Nova 111 – a quirky delight of science

So I was in a branch of your friendly neighbourhood game retail shop earlier today, parting with an unreasonable amount of money for some Fallout 4 DLC – one day before the price rises to an even more unreasonable amount. As I emerged blinking into the cold street, I got a little warm glow from remembering the much cheaper and really fun experience I had in completing Nova 111.

nova111

Available as part of the February Playstation Plus package, Nova 111 can be best described as a turn-based space puzzle game – even though there are just as many real-time elements to it. You play as a quirky little little orange ship, navigating your way by turns through the remnants of an ambitious science experiment gone wrong, in a bid to rescue its stranded scientists.

Each level takes the form of a series of puzzles through which you must progress using a blend of turn-based and real-time action. Every move you take is a step closer to refilling your Science! Bar, with which you can use a variety of power-ups to phase through walls, fire energy blasts at enemies and even to temporarily freeze time.

As you progress through the game, each level throws up new and scarier enemies to test your newfound Science! skills and challenge your puzzling abilities, accompanied by Dr. Science who provides amusing commentaries on all his experiments with time and space.

Getting back to the Fallout 4 debacle of earlier today, it’s of real comfort to me to realise that, for every unreasonable amount of money I’m expected to shell out to sample more of a Triple A game which I’ve already paid for, that there are new and exciting things happening on a much smaller scale, with the likes of Nova 111 showing up on my monthly downloads and providing a really pleasant gaming experience that taxes my mind as much as it tickles my other senses, with neat graphics and some fantastically twinkly synth sound design.

Considering its relatively miniscule stature, Nova 111 comes across very well-polished and, short of the odd steep hike on the difficulty curve, extremely well-designed. I know I bought a Playstation 4 with visions of AAA titles like GTAV and Fallout 4 dancing in my head like visions of sugar plums, but I love that the very same console can bring me these little gems too.

Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector – cute and cuddly mobile fun

This week I’ve been looking for a new gaming adventure for my mobile phone – AdVenture Capitalist only gets you so far, and the Christmas game was pretty disappointing – when gradually all my social feeds were taken over by pictures of virtual cats. One download later and I’m the proud owner of some cute kitties courtesy of the Neko Atsume game.

neko atsume mobile game

Let’s get this out of the way first – IRL, I’m really not a cat person. I just don’t get the appeal. If I were to share my living space with a pet (and my fish, Dean Venture, doesn’t count, because he doesn’t take up sofa space) I’d at least want it to depend on me to some extent. Cats seem to just do what the hell they want, regardless of my presence.

But over the last few days my Instagram and Twitter feeds have been taken over by pictures of the cutest virtual pets; lazing on cushions, playing with balls of yarn or just plonked in boxes and buckets – so adorable. These pictures were all shared by Neko Atsume players, and I decided I just had to have a go for myself.

neko atsume mobile game

How to play Neko Atsume

It’s quite easy to get involved, with just a quick download to your iPhone or Android device.  The tutorial then takes you through the simple process. The aim is to attract the cats to play and relax in your yard, which you can do by using silver and gold fish as currency to buy a range of treats – from posh cat food to luxury furniture and balls of yarn.

You’re then meant to check in with the game several times a day to see who pops up in your yard – at the moment there are 49 cats to ‘collect’, which you can do by taking pictures and adding them to your galleries and cat profile pages. These profiles also keep track of how many times each cat visits and which items they like to play on best.

neko atsume

When a cat leaves they’ll leave you a gift of either gold or silver fish which you can use to buy more treats. You can spend real money to obtain gold fish, but the good thing about this particular microtransaction system is that you’re in absolutely no danger of falling behind in the game if you choose not to. Many a free-to-play game gets this balance completely wrong, but being as this game is the very definition of ‘casual’ it’d be pretty hard to get wrong.

It’s that gentleness which is my very favourite thing about it; Neko Atsume is hardly even a game, more an interactive experience with virtual pets that are overloaded with kawaii cuteness. It’s so soothing too – always a sight for sore eyes and good for a few relaxing minutes.

If you’re pining for the days where Tamagotchi ruled the playground (and the teachers’ desk drawers), I’d definitely recommend checking this out.

Guitar Hero Live – a welcome return?

With the recent release of Guitar Hero Live, Activision has revisited (another) franchise that had suffered some major overkill in the past decade, with new features and a redesigned guitar controller that I’m still having trouble getting to grips with.

