Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not a bang, just a whimper. And a half-hearted whimper at that.

Do you remember the good old days of computer games in the eighties? Sitting there in your 'Wham' T shirt and white chino trousers with your evening meal of Findus Crispy Pancakes, chips and beans whilst watching the hypnotic flashing stripy borders of a Spectrum 48k loading screen all accompanied by a soundtrack of the cacophonous screeching din of raw data blasting out into your living room (later released by Radiohead as "Kid A")?

It took real effort to play computer games in those days. Even the process of loading them up took the patience of 8.17 saints, Zen-like superior technical mastery over volume levels on your Saisho Ghetto-blaster and ninja like skills to navigate around the room without knocking said tape deck - invariably resulting in the single most feared message a teenager could be faced with (along with "BCG Vaccinations will be taking place at this school next week"):

I wasn't even trying to load eighties sideways scrolling shooter R Type hahahahahaha
..and we haven't even started playing the bloody game yet. And what a glorious age for games it was - Timmy Malletts Toss-Piece challenge, TigSteve Ovetts Winter Soggy Biscuit Games, KolorKlash™, Rustie Lees Rat-A-Tat-Ginger 2: The Opening, Miners-Strike-Satire Chipmunk, Shine on Harvey Moon, the way-before-its-time classic Janet Ellis Must Die and the unforgettable Pretty in Pink: The Videogame. All absolute classics.

And here's where the patience of those 8.17 saints comes in again - a lot of the time you'd have to complete them all in one go. Some games supported saving your position, but not all. And you'd dutifully struggle your way through the Space Caverns of Xenthru, heroically collecting the last Snaafu in order to power the Destructobeam of Kevin™, hit the switch to activate it and..

A black screen with some white (or maybe yellow) text.

The developer of the software may even have treated you a lovely bleepy soundtrack for the completion screen - or the same bleepy soundtrack in horrifying MIDI if you had a spectrum 128k. This can be simulatedin the comfort of your own home by going to any website that hasn't been updated in the last 10 years. This will also have the secondary benefit of satisfying your 'scrolling marquee text' requirements for the next 12 months. Warning: Geocities is no more.
So you'd either click Y and play again or switch off the Spectrum therefore vacating the television so the rest of your family could watch A Question of Sport or Big Break. Or so Dad could kick you out and watch Pans People on his own with the door shut.

So, all you moaners complaining about the ending to Mass Effect 3? Just be grateful that you had an ending at all! (I'd actually started writing a separate blog post about the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy some weeks ago, but I found myself actually getting angry writing it so scrapped it. In a nutshell - Mass Effect ending 3 perfectly fine in my mind, and it sets a horrible precedent if people can force an artist to change their original vision if they whinge about it enough. My two pence worth).

So, in this sophisticated age of videogamery, it's refreshing to see that a developer, namely id Software, have managed to capture the ethos of the eighties in their game Rage. Namely in that having ploughed through it for ten hours (albeit with the ability to save it and actually switch the Xbox off) I was treated to the 21st century equivalent of a black screen with yellow writing on it.

It's not that it's a bad game - far from it. It's plotless pretty nonsense, but quite good fun (and only £7 from Morrisons, plotless-pretty-shit ending game fans). The issue is that everything seems to be building up to a crescendo and you've been given a stupidly large gun which you're bound to need to take out a stupidly large boss - you've just had a desperate fight with dwindling ammo against a horde of angry dudes, you press a button and...

Congratu-welldone. A cut scene so short and vague as to be pointless, and then the end credits. Would you like to play again? What do you mean, again? I wasn't aware I'd properly finished this time!

Working in the exciting jet-set world of Software Development myself, it's all too easy to fall into the "Ah, that'll do" mindset. Not to under-deliver, but not deliver something that'll set the world alight either. It just.. works.

Rage is a textbook example of that. The cliched plot chugs along - characters are introduced and then vanish for no good reason, you have no real idea why the 'big bad' is so big and bad, you shoot some stuff with increasingly more powerful weapons, you drive around in your increasingly more powerful car and then - it ends.

It's a pretty journey, I'll give you that, but ultimately very hollow. You'll end up wandering around the same level over and over again fighting the same old bad guys, and you'll find that the health mechanic means it's next to impossible to properly die and see a game over screen. It's an example of functional gaming - nothing more. As soon as it threatens to go anywhere interesting, it's as though the developers panic and reign you back in - Don't want you enjoying yourself too much now, do we?

And is made even worse by the fact that the end screen doesn't even have a congratulations message written in broken English. Bring back the eighties!



  1. I liked this blog but I was very disappointed by the ending. Could you re-write it with more owls. Thanks.

  2. Infinitely more owls have been added.


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