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.

The Week in Geek: Notch goes Hollywood, #Grapplergate and BBC links up with TED

This week’s big geek culture stories, distinctly non-Christmassy!

week in geek culture news

Notch buys a Hollywood mansion

What do you do when you’ve just sold your small-time game development company for a cheeky couple of billion? Well if you’re Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, you buy some serious real estate in Hollywood.

Digital Spy reports this week that the co-founder of Mojang and co-creator of Minecraft has paid $70 million for a mansion in Beverly Hills – the most money ever paid for a pad in the area.

Not only that, but Notch is said to have beat showbiz power couple Beyoncè and Jay-Z in bidding for the home, which contains eight bedrooms, 15 bathrooms and a room dedicated to sweets along with the usual Hollywood trappings like a massive pool.

Considering Notch has written in the past that he doesn’t want all the attention which comes with being a millionaire gaming celebrity, this move is a bit odd, no?

Dave Meltzer considered for GFW launch commentary

Wrestling fans will be aware that Jeff Jarrett, formerly of the awful country music gimmick (most prominent during the New Generation) and latterly of starting a new company just to put their world belt on himself, has launched a new company called Global Force Wrestling. Next month they’ll be co-hosting a show at the Tokyo Dome with New Japan, which ought to be great especially as it’s been announced that good ol’ JR Jim Ross will be calling it for GFW.

Before Matt Striker got the co-commentary gig, a name being considered was that of leading wrestling journalist and historian Dave Meltzer, who recently revealed (Cageside Seats) that his name was being considered for the job. Though he’s previously worked on a couple of low-key projects at ringside, this would’ve been a fairly high-profile job on the wrong side of the fence.

Since you’re a visitor to this particular site, you know what Gamergate is, but actually this is about ethics in wrestling journalism. Grapplergate, anyone? For me having Meltzer on board would’ve definitely added to the show but I can see the alternative that he’d no doubt be required to cover the show in another professional capacity which would’ve raised a few issues.

BBC Radio 4 to broadcast TED events

In one of the better examples of ‘content’ I’ve seen in ages, BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra have partnered with American station NPR to broadcast selected TED talks from next month.

ted talks bbc radio 4

According to Radio Today, the TED Radio Hour will use selected excerpts of TED talks to educate listeners on a different topic every week. The first episode features Sting (the singer, surprisingly) among other guests discussing creativity and how we can all increase our capacity to create. The TED Radio Hour will air twice a week every Sunday on 4 Extra online and on DAB, while Radio 4 will broadcast one episode a month to a much larger audience on FM.

I’ve always enjoyed the odd TED talk and can always find a different one to help me feel inspired.

What’s your favourite TED talk?

Microsoft buys Minecraft – part 3

In the final part of his examination of Mojang’s sale to Microsoft, Anton takes in the geek culture reaction.

Read part one here.

Read part two here.

Now that the business side of it is all discussed, I feel it is time to move on to talking about what may be the most important part of the whole equation.

People sometimes overreact. Hair-trigger geeks tend to overreact slightly more than average. I think that this is because they feel almost totally invested in the idea/show/film/comic/game/character/book, and have attached some part of themselves to it. If that changes, they change. They cannot possibly be the same person if this part of their life is different.

geek culture blog minecraft

Image by Anton Krasauskas – and it’s a doozy!

So when such-and-such gets killed off in whatever series of books, or whatsisface turns heel and powerbombs thingybob through a table, it has not only affected the story, it has actually affected their life. By becoming affiliated with Microsoft, Notch, Mojang and Minecraft have, to some people, ceased to exist in their true form and will forever more be tainted.

Granted, this doesn’t make any logical sense. Looking at it from this angle, it’s difficult to understand why anyone could get upset about anything like this. But the internet, as hard as we try to see it differently, is an illogical place. Rage motivated by hard-lined opinions will always look ridiculous to the outsider. But Minecraft is, understandably, just that important to some people.

I wonder whether there would have been the same volume of displeasure if Notch had left the company before the sale went ahead. Notch, for the last few years, has been an icon to many people. He has been the definitive archetype of the little guy; the underdog. He has surpassed anything that anyone could have expected from him, and through the whole thing he has stayed that humble independent game creator archetype.

But when something becomes big enough that it crosses language barriers, cultural barriers, age gaps and gender differences, there are inevitably going to be a lot of people who want to attach a name or a label to you. He has been called both a hack and a saviour countless times, usually in the same comments thread. To some he is the man who restarted the Indie Games movement and brought it out into the mainstream. To some he is a fraud who took an idea that someone else had and made it his own. But to none of these people is he a human male who made a game that was well liked and critically acclaimed.

And that appears to be the problem. For all of this vitriol and venom to make sense, Notch cannot possibly be just a man who made a game. Either he has had this plan in mind all along and was just stringing along the punters until he could sell out, or he has been tricked out of his beloved baby by the evil MegaCorporation who will destroy and devour everything good about the game they love.

