Thursday, 29 July 2010

SoundBytes: Audio in videogames

Now you might be asking yourself, 'Jake, is audio really that important and how do you get your hair so silky soft?'. The answer to that is 'Yes, and I wash it in unicorn blood. Take that, Harry Potter!'

When sizing up a modern computer game, the average person might look at gameplay or graphics as the features which add the most value. Rarely will a person even consider the role of audio in building a quality computer game, and audio continues to be an area that is overlooked by both developers and games critics, though this is a trend which is changing.

Loosely, three strands of audio can be identified: voice acting, music and sound effects.

Of the three, voice acting is the most recent development. In the good old days of the Amiga, Megadrive etc. voice acting was extremely limited. Limited in the sense that there really was none. The odd sample of audio dialogue might be found, but certainly not what could be termed voice acting. Due to processor and media storage constraints, any recorded voices were generally heavily sampled and of poor quality. One great example stands out in my head and that is the theme song from Cannon Fodder, the 1993 action/RTS game. Other games tended to treat the short samples of voice acting as sound effects and certainly not as a means of story exposition.

This started to change as the capacities of media storage increased, with games such as Perfect Dark or Resident Evil. By the time the Xbox and other DVD-based consoles came out, voice acting was considered a standard method of advancing the game plot.

Currently, you can find big oul' Hollywood stars providing voices for computer game characters. The likes of Martin Sheen, Ray Liotta and Jack Black have all provided their vocal talents for games, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, voice acting appears to have gained legitimacy among screen actors. I'm sure the huge amounts of money paid to them have helped.

However, the quality of voice acting varies wildly. In the main, this is due to poor scripting. Often, character dialogue is written by games developers, not screenwriters, which means nuances and modes of speech which would be commonplace in a professionally written script are lost. And as any actor can tell you, acting is nothing without a good script. Even Heavy Rain, a game so story-driven that the dialogue is arguably the most important feature, suffered from some terribly stitled lines.

Of course, there is a flipside to this. Games like Mass Effect or the Grand Theft Auto series feature excellent writing and voice-acting and, as a result, draw you into the plot in a way other games can't. Other games developers seem to be learning from the producers of these games, and I am hoping that we will see a greater consistency in audio dialogue in coming years.

I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent here and point out that I am deliberately discounting Japanese RPGs here. With Final Fantasy X through Final Fantasy XIII in mind, JRPGs are something of an anomaly. Generally, they feature excellent voice acting, with voices generally very appropriate for their characters. However, the actual scripting for dialogue is, by and large, horrendous. I think something is lost in translation. What might come across as an insightful and heartfelt comment in Japanese becomes hideously cheesy and cliched when translated to English. Final Fantasy XIII saccharine optimism, angst and naivety was enough at times to make me gag, but it is a staple of JRPGs and, as such, must be forgiven.

When it comes to examining music in video games, primarily two things have advanced the role of music in video; technology and budget.

We are now a far cry from the 3 channels of sound found on the Commodore 64. The PS3 offers 256 sound channels as well as Dolby 5.1 compatibility. Therefore, there is no reason why a modern game couldn't have the same level of sound quality as, say, a Hollywood movie.

Central to this process actually taking place involves a blurring of the lines between games and other media, and studios investing a greater part of their development budget into sound engineering.

Nowadays, it's not uncommon for games to be fully scored. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the Xbox is one example, with a full orchestra playing classical Star Wars themes and original music composed specifically for the game.

In a sense, this is what I am talking about in relation between blurring the lines between games and other media. Because the music is one of the most iconic things about Star Wars, it is essential for a Star Wars game to include the famous music in order to invoke the spirit of the films. This was especially true in older Star Wars games, such as on the Atari 2600, where the graphics quality was so poor that the developers had to use every trick in their arsenal to mark their product with the Star Wars license.

You will see this in other games. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has little in the way of music during gameplay, but in the intros and cutscenes, there is a punchy, militaristic soundtrack that sounds like the theme tune to an Arnold Schwarzenegger film written by Tom Clancy that was directed by Michael Bay. To sum up, it fits the tone of the game perfectly and puts the gamer in exactly the right frame of mind.

A more recent offering, which also shows the power of music in setting a tone, is Red Dead Redemption. This gunslinging epic uses music to set tone, differentiate between physical locations in the game world and is truly evocative of the Old West. The end result directly contributes to the feeling that you are the lead character in a Sergio Leone film which goes to show how powerful carefully constructed audio landscapes can be in modern gaming.

Moving on to the role of sound effects in games, in some ways there isn't a lot to comment on. Sure, we've moved past generic gun sound effects being used across a dozen games to a point where a sound engineer will record 52 different types of footstep for a game. Gaming had easily caught up with films in terms of the quality and range of sounds used.

