Mirror’s Edge: Blue Sky Gaming

When I first found the archive of retro gaming fandom that was UK:RESISTANCE, I remember being very taken with their campaign to put the Blue Sky back into video games:

“We want to play in a HAPPY PRETEND LAND, not a shit version of an American slum full of mixed-race gangsters wearing licensed sportswear!”

A pretty strong message, aimed solely at the developers who were trending towards having all their games as dark thematically as they were graphically. Even taken at face value, I found myself wishing for more classic Mario/Sonic, and less Call of Duty.

It’s good to see that at least one game got the message – again, in terms of look if not the feel.

mirror's edge review

When I first played Mirror’s Edge, the first thing that struck me about the visuals was just how…blue the sky was, and how everything I ran past/jumped over/slid under was so sleek and brightly lit. Simply gorgeous. A game this brightly designed will have stuck out like a sore thumb on the shelf next to Gears of War 2, Fallout 3 and GTA IV, but I’m hoping that those who took a chance on this game (if not because it’s the only one I’ve mentioned so far which wasn’t a sodding sequel) enjoyed it as much as I did.

Set in a nightmarish future whose citizens live in fear of a Big Brother-type surveillance society, you play Faith, one of a handful of skilled couriers known as Runners, who use their parkour skills to evade detection as they carry messages between bands of resistance. As you complete your tutorial mission by delivering a package to a fellow Runner, you head straight into the plot: a murder mystery/conspiracy involving friends, family and your trusted allies, the people who are striving to smash the system.

The story is rather exciting stuff if a little basic, it’s got some great characterisation but the plot development feels a bit underdone. Then there’s the slightly cartoonish cutscenes which are said to have divided opinion, they’re very well made but for me are a bit jarring against the gameplay sections.

But that’s only because the gameplay is so brilliant. I mean, running away from armed guards and everything can be very cool when the suspenseful music starts up (oh, and THAT music), and a lot of the puzzles are fiendishly fun, but that’s all stuff which other games have done, and some of them have done it better I must admit.

mirror's edge review

No, it’s when you kick open a fire escape and head to the rooftop just to see all this…blue right in front of you. And then ambient music begins to play, and you take a minute to look above and see this beautiful sky and realise that everything is up there and out there and then as you start to run, it’s just you and your wits against gravity, getting from A to B through sheer self-control and trying not to panic when you’re hanging off a ledge or getting the rush of realism when you start to fall in what feels like slow motion, god it’s glorious!

Part of the appeal of the UK:R Blue Sky campaign is making you feel something again when you’re playing a game, whether it’s a nostalgic pang for the games of old or just that sensation of serenity. With Mirror’s Edge I feel like I got both, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Call of Duty and Video Game Retail

A carefree anecdote about a British video game retail chain, the end of imagination and the end of video game retail.

I was enjoying a typical cheeky afternoon off work with my lady last week; we decided to venture to the fairly new retail development in Wakefield called Trinity Walk.

No more than ten minutes later, we were finished seeing which shops it had to offer us and were just about to head home (via a delicious burger from one of those trendy gourmet burger places) when I decided to pop my head around the door at Game, that troubled chainstore*, to see what was on special offer.

(*I should point out for overseas gamers that this is the self-same video game retailer which shut down nearly half its branches last year and laid off more than 2,000 retail staff, which I’m sure had nothing to do with its heavy investment in selling on second-hand games over promoting brand new titles.)

Game shops Call of Duty

What was on offer, you ask? Damn near everything, including about 50 copies of Age of Empires: Online for just 10p each. (No, I still wasn’t tempted; I have it on Good Authority that those are 10p for a reason…a non-functioning reason…okay, it doesn’t bloody work properly, alright?) But more alarming than that was when I lifted my head up to scan the different dedicated sections of the shop. XBox, Playstation, PC, Nintendo DS, Wii…and Call of Duty. Call of Duty?  Now I know the game is popular, but has it suddenly been released in console form?

No. No it hasn’t. So why does it infuriate me so that the top brass of a struggling video game retail company feels that one single game is deserving of its very own collected shelf space?

