Gaming, Review

Paragon Review

I started playing League of Legends just under a year ago more as a joke than anything else. MOBA is, as we all know, a dirty word, and playing with other people is a hassle at the best of times. I was more surprised than anyone when Skyrim started taking the back seat for this crude looking, beautiful genre. Paragon is League, but I didn’t actually know that when I booted it up on my PlayStation: I saw a dark eyed femme fatale and the words ‘play for free’ and I thought ‘why the hell not?’ Note going into this that Paragon is still in beta, meaning the game could go through many changes and improvements by its full release.

Mechanically, it’s a gem, with phenomenal visuals to boot. Every character I’ve played so far has had some pretty flashy abilities that feel good to use, the characters themselves meanwhile looking damn good using them. The Countess and The Revenant in particular drew my eye, as they simultaneously appear wrong in this sci-fi universe while slotting into the roster seamlessly. The environments are detailed, exciting to explore and no less that I would expect from a company like Epic Games, while many characters manage to pop out against this backdrop in a way that just feels so right. Maybe it’s just me that still gets excited about the use of physics on clothes and hair, but in Paragon I still get that twitch in my heart when I see my coat flap open dynamically as I run. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and exactly what I would expect if League was developed by a company with a bigger budget.

countess
Yeah, I kinda hoped it was Bloodrayne 3 as well

On the other side of the coin, Paragon seemingly neglects sound as being particularly relevant to player experience. All the time you’re browsing menus on the homescreen, the music feels powerful and exciting, which is exactly what you would want from this calibre of game. This does not follow through into matches though – I think I might have heard one or two notes, but aside from that all we have is silence. There is the argument that in such a competitive genre, sound effects and the information that they can convey is far more important to players, but it also means the game feels lifeless. This goes for characters as well: characters in League of Legends feel vibrant, unique and alive, in no small part to the lore and character relations that Riot has built up, but also because of characters quotes and dialogue. Aside from bright colours and pretty physics effects, characters in Paragon struggle to stand out as being unique personalities, and it’s a real shame when there are some great character ideas in there. Serath in particular has this way expressionless way about her that could definitely be mitigated by just that tiniest injection of personality.

The game also does a really poor job of explaining to new players the rules. There is a brief tutorial covering basic gameplay mechanics, don’t get me wrong; I’m talking more about what’s expected of me once I get in-game with nine other people. MOBAs are renowned for the toxicity of their playerbase, so if getting called ‘noob’ or ‘feeder’ isn’t something you can be bothered to deal with, I’d definitely give this one a miss. I’d played pretty poorly during my fifth match – I didn’t know where my character was supposed to go and no one had any intention of helping me. Every time I died, one player in particular would ping me a ‘Good Job!’, and told me to enjoy my inevitable ban. This only happened twice that I can remember, but the community has a huge impact on how a player can experience this kind of game. As difficult as it might be in an ever changing landscape of character balancing and gameplay metas, I feel many new players would appreciate a more in-depth walkthrough of what will be expected of them by more veteran players.

paragon death
An honest mistake? I think you misspelled ‘died on purpose to throw the game’

As a free to play game, if you’re able to run it then I’d definitely recommend giving it a go. Paragon manages to give players that MOBA experience in a format closer to that of, say, Call of Duty or Skyrim, with the variety in character capabilities meaning the game never feels restrained to either of those games’ genres. With a little bit of audio design and a tighter focus on making the game more accessible to new players, this one could really turn out to be a masterpiece.

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Gaming

We WILL Charge for Mods

Bethesda’s paid mods scheme was not a success back in 2015, so their attempt to milk gamers for more money they don’t deserve with their Creation Club would almost be comic were it not so insulting.

