Posts Tagged ‘ Opinion ’

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.

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Top Ten Baddies……With a twist

After the success of our last Top Ten with a twist (platformers) I was bombarded with messages on Twitter and in my inbox saying how interesting it was. So now it’s time to bring you another edition, This time we’re covering enemies in videogames. The ten writers taking part this month were told to choose their favourite bad guy, anything from Goombas to Emerald Weapon, from Grunts to Wesker. Each of them chose their entry and wrote what they felt about the baddie in question.

Quite an interesting selection and one that shows the power of Bioshock in today’s gaming plateau, with 2 selections being Splicers and one for the Big Daddy, Bioshock holds a lot of sway when it comes to nasty living obstacles in your way. We have a few great traditional characters and some more obscure, I hope you enjoy the Top Ten, feel free to have your say in the comments. For now, we’ll leave it to; J.D.Richardson, Jennifer Allen, Adam Standing, Kevin VanOrd, Sam Giddings, Sinan Kubba, Christos Reid, Phill Cameron, Adam Roche and Gary Blower.

Cyborg Midwives – System Shock 2

J.D. Richardson – Resolution Magazine

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I like scary villains in my games and for me, nothing comes close to the utter horror of the Cyborg Midwives in System Shock 2. Created by The Many to tend to and defend the annelid eggs, these creatures are a perfect example of the Cronenburgesque body horror in video games. Created by fusing a female human with machine components and controlled by the hive mind of The Many, the cyborg mid-wives stalk the decks of the Von Braun and the Rickenbacker. One of the scariest things is that you generally hear them first but don’t actually know where they are and when they are aware of your own presence and start saying things like “I can smell you” or “I’ll tear out your spine.”

In that voice of theirs, it chills you to the bone. If you manage to avoid their detection you can often hear them declaring things like “Babies need meat.” And “It’s my job to worry.” It makes the horror more palpable and complete. The main aspect that makes the cyborg midwives so terrifying is the visual design which in my opinion is one of the best examples of character design I’ve seen in a video game. These things were pretty tough as well, usually requiring armour-piercing rounds to take down and that’s if the gun didn’t jam and create one of the scariest “Oh shit…!” moments as the midwife came running at you, screeching and firing that damn laser from their arm which is extremely deadly. There was also an amazing feeling of relief when you managed to kill one, for a little while you were safe. Well, a safe as you could be in System Shock 2.

Ten years after System Shock 2 came out and the Cyborg midwives are still very much etched into the part of the brain that deals with fear, nightmares and other really bad things. Even though they are horrific and terrifying, an encounter with a Cyborg midwife is always an exciting experience and even though I had to turn the game off the first time I encountered one, it was still an enjoyable kind of horror. It was a memorable moment in my game playing history and it’s those moments that make modern gaming so bloody good.

Dr. Robotnik – Sonic The Hedgehog

Jennifer Allen – Games are evil

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Every hero needs a nemesis. It might be a man who looks like a very sinister clown, it could be an evil monkey, in the case of Sonic the Hedgehog it was Doctor Robotnik. Also commonly known as Doctor Eggman in Japan, Robotnik was my first true experience of a memorable bad guy. It was a somewhat unconventional first experience of Robotnik as it wasn’t actually on a console; it was on a Tiger LCD game. The game was ridiculously simple compared to the likes of the DSi and the PSP that children have now, but in the early 1990s when I was a mere seven years old, it was amazing. The concept was very simple. Move left or right to dodge attacks from enemy robots and press jump at the right moment to kill them. There was no scrolling; the action was all on one screen. It was the sort of thing that if I showed it to a child now, they would laugh and call me old. But as a child who had only ever owned a Commodore 64 before, this felt very special and I instantly loved Sonic and his arch nemesis Dr Robotnik.

I would encounter the evil Eggman at the end of each of these stages. Again it was quite basic as it was all on the one screen but through the very fuzzy LCD graphics, I loved the look of Dr Robotnik. He appeared to be a formidable foe and yet not too scary (I was a wimp as a child) thanks to his bumbling egg like appearance. At first I struggled against his might, but with more and more patience (a rare thing for me, even now), he succumbed to my superior gaming skill. I played the LCD game to death, to the point that the image of Sonic is still frozen on the screen even when switched off. Poor Robotnik stood no chance against a seven year old me by the end of it. I suspect at that, unfortunately, young age my gaming prowess had peaked and Robotnik was the unsuspecting victim in all of this.