However, really effective sound design still, in my opinion, has some way to go.

I have two examples, which are by no means the only examples, but reflect the fact that sound design doesn't always get enough love.

One, the first Resident Evil game. Okay, so it had absolutely horrendous voice acting, but the sound design of the game was quite good for the time and definitely contributed to the sense of disquiet I felt the first time I played it. C'mon, the creaky doors every time the game loaded a new room, or how about that silent, deserted corridor that you are running along and then CRASH, helldogs everywhere! That was good gear for the 90s.

If we look to a more recent release, one title, for me, stands head and shoulders above the rest. That would be EAs survival-shooter, surprise hit Dead Space. As if the subject matter of the game wasn't troubling enough, the sound effects of the game were truly fear-inducing. Here you are, clanking around on a silent, dead ship. You hear a dull clang from somewhere deep inside, reminding you that things may be crawling around in some dark recess and then BAM! a screech of stretching metal and some hideous deformity comes cascading out of an overhead vent. The music picks up volume and all of a sudden, your heart is thumping and you're wishing it wasn't 11:30pm at night.

The opening sequence is a prime example of this. Quiet discussion amongst your shipmates on the loading dock of this deserted ship and then all hell breaks loose, sirens going off, steam vents hissing, glass breaking, leaving the player in a state of confusion and fear. It also uses a technique seen in movies, most recently in Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell, whereby the volume of the music and sound effects rises to such a level that it becomes oppressive, almost painful and you just want it to be over. When used in an interactive environment like Dead Space, it becomes a tool for generating despair. It sounds somewhat melodramatic to say it, but if you have played Dead Space with the volume up, you'll know exactly what I mean.

Even more impressive, when you finally get a handle on the creepy background noise and the overwhelming action sequences and start to adjust to the noise, the game goes an pulls the rug out from under you by introducing sequences where the player is put in the vacuum of space, and you can't hear anything. So the absence of sound means you can't hear that horrible mutation sneaking up behind you, and it achieves the exact same feelings of panic and fear as you did when there was too much noise. It is a masterstroke and it constantly plays with your expectations.

To wind this up, audio, particularly music and sound design, is a factor oft overlooked by gamers which is a pity seeing as it can make a good experience amazing. Game design, overall, is constantly improving, in all aspects, so I expect that we should see more games like the examples above, which I for one welcome as it makes the escapism of video gaming all the more complete.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Blokes Guide to Games for Girls

Ok, before I start, my other half has lovingly warned me that I could very well come across as a chauvinist Neanderthal with this post. I'd make a joke about 'Hur hur, so I told her to get me a sandwich' right about now, but she'll probably read this and murder me.

So as a disclaimer, I have no intention of coming across as a Victorian patriarch. If I do, just put it down to the fact I was raised by wolves and am extremely socially inept.

Traditionally, gaming has been a male hobby. When the first electronic computers were developed in the 1940s, the social circumstances of the time meant that these innovations were almost exclusively the domain of men. This continued through the 50s and 60s and, to a lesser extent, the 70s.

The 60s saw the first computer games being developed and the 70s shaped that work, defining elements common to gamers even today. The male bias of the programming world continued right throughout the 80s and 90s. Tell you what, boot up a game like Cannon Fodder or Super Mario Bros. and have a gander at the credits. I guarantee you that the vast majority, if not all, of the staff who worked on the game will be male. And even if there are women featuring on the credits, they would likely have worked in the areas of art design, localization or marketing, and probably not in programming or game design.

It's hardly surprising then that the iconic female characters from video games tend to be a digital representations of adolescent wank frenzies. A prime example would be Lara Croft, a character who, at least initially, was a pair of boobs, a set of lips, and a gun superglued onto a broom. This trend continues today with characters like Bayonetta and possibly Rubi Malone from WET. Shit, even Lulu from Final Fantasy X has a bit of a BDSM thing going on.

But that was then, this is now. A fairly recent study of gamers found that almost 40% of players were female which is a huge increase compared to 15 years ago.

So what changed?

A whole huge shit of things, that's what. The profileration of information technology and the expansion of the interwebs in the 90s meant that far more people, male and female, pursued a career in programming and application development. Therefore studios became more likely to have female developers in key positions meaning more females in a position to make design decisions for a game.

Market innovation helped as well. I assume Nintendo woke up one day and thought 'Hmmm, I wonder if there is a potential market out there that has been largely ignored by games developers?' and came to the conclusion that encouraging female gamers would be a profitable avenue to explore. And it has paid off dividends. Out of every ten games consoles bought by women, seven will be a Nintendo DS, two will be a Nintendo Wii and one will be either a PS3 or Xbox. Admittedly, much of the games designed for females on the Nintendo systems are designed for girls (My Dress-Up, Pony Trekking Bastards etc.) but it definitely reflects a changing attitude from publishers.

