Over the last two or so years I’ve been working on something. I work on a lot of somethings and a lot end up being farts in the wind. But that’s the way she goes, I guess. And when I say “work” I don’t mean paid or professional. I’ve just sat at a pc or notebook and tried to make something out of nothing using my brain. I love doing it, it’s what I’ve always done and can’t help myself from doing. School was always about day dreaming and scribbling in the gutters of my books. The reveal at hand is something different for me. It’s a game. And that game is called Dole Quest.
Dole Quest is an RPG where you play as a lad with little on the horizon but plenty of shit he has to do.
Too often RPGs (role playing games) have you role play as some hero in a fantastic world of magic and wonderment and fantastical blah-de-blah. In Dole Quest you assume the role of a guy, Howard, in a world stripped of magic, hope and opportunity: Modern Day Ireland. Who wants to cast spells when they can apply for jobs that aren’t hiring? Why converse with mages when you can get grilled by your family because your life is going nowhere? Forget battling monsters when you can battle your crippling depression and self worth?
Do I need to say more? I’d say so as there’s much more to Dole Quest than I’m letting on. Two years of scrabbling around so far and still tons more work on my plate to have it ready for release. The plan is to release it by the end of 2020 on PC and mobile. Although that’s being generous. It still might be longer as Game Development is new to me and the chances are great that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. But hey, it’s clear there’s no work for me out there unless I make it myself.
I’ll go more into the development and the inspirations behind it as the weeks snowball towards its release. I’m very excited about it and am enjoying the workload. There’s always something to do each day, modeling characters or environments, writing and coding quests or building systems. I’m trying too to play through games each week that I’ve always wanted to play but have put off, which is why I’ve been doing those write-ups as a way to get my thoughts in a row. Someday, someone somewhere might actually read them. It may even be you.
So to restate Dole Quest is a PC and Mobile RPG set in the wasteland of modern Ireland aiming to be released by the end of 2020. Put that in your calendars.
Spec Ops: The Line is a game that’s popped up in shit I’ve read surrounded by the oohing that it’s something special. And often used in response to the grand questions “Can games be taken seriously as art?” A very lofty question that the big thinkers spend more time chewing on than is perhaps necessary.
Spec Ops: The Line aka Spec Oops: Tow the Line, a PS3 era game set in a near-future Desert Storm scenario. Everything about the marketing would have you believe it’s just another jackbooted shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield and that all the fun will come from its tales of camaraderie and valour as you shoot hundreds of real-world guns at NPCs. But soon enough, playing Spec Ops, the game starts fucking with you. The waters get murky. And I loved how twisted it got. To explain any of the story beats would ruin it, as I do recommend it. But I will say that they recreate the military term “FUBAR” (fucked up beyond all recognition) so well. Firefights are shitshows where you haven’t got a clear clue who’s the enemy amongst the gunfire and roaring soundscape of shouting, shooting and swearing from your companions. I soon got into a mindset of shoot everything until the chaos stops. And that’s exactly the state the devs want us to be in as the narrative unfurls. I loved every fucked up moment in it. There are scenes that’d cause controversy had the game been more popular. Yet, in my eye, it made the jingoism and heroism of other games seem more offensive.
I’ve also been dipping into Call of Duty: Mobile and beyond how well it looks and plays in your hand it’s a fucking joke if you look beyond your kill stats. Flashy and garish gun skins are being pushed and promoted for personalisation. There were Super Bowl-themed guns last week and now they’re shilling Valentine’s themed skins. If that’s the game, then that’s the game. But Call of Duty likes to also veer on the pro-military side of the gun debate. I think if you’re doing that, then do that but it seems off to have these realistic simulations of guns in a game and then have them pimped out like shiny collectable stickers. But then you need to make a lot of money to be rich so I should shut up.
Spec Ops is a military shooter that wants you to shoot people while reminding you that you’re shooting people. And in the midst of it lean in and ask you with raised eyebrows “how you feel about that?” In Battlefield they liked to remind you that every soldier is a human being with a name appearing on screen with the death screen, letting us take a pensive moment to think about the family that will be getting a folded up flag soon. Then the game reloads and we start shooting again. It seems they want the game to be like the Spielberg version of the world wars. Spec Ops veers more towards the dark military themes, like fubar, misinformation, friendly fire, following dubious orders, quagmires and makes a game out of it. And I’m delighted that we have that alongside the AAA Support the Troops games. Specs Ops: The Line is well worth playing. There was a point in it where one of my companions shouted that we need to “hold the line” and I smiled because at that point in the game we had well and truly crossed the line and it was light years behind us. There are a dozen memorable moments in it that I’d never seen in a game before. As well as a great jukebox soundtrack. The controls and some of the mechanics are a bit janky I have to say but worth persevering with.