Of course I encountered Robotnik many, many times more over the coming years of my childhood. I also encountered many other bad guys, such as Bowser, Ganon, Sephiroth, the list feels huge. But, simply put, none could hold a candle to Robotnik. Sure Sephiroth set fire to Nibelheim and Bowser was forever kidnapping princesses, but Robotnik turned little, cute, fluffy animals into robots! How much more heinous could you get than that? The most vulnerable creatures possible. At least a princess should have had the sense to try running away and escaping instead of waiting for a dodgy looking plumber to come rescue her. The poor cute rabbits however had no chance of survival if it hadn’t been for that spiky blue hedgehog. Doctor Robotnik: the cute, fluffy animal enslaver and my favourite bad guy of them all.

Splicers – Bioshock

Adam Standing – Game People

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I usually find the basic grunt in a videogame a dull and unchallenging opponent. After all, mowing down Nazi’s or Zombie’s, or Nazi Zombies gets a little boring after the 2nd millionth headshot. But Bioshock was different and the Splicers that roamed the fallen city of Rapture, driven insane by their desire for Adam, were unlike any enemy I’ve come across before.

Why? Because these psychopaths were the most disturbing and deranged killers I’ve had to battle. Going through Andrew Ryan’s ruined city was creepy and atmospheric enough, but these depraved examples of humanity made every inch of this dystopia an unsettling nightmare. What made them so memorable was their origin. As the scattered audio diaries attest – they were once living happy normal lives before the need for Plasmids overwrote their humanity.

But they were dangerous too. At any point in the game it only took a casual attitude to one of those Leadhead goons to kill you off and when packs of them start prowling around Apollo Square in the latter stages it’s very easy to become Splicer toast in a few seconds. This is what kept fighting them a fresh experience for me. If it wasn’t the fire-bombing antics of the Nitro Splicers that disorientated me then the Houdini’s would scare the hell out me by blasting fire or ice Plasmids and then vanishing in a second.

But it was the Spider Splicers that were the most formidable and disturbing. It wasn’t just the wall-climbing or hook-throwing that kept me on my toes, or even the way they had a habit of sneaking about and making me jump out of my chair. No, it was the reciting of freaky Bible songs that really creeped me out. When some crazy murderer starts singing to himself that Jesus loves him, even when he’s covered in the blood of his fellow man and using  metal meat-hooks for weapons, that’s when I start to get scared.

Yet the single Splicer that unnerved me the most was Sander Cohen. The fact he seemed to have the slightest grasp of reality and yet still abuse and torment everyone else in Fort Frolic made him so unpredictable. Although you never fight him unless you want to, his artistic ramblings and manipulative desire to use you as his murderous tool made him just as dangerous as a Big Daddy. Running his errands made me feel completely used and he took the most gleeful delight in telling me how much of a pawn I was.

So the Splicers & Sander Cohen got under my skin and constantly challenged the way I played Bioshock – unnerving the hell of me for good measure along the way. If any enemy in a videogame is going to give me nightmares then it’ll be the depraved inhabitants of Rapture, muttering and swearing to themselves in the shadows.

Striders – Half Life 2

Kevin VanOrd – Gamespot

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Gordon Freeman is an ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances. He’s not your typical game hero; for better or for worse, this MIT-educated scientist is a political lightning rod and the unwitting spiritual leader of an entire rebellion. In most shooters, you take the offensive. In Half-Life 2, you’re constantly on the run, pursued through unfamiliar environments for reasons you don’t always understand.

No battles in Valve’s modern classic better represent this sense of fear and oppression than those versus the giant four-legged mechanical striders. You see one galumphing about in the distance during your early hours in City 17, but nothing can prepare you for the anxious thrill you feel as one looms above you for the first time. As you dance about avoiding its towering limbs while you take potshots with a rocket launcher, your fellow freedom fighters flock to your side. All at once, the gravity of your plight becomes clear. That strider isn’t just a huge metal daddylonglegs–it represents the fearlessness and cold inhumanity of your oppressors.

This first encounter won’t be your only one, and Half-Life 2: Episode 1 ends with another memorable strider battle. But while these colossal enemies are designed with incredible care and present a fair and exciting challenge, it’s what they represent that makes fighting them so astonishing. A single strider is a microcosm of Combine authoritarianism; once you face one, you’ll never forget it.

