4 Life Changing Career Choices You Made Because of Games

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January is, in a word, odd. As the last festive firework fades into oblivion, New Year’s day is the best time of year to wander the empty streets and pretend there’s been a nuclear apocalypse that’s destroyed everything except Tesco express. A hush descends. Across the UK, a hangover epidemic pins residents to their sofas with nothing but their TVs and the feeling they should be buying cut-price oak furniture somewhere.

And then the 2nd January arrives.

Suddenly the once-peaceful streets are flooded with lycra clad fitness vigilantes that will superglue a two litre Evian bottle to their hands and puff to anyone who’ll listen about their “New Year exercise regime”. Where days before your greatest achievement was balancing a Terry’s Chocolate Orange perfectly on the bulge of your turkey stuffed stomach, now “self-improvement” requires a life-changing revelation, like shedding half your body weight or donating 10% of your monthly income to the homeless.

Many people take the New Year as a perfect opportunity to embark on a new career path, to try something completely different and shed their old life for a new one. Well, have you really thought this through? Or is this one of those resolutions you made as the clocks struck midnight on the morning of January 1st, standing on a table with your skirt round your waist, singing old lang syne through a whisky bottle microphone?

Thankfully, video games provide an excellent opportunity for savvy careerists to try out a new employment track before making the leap in real life.  With some games clocking in 100+ hour completion times, this is a medium where you can spend days investigating a potential career by stepping into the shoes of your chosen character and experiencing their day-to-day virtual existence.

So please, step this way into our video game career centre. Oh, don’t mind the bloodstains, they’re just from when Isaac Clarke was conducting his ship systems engineer workshop. The necromorphs tend to get a bit rowdy. Please, sit down, and I’ll fetch my folder. Are you sitting comfortably? Right, here are your new life options:

1: Call of Duty: Army Soldier

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A perfectly respectable career path, this is one track that offers scope for endless promotion. The hours you spend carefully crafting a multiplayer class from the range of guns so pretty they should have their own perfume lines are ample opportunity to explore every nuance of a soldier’s life.

Pick off your foes from afar as a sniper or barrel into them as a heavy gunner. Learn the tricks of the trade as an engineer or become a demolitions expert in the field. The opportunities are endless and give you a wealth of experience to draw on when you make it to real-life boot camp. Plus learning to deal with the endless drones of a nine year old pre-pubescent piping Justin Beiber down their microphone teaches an excellent life skill: patience.

Maybe forget a few of those lessons though; teabagging an opponent when you knock them down may earn you a few funny looks at Sandhurst.

2: Papers, Please: Border Control Official

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I’m sensing a few raised eyebrows – perhaps you’d prefer a career with less risk of brutal dismemberment. How about Papers, Please? This indie game employs you as an immigration inspector charged with manning the border of fictional Arstotzka. Your task is to prevent any of the smugglers, terrorists, spies and generally unpleasant riff raff from coming into your country and blowing it up or, you know, stealing all the jobs and that.

Honestly, if you want a properly realistic experience of employment in the virtual realm, you don’t get much better than stamping reams of pixelated paper for hours on end. Sadly.

3: GTA: Criminal

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But you’re probably thinking that that sounds like hell, and you’d be right. So most career centres wouldn’t have “Life of Crime” as a genuine career path, but hey, here at Video Game Jobs Inc. we like to keep your options open. Enter GTA, the controversial series that revolutionised the open world genre and gave anxious parents the world over minor aneurysms.

In most games nowadays there seems to be only one rule: you just need to blend (this applies for when you’re sneaking through a room full of enemies or applying foundation). Dishonoured, Thief, Assassin’s Creed, the list of games that test your stealth is endless. But let’s face it, in real life, spending your time leaping from lamppost to lamppost is going to get you nowhere fast, except a jail cell.

Learning how to “repossess” high end sports cars, on the other hand, could serve as a very transferable skill. Think about it, by honing your ability to speed down a highway at 105mph you’ll never be late for work again.

