Posts Tagged ‘ blog ’

Left 4 Dead 2 – Shambling Ramblings

I was lucky enough to win an early code for the Left 4 dead 2 demo from Console Monster, and the nice people even asked me to write a paragraph or two on my opinions, which as of yet has not been published. I got a little carried away and had to stop myself when I hit 700 words. You see, for a demo, there’s so much to talk about.

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking more about the demo – especially things that I did not mention before – so instead of keeping them penned up I thought I’d bore you lot with them. I’ll warn you now that these are just my opinions and it may become a bit of a rant. I want to open these topics up for discussion and see if we can get some alternate viewpoints

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Atmosphere

Remember the first time you booted up Left 4 Dead? I do. I downloaded the demo over night and jumped on to grab a few games in the morning. Being the big wuss that I am, I waited for some friends to come online as I was too scared to play it on my own. I remember my first game, it was the subway level of the No Mercy campaign and I believe it was with Hi-Scores very own, Mr Daniel Lipscombe a.k.a strybe.

My hands were sweaty, I was close to smashing the pad as I hammered RT; spraying my Uzi through Bill’s buttocks, Laying out Louie and maybe, just maybe, killing a zombie. I shot Strybe, and our friend’s, more than I shot the Zombies. The reason I shot the hell out of my friends? Because I was scared half to death. Creeping around corners in the dark to be greeted with a horde of undead was not my picnic (then at least).

You see, a friend pointed out to me, although he loves the demo, it seems to lack the atmosphere that the original captured. I kind of agree with him, the sunlight is great but it does take away the fear of the shadows and what might be lurking in them. But, on the flip side, you cant hide in the shadows any more. I felt completely open, every where you turn you can see the zombies meandering about, massing up for a charge. Valve will have some darkened creepy levels tucked away but what the demo lacked in atmosphere, it made up for in adrenaline; the new events, sunlight and wide open spaces all added up to give me, and maybe you, a new heart pounding experience.

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Versus

I am a huge fan of the originals versus mode, I’ve probably played more of it than the actual campaign mode. It’s such a different affair from your standard multiplayer FPS, requiring teamwork and co-ordination. On around my fourth play through of the demo I could not help myself from looking around at the level from a versus perspective. The major thing I noticed was the balconies along the tight streets. With no ground access these are definitely smoker perches. The daylight will add an interesting perspective as your smoker will be a lot easier to spot. Teamwork is going to be key, splitting up the survivors might be even more important in the sequel than it was in the original.

Cue the new special infected: the Spitter, Charger and Jockey. Having these new “weapons” at your disposal is going to change Versus for good. It feels like Valve have created them (almost) purely for Versus as their main purpose is splitting up and isolating the survivors, the afore-mentioned key to Versus. The Spitter can force the survivors out of the hiding spots, the Charger can pick one player up and smash him out of the group and most importantly the Jockey, who if used correctly (and with support) could be the most fun. His possibilities seem endless, whether your running survivors into ambushes, off buildings, into fire, into boomers, he will always cause chaos and disorientate the group.

The last, and most hotly debated item, is the melee weapons. How will these factor into Versus? I honestly can’t say. I trust Valve won’t have made them too powerful against infected players but who knows. If you play together and use teamwork then you should be able to deal with any situation, even chainsaw wielding humans. The more melee weapons, the less guns to shoot you.

I did warn you it was going to be a rant, but I hope some of these thoughts made sense. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on this game. Please post your own thoughts, opinions, disagreements, whatever you want to call them and I’ll reply to them all.

Top Ten Cinematic Scenes….With A Twist

Well, it’s that time again. Here we are, ten writers, ten opinions and ten great games. If you haven’t been with us for the last two editions of Top Ten with a twist, for shame. But you’re here now and we’ll let you off. The premise is simple, many gaming sites across the internet regularly publish Top Tens, usually written by one person. We have changed things up a bit at Hi-Score and we regularly ask many writers to get together, give them a subject (try to avoid doubles) and bring you ten opinions from ten great people. They are in no particular order, we just write to entertain.

This month we have chosen Top Ten Cinematic scenes, so allow our writer friends to tell you a story. Let them tell you why they love the scenes they’ve chosen and why you should love them too. As usual we have some mainstream games and some more obscure titles and Bioshock delivers two favourite scenes, so once again the power of Rapture is mesmerising. So, let me hand you over to this editions ten writers; Adam Standing, Jared Newman, John Cranston, Lewis Denby, Jennifer Allen, Christos Reid, Brad Gallaway, Thomas Worthington, Steve Wright and Dillon Andrews.

Adam Standing – BioShock

Writer for Game People –Soulful Gamer

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No-one cut a more imposing figure in the game of Bioshock than its founder, Andrew Ryan. From the moment you set foot onto the lighthouse that takes you down into Rapture he’s there, his proud statue declaring, ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man.’ it might as well of said ‘Only Andrew Ryan’. His confident, arrogant tone follows you every step of the way as you descend into his underwater utopia, ever patronising, always accusing and yet oddly charismatic. It’s impossible not to be swept up in every dramatic speech that he delivers. What would his next sneering remark be? What threat would he dare to unleash as I tried to unravel the mystery of Rapture and the vision of perfection he so desperately clung to?