Locust – Gears of War

Sam Giddings – Hi-Score

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Over the years, many digital enemies have haunted my dreams.  Some of them are even covered by the rest of this top ten, I’m sure.  It was difficult for me to pick, especially as I have decided to controversially go for a modern baddie: The Locust.

And here’s why.

When I first ventured into Sera, I was blown away.  Right from the moment Marcus Fenix booted open a door and slid effortlessly into cover, I felt part of something.  As I ducked incoming bullets from my subterranean counterparts, thrown pell-mell into the front line, I knew I was in over my head, and this experience was going to change me.  This was no war I’d ever been in before.  Combat was mind-bendingly intense, tactical, and brutal.  The Locust had arrived.

It was also beautiful, in a way.  The “destroyed beauty” theme of Gears has never been better – the sense of loss for the world that had existed before E-Day was very real.  And I was going to make those scum pay.  Blood, bullets, and a righteous personification of fury were headed their way.

So many moments stand out: fending off surrounding swarms as I tried to plug the emergence holes with grenades; mounting a gun turret for the first time; gaping in awe as I evaded a Brumak; being holed up in a house and fighting desperately to survive.  But the thing that never went away, no matter what the game threw at me, was the sense of numbers.  Perhaps it was because The Locust lived in underground tunnels, or perhaps it was that the human front seemed stretched so thin, but I always felt that my enemy was limitless.  Unseen, everlasting, unknown.  Their motives were a mystery, their origins equally so, and their way of life seemed thoroughly bloody – and yet they looked like us in many ways.  Human in shape (but even uglier than my mate Darren), they were primeval and animal, despite their technology.

But that’s not the only reason the Locust were such a memorable enemy – I got to do things to them.  Horrible, nasty, sadistic, disgusting things, all of which pleased me no end.  I chainsawed them in half, jammed grenades into their skin to see them disappear in a shower of meaty chunks, exploded them with tipped arrows, and I even got to pop off their heads with the most satisfying sniper rifle ever created.  Hell, the vanquished Locust even got nuked at one point.  And as for General Raam, well, I even used a turret to disintegrate his body into shark chum…

I won’t say their genocidal ways earned my respect, but this was certainly a foe I approached with caution.  The old run and gun tactics of yore were a poor servant here. So let me raise a glass of mead like the mighty warriors of legend.  Here’s to you, Mr Locust, and the violations you let me inflict.  I enjoyed the killing as much as the winning.

Bowser – Super Mario Series

Sinan Kubba – ThegamesReviews

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Super Mario World was the perfect concoction of Super Mario Bros. 2’s trippy eccentricity and Super Mario Bros 3’s imaginative, tight level design, and nothing best represented this than its memorable final boss. Sure, it was Mario versus Bowser again, but this time it was clear that our Italian hero wasn’t the only one enjoying shroomy delights, as evidenced by the Koopa Clown Copter. It was a cup-like structure kept aloft by a propeller on its base, painted with a creepy clown’s face. What apart from psychedelics could’ve provided Bowser with the blueprints for such a contraption? Or, more pertinently, the game’s design team for that matter?

I chose Super Mario World’s finale because it provided in spades the two things I look for in a boss fight. The first of those two things is being something different and unexpected, and as I’ve described above, it clearly did. Gone were the boss fights of previous Mario games that were final evolutions of previous boss encounters, for here was something totally unpredictable. Sure, Bowser’s castle was the setting, and the dark, haunting music was once again present, but who really expected to see Bowser on top of a flying clown face, launching clockwork koopa troopas and giant bowling balls at them? On top of that, it threw some unusual twists into the battle. When Bowser was hit enough times, he would flee by flying directly towards the player, giving the fight an unusual 3D perspective. During his disappearance, Princess Peach would pop up out of the clown copter and throw Mario some (non-psychedelic) mushrooms, providing some unusual empowerment for the damsel-in-distress. Of course, when the fight was over, she still rewarded our hero with a big smacker on the cheek. And even when she was launching the mushroom, she was flailing her arms and screaming for help. For goodness sake, woman.

