Month: May 2012

Online Communities VS Single Player

We’ve all seen recently that the more we’ve progressed in terms of technology being used within our consoles, we’ve also seen the increase in multiplayer.Going from split screen on the same TV, to linking consoles via a cable, to the rise of Xbox Live and Playstation Network but do people enjoy the communities that are being brought to our headsets and what’s our views on the experience of online gaming VS good old single player?

As I’ve mentioned before, the rise of technology being introduced to the upcoming consoles, we’ve seen the prices go up in price as well to the normal RRP for an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 game is around £40. The question I constantly find that I ask myself is “is this really worth the money?” Me personally, I am more of a single player person. Why? Well part of the reason is that find that the online community by itself is never much fun for me. There are the odd days where I will sit and play online games but within a few hours, I’m back onto single player games. Unless I am sitting in a party chat with a couple of friends, I simply cannot enjoy the online experience when it comes to games as much as what I can.

Now this is down to several factors for me. Firstly, I’m a girl who games so automatically, I can be getting taunted for my sex as some gamers have still got  the images that girls simply cannot play games (mostly they can be little Joe whose got his mother to purchase the latest Call of Duty for him since he’s 6 years under the age limit, but that’s another topic in hand now isn’t it?) or are just being seen as sex symbols that are being used to chat up. We’ve all experienced this in online gaming lobbies in some form whether we’ve witnessed this or just been on the receiving end of it. With this in mind, gaming lobbies can become a place for bullying against people of different sexuality, race and beliefs. Some may raise the point that “Yes, but this can happen in everyday life if you walk down the street and put on display your beliefs for the rest of the world to see” but, when playing online, everyone is hidden behind an avatar that can act as a barrier in the fact that, unless we are friends outside of online gaming with the person – you don’t know who they are apart from their username and what games they play so this poses the question , are gaming lobbies acting as a enticer to bullying and only igniting the flame that we’re trying to dampen down on that is called bullying? Is this barrier of having an avatar and not really getting caught out on the bullying just the reason that we’re seeing so much bullying being allowed? Alright so most of you will be saying “So what, just mute them all before starting a match?” by this point, as would I if I was reading this but surely the point of a multiplayer online game would be the multiplayer portion of it and by muting all of these people, you’re essentially isolating yourselves from everyone else. Not much of a ‘team’ player then are we? Can we win with online communities then? Well let’s look at that next.

In saying all of these negatives about the online gaming community, online lobbies can be considered as a good place to meet new people who have similar gaming interests as you. As we’re seeing more and more of the CoD’s and Battlefield’s, the more clans that are forming where friends are getting together on a regular basis online and doing more team vs. team competitions on these games which are obviously displaying the act of more team work and enjoyment compared to someone joining a lobby by themselves with a group of random people. As well as this, I’ve also been a witnessed to people coming together through online forums to help other gamers out with achievements on certain games and working together to help each other out.

As I’ve already mentioned, I am more of a single player gal myself. Not only because of my view on the online gaming communities but because I find that it provides more of an enjoyable experience. No worries of getting abused by strangers, no waiting around to get matched up in a game and definitely no lag! (Unless you have a really old console where there would be some waiting around for the game to load up). I find single player campaigns more immersive on the better games and after recently getting into some RPG title’s such as Dragon Age, this has only strengthened my love and belief that there are still really good single player games being created but, I do feel they’re getting overrun by the multiplayer aspect. Again, as I’ve briefly touched upon earlier in this article, the price tags are rising for these games, so is there really the need to pay £40 for a game that’s single player you’ll play perhaps 10 hours on? Another question I find myself asking is, “why are they adding on multiplayer, it’s already an amazing game by itself?”. This has mainly been with the Assassins Creed series which I think anyone who knows me, I am a massive fan of but, my point still stands in that they’ve already got a very good base of a game with the single player aspect of it and I do feel that the multiplayer is just an unnecessary add on to the game.

One final mention of a game type that is a way of somewhat meeting the two parallels in the middle is co-op. Co-op offers about the best of both worlds within the single player and the multiplayer. Where this would have normally been carried out on the same TV, same console and two separate controllers in the early 90’s, not only can we still play with our friends but it can be done within the comfort of our own homes and also is providing us with another way on meeting new people that could potentially be less abusive. Still offers the same experience of single player with the intense action and emotion behind it however you can enjoy it with friends or create new friends from anywhere in the world.