I owned the first three instalments of the Guitar Hero series, and enjoyed rocking out in my living room to a diverse playlist of musical acts. But with the constant releases of updates, sequels and expansion packs it wasn’t too long before my fellow empty-walleted fans of the series would stop showing up, both for this and the rival title from initial GH developers Harmonix, Rock Band.

So after a five-year break, and a new generation of shiny consoles on which to try their luck, has Guitar Hero Live got it right this time? The different play modes each have something new and interesting to offer.

guitarherolive

Guitar Hero Live – an innovative idea

Strictly speaking, I love the idea – Guitar Hero Live puts you in the role you were born (or bought the game) to play, seconds before stepping onstage with your band. Choose a band and showtime, and take to the stage for an as-live performance. Using video footage of the band and the baying crowd, you play along in the usual manner.

The cool part here is how well-made the videos are, showing a first-person view as you walk around onstage, interacting with band members and the audience alike while you’re busting out some rock music.

But while in the old games, a song would end abruptly if you played badly enough, Guitar Hero Live instead has you endure the full brunt of the reaction from audience and band members alike; in my very first playthrough of a metal song I hate, I was getting daggers from my bass player all the way through, while the other guitarist made pointed shakes of his head between verses.

Of course, if you’re playing well, all is forgiven as your band shout out the words and have a good time, while the audience chants and unfurls signs like ‘you’re my hero’ and ‘hit me with your rhythm stick’ (okay, maybe not that one). It’s a very cool touch and avoids any potential embarrassment of being booed off halfway through your solos.

But as pioneering as this new live approach is, there are a fair few problems with the execution. Namely, the acting. For the most part, it’s cheesy as hell and looks like an advert; one of those aspirational, middle class ones for mobile phones or posh cider that I’m forced to endure during trips to the cinema, where everything is ok because there’s some twee acoustic music on in the background and people are able to manipulate their entire physical environment because they have a new app.

Not only that, but due to the intricate nature of this video production, there are only so many ‘sets’ of songs which they could make. Again, for the most part – and this is purely subjective – a lot of the songs they’ve chosen to include are awful. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to have Mumford And Sons in a Guitar Hero game anyway? Not a sniff of actual stadium rock here, just poppy singalongs and some dire ‘screamo’ for all the angsty kids. I just about survived a triple onslaught of Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and Rihanna yesterday – this was most definitely not the live experience I had in mind. Fortunately, there’s a whole other side of the new game which I enjoy a whole lot more.

GHTV

gh1

One of the reasons for the constant sequels and updates to the Guitar Hero franchise was so that players wouldn’t get too bored of the playlist – not that you could ever get bored of GH3. And where games have tried and failed before with downloadable songs as micro-transactions, here we get a streaming service called GHTV.

At the moment GHTV is two different channels playing songs online 24 hours a day, for everyone to have a go at around the clock. With scheduled programming dedicated to different genres, plus mini-ads showcasing the best of the freeplay catalogue (just so you can get a quick break to stretch the muscles), I found GHTV to be a brilliant platform on which to experience the game. I’ve also discovered a lot of good music on here – despite having only been playing the game over the past two days. Best of all, rather than the graphical tour de force that was blocky polygons playing a gig as it was in old versions, GHTV has the real music videos for every song it features. It can be pretty distracting sometimes when you’re trying to nail a complicated riff.

As I mentioned before, the trouble with micro-transactions is always finding the neat balance between those fans who will gladly pay more to get further enjoyment of a product which is already providing enough, and not pissing off anyone who would resent having already paid top dollar for the game, only to find that there’s a secret chord which you need to complete any play-throughs properly, and have to pay extra for. Here on GHTV there’s an option to buy the Party Pass, which offers all on-demand music, which can also be paid for via ‘Plays’ bought with in-game cash, for a 24-hour period. I think it’s £3.99 here in the UK. That’s actually okay if you’re having some mates round – only slightly more than one beer would cost you in some of the more upmarket bars; y’know, the ones whose patrons would really enjoy the cheesy Live feature.

The music selection on GHTV is actually pretty great, and with regular updates, you’re always likely to find something to have a crack at.