In addition to being unusual, Mario’s fight with Bowser’s clown copter was pleasingly challenging. It’s by no means the hardest boss fight anyone’s ever played, or even one of the very hardest Mario fights, but its gameplay was unusual, and forced the player to try and do something a little different to anything they’d done in the game before. To damage Bowser, Mario had to pick up a dazed clockwork koopa, and launch it at the airborne reptile so that it conked him on the cranium. Easy enough at first, but when Bowser started thumping the ground with his copter, while koopas marched dangerously around you, it certainly became challenging. And that’s all a good boss fight needs to be: unusual and pleasingly challenging. And yet so many fall by the wayside.

Super Mario World’s outstanding boss fight never did fall by the wayside. The Koopa Clown Copter went on to make appearances in the Paper Mario, Mario Party, Mario & Luigi, and Mario Golf series, as well a memorable inclusion in Super Mario RPG when he once again abducted the Princess in it. If you asked a Mario fan to name his favourite Mario boss fight, chances are he’d say this one. And so he should; it was a fitting conclusion to one, if not the best 2D platforming game ever made.

Splicers – Bioshock

Christos Reid – For the Gamer Good

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My favourite bad guy is going to come as a bit of a confusing statement, simply because he’s not a major villain. In fact, he’s a generic bad guy, and appears repeatedly throughout the game. Let me elaborate with a little background.

It’s Hallowe’en in 2007, and I’m playing Bioshock for the first time, properly. I’ve got the lights turned off, and I can’t even see the controller. I move cautiously through Rapture, each ominous footfall taking me one step closer to the next musical sting and furious attack by the warped denizens of this forgotten underwater metropolis.

As I make my way through a dilapidated area of the city’s market district, I stumble across a case of Bibles. I know these were banned by Andrew Ryan, seeing them as an embodiment of everything Rapture was opposed to, and above the burning books is a man who has been crucified on electric fencing, dancing slightly as the current courses through his long-dead limbs. I turn it off out of respect for the free-thinker.

I then hear footsteps, and someone humming to themselves. The approaching figure is male, his high-pitched voice displaying a remarkably human level of singing ability, his humming fractured by the odd cough and splutter. I tense, readying my shotgun and plasmid, sheet lightning coursing along my fingers.

I feel confident, and this is an important feeling in Bioshock, so I hang onto it desperately. To lose confidence in Rapture is to retreat, to run, and to run is to die very quickly as the splicers repopulating the cityscape you’ve cleared an hour ago know you’re coming, thanks to shouted warnings from the monsters clawing at your back.

Then he begins to sing, and my body temperature actually feels like it’s dropped by several degrees. “Jesus loves me this I know…” he warbles, turning the corner to regard me with crazed eyes, and launching himself towards me, lead pipe in hand, before finishing the verse – “because the bible tells me so!”

Honestly? Are you kidding me, 2K? I’ve seen some ridiculously scary crap in my time playing horror games and watching zombie films, but Christianity in the most unholy place on the planet was just downright unsettling. What I thought was genius about it was the story behind the invasion of religion into Rapture. Fontaine brings in bibles, and all of a sudden people “get” religion. To know from two sung lines from some miscellaneous hymn, that the man attacking you is not only insane but is also one of Fontaine’s own splicers, is doubly threatening, and very clever.

I could have said Sephiroth, and I could have just as easily said Fontaine himself, or any one of the list of big, scary bastards you’re likely to come across whilst gaming. But I find it’s the little things that matter, and that one little thing scared me more than twenty hours of scampering through Rapture, shooting people and throwing tennis balls with my mind.

Alex Mercer – Prototype

Phill Cameron – The Reticule

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It’s the hood that gives him away. No one who ever thought he had to cover his face with a hood was ever that trustworthy. A few superheroes, perhaps, but then, however really trusted them. They save your life, but you don’t particularly want to see them again. Violent, unsavoury types.

No, when you have a protagonist with a hood and a leather jacket, the message is clear; this is not a nice person. When you then show how they can turn their arms into living weapons you go that step further to stamp a great big warning sign on his forehead. Of course, taking the step to have him slaughter innocent civilians and bring down the only force trying to stop the infection, the military, in huge swathes, hardly helps.

Alex Mercer is a villain, pure and simple. It has little to do with whatever twists may or may not take place during the prototype story, but everything to do with the fact he’s a murdering son of a bitch who’s got nothing better to do than mess with a military task force that’s trying to save the citizens of Manhattan. From the beginning of the game, where he escapes from a military morgue to wreak his vengeance on the world, paints him as such. The problem is, you’re controlling this person, so it takes a while for those warning signs to sink in.