All this culminated into an epic meeting with the man – the perfect denouement of the previous hour’s tension and drama wrapped into a brief minute of in-game cinematic. What made this so impressive was how well it stayed within the confines of the world. There was no 3rd-person highly-rendered cut-scene to take you out of the moment, no dramatic camera angles or swelling music, just the same view you’ve been used to but with one critical aspect changed. For those brief moments when Ryan opens his office door, control is suddenly taken away from you. But he demonstrates that although you’ve had free movement in the past you’ve been nothing more than a pawn in a power struggle, going from objective to objective under Atlas’ ‘guidance’, and fulfilling the role of a mindless assassin.
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So when he tells you to run, and then to stop and face him, all by using the ‘would you kindly’ phrase, it suddenly threw the last few hours of gameplay back in my face. The curtain was pulled back and I realised how utterly I’d been fooled by my own assumptions.  It was this stroke of genius that made me squirm as Ryan handed me his golf club. Although my aim all along had been to kill him, I was suddenly disgusted with the thought of carrying it out.

‘A man chooses, a slave obeys.’

Being forced to watch as I beat Ryan to death against my will was a shocking moment. I have never felt so useless within a game before and the emotional weight of this moment made it the most powerful in-game cinematic I’ve experienced.

And just as Andrew Ryan loomed large over the entire city of Rapture like a steely father, this scene eclipsed the rest of the game. But for me Bioshock was always about this moment; a meeting that revealed so much about the game and left me in awe.

Jared Newman – No More Heroes

Writer at Gamercrave – Gamercrave

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Amped up and showered in blood, Travis Touchdown points his beam katana at the last of three suit-clad henchmen, who is now crying in fear, arms raised in surrender. Travis demands: “Where’s this Heavy Metal dude?” And when the henchman can only manage a frightened whimper, Travis wields his katana and cuts through the baloney that so many other video game cutscenes put on display.

Normally, I don’t envy the makers of cutscenes. Somehow, they have to weave a thread of humanity into characters who are mostly preoccupied with killing everything that moves. This is especially true when the opponents are human, for instance in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. As Penny Arcade so eloquently put it, Nathan Drake suffers from “his unique sociopathy, the one which allows him to crack wise between genocides.”

But while Uncharted 2, Grand Theft Auto IV and so many others simply hope you won’t notice the glaring discrepancy between the emotional character in the cutscene and the one who’s piling up dead bodies by the hundred, No More Heroes balances the scales. Travis Touchdown isn’t a sociopath, he’s just not human. He’s a construct, a vessel that delivers the player to the game.

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Accordingly, Travis acts more like a gamer than a character. The phrase “this Death Metal dude,” and earlier in the cutscene, his referral to Sylvia Christel as “an agent of this whatchamacallit association” illustrates how a player can disregard the finer details of a game’s story and still have a good time. No More heroes is different because it forgets the details intentionally. I won’t argue that video games don’t need narrative, but if you can’t throw away a game’s plot and still enjoy the remainder, it’s probably not worth playing.

Think I’m blowing hot air? Consider also the many instances, in the game’s first cutscene and beyond, where Travis takes a sledgehammer to the fourth wall. “I know a lot of gamers out there don’t much patience, at least that’s what Bishop the dude at the video store said,” he remarks before speaking of “the deathmatch bar” and compelling the player to join him and “just press the A button.” Again, he’s  not so much a hero as he is one of us.

All this brings us back to that brutal moment where Travis arrives on the scene of his next assassination. I really expected Travis to let that last henchmen go, because that’s what happens in a cutscene where the protagonist’s humanity is under a microscope. Instead, Travis splits the man along the torso, kicks open a door and yells, “It’s game time!”

At that point, I was thinking the same thing.

John Cranston – Lost Odyssey

Blogger – Blog

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As a gamer of over twenty years, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of cinematics, from the explosive action of futuristic battlefields in Dawn of War, to the cheesetastic Resident Evil with its hammy dialogue and terrible acting. Today’s technology means cinematics can now be infused with almost life-like reality.

So, when I settled down to play Mistwalkers second game, Lost Odyssey, I almost didn’t know what to think, feel or believe when introduced to the first of their “Thousand Years of Dreams” sequences. It was unlike anything I’ve come across before and has become my most important cinematic moment in gaming.

Let me add some context. Lost Odyssey is a Japanese RPG by Hironobu Sakaguchi, in which you play as Kaim Argonar, an immortal mercenary travelling the world in search of a purpose. After meeting other immortals and questing with them it becomes clear that they are all suffering from the same problem – they are missing portions of their memory.

As you venture out onto various missions there are inevitable cut scenes dealing with the exposition of the situation at hand. However, whilst exploring towns and villages, Kaim and the other immortals can sometimes find an item or overhear a fragment of conversation which will trigger one of their lost memories.

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These memories are presented in the form of an interactive short story, with transitional animation, animated backgrounds and expressive music (by Nobuo Uematsu) that reflect the tone of each section of text. You can read through these stories at your own pace, and at first they seem bafflingly obscure. I first thought to myself “why is this game making me read?”

But despite this initial objection, the first flashback was able to do something no game has ever done before – it made me cry.

“Hanna’s Departure” is the tale of a young girl, born with a degenerative illness. She is housebound at her parent’s inn and will not live to become a woman. Travellers that stay at the inn tell her tales of the world she will never experience, with any of her limited senses. Kaim is one of these travellers.

Having an immortal life and in his capacity of a mercenary, he has travelled far and wide, first hand experiencing the beauty of the world and the depths of human ugliness. You can’t help but warm to this aloof and initially bland character as he recalls his final trip to visit Hanna, and the story he tells her as she lies sleeping in her death bed.

To some it might seem like an overblown PowerPoint presentation, but I admire the way this game deals with real human emotions – the sadness of a loved one dying, the regret of a life not lived to its potential, the humility of your own actions and the loathing of the seedier side of the human condition. It truly struck a chord with me and I’m not ashamed to say I wept.

Lewis Denby – Pathologic

General Freelancer and Editor of Resolution Magazine – Resolution

screen_11I suspect this may be something of an oddity on this list, as it’s a cinematic that doesn’t actually appear in the game.