So, Guitar Hero Live is very much a game of two halves. And while I’m not especially keen on the GHTV portion making out as if I’m competing with other online players, the experience itself is as fun and imaginative as it’s always been, with some great songs to boot. For this alone I’d recommend picking up a copy of the new game, especially if you’re a fan of the old ones – for everyone else who might actually enjoy the Live feature, you should get involved too. My own personal highlight was getting some sultry looks from the hot bass player; you should let me know if that’s just me reading too much into band chemistry.

 

Cards Against Humanity – a fun way to be morally bankrupt

I think Bill Murray says it best in Scrooged ­– Christmas is the time of year where we all feel like we can be a better person. But I doubt that Frank Cross had got his hands on my new (joint) favourite card game, Cards Against Humanity, where the reward comes from being as dubious and outrageous as possible.

Cards Against Humanity (CAH) is a card game that makes use of players’ deepest, darkest imagination to provide wholly inappropriate punchlines for jokes.

CAH2

How to play Cards Against Humanity

The rules and format of the game can be altered to suit the number of players and answers given, but generally each turn one player takes the role of the Card Tsar.

The white cards are dealt to each player; these contain a variety of answers such as (to name the worst offenders off the top of my head), ‘Michael Jackson’, ‘Nazis’ and ‘Dead parents’.

(The game is helpfully available in a UK edition; having played a different version before I was completely baffled by some of the references to chat show hosts, food products and so on.)

The Card Tsar than places down a ‘question’ card, and asks the players for the most inappropriate answer available from their deck. Strong overtones of black comedy ensue; safe to say Cards Against Humanity is not one to break out when the relatives are visiting.

Once the cards are in, the Card Tsar reads out the question and each potential answer, before awarding their favourite answer an Awesome Point, and the black card they won with.

CAH1

Fun for the whole family…?

I received Cards Against Humanity as a Christmas present from my mum, which made it all the more difficult to explain myself when it came time for a game before dinner against my fiancée and my brother!

Having known each of them for an indeterminate amount of time between ‘ten years’ and ‘my whole life’, fortunately we’ve got quite the iron will for a poorly-intended joke, and as such our own brand of black humour was richly celebrated within these cards. I really must stress the offensive nature of some of the question-answer combinations which may enter your head once the cards are down – but if you don’t mind being seen as one of the ‘horrible people’ the makers have themselves targeted on the box, you should be fine with the spirit of the game.

I really enjoyed playing Cards Against Humanity – not just because I’m a horrible person, but because it somehow turned out to provide some of the strongest family bonding time I’ve had in months! I’d definitely recommend it for anyone who wants a break from the usual stuff.

Who won the Black Friday 2015 console war?

They may provide countless hours of entertainment for kids and grown-ups alike, but admit it – part of the fun of console gaming has always been to pledge unflinching loyalty to one company and enjoying ‘your’ successes against the other team.

Being a grown-up myself I can still remember the verbal dust-ups in the playground between Sega die-hards and Nintendo nerds, before Sony got in on the action with the original Playstation.

And the fun continues with Sony and Microsoft now leading the battle for that spot underneath your TV, as retailers rack up sales of the eighth generation of video game consoles in the pre-Christmas retail war. The PS4 is looking pretty strong so far thanks to a more well-rounded range of games, but the XBox One has its admirers too.

 

XBox One Black Friday

 

With everyone just about recovered from the UK’s Black Friday 2015, MCV has reported on the winners and losers – and once again I can feel that rush of arrogant pride.

First off though, it’s worth mentioning that over the week of sales including Black Friday, an estimated 315,000 consoles were sold in the UK. Quite amazing considering that they’re still nudging the £300 mark despite all the discounting.

It was a close-run thing but in the end, with about 139,000 sales to the XBox One’s 134,000, the PS4 looks to have taken the honours – and avenging its 2013 defeat.

Sony PS4 Black Friday

Of course, November’s always a good time of year for game releases – I’m sure you realise by now that Fallout 4 is pretty much the whole reason I bought a PS4, and fortunately Arkham Knight wasn’t bad enough to put me off the whole idea altogether.

So with the aforementioned awesomeness hitting both consoles, as well as the Microsoft-exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider being released in recent weeks, I’m not surprised it was so tight.