In conclusion, I think that even due to the rise of online gaming and more and more money being invested into the multiplayer portion of upcoming games can sometimes be a disadvantage for those who either do not wish to partake in the multiplayer aspect of these games and could be seen as being somewhat punished by receiving a mediocre single player campaign compared to five or ten years ago although, online communities can provide a way of meeting new people and creating new connections with other gamers.

However, we at Zero1Gaming want to know your thoughts on the matter. Leave a comment below on your thoughts, views and opinion.

3D Killed the Videogame Star

Whatever happened to Sonic The Hedgehog?

For anyone who grew up during the 1990’s Sonic, along with everyone’s favourite plumber, stood as a visual representation of the gaming world. Where Mario was plodding along in the Mushroom Kingdom, Sonic was whizzing through Green Hill Zone. He was cool, hip, wise cracking and boy oh boy was he fast, it seemed like nothing could stop this speedy little guy, but something went wrong along the way.

Why has Mario gone from strength to strength while Sonic has fallen on hard times? Why have other characters overtaken the little blue blur? What went wrong with Sonic The Hedgehog?

Sonic’s first outing was in 1991 on the Sega Genesis (Megadrive for UK readers!). He was Sega’s third attempt at creating a brand mascot after Opa-Opa and Alex Kidd. Sonic was created to challenge the might of Mario and for nearly 10 years he did.

Sonic the Hedgehog & Sonic the Hedgehog 2 were massive successes. The thrill of blasting through levels at break neck speed was breathtaking; the games made Mario’s adventures look practically sedentary. I remember watching Gamesmaster when I was growing up and seeing competitions between people to see who could get through a level or finish the game quickest. Speed Running with Sonic 2 is still a considered a worthy challenge; the current completion record is 18 minutes and 12 seconds.

But, by the time Sonic the Hedgehog 3 rolled around in 1994 gamers were starting to notice a familiar pattern. Sega, in a rush to keep the momentum going, was turning out Sonic games on an annual basis so after the first two games people started noticing the same kind of level design. Sega didn’t seem to be putting in that much effort and in some cases appeared to be making things particularly difficult. I’m sure most Sonic gamers can name a few incidents where they have collided with an unavoidable set of spikes or baddie.

The increasingly frustrating level design seemed to become a staple of Sonic games and some would argue that it continues even today, in fact some would argue (myself included) that since Sonic jumped to 3D the levels have only gotten worse.

The gaming shift from 2D to 3D was a difficult time for a lot of developers and gamers. How do you keep that familiar gameplay whilst opening up a new world to explore? New players like Sony & Microsoft were able to design from the bottom up and embrace 3D as they didn’t have the same 2D legacy that Nintentdo & Sega had but while The Big N showed the world how it could be done with Super Mario 64, Sega floundered.

 

 

Sonic Adventure was a launch title for the Dreamcast and while it was hailed as the best 3D Sonic game at the time, it also had many flaws. Sonic games were designed for speed. In 2D environments this is an easy thing to process as the path you can take is laid out for you and never changes, in 3D however the need to create an open world means that you have multiple paths to choose from and not all of them will be the right ones. Controlling Sonic also became more of an issue. How do you make sure that he is going the right way and not veering to the side when you have a full 360 range of motion? Sega appeared to have acknowledged these issues when they announced a return to classic Sonic with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 & Episode 2.

Another thing Sega wanted to make sure everyone was aware of with Sonic 4 was that the game featured Sonic and only Sonic. Over the first 3 games and Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic was joined by his best friend Miles ‘Tails” Prower in Sonic 2 and Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic & Knuckles.  The reaction to these added cast members was quite warm so Sega thought they would add more, and more and more.