So to the question “Can games be taken seriously as art?” my answer is “Who cares” and “of course”. Firstly it makes no difference to me how games aren’t perceived by academics or high society. So I’d scratch the serious part from the question. To the “Are games art?” question the answer is a unanimous “Yes”. Anything that’s been created or made to express something is art. Is it good art? That’ll always come down to individualistic preferences. I hate what a lot of people love and a lot of people hate what I love. And, you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Coming from a big family I found it tough to commandeer our one TV to fully get lost in games. But playing on a handheld let me play in the corner of the living room while my four sisters rewatched Titanic on videotape. The last few years I tried to recapture the simpler times and have dumped too much of my scratch on the latest iterations. I bought a 3DS, sold it, bought a PS Vita, sold it, bought a 3DS xl, sold it, bought another PS Vita, sold it and then figured I should stop being a fool and just play games on the phone I already carried around everywhere.
But you gotta be careful with the games out there. They’ll either mug you of your time or your money. Free-to-play games would ration my progress to keep me hooked while trying to coerce me into in-app payments. But last year I broke out of my click prison and recaptured that proper joy of earlier gaming times. Paying upfront for a game that’ll leave me alone and let me finish it.
It feels apparent that mobile game studios now have departments that work on the Squeeze Math. Number nerds that work out the stats, cooldowns and progression chokeholds into a couple of cranks that the CEO and stockholders can turn to keep the money flowing as the market wanes or quarters approach.
I was playing Marvel Future Fight to get that Marvel Ultimate Alliance type of game on my phone. And at quick glance, it looks like an update to those games and there was a load of things I really liked about it, for one they’d update missions, characters and costumes with every MCU movies. But it soon felt like it’d never end, the goalposts would be moved further and further. And I even unlocked an auto-attack button that pretty much let the game grind its self leaving me to just thumb my chin and think of how much hero-bucks or whatever I needed to buy to get the most stars for each character. I dragged it into the bin not long after and decided I’d get Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the Switch once I could afford it. At least then I’d be left alone to finish the game without being pestered hourly (besides for the purchase of their DLC).
But as mobile games are concerned, there aren’t much out there that’ll take your money and leave you alone but here’s some I’ve discovered.
Reigns: Game of Thrones
Pitched as Tinder for ruling kingdoms this was cheap and plays well. You get petitioned with requests from your peons and you swipe left or right to accept or refuse before ultimately being stabbed in the back or thrown into a bath of wildfire. And like Tinder you don’t know you’ve swiped on a lunatic until it’s too late. It’s also out in non-license versions but the GOT tropes are great to get into.
Rockstar Games have been class with putting upgraded versions of their old game on the Play/Apple stores for a few quid. Bully is a game I never played when it came out on PS2, it came to Ireland surrounded by the noise of concerned aul wans that invaded the media and made it difficult to have it bought for me.
But as with most Rockstar games, they have got a lot more to say than the tittering mob would give them credit for.
I’m loving it on my phone although the controls took a few hours to get used to. But stick with it and you’ll soon be zipping around soon on a skateboard letting those bastard jocks eat your dust.
GTA Liberty City Stories
A nostalgia trip that plays really well as it was originally on PSP. Cruising Liberty City is a great trip down memory lane and cruelly losing a long mission at the last moment and having to drive all over to try it again is also a trip down memory lane. Remember, not all memories are joyful ones.
I find myself forking out for this every year, getting tunnel vision for a few days, playing relentlessly and getting into a strop with my players. I stop when the club is ruined or am fired and then leave management to for the cushier job of TV analysis. It’s a romp until it isn’t and I have to uninstall it to get back to the more important things in life like doing the dishes and paying attention to the bus arriving at my stop.
It seems a daft idea in the current landscape of live-games and games as service to 1) pay once for a game and 2) to actually finish it. But I easily forget that gaming began with the pocket-money swallowing arcade machines. And the corporate execs are loving the return to the shaking us loose of our spare change. Perhaps it’s easier for the ports I mentioned to stick to the old retail model cause those games have long since made their money and anything now is just a happy top-up from the whiskey bottle they thought was empty. No one is going to spend the standard fifty quid on a phone game so they can hardly fund a AAA development cycle. And honestly, my “ya fucking serious?” point on pricing is anything above a tenner. So I get that companies would rather uncap their returns and sell limitless gems, gold or whatever spurious shite their game begs from its players. But it’s nice to have a few games out there that the introverted kid in me can pay and play and be left alone in the corner of the room.