I’ve got some issues with the whole ‘Black Friday in the UK’ thing. Considering it’s held the day after American Thanksgiving and we have no such equivalent, I don’t see why retailers are trying to cash in on this – especially when we’re already dubious about the nature of the discounts and whether it’s actually anything we’d buy otherwise. It’s good to see though that gaming continues its push of popularity in UK homes – no matter which one you’ve bought, everyone’s a winner really.

Except Sony won it a little bit more. In your face, XBone.

Feeling Crafty in Fallout 4

A few days and many hours of gameplay on from this week’s earlier look at Fallout 4, and I don’t feel much better off when it comes to caps, fighting ability or even any progress towards the main objective.

However, it has given me plenty of time to look at the Workshop ability which I wanted to talk about today; the countless ways to create safe haven for other wanderers of the Commonwealth, and the extreme annoyance it creates when I’m forced to choose between sellable items and tubes of Wonderglue.

Fallout 4 pipboy

 

The Fallout 4 workshop

Once you’ve rescued the Minutemen from an ordeal with some nasty Raiders early on, you’ll be tasked with leading them to a new home – Sanctuary Hills. Once there you’ll be shown how to start rebuilding for a better future, using a bunch of craft stations for armour, food, and weapons. The other interesting option is the Workshop; an innocent-looking red workbench which will serve as the centre for your building projects.

Here you can provide shelter, beds, food and water for your Settlers, build generators to power the community, and even set up machine gun turrets to keep them defended against attacks by raiders and the wasteland wildlife. That last bit is especially important, and not just for keeping the wildlife out; the other night I got the fright of my life when a Settler sprinted off into the woods to try and kill a Yao Guai; if I’d not been there I don’t even know if he would have survived.

So far I’ve really enjoyed using the workshop feature in Fallout 4 to create the essentials for survival in the wilderness. Finding and clearing out a small space that I can make my own, and using it to provide for hard-working people who are just looking for a new home.

Crafting is in itself one of the essential components of any good RPG, but given my limited history in playing RPG games it’s only here that I’ve been able to appreciate how rewarding it feels to tool up and kit out my very own space. From my own gaming history I’m reminded of The Sims 2 – where recipes couldn’t be made up without the requisite ingredients and had to be cooked properly to avoid making your Sims ill.

Here on the Playstation 4 we’re in for a far more immersive experience than that, if only because the advanced technology means players can experience their builds from the inside – and not from that classic isometric camera angle, at which so many simulations of the mid 90s and early 2000s were framed. Theme Park and The Sims games are my favourite examples of this unforgettable period of god games.

Once you’ve decided on a few additional perks you’ll able to break down your weapons and armour into more useful components like screws and copper, which is quite handy because otherwise you’re in danger of the next huge pitfall.

Managing inventory space in Fallout 4

Every time I come across a new building on my travels, I open up my inventory and that of my companion (currently Codsworth the robot butler) and make a key decision that will add another 15 minutes to my game every time I do it.

fallout 4 inventory management

“Looks like I won’t be able to pick much up once I enter, better head back to a settlement.”

Once there I’m able to store all those Junk items – lighters, gas canisters, baseballs, the lot – and see if there’s anything I’m able to build that my settlers need. Once done and I’ve stored away a lot of actual useful items like clothing, armour and guns, it’s back to that building.

But it’s also during these explorations that my inventory soon fills up again, with clothing and guns taken from the enemies I kill – not to mention more safes to lockpick, computers to hack and endless cupboards full of crap just to complete the job. If I’m really unlucky I’m then forced to decide on which items to drop – this happens a lot.

So it’s down to choosing between the 10mm pistol (weight: 4) which would prove quite useful as either scrapped, sold or upgraded, and the roll of duct tape which provides Adhesive material for workshopping.

Decisions, decisions.

As mentioned in last week’s post, I find these choices quite annoying, but not as annoying as the amount they happen. I can’t visit one single newspaper office or abandoned factory without knowing that somewhere along the line I need to sacrifice another 15 minutes in order to get back to Sanctuary or the Drive-In and put everything down again. I mean, storyline-wise, I realise this stuff is essential to the needs of my newly-found community but does it really need to get so repetitive?

Inventory management in Fallout 4 has taken one of the series’ best-known features – if not in all of RPG gaming – and made it a matter of extreme importance by causing players some real headaches. I keep reading that there are ways to cheat the system and create an unlimited carry weight, but surely I’m above the level of cheating to remove any inconveniences.

Or am I?

