Games, Journalism, Other, and Books

Games, Journalism, Other, and Books

That's all of life's bases covered, right?

Hands-On With Nintendo Switch: One Day Later…

I know, I know – like the internet needs another opinion piece about Nintendo’s new console.

However, the impending arrival of a new Nintendo device – more so than a new Xbox or PlayStation – is always a cause for excitement, and one I’m regularly caught up in. Friends, colleagues and Twitter followers know I’m a pretty dedicated Nintendo fan, often quick to leap in and defend the platform holder even when doing so is at its most difficult (Double Dash was a great Mario Kart, dammit!).

You would think I’d be chomping at the bit for the Nintendo Switch to arrive, but oddly, unnervingly, I’m not. Maybe it’s changes in my life circumstances (I’m now a dad, with limited time for gaming, and a homeowner, with even more limited disposable income). Had Switch come out five years ago – say, when the Wii U had arrived – I would have done all I could to ensure there was one set up by my TV on day one. Instead, I find myself determined not to buy one. At least not for quite some time.

Like many journalists and fanboys, I was up at 4am UK time to watch the worldwide reveal of the Nintendo Switch. Like many, I was hopeful, eager to see what surprises the platform holder had in store for us. An hour or so later, I found myself unable to contain my disappointment, venting through Twitter about the lack of compelling games at launch (or the lack of games in general) and the sense that while the concept of Switch is intriguing, it’s not enough to warrant a day one buy – even without that hefty price tag.

Just a few more hours later, I was in London for a special hands-on event where the new console would be showcased to the press, retail, publishers, celebrities and more. Now that I’ve had just over 24 hours to let the initial excitement and novelty wear off, it’s time to share what I really thought of the Nintendo Switch.

(And yes, that was an unnecessarily long intro to a hands-on preview, but you should know what an uncharacteristically sceptical mindset I was in as I entered the event…)

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James January 14, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

GJOB 2017 To Do list

New Year always prompts semi-achievable resolutions that almost no one sticks to, and yet it’s hard not to start the next 12 months with a little optimism.

I am a man of erratic ambitions, determined to accomplish certain things but constantly intrigued or tempted by new ventures. In order to keep my goals in check, I figured this year I would shun larger New Year’s Resolutions in favour or a simpler To Do list: things I aspire to but may not manage by the year’s end. And for fun, I’m going to brutally honest with myself and rate my chances of success.

So, in order of this blog’s rather forced categories instead of priority…

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James January 1, 2017 4 Comments Permalink

The Best Games of Not-2016

Two things have severely hampered my gaming this year. Well, technically one thing, but it sort of led to a second thing, and I regret neither of them.

The one thing is the birth of my son, making me a father for the first time. As such, the luxury of time that can be dedicated to gaming has all but evaporated completely. Last time I was able to play on a console was October.

The second, related thing is the luxury of money which, while it hasn’t exactly evaporated, is something I’m much more conscious about spending (I’ve been waiting to get paid before I can decide whether to buy the full Super Mario Run). The result is I haven’t been able to buy all the awesome games I’ve wanted to – and yes, journalists still have to buy games.

While I’ve dabbled in some 2016 games – Far Cry Primal, Quantum Break, Forza Horizon 3 and of course Pokémon Go – the majority of what little game time I’ve had has been spent on back catalogue. So, just for a bit of fun, here’s my picks for the best games of not-2016 I’ve been playing.

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James December 23, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

I’m changing the way I game

Not my pile of shame. Just searched Google for 'pile of shame'. Shameful, no?

Not my pile of shame. Just searched Google for ‘pile of shame’. Shameful, no?

Despite enjoying many of the benefits and responsibilities of being (apparently) an adult, I do sorely miss the days when I could pour hours of my week into the latest video games. In the golden years of 2008 to 2011, I was able to complete the Portal 2 co-op campaign in a single sitting, enjoy an uninterrupted 12-hour Star Wars experience in The Force Unleashed, and dedicate dozens of hours to the Mass Effect Trilogy.