Apart from Sonic, Tails & Knuckles, Sega have added a further 17 ‘friends’ over the years. On my recent play through of Sonic Generations after I rescued Tails & Knuckles I increasingly became more and more bewildered at who the hell these characters were, Cream the Rabbit?? Mighty the Armadillo, Who?? Blaze the Cat, Huh??? And Rouge the Bat, WTF!!??. Christmas must be an expensive time of year! Thankfully I’m not alone, over the years players have tired of games tending to focus more on this seemingly never ending roster of friends than on Sonic, especially when some of them are lumbering brutes and can barely speed up to a swift jog let alone blaze a trail through Emerald Hill!

When you look at the cast members of a Mario game you see that Nintendo have stuck with the same 5 main characters. Mario, Luigi, Toad, Princess & Bowser. Occasionally they will add different characters such as the Koopa Kids or Baby Mario/Luigi but for the most part the core characters in the main games are the same. This has allowed Nintendo to evolve them and allow you to ‘bond’ with them, the same cannot be said for Sonic & Co – in fact I would personally say that my dislike for Sonic started when they gave him a voice!

 

So, what was the reason for Sonic’s fall from grace? Was it the predictable and frustrating level design? The inability to transition from 2D to 3D? The endless hangers on that Sega felt we needed to be made aware of? Or was it something else?  Many would argue that Sonic is a representation of Sega and when things went bad for Sega they went bad for Sonic. Others say that the character has become so watered down that he is just a name now rather than an idea and the only reason he is still around is due to a misplaced sense of nostalgia.

Sega’s most recent attempt at reviving the Sonic brand was with it’s “Greatest Hits” game, Sonic Generations, but for me, all it did was highlight how good Sonic was compared to where he is now. The thrill I had blasting through the remade 2D Chemical Plant zone and then battling a HD Death Egg Robot with the same music playing was immense!

My suggestion to Sega? Remake Sonic 2, keep it 2D and for the love of god, shut the Hedgehog up!

 

 

The Future of Kinect?

This first few weeks of this month have produced some spectacular announcements from the R&D teams using Microsofts Kinect accessory, and most of these have been reported in depth on the Verge’s website. Sadly none of these involve gaming directly, but a couple may have features that could enhance the gaming experience for Xbox 360 owners, and future Kinect for Windows owners too.

First off there came a story of 3D holographic teleconferencing using a cylinder topped with six Kinects which you stand in front of to get “mapped” in 3D, and then beamed to another cylinder elsewhere in the world, creating a full 3D rendering of the caller that can be walked around and viewed from a full 360 degrees. This would undoubtedly prove useful in the workplace, but I don’t foresee this expensive set-up proving all that useful in the gaming world.

Secondly, the use of augmented reality in the topography sandbox (a literal box of sand, not the gaming term) means that young visitors to museums can interact with the sand, creating hills and dips that are mapped by the Kinect and represented by projectors as a topographical view, to which virtual water can be added to view how the physical shape of the ground will affect water flow. Again, this is a very neat idea, but not much practical use for the gamers amongst us.

Thirdly, a slightly more useful addition of Premium Agency’s LiveAR software promising interaction between Apple iPad’s and Microsoft’s Kinect. Initially, the video shows only what appears to be visual effects on the TV screen following screen taps on the iPad and some hand gestures aimed towards the Kinect. A little underwhelming at the moment, I think this could be an incredible opportunity to introduce tablet games onto home consoles. Am I the only one imagining a head-to-head with Fruit Ninja on both the iPad and the Kinect versions? It may even be the step Microsoft need to take to compete with the similar tablet/movement combination promised by Nintendo’s WiiU console. (Full video is viewable here.)

Finally, and infinitely more interesting to this gamer, is the MirageTable concept creating an astounding interactive 3D workspaces, which can provide useful video conferencing tools, but could also impact the gaming market with interactive gaming, of the board or casino game variety.

Take a look at the videos, and see if you can foresee the gaming potential of these projects.

Walking Dead Episode 1

After watching the TV series and reading through the comic books, there was no surprise that when the Walking Dead game had been announced, that I was over the moon. I had slowly become an avid fan of the series and was ready for the next adventure that provided me the opportunity to face even more zombies.

My first thoughts when I downloaded this game from the Xbox Live Marketplace was “Oh wait, it’s not a full game” which now after playing the game, is perhaps not the best way to grab people’s attention to purchasing this new release however, after writing this review, I hope to change people’s perception of the game.