Oh by the way, in regards to that earlier conundrum – everything you build needs Adhesive. So drop the gun and take the tape. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.

Fallout 4: Feeling SPECIAL

I held off from buying Fallout 4 for my PS4 for all of…ooh, three days before I took the plunge and traded in my copy of Arkham Knight over the weekend.

In all my dislike of the latter game (a serious disappointment!) I’d forgotten that the long-awaited release from Bethesda was pretty much the entire reason I paid over three hundred quid for the privilege of a new console back in July.

So after a very late night getting to grips with the Commonwealth on Saturday, plus bumper playing sessions throughout this week, I wanted to talk about two things which have made the biggest impression on me during my gameplay so far.

fallout 4 please stand by screen

One is a completely new feature which was sort of previewed in the less impressive Fallout Shelter mobile game (and which I’d previously loved the hell out of in Animal Crossing: New Leaf – how’s that for a night and day comparison), and another old RPG favourite used in an interesting way.

Today I’ll talk about the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. and Perk system, before moving onto Workshop and crafts later this week.

Fallout 4 Perk System

Before Fallout 3 I don’t recall having a fondness for the RPG genre (unless you count Legends of Valourwhich I do not) but the previous Perks system utilised in Fallout 3 and New Vegas always made me look forward to levelling up, when I could choose from a plethora of useful and less useful ways to enhance my abilities in the Wasteland.

I knew that big changes to the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system were coming as soon as I watched the very funny intro video to each as the game installed, but I can’t say I was ready to ensure my character (who I’ve named Lucy) would end up being very balanced in each unique skill area.

In previous playthroughs of New Vegas and Fallout 3 I always, ALWAYS favoured Intelligence and Charisma over any other system, and would even reduce points assigned to Agility or Endurance in order to ensure that my guy or girl was the smartest and sassiest Wanderer around. It didn’t matter how nimble they were or how much damage they took because I’d always have some decent armour and plenty of Stimpaks to hand, whenever the going got tough.

Fallout 3 Special book

But the first thing that strikes me about Fallout 4, which ties in neatly to the topic next time, is just how much actual crap I need to be able to carry. The Strong Back perk can only carry me so far, and it’s especially annoying because I don’t like to focus on Melee Weapons, but I really need to top up my Strength stats. I’ve already had to leave behind a Junk Jet in the Institute because it’s too bloody heavy, and I’m afraid of what will happen if I go back in there. But not giving Lucy some muscle will come at a heavy price.

If I don’t collect all that junk, my settlements will go unstocked, and I will run out of valuable building materials. I’m actually dropping guns over aluminium cans just to be able to get precious resources to my settlers. In placing such emphasis on the need to scavenge (which you would do in this doomsday scenario, naturally) Fallout 4 has managed to turn one of its prequel’s interesting but ultimately useless features into an absolute necessity. That’s the kind of upside-down world-turning I like to see in video game sequels, because it has made this place a lot more realistic.

But now that levelling up seems to take bloody forever (and oh man I hope the level cap is, like, 1000), Lucy’s stuck with her mid-level intelligence, polite tone and rubbish bartering skills. Hardly a winning combination for wasteland survival.

Rocket League: fun as hell but please don’t take it too seriously

My primary gamer confession, were I ever to feel guilt about such a thing, is that I very rarely play competitively. Not since the days of getting my face blown off by the blue shell in Mario Kart Wii have I ventured online or even against friends.

But before even realising I had the chance to practice offline, I took my first tentative steps into online gaming for years, by firing up Rocket League for Playstation 4 – and I’m hooked.

rocket league review

from rocketleague.psyonix.com

The gist of Rocket League is caught somewhere between ice hockey, football and Wipeout – lead your team to glory by blasting an oversized ball into the opposition’s goal using one of a range of tricked-out supercharged cars and vans. Defend your goal with your life before zooming out into the field, using gravity-defying flips and jumps to help set up your own attacks.

The gameplay is simplicity itself, though learning to master control of both your car and the ball is the real challenge – as is fending off attempts on goal by the opposition.

It never occurred to me that the game was set up for practice with and against bot opposition, including Exhibition and Season settings, the latter of which allows you to take control of an American-style league team aiming to make the playoffs and latterly the final, to win the glory.