Now? Not so much.

Life is different. I’m no longer that single, semi-unsociable, definitely-irresponsible, early 20s lad who could throw himself down onto a couch at the end of the day and not move until I realise all my housemates are asleep and it’s 4am. Now, I’m a responsible 30-year-old father-to-be, with three podcasts to cram into what little spare time I have and a long-neglected aspiration to become a published author.

So games will have to go. Well, not go, but I need to be pickier with what I play. While the 2008 me still lurks inside somewhere, chomping at the bit for a new Mass Effect, the 2016 me has to remind him that there’s no time to replay the trilogy before it arrives.

This post is a declaration of intent. Something to hold myself accountable to. Something to curb my enthusiasm and ensure I’m getting the most out of my increasingly limited gaming time.

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The Age of Spoilers

[This is a somewhat ironic choice of image. I've done my best to avoid any spoilers in this post]

[This is a somewhat ironic choice of image. I’ve done my best to avoid any spoilers in this post]

We have robbed ourselves of something wonderful: the joys of experiencing major entertainment events without prior knowledge of them.

The biggest twists, the best surprises and even some of the subtler things added to movies and TV just to please fans are laid bare on the internet for all to know before the film/programme is even available. It means we’re increasingly unlikely to ever experience a moment with as much impact as “No, I am your father” ever again.

I use the Star Wars example because that has largely what has prompted this rant (yep, another one). We’re just days away from the release of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens – which is shaping up to be a more promising prospect than any previous cash-grabbing unnecessary Hollywood sequel/reboot – and while I still know very little about the plot, some crucial details seem to be falling through the cracks.

I shan’t spoil for you what has potentially been spoiled for me, but let’s just say there’s a lot of speculation around a major detail/plot twist concerning one of the main characters. Headlines have declared this twist in a way that reading the article has not been necessary – I’m now going into The Force Awakens with an expectation/pre-conception about this character. Initially, I could attempt to dismiss this as just gossip and fan theories but when a headline then declares “Rumours confirmed by new Star Wars TV spot”, it’s the final nail in the coffin of what should have been an absolutely incredible experience for me.

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James December 9, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink

Constantly on the defensive: Life as a gamer

ignored

Let me preface this by saying two things: 1) This is a rant. Nothing more, nothing less. 2) I’m all too aware there are far more important, more heinous things happening in the world. File this under ‘#firstworldproblems’.

Why do we as gamers always have to be on the defensive?

“£42 for the new Star Wars game?!” a friend exclaims. “Why are games so expensive?”
“Only the new and biggest ones are that expensive,” I said. “There was a time when they’d cost £60-£70.”
“Why? They’re not exactly worth that money.”

To you, perhaps not. But to others, who find dozens perhaps hundreds of hours of pleasure and entertainment in such products, that’s £42 well spent compared to the equivalent three or four trips to the cinema, each time to a two- to three-hour film.

“Well, that’s a lot of money that could be spent on better things?”
Like what? Are we supposed to be instead investing in The Complete Works of Shelley and Keats? Buying outfits we’ll only wear once? Throwing money away as we throw shots and cocktails down our gullets, all for a few hours’ fleeting buzz and a lingering hangover?

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James November 22, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink

The end is nigh. Ish.

dragon age inq

 

The problem with open-world games can be just that: they’re open. Freedom’s a wonderful thing, but it can taint everything else the game is attempting to accomplish, particularly if you’re trying to inject some urgency into the game.

I’m currently playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, my first foray into BioWare’s Tolkien-esque fantasy world since the original came out way back in 2009. I’m not far in (I’ve only just reached Skyhold), and despite the ominous green rift in the sky, Inquisition feels like it lacks that same gravitas that Origins had – despite trying hard to imply imminent and certain doom.

While your war council and party will regularly remind you that the world is essentially ending, there’s nothing to stop you wasting hours of time picking up shards, harvesting random crafting materials, completing unrelated side quests and generally dossing around in the game’s open environments.