4: LA Noire: Detective

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On the other hand, you could take the complete opposite track and devote yourself to fighting crime. LA Noire is an excellent place to start; the game is completely devoted to backing an unsuspecting NPC into a corner and suspecting them of everything. As their virtual eyes fly back and forth in a panic, you have to scan every pixel of their expressions for even a hint of dishonesty – one false accusation and the killer could get away scot free… or worse you could finish the mission with a two star rating.

At the very least this is a virtual career that will teach you attention to detail. As Cole painstakingly inspects every coke can, cigarette packet and scrap of paper littered around a darkened alley, you will realise that there is more to detective work than the ability to coldly assess the body of a naked sliced up prostitute without projectile vomiting – though it’s a good place to start.

First published on GameGrin 28/01/2014

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Official PS4 unboxing video is a Daft Punk tribute

After months of rumour, intrigue, and ceremonious dropping of pennies into the piggy bank, peeling off the wrappings of your all-powerful next-gen console against the backdrop of a dowdy office just doesn’t have enough….oomph, does it?

Instead, when the time comes this month to unsheathe your mighty PS4, track down your nearest space-age server room and get creative with some spotlights, rather like Sony Worldwide Studios presiden Shuhei Yoshida handily demonstrates in the unboxing video above.

Sony’s marketing team don’t walk the fine line between creativity and insanity so much as cartwheel down it, setting off party-poppers whilst whistling kumbaya. The PlayStation 2 was first promoted in a terrifying dreamworld of moody monochrome, then a few years later they tried to persuade us to buy a PS3 by plonking a murderous-looking baby doll in front of the gleaming console. Perhaps realising that forcing customers to live out their worst nightmares this side of Elm Street isn’t the best marketing tactic, the team toned it down for the practically family-friendly “Perfect Day” PS4 ad.

This latest video, however, starts tip-toeing back down the tightrope towards crazy, taking an ordinarily normal unboxing format and transforming it into a Daft Punk parody.

The official unveiling places the much-anticipated console under the same spotlight that once revealed Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” album in its own unboxing video.

A pair of hands, gloved in exquisite brown leather, gently inspects the PS4 box’s contents: A network voucher, an English quick start guide, a DualShock 4 controller, an HDMI cable, an AC chord, a mono headset and a USB cable. Finally, the PlayStation console itself is held aloft above Yoshida’s head into a shard of light. The only thing missing is Mufassa and a bowing herd of zebras.

The network voucher will give users 30 days of PS Plus and Music unlimited for free, whilst the mono headset gives gamers immediate access to an immersive online multiplayer experience.

The gloves, sadly, are not included.

(First published on ITProPortal 11/11/13)

Sims 4 Levels Up Its Emotion

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Ah, van vesua! Cummuns nala?

… Ok, by your blank expression I’m guessing I should probably explain that that was a greeting, and not a sneezing fit. I was trying to say in Simlish – the official language of The Sims franchise – “Hello! How are you doing?” but I apologize, clearly my pronunciation was off… Don’t look at me like that. God this is awkward. Excuse me whilst I go flail my arms in embarrassment, rage at the sky and kick a pink flamingo.

Because really, if I were a Sim, in the thirteen years that the Sims has been flying off our shelves (or into our online baskets, if you’re all technological) that would have been the only outlet for an emotional display: uncontrollable limbs, public displays of cloud hatred and animal cruelty. But times are changing. Whereas Sims lives have always revolved around their physical needs, now gameplay is based around their emotions. In this new generation of the virtual reality game, the controlling force of play is much more about manipulating their emotional states to run their lives, rather than manipulating their circumstances by, say, buying them things. Or walling them in a windowless room with no toilet.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll be Sims

In Sims 4, now more than ever the player has been given the powers of a storyteller, creating a cascading domino chain of events that will affect the way your Sim interacts with its virtual world. Previously, Sims bounced back pretty easily from life-changing events like the death of a parent or the discovery of an unfaithful spouse. There’d be a short-term moodlet, sporadic skyward flailing would occur, and in a matter of days the whole thing would be forgotten. Unfortunately for new generation Sims, they will not be so lucky. Now, Sims confronted with severe emotional trauma will enter a powerful state of psychological grief that will affect their every interaction with the world around them. Bodies and actions reflect feelings: shoulders hunch, feet drag, faces frown, lips quiver whilst happy Sims light up a room and angry Sims put extra furious effort into work out routines.