At the root of it all you can find the main reason that internet rage exists: because people are scared about their toys being taken away from them. It sounds trite and oversimplified, but in any of the major trolling scandals of the last five years the basic argument has always been that my opinion means more and if you disagree then I will publish your details on the internet and order fifty pizzas to be delivered to your house, which is then followed by torrents of abuse. These things really do mean that much to some people. If Minecraft had no intrinsic value to someone who was playing it, they would not care so much. If they hadn’t poured weeks of their life into building a cathedral or a village with temples and pyramids then literally no one would care. But because it has become such a huge part of who they are, they feel the need to defend it. Otherwise those weeks and months of building a farm and amassing a huge collection of wolves would be rendered pointless.

To some people, it really does matter that much. Enough to write a two and a half thousand word essay on why it matters at all. And there are not many games that could do that. Gaming as a whole is such a broad subject because it encompasses all sorts of things, from the people who play games to concepts of level design and risk vs reward. But Minecraft is one of the few games that is almost a subject of its own. It is so many different things to so many different people. That is something that has not been achieved on such a scale in as long as I can remember. And as long as people continue to play it, it will survive.

Thanks so much to Anton Krasauskas for his take on the Mine-crosoft situation. You can find Anton on Twitter @ajkrasauskas

Microsoft buys Minecraft – Part 2

Will we lose the Minecraft modding community? And can Microsoft be trusted with a truly iconic franchise?

Following on from last week’s post, guest writer Anton discusses what Microsoft could feasibly do with their new titan of a gaming property – not to mention the company that made it. 

A major concern for those who play Minecraft on the PC is the future of third party mod support. There are entire sub communities that don’t even play Vanilla Minecraft anymore, choosing instead to spend their time with one of the countless mods that has popped up during the game’s lifespan.

Each of these mods takes things in their own weird direction, letting people choose what sort of Minecraft they want to play. There’s a Pokemon mod; there are mods that add countless new elements; enemies, creatures, weapons, tools, abilities, textures, resources and so on. There is one huge mod pack that lets players build huge mining and drilling facilities, allowing the player to automate the mining and processing of entire swathes of land. You name it, someone has probably spent a few dozen hours programming it and adding it to their own bespoke version of Minecraft.

For these people it is a game that lets them make the game they want to play. Like Steve Jackson’s Generic Universal Role Playing System (or GURPS for short) in the world of pen and paper RPGs, Minecraft for some is more like a toolset than a game. But to be able to get all this usability from the game requires that the players are allowed to modify and adjust the code, play around with the parameters and manipulate various other factors to their hearts’ content. Will Microsoft allow all this stuff to continue to happen? For now they probably will. But it would not be a shock to see an “Official” Mods section on their cash shop. And why would you buy a mod when someone can figure out how it was done and make that mod themselves for free?

(By the way, I am almost positive that there will be a cash shop at some point in the next few years.)

minecraft ship

image and building: Ruth Allen

The truth is that of course someone was going to buy Mojang. It was really only a matter of time until it got snapped up. It’s actually not hyperbolic to say that Minecraft and Mojang have changed everything about the landscape of current gen gaming. They introduced the concept of crowd funding to a mass audience, brought online gaming to a whole new generation and convinced parents around the world that games can encourage learning on a scale not considered before. Game companies are starting to experiment with different art styles as pixels and voxels come back into fashion. And now all of that has been claimed by Microsoft in one single purchase. Every single piece of it. It’s not just the game itself that has been bought. The entire world around the game now also belongs to Microsoft. The books that have just recently been released and spent most of the summer at the top of the children’s book charts are all now property of Microsoft. The Lego sets, the plushies, the action figures, the Minecraft Convention ‘Minecon’, all of it. Even the Steve heads.

There are those who say that there is absolutely nothing to worry about; that Microsoft has a history of making quality games. And I can agree that in the past there have been some great titles. Solitaire and Minesweeper are pretty good. The original version of Flight Simulator is one that I remember fondly but looking back on it I can’t actually remember why. And then there is Age of Empires, which was a respectable series in its day. But you only have to look at how long Age of Empires Online lasted to see what they are willing to do to even their most beloved of PC franchises. It was, like so many similar games these days, a glorified shakedown machine disguised as an old favourite. In terms of how badly managed it all was, it was matched only by EA’s latest shambles, the once beloved Dungeon Keeper. And then there is Games For Windows Live which has officially been dismantled, but it is easy to get nervous about what Microsoft might be planning when you look at the captive audience that they now have control of. It worries me that they won’t be able to help themselves and will shoehorn in some bloated social network overlay that connects you directly to the online capes and hats shop. And some sort of online Minecraft/Bing network.

I can’t do this anymore. I tried to remain as impartial and as fair as I could. But even I am a little bit dubious as to what Microsoft will do. There have already been confirmations that there will be a Pocket Edition of Minecraft specially designed for Windows Phone. I’m guessing that it will come bundled as Standard with all new copies of Windows – whatever number they are up to. The Mac, Linux, PS4, iOS and Android editions will probably stay exactly as they are now for the rest of time. There will be minimal free updates. There will be special Xbone tie-ins and Avatar items. There will be at least one film out in the next five years. Probably a TV show. All pigs in the game will start wearing I ❤ Surface t-shirts. All glass textures will be replaced with the Windows logo. Cows will have cameras in their eyes so they can spy on you and send the information back to Microsoft HQ. Steve will be replaced with Bill Gates. The Nether will be filled with pixelated Macbooks and iPad, all of them on fire. All the tools will be monogrammed with little MS’s. And all the graphics will be changed so it looks like they were drawn in MSPaint.