It’s almost subtle; little things like a quick death tally up in the top right of the screen, letting you know just how many poor souls you’ve ripped and pulverised. Or perhaps the utterly sadistic and violent way he absorbs other’s memories. If he had a shred of decency, he’d give them a quick jab to the brain, making it quick and painless. But no, he chooses to rip them into two pieces, or punch their face until there’s no more face to punch.

There’s a prevailing feeling throughout Prototype that you’re the final boss in some other, more wholesome game, where the player is one of the many marines you slay over and over, tasked with bringing you down. Only you’re too much of a bastard to care, and besides, you’re having far too much fun running vertically up a building, only to jump off into a swan dive that ends with a wet, sticky, explosive impact.

It would be erroneous to say that Alex Mercer was my favourite bad guy. He’s certainly the one that sticks in my mind the most at the moment, both due to how recently I played Prototype, and the virulence with which his villainy is shown. If anything, I think he’s one of those things that, personally, is going to stick with me, niggling at the back of my mind as I play any other game, wondering whether the actions I’m performing are all that heroic. So he’s made me self doubt, and that’s what villains are supposed to do, right? Undermine and exploit vulnerabilities. He’s such a cock.

GLaDOS – Portal

Adam Roche – Electro Candy

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Oh, GLaDOS, voice from the ether, a still, solitary, watchful eye. She haunts me still, this ‘Bride Of Hawking’ happy to warn and punish the would-be vandaliser with fire and sentry bot. Cheerfully she dispenses her penalties for failure, and for having succeeded.

And yet, as death is dealt from this casual psychopath, you cannot help but fall for her charms, and trust in her promises of cake time and time again. I must admit that I have never found pastries a particularly alluring prospect. But this, after all, is the future. Maybe in twenty years time, I will be willing to drop in and out of walls to get my Custard Slice fix.

And so, as the journey continued from test chamber to test chamber, I found myself in the beginnings of love with this voice from beyond as it nonchalantly lost it’s mind. Love after all is blind, and so I forgave her for the lasers, for the toxic waste, for the fire, even for forcing me to murder my beloved companion cube in cold blood. It was worth these trials and sacrifices to have spent time in her company.

And though our relationship ended when I tore her to pieces, and threw every piece into a fire, I still carry her with me. That woman damn near killed me, and yet I rejoiced to find that she was still alive.

For all great villains are touched by madness. The terrifying thing about GLaDOS, is that in her case, she may not be mad at all.

Either way, this was a triumph.

Big Daddy – Bioshock

Gary Blower – Xan’s Blog

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The Big Daddy is the iconic image of the 2007 critical hit Bioshock. Whenever you think about your experiences of playing Bioshock, two images spring to mind: the creepy yet charming Little Sisters, and her ever present gargantuan guardian, the Big Daddy. Dressed in an armoured diving suite, with either a giant drill or grenade launcher grafted on to its body, the Big Daddy presents a formidable presence of size, strength and brutality.

The Big Daddy is, however, an unlikely “bad guy” because he isn’t all bad. His paternal nature means that he will completely ignore you -posing no threat- seemingly happy to lumber around escorting his Little Sister. Ultimately the Little Sisters are in the way of your goal in Rapture, and they carry the precious Adam that you must somehow obtain. Thus, reluctantly, you know you must take on and defeat the hulking brutes.

Regardless of the difficulty level played, the Big Daddy always offers a significant challenge. Each Big Daddy encounter is normally premised with fear and indecision. Taking down the armour plated guardian requires more than a little cunning to succeed. Big Daddy battles are often savage, violent and prolonged. Bioshock successfully makes you feel every punch, drill and thump from the Big Daddy – often sending you dramatically flying off your feet, or stunned on the spot. In defeat the Big Daddy continues to toy with your emotions. The morally good player is confronted with feelings of guilt and repentance; made worse by the cries of grief from the Little Sister for her now lost “Mr Bubbles”.

There have not been many games that have established such an iconic bad guy. Even fewer have established a character class so strong that, in itself, it is a metaphor for the game and world in which it is set. The Big Daddy is Bioshock. Plastered over the front of the game cover; shipped as an ornament in the special edition; and taking centre stage in the gruesome promotion video for Bioshock’s initial release. Bioshock 2 looks to be building its entire story with a Big Daddy as its central heroic character. I wait with bated breath to see if a promised Big Sister can match her paternal inspiration.