Remember the good old days when a game’s opening cinematic came before the menu screen?  That’s kind of the case here, except that there’s another, more relevant one at the start of the game proper.  This one, the one that plays as soon as you double-click your way into the application, is actually rather arbitrary, and has very little to do with the marvellous, philosophical and terrifically disturbing plot that emerges once you get really stuck into the broken but beautiful gem that is Pathologic.

But what’s so thoroughly excellent about this half-minute introduction is that… well, it serves as just that.  It’s not cluttered by exposition, and you won’t really miss anything should you choose to skip it.  What it does is cement a bleak atmosphere from the outset, while tapping into some of the aesthetic themes from which Pathologic cancerously grows throughout its turbulant duration.

A funeral procession ambles through the rain.  As the camera focuses, we see that the procession is made up entirely of children, suits and ties replaced with torn, tattered rags.  They carry no coffin.  Instead, it’s a ragdoll, equally torn and tattered.  Ragdolls become a significant element of Pathologic’s twisted approach, but that’s not relevant for now.

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The kids bury the doll.  They walk off.  The menu screen beckons.

What does it all mean?  Well, on the surface, not a lot.  But pretty soon we understand that Pathologic’s self-destructing village is home to an enormous orphanage, and that a terrible disease is sweeping the area, with hundreds of people dying every day.  The children, with no homes to go to and nothing else to do, are partaking in their own version of the terrible situation that the town’s adult population has no choice but to deal with.

It’s subtle, but brutal and tragic.  It is exemplary of the game as a whole – exactly what the best introductions should aim for.  Marvellous.

Jennifer Allen – Bioshock

Writer for many places – Blog

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I was a strange one back in August 2007. Bioshock’s demo had just been released and every gamer on the planet seemed to be excited about it, except for me. I’m desperately trying to remember why but I can’t come up with a good excuse other than it just seemed to have slipped my radar. Fortunately a friend ensured that I didn’t miss too much by loading up the demo in front of me. Within seconds I was hooked and knew that I had to buy this game no matter what.

The opening cut scene really wasn’t very long at only a couple of minutes long, but it gave away just enough to make me very intrigued. Starting out on a plane in 1960 going across the Atlantic Ocean, you see the protagonist looking at photos of his family and then a blue package with a gift tag stating ‘Would you kindly not open until…’. Something that seems very innocuous at the time but is instead extremely sinister as events unfold. The next second the plane plummets out of the sky and into the Atlantic Ocean. Miraculously you survive and you come up from the water to see fire everywhere and the plane’s tail sink further into the murky water. At the time I was surprised to see how quickly the game had gone from pure cut scene to being able to control the action and swim to safety. It was a great example of just how hooked I was to the action unfolding before my eyes, I’d nearly forgotten it was a game. The first person perspective helped hugely, I wasn’t watching a man on a plane, I was the man on the plane. It all made things feel so much more personal and I had to see what would happen next, which is exactly what an opening cut scene should do: hook you and never let go.

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I was a little worried that it wouldn’t hold up having not returned to Bioshock in a long while. But as soon as I loaded up the sequence again on my 360, I was hooked once more and I’m strongly contemplating experiencing the game again. It is amazing how one small cut scene can change your view of a game so hugely from total disinterest to a near addicted urge to find a copy. I dare anyone reading this who somehow hasn’t played Bioshock yet (shame on you if so) to view the opening scene and not have a desire to play longer. It might be brief but it does everything required of a good opening. It gives you reason to keep playing by tantalising your curiosity.

Christos Reid – Grim Fandango

Freelancer and wordsmith – Blog

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Have you ever thought about what it’s like to die?

In fact, have you ever thought about what it’s like after you die?

Grim Fandango, as a concept, is pretty dark. You’re essentially a travel agent for the souls of the dead, stationed in the afterlife working endlessly to pay off some horrible misdeed you committed whilst in the land of the living. Your job sucks, your customers hate you, and you’ve got no friends, because, well, everyone hates you, and you’re dead.

This is life for Manny Cavalera, the poor schmuck who finally wrangles himself a great client, fluffs the job, and ends up making a four-year pilgrimage across the land of the dead to save the person whose case he mishandled.

The cutscene takes place near the end of the game, so it’s quite a controversial choice; it’s not completely spoiler free, if you count bad people going to Hell as a spoiler. Manny begs the gatekeeper to stop a train granting criminals access to Heaven, but is told to wait, as it is revealed that the train will pass its own judgement on whether or not its passengers deserve to enter.

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The train gleams in the winter sunlight, frosted windows giving way to the sight of one of the game’s many antagonists before the camera pulls back to give us an idea of how few moments there are left before judgement is passed by the wheeled beast. Suddenly, the train glows red, and the engine turns into a leering daemon, before leaping from the tracks into a fiery pit that opens up to let it through.

It’s hard to describe, simply because so much happens in the space of ten seconds. But it’s an amazing cutscene because it’s a relief for the player whilst still being a terrifying experience if you’re willing to immerse yourself within the collective consciousness of the criminals on the train. As the train soars into the depths of Hell, frantic faces and hands are pushed against the windows, decrying their sins as they are taken, mere yards from the paradise they stole from others.

Tim Schafer has something of a gift, when it comes to dialogue, but for once, it’s not really necessary. Every aspect of this half-minute of cinematic tension is purely visual, a rare treat after three years of guiding Manny through the various pitfalls and misadventures of the afterlife. It begs the question: are those who are morally tainted – but keep quiet about it – really safe from judgement? Or are the fates saving their ultimate retribution against those who would disadvantage others to further themselves for the last possible moment?

In a game all about morality being a very grey area, it’s reassuring to witness such a strong, visual statement indicating that the difference between the two isn’t so hard to perceive after all.

