Sequels : Exceptions to the rule : Part 3 : Grand Theft Auto

It’s time for the last in my series on gaming sequels and exceptions to the law of diminishing marginal returns. In this case it’s Grand Theft Auto (GTA), because I’m basically drooling in anticipation of GTA5’s release. Grand Theft Auto started from humble beginnings as a top down 2d pixelated anarchic crime spree from DMA Design (now known as Rockstar North) back in 1997. A city based free roaming open world game with the combination of casual criminality and the ability to do almost anything you could want drew me and my friends in like depraved moths to a sexy flame. I didn’t have a PC at the time but I played it with great enthusiasm at my friends’ places.

Like an Adventure Holiday

This screenshot hints strongly at GTA5 having the kind of scope that San Andreas had. Good times ahead?

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DayZ : The apocalypse, but not as we know it…

We approached at night, the darkness cloaking our movements from any observer as we broke out of the tree line. The zombies wandered aimlessly, growling through bloodstained mouths as they stumbled across the fields in front of us. Further down the hill the city beckons, a mass of zombie lined streets and houses hopefully filled with loot for the taking…

There’s been no shortage of media attention on DayZ and it’s creator Dean ‘rocket’ Hall, since the alpha release broke cover some months ago. In this case it feels like the amount of coverage is justified. If you haven’t heard of DayZ, its a game mod which is best summed up as a persistent zombie apocalyptic shooter. No teams, no rules, just 50 human survivors thrown into a vast game world filled with zombies to co-operate or kill each other, survive or perish. It is brutally difficult, incredibly immersive and at times truly nerve-wracking in a way that no other game I’ve played has ever been. It’s been a long time since something this exciting and innovative happened in gaming.

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World of MMOcraft

Looking back over the catalogue of MMORPGs which have come out since World of Warcraft spawned the genre there are only a tiny handful which have sparked any interest for me. Of those I haven’t played one. I used to think it was because I wasn’t a social gamer, then I realised that I really enjoy online gaming. The reason was that nothing with the possible exception of Eve Online has managed to make a remotely convincing departure from the mindset of singleplayer narrative and non-persistent multiplayer online.

I’ll confess at this point, I’m a gamer who considers narrative to be a fairly important part of any game. I do love a good story based game if the writing is good and even just if the story is a strong one, but I’ve realised something in the last few years of gaming. As I replayed Crysis, Bioshock or the oldschool Call of Duty games (past Modern Warfare I lost interest) I found their kind of narrative storytelling immersive but lacking in real connection. It’s only the ability of games to allow for emergent narrative that really allows gamers to connect both with a game and their character. When you think about it this is pretty natural, emergent gameplay can constitute the only opportunity to create your own narrative for your character rather than following a path determined by the writers. I have spent a lot of time playing open world games like GTA and the STALKER series and while there is some ability to create your own story in these, it’s limited to the gaps inbetween the game’s ongoing narrative for you to try. In setting up even a primitive open world producers give gamers the ability to go forth and create their own adventures but always within limits. You will always have to go back to the story mission to progress the game and the game is defined by that narrative progress. Even in a traditional roleplaying game there is conflict between the investment of players in their character’s narrative and it being predestined by being someone else’s imagination, unchangeable from the few choices you are given no matter how compelling. Reactions to Mass Effect 3 demonstrated the impact of this cognitive dissonance on a spectacular scale. Playing three games and creating what often felt like your own truly unique universe from your decisions only to be confronted by an ending which only grazed the surface of the character you had become and the universe you crafted was a frustrating experience for many. But what does this have to do with MMO gaming?

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