A Toy That Toys With Your Emotions

Interestingly, if the idea of watching your Sim sit listlessly in the corner, clinically depressed because you made their brother run off with their wife provokes a twinge of guilt in your heartless soul, well, that is the very real aim of the game. Instead of players only affecting the game’s state, the increased human complexity of the world you create is bound to affect your own emotional state. It’s a game that makes you feel.

Still, the idea of gameplay being less about pressing a button to make a Sim angry and more about engineering a chain of events and choices is fascinating, but is a new focus on realism going to alienate fans who for more than a decade have been drawn to a game centered around escapism? Complicated programming now allows you to manipulate every fleshy corner of your Sims body, but overweight Sims can now look in the mirror and feel disgust at themselves. Sims with eating disorders and clinical depression? It seems the more human traits our Sims evolve, the darker the universe they inhabit becomes.

… Let’s hope the developers have engineered some kick-ass pink flamingos.

Jak II: When Naughty Dog Found the Plot

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Although I am pathologically, fatally prone to exaggeration, it is but a mere statement of fact to say that Naughty Dog’s 2003 platform adventure, Jak II, is approximately as addictive as crystal meth. Breaking away from its colourful, Disney-esque prequel, the story is set in the dark, industrial metropolis of Haven City where hours can be spent hijacking speedy hoverbikes and zooming around its neon lit streets. With big characters, bigger open world maps and bite-your-fist-in-glee-big guns, Jak II revolutionized the platformer genre and most importantly told a compelling story that glued you to your controller for the twenty-hour campaign.

Of course, there are those that would say the Last of Us – an effusive ode to human fragility and compassion with visuals so slick you could slip on them – is a more worthy paragon of Naughty Dog’s capabilities. “Games are art,” they will say, “and art is about revealing resonant insights into the human condition.” Well, to be honest, how many insights into human nature do we need in one lifetime? Once you realise that no one has a clue what they’re doing either, any further insights into ourselves can start to get depressing. On the other hand, what humans do need are witty one-liners. Pithy remarks that can defuse today’s real societal problems of awkward situations and prolonged silences with a round of hearty guffaws. And thanks to a small furry orange ottsel, Jak II’s script throws these out in abundance. The characters that inhabit Haven City are as richly textured as its stunning vistas.

So as rendering technology advances with the advent of next-gen consoles, producing graphics so vivid our TV screens will be transformed like glass gateways into gaming Narnia, I will still be sat on my sofa, PS2 whirring contentedly, immersed in Jak II’s narrative . Because really that is the heart of gaming: story. From epic poems around the campfire to Renaissance plays to the birth of the novel, the beauty of a plot’s presentation has always been second to the script itself. As the most modern reincarnation of storytelling, Naughty Dog have fully realised the centrality of plot to a decent game and it is precisely this element that make all their games so successful. That is something that no console, whether it’s packed with 500GB HDD and an x86 processor or not, can guarantee.

What Gaming Teaches You About Girls

Ah those good ol’ days of the nineties: when every dispute could be settled by a game of rock, paper, scissors and when all video game characters clunked around like badly made origami models of polio victims. This was the era that birthed one of the defining virtual characters of a generation: Lara Croft. This kleptomaniac archaeologist has been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Successful Human Virtual Game Heroine”, a considerable achievement when you consider that she started life as with boobs so pointy that giving her a hug would result in two punctured lungs. Her ability to down a T-Rex with a shotgun instantly won our hearts in a gaming climate as yet untouched by oestrogen, but now from Jill Valentine to Nariko, Faith Connors to Bayonetta, today’s shelves are stacked with titles featuring leading femme fatales.