Modding has often been viewed as something of a legal grey area; you have a game that people have potentially spent years working on, and then you have the loveable, unpaid modder who took that game and turned Alduin the World-Eater into Macho Man Randy Savage. Mods come in all shapes and sizes, from overhauls to total conversions, simple re-skins to script-altering masterpieces that deliver unique experiences before melting your CPU. Once you see the fine work done by the modding community, and come to appreciate just how influential some ideas have been on big companies and subsequent titles, it seems to become a no brainer when asked if they should get paid.

immersive paywall
You pissed off the people that manipulate Skyrim itself – of course they were going to build a wall

Bethesda in particular has been very sensitive to modding in the past, releasing Creation Kits that mean even someone like you or me can add to or edit aspects of their games. All those years ago, the paid mods scheme felt like a wholesome idea executed poorly – modders would only be compensated with 25% of the profits from their files, and there was always a fear that your work could be stolen by someone else and slapped behind a paywall (like I said, the topic of modder’s rights is very uncertain ground). The bug fixes and unofficial patches that are almost necessary for Bethesda games to run could potentially also end up being something you need to buy separately, and that definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. It comes as no surprise that satirical mods, such as Give her money for no reason and Immersive Paywall, would spring up in a passive aggressive form of protest.

Fast forward to the present day and we have Bethesda seemingly shedding their partner in crime Valve and introducing their own Creation Club. Again, this appears to be in good faith, with the promise of high-quality content and modders being almost ‘hired’, but what it boils down to a lot of the time is recycling content and asking consumers to pay through the nose for something they can get for free. The Chinese Stealth Suit in particular has become a subject of much contention, as a better looking version with many more features was available on the Nexus before Bethesda shipped their port from previous games. Content is sparse and, from what I can see, no where near the kind of quality that people have come to expect from some of the higher profile modders that carry out their work as passion projects instead of careers. Likewise, the baffling decision to implement yet another overpriced Horse Armour as (let’s face it) DLC feels like Bethesda walking that fine line between mocking themselves and mocking their fan-base.

horse armour
And so a meme was born

So what’s my final verdict? To be honest, it’s really hard. In the past, modders have managed to add content of such high quality, not only to Bethesda games, but to videogames in general, that I really would like these saints to be paid for their work. Unfortunately, every time the subject comes up, people panic, and it threatens to permanently damage a technically harmless and beautiful pass time. Maybe I’m speaking from a position of greed – if I needed to pay for my airships and vampire overhauls, would I have? Likewise, if I had spent a couple of pounds on a new adventure, only to find out the scripts contained would corrupt every subsequent save, would I be compensated? It’s an underground hobby – no rules, no regulations – that Bethesda is trying to either embrace or absorb depending on your standpoint; you tell me whether or not something like that should be taken over.

 

– Originally written for the University of Kent’s InQuire

Gaming, Review

GameGrin

It’s been a good couple of months now since I stopped writing articles for GameGrin. It wasn’t them, it was me. I loved some of the banter between writers, and getting free and unreleased videogames was a blast. Thing is, the moment you start setting deadlines, the moment you know people are relying on you, it becomes difficult to keep up that passion, that momentum. The fact that I never really felt part of the team, or the in-group only helped to accentuate my feelings of alienation. In the end, I put it down to boredom, and I left silently out the back door.

Thing is, I’m still proud that I worked there. My writing has definitely improved (even if I’m a little rusty right now), I can put it on my CV, and I have a portfolio not only of halfway decent games, but of articles and reviews that I am genuinely proud of. Due to issues of plagiarism or some such, I’m unable to post any of my work for them here. What I can do, however, is link you to my database over on their site. If you like my writing, go ahead and peruse my archive – I think it would probably mean a lot to them, as well as me.

And GameGrin – keep doing what you’re doing. You know I’ll miss you like nothing else.

The Iguanapus – GameGrin

Gaming, Review

Sundered Review

Rule one of writing a critical review (no, it’s not honesty silly) is to never read anyone else’s before you’re done. There’s always a fear that their opinions will bleed into your own and end up tainting what could be an original insight into a game. The second fear is that you will be a dissenting voice in a sea of adoration, and in those instances ignorance is most certainly bliss.