Well, that and the idea of daemon train is completely fucking awesome.

Brad Gallaway – Shenmue 2

Writer and Editor at Gamecritic.com – Blog

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I have to admit that I cheated a bit when I selected a series of scenes from the end of Yu Suzuki’s masterwork, Shenmue II. The images that sprung to mind hearing of the ‘Twist’ topic are technically gameplay, yet are so calm and expository that I think it’s entirely fair to say that they’re closer to being cinematics than anything else.

For those not familiar with the Shenmue series, it tells the story of Ryo Hazuki, a young man whose father was murdered before his eyes. Over the course of two games, Ryo struggles to unravel the events that drove the killing, and in doing so, is led on a journey of personal discovery and maturation into adulthood. Although Shenmue is frequently misunderstood by players who wanted it to be something it wasn’t, some of its most powerful moments are not of action, but of stillness; of introspection and of being part of a larger whole.

The perfect example? After an exhilarating end-boss conflict, most players (including myself) expected to see credits roll and have the adventure come to a close. However, Suzuki surprised everyone by slamming on the brakes and taking Ryo to a remote rural area where he must walk a considerable distance to a village deep in the mountains. There are no shortcuts, no passing cars to commandeer, and no warp areas to expedite the player from point A to point B. There is no way to ‘hurry up and get to the good part’. Simply being there is the good part.

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Much like anyone would be wont to do after significant events in real life, Ryo counts his footsteps by contemplating things that have occurred along the way; where he’s been, and where he’s going. What it all means.

After searching, struggling, and enduring the violence necessary to achieve Ryo’s goals of bringing peace to his father, I felt as though this simple, idyllic trek through verdant fields and across bubbling streams was the best possible reward, both for Ryo and myself– slowing the pace down and featuring an entirely different, almost meditative experience for the player to participate in was Suzuki’s way of addressing that the character he created is multifaceted, just as we are in life, and deeper than the simple series of actions and reactions games require players to perform.

The richness on display is comprised of no more than discussions with a girl who acts as his guide. There’s no fighting or conflict. No struggle, save perhaps an internal one. Really, these scenes are never anything more than two people communicating and discussing life, but in them, Shenmue II provides more in a moment contemplating the intrinsic beauty of flowers than most games do with hours of bleeding-edge CG and top-dollar voice acting.

Thomas Worthington – Majoras Mask

Nintendo Editor – That Gaming Site

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As with any list or top 10, when it comes to the Zelda series, the words ‘Ocarina of Time’ are never far behind. In contrast, Majora’s Mask is the under-appreciated younger brother of Link’s Nintendo 64 debut. Starved of the respect it’s deserving of, I couldn’t refuse it a mention here.

Allow me to set the mood for you by briefly re-telling the events leading up to this classic introduction. Travelling back and forth through time to defeat Gannondorf, save the princess and Hyrule, accepting his destiny as Hero of Time, the events that transpired in Ocarina of Time might have been a little too much for young Link to deal with.

Stepping out of the lime light and into the foggy depths of the Lost Woods, we find our hero atop his trusty steed Epona strolling cautiously in search of an old friend. From a nearby tree, two fairies are watching Link and plotting away. It isn’t long until the mischievous duo startle Epona knocking Link to the ground and into unconsciousness.

In the distance, the outline of a mask and shadow of its owner appears revealing the ringmaster in this master plan, the Skull Kid. It’s here we’re introduced to the strange but hilarious mannerisms of the antagonist. He’s a change of pace from the traditional Gerudo tyrant, Gannondorf. He shuffles towards his prey, prying the Ocarina of Time from Links’ pockets, giggling at the sounds it makes and playfully hiding it behind his back when our hero awakes to find this obscure scene.

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Scoring a quick getaway by stealing Link’s horse, our hero chases his foe through the forest and into a dark cave not seeing the ledge and falling into a dark abyss. Landing in a dimly-lit cave, the Skull Kid is basking in the spot light. Epona is nowhere to be seen. The Skull Kid tells Link that his horse was useless so he disposed of it from him. The Skull Kid now bemused by Links anger decides to knock him down a peg.

Sending Link to a nightmarish world, surrounded by Deku Scrubs, Link runs for his life trying to shake off the echoing sound of rustling. The horror isn’t over for Link however, as he awakes to discover the Skull Kid has transformed him into a Deku Scrub. Peering at Link’s new look, the Skull Kid falls back laughing uncontrollably.

No longer in the world that held him up as the hero of time, reduced to a mere Deku scrub, no horse, no Ocarina and with a foe for a companion, Majora’s Mask is an introduction that tears its hero down to rags. It’s a storytelling device used over and over by Nintendo, (for reference see the opening of every Metroid Prime game) but Majora’s Mask did it with such style and emotion that falling from hero to zero never felt so brutal. It paints a picture of how dark, twisted and at times haunting Link’s adventure is going to be.

Steve Wright – Final Fantasy 7 (There had to be one)

Budding writer – Hi-Score

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Let’s rewind back to 1997. I was a 12-year-old lad who, when not playing footy in the rain, would waste many an afternoon on my Playstation. I had played and loved many games, but no game had affected me as much as Final Fantasy VII did. I remember playing FFVII through summer and winter, friends pleading me to play football, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get my hands on that black Chocobo.

As all gamers know (who has not played this? Seriously) FFVII is filled with majestic moments and great cut scenes – Sephiroth walking through the flames, explosion over sector 7, oh, and that girl dying – but the one memory that stands out as clear as day is the escape from the Shinra headquarters.