Still let’s face it, there is nothing easier to understand than a woman (apart from obvious things like quantum physics) and yet the video game world can be a little off the mark when it comes to putting the fairer sex on screen. These are the lessons we’ve learned in Console Class 101:

Women are more effective the less they wear

female armourIt is a little known fact that the female epidermis is chainsaw, flamethrower, meat cleaver and machine-gun-bullet-proof. Years of being slathered in anti-dullness, anti-aging, anti-wrinkle creams has imbued women’s skin with the properties of an armoured truck. As many RPGs will show you, the larger surface area of male bodies requires significantly larger suits of armour to protect their manly flesh. Big intimidating suits. With full body steel plating. And spikes. Female armour needs no such padding, because whilst a male soldiers’ upgraded armour becomes tougher, female armour gets skimpier. Basically, if a video game heroine is advancing on you, an axe clutched in one bloody, manicured fist, cover her with a towel if you want to survive.

Boobs defy gravity

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A few years ago, perfectly flowing water was the holy grail of the video game animator. Today however, as rendering technology advances with the arrival of next-gen consoles, we’re being treated to thundering waterfalls, blinding rainstorms and violent naval battles so realistic that Gamers everywhere are playing under the safety of an umbrella. You’d think then, that developers would have mastered the coding process of a breast jiggle. Whilst we are able to zoom in and count every follicle on Kratos’s eyebrows, the detail spared for the female chest is considerably limited. In other words, we get giant watermelons bolstered to the female ribcage with cement and triple X bras.

Women exist outside of the aging space time continuum

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Maybe it’s the titanium properties of female skin, but the slow march of time holds no sway over video game femmes. Developers will place their leading ladies in cryogenic sleep (I’m looking at you Nina Williams), clone her or even “reboot” history rather than code a line across their pretty, porcelain smooth faces. It seems that the idea of a woman who can bend space and time to her will, unconstrained by the ravaging effects of sun and iron tipped bullets, is more palatable than the idea of a middle-aged woman kicking butt in five-inch stilettos. In other words, the entire female race is composed of sexy vampire assassins. Though that’s not strictly true because…

Women come in two breeds: Damsel in Distress and Dominatrix

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a computer generated man in possession of a good cleaver must be in want of a wife. And as video games have made clear, female characters are only too happy to oblige. Just look at the Asari race in Mass Effect, incredibly beautiful women who make up one of the oldest and wisest races in the galaxy – yet most work as strippers in sleazy back-planet clubs. In PC gaming, The Sims 3 has a moodlet that makes pregnant women permanently happy for the duration of their pregnancy. Because there’s nothing like raging hormones, swollen ankles and stretch marks to send our serotonin levels cartwheeling.

Female Gamers, like dragons, are mythological creatures

untitledOccasionally as you noob tube your way from COD lobby to COD lobby, camping in corners and stealing kills you may every so often see a distinctly feminine game tag pop up in a corner of your screen. There were once some whisperings that half of all humans have XX chromosomes, but everyone knows that that’s all it was, whispers uttered in hushed voices round camp fires. So feel free to haze those female imposters. Inundate their inboxes with spam, yell out them down your headset to make you a sandwich, lob grenades at them in the heat of battle. Female gamers? Pur-lease.

Coming soon: “What Gaming teaches you about Men”

5 Reasons Pokemon is Seriously Twisted

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It’s 1997. Propped up on your elbows under the dark recesses of your Rugrats duvet, your breath hitches as a plinky musical sound prods your Gameboy screen into pixelated, grayscale life and threatens to wake up your sleeping parents next door. Frantically you turn down the volume, rapidly mash A to get past the loading screens and hit “New Game”. You’re going to be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them will be your real test, to train them will be your cause. This is Pokémon.