There we are, for the record I would’ve chosen Wesker from the Resident Evil series, but Hey Ho! Let us know what you think, did we get any wrong? Do you know better? Let us know and we’ll see you again soon for the next part.

Games are the Killer

Lets start with some honesty, games are violent and most journalistic media outside of specialist press, hates games. They’re corrupting the youth of today, pushing their minds to think and then later act out despicable things. In a recent school shooting in Germany, Far Cry 2 has received blame for being the root of the problem. Apparently 17 year old Tim Kretschmer spent two hours and ten minutes playing the shooter on the night before his rampage in which 15 people were killed with his ‘Fathers‘ Beretta pistol. This is of course after he spent his evenings in chatrooms talking about school shootings under the guise of “JawsPredator1” and he most likely spent time downloading bondage based pornography, He was seventeen.

I have to admit, yes, there are violent games on the market. Yes there are games in which YOU, the person “in real life” are asked to shoot, stab and kill in a “virtual” world. So, through our XBOX’s and PlayStations we are going to war, exacting revenge and assassinating and declaring it a hobby or pastime. It’s true that violent games are beginning to out weigh other genres in the industry.

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But let’s look at other childhood pastimes throughout the years. Spudguns, plastic M16s and bow and arrows, toys all designed to allow children to “play war” There is nobody who can defend these toys as being non-violent. Plastic swords emulate real swords that are and were used to kill or maim people in horrific ways. For generations of children these toys have been enjoyed, but is this not a similar act to using a virtual sword to vanquish enemies. When you were playing out on the local green, even without toys, were you not pointing out two fingers in the shape of a gun and “killing” your friends?

This form of entertainment has been with us for centuries, violence is a part of society and it’s the elders of this society that should teach the truths behind war and violence. Even as a child, whilst making an unconvincing machine gun sound while my friends clutched their chests and fell to the ground, I knew the real outcome of violence. Taught to me by my Mother.

It’s quite obvious that the media is constantly looking for scapegoats in these situations. It’s terribly easy to blame a videogame or movie or piece of music for polluting our children’s minds rather than blaming parents for not cleansing said minds. The thousands of Daily Mail readers can shake their heads and tut quietly whilst accusing videogame makers for creating Manhunt or Far Cry 2, all the while forgetting their own teenage years. The times that they gathered round someone’s house to watch the latest horror movie or experiment with drugs and casual sex.

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Let’s look at Kretschmer and his disgusting actions that would make even the most hardened Christian doubt Gods plans. Kretschmer kitted himself out in black camouflage gear, bought from a store I would assume. Picked up his Fathers Beretta, from the unlocked gun cabinet and Hijacked a car whilst aiming the gun at the drivers head. All of these actions ARE featured in Far Cry 2, but are they not ALL featured in many movies nowadays?

Was it not down to the shopkeeper to refuse service to a 17 year old child and not sell him camo gear? Was it not the Fathers responsibilities to teach gun usage and keep them hidden away? Let’s also look at the fact that Kretschmer had recently been rejected by a girl he obviously cared for. But let’s also look at the fact that he had as little as 200 porn images on his computer, 120 of which were of female bondage. Oh and please don’t forget the fact that he roamed chat rooms openly discussing school shootings.

Regardless of any games that this boy played, he may have had an underlying mental health problem that adjusted his views on reality. This again is another stigma of society, anyone who has no control over their thoughts are swept under the rug and zipped up, never to be seen again. So why would the papers print the headline, “Boy of 17 guns down 15, but he had mental health issues, access to guns, a penchant to violent porn and was just rejected by a girl who he may have loved”

The argument of violence in games will carry on until the media realises that parents need to be just that, parents. As a father of three girls I would never allow my children to grow up and not know the consequences of violence, war and other harmful elements of this world. Is that not my job?

I’ll leave you with the words of someone who seems to have their head screwed on, Walter Hollstein, a sociologist working with the Council of Europe, disagreed. “It’s nonsense to assume they turn adolescents into school shooters,” he said.

“A variety of factors, such as helplessness, anger and loss of control, must come together for them to become the trigger, but the games themselves don’t make anyone a killer.”

From the mind of Daniel 'Strybe' Lipscombe, may contain opinions

From the mind of Daniel 'Strybe' Lipscombe, may contain opinions