After rescuing Red XIII and escaping Sephiroth, Cloud and his band of misfits have to escape. Cue what Christos Reid called “Cloud’s most badass moment in the FFVII universe”. While the rest of the team mount into a strange-looking blue pickup truck, Cloud comes flying down the steps in a rather awesome looking motorbike. They smash through the window and (in a Michael Bay fashion) speed onto the freeway to fight off the pursuing enemies.

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Why do I love this scene so much? I think Christos could have been spot on in his quote. For a hero, Cloud was, well, a bit of an emo. Up until this point Barrat was the man, he had more machismo in his left elbow. Like an average 12-year-old boy I was drawn to heroic muscle-bound men…this is sounding a little wrong. What I’m trying to say is there was not much to inspire you about Cloud; he had a big Sword, yes, but as for sheer badassness (sorry), he was solely lacking. That was until he came thrashing down those steps in that bike, stopping only to strut heroically. Now he is a hero, now he is cool, now he can take down Sephiroth.

Before writing this piece I went back and watched this scene again. What was once jaw dropping, friend impressing visuals is now very underwhelming. It’s a great testament to how far gaming has come in terms of graphics, but also how many moments in our gaming careers will never be forgotten, no matter how rough around the edges they are.

The cut scene has taken a bit of flack in recent years but I say keep it. Cut scenes should be used to convey something that can’t be shown in gameplay: epic explosion filled endings, character deaths, character romance etc. Simple. When you find yourself trying to skip a cut scene by pressing every button on the pad like an uneducated Tekken player then it’s not needed. Developers need to look back to games like FFVII, where they were used to perfection, and stop giving cut scenes a bad name.

Dillon Andrews – Dungeon Keeper

Co Editor of Ve3tro.com – Ve3tro

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What makes a cinematic great? What is it that causes a cinematic to standout from the rest and stick with us like childhood memories so that when asked “what is the greatest cinematic ever?” we can reply with a grin and a re-telling of our favourite video game cutscene. For me (a cinematic enthusiast), I get pleasure from anything containing comedy, good graphics, excellent writing, and of course nostalgia.

Like wine, good cinematics age gracefully and can be enjoyed after many years have passed. Let’s select a 12 year old gem, taking us back to June 26^th , 1997 for my selection; Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper. What scene sticks out the most? Well I can’t say any in particular as all are relatively short and all excellent in production, so I’m going to break the rules of this top 10 list and expand my selection of ‘favourite’ to ‘favourites’ and select them all. However, to confine and limit myself from an endless ramble, I will simply choose the one that started them all, the Dungeon Keeper Introduction.

Running a quick breakdown, you can see why I look to this game with such high regard. Allow me to take your hand and walk you through the beginning 2 minutes of Dungeon Keeper.
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A knight gallops towards the castle gate with torch in hand and a burning desire for conquest in his heart. Wind gusts shake a corpse silhouette in front of the moon as the illustrious Bullfrog sign swings from the local tavern. Fighting the temptation for a brew, the knight marches onward through a forest littered with rodents and decaying bodies.

Finally the knight reaches his destination and kicks in the door, startling a little imp who scampers past troll guards who prepare for the confrontation and epic battle. The knight hastily slays the patrol (whose backup are indulging in a game of cards), and then heads towards the core of the building—the dungeon.

Fortunately the big badass, Horny—the Horned Reaper sneaks in and beheads the crusading hero, ushering in a new level of confidence to the evil minions in the Dungeon Keeper universe… and of course riling up me, the player.

Tell me how that doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, your inner self sinisterly rubbing your hands together as you let out a unruly ‘Mua ha ha ha’!

Note from Editor – Well there we are, that’s all ten entries for this month. I’m sure you’ll agree that there were some great choices in there. I hope you join us next time around, where we’ll have more great writers tackle their favourite moments in videogames. Follow everyone on twitter (Except Christos, he’s not on Twitter yet and may never be) and let us know what you thought of this edition, do you agree? Disagree? Or have your own choice to put forward? Tell us on Twitter or in the comments here.

Hi-Score helps Movember!

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For those not in the know Movember is a a charity driven version of November, where men get to grow EPIC moustaches for charity, namely prostate cancer. Prostate cancer affects 1 in 10 men and we at Hi-Score want to help out with Movember. To do this we have started a team on the Movember website and we want as may people as possible to either join or donate…preferably both.

You can find the team page HERE

Please pass this message around, even if you only raise a few quid it all goes to helping people with cancer. And you get to grow an EPIC Mo for a bit of fun………and if you email me pictures as you’re growing them, you might find yourself on Hi-Score!!

Who is in control?

In this feature, Christos Reid, general freelancer, joins me on discussing control within games, whether we have too little, too much or just enough. What is your opinion? Let us know once you’ve read out little debate. NOTE – This feature is full to the brim of spoilers for Gears of War 2, Call of duty 4 and Mass Effect! You’ve been warned!

Daniels thoughts:

Are we as gamers given enough control in games? I don’t mean in terms of the controller in your hand or the keyboard and mouse that sits on your desk. I mean control over the characters and situations that we find in our adventures. Let me paint you a picture – and I’ll warn you, my pictures show the full picture, in other words they contain many spoilers.

When I finished Gears of War 2, I’d played with a very good friend of mine on Co-Op, he as Dom and myself as Marcus. Around halfway through the story, Dom’s main storyline comes to head, after trawling the underground locust city Dom finally finds Maria, his wife. We’ve followed Dom through the initial game and seen his heartache at Marias absence; this is culminating in just one cut scene. Dom opens a casket style prison/torture cell and Maria falls into his arms, a beautiful woman, the love of his life in his eyes, in ours, a hideously disfigured husk of a human being. After the realisation that his wife has been tortured, mentally and physically he has no choice but to put her out of her misery.