It’s an innocent enough scene from many a 90s childhood, where playground status was decided on how many shiny Pikachu cards you owned, or how far away you were from filling up all 151 spaces on your Pokédex. But today, as I sat in my room planning my next move as a soon-to-be graduate, I realised my childhood is a pretty distant memory. And actually, when you think about it, the low-resolution landscape our youthful selves spent hours exploring was a pretty twisted place. Not least of which because…

Everyone has Daddy Issues

Ash MomWell, not “issues”. More just one big resounding issue: they don’t have a Dad at all. The theory goes that there was a huge war that decimated the male population of the land. Children have now been left with no Father figure, or worse, they are left with Professor Oak (“This is my Grandson. He’s been your rival since you were a baby… Erm, what is his name again?” “Poo face.” “Ah yes! Of course!”). The game starts with Ash sitting cross-legged in front of his SNES, presumably laying low, avoiding the wrath of his arch-rival after the whole “Ha-your-dementia-suffering-Granddad-thinks-you’re-called-Pooface” trick.  After a few minutes, this plucky ten-year old decides it is time to venture forth from the house’s single-bedroom and find his fortune in the big wide world.  Walking past his Mother’s spot at the dining table he says goodbye.

“Goodbye” she replies to her TEN-YEAR-OLD, “all boys leave home one day, it said so on TV” she adds sagely. Solid parenting right there. Ash, realising that his Mother does not fully comprehend that her TEN YEAR OLD is now walking out the door with a proverbial stick and spotted hanky on his shoulder, says “Alright Mum, I’m leaving and don’t know whether I’ll ever return”. His Mother looks up with dawning realisation in her eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks and says “Sorry love, I wasn’t really listening. Oh that’s right, you’re leaving. I forgot. Don’t forget the milk.” Thus, the metaphorical umbilical chord is unceremoniously severed, and with that Ash leaves home, out into a world inhabited by creatures that breathe fire and poison spores. Completely alone. Did I mention he’s ten?

And He Has No Concept Of Stranger Danger

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“Your Mother’s still single isn’t she? …Good, good. now go catch every Pokémon in the world. Go catch them all.”

Heading into the dark forest at the edge Pallet Town, Ash draws a deep breath and takes his first step into the big wide world. Glancing back for one final time, he sees an old man approaching through the trees. In an urgent voice, the man begs Ash to come to the basement of his laboratory to look at his balls and decide which one is best. Ash agrees to this proposition.

It soon becomes clear that the Professor has been performing experiments on small animals and he wants to share one with this young boy so that when he finally leaves he will be protected from the deadly creatures and dangerous men of the wilds. He offers a turtle, a lizard or a shrub. Now if someone tries to jump Ash between here and the next town he can unleash the unbridled fury of his bloodthirsty rhododendron. Cower before him. As days pass and Ash trains harder, strangers are no danger to this red capped child. He adds small walking radishes and sprouts with lightbulbs for heads to his murderous collection of cannibalistic shrubbery, because really….

Ash Suffers From Serious OCD

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Honestly, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is the only explanation. He obsessively categorizes and collects various small animals, painstakingly noting their attributes, traces their growth and applies elemental “types” of his own that have no basis in science. He travels from town to town, squeezing every creature he stumbles upon – regardless of whether it’s a 30ft high snake made of boulders, or a tiny bat that just can’t get enough of travellers – into a plastic spheroid about three inches in diameter. When confronted about this his justification is inevitably a wild shriek of “Gotta catch em all!” Essentially, the entire game follows a megalomaniac child who forces his pets to battle for money, pushing them until they lose consciousness whereupon he takes them to a centre that stuffs them in a giant computer where they are trapped for days at a time, locked in their little metal sphere seemingly without food, water or company. But hey, no one’s going to stop him because

Pokémon Democracy Is A Myth

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Whether they’re running a giant casino, carting off ancient fossils or desecrating Pokemon graves, terrorist and criminal organizations run Kanto. As Ash explores the caves, seas and towns of Kanto on his little bicycle, not once is he stopped by a concerned police officer wondering how a ten year old got hold of a bike that costs 1,000,000, – yes that’s right – a million….um, whatever currency is used in this lawless frontier.  Because really, that’s what the Pokémon universe is. It’s the wild west, but with mice that fire off five-thousand volts of electricity and catchy music that plays when you walk through long grass. The whole place is run by a single giant corporation (who gains its wealth from exploiting small, vulnerable animals) which exists in conflict with smaller crime syndicates. And gyms run by teenagers.

