Oblivin’ the Life (Oblivion)

The first Elder Scrolls title I played was Skyrim, and after a few hours of running around, picking up flowers, talking to crisp packets and slaying my very first dragon, I promptly stopped playing altogether.

I’m not saying Skyrim was a bad game. In fact, from what I’ve seen and tried to play if it since my first toe-dipping, it’s freakin’ fantastic. It’s not difficult to see what all the fuss (ro dah) was about. It was just too big for me. My concentration never managed to latch appropriately onto the game. Maybe I just didn’t feel like an RPG at the time.

About a week ago, I decided to play some Oblivion, which I’d had similar experiences with since abandoning Skyrim. I’m not sure what was different, but something clicked. Suddenly, I was fireballing rats and failing to protect the Emperor like nobody’s business. Wolves live in fear of me. NPCs cower at the thought of coming off as rude and being callously cut down, before hastily returning to life in the quicksave prior.

Well, alright, I guess I'll be leaving, then!
Well, alright, I guess I’ll be leaving, then!

I’m a bit of a cheater. One thing I’ve never liked about the Elder Scrolls games – more so in Oblivion than Skyrim – is the limitations of carry weight. So I maaaaybe downloaded a mod which extended my carry weight from 210 to somewhere along the lines of 37,000. I’m a magical Pak Yak masquerading as an Argonian, and it’s goddamn spectacular. That being said, I don’t pick up everything I see. If I’m aware that I have a Dremora Mace in my inventory, I don’t typically pick up one of the other thirty thousand laying around the place. If it’s light, like the good old Deadric Heart, then I’ll probably shove more than a fair share in my endlessly expanding pockets. (I’m quite a sight when I rock up to the Imperial City with my pockets trailing behind me like Santa’s sack.)

I also turned the difficulty down, because I’m an awful gamer. It was default up until the siege of Kvatch, where I was met with a stretch of maybe 15 demons and nowhere to replenish resources. I turned the difficulty down just a smidgen, just a little tiny bit, and I was suddenly dispatching scamps in two swings instead of twelve. I’m not entirely sure what kind of scaling that is, but I’m not going to question it. I’ve been able to experience much more of the game in a shorter span of time due to it.

All jokes aside, I actually find myself interacting with the story and paying attention to characters and plot, far more so than I did in Skyrim. I don’t have the best attention span as a gamer, so this is a rare treat. Oblivion’s gameplay is tugging at me to try out Skyrim again, which I know harbors many improvements in niche, quality-of-life areas. But I’m forcing myself to stay with Oblivion for now, maybe to the extent of finding a quiet corner and reading through the fifty books I picked up to learn a little more about this world which I so ceaselessly charge through without much of a second thought.

Advertisements

Choices That Matter

Firstly, if you don’t want to risk becoming jaded to the make-your-own-choice type games (typically Telltale), I’d recommend not reading this blog post. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, it may open up a few behind the scenes workings which change how you approach the games and allow less enjoyment from them.

Now, I have a bit of an issue with the choices-matter type games that have been appearing as of late. When I first heard of them, I thought they were amazing, a concept which I didn’t know I wanted but totally did. Even more so on Telltale’s part; I was now able to create my own story within a pre-existing universe. And I won’t fault them; the writing is superb, from what I’ve seen and played. I’m very much enjoying Game of Thrones, the one I’m actually playing, and have enjoyed others by watching them played by streamers or Youtubers.

The problem is that they have many episodes to go through, and should all your choices affect the game world as much as you’d expect them to, they’d end up branching into so many varying paths that you’d require a massive amount of development to pull it off. I understand that. The issue is (minor spoilers ahead if you can gather which game and plot point I’m vaguely referring to) that some options break this illusion entirely. For instance, if I have the option of saving a character or running for my life, I don’t expect that character to pop up next episode a little miffed and giving only the vaguest “you wouldn’t want to know what I did to survive” explanation. This character was done for, and the fact that they survived was completely immersion breaking, but they were obviously required for a later part in the story.

Another problem is that you grow to expect these algorithms; if I’m given the option to send someone from the room, then there’s probably a reason for it, and so I expect a betrayal. If I’m given the option to kill or spare a major character, I realise that whichever option I choose won’t matter because it’s such a major plot point, the character will end up wherever the story requires. Most of your options change people’s attitudes towards you, nothing more.