Such is my inexperience with online gaming – nay, my newly-coined n00bosity – that I’d rarely played any games which allowed you to take the action to players around the world, but something about Rocket League made me want to make the jump before I’d even really got used to the playing experience.

And judging by the amount of empty lobbies I’ve found myself in this weekend after a game ends, a lot of people could easily tell.

That attitude of abandonment began to grate after a while, as a typical game put me in mind of my brace of appearances for my primary school football team – a flock of aimless children running after the ball, no matter what position up the field they were dragging themselves out from and leaving vulnerable.

Didn’t stop me from joining in chasing the ball all around the field, though – but it annoyed me immensely after a while to be smashed off the ball by my own team-mates. Without the benefit of team radio, I didn’t know if they were innocently ploughing through the field or actually trying to selfishly muscle me off the ball – a lot of the time from much worse positions such as facing the wrong way.

Assuming that nobody really was being that much of a dick in taking it seriously – but you never know – playing Rocket League has become one of my favourite recent gaming experiences. And hey, I’m actually pretty good at it, as the clumsily-edited PS4 share video below will attest.

A last-second equalising goal followed by an immediate overtime winner. I’ll take it.

Free with June’s batch of PS Plus games, Rocket League has gone a long way to justifying that monthly subscription for me. If you do own it yourself, just one tip: don’t take it too seriously. It really is just a game, but a hell of a lot of fun.

Is eSport a real sport?

I spent a very rainy Saturday listening to my favourite football team, Leeds United, securing a fourth league draw in a row to remain undefeated in the Championship this season. After going 1-0 down to a wonder strike by Sheffield Wednesday’s Marco Matias, Leeds shared the honours via an equaliser from new striker Chris Wood.

Later that day I watched the world’s top Counter Strike: Global Operative teams competing in the ESL One Cologne tournament. Teams like EnVyUs and Fnatic showed their stuff in front of a packed crowd, many of whom had travelled from far and wide to support their countrymen – Polish powerhouse Virtus Pro had an especially vocal contingent in the crowd.

At first glance the worlds of online and real-life sport are two very different pursuits; one a physical test of endurance, the other a more mental test of strategy. But from grassroots games to stadium-filling world tournaments, each has its own massive devoted following. As online gaming becomes more popular there are calls from its leading figures to recognise eSport as a legitimate sport, but how do the likes of League of Legends, DoTA and CS:GO compare with their real world counterparts?

Physicality

While nobody on the eSports battlefield is in danger of breaking a limb or being knocked out – both of which are very real situations that could, and have, befallen sportsmen – the demands on a gamer are still plentiful.

However, being a successful eSport player takes a degree of concentration and reflexes that even the most cat-like goalkeeper could only dream of having in order to survive a game of Team Deathmatch, or to defend your territory from virtual terrorists. Staring at a screen for 16 hours a day can’t be great for your eyesight, either, and the amount of energy drinks you see them go through must be doing horrible things to their insides.

Okay, so maybe there’s no real comparison here – the physical demands placed on people who play on courts and pitches are more intense than those who ply their trade on the virtual front, but nonetheless there have been casualties in the world of eSports. League of Legends player Hai Lam had to retire from competitive gaming earlier this year due to a wrist injury from which he couldn’t recover his previous form, citing teammates’ loss of confidence in his abilities.

 

Coverage

You’ve only to look at the daft amounts of money flying around the world of football to appreciate its popularity around the world – not only in the obscene amounts of money being paid in transfer fees but also in the cut-throat business deals taking place when buying the rights for TV coverage. From this season, UK broadcaster BT Sports will pay £299 million a year for the next three years to be the sole screener of UEFA Champions League and Europa League games – I’ve got to say, this is where money starts losing all meaning. All that money just to be allowed to show football games. It’s extremely shocking stuff.

But with the cost comes the potential for ratings – The Guardian reports that 14.6 million pairs of eyes in Britain were on the 2008 Champions League final, while on the world stage it gets ludicrous. 909 million people reportedly watched the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain – almost a billion.

But according to Super Data Research, eSports is no small fry. They estimate that “71 million people worldwide watch competitive gaming”, and that the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship was watched by more people than either the MLB World Series or Game 7 of the NBA Finals – two sports which, while some distance shorter in reach than the Super Bowl, can still command a loyal audience.

 

Snobbery?