Even the country’s village dedicated to burial and mourning, Lavender Town, is utterly unprotected, ending up filled with mentalist “Channelers” who accost passing children on bicycles screaming “GIVE… ME….YOUR BLOOD!!! Be possessed with me! Kekeke KWAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!” before attacking them with Pokémon so horrifying one of them is actually called “Ghastly”. This was the point where you switched off your Gameboy and buried deeper under your duvet fort, your knees hugged to your chest, rocking back and forth until morning came and you could crawl from your room bleary-eyed, avoiding eye contact with every human being lest an exclamation mark appear above their head and bloody violence ensues.

But that’s not the most horrific part of the whole series. Oh no, because it’s a little known fact that

Nikki Minaj Started Out As A Pokémon

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“Its cries sound like human speech, however it is impossible to work out what it’s trying to say”

“It speaks a language similar to that of humans, however it seems to use dancing to communicate”

…. Enough said.

The latest big button you are itching to press

share-button-ps4-controller-dual-shock-4-screenshotWhen I was eight, I decided to exercise my lack of self-preservation by adventuring onto our house’s roof. Since my appalling relationship with gravity made clear I would require the climbing talents of my brother to secure the operation’s success (family holidays to the beach would often see him disappear, only to be found a few hours later suspended off a ledge halfway up a cliff), he was immediately recruited and we ventured forth onto the tiled wilderness.

While Mr. Number 11 mowed his lawn next door, oblivious to the pre-pubescent siblings dangling from his drainpipe on a Sunny-D induced high, a wild thought entered my head: working together me and my brother could become professional rooftop adventurers. As a dynamic duo we could clamber to the highest point of the chimney or uncover untold mysteries beneath the slates. Energized by our ambition, we danced along the guttering, gave each other footholds to get higher and excitedly plotted our next explorative adventure. We were a team.

Then my brother (the idiot) went blabbing to our Mum about what we’d been doing

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Look at them. With their “smiles” and “friends”.

So you understand now why social gaming may seriously stress out 21-year old me. In that instant I learned a valuable life lesson: “always adventure alone”. However, a new craze has swept through the videogame industry that invites players to join forces to achieve their goals, to display their adventures online for the viewing benefit of the gaming community. Thanks to the PS4, we now have a ‘share’ button.

 But this completely contradicts the image of the Gamer; everybody knows that videogames aren’t meant to be sociable, right? You can’t maintain the horrific tension of a horror game like Dead Space 3 with your mate sitting beside you desperately mashing “x” as wotsits drool down their chin. You’re meant to play them in a darkened room sat in your underwear whilst picking fluff out your bellybutton and destroying half the virtual population of the planet. It’s a commonly accepted fact that gamers are all nerds with no social skills, so why oh why is there this sudden preoccupation with “Social Gaming”?

Well, maybe because it’s not so sudden.

It’s a misconception that gaming is a reclusive form of entertainment. When you watch a film, everyone sits and stares at the cinema screen in silence (unless you’re twelve years old and want to find out the aerodynamic capabilities of a piece of popcorn) but when you play a videogame, your whole household can get involved. Stuck on a puzzle? Draft in the problem-solving capabilities of your physics student housemate. Playing through a particularly cinematic environment? Budge up on the sofa because you’ll need to make room for an “ooooo”-ing and “aaaaah”-ing audience come to join you. Particularly in university halls, gaming provides a type of communal escapism that no other form of entertainment offers. Multiplayer and co-op take an ordinary game and elevate it to a whole new level of distraction, and the consoles of last generation took full advantage of this with the implementation of online gameplay. People worldwide are now connected by their controllers, fighting alongside each other in virtual arenas against hoards of undead or simply just strolling through a desert together.

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The new “Happy Crab” PS4 Controller

But now the next-gen console is introducing the next phase in the social evolution. Last week, after months of rumor, hearsay and “It’s-True-I-Heard-It-From-Steve-Behind-The-Bikeshed-At-Break”, Sony officially announced the PS4 specs. The PlayStation controller has become an iconic symbol of gaming and in its latest form, the Dualshock 4, the beloved “Start” button has been discarded. According to the developers at Sony “Select” is for Neanderthals and the new “Share” button is where it’s at. With a flick of the thumb players can now instantly capture game footage and forward it to friends. In addition, the PS4 will now allow you to hop into a friend’s game and watch the action of their console unfold on your own screen or, intriguingly, take over gameplay yourself. The idea is that if a group of ninja-fingered friends get together on the PS4 network, they can recreate that pass-the-pad feel of swapping the controller in the virtual sphere.