That said, I must emphasise that this does not entail bad writing. I’ve still been completely shocked by a betrayal, by a death, by an outcome. I still very much recommend the genre. I just hope that it’s built upon, given larger development teams in order to truly create the sense of decisions that matter. I would love to sit back some day and try and write such a story, whether it be in game format or some other invention.

There are two notable games that have not been made by Telltale Games that I’d like to discuss here. Firstly, Life Is Strange. At this time of writing, we’re waiting for the last episode to come out. This game is very similar to Telltale Games’ style barring one thing: you can travel back in time. This is interesting as it allows you to see the outcomes of many options, though at the same time makes decision feel less consequential as a result.

The other game is Until Dawn, which does things a little differently. The game focuses heavily on the Butterfly Effect, mentioning from the beginning that the choices you make in the early game could impact the entire outcome of the story. However, having watched only one playthrough, I’m blind to whether this really is the case; sadly, I’ve heard from a few sources that the possible story doesn’t change all that much, with the characters seeming to get over deaths incredibly quickly due to various nature of the game. Characters are acting on the basis that their friends, from a technical standpoint, could or could not be standing beside them, and this puts characterisation in jeopardy. One thing that I absolutely commend Until Dawn for, though, is the fact that characters can and do die based on your decisions and skills, and adds an extra element of player control to the picture which Telltale type games currently lack. You genuinely feel tense and on edge; the life of the person you’re controlling really does depend on you. And that is brilliant.

This genre has an incredible amount of potential and as a storyteller and someone who is personally very interested in the idea of a butterfly effect, I can only hope that it continues to grow. Maybe it will become a new, standard method of storytelling someday, such as movies and manga and the like are today. I believe that, done right, it has the power to more readily encourage people to stop and consider the effects that their decisions have in everyday life.

Nostalgia vs Reality (Runescape)

Who here remembers Runescape? Raise your hand, come on, don’t be shy. Back in secondary school it sort of fell into an embarrassing guilty pleasure for whatever reason, but it’s just a video game and we’re all friends here. Come on, you know that Lumbridge soundtrack, sing it with me. Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-DOO-doo-doo.

Well, anyway, I still play it sometimes. I was crazy about it in January and bought a year’s membership that, ah, hasn’t been used for its value. But whatever, I still hop on from time to time, and if you’re not in the know, the game is still being updated and is likely far different to how you remember it.

And before we go any further, I’d like to say that I like Runescape. I do. It’s fun. I enjoy it.

But is it a good game? Hell no!

There’s nothing wrong with the development or anything. It’s an MMO that they’ve created well, and put plenty of time into. It still gets regular updates after 14 years and if that’s not impressive I don’t know what is. The quests are superbly unique, the lore nowadays is surprisingly rich and the combat’s been revisited beyond the click and wait that it once was. (That being said, I prefer to use Legacy Combat.) The game is large, it has substance, it’s been designed well.

It’s the base that the game is built on that’s the problem. You have a number of skills to train and many of them include clicking and watching your character chop a tree or harvest memories or create a bow, and then clicking again. The xp curve required to reach higher levels is insane, with 92 out of a possible 99 levels being the technical halfway mark in terms of xp required. The game is quite literally a grindfest.

The other problem I have with the game is more a gripe of personal preference than anything. Should you die, you drop all but your 3 most valuable items, and whilst you have the opportunity to run back to your corpse, this makes me edge to the “stupid boring” side of the risk vs reward spectrum.

I’m not trying to insult the developers of the game here, for they’ve done a fantastic job. You can tell how much love and care has gone into the development of the game, despite what the somewhat toxic community might shout at you. This isn’t really meant to be a negative review, per se, for I enjoy the game and do recommend people to try it and see if it suits them. It’s just more of a Cookie Clicker than an RPG.

I maintain a faint aspiration of owning a skillcape someday, though with my highest level being 78 woodcutting I think it’s fair to say I’m a ways off. Due to the age of the game and it’s efficiency-crazy fanbase, you’ll often see world messages of players reaching level 99 in a skill, 99 in all skills, or even further milestones. Many people continue gaining xp for a skill past level 99 and use third party programs to estimate what level they would be, with 120 being the new 99 in most cases. There’s world messages for that, too. Makes me feel terribly inadequete.