Despite the fact that this is an emotional scene, there was a sense of emptiness on our part. There is a distinct lack of control in this situation. On one hand a dramatic climax to a rollercoaster, on the other, an empty disconnection to the drama unfolding. What’s my point I hear you say? I’ll get to that. The fact that we all knew as soon as Maria fell out of that casket that she would be a mess of a woman and that due to the style of the game and story being told that Dom would have to make a decision on her fate. But we’ve spent years with Marcus and Dom, years waiting for the moment that Dom would find his wife, we’ve fought the Brumaks, and we’ve lost teammates along the way. So why couldn’t we, the player, pull the trigger?

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It’s simple really, the person playing as Dom in the campaign is watching their character that they’ve spent all this time controlling and in the one moment that has to be the highest point (relatively speaking) of Dom’s journey and at the crux point all of the control is taken away. Close your eyes and imagine that scene again, picture yourself playing as Dom and looking into Marias eyes, a hand raises a pistol to Marias temple and the symbol for the right trigger pops up on the screen. Now YOU have to pull the trigger, YOU found your wife; YOU are putting her out of her misery.

Now is this a good thing? It could be argued that this is a step too far in gaming; it’s bad enough that as gamers we have to deal with criticism in the press for games being too violent. You could also say that after the act, you the gamer would feel an even closer connection with Dom, his character and his story. After all isn’t that the point of having an emotional story that attempts to stir up feelings inside you?

There’s an opportunity to use a comparison and look at the “Megaton” scenario in Fallout 3, do you detonate a nuclear bomb and destroy a town and all of its inhabitants. After all, you are the one who pushes the button. However the game doesn’t push you to do it, you still have a choice and the characters in Megaton likely don’t mean much to you. But what if Fallout 3 had more of a character driven story? Let’s say you formed closer relationships with the inhabitants of the dusty town and then you were forced by the story path, to push the detonate button. To destroy those people who you’d just spent hours getting to know and learning to love. This would stir up more inside the player than “wow. That was a cool explosion.”

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With videogames constantly striving to bring you a more in depth and intense experience, this option of control could well be a good idea. However an argument could be made that games are advancing in this way regardless. Quantic Dream is attempting this kind of attachment with their characters in Heavy Rain. Having introduced Madison Page in their demo at Leipzeig 2008, the female journalist was shown performing a striptease in order to gain information on the killer in the story. The scene is known for making people feel uneasy, watching this young woman humiliate and degrade herself just for a big break in her investigation. It would take a genius in game design to allow control for this moment to flow seamlessly, so the choice for a cut scene is a logical one.

My concern is that in such narration heavy scenes, a lack of direct control can break the telling of the story and exploration of the plot. Fellow journalist and general freelancer Lewis Denby agreed on the subject. “Games are unique because of their interactivity, but we’re still obsessed with telling stories through cut-scenes.  Valve is the only mainstream developer that seems to understand (2K as well, to an extent, with their work on BioShock).  If we’re looking to make powerful, evocative videogames, we need to be doing so through the very thing that defines the medium, not by replicating other forms of entertainment.  Human control is a very powerful thing”.

Lewis has a great point here; gaming is a media form in itself. While it does borrow largely from film, it is a unique beast, no other media form allows for the control that gaming does, save for choose your own adventure books. Although giving more control to the player wouldn’t necessarily change the path taken by the character it could add an attachment. Say for example allowing you to move the avatar during a scene that sees you conversing with another character whilst walking down a hallway. It may only be a minimal amount of control, but there is still a connection, no matter how tangible.

One of the better examples of this integration would be the opening scene to Call of Duty 4, which saw you being able to control the head of the captured Yasir Al-Fulani whilst on a car journey to certain death. Although you’re given minimal control over this situation, the shock of the killing at the end of the scene hits home harder as YOU were looking through his eyes, YOU were looking around frantically to find an escape and YOU were the one that eventually met their demise at the hands of terrorists. This scene would perhaps have had less of a dramatic effect if played out as a cut scene, but that small amount of control gave the scene a different feeling.

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Christos’ Thoughts:

Taking the control away from the player at a crucial moment in the story dredges up an interesting memory, for me. I was out late one night with a friend in a particularly unsavoury area of North London, waiting for a bus. Finally, it turns up just as we’re getting a tad too uncomfortable with our immediate surroundings. The doors align themselves with me exactly, and the bus driver turns to regard my companion and I with a look akin to pity, before failing to open the doors. Driving away, we are left in shock as the bus rolls onwards to its inevitable destination without us. What a bastard, right?

Well, exactly the same goes for games design, in my not-so-humble opinion. Take Mass Effect, for example. There are several scenes in the space-trilogy’s first instalment that simply beg to be interacted with, so I’ll take an example and show you why, against all logic (and my previous argument, admittedly), that it’s a bad idea for the developers to give you control.

As you rest up at the base on Virmire, preparing to storm Saren’s proverbial dark castle, Wrex stands alone, unleashing round upon round of shotgun ammunition at high velocity into the picturesque coast on which the base stands. Approaching gingerly, you engage in one of the most important conversations in the entire game, especially if you, the player, have taken Wrex on board for most of it. Wrex has to make a choice; follow his new friends (a hard task to accomplish given that the Krogan is a sociopath by nature) and destroy any chance his race has of staving off inevitable extinction, or rebel and kill Shepherd.

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The conversation choices are yours. There are scenarios where he dies, doesn’t die, you kill him, someone else does… many different options, all playing out within thirty seconds of emotionally charged player-driven dialogue. But imagine if you were outside the conversation-wheel system and simply talking to him whilst maintaining freedom of movement, and for that matter, freedom of fire. You clench your controller in anticipation, hoping Wrex will see sense. Clench too hard, and your gun goes off, decapitating your good friend and despatching him to whatever never-realm awaits him post-mortus. See? This is why developers hold some choices away from players, in the same way the staff at Disney World would never let the public control their own rollercoaster carriages. Because we’re the public, and we have a glorious tendency to fuck everything up.