So what does that mean?

It seems in the next couple of years video games are going to start aligning themselves more and more with social media, becoming a part of our online lives in the same way that Spotify and Netflix pop up in our news feeds. Call of Duty, Counterstrike, SSX, Streetfighter, Hitman:Absolution and even Tomb Raider constitute just a handful of the games that now offer social gaming features, and there seems to be an ever-increasing pressure on developers to deliver more.

Yet, perhaps we should take a tiny step back from the “Social Media Is The Future” precipice and think about the implications of this. Of course videogames are sociable, but that’s not their sole feature. Part of the joy of playing a game is the escapism it offers from the real world, the richness of its story and the quality of its graphics. If you constantly have little notifications popping up on your screen and a big button glaring up from your controller screaming “SHARE ME”, some of that magic is lost. If developers become obsessed with launching videogames onto virtual platforms, the core features that make a game a decent game might be crushed under the pure pressure of telling people that you’re playing it. Just as linking Spotify to Facebook means I can no longer listen to One Direction without some distant virtual acquaintance sniggering from behind their keyboard, gaming could easily become a matter of public status, not personal pleasure.

But then again, if you not feeling sociable, you can just sit in a darkened room and play some campaign alone in your undies, right?

First published on Planet Ivy 04/03/13

Top 3 Games for Beating Stress

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Have you ever had one of “those days”? When you got stuck behind a colourblind guy at traffic lights? When you forgot it was your day on the cleaning rota to scrub skid marks off the toilet bowl and your housemates are outside your door brandishing torches and pitchforks? When your bank balance is so into the negative you have to give it hourly pep talks to persuade it the glass is half full?

What you need is Nazi Zombies.

No, not literally; a shed load of goose-stepping corpses kick starting the apocalypse wouldn’t do much to improve anyone’s mood. But stick a controller in your hands and suddenly you’re plunged into virtual reality choc full of zombies ripe for a machine gunning, which (when you’re so stressed you’d probably eat your OWN face) is really rather cathartic. COD Zombies shuffled onto our screens back in 2008, when Treyarch decided the best way to reward players for completing the campaign was plonking them in a rickety old house surrounded by bloodthirsty German corpses… And my God did we love them for it.nacht-derHaving evolved from abandoned theatres peppered with power-ups (“You need a little REVIIIIIIVE!”), Zombies’ latest instalment sees players driving through a burning town on an old school bus, dodging lava pits and battling zombies in the largest and most complex map to date. The beauty of this game is you can play it however you like: just want to blow some brains? Then grab an Alien ray gun, knuckle down and get shooting. Fancy something a bit more involved? Join the global online community and immerse yourself in the intricate backstory (yes, there’s actually a plot). Be warned though, this is VERY addictive. Common side-effects include the compulsive urge to yell “FETCH ME THEIR SOULS” when walking your dog and the inexplicable need to board up your windows whilst making little “Ding!” noises.

Or maybe mass-undead-genocide isn’t your thing?

That’s cool too (though you still might want to work on an apocalypse contingency plan; You don’t want to be THAT guy crouched behind your sofa freaking out as the government seal you and your zombie neighbours in a bio-hazard dome). If you spend your day kicking old ladies as they cross the road and munching on the hearts of baby bunnies then maybe this isn’t for you, because PSN classic Flower is both poetry and game. Using your Sixaxis controller, you can enter the dreams of flowers, steering a petal on the crest of a breeze as you swoop through Herbal Essences adverts to collect and gather more petals. Considering it’s been used in an interactive Church service, this game is the perfect example of how gaming can go beyond smash ’em up shooters into an emotive form of storytelling. With a stunning score that would make even the Angry Birds zen, this is the gaming equivalent of popping bubble wrap. Really, really pretty bubble wrap.