As I’ve said, The Walking Dead Episode 1 isn’t a full game – its part of a five part series of games that are to be released on a monthly basis. At the start of the game, we meet Lee, a criminal on his way to prison before finding out about the zombie apocalypse at the wrong moment.

Visually, the comic book art-style will definitely appeal to those who enjoyed reading the Walking Dead comic books and reminded me somewhat of the Borderlands game with its vivid colours. The environments that are seen throughout the game vary from woods, housing estates, towns and the recognisable Hershel’s farm from the TV series – all of which have been designed with due care to suit the type of game that Episode 1 is really well.

If you’re expecting thousands of zombies coming at you and you being one man and his shotgun taking them all on, think again. Episode 1 is a point and click game, something I have rarely delved into as a gamer myself so this was something new and different to try out.

For the first hour on Episode 1, I was a bit sceptical on whether or not I would enjoy it. By using the highlighted areas on screen to identify objects that I could interact with and use, this was a lot of a help to a newcomer to the type of game but it still made the game an excitable and real adrenaline rush at certain points and didn’t seem like a total walk in the park with the additional help given to me. Worrying about whether you’re about to see your inevitable death due to the zombie crawling nearer to your legs before you can get that bullet into the shotgun really gets the heart going and for me, standing out of my chair – as it if was going to make my character load the weapon any faster! (There is some logic to this that will be applied in some day and age!) This makes up for the time spent on the slower pace that Episode 1 provides, especially when it comes to the dialogue.

TellTale games have really excelled in The Walking Dead Episode 1 when it comes to the voice acting and the dialogue. Throughout the game, you are required to choose dialogue options, some of which can gain you more information about Lee himself and finding out more about his background or, these can be vital decisions that can change the way the game plays out for you. Most of the choices are choosing between two people to save however, I made a point of doing as much interaction with everyone as I could and through the way that you respond to some of their questions, those people perception of you change which is noted to you through a message appearing in the top left corner.

I think that without the dialogue choices in which I could easily use to gain more information about my character and delay the actual storyline for an extra 5-10 minutes was key in making the game and enjoyable one. Overall, the game can easily be completed within a couple of hours and is an easy game at that, once you know where and what you’re looking for however without the depth that the dialogue brings to the game, then I can imagine Episode 1 would have become a very boring and mundane game rapidly, pushing more people to not like it.

 

Going back to my point that I made about the game being a relatively easy play through once you know where you’re going,one flaw that I did find with the games is that sometimes, the direction on where you’re going and or what you are looking for is misleading. Without bringing too many spoilers into this review, there was a moment where I had to locate a key which, due to previous conversations, I understood to be under the counter within the drugstore where we were holding up in. I spent a fair amount of time trying to find this key by searching through all of the counters and came up with nothing. After half an hour of wandering around, speaking to everyone and exploring as much as I could, I was finally able to progress with the storyline. As frustrating as this was to begin with, it did force me more into exploring my surrounding areas and trying to just exhaust all possible dialogue options and clicking on all areas that were highlighted for me.

The characters within the game are all new to the franchise apart from the familiar faces of Hershel and Glen which, you can try and consider how this story that’s told within the game can relate to the story that’s been told within the TV series and comic books which, for me, only increases the profundity of the franchise as a whole. Some of the characters could have done with a little more work and thought mind you. Perfect example of this was a reporter that went by the name of Carley who, although could shoot a gun pretty well, kept her extra ammo in the purse and also wasn’t aware on what batteries were. These characteristics just didn’t add up very well within my own mind in the fact that she was able to carry herself with a gun and do it very well, however was too dumb to know what batteries were?! Aside from this, all of the characters presented themselves as unique individuals, all standing for their own beliefs and each had an short but interesting backstory to how they got to where they were, something of which I enjoyed.

