at every waking moment, and his actions directly hinder the player’s progress on multiple occasions. He also bickers with Ocelot, the charismatic young upstart with a sense of sportsmanship, meaning he manages to look like a bastard even compared to other baddies.

It’s rare in my experience for a videogame bad guy to actually be built up as a legitimate threat. Volgin may be crude but he is more than established as an unpredictable sadist by the time the player gets to fight him, giving the encounter some actual weight. That he takes so very long to die also helps, and the possibility that his eventual death may have been his own fault does lend a sense of poetic justice.

Consider also how he, as a clear-cut evil, can be used as a tool for exploring some of the deeper characters. His entering a room tends to shut everybody up, but he seems apprehensive of The Boss. Whether that apprehension is fear or merely respect is up to debate, but the fact that The Boss can keep such a beast in check without much apparent effort can only make the player wonder what she’s capable of. Consider as well that while both Volgin and The Boss cause Snake great harm at least once, there’s a certain efficiency to the Boss’ assault whereas Volgin revels in the pain.

Snake Eater as a whole is a fascinating blend of outlandish camp and discussion-worthy drama, and I say Volgin works as a villain despite having very little depth. Not every character needs to be complex, so long as they serve a purpose.

Kuwabara, kuwabara.

*****

Like this? Perhaps you’d enjoy some Snake Eater-related videos too?

Snake Eater review

My favourite stealth games

the-domhnall-of-zena asked:

Ha Tryzon, I was wondering what do you use for your mic? I'm thinking about buying one myself as I want to try this whole video thing, and was wondering what you use for such a clear sound.

Ah, I sense ambition in you :D Well, I’m 90% sure my mic is a Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000. Nothing to break the bank, but it’s served me very well.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Microsoft-LifeChat-LX-3000-Retail-Packaging/dp/B000JSDOMO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399188579&sr=8-1&keywords=microsoft+headset

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