Sundered peddles itself as a sort of nonlinear Metroidvania Roguelike type thing; I’d try and break that down for you if you’re confused, but so am I. And so is the game, actually – we’re all confused and no one’s happy about it. The core problem is the uninspired, repetitive gameplay that see-saws roughly every two minutes between adequate 2D platforming and straight up button mashing. Enemies, like the levels themselves, are random in a sense, but if you count down from twenty after polishing off a wave, you can probably predict when the next one’s inbound. Collision doesn’t apply to the vast majority of Sundered’s enemies, meaning that intelligently kiting and picking off your foes isn’t even an option. Having these waves of obnoxious health-sappers perpetually breathing down your neck doesn’t fill you with dread though, and that’s yet another failure I’ll get to later. No, it feels more like frustration; making any progress whatsoever means opening the map to try and make sense of the caverns, and then proceeding to overcome the same jumping puzzles over and over again to reach the next area. Of course, the map doesn’t pause the game (thank you Dark Souls) and the endless dredge of monstrosities make it their personal goal to throw you around the room like a really tiny ping pong ball. Losing sight of your character is ridiculously easy, especially during some of those boss fights, so you’re gonna be fighting the game as well as your foes.

dominion
Find the player character. It’s okay – I’ll wait.

Sundered appears to draw on Lovecraftian themes, with ancient elders, eldritch horrors and tentacle monsters abound. The trailers featured screams of soldiers and the protagonist as the madness of their prison devoured their very sanity, so where was all this in-game? Spawning enemies on top of the player’s location could have been used to really inject some fear into the whole experience. The knowledge that you are being hunted is scary, but when there’s no risk, and when enemies are mainly just an inconvenience, the process becomes exhausting. When I die, I expect at the very least a slap on the wrist, or the partial extraction of my mortal soul – Sundered lets me restart with all my money, for Christ sake!

Even as a piece of art, the game has it’s ups and downs. Possibly the greatest achievement here is that of the animation. Sundered’s smooth, hand-drawn visuals really manage to inspire awe if you have the time to stop and take it all in (spoilers – you don’t). The player and enemies are also afforded a very crisp appearance, and the way each animation transitions into the next is both unnatural and hypnotic. The praise stops there: as much as I do love these visuals, having fifteen or so of the same sprite dogpile me not only makes it difficult to appreciate the skill that went into creating it, but conjures the sense that I have already seen what this creature has to offer a hundred times before. Likewise the soundtrack, although very good at generating atmosphere, lacks any distinguishing features and is mostly forgettable.

bullshit
Sir! I just want a moment of your time to talk about Cthulhu!

I need to address these damn levels: the world appears to be split into three regions, each with their own basic layout, ability shrines, bosses, et cetera. Now, that’s all well and good, it’s Metroidvania, and Metroidvanias are fun. What Sundered chose to do, however, is inject it with a healthy dose of Rogue, as is the modern indie developer’s way. The caverns rework themselves upon every death (explaining, but not justifying the tedious load times), meaning limitless potential for exploration. At least, in theory; anyone who’s really fell in love with a procedurally generated game knows that after a while, patterns begin to emerge, rooms begin to look the same and you quickly realise you’re walking a labyrinth and not a maze. It means less development time and less intelligent design – heck, when it came to enemy placement, Sundered just screamed NO. It’s a real shame, because the tutorial had me thinking that perhaps I’d be navigating devious puzzles and outsmarting enemies.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but Sundered doesn’t attempt to offer anything new, and hints at a great deal more than it delivers upon. Thematically, it’s a failure, and I groan every time I die not because of lost progress, but because it means more play time. The whole Harry Potter maze deal is kinda clichéd at this point, and sure I get the desire to pad out a game to give your audience more to do, but what ever happened to the sheer quality that handmade levels provide? You can still find that – Hollow Knight wouldn’t be a bad place to start; it’s a damn better performance than this.

