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Monthly Archives: July 2015

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It may look like something from some dystopian future with everybody having screens attached to their faces, yet virtual reality headsets seem to be the future for gaming. Every major company and their Mum seems to be developing or investing in the technology, but is it a guaranteed success? Simply put, no. In spite of all the money being poured into it, it’s still a gamble with no certainty it’ll be little more than a niche interest. But if companies do want to make it a mainstream feature, here are five things developers need to do to make virtual reality a hit.

1. Be cheap.
Peripherals have a fairly terrible history of success. From the Nintendo Power Glove to Kinect, bringing out add-ons to existing consoles has rarely been a recipe for success. The main stumbling block to a lot of these has been price. If someone has already spent £350 on a console and then has to spend another £100+ to get a fancy extra, most people won’t bother. If VR is to succeed, it has to be cheap. Any more than £75 and it’ll be consigned to a niche market.

2. Third party support.
So you’ve got your shiny new toy, now you need something to play on it. Inevitably first party support will be there, but it’s the third party games that determines which console does best. It’ll be the same with VR. Games like Adrift will be ideal, as would something like No Man’s Sky. Slightly slower paced, first person and interactive experiences with pick-up-and-play appeal. Perfect.

3. Tailor made games.
In addition to developer support, the games need to suit the format. Just porting over Call of Duty isn’t enough. Games need to work with the VR headset to make it an experience. A frantic first person shooter like COD will most likely lead to you throwing up over your cat. Games like Kitchen, the tech demo for Morpheus, showcases that perfectly. Terrifying and designed exclusively for VR, it demonstrates what VR is capable of when designers know what they’re doing with the tech they’ve got.

4. Comfort.
Most VR headsets look like something used at Guantanamo Bay. If you’re to spend hours with a TV screen strapped to your face it needs to not only be comfortable, but cool. I get hot enough wearing headphones, these headsets need to be so energy efficient that they’d make an environmentalist blush. Plus, as a bespectacled man, if I can’t wear it over my glasses comfortably and without damaging them then there’s no way in hell I’d buy it.

5. Link it with your TV.
Much like when Andrew McCarthy shagged Rob Lowe’s Mum in Class, television on your games console has become an awkward subject of late. Nobody wants to talk about it and it leaves everyone feeling a bit dirty. Mainly it’s because people with games consoles play them for games and watching tele through your XBox or PS4 adds nothing to the experience. However, imagine watching the football with an Oculus and feeling as though you’re in the crowd. Or watching the latest Attenborough documentary with the Morpheus and feeling as though you’re in the jungle. It’d be magical.

VR is a technology with bags on potential. Companies are putting enough money into it to make it live up to that, but the consumer support needs to be there. I worry that if they launch it as a cynical cash grab without the thought put into it, both its potential and all that cash will be wasted.

“Gentlemen. You can’t fight in here. This is the Game Room!”


Who’d believe that GamerGate is almost a year old? Or indeed that the cacophony of misogyny, death and rape threats and general harassment would still be continuing to this day, expanding to cover more and more of aspects of “geek” culture?  Yet GamerGate isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of the problem. Entitlement, especially within geeky, typically male dominated realms of pop culture, is a problem that’s become increasingly highlighted as it diversifies. And not just in terms of attracting people from minority backgrounds, women, the LGBTQ community etc, but also in terms of content and the way in which that content is received.

Surprisingly not that bad.

Surprisingly, not that bad.

Today, Vice posted an article about PewDiePie which encapsulates just that point. The article quotes many comments about PewDiePie which criticise him and his content. In itself, that’s fair enough. Everything can’t be for everyone. Yet in a culture that’s only recently started to open itself up to a wider audience, not having stuff catered to you is jarring for some people. A time was when a guy who made millions of dollars playing video games would be heralded by these people as a hero. Yet PewDiePie doesn’t market himself at the hardcore gamers, the ones who feel increasingly marginalised by the way the industry is progressing.

It’s important to note that PewDiePie is no saint. In the past he’s made rape jokes in his videos. Crucially though he recognised that these offended and upset people and after receiving complaints he said he’d never make them again. To my knowledge, he’s kept his word. This ability to recognise such behaviour as wrong and to admit that is something that eludes Gamergaters and their ilk.

Fed up with your shit.