Well, regardless, I’ll probably keep on playing this game casually until all of my skills are at a level where I’d have to grind for weeks to advance one level. Then I’ll probably give up and forget about the game for another five years until I make a new account. Such is the Runescape life.

faintly hums the Lumbridge Song

Personal Favourites

Whilst not the most original idea for a blog post, I decided it would still be interesting to write (and hopefully read) about my personal favourite videogames. I shall list them here and talk about why each choice is what it is. To make things less repetitive, I shall only allow one game from each franchise. Choice number one would otherwise take up most of the list with its sequels.

Number 10: Jak and Daxter

If you’ve never played Jak and Daxter I’d highly recommend the HD version on Playstation 3. Naughty Dog took everything they learned about platformers with their iconic Crash Bandicoot series and put it to work in a slightly more story-based environment. Its sequels, whilst great games in their own right, took the franchise in a different direction to mature alongside their target audience. The original Jak and Daxter remains as a decent, fun, fairly easy platformer which remains as one of the only games I’ve ever perfected. That’s right, I collected every damn precursor orb.

Number 9: Saints Row 3

Alright, sorry, it’s Saints Row the Third. It is, as its title suggests, the third installment in the series and was my entry into the franchise. Whilst previous iterations of the game were essentially clones of Grand Theft Auto, this entry took things in a more unique and comedic direction. The freedom of unlocking cheats, combined with additional perks such as having your car spawn near you satiated the thirst of those like me who enjoyed GTA, but really wanted something less serious and more arcade-style. This was, of course, before GTA V, where some of the “perks” I considered awesome in Saints Row were also integrated into GTA. Despite this, Saints Row 3 remains my favourite, with 4 coming in as a close second.

Number 8: Spore

Most people were disappointed with Spore. I, however, was 13, and was not that invested in the preview / showing off portion of the gaming industry, and therefore came to the game blind and with a fresh mind. I wasn’t even aware that it was a disappointment to many until some years later. Spore fascinated me for two main reasons: the creature / everything else creator, and the space stage. Never had I been so immersed in a game’s representation of space. I still haven’t been. The controls were simple, the weapons were fun, the options of what to do were clear. If you chose the economic path it became a grind. Never tried religious. Decide on being an evil overlord, however, and your empire would grow faster than any others, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t delicious being despicable, too.

Number 7: Pokemon SoulSilver

I have never been as hooked on a Pokemon game as I was by SoulSilver. Previous to it, I’d played Ruby, Diamond and Leaf Green (in that order), and whilst I was thoroughly enjoying the series from Diamond onwards, SoulSilver is the one that grabbed me. I’m still working on beating Black (my least favourite) so that I can transfer my many awesome SoulSilver Pokemon to Omega Ruby (which is also a damn good game, though I’ve not finished it). I’d given Gold and Silver a try before, but much as I hate to admit it, I was somewhat deterred by the graphics. I know, it’s a classic, but sometimes if you don’t play a classic before it becomes a classic, you can never truly appreciate it. Unless it’s remade later. SoulSilver remains the most I’ve ever completed a Pokemon game, with almost all the obtainable legendaries obtained.

Number 6: Audiosurf

When I was surfing the net as a wee twelve year old I stumbled across a game called Audiosurf. Unbeknownst to me, it was not meant to be free. I was 12 and dumb. But yes, I played an illegal version of it for a while, and then forgot about it. My introduction to Steam some time later caused me to realise it was not free, and I promptly bought it and played the heck out of it. As of right now, I have 42 hours logged on Steam, and 12 hours spent on its equally-as-awesome-for-slightly-different-reasons sequel. Considering that the game is based around three to nine minute songs per track (you can have longer, I’m talking averages) I’d say that’s a fair amount of play time. I even used it to listen to an audio story once, Dalek Empire by Big Finish. It’s simple on the game mode I play; dodge greys, collect colours. On high tempo songs, the velocity can become insane, and that’s all the more fun.

Number 5: Diablo 3

“Diablo 2 was better!” Listen: stop. I never played Diablo 2. I have, however, played Diablo 3, and whilst I’ve heard horrifying stories about 1.0, the current version is an absolute joy to play. Adventure mode with its bounties and rifts and paragon levels add endless replayability, and as the first ARPG I’ve really played I can say it’s been a great introduction into the genre. The story was frankly superb, and the characterisation they give the heroes you can choose from really adds to the atmosphere of the game. When my Wizard gloats about how great he is (“If only they could see me now!”) I shake my head and smile, reflecting on the irony of his then immediate death. (I’m not the best at the game.) I’m currently a Paragon Level 52 Wizard going-on Paragon Level 50 Billion, and my Templar and I will hunt demons to the end of Sanctuary.