And of course there are the technological changes which I have mentioned in another post. Systems like the Wii and DS eschew traditional game control in favour of more instinctive methods of direction. Whilst I'm not trying to imply that women can't get their heads around the more complex control systems, the accessibility offered by the Wii and DS is surely one of the reason's for the popularity of Nintendos hardware amongst females.

So, say you're a guy who is buying a game for his wife or girlfriend that enjoys games but isn't a full-fledged geek yet? Here's some observations that might be worth considering:

- Generally speaking, women don't go for games which focus on guns and explosions
I've encountered a few women on games like Call of Duty or Team Fortress 2, but they have always been far in the minority. I'm sure there is a scientific reason why ladies don't enjoy shooting Russians in the face as much as men, but I'm a bloke so I can't even relate to the concept of someone not enjoying the sound of a grenade exploding in a walk-in fridge. Bottom line, unless she has expressed an interest or has a picture of an AK47 as a tramp stamp, don't go buying her Killzone 2.

- If the game you are thinking of buying her is designed for females, don't buy it
What I mean by this is if you are thinking of purchasing a game that features cooking, dressing-up, ponies, or dating, don't. Seriously, you wouldn't buy your lovely lady a cookery book or a pony for her birthday, so you sure as hell shouldn't buy her a game about it. Also, the current trend with this type of game is that they have shockingly low development standards and are generally just crap games. It's the geek equivalent of buying her a necklace from Elizabeth Duke.

- Party games don't count
Party games and casual sports games like Wii Sports don't count. Why? Because they are designed to be played by anyone and everyone. They don't make for a particularly thoughtful gift, and if we're agreed that a game can elicit an emotional response, that is what you should be aiming for. If the game sticks out in the mind of your other half, then so will the person who gave it to her.

- Sex is important
Not like that you filthy fucking pervert. If you purchase a game for her whose main character is a muscle-bound grotesque with a neck thicker than his head, your other half might have a hard time relating to the character. Unless, of course, your other half is a muscle-bound grotesque, in which you? John Travolta is a good example. His neck is thicker than his head. If the man on the box looks like John Travolta, then you probably shouldn't purchase the game.A decent rule of thumb* here is to opt for a game that lets you decide your characters sex, or one that doesn't involve a male protagonist who eats bears and shits bullets.

- Story can be just as important as gameplay
I'm not convinced that this applies solely to female gamers as I know I would agree there are circumstances in which story can be just as important as gameplay. But if you want to dazzle that special someone, then go for something with a strong story that is well expedited. This applies doubly so if you are trying to get your partner more heavily involved in gaming. It's one of the true strengths of games over other forms of media, and therefore definitely worth considering.

So with that in mind, what games would I recommend? Here's a very small sampling.

Heavy Rain
This game is perfect for showing the storytelling power of games. Even if the gameplay and voice acting can be a little off sometimes, the players' hunt to reveal the identity of the Origami Killer is truly compelling and this game can tug on a range of very different emotions. As well as allowing the player to control four different characters, it has a different style of gameplay to most other games out there and the decisions you make will affect the outcome at the end of the game.

Professor Layton and Pandora's Box or Professor Layton and the Curious Village
For the DS, these games a perfect for someone who isn't too keen on hardcore gaming and prefers to use games as a distraction during idle hours. Presented beautifully, both games have a light plot and revolve around the title character and his nephew/love-slave Luke solving puzzles in order to unravel a greater mystery. My other half loves these games. Professor Layton engages the brain and, although it made me want to cry with frustration at times, it, like crack, was very moreish. Fuck you, Knights Tour 4, by the way.

Mass Effect 1 or 2
If your missus is a fan of the oul' sci-fi and doesn't mind a wee bit of shooting, you can't go far wrong with the Mass Effect games. You can play as a male or female with the story options adapting to your choice. It encompasses a range of different themes and allows you to play as a paragon of virtue, or a bit of a shit. Mass Effect is simply one of those games that is cooked to perfection and it's epic space opera flavour will appeal to most people.

The Sims 3
Really, any of the Sims games would work here, but number 3 is the most recent and comprehensive. Whilst it is effectively a dolls house game, it is very popular amongst female gamers. Yes, you can build your own house, decorated it, create Sims to live in it and watch them interact and grow. That's all great fun and part of the strength of the series, but it also encourages use of the imagination. Like, what would happen if your Sim is in the living room and you take the door away, effectively making him a prisoner? Or how about your Sim decides to pay an uninvited visit to her neighbours bedroom at 3:00am? Great stuff.