Now let’s look at Dan’s Gears of War 2 example. Me and my girlfriend played this on release week, and we’ve settled on a pattern. We always play on Hardcore to start with, and I’m always Dom. I’m also the cry-baby out of the two. When Maria died, I was teary, simply because it was a scene that really didn’t fit into Epic’s design portfolio of guns, muscles, and homo-erotically charged narrative. Call it weakness, call it shock – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how it could have been changed for the better, to give the player more control over what happens.

First off, don’t simply offer the player the option to pull the trigger. That’s not emotionally involving, that’s simply irritating. This is the Karl Marx school of thought; wear any colour shirt you like, sir, as long as it’s red. Secondly, do it off-camera, and keep it off-camera. I don’t need to see his wife die, and no one else does, either. The situation is depressing enough, and as you’re technically following Marcus, showing anyone apart from Marcus reacting to the situation in hand would be a little ridiculous. The supporting cast will always have their little moments, but if these get out of hand we lose our natural association with the protagonist, and this is vital to providing that crucial sense of immersion for the player.

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In fact, don’t let the player interact with that scene at all. It was perfectly framed, shot, and written, and I can’t think of any better way to have left it. The gameplay is our realm, the area of the game world the protagonist is not aware of, because, to Marcus Fenix, there is no Earth, simply Sera. There are no achievements for completing his missions, simply an odd medal now and then. In order for an emotionally charged scenario to be rendered valid, we have to first accept that the protagonist needs a degree of independence in order to communicate how he or she is feeling to us, the player. Can you imagine the stream of YouTube videos? Dom teabagging his late wife, whilst a thirteen year old tribe of online miscreants up past their bed time wet themselves laughing? That’s not good narrative, that’s farce, and that’s what you let yourself in for. I’m not going to kid myself, and I don’t think you should either. Humanity, in the vast majority, is an incredibly clumsy animal, and I willingly include myself in that derogatory demographic.

The legendary German philosopher (and now emo icon of the world thanks to Little Miss Sunshine) Friedrich Nietzsche once said “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” This seemingly offhand quote helps to explain what I’m getting at, here. There is nothing more important than being a singular entity as opposed to one of the masses.

However, this doesn’t mean you should always emotionally separate yourself from the characters you play in videogames. This is in fact the opposite of what you should be doing, as you are then one of a legion of people simply enjoying the latest Gears title from Epic. But to allow Marcus enough freedom, through cutscenes, through independence of self, whilst still holding a controller in anticipation of guiding him to his goal during the more bullet-heavy moments in his life, is true immersion. Don’t deny yourself emotional attachment to characters simply because you’re too impatient to let them be themselves. If you controlled Shepherd 100 per cent of the time, he’s no longer Shepherd. He’s you.

This has somehow transformed from an opinion to a call for help from the gaming masses, but I digress. My point is simply that we cannot allow players full control of characters in games that rely on an immersive experience. Full control without any un-interactive, cinematic elements is immersive, definitely.

But is it emotional? Are we truly on the same psychological wavelength as Fenix as he strides through smoke and flames? Or are we simply waiting until we can finally get to the next save point and flick over to the X Factor? Treat your limited ability to influence events with something akin to reverence, as opposed to impatience. Good things come to those who wait. And to watch someone lose his wife, only to be allowed to help him as he enacts vengeance on those who denied him eternal joy and romance, is something truly magical.

Conclusion:

The comparisons we’ve discussed can be aimed at many games in this generation and a generation where control methods are a hot topic. Rather than offering so many ways to control the character, why not expand on the way we control them presently? I am however interested to see if Project Natal could eventually add more substance to these moments in games. Even though I’m a firm believer in control pads for our games I do feel that Natal could add flair to certain scenes. Perhaps being able to control your protagonist with the controller and using the camera to sense your head movement, which could then be reflected in-game.

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Christos brought up some great points, the major one being grounded in the maturity of gamers in this generation. In a world of teabaggers, trolls and flamers can we really act within the game and take that control over? Yes it’s possibly an ingenious solution to sticking points in the narration of games but it could also be too much for some gamers or even go over their heads.

Game designers will forever back and forth with ways to engage gamers, neither I nor Christos is in their shoes, heaven forbid. But we are gamers and we both know what we like, although the opinions differ greatly. Interactivity will likely stay a ‘hot topic’ throughout this generation and we’ll see where the future lies as it becomes the present.

Every little helps??

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I’ve just been for a walk, only a short one mind, into town and back. (I say walk, please read – was driven to town by the wife, kids in tow and walked as little as possible) On this merry little jaunt down my local high street I happened upon the store GAME (read “happened upon” as walked to it as if called by a homing beacon) Deciding to have a browse, as I’m interested in the PSPgo, I looked around the shelves and walked out as aimlessly as I walked in.

One thing that DID catch my eye was the £40 price tag on FIFA10.

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Now before I had left for this trip I had seen our friends Frugal Gaming advertise that supermarket Tesco were selling the same game for only £25, pittance compared to GAME, GameStation and BlockBuster. Now, I’m not a huge fan of football games, don’t mind the odd go but I wouldn’t line up to buy a FIFA game. But my best friend is, he quite literally eats, sleeps and breathes Football. As a manager of a Football team, a player, watcher and supporter, he was in line this morning to buy FIFA10 from his local GAME store. £40 changed hands and he was happy, until, I told him about Tesco’s price point.