Maybe that last one isn’t so bad.

…TO BE CONTINUED.

Microsoft buys Minecraft – Part 1

The Mine-crosoft Debacle rages on, as guest writer Anton Krasauskas gives his thoughts on Mojang’s purchase by Microsoft.

I wanted to give this article a little bit of breathing space before I wrote it. I felt as though this topic was far too big to simply dive into. I wanted to be in a position where I could plug myself in to the whole picture and come out with a sort of wordy collage that covers all the points I care about.

At the end of the day big companies buy up successful smaller companies all the time. When Microsoft bought up Rare, I wasn’t really that bothered. Even considering what they did to Banjo Kazooie. (Viva Pinata was alright I suppose. Conker was…let’s not get into that.) The big question that has been floating around my head this whole time is: why do I care so much about this particular game? What is it about Minecraft that has whipped up such feverish hate from all corners of the internet? Is it just the typical rabble rabble rabble that we’ve all come to expect? Perhaps. But if that’s true, why do I almost feel as though it’s actually justified?

mojang logo microsoft

I can’t remember the year that I bought my copy of the game. But I can remember that zombies still dropped feathers, there was no Nether, no saddles, no Endermen. It was a long time ago. There was one podcast that I was aware of and only a handful of people making videos on Youtube. That community is almost unrecognisable now, even just a few years on. It has grown exponentially month upon month to a point where there are channels and personalities that are making a living just from their Minecraft content alone. I never made any videos or put up building guides or anything like that, but there are people who started doing just that at around the same time as I bought my copy. And now those guys have changed all their Youtube money into pennies and are doing the best impression of Scrooge McDuck that they can. We felt like we were part of a thing that was going to be kind of big. Not like Super Mario big, but maybe STUN Runner big. Little did we know that evil men and women sitting in plush leather seats were plotting to steal our beloved game away from us whilst murdering puppies and then using the dead puppies to eat babies with.

Luckily for us all though, it just got sold to Microsoft instead, which was a big relief.

original Microsoft logo

I think that the main problem that people have is that it’s Microsoft that has bought Mojang. I can’t say for certain whether people would have been as upset if Sony had been the ones to make the offer, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. There seems to still be an idea in certain corners of the internet that Microsoft has no business being involved in gaming. People are desperately waiting for them to fail in some way, and take great pride in pointing out flaws and failures whenever they occur, but we are of course talking about a subculture of individuals that expend a significant amount of their total energy hating things for no other reason than because they can.

Some people were always going to be angry about the huge, evil, lumbering, monstrous corporate entity “Microsoft” purchasing tiny, little, super-friendly, indie startup “Mojang”. In a lot of people’s heads, Minecraft is their game as much as it is anyone else’s. They have been involved in the game since before it was Beta. And to take this choice out of their hands feels to them like they have been robbed. To sell their game (and therefore to sell them as players of the game) to Microsoft is tantamount to betrayal. There was an unspoken trust there that these people were still paying money to the single digit roster of staff working at a tiny little independent start-up company that was just finding its feet. They were giving their money to a cute, delicate newborn duck, and now this huge, faceless, clanking behemoth has stomped the duckling into the concrete and is laughing at each and every person who believed that this tiny little duckling might one day grow wings and fly away to join the bigger ducks in the sky.

But Mojang is a company. A very profitable, successful, lucrative company. And Microsoft is a bigger, more successful, more lucrative company. There is no little guy, just like there is no evil dickhead mob boss. There are just two very well off companies that decided to get together. It helped that Notch was looking around to sell for at least the last six months, but we’ll get into the personal element in a future discussion.

minecraft church

St Ben’s

minecraft church

St Ben’s by night

The main issues that Minecraft players have seem to be fairly obvious. They are worried that they will cease to be a community. The Xbox has been notoriously tarred as the only console with a player base made up of monosyllabic, pre-pubescent, racist, misogynist CoD players and maybe a handful of guys playing FIFA. That is not where they want to be positioned. The Minecraft community is incredibly close knit to say how large it is. And Microsoft has a reputation, possibly undeserved, for looking the other way when it comes to addressing the issues of player harassment and abuse. Players of a family inclusive game about building and creating probably don’t want to be associated with that crowd. I’m sure that there are some nine-year olds who will get home from school, flick on the Xbox, add a floor to their gigantic dinosaur mansion and then switch over to Ghosts so that they can shout “Faggots” as loud as they possibly can for an hour. The audiences are not incompatible. But I am also sure that there are some people who love CoD, but think that Minecraft is gay or boring or whatever, just like I love Minecraft but think that CoD is pointless and irritating, not least because of all of the abuse. Abusive toss rags are not Microsoft’s fault, I understand. But the reputation stands for a reason. And Microsoft has to take some part of that blame.

Follow Anton on Twitter @ajkrasauskas. Watch this space for Part Two of the Microsoft/Minecraft discussion.