World of Warcraft
I was in two minds about including this, as it could be compared to introducing your other half to recreational heroin use. However, there is definitely some strong points for it being a great game for the love of your life. It's inherently multiplayer, so if you already have an account, it's a great activity that you can do together and it counts as both geeking out and quality-time. It also has a high focus on social interaction, which is something you don't find on offline computer games. It is fairly easy to pick up, and already popular with female gamers, meaning there's less of the 'Hurr durr, girlz don't play teh vido games, u n00b' attitude found elsewhere online.

Well, that's my two cents on the subject. Either way, in the future I look forward to seeing some mature games that are designed for female gamers, and I guess it is only a matter of time.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Real ID: Blizzard Drops The Ball

For those that don't know, Blizzard, makers of MMORPG demi-God World of Warcraft (WoW), recently announced a new policy. Shortly, any individual posting on the official WoW or Starcraft forums will need to use their Real ID, which is basically the players first and last name.

There has already been uproar over this news, with the official announcement thread on the European WoW forums having generated over a thousand responses, the majority being negative.

Blizzard opine that doing so will reduce the issue of trolling and abusive posting on the forums, certainly a point worth considering in light of John Gabriel's Internet Fuckwad Rule. They believe that the forums will become a much friendlier, more welcoming place, a veritable land of digital milk and pixellated honey. Official Blizzard employees will also be identified by their real names.

Why all this outcry? In the main, people are concerned about the potential for invasions of privacy.  In this age of social networking, it isn't hard for someone to ascertain the identity of a person using just their full name and a few other scant details. Heck, 4Chan do it all the time.

The potential for abuse of  this new system is huge. As we all know, gamers can be a hot-headed bunch. There are plenty of news reports of gamers who have exacted physical revenge on an opponent in real life for some percieved slight. And with WoW being the most populous online game in the world, I believe there is potential for real harm here.

I have had the experience of being on Ventrilo (VoIP) when some members of my former guild decided to quit, and the threats and language directed at the guild master at the time was chilling, along the lines of stomping said GMs face in and cutting her throat. If the guild master in question had her name displayed as part of her account, it would only take an individual with a minimum of skills and determination to get more exact personal information about her.

I also would seriously question the wisdom of having Blizzards employees easily compromised by their playerbase.

So there is that point to consider, and it is a valuable point. I would hate to have employers being able to search my name and, finding my Facebook with maximum privacy settings on, perusing an old game forum post where I've dissed my boss or some such shit.

Another aspect that Blizzard haven't seemingly considered are the implications for minors. Globally, countries have very different, and often very strict laws regarding the privacy of minors online. In the UK, if a company is providing a service that is proven to attract minors as a major part of it's customer base, they legally have a duty of care towards those minors. I would love to see how this plays out in the case of some 14-year old who commits suicide after bullying resulting from WoW. That is entirely conjecture, I know, but it can't be denied that it is a stark possibility.

There is a further issue I would like to address and it goes to the heart of the issue for me personally:

Having a screen name is a neccessary step to separate the individual from the people he plays/talks with.

It might seem like a moot point in the Facebook era, but the people on my friends list are people I know and who, more or less, know me.

On the flip side of that, the forums I frequent will know me only by my screen name and that's the way I like it. Why? Because it allows me to discuss issues or put forward opinions that I can't normally express in real life. Whilst being anonymous online encourages lies and exaggerated emotions it also allows absolute honesty as there is no point in mincing your words if the opinion can be judged without the context of the individual.

 WoW comes from a background of old school online gaming, where people were known exclusively by their screen names. Heck yes there was trolling, and flaming and abuse but, fuck, that was just part and parcel of the experience and most people are mature enough to ignore it. That is something I think most players have learnt to live with.

Blizzard need to realise that social networking (which seems to be the flavour they are aiming for) and online gaming are only related by degrees, and those degrees should be exclusively decided by the player, not the developer.

And aside from everything else, trolling and flaming might be a pain in the arse, but it also gives Blizzard an accurate insight into the love that some people have for their product and the emotions it can generate. I dread to think what a sanitized, polite place forums would become if everyone used their real name all the time.

I just hope that Blizzard will revert this misguided policy, but hey, what the fuck do I know?

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Baddiest Baddies in Games

Following on from ten of the best video game toons, here are ten of the worst. Some are here because they are just too evil, some are here because they are so frustrating. Sephiroth isn't on this list. He killed Aeris, fucking get over it. Oh, and there is no particular order.

Kaepora Gaebora (The Owl) from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

There's a very good reason why this piece of shit is on the list. Because he is pure fucking evil. Don't think so? I beg to differ, see below:

"Hoo hoot!
Look up here!"