As a major lover of zombie games, this really did challenge me on whether I really loved them as much I said I do as it wasn’t really much of a shoot-em-up but a game that presents itself with more concentration on character development and very story oriented which is something that I’ve secretly been waiting for within the zombie games. The game overall is a very short one however, if we consider this including all of the other four episodes, each averaging about 3 hours, then at roughly £4 each, you’ll be getting a decent 15 hour game for the £20 mark and that’s just based on one play through. Consider the fact that you might wish to go back through the game to explore the other dialogue choices and you’ll have racked up perhaps a 25 hour game for £20. Unfortunately, Episode 1 doesn’t offer co-op or multiplayer however I do not think it requires these options as it stands very well on its own two feet as a single player game. The achievements for it are all story related and can be snatched up within the first play through which, to some people, might not give them enough of a reason to go back through the game again but each to their own. I know that I will definitely be playing back through Episode 1 in preparation for Episode 2 coming out in around a months’ time.

The Walking Dead Episode 1 is definitely a game for fans of the franchise and zombie lovers however; you do not require any knowledge of the story that has already been told through the TV and comic book series to understand the game. I think the game is a great way to first get into the Walking Dead franchise and is definitely well worth the money, even if you can quickly complete the game within one night. I’m going to give Episode 1 and 8/10 and I’m really hoping that all of the following episodes keep up the same level that this game has made with a great debut.

 

Digital Distribution VS Physical Media

After reading some recent stories regarding games developers (such as PlayDead, the creators of Limbo), and the fact that they would only really consider distributing digitally in the future, and the hardware developers Sony (especially) and Microsoft denying that the physical media of discs is obsolete, it seems the game companies are at a stalemate situation with the platform owners.

I can understand Sony’s reluctance to invest in the digital-only market. It had a disastrous launch with the PSP-GO (which I bought due to liking the look of it), which featured download-only access to games. But as XBOX360, PS3 and Wii are all making substantial profits on DLC for existing games, why is the leap to digital only creating such a storm?

I believe the answer lies in cost. As consumers, we expect a physical product for the money we pay out. We also expect a moderate return on that investment; we certainly do not expect a total loss. For example, when you buy a car, it depreciates in value as soon as you hand the cash over, and will continue to do so until it plateaus several years later. You should still get some form of monetary value (cash or trade-in) for the car/pile of metal you have left when the time comes to get a new one.

With digital games, there is no ‘trade-in’ value. With physical games it is getting that way too, with Resident Evil on the 3DS only allowing one game save and the newest Batman game (Arkham City) limiting the Catwoman missions to those who buy the game new, or at an £8 price tag for those trying to save money by buying the game second-hand (although this content has been included on the disc in the “game of the year” edition).

Neither should result in a 100% loss however, but digital games only allow for use of the game by the owner that downloaded it. You cannot sell that download on for any financial gain, and as the cost of current full games on XBOX360, PS3 and PSP are all roughly the same as the copies that shops and online retailers sell the physical discs for, what would be the benefit of downloading the game, aside from the ability to play it instantly?

Another cost that may be unaccounted for is that of storage. With games easily filling DVD’s and soon Bluray’s, that calls for a lot of HDD space for someone with a large game collection (i.e. the average 30-something gamer/spoilt child). With options of 4GB Xboxes and 160GB PS3’s seems woefully insufficient if we were to take up the digital-only media route. Perhaps then cloud-based storage or game streaming (akin to the OnLive system or Steam) is more realistic?

I would miss buying games from shops, or having them delivered to my door. I would miss the smell, the joy of opening the sealed packaging, and the annoyance at getting the first scratch on the disc or the first bit of food on the manual. Conversely, I do understand the need for digital media; it makes sense in this environmentally aware world of ours to reduce packaging and delivery emissions wherever possible. If they could only make the downloadable games cheaper to compensate for the lack of packaging, I think that the uptake may be even greater.

Sony’s latest handheld, the PSVita, is bucking the trend and offering digital versions of the physical games for around 20% cheaper than the physical version. This is the first move I have seen in the right direction for any games company, and it is a trend that needs to continue.

Personally, I am for anything that stops the current stagnation of the gaming market. In the current economic situation, I can understand companies becoming less willing to branch out into anything new or untested. However, to save the planet, to save the companies, and to save the wallets of the consumers, people need to take a look at the tablet and smartphone market. Cheap apps, readily available, are making far more money for far less outlay than the average 70% rated game (by average I meant the mean, not that 70% was ‘average’).

So, what would my advice be to games companies and console manufacturers? Push the digital, but don’t fleece the consumers, or we may all have to find a cheaper hobby.