Still not convinced?

Ok, you’re a tough one. Sounds like you have some serious anger issues that cannot be solved by undead pest control or whimsical horticulture. How about undercover Hong Kong crime lords? Enter Sleeping Dogs. Taking all the best bits of great games such as Grand Theft Auto and Batman: Arkham Asylum, you play as undercover Detective Wei Shen as he tries to infiltrate the feared Triad criminal gang. Open-world games are brilliant for blowing off steam simply because of their freedom and Sleeping Dogs gives you considerable control, dotting the city with side-missions, clothes stores (for budding fashionistas), countless collectibles and even a tucked-away Kung Fu School. But the best thing about this game is it knows when you’re feeling tetchy. One day I was running through the Hong Kong, chewing my lip in frustration as I looked for a nice car to hi-jack (nothing brightens my day like ruining an NPC’s), when a sympathetic voice called out “Hey! You look like you could use a Pork Bun!”. I turned, all thoughts of sleek red ferraris gone, to see a chirpy street vendor waving his chubby hand in my direction. 10 yuan and a few virtual mouthfuls later, my character had extra health and I was feeling validated.

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What I’m trying to say is that Gaming is the virtual Spa, available 24/7 for your relaxation needs. From exploring far-off landscapes to occupying your brain with a platform puzzle, it offers a package for everyone. So ditch the pick-me-ups and power-up for a dose of pure escapism. Remember: therapy is expensive, video games are cheap….er.

Preview : Injustice Gods Among Us

(First published in Official Playstation Magazine UK 28/09/12)

It’s a contentious issue. For years, living rooms the world over have resonated with the shrill cries of the incensed, obstinately defending their heroes as they try to answer the ultimate question.

Who would win in a fight? Batman or Superman?

Finally Netherealm Studios, creator of Mortal Kombat, has devised a solution. Injustice will once and for all settle the dispute, as you’re charged with pitting hero against hero in a brutal battle to claim the title of “most super”. it’s the videogame version of a TV talent show, where everyone’s talent is smashing faces into pulp.

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The mechanics are Kombat-esque: a brutal 2D fighter, peppered with meters and subsequent “smash” moves that provide elaborate displays of unrestrained brutality. Each character fires off signature slams in different ways – Bats, for example, parries attacks and counters by smiting rivals under the fiery engine of the Batmobile. Not to be outdone, Flash barrels into his adversary and knocks them flying before embarking on a casual sprint around the Earth’s orbit, then launching into the mother of all uppercuts. If MK celebrates bloody brutality, then Injustice is an ode to visual extravagance.

What truly has us biting our fists in glee, though, are the arenas. A battle between two goliaths of the superhero world was always going to struggle to be contained in a small rectangle of screen. So, if you’re getting bored of one scene, pick your opponent by the scruff of the neck and launch them through the back wall. A few smashed windows and a severe concussion later, you’re in a brand-new area with your rival faceplanted at your feet. It’s a cinematic freedom no other fighting game allows.

Grand Slam

As the battle rages, collateral damage is inevitable. Slam Wonder Woman into the far wall of the Batcave and a weapons cabinet beside her shatters. But this isn’t just a pretty graphical effect of an annoyance for Alfred on cleanup duty. Suddenly grenades spill out, fresh for throwing at your rival’s skull. Every battle stage provides opportunity to rack up killer combos using the world around you as you release all those furious urges you’ve been bottling up.

Unfortunately, self-preservation may wreak havoc with this bombast. Let’s face it, if you know heading over to the right of the screen will lead to a rocket launcher to the face from the big red button Catwoman’s lounging against, you’re going to stay the hell over the left hand side.

Enviromental weaponry devolves into a gimmick when each player dances out of reach, blowing raspberries at the other as electric cables spark forlornly a safe distance away.

Still, with promises of a proper story mode and a choice between power characters (hulking powerhouses such as Solomon Grundy) and gadget characters (weapon-wielding wonders like Nightwing), our fingers are crossed for this game to be the ultimate superhero experience of next year.

And for the record, the answer would totally be Superman. Sadly.