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip*

"It appears that the time has finally come for you to start your adventure!"

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip*

"You will encounter many hardships ahead...That is your fate. Don't feel discouraged, even during the toughest times!"

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip*

"Go straight this way and you will see Hyrule Castle."

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip*

"You will meet a princess there..."

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip*

"If you are lost and don't know which way to go, look at the map."

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip*

"The areas you have explored will be shown on the Map. Press START to enter the Subscreens and [R] or [Z] to find the Map."

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip*

"On the Map Subscreen, you will also see a flashing dot showing you which way you should go next."

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip*

"Did you get all that?"

*Pressing A to skip, skip, skip and the owl starts again*

"Hoo hoot!
Look up here!"


Maester Seymour Guado from Final Fantasy X

Where even to begin with this guy?

Let's start with his voice. He's got this soft, delicate voice that sounds like he was raised in the Baaj Island Finishing School for Effeminate Teenagers. The end result is that when he's telling you about his plan to become Sin and destroy Spira once and for all, he sounds like a priest telling you off for swearing at your brother and sentencing you to seven Hail Marys.

Then there is his dress sense. On top, his hair looks like something from Jean Paul Gaultiers sketchbook. He is also rocking a strange sort of dress that does nothing but show off his chest tattoos, making him look like some multi-coloured hair metaller from the 80s. The he finishes it off with a bottom half that looks like a lamp shade from a Victorian hotel and a ribbon on his waist that would be better on one of Elton Johns birthday presents.

His whole reasoning behind being thoroughly evil is questionable too. To stop the suffering of the people of Spira, he decides killing everyone is the best solution. Top marks genius, you think you could have a bash at solving world hunger?

And he thinks he can marry Yuna, the shit.

Dr. Bad-Boon from Super Monkey Ball 2

Baboon wasn't born evil. Exposure to violent computer games and filthy movies warped his damaged little mind, and when selecting his third-level education, Baboon opted to do a foundation degree in Cruelty and Applied Nippleclamping. It was during this first year of university he changed his name, first to Baboon Guevara and then to Bad-Boon. He transferred to an undergraduate degree in Pain Studies before finally completing a PhD in Evil, with a dissertation Udderly Awesome: The Role of Cattle Prods in post-Industrial Europe, which earned him his title Dr. Bad-Boon.

Dr. Bad-Boon has a strong infatuation with MeeMee, the slutty monkey with the bow in her hair. However, he is distraught to find that she is married to AiAi and that the pair have a baby called...Baby. So instead of doing the easy thing and waiting for AiAi in an alleyway with a gutting knife, Dr. Bad-Boon builds a fucking time machine and travels back in time to an era before MeeMee is married. Because that's what you do.

He tries everything to split them up. He even has sex with a donkey and superimposes AiAi's face onto it which he then sends to MeeMee. Sadly, due to an oversight, he actually sends a photo of himself having sex with a donkey that has AiAi's face. MeeMee remains uninterested.

Dr. Bad-Boon eventually commits suicide, alone in the bath, and Monkey Island celebrates with a banana binge.

Gammon/dorf from the Legend of Zelda series

A nice bit of gammon. Because my Ma is from the country, I like a nice bit of gammon in my hand before getting on me Massey-Ferguson and headin' out ti thon field, sir.

But I don't like Gammondorf. I definitely wouldn't want to have him in my hand, unless he was very very small.

This cat gets his kicks out of kidnapping young princesses. I'm pretty sure that if he lived in our world, the Sun would have a campaign to keep him in prison, where the other inmates would call him a 'nonce' and tell him he is going to get 'fucking shanked' in the 'kharzi'.

Luckily for Gammon, in Hyrule, abducting royal children is a minor disturbance, with recovery of said royal minor left to an untested, Peter Pan-lookalike. Fair enough.

Gammon is also notable because he is a major computer game villain who also happens to have a serious genetic disability. He is ginger, and ginger people don't have souls.

Kreia aka Darth Traya from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2

Yeah, so I didn't figure an elderly woman would make it on to this list. But this coffin-dodger isn't just any OAP. This burden-on-her-children also happens to be a Dark Lord of the Sith, oh yeah. And she is using you as a vessel of her revenge!

The reason why Kreia made it on to her list is that you can never really tell which side she is on. She will give you similar advice for similar circumstances. She will tell you to avoid relationships with other members of your party to avoid extremes of emotion, yet she'll also suggest you be prepared to leave them to die in order to complete your mission.