And about those glowing reviews? Yeah, I don’t understand them either; maybe there’s a different Sundered I should have bought.

 

– Originally written for the University of Kent’s InQuire

Gaming

Crushin’ Crates N. Chewin’ Waumpa

The success of Activision’s N. Sane Trilogy was a surprise to everyone but gamers. Crash Bandicoot’s dramatic entrance to the industry on the original PlayStation offered a viable and entertaining alternative to Mario that truly resonated with fans. Unfortunately, the winning mix of loveable characters, tight gameplay and stellar soundtrack ended with Naughty Dog’s contract. Crash underwent many less than fantastic iterations under numerous developers, and the franchise had been long considered deceased by those who enjoyed the original three titles.

That lightning has once again been caught in the bottle: aside from a few bugs (and a Dingodile fight that I refuse to acknowledge exists), these remakes are genuinely good, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. In a recent statement, Activision – chuffed to bits with their ‘insight’ – has said that they want remakes to be a large part of their new business model. It’s all too easy to get excited by the prospect of being regularly delivered raw nostalgia, especially for those who have been playing videogames since childhood, but I’m very weary about just how far this might go.

After all, these aren’t dynamic reimaginings in the vein of id Software’s DOOM; the initial excitement of seeing that boulder chase you or getting to ride a motorcycle isn’t there because it’s rehashed content, and although the opportunity to relive your childhood is comforting, it’s a very real path to stagnation. I would be supremely surprised if we didn’t see Spyro the Dragon be given the same treatment in the next few years. Like Crash, it’s another franchise close to my heart, and although I’m desperately afraid of Skylanders being my favourite dragon’s last resting point, is the process of being recycled really any better?

In the end, it doesn’t matter what’s best for the franchise – Crash recently featured in Imaginators and the code for the Spyro the Dragon demo from way back when deactivated the cursor on the N. Sane Trilogy homescreen. The games go together like Morcombe and Wise with fur and scales, meaning that one can’t realistically be given a second chance without the other. You can bet your waumpa it’ll be just as much of a success too: I’ll probably end up begrudgingly loving it, and it will prove once again that nostalgia and familiarity are a more comfortable investment than a quirky new IP. Truth be told, if they can fix that awful camera and just straight up drain all of those water levels, I’ll preorder the damn thing.

The decision to implement Stormy Ascent as free DLC also opens up for some potentially interesting (if not particularly desirable) avenues. The level was cut from the original game due to a difficulty that went above and beyond the rest of the already hard as nails title. Naughty Dog cut very little from the other two games; however, the post Crash Bash period is lousy with cut concepts, characters and even entire games. The most notorious example being Crash Twinsanity. Due to rushed development and an overbearing publisher, the game was left half-arsed and broken beyond belief (not like Bethesda RPG broken, but still pretty bad). There are several self-depreciating jokes throughout, and Cortex mentions that an entire dimension was cut due to time constraints. If the franchise really will be milked until it’s inevitable and final death, Twinsanity, made properly and with the respect it probably should have been gifted in the first place, is what I want to see.
The final (and least stable) option that Activision has is to make a completely new installment for the franchise that has clearly retained adoration for such a long time. It would bring a tear to my eye to see Crash flourish in new adventures that closely followed the themes and style implemented by the trilogy and Twinsanity. New levels, new storylines featuring the best cast of characters in gaming (no debate), and possibly even new or reimagined mechanics could all contribute to an interesting title that exploits recent passions and technical capabilities. I’ll put cynicism aside for a moment – this is an exciting time for videogames, where old titles could very well rise from the grave and entertain us once more. Providing developers continue to create original content alongside the indulgent nostalgia trips, there is a great deal of potential. The gaming world is watching Activision – don’t screw this up again.