Think about it: if you’re going to play the newest CoD release, you’ve already bought it, completed it, and traded it back to them for a fiver off your next purchase, right? We’re talking about a series of games which consistently shatters worldwide sales records; we’re talking Day One sales, Week One sales here.

It doesn’t achieve these records by being, in Trinity Walk’s case, conveniently grouped in the part of the shop which all good retailers will tell you is where most customers lay their eyes first – three steps into the shop and on the right. If you’re buying it, you’re buying it; an extra ten feet away in its rightful console section isn’t going to hurt, is it?

So again, why does this dedicated section of the shop contain so many copies of the same game on every console? To quote the Scooby Gang in the musical episode of Buffy: I’ve got a theory.

Game Call Of Duty

The reason Game sees the need to place these games so prominently is that Game shops are currently in possession of every second-hand copy of the CoD games in the county, and are desperately trying every retail merchandising trick in the book to get us to buy them. Only problem is, there are two types of gamer, or rather two types of customer in Game: those who like Call of Duty, and those who don’t; those who’ll buy it for their kids, and those who won’t.

If you like CoD, you’ve got it already, have already traded it back, or been refused the purchase because you’re 12.

If you don’t like it; if you’re one of those more discerning gamers who doesn’t like their violence to be so grounded in reality, so baseless and gratuitous without even a bit of fantasy or fiction about it to qualify as entertainment or ‘art’; these games which only reflect the damning reality we live in rather than offering an escape from it as all great games do?

Well, if you don’t like it then you’re hardly likely to buy a copy, are you; no matter how prominently displayed it is, which is why there are so many unsold (un-re-sold?) copies of it clogging up perfectly good shelf space that could be used to take a punt on something a little more imaginative, but isn’t – because it isn’t good for business when there are so many of these units to try and shift a second time around.

All I’m trying to say in my own eloquent way is: fuck Game, and fuck Call of Duty.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever been inside a branch of Game? Comment below!

There are now “only” 8 million Warcraft players

Activision-Blizzard fears fewer money piles after WoW sees sharp subscriber drop

Don’t you just hate it when you hear a sports pundit on TV say something like “compared to two years ago, when he was only making £20,000 a week”? REALLY? ONLY twenty grand a week? That poor bastard; how did he ever manage to pay the bills?

It’s a sentiment I’m aiming squarely at World of Warcraft creators Blizzard this week, after their quarterly report went out yesterday as part of Activision’s fiscal duties. Multimillionaire chief executive Bobby Kotick lamented having only 8.3 million subscribers paying them ten pounds per month for the privilege of paying their game, on top of their record-breaking sales of Diablo 3 and the latest WoW expansion pack, Mists of Pandaria.

Poor Bobby. Poor, poor Bobby.

Poor Bobby. Poor, poor Bobby.

Yes, by comparison, that’s a number of players which is significantly down from the 9.6 million reported for Q4 2012, but 8.3 is, nonetheless, a huge fucking number that’s way beyond comprehension – or at least, it should be if not for the bean-counters ruining our fun.

I understand that yes, having 1.3 million people no longer paying you ten pounds per month for the privilege of playing your game can be harmful, but these steep drops have been occurring ever since the game’s audience peaked in 2010 at 12 million so why the big surprise only now?

Kotick sobbed uncontrollably into hundred-dollar bills as he commented: “We expect to have fewer subscribers at year end than we do today.”

Yes, but that’s because your company is charging people ten pounds a month to play your game – not to mention the expansion packs, the dungeon-busting trilogies and all those blasted annual updates to the FPS shooter you call the Call of Duty series. You really can’t expect a game which is nearly eight years old to keep churning out original content year on year, can you? Oh, hang on, that explains CoD; just answered my own question there.

The scariest bit of it all for me comes from this article in the Wall Street Journal; apparently, WoW, CoD, Diablo III and Skylanders –yes, fucking Spyro and his mates- accounts for “83% of its net revenues and “a significantly higher percentage” of its operating income for the year.”

Now that’s just ridiculous, isn’t it? Think about that while you’re on your next raid, and try not to get too emotional; us poor folk can only afford those regular old tissues to dry our eyes with.