Feb 14

Xbox 360 controller

Too many times I think a conversation like this one happens when people are developing computer games:

Person 1: “Right, so as they go from level to level, things get gradually tougher. Harder puzzles, stronger enemies, that kind of thing. Right?”

Person 2: “Right. Except for this point right here, where we’re just going to jack it right up to ‘impossible’ and see what happens.”

Person 1: “What, with no warning? No gradient? Just a sudden leap from manageable to impossible? What do you call that?”

Person 2: “Ah, you see, we call that a challenge. The users will love it.”

Now it would be very easy to assume that this is sour grapes because I am playing a video game and can’t get past a particular section* but I have played enough games, and experienced this phenomenon enough times, to think that such a conversation might well take place during the game development process. A game builds up an enjoyable level of challenge, gets gradually tougher to match your increasing level of comfort, and then BOOM – unkillable enemy / neverending swarm of enemies / puzzle that fucking Einstein would have to have looked up on YouTube to get a walkthrough. Or, even worse, a game that is unbeatable at level 10 if you make the wrong decision on level 7. Didn’t save at the right point? Upgraded the wrong thing? Didn’t buy that ammo / map / health pack when you had the chance? Well that’s you bucko, might as well go back to the start.

Or, even worse, a maze. I always think that a maze is a game developer’s way of telling the player that he/she would much rather get to the pub and have a drink. Need to extend the game a bit? Whack in a maze. Because nothing makes dropping 40 quid on a game feel worth it than wandering around a fucking maze. If I wanted to do that, do you know what I would do? PUT OFF THE CONSOLE AND GO TO A MAZE. Then there’s the selective agility issue – I’ve lost count of how many times in a game I have controlled a character who has beaten up bad guys, leapt from roofs, pulled off all sorts of superhuman stunts and then can’t climb a waist-high wall to get to an objective. Why? Because the game developer wants you to go over there and fight a bad guy. Never mind that the thing you are looking for is two feet away over a garden fence and your character has so many muscles on him that from a distance he would just look like a particularly threatening penis, you can’t get it. Go do what you’re told.

All of which tells me that it’s time to get out a book and read for a while. Feel free to laugh and point.

* Easy, perhaps, because that’s pretty close to what it is. I never claimed to be a saint. But I will say this: FUCK YOU, DEAD SPACE 2. FUCK YOU.

Dec 20

If there is one thing that is guaranteed to put me off going to see a film*, it’s hype. I understand that talking up your latest movie is just a part of the business and I accept that, but when the talk and the praise and the hype all goes OTT it actually starts to put me off the film entirely. I don’t know why I have such a reaction, but there it is. When I think about it, I still haven’t seen Moulin Rouge because so many people I know said “You MUST go and see Moulin Rouge!” when it came out**.

That’s where I am with Avatar, the latest James Cameron film. Between people I know talking about it, mentions on Twitter and various reviews I have seen the words “revolutionary”, “awesome”, “spectacular”, “fantastic” and “gamechanger” tossed around like so many tossed salad leaves at a tosser’s convention. I’ve even seen one celebrity be a bit of a prick about it on Twitter when someone dared to even question the greatness of the film in the smallest degree. As the hype continues to build up I can’t help but think if this film were a person, he or she would be glowing white and floating six inches off the ground as lepers and cripples begged to be touched and cured.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m actually quite keen to go and see the film, because I’m a geeky fan of all things science fiction and it looks like a passable enough way to pass an hour or so. But – and I say this with all due respect and in as mild a way as I possibly can – IT’S JUST A FUCKING FILM. Now, you want to talk about revolutionary ideas and “gamechangers” that’s fine. Democracy? Gamechanger. Polio vaccine? Gamechanger. Telephone? Gamechanger. Those scientists who mapped out the entire genetic code of cancer? Gamechanger. CGI-stuffed story with blue aliens, spaceships and action sequences that will be out on DVD and Blu-Ray within the year? THAT WOULD BE A FILM.

* And if you want to put me off reading a book, make a film of it and then print a copy of the book that uses the movie poster (or a scene from the movie) as the cover image. What, we won’t buy a book unless it has someone famous on the cover? What is this, the Heat magazine approach to literature? I saw a copy of “A Christmas Carol” in Tesco last week and in addition to the movie poster being the cover, there was text all along the top that said “Now a major motion picture”. You know, because being a classic bit of literature wasn’t enough.

Christmas Carol book cover

Above: If only Dickens had thought of blue aliens first.

** Is this cutting off my nose to spite my face? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I just don’t like the glassy-eyed zeal that gets into people’s eyes when they are absolutely convinced that you would love something and that you should go and see it right away. I like apples and salt and vinegar crisps, but I don’t go all shiny-eyed cult leader on people and try to convert them to Granny Smith’s Golden Wonder Church of Walkers. Plus, Nicole Kidman pisses me off. An entire video singing with Robbie Williams and she doesn’t slap him silly once. Wasted opportunity.