And I’m looking to get on to KOTOR, Max Payne and the other GTAs as I finish these ones. (any other good I should check out let us know)
Uncharted Lost Legacy and the reluctant anticipation of Last of Us Part 2
Trying to finish Uncharted 4 Lost Legacy aka Uncharted4daGurls has left me dreading Last of Us Part 2. Now, I loved the original Last of Us in every way except actually playing it.
I remember being so taken after finishing it that it took weeks before I could watch movies again. My flatmates were watching Mad Max Fury Road the night I finished LOU, and as much as I have been informed since that it’s a great film, I couldn’t be arsed with it and walked out after half an hour of scoffing. It was boring and passive. Were we to cheer at the decisions the characters were making? That felt like an empty gesture. It wasn’t even Mad Max or your one Furosa. It was actors. Cunts I’d seen in all sorts of shit before. Hardy did a Sky Mobile ad, Theron was in a Budweiser ad. In LOU when it had cutscenes it was me as Joel. I’d done what got him there. Naughty Dog were very good at making you feel like you’d made the decisions independently. Like a magician asking you to pick a card knowing that he had a showstopping reveal of the 10 of hearts already tattooed on his arse.
I loved LOU but I hated playing it. It felt like toil. I’d have to gear myself up to play for an hour. Like rolling up my sleeves to unclog the toilet. I didn’t enjoy it but persisted cause I owed it to the characters to get them through it. I couldn’t leave them stuck in the machine with clickers shuffling. That just didn’t seem fair to them, it was my duty or our duty (me and Joel’s) to get them to some sort of resolution. I’d never felt that before in a video game. Traditionally your through-line is mastery. Getting more powerful until you beat all opposition in the world and the credits roll as there is nothing left for you to conquer, like a weeping Alexander the Great when there are no more challenges. And I was fine with that sense of having truly “beaten” a game. You’ve bested it and the game agrees, the devs’ names scroll passed in acknowledgement that you can move on, you can walk out of the cinema and let them clean up the spilt popcorn.
LOU was anything but fun. And I get that they weren’t going for that. Uncharted was about fun though, wasn’t it? I got the remastered PS4 Uncharted in anticipation for U4. Syposising quickly, I gave up 1 at the boat barrel bomb level, got frustrated with the opaque stealth system in 2 and played 3 for a fair bit until some other game glimmered on the horizon and I traded the Uncharted disk in. But when 4 came out I played it all the way through and from my recollection I enjoyed it. There was a lot of great ideas, blockbuster moments and more focus on character. It was a cool caper. I think anyway.
I started Uncharted 4 Lost Legacy last week on PS Now and it’s been a slog. The systems and structure are all there, as far as I can tell, the same as U4 but the fun seems to be missing. I’m planning to finish it any ways, not so much that as an obligation to the characters but to the developers. I’m taking game development more seriously now and wanna see how they play this one out. But it’s been making me wonder more on whether the game has changed or I have.
The play cycle is the same, usually a sequence of:
But I’ve been struggling to enjoy any of them and none feel insanely fun though. U4 had stand out moments that stuck with me but Lost Legacy just feels played out. Like they’ve pushed the systems to breaking point with U4 and this is just a retread. The exploration is samey, the puzzles are a chore, stealth is too fleeting and combat is laborious. And I hate to say it, but I feel without the veneer of the graphics and characters taken seriously, it’s an overly rigid platformer. They made a point of recalling Crash Bandicoot in U4 and it’s anything but flattering in Lost Legacy. Too often I’m reset having fallen of what I thought was a jumpable ledge or shot by an off-screen sniper. “Here we fucking go again” I tut as I hit X to continue.
And that’s what has gotten me worried. Uncharted is about fun and Lost Legacy isn’t fun. And if the fun is a drudge then what’s it going to be like with LOU2 when it is supposed to be a drudge? I will play LOU2, again I feel I have to for the characters. I would have also prefered that LOU2 never existed. I would be completely fine with them closing the book after the ending of the first one. But that’s not the world we live in and I know they’re taking their time with Part 2 to make it justify its existence. But for me, that means a few weeks of grimacing, elbows deep in sewage as I’m obligated to unblock the u-bend.