Number 4: Unreal Tournament 2004

This was a tough decision. I was introduced to the franchise with the PS2 version of Unreal Tournament, the original 1999 title. I have since purchased Steam’s PC version of 1999, and whilst I’m still very much in love with this original version, I have also bought 2004. And 2004 is glorious. It is fantastic. It looks good even eleven years later… or, at least it does in my opinion. I’ll often spoof a LAN connection over Hamachi to play with a friend. If I’m bored or bummed out, sometimes I’ll just load it up and go on a gibbing spree. It’s mindless satisfaction and it is glorious.

Number 3: World of Warcraft

So… WoW. Here it is. Sitting, rather confused and upset, at number 3. Why are you number 3, WoW? Yes, it is true that I’ve spent substantially more time playing WoW than any other game. I have over a thousand hours logged into WoW (that’s over a month), with two level 100 characters and a third closing in on that goal. I enjoy the game thoroughly, and regret none of the hours spent in Azeroth (and Outland, and Draenor). It is number three, however, because although I enjoy this game very much, I simply prefer the next two to it. Simple as that. I can quest and dungeon-run and raid for hours, but the initial magic of the first thirty or so hours has been lost to time. The fact that this game sits at number three even after over a thousand hours is what should speak volumes about it as a game. That’s definitely more impressive than its position alone.

Number 2: Terraria

This was one of those games which, upon seeing five seconds of gameplay, caused me to almost leap out of my seat and throw money at the screen. It came out of left field, and I watched the developers’ pre-release Let’s Play eagerly with anticipation. This game was what Minecraft (addressed below) was missing. This was a game. With adventure. And items. And monsters. And bosses. And by god I needed it.

I currently have over 70 hours logged into this game on Steam, and to be honest, I’ve only just unlocked hardmode. That is atrocious efficiency, sure, but Terraria isn’t a race to the finish. I’ve played alternate characters with friends, and built houses and castles and watchtowers. I’ve watched a friend say “Yeah, I’m pretty awesome” and die of fall damage the second after. I have loved this game from the second it was released, and I can’t thank the developers enough for creating it and then continuing to develop it due to high demand. And I cannot wait for Terraria: Otherworld.

Number 1: Ratchet and Clank 2

When I hear the word “game”, I think of Ratchet and Clank 2.

Over the years, I have tried to sum up my love for this game many times, and every time I’ve walked away dissatisfied with my review. It is, without a doubt, the greatest game I have ever played. I know the game word for word, level for level, gun upgrade for gun upgrade. There’s no doubt that later installments in the series improve upon the foundations of 1 and 2, but as far as personal preferences go, this is it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve completed the game. I think it’s somewhere in the region of seven or eight. I played this before I went to school as a kid. I played it before exams as a teenager. I play it whilst weeping over coursework as what passes for an adult. And, given the availability, I plan on playing it later into life.

If you’re already acquainted with the game, I highly recommend this developer commentary let’s play series with Tony Garcia and Mike Stout. Being already familiar with the game myself, this taught me some interesting things about game design which made me love the game even more, even with the faults which they point out. It’s a great series by two great people. I’d recommend playing the game first, though they do a good job of playing the game normally anyway.

One last note: Sadly, the HD collection of the PS2 Ratchet and Clank games is absolutely riddled with bugs, some of them game breaking. For instance, one time Ratchet disappeared and I was controlling an impervious suit of armour. Another time, the corpses of the enemies didn’t despawn and the prompt to open the door to continue didn’t activate. (Yup, I still had a CRT TV). These bugs were not present in the PS2 version of the game and I doubt the HD collection went through any sort of Quality Assurance before release. It’s worth mentioning that Insomniac had no involvement with this.

And so that’s my top ten… wait a minute.

Where’s Minecraft?

I decided not to add Minecraft to my top ten favourite games despite playing much of it. This is because I don’t really consider Minecraft as a game so much as a creative platform for games. Sure, there’s the base survival gameplay, but I wouldn’t put that on my top ten due to lack of content. I feel that the real fun to be had in Minecraft is creating with friends, playing player-made maps and installing mods. I love Minecraft, but I don’t think it has a place on my top ten list for gameplay.

So, thank you for reading! That was longer than I expected, but it feels good to have something I can reference to people when they inevitably don’t ask. I’m aware that I’ve kind of ignored this blog up until now, and will work hard to counteract this. Hopefully this long post will somewhat make up for that.