 

– Originally written for the University of Kent’s InQuire

Philosophy

Beauty

Time to dust off the cobwebs, methinks. It’s been a year since I tried to do any casual writing; I finished my A-levels, did some work experience, made a last minute decision to subject myself to uni. I met friends, I did things I never thought I would and actually enjoyed them, I fell in love, I gained respect and for the first time in a decade, I actually felt close to how I did as a child. Free, and happy. I’m not going to write about my adventures here – I have a plot worked out, and I’m formulating a book as you read this. It may never even get finished, but promising the three or four people that sit down and read this drivel will hopefully inspire me to power through. So what am I going to talk about? Right now, I want to talk about beauty.

Yesterday I was sat on the beach with two clients – individuals with learning difficulties – and watched the sea turn from sapphire blue to a thick, inky grey. The sun filtered through the clouds like the heavens were leaking into reality, depositing a blinding film of shimmering gold across the waves. I sat and watched, in awe, nodding at the nothingness that poured from my companions’ lips as the storm clouds drew closer. The sky over the town in the distance and the island on the horizon was a dusky orange that quite honestly made breathing difficult from the excitement. Minutes passed on, and although the storm did not follow, my feelings did.

That’s the thing I’ve realised about beauty and love. It’s so easy to lose yourself in it, to crave more, to wish that it will never pass you by. I craved the companionship of this woman for a full year, but by the time we left for the summer, I didn’t really want to see her face or hear her voice again. The closer I got, and the longer I looked at her soul, the more disappointed I felt. She, like all the others, is merely human. She will grow old, she will decay, and she will die. I guess this is where I should tell you, dear reader, that this is perfectly normal and the ageing process, the loss of beauty, is in itself a beautiful thing. But I won’t.

One of my favourite quotes comes from the videogame League of Legends, and a character that represents Death:

 

“Beauty fades. That is why it is beautiful.”

 

There is only one way to view this quote, and it is objectively true. As things become more familiar, they become less interesting. A lack of change may be reassuring, but it doesn’t provide any kind of fulfilment, nor that burning in your chest and the tear in your eye at the discovery of something truly magnificent. However, I can think of two ways to act upon this quote:

          1) you accept that things will never be as beautiful as the first time experiencing them. The girl you fell in love with will die much faster than she will, and you’ll be left with the thing that once animated the body you loved. It’s sad, but you remember the good times and swallow your disappointment, because somewhere deep down you know that it’s the right thing to do.

          2) you move on to the next big thing. You’ve seen a thousand sunrises, so you go and find waterfalls, because if you keep moving, never stop, you will never stagnate and neither will the things you follow. This works with people too; yet it’s important to realise that you will also fade and decay. There will come a point when the people you love fail to love you back – you have lost your beauty. Neither option sounds particularly satisfying, but this is life.

I and many others, I’m sure, treasure beauty so dearly. It sparks imagination and passion, love and resilience. Placing too much faith in it, however, will kill you. Promises and hopes of perfection ultimately lead to disappointment; you will become jaded and full of hate, feeling cheated and imagining you’re the butt of Life’s very sadistic joke. And that’s okay.

Humanity searches for answers in any way they can. They feel abandoned and alone, and the things that make them hope, that make them feel, are so ruthlessly taken before their very eyes – be it youth, affection or excitement. To keep going is foolish, and I love it. I love the bitter tears and bloody fingernails as they scratch at the dust of their lives because it’s a struggle that each and every person feels, deep down inside.

Impermanence is a curse – that doesn’t mean you should stop appreciating all the beauty in your world before it is taken from you. Embrace everything. Love everything.

 

“Those who run from death stood still in life.”

 

Experience all the beauty you can and when your time comes, you won’t feel cheated. The things you loved no longer interest, and you are ready for what comes next.

Philosophy

Fate

Fate or destiny is this idea that our futures have already been planned; rather than working as sentient forces that are able to drive themselves towards their desires, we are rendered powerless by “the powers that be”. A belief in fate is a belief that we are actors that play their own part in the puppet-show that is life. It’s a truly fascinating concept that is able to place people in a sort of opposition with one another, regardless of their religious views.

While studying psychology last year, I came across an idea that put people into two separate camps: those who believed in the supernatural, or in fate, were to be considered sheep, while the seemingly more rational people who rejected this idea were dubbed goats. Due to the connotations that come with each animal, I don’t necessarily agree with the method of labelling, but setting up these two categories also leads us to another concept called the “locus of control”. If an individual possesses a high external locus of control, it means that they believe their life to be in their own hands; there is no such thing as fate, or magic, and you essentially reap what you sow. Those with a low external locus of control were far more likely to turn to such institutions as organised religion because they considered their lives to be out of their hands and required someone to tell them that it would be alright.

One particular factor that dictates whether a field of study is a science or a pseudoscience is its ability to be proved wrong; the scientific process thrives on being able to take a hypothesis, test it, and present results, even when they show that the original idea was false. In proving things wrong, we progress our understanding of our reality in the same way that we would had the initial idea turned out to be correct; however, many elements of the supernatural have been in a position in which the ideas that are presented are irrefutable. A God or an afterlife cannot be disproven because the only way to find out whether those things are real or not is to die, and thus cut ties to our world; this does not mean that any given religion is definitely correct because we cannot disprove it, but simply that it is in a state of limbo. This same idea can be seen in fate, but rather than it being the product of an omnipotent entity that can change the rules as they see fit, it is down human ignorance, and the present impossibility for us to see anything but the present.

One element of fate is that we cannot change it. What will be will be, essentially, and there is absolutely no way for us to alter that fact. You can understand quite easily why the “goats” wouldn’t want to believe in such an idea, because it removes their power from the equation. The notion of taking away their ability to choose their path and mould their future makes them naturally uncomfortable, and so they reject the idea completely. However, the typically adopted meaning of the word fate refers to our future being outside of human control; we cannot alter it, and from the initial inception of the universe, our lives have already been set out. I remember hearing quite an interesting idea referring to fate in the context of The Big Bang. Imagine that everything, all the stars and planets, were set up in a large pile before being exploded out across the universe. Everything has been set out on its course through that first propellant motion: in this way we can predict when that meteorite will pass through our solar system again in a billion years, or that on the twentieth of the eighth in a thousand years time, all of the planets will align and there will be a solar eclipse for all planets at once (don’t go and check that, I made it up). We can predict the movements of the planets and the stars because of that first explosion, and every possible action has been already foretold because there are no entities to interfere with these movements, because they too would have been set on their course through the same means as the planets. Still with me? The idea is that, although humans consider themselves to be powerful in their volition, they are still subject to the same laws that govern the planets, and that every one of our movements have also been predetermined by that first spark. The notion seems to be utterly abstract at first, but with a little bit of thought, I’ve begun to wonder whether or not the idea is as farfetched as I first put it down as.

All of that’s well and good, but I want to finish with a softer concept of fate that I concocted in the shower this morning. Humans are unable to see into the future (perhaps you believe in the tarot or what have you, but people are typically under the impression that we are temporally sightless), and so are unable to shift their destiny. Our history, our temperament, our friends, our foes all work towards impacting the choices that we make, and because we have no knowledge of what those choices will result in, we will choose in the way that our personalities dictate. It’s like running through an RPG for the first time, and choosing the options that you would in real life; it’s exactly the same concept, because unless you are also looking at a walkthrough, your choices don’t mean anything in the here and now. In this way, our future isn’t dictated by some external supernatural force, but by ourselves; however, until we are able to definitely see into the future, we will not be able to alter our fate, because as long as there is a future, there has to be an outcome. What you will do in the next few hours, months or decades will happen, and you won’t be able to change what happens because you will always make those same choices for as long as you can’t see their outcomes.

I know, it’s a convoluted topic, but I hope I didn’t get too confusing (or confused) in its presentation. Philosophy remains to be one of my favourite topics, and if anyone has any counter-arguments they would like to put forward, or even any topics they’d like to see covered in the future, I welcome them with open arms.