The main deal is that in the Star Wars movies, the line between the light and dark side of the Force is very clearly defined. There are good choices and bad. What the character of Kreia does (and in doing so identifies a real strength of video games) is add a high level of ambiguity and makes an intangible concept like the Force very very real, and very difficult to apply. If you want to play the game as a light Jedi, you can't follow all of Kreia's advice. If you want to play as a dark Jedi, you can't follow all of Kreia's advice. Instead you have to think for yourself what your character would do to follow a particular path, and the answer isn't always obvious.

GlaDOS from Portal

GlaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) is my favourite bad guy(girl?) on this list by about a million fucking miles.

Initially coming across as a matronly voice of concern, this Artificial Intelligence construct is your guide through the early levels of Portal, promising you a lovely slice of cake when you have completed the assessment. And I fucking love cake.

As you play through Portal, you soon learn that GlaDOS has suffered a mental breakdown and has become quite evil, killing everyone in the Aperture Science labs, and attempting to prematurely cremate you. Worst of all: The cake is a fucking lie.

Her voice changes from motherly encouragement to sarcastic mockery and, in it's own way, becomes strangely intimidating. At the same time being truly hilarious.

Sample GlaDOS quotes:
"Deploying surprise in five... four... Time out for a second. That wasn't supposed to happen. Do you see that thing that fell out of me? What is that? It's not the surprise... I've never seen it before. Never mind, it's a mystery I'll solve later, by myself, because you'll be dead."

"That thing you burned up isn't important to me. It's the fluid catalytic cracking unit. It made shoes for orphans. Nice job breaking it, hero."

And not only that, but once you have completed the game, GlaDOS sings you a lovely song.

Waluigi from the Mario series

Right, I don't know what the fuck this dickhead's problem is but I do know he can fuck right off.

Created for no apparent reason other than to give Luigi an archnemesis in the same way Wario is the enemy of Mario, Waluigi is a complete bastard.

No-one gives a fuck about Luigi anyway so people will give even less of a fuck about his nemesis. And the naming is all wrong. If Mario becomes Wario, then it stands to reason that Luigi should be morphed into Wuigi. But it's fucking difficult to say Woo-eee-gee, right? No it's fucking not, I just did it. That just reflects the total lack of thought that went into creating this character.

And he looks like a paedophile. Attractively-coloured outfit to entice children? Check. White gloves to deter fingerprinting techniques? Check. Old-timey facial hair? Check. Clogs? Check. Dungarees? Check.

Also there's a reason why, in Mario Kart, Waluigi has a van that says 'Free Candy Inside!' on it.

Dr. Ivo Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, & 3

The second doctor on my list is also known as Dr. Eggman, a title granted due to his unique, egg-like shape. Personally, I think it should be Dr. Eggdoctor, but I've already ranted about one name, so no more.

Dr. Robotnik is a crazed genius, possessing an IQ of 300 and is hot shit when he comes to robots. Which is cool, everyone likes robots. Johnny 5, R2-D2, Bishop from Aliens, Keanu Reeves etc. So yay, go robots. But Dr. Robotnik is being a right shit about things, capturing cuddly fuckers from the forest and using them to build his nefarious creations!

Which makes me question his expertise on robots. Surely the whole point of a robot is to build a machine that is independent of natural life? If you need to kill little animals to make your robot work, then it's a shitty robot, pal. If I superglue tinfoil to my cat, I haven't invented anything, I've just made myself liable to animal cruelty charges.

Obviously no-one has pointed this out to Ivo, so most days you can find him in his shed, abusing animals.

Albert Wesker from the Resident Evil series

Albert Wesker is a prick.

He starts off being your commanding officer in the first Resident Evil and is typically aloof and uninterested which really made me doubt myself and affected my self-esteem. Not only that, but the chufter is only a bloody double agent, working for the Umbrella-ella Corp. and using you as a human guinea pig to see how easy it is to kill infected zombies. This rotter gets his comeuppance when one of the monsters kills him.

Only no he fucking doesn't! He comes back in Resident Evil: Code Veronica, only this time with fucking superpowers. Turns out the git had only gone and injected himself with the virus just before his death, granting him superhuman abilities at the expense of his humanity! Why did I not get any virus? Humanity-schumanity, if I could speed around and do my shopping in the Co-Op in 30 seconds, I'd be well up for it.

Eventually Wesker meets a sticky end. You shoot him in the face with two rockets while he is waist deep in lava from a volcano. He's dead then....right?

Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill series

So I was tempted to just put the entire town of Silent Hill in as the tenth baddest baddie. That place is fucked up, slimy dead things everywhere, distraught men looking for their wives roaming the streets with guns, hideously disfigured female zombies, it's almost as bad as Larne.

But Silent Hill's scariest resident is a guy known as Pyramid Head. I'm not sure how he got that title, but he's working it.