Obviously pretty livid that he’d paid £15 more than it’s on the shelf for in supermarkets, it brought up the discussion of whether he felt comfortable with the fact that he’d given GAME his money over the giants, Tesco. On one had you have the dirty underhand “pre-owned” selling of GAME, on the other, the shop that pushes prices down so hard that local stores are closing their doors forever, and not by choice.

I don’t consider myself a fan of either shop, but in this situation, as a gamer, and one with not a great deal of readies burning a hole in my pocket, which comes first integrity or frugalness (is that a word? It is now!) I don’t want to see little stores going out of business at all, hell, I don’t even want to see GAME go out of business (as if) but it’s quite clear that if Tesco are going to push the price points down this much, other stores simply won’t cope. But then, it IS £15 cheaper than anywhere selling for the RRP and gamers don’t have much money, especially in this time of “war Economy” (Read – Recession)

Eurogamer have run a piece on this today too, it’s no wonder that so many shopkeepers are getting irate at this situation. Walk down any high street in the UK, christ anywhere in the world and shops are shutting because of the Tesco’s, ASDA’s, Wal-Mart’s and Best Buy’s. I try to buy from the little shops, unless they are charging OVER the RRP, but I know that in these tough financial times, consumers are looking to save a penny wherever they can.

Where do you stand as a gamer and consumer? Do you buy from the big boys at a lower cost and stuff the shopkeep, or pay more to keep the little guy alive?

One consumer has already made up their mind (Found on the interwebz)…………….

tesco_logo2*Tesco Logo, property of Tesco

Hi-Score visits MCM….Coming Soon

To celebrate Hi-Scores move to cover Movies, Comics, Books, Anime and more, we will be attending the MCM Expo in October. The Expo covers everything from Videogames to Anime and we’ll be exploring the halls and reporting on everything of interest.

Held in the Excel arena in London, the Expo is a sprawling sea of tables with merchandise, cosplayers, people holding up signs for ‘free hugs’ and everything a geek would love. Below is a list of things we will be covering;

We will be covering the Universal Studios Panel featuring special guest Elijah Wood who stars in Universal’s fantasy epic ‘9’, an action-packed adventure, directed by Shane Acker. We’ll also try to shoot some questions at Tom Baker of Dr Who fame and Craig Charles, Red Dwarf’s very own Dave Lister.

When it comes to Comics we’ll be talking to some great people, including; Andy Diggle, Kieron Gillen, Andie Tong and Helen McCarthy. Hopefully we’ll grab some signed issues to be given away to you wonderful readers.

Obviously we’ll be covering the games on show as well, confirmed so far are; Bayonetta, Monster Hunter 3, Tekken 6, Tales of Symphonia, Tatsunoko vs Capcom andmany more.

If you’re in the area or fancy travelling along, go HERE for tickets, let us know if you’re going along so you can come and say hello to us.

My Brother And Me

Outside games journalism itself, the press often gives video games a hard time.  While this is a sweeping statement, you only have to look to figures like Mary Whitehouse, Jack Thompson and even other vocal opponents such as Julia Boseman or Hillary Clinton for proof.

Now, most gamers I know wouldn’t try arguing games are without issues or faults – far from it.  Most would implore very particular treatment of young gamers, for example, and few would dispute the fact that, like all things, games are a hobby best suited for moderate consumption.  However, this is a long and complex discussion that has been raised before, and I am not about to wade into the quagmire today, especially without considerably more research.

The point of this article is simple: to underline my belief that there are very valid and very personal reasons why games can be a good thing.  In my case, it’s my brother.

Although similar in age (we’re just 18 months apart), my brother and I are very different people with very different interests.  Fortunately for us, being brothers and all, we have the same parents.  This means we shared the same upbringing, and have – over time – come to share many values.  Growing up, despite all the tomfoolery, squabbling and enthusiastically destructive play in which we indulged, we remained quite close.  Sure, there were some wobbly moments in the teenage years when I didn’t like my brother (or anyone else) very much, but time has mellowed us both.

However, my brother likes the UFC and MMA, boxing, cars, and Formula 1, none of which hold much interest for me.  I respect what he likes, except when I don’t, or see an opportunity to take the piss, but his interests are not my interests.  The exception is gaming.

Keith Jardine knocks Rampage Jacksons Mouthpiece flying

Keith Jardine knocks Rampage Jacksons Mouthpiece flying

We grew up playing games together – both video and “real” ones.  Everything from Roland in Time on the Amstrad CPC 464 to Goldeneye on the N64, we played it.  Perhaps nostalgia has helped cement the bond (we both remember going to look at the £1.99 Amstrad tapes under the glass counter in our local toy shop), but we still love games now.  It’s a common interest for us, and we will chat for hours about the upcoming releases, the good times on Gears of War or Skate 2, and even what idiots we encountered in the latest round of online gaming.  He knows the same people I do online, we like the same games (shooters, mainly), and he is of a similar standard.

My brother, Tommy, is good company anyway, and we’ve shared many a magical moment online.  I will never forget the time Tommy pulled up next to me in a Warthog and yelled at me to “get in the van.”  You’d never guess he was involved in the building trade at the time…  Okay, so he’s not quite as devoted to gaming as I am – he tends to wander in and out of remembering to pay his broadband bill – but that makes no difference to either of us.

"Get in the van" - Tommy

"Get in the van" - Tommy

In short, gaming has brought us closer – we always got on well, but over the last few years my brother has fast become one of my best friends.   I have faith that many other such stories exist out there – perhaps a couple who met through gaming, or a father and son playing together; maybe a family where video games have provided an outlet for other problems.

This is all a far cry from the thoroughly negative press that gaming often gets, and proves that video games can be a positive influence. As someone else once said, “virtual spaces, real relationships.”

Some come on, what do games mean to you and yours?