Fed up with your shit.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to gaming. Hell the term GamerGate was first coined by the actor Adam Baldwin, a man whose Twitter feed is a smorgasbord of right-wing rambling that would fit right in at a Rick Santorum dinner party. Then there’s this years Hugo Awards, which has managed to be hijacked by a group right-wing authors and their supporters calling themselves ‘The Sad Puppies’, even managing to raise the ire of George R.R. Martin. Whilst they’ve been around for a couple of years with very little effect, their sudden rise in influence has coincided with the emergence of GamerGate. And then there’s the YouTube channels that have jumped on the crazy train. I remember watching Thunderf00t videos to do with astronomy years ago. Imagine my surprise when swathes of his channel is now dedicated to bashing feminists.

It’s become a lightning rod for those who had their niche, a thing that they could call their own. Now that it’s become more inclusive they’re rallying against feminists, “Social Justice Warriors” and those who think that maybe, just maybe, having more equality is a good thing. Because everything in geek culture in the past was aimed at a smaller market to which they belonged, their sense of entitlement is so that they feel that should continue.

Do I think that the likes of Adam Baldwin gives a toss about video games, aside from being paid to occasionally be in them? No. But it helps to further their agenda and people who see themselves as victims get swept up in it.

Is there a solution to this? Can those of us who, through our fandom, hobbies and interests are inextricably linked to these people, do or say anything to turn people away from such hate? I would like to think yes. We need to support those game developers, film makers and creative types who are helping to diversify geek culture. It’s important to not be afraid to provide constructive criticism when they drop the ball from time to time.

It’s my hope that, given time, opportunists like Baldwin, the misogynists GameGate, the Sad Puppies and countless YouTubers will become increasingly marginalised. With the widespread critical acclaim of the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and Her Story and the increasing condemnation of shows like Game of Thrones for its treatment of women, I’d like to think that perception is starting to change. Sadly, I feel that for the time being those that shout the loudest will continue to impinge on geek culture.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that going into the third instalment of a trilogy without engaging with the previous two parts is a bad idea. Yet here I am, playing both The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Dragon Age Inquisition after only brief encounters with their predecessors.

I’d managed to complete Dragon Age Origins and did about a quarter of The Witcher, whilst I skipped both franchises second games completely. I can’t say either experience left me inclined to trying their sequels. However, with the slow start to this console cycle and their rave reviews, I decided to give them a chance. Understandably this has left me playing catch up with the lore. What’s surprised me most is that in spite of having played less of The Witcher series, it’s the one in which I’ve had the most success in getting to grips with.

Normally, the move to appeal to more of a mass market would be seen as jumping the shark, a phrase which itself did a Fonz about 10 years ago. CD Project Red have managed to avoid that pitfall. It still feels like Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones, but in a version in which you could skip the rubbish bits like The Two Towers or Game of Thrones season two and not feel utterly lost. I don’t feel as though I’ve missed out. The world is still vibrant, but in an approachable way. A way in which I’m not overloaded with information and left to fend for myself. In contrast, Dragon Age Inquisition is like trying to eat a pack of Ryvita. It’s dry and fairly bland, in need of something to liven it up and give it some flavour. Had I enjoyed Origins and played Dragon Age 2, perhaps that would have come from there.

This isn’t to say Inquisition is a bad game. It’s achingly pretty and the interaction with your team mates is as good as you’d expect from a Bioware game. Where it really shines is in the metagame. Making the Inquisition a force to be reckoned with is reminiscent of building your forces in Mass Effect 3. It feels like you can affect the world in a very real way, more so than Geralt can on his own in Wild Hunt.

But where The Witcher 3 succeeds is it not only draws you in, it also feels like much more of a next-gen game. Sure, Inquisition looks pretty, but like Origins it can still feel like something Bioware did on their day off. The combat is laborious, the quests uninspired, mediocre characters and an unremarkable plot. These aren’t points which I feel apply to The Witcher 3. Take, for instance, The Bloody Baron. By all accounts an utter bastard, yet by the end of his quest chain I was pitying him more than any other character in a video game in years.

My hope is that Dragon Age will realise its potential the more I play it. It certainly has the capacity to be brilliant. Just building up the inquisition and consolidating your power is enough of a hook to ensure I continue. Yet so far, it’s The Witcher that’s the apple of my eye.