The character designers used the iconography of pain when designing this character. I think it looks snazzy. From the blood-stained butchers smock, to the metallic, triangle-shaped mask, to the oversized, rusted machete he wields, Pyramid Head has a style that works in summer or winter.

Interestingly, Pyramid Head is the only character on this list who likes to indulge in a spot of sexual assault, as he does a few times in Silent Hill 2.

Seriously though, Pyramid Head is not the sort of motherfucker you want to mess with. He even manages to be scary in the abortion that was the Silent Hill movie.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Ten Awesomest Good Guys in Computer Games

I've noticed pretty much every major gaming news site does like a top 100, or top 50 or something computer game characters list, and since I'm a major gaming news site, I'm going to do my top ten.

There's no particular order here, just ten great games characters. If you think I've overlooked a really important one who just deserves to be in the top ten, you are wrong, I haven't overlooked anything.

Link from the Legend of Zelda series

The above screenshot is taken from the new Zelda game. It's currently in development and is called The Legend of Zelda: Pasty and Porky. Despite dressing like a cross between Peter Pan and Robin Hood, Link is as hard as fuck. He has an array of deadly weaponry, like a bow and arrow or a hookshot, which is basically a spring-loaded harpoon gun on a chain which he uses to cave peasants faces in before smashing up all their earthenware pots and stealing the rupees they were saving to send their hermaphrodite son/daughter to Hyrule Hospital and get their extra junk lopped off. 

Link has also saved Princess Zelda from certain doom, like, fifteen times. All this, and he still hasn't seen her royal boobies.

Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series

Continuing the boobie talk, the main thing about Lara is her chesticles. When the first Tomb Raider game was released in the 90s, Lara had breasts so disproportionate that, if she were a real woman, she would have been crushed by the gravitational pull of her baby globes.

Personally, I never paid much attention to her babs, I was always more of a kneecap kinda guy. Still, Lara is handy with a gun, independently wealthy and wears tiny wee shorts, so she is pretty bad ass. It's also worth pointing out that Lara is the only female character on this list, which is evidence that all games developers are misogynistic chauvinists who have some kind of homoerotic fixation with alpha-male stereotypes. If you disagree, don't argue with me. Talk to Einstein because he said it first and he does science.

Solid Snake from the Metal Gear series

Ok, so the guy has a name that sounds like a euphemism for poo poo, but he is still more badass than every Jackie Chan DVD melted down into a big stick of shiny plastic with an axehead glued to it.

Based on the most manly action heroes of the 80s (Michael Biehn, Kurt Russell, *ahem* Mel Gibson), Solid Snake is a six-foot tall portion of ass-whoopin'. He basically spends his time creeping around, pulling bad guys' heads off and generally upsetting some secret order that wants to rule the planet. Not only that, but he fights against nuclear proliferation. That's right, like fucking Greenpeace or some shit. So not only does Solid Snake score highly with emotionally damaged women who like to pump 'ron and then get mistreated by their other halves, he also gets points with the ladies who don't shave their armpits and consider washing their hair to be 'raping Mother Nature'.

Also, look at his fashion sense. Not enough people wear a steel-blue one piece and a low-hanging bandana with a built-in Wind Direction Indicator. North-west, Solid, north-west!.

Pacman from...Pacman

What can I say about Pacman that hasn't been said before? Plenty.

In Japan, Pacman is known as Hungry Yellow Man Consuming the Pebbles of the Approaching Honourable Ghost, a title which was shortened for the benefit of a confused Western audience.

Pacman, pursued by ghosts, runs around inside a fixed course eating as many pills as he can find until he finds a magic pill that allows him to chase after the ghosts and eat them, regurgitating only their eyes. Pacman is really a meditation on the relationship between an individual and their past, a past represented by the ghosts. Each of us must find and consume the pill of Acceptance to allow us to hunt down the painful memories of our past and come to terms with them (consume them). It is also a reflection of the changing social relationships of people of different racial groupings in the postmodern landscape. Pacman is determined and powerful art.

Parents groups have also celebrated the positive educational message found within Pacman. Children are taught that should they find themselves trapped in close-quarters with a variety of pills, they must eat every pill they can find until they have the ability to consume ghosts and vomit their eyes out.

There is also a Mrs. Pacman, so our boy here must get some skank.

Gordon Freeman from the Half Life series

Dr. Gordon Freeman, the one free man. A name that is a little bit like Morgan Freeman and a face that is a little bit like Dr. Gregory House.

If you ask a gamer what they want to be when they grow up, the answer will be Gordon Freeman. Even if they don't say it, everybody wants to be Gordon Freeman.