And while the games’ greatest exploits are still looked down upon by sports in general, ESPN was one of the first to acknowledge its mass appeal by airing live coverage of Heroes of the Dorm, the college finals of DOTA. One of the company’s radio presenters famously said as a result that he would retire if asked to cover such events, while the ESPN president even went so far as to say it isn’t a sport.

But as fans grow weary of the continued big-money plays made to keep them away from their favourite sports – BT Sport requires a monthly subscription to access – perhaps eSports can begin to take up some of the slack. And with a new generation of gamers rising through the ranks, maybe the door to eSports glory is even closer for some than the lure of the real-life football pitch.

Five For Friday: Scenic Views in Video Games

This week’s Five For Friday: virtual vistas, unspoiled plains and views to explore from the comfort of your own home.

Five For Friday geek culture views

I read an interesting article on the Guardian this week – a strong reaction to some British business type’s claim that all games are made by spotty nerds, lack “artistic flair” and won’t do the UK industry any favours. His generally being hugely mistaken aside, that middle bit for was an especially incorrect assumption. There are plenty of video games out there which pack all kinds of artistic flair – from iconic soundtracks to character and story developments that wouldn’t look out of place in one of those HBO dramas that the kids seem to love so much these days.

Nowhere in gaming is true art more immediately appreciated than the graphics, and while the best visuals are derived from moments of action and interaction, in some games there’s nothing like climbing up to the top of a hill and admiring the view. This week’s games chosen in Five For Friday possess just those moments; open-world games set on planets near and far which, even during the heat of the action, may cause you just to stop, tilt up on your controller and just…wooooah.

Fallout 3 – Outside Vault 101

Okay, so we’ll start with a location that doesn’t exactly inspire a visit to the travel agents any time soon. But once your character’s made their escape from the relatively safer confines of Vault 101 at the start of the game, the view that awaits them outside is very impactful in its own right.

fallout 3 vault 101

Look at that. Spooky, isn’t it? It’s just the beginning of a potentially horrifying adventure. Man I can’t wait for Fallout 4.

 

Mass Effect 2 – Ilium

The Mass Effect trilogy has more than its fair share of stunning vistas, especially when engaging in space combat. But one of the highlights for me comes from the second game when you visit Ilium to see what Liara’s up to. When you first enter the spaceport Nos Astra and start making your way through the market, the view out into the city is just amazing.

mass effect 2 ilium view

It’s one of the most striking sci-fi game views I think I’ve ever seen, just stunning, and it gives me a real thrill to imagine it happening somewhere out there.

 

Mirror’s Edge – the city skyline

In what’s already a fantastic game, the views were what really grabbed me the most in Mirror’s Edge, just the rush of getting out onto the rooftop and seeing this gorgeous blueness before you.

mirror's edge review

At the time, all games were about running through murky environs with your fellow soldiers or gang members to perpetrate whatever ‘gritty realism’ was involved in the story, but this rush of stunning colours was the perfect antidote. Hopefully the recently-announced follow up will be just as refreshing!

 

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture – just about everywhere

This game was name-checked in that Guardian article as a token of that British artistic flair, and after finishing it myself earlier this week, I’ve got to agree – there’s so much of this interactive mystery that I just had to stop and stare at. The trails of light, the sound design and most of all, that beautiful Shropshire countryside – particularly at night, but showing a glimpse of that might just be a bit of a spoiler.

everybodys gone to the rapture

from PS Blog

For the purposes of this list, the best thing about Rapture is that I can’t even pick out one single view to call – most of the exterior is simply stunning to look at, and the interiors so well-detailed that estate agents should hire developers The Chinese Room to furnish their virtual show homes in future.

 

Minecraft – your own creation

To finish off, there’s nothing more creatively impressive than building your very own virtual view for the neighbours to get jealous of – and in the gaming phenomenon that is Minecraft this can very easily be done. But it, and games in general, can do so much more.

minecraft church

St Ben’s

The writer of that Guardian piece mentioned earlier, Keith Stuart, has written before of the benefits of Minecraft allowing his autistic son to have some much-needed order and control over what must be a very trying day-to-day life by playing god with these blessed bricks. It’s a very touching article and yet more evidence that not only does gaming deserve its artistic attributes but it can do so much more to help people, as evidenced by the fine work that the likes of Special Effect perform every day.

Been a while since I did one of these, hasn’t it! Don’t worry, I’ll soon forget again.