Dragon Age isn’t the only game to suffer from this. Mass Effect 3 also spun a tale of imminent extinction for all organic life in the entire galaxy, but still allowed you time to potter around with the miscellany that serves as padding around the main quest. The ‘shopping list’ gameplay, if you will.

I understand it’s a difficult balance to strike. Developers want to tell grand stories with high stakes, to compel players into action that – if not taken – spells devastation for all. But when it contradicts the actual mechanics and structure of your game, the drama can be the most jarring element.

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The urge to create

gjob book

I’ve just written a novel. In fact, I’ve not just written it, I’ve proofed it, edited it (as best I could) and self-published it online.

(And before you all rush to Amazon, it’s not actually available for sale. I published it so I could redeem a code for two free printed copies. Those will be given to alpha readers, who can then tell me why the book sucks and I can fix it before sending it to a proper publisher)

The novel took me the best part of eight months, the first of which was spent writing intensively almost every day as part of NaNoWriMo. With 50,000 words under my belt, I relaxed a little and put the next 100,000 together over the course of five months.

While I may not have been writing as frantically as I did in November, finishing the book still took a lot (if not, most) of my spare time. I’ve had a number of personal commitments to deal with since the year began – not the least of which was getting married! – which meant writing was largely relegated to lunchbreaks and as many weekday evenings as I could muster.

Throughout the last two months, as I edged closer and closer to those wonderful words – “The End” – and read through my work to see what needed to be tweaked and fixed before printing, I was conscious that I was putting off other things: namely, leisure. I cut down on the number of games I played, books I read, shows I watched, all the while thinking I could indulge in these pleasures as soon as the book was finished.

The book was finished on Sunday. And yet throughout the week, a nagging question has been burning in the back of my brain: what can I create next?

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‘Shopping list’ gameplay: the ‘litter’ of open world games

progression_wheel

I spent four solid hours playing Dragon Age: Inquisition on Saturday, with the vast majority of that time spent in the Hinterlands: the first major open world area of BioWare’s latest epic.

Despite having read several opinion pieces and tips guides stressing that I shouldn’t dally too long in this region, I found myself exploring every nook and cranny of the Hinterlands – partly because that’s all that was available in the trial version (yes, I’ve yet to buy the game. It’s on my list!), and partly because I was genuinely enjoying most of the quests. Most, mind you.

As I opened more and more areas of the Hinterlands, I found that Dragon Age – a series I’m quite fond of – has become the most recent victim of a particular bugbear of mine: a game design I call ‘shopping list’ gameplay.

The term refers to my experience of MMOs such as The Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Star Wars: The Old Republic and (to a considerably lesser extent) World of Warcraft. After just a few hours of wandering the low-level areas, I would find my journal cluttered with a myriad of sidequests along the lines of ‘Collect 20 of Y’, ‘Kill 10 of X’.

I like to take the role-playing element of games quite seriously, immersing myself in the narrative of the world, but in the case of LOTRO, for example, I actually lost all context of what I was meant to be doing, my overall goal blurred by this shopping list of bland objectives, a checklist of things to defeat, gather or reach.

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Ian Fleming was lazy – and I want to be just like him

Fleming

Whenever I sit down to write a blog post about fiction writing, I question what I even have a right to say. I’d love to give advice on how to write, or share what I’m working on and how I do it, but the truth is I’m just like everyone else in the group: still learning.

So instead, I’ve turned to one of the masters, the creator of one of my favourite series, so I can shamefully steal his knowledge and share it with you.

The author in question is, of course, Ian Fleming – the father of James Bond. In May 1963, just a year before he died, Fleming wrote an essay for the Books and Bookmen periodical published by Hansom Books in which he discussed how he came to write the acclaimed 007 saga.

After paragraphs referencing the well-known factoid that he based some of Bond’s adventures on his own experiences, he comes to the actual process of writing. And here’s some of his thoughts that I found particularly useful and inspiring:

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James February 5, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink