Friday, 25 September 2015

Got ya! The Gov'ner's gonna promote me for this

Welcome back Bandits. Today we're celebrating in the Pixel Bandits office, and it's all due to Frontier Development and the brainchild of David Braben, the creators of Elite Dangerous. We'll explain why below but in the mean time we're going back to a soundtrack from a previous blog, so press play and start up the very fitting music, Dave Lowe's soundtrack to Elite II

Gaming clans have been around for a little while now. Whether it's things like Warcraft or EVE and even down to games like Call of duty or Battlefield. People have always liked to form alliances and spend their in game time generally playing with the same other real life people. Even a few of decades ago, clans and guilds were forming and now a large percentage of gamers are enjoying the benefits that come from Clan membership.

Apart from our regular Cod /  Battlefield / Project Cars / Forza clan members, we started up an Elite Dangerous clan not so long ago, the Pixel Bandits Security Force. Essentially a like minded group of people protecting new players from griefers and offering escort wings around dangerous systems. Little did we know that a month along we would not only have 120 active members in the clan, but I received the surprise of my a couple of nights ago when I scanned an NPC vessel to see that we had now been included as Canon in the game. Our hard work had paid off, and the Pixel Bandits Security Force were canon in the Elite Universe.

It's still quite a buzz, to know that the creation of a small family team in South Wales now reaches worldwide (and galaxy wide!) but being included in game is something out of this world. It's not just a small clan tag, such as in CoD next to your player, there are NPC ships going about their business for PBSF, we can gain or lose political standing not only in our system but we can spread to neighbouring systems as well. We'll keep you informed of how this goes on our facebook and twitter (links at the end).

So what's the lure of joining a clan? Well for a start we need to remember that gaming is not this anti-social behemoth that a lot of non-gamers think it is. Just because we're not outside in the fresh air doesn't mean that we are filthy shut-ins who never talk to other humans, quite the opposite actually. With multiplayer online gaming taking leaps with every generation we've now got to the stage where if I want to socialize with people in the Americas, or France, or Australia, all I have to do is turn on my console.

This social aspect of online gaming is really the big draw for those looking for a clan. Knowing that you'll be playing with the same people on a regular basis, and getting to know not only their play styles but them as a person, outside of gaming, is a big thing. On top of that, the fact that most clans have a specific mission statement will let you know not only that you'll be seeing the same people, but also that you'll all be playing towards the same goals, instead of each running around like a headless chocobo and never getting anything done.

The big reasons simply boil down to being a part of something. In a similar fashion to sports supporter's groups, or even something as simple as a book club, there's a sense of inclusion. Sure it would be fun to read that book anyway, but being a part of the group will no doubt enhance your experience in myriad different ways. With gaming it can, as we've seen above, go so far that the thing you are a part of can be included in the game, and for a lot of gamers, seeing their group represented in game is a BIG thing.

I guess we just want to feel like we belong, and that's ok

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

You, Trevor, are the proto-hipster

After a day of hard graft in the Pixel Bandits office, we sat down and had a dinner that couldn't be beat. After putting baby bandit to bed we saw Gamechangers, the BBC Documentary about the creation of Grand Theft Auto and thought it would be worth a watch. Our night went downhill from there. Today's soundtrack on the left is from the Fifth installment of the super franchise.

Now it wasn't a "bad program" from the outset. It has a decent cast, including screen bigwig Bill Paxton and Daniel Radcliffe who has certainly come a long way from the shoddy child acting when he starred as "The Little Wizard Who Could", but from the outset something was jarring at me... Following a portrayal of Rockstar after the release of Vice City and working through the construction of San Andreas the program starts heavy and hard with Rockstar celebrating a staggering amount of profit on Vice City and quickly into a depiction of Devin Moore and his brutal murder of three police officers

Which leads us to the first point, that this "Docu-Drama" is, from the outset, less genuine than a cardboard Buster sword. Fiction quickly overtook fact in a poor and unsuccessful scramble for entertainment value. Seemingly within a few weeks Vice City is released, Moore is arrested, killing three officers and former attorney Jack Thompson steps in as the gallant hero on a crusade to stop parents from buying 18 rated games for their underage children stop people making violent games.

In reality, Moore was arrested June 7 2003, around 8 months after the release of Vice City, and it wouldn't actually be until 2005 that Jack "Righteous Thunder" Thompson came anywhere near this case. Again, in the BBC adaptation of the truth you're led to believe that Jack Thompson has never been on a computer in his life, and yet the reason that he didn't jump straight to Moore's defense may well have been because in 2003 he was trying the same kind of thing with GTA 3 and a lad of 16 called Dustin Lynch, who murdered his friend in Ohio.

The big things in the program are right, Devin Moore did kill three people, Hot Coffee was a (really rather naff) sex scene left on the disc but unreachable by normal players, however it is interspersed with misinformation and falsehoods which really brought down what could otherwise have been a factual look at the link between gaming and violent behavior, but that still would have made me angry. why?

Because the media keep asking that big question. Do Violent video games make you violent. The very fact that this argument is still raging after 23 years, since the release of the first Mortal Kombat, perpetuates the myth. If there is no link, why are we still asking the question, the fact that headlines and click-bait ask this question regularly will lead anybody who doesn't look behind them to the conclusion that they must do, otherwise, what's the big hooha?

A psychological study recently revealed that playing violent video games can be a "risk-factor" to exhibiting increased aggression, however not only did they also point out that there was no evidence that this influence was enough to lead to criminal acts and, let's be honest here, the same desensitizing and copy cat behavior can be taken from anything from books, to film, to television, so why the focus on gaming?

 To quote the Independent online newsblog, "The findings have prompted a call for more parental control over violent scenes in video games from the American Psychological Association (APA)." which again is absolutely absurd. The thing about these violent games is that, make no mistake, there is a brutal amount of gore and bodily destruction. In GTA you can pay for intercourse with a prostitute and then beat her until she dies and you get your money back. Do I want my eleven year old to play that, of course not. Do I want stricter parental controls on the game, also a no... because

Video games, much like film, have something in the way of control already. It's taken out of the parents hands. The video gaming development community themselves work with various boards in order to ensure that children do not have the opportunity to perform any of these acts or even witness any of this violent content... and you've probably seen it a few times a day. Each and every one of the games listed in court cases and studies is an age 18 restricted game in the UK. This means that it is illegal for children to buy it, much like alcohol, tobacco, or firearms.

So, who is to blame here. Who is the one to point the finger at when children are exposed to levels of violence that (most of us agree) they shouldn't be seeing. Do we curse out the developers, who spend time developing an adult content game? Do we take to court the classification board who rate the game for sale (by law) to only adults? Do we ransack the offices of the retail stores who 99 times out of a hundred refuse to sell these items to children due to the massive fines and jail time they could serve for doing so? Or should we blame the parents, who buy age restricted games for their children because they are not legally allowed to buy it for themselves?

I'll leave that last question with you. Let us know what you think.

Friday, 29 May 2015

War has changed

It's been a bone of contention now for many years. There have been memes made about it, Satirical jibes and even full on "why the hell is this still happening" posts which seem to fall on deaf ears. Today we're talking sexualization in gaming, and is it even welcome in our hobby in this day and age? Today's soundtrack on the left, Arnhem Knights from Medal of Honour

There are many things in the gaming industry which do not spell equality across the board. For example I can't remember the last time I played as a black main protagonist who wasn't a criminal, or apart from Lara Croft the last time I felt a female protagonist was given as free a reign as a male counterpart would have been.

Speaking of the Queen of Gaming, Miss Croft and her origins have a lot to answer for... or rather her developers do at least. We all know the mantra "sex sells" but it's not the only thing that does and I don't feel Tomb Raider would have been any worse without a bosom you could smother Andre The Giant in. Females, historically, are largely relegated to NPCs in gaming, with only a minority of games giving you even the option to play as a girl/woman/crone. It seems largely that the only times you do get an option to play as a bad-assed She-Warrior of any description are RPGs, the likes of Neverwinter, The Elder Scrolls, or  similar so you could be forgiven for thinking that in those games, at least, we're getting closer to equality.

That would be, however, before we look at the armour choices. As your steadfast male character gets built up your trappings become more and more chunky, and adorned with spikes and gold trimming. Most of the time for the lady gamers (or male gamers who fancied prodding donkey as a girl) the more you level up the armour, the more skin you can see. Now, this doesn't seem like the way armour works to me and if you look at it for just a second, even the most ardent male chauvinist has surely got to take a step back and say "hold on... that's not quite right. Where is the Brienne of Tarth,
why is my paladin wearing three rolled out Pepsi cans?! This is offering no protection against the elements, never mind a sword!"

There are steps being made, which is obviously a good thing, but I'm not sure how here in 2015 we're not already there, or worse, seem to have a lot of people trying to move us back the other way. A number of gamers (and, it has to be said, exclusively male) have taken to social media to decry the fact the EA Sports have announce that Fifa 16 will have the option (and it is an option) for you to play as one of twelve international Women's football teams.

It's hard for me to see how the option if you so choose to play a football game as 11 females instead of 11 chaps can in any way detract from the enjoyment you would have got had those teams not been included. I'm not sure there will be pop-ups every five minutes if you're playing as a men's team telling you to give it a go, there's probably not even going to be a woman on the box art (although it would be wonderful to see) so how does giving you the option take away your enjoyment.

I'll admit, I would be a bit gutted if EA Sports had announced that they would only be providing female players (perhaps giving you the option to pay for Male players as DLC) but then we have to remember that this is what it has been like for females in gaming for the last god knows how many years. Everybody should have the option in gaming to play as a character which they can relate as closely to as us white male gamers can in nearly every game we play.

Nobody is asking people to give things up, only to let others be included. Your options will still be there, but theirs will too, and surely that can't be a bad thing.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?

It's a tough topic to broach with folks these days, especially as Retro Enthusiasts as we are. It's been a while since our last blog post (we've been busy getting an Xbone and Fibre Broadband installed) but today we're looking at what makes retro retro. Today's music is taken from my current, lasting addiction, Assassin's Creed: Black Flag. Because you can't beat a good shanty

We've been having a chat with a few folks on our Twitter and today and as always there are differing opinions on this subject, and those who hold the opinions are just as passionate about it as we are. At what point does Retro become Retro. Some have said they know people who class anything over ten years old as a Retro Game or Console, which gave me pause for a moment because that would mean that this November the Xbox360 would be a Retro Console to some.

Others have mentioned anything two generations old (putting the PS2 / N64 / Xbox era just at the cusp now) which is something we can kind of go along with, as RetroGameGeeks pointed out, we'd class the Gamecube as retro and that's the exact same time-frame. There are a lot of improvements that we saw with this generation, sure, but still it's hardly new and at just over 15 years old it's certainly edging in if not right in the zone already.

The PSX Era for us is firmly within the Retro area and considered by most to be part of the gang from what we can tell. But then this begs the question, if PS1 and PS2 are Retro then where does that leave the lives of Atari and Amstrad who started us off all those years ago (if you want to feel old the first Atari2600 was sold in 1977 and that's 38 years past). Do we need a new classification for those, and if so what on earth are we going to call it?!

I do think there needs to be a little definition at least, out of respect to those that came before, if nothing else, and I think we've worked out a formula for determining which bracket gaming would fall into. With consoles lasting slightly longer now (The 360 being almost a decade old) it would have to be altered and added to in future but I think we have a tier system which might suit all games and enthusiasts.

0 - 15 years old = Contemporary
15 - 25 years old = Retro
25 Years + = ƜberRetro / RetroX

Though I do have a feeling that anything created in the late 70s / early 80s should probably be referred to as Our Honorable Elders for the rest of time. It's a little weird for those more experienced gamers among us to think of the consoles we've known and loved for years turning into Retro items... but maybe that's just because it reminds us that we're growing old. On that note, we'll leave you for today with this picture, which springs to my mind whenever surrounded by the younger generation of gamers on Social Media

As ever, let us know what you think in the comments below and don't forget to follow, subscribe and like on all the usual social media outlets to keep up with our new videos, news and (let's face it) hilarious posts in general. All the links are neatly stacked for you below, so no excuses


Friday, 15 May 2015

Rise and shine, Mr Freeman. Rise. And. Shine.

We've covered some fun topics on our little pixel blog, and our favourite was regarding the difficulty of gaming now vs the good old days . We've recently gone back through Tomb Raider II and seem to spend most of out time saving the game. We know games these days are easy but are we getting more for our money? Today's Soundtrack, Grand Prix Simulator, by The Oliver Twins.

It's something that even we can fall foul of these days. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, it lets us forget the hours we spent grinding away on games we'd end up hating and just remembering the good times, but we mustn't forget that gaming hasn't always been roses and kittens. These days there are a number of complaints surrounding the gaming industry, and while some are fair (Paying for content already on discs or the lack of originality) it's important to remember that rubbish games and publishers looking to make a quick buck are not entirely new developments.

It's easy to point at E.T. and laugh, blaming it for the demise of Atari and the downfall of the gaming industry, as it caused the crash of '83. Again though, memories have been blurred over the years, and plenty of bandwagons have been jumped on. E.T. the game, actually sold more copies than Space Invaders (by around 500,000). Yes it was a poor game, and a perfect example of a publisher rushing a game to hit the market, but financially it didn't do too badly for Atari.

So yes, E.T. was far from stellar (and let's not blame the developer who programmed it all in 5 weeks, he was just doing what he was told) but are we really any better off with today's industry? There's plenty wrong with it for a start, but did we really get more for our money in the days of the Playstation 1 for example.

That little grey box gave us many a year of happiness, but forget games being cheap. In fact not, if we take inflation into account, that £49.99 PS1 game would now be around £90, if a game set you back $70 in 1994 you would be looking today at around $127. So even if we think games are getting more expensive, actually it's quite the opposite. And that's without even looking at consoles...

If we take a look at the elegant and fantastic spreadsheet I knocked up recently, going back over the prices of some notable consoles through the ages, we can see that if anything, costs have gone down slightly so we can definitely say that the games themselves aren't costing more to buy

But what about gameplay, games used to be long, epic adventures and now they are 2 hour affairs on rails, right? Again, nostalgia tells us this but not every game is Call of Duty. Sure it only takes you a couple of hours to complete the main storyline even on the hardest difficulty but it's not the be all and end all of gaming.

In the next week or so we're going to have the third installment of the Witcher series and if it's brethren are anything to go by, you're going to need to sink a few hours in to get everything the game has to offer, and the same can be said for a number of titles. Whether it's Skyrim, Black Flag, or Shadow of Mordor, even looking back to some 360 and PS3 releases such as Fallout or Lost Odyssey there have constantly been titles which give you a good solid lump of gaming even without DLC.

Not just decent main single player modes, not even just DLC but also all the little bits to go back and get. Completionists everywhere rejoice, because we really can have it all, as long as we pick the right games.

We like to think that games were always better, and being a retro gaming channel I'll point out that this doesn't mean that we don't love  Retro games with all our hearts. We just think maybe modern gaming isn't as bad as we sometimes make it out to be... And we're guilty of that too.

Monday, 11 May 2015

People Who Live in Glass Houses Get Pretty Good at Ducking

We've briefly touched on this subject in our last blogs. The image of the stereotypical gamer. Unshaven, unwashed, and uninterested in anything apart from their level 63 battle mage. But are the shackles of "nerd-dom" really just for the hardcore? Today's soundtrack is the CPC 464 version of Total Recall from 1991, so let's dip in.

There has long been a stereotype attributed to the hallowed flock that is Nerd-dom, but now even that is changing slightly, and it seems to be annoying everybody. As a very inclusive family, it's tough for us to see people being belittled and criticised because they play video games to much or (a new and worrying trend) too little, or even because of their gender. It's turned into a double edged sword of late and, of course, if you try and insert a modicum of acceptance for either, the other side are going to be breathing down your necks.

Gaming has changed, massively. It's possible you wouldn't know it, with the testosterone mostly on show but at the last count gaming was split down the gender divide and instead of being the tiny minority, people who identify as female now occupy around 50% of the gaming market. Now, we hate the gender divide as much as you do, especially when it comes to gaming because, in all honesty, why does it matter?

It makes no difference if the l33t haxxor who's kicking our butt online is a guy or a girl, there's no need to feel insulted or ashamed, if you are beaten by either, you still get beat. The term "girl gamer" is bandied around a lot, although I find it hard to pinpoint a decent reason for calling them that instead of the other term I prefer for females who play video games - "Gamer".

It's even come to the point now where we see on various social media, people being lambasted because "they're not a real gamer". Now, I've been gaming for roughly 24 years. There have been times where I did nothing but go to work, come home and turn on my Playstation (or, later, Xbox). Now I'm hurtling towards 30 with no signs of slowing and I have less time to play, until my son grows up a little and I can play with him. Does that make me less of a gamer now, or any less entitled to think of myself as such?

"She's not a real gamer" - "They're ruining it for us" - "I bet they don't even play games"

While I admit it seems a little silly to pretend you play games just to fit in, this could be said of anything from pretending to enjoy lager to telling everybody your name is Thunder Doombringer (that actually sounds ok!). Silly, maybe, but I have no idea how it's possible for that to detract at all from my enjoyment of Colin McRae Rally, unless I force it to. By the same token, shouting about people playing Farmville or Mafia Wars on Facebook is largely similar.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't touch those games myself even with a ten foot clown pole, but unless people are constantly sending me game requests (and please do remember you can block these) I don't find that it's effecting my life at all. We live in a very judgmental society and while it's important that we keep focus on breaking down the prejudices regarding the big issues, I think we as gamers have to admit that our hobby isn't just for an "elite few" any more. People enjoy Farmville, Angy birds, and Hidden Object games. They enjoy games which they can drop in and out of easily, and I don't think we should discourage people just because they don't play the games we like or because they don't spend every free hour tea-bagging opponents in Halo

Like Elmer the Elephant, it's important for us to remember that some things you can give and give and give, and not lose any. Things like happiness, and love, and gaming.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

You And Your Friends Are Dead

Ahoy me hearties! (Sorry about that... still playing far too much Black Flag). It may seem a bit of a depressing title today but this is a message (or one of the messages) which we'd see many times as gamers until recently. Our soundtrack today is taken from a game we all knew and loved growing up, and one that didn't give you infinite lives either. Good old Sonic

There was a time, many moons ago, when developers made games which challenged us in many ways. Puzzles to test out mental capacity and even down to just plain hectic gameplay to test our motor functions. Games used to be pretty tricky and when playing on the hardest difficulty  (because obviously you're not living otherwise) some games became almost, or totally, unbeatable. They are even harder now!

I can only think of one game in recent years (though please let us know if you think we're wrong) which I've given up on not out of boredom or getting a new title, but because it was simply too hard. There used to be a large number of games where you just could not beat. In the early days maybe because the games simply had no end but certainly as we moved on games were sent to challenge us and make us work for the privilege of completion.

Now, it's impossible to get past the first ten minutes of a game without it telling you what you need to press, who to talk to, where you need to go. It's probably saved your progress every five steps and done your laundry as well. I find it hard to pinpoint when this trend started and, though I can maybe agree that it's good for enticing new gamers into our world (and heck, we are all for bringing new folks into our flock) it's seriously dumbed down most of the more hardcore gamers as well.

Dark Souls (or Demon souls, or Dark Souls II) has come the closest to getting back to the core of gaming. These are your objectives... Go! It hasn't pandered even on the lowest difficulties and I have to admire that, but the thing is, I've now grown so used to being spoon-fed every inch of a game that I don't think I'll ever complete it. In most games now, even on the hardest difficulty, our hands are constantly held, our objectives pinpointed and our guns auto-aimed, and it's made us soft.

I've been playing GoldenEye on the N64 again recently (setting up an N64 on my desk may not have been the most productive idea) and as ever I'm playing on the hardest difficulty. I was enjoying the first level, failed a few times, got near to the end and noticed something (before promptly dying again). I wasn't being given an objective marker. This game was making me think for myself again. What are my objectives, where do I think I should go? These enemies are a bit tough. Oh I'm dead. Right then, start again from the beginning.

No checkpoints, no little golden marker or a trail to the next thing on the list to pick up. No handy popup on the HUD to tell me to press the trigger to shoot somebody. This is the gaming that I remember. I remember a time when we as gamers were not promised an ending. Completing the game was not guaranteed, and you could fail at any time and be sent right back to the beginning. Without that, I don't think we can really call completing games an more an "achievement". It was always inevitable, given enough time.