He's a strong-but-silent type, lethal with a crowbar, comfortable in the operation of guns and experimental technologies, he's got an awesome power suit, the ladies love him, and to top it off, he's a scientist. That's right, not some muscle-bound grotesque, grimacing because of the strain of pooping another grenade, but a skinny-ass nerd. And not like a psychologist scientist, a real one, like a geologist. Glory be to Gordon.

Sonic the Hedgehog from Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2 & 3

Right, a few common misconceptions to clear up. First, hedgehogs can be blue. Secondly, blue hedgehogs have been known to move at speeds approaching the speed of sound. Third, hedgehogs and foxes have been known to develop deep bonds of friendship.

Now that we've got the scientific stuff out of the way, let's look at why Sonic the Hedgehog is on this list.

He's all about the bling. Motherfucker collects rings and when he's collected 100, he gets another life. Just like Jesus. Or Gangsta Jesus, maybe.

He's also got this devil may care attitude. Like there was this one time when he was chasing down one of Dr. Robotniks inventions and accidentally rolled through an orphanage and blinded this six-year old and the media were all like 'We must imprison this dangerous vigilante' and 'How many more will be maimed?' and Sonic was all like 'Pshaw, it ain't no thing. GIVE ME MY FUCKING RINGS!!!! ARRGGHH!' and that's what makes him great.

The sad thing is that Sonic only appeared in three games, Sonic 1, 2 and 3. It's a pity but at least they didn't follow up those games with a bunch of shitty titles that ruined Sonics reputation. And if anyone tells you otherwise, then they are LYING.

Mister Chef from the Halo series

Mister Chef is the main protagonist of the Xbox's flagship Halo games. His real name is John-117, because in the futures, people decided to jazz up their names by adding numbers at the end. John joined the military at the age of 17 even though the thought of her only son being at war kept Mrs. 117 up all night with worry and John was originally supposed to work in his fathers fish shop, Mr. 117s Underwater Bounty Emporium.

Mister Chef is basically your cybernetically-enhanced supersoldier type, possessing an unnaturally high sex-drive and unflinchingly loyal to the chain of command. He is never seen out of his armour and the games he has featured in have never shown his face. Therefore there is a lot of speculation as to what he really looks like. Thing is, I already know. Bungie appeared to me in a dream and showed me the true face of Mister Chef. I have included a sketch below. Prepare to have your mind blown.

Mario from Super Mario Bros.

Mario, an Italian plumber who lives in the Mushroom Kingdom, is one of the most iconic video game characters of all time. Most put his success down to the fact that, shortly after completing his apprenticeship in Naples, he moved to the Mushroom Kingdom. Mushrooms, being simple, unimaginative creatures, had never seen an Italian or a plumber before and thus Mario's fame was assured. Therefore, when the Princess was kidnapped, the Mushroom People didn't turn to the Armed Mushroom Forces or the National Mushroom Security Agency, they turned to Mario.
As far as the games themselves are concerned, they are stuffed full of communist propaganda. Mushrooms and turtles are the two main symbols of capitalism, and as Mario spends much of him time stomping said fungi and reptiles, he is considered to be one of the main proponents of a global communist state and has often been asked to give evidence at the United Nations.

The Mario games are also notable as they encourage children to explore abandoned pipes and eat any brightly coloured mushrooms that they find.

Captain Price from Modern Warfare 1 & 2

Captain Price is the embodiment of modern military prowess and oldtime gentlemanly facial hair.

In many ways similar to Jack Bauer, Captain Price enjoys a spot of torture, putting a knife into an unsuspecting cranium, the illegal launch of nuclear weapons and long walks along the beach.

From being the greatest uncle you've never had in the first Modern Warfare through to going fuckballs banana crazy in Modern Warfare 2, your time with Captain Price is always a laff riot and he is always on hand to offer some advice on your choice of weapon or the best way to ensure your hands stay baby soft during prolonged exposure to Arctic temperatures.

When away from the frontlines, Captain Price (Teddy to his friends) likes to unwind with a nice glass of Pimms and a Danielle Steele novel, in between visits to the face barber and the sauna of his local YMCA.

Auron from Final Fantasy X

There has never been a videogame character as manly as Auron from Final Fantasy X.

Showing up at the start of FFX, the first thing we see of Auron is him slurping from what appears to be a bottle of scrumpy cider. Next thing you know he is saving you from death and giving you gruff instructions like a drunk uncle trying to teach you self-defense at a wedding.

His sense of style is breathtaking. He manages to pull of the whole steampunk-glasses-with-a-billowing-red-coat-plus-one-single-glove-and-a-massive-neck-warmer-while-wearing-a-sling-and-holding-a-massive-sword look perfectly.

Spoiler alert: Not only does he shine in an emasculated darkness like a beacon of radiant masculinity, but he is also dead. That's right, he's a fucking zombie.

Everything is better with zombies.