There’s an exclusive replica miniature arcade cabinet on the market – and you’re going to want one

Having an arcade machine in your living room has got to be, without a doubt, the epitome of ‘nerdcool’. But if you’re a few lodestones short of your dream ladies’ magnet or, y’know, you just don’t have a big enough living room, then you really ought to check out this awesome new collectable.

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From Numskull Designs, collaborating with BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, comes The Quarter Arcades ‘PAC-MAN’ ¼ Scale Arcade Cabinet. This incredible replica, the first in the Quarter Arcades series, is an accurate, scaled down version of the original 1980s arcade machine, right down to a tiny coin mechanism.

Not only is the artwork an exact duplication of the original arcade cabinet, but the machine is also fully playable; a scaled down joystick and buttons promise a realistic and nostalgic venture back in time. Imagine the scenario: a friend compliments you on your awesome miniature PAC-MAN machine, and you can say ‘Ah – but look what ELSE it can do!’ Cue hours of pure 1980s fun.

See the official trailer from Numskull Designs below:

The 5-inch, full colour TFT screen is powered by micro-USB, making it perfect for a desk at home or work. A replica wooden shell, complete with metal detailing, shows that the cabinet is made with durability in mind. There’s also a built-in rechargable battery for gaming on the go. And in case you’re thinking ‘but it’s not going to be the original PAC-MAN that I know and love’ – think again. A bespoke emulator runs the original PAC-MAN classic for 100% accurate gameplay. In short – you get 100% PAC-MAN action in 25% of the space.

This is the first in a series of miniature arcade machines – so don’t miss out on the first release. Only 10,000 units will be sold worldwide and will be combined with an exclusive PAC-MAN coin, all boxed up in ‘Collector’s Edition’ packaging.

You can pre-order this unmissable collectors’ item from here for £149.99. It will ship in December 2018.

Happy ghost-hunting!

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Day 11: Gaming System of Choice

This is easy. This is SO EASY that I don’t even know what to write about.

I never really owned the big consoles – I had a PS2 though and fucking loved it. Crazy Taxi, anyone? Crash Team Racing? Verdi’s ‘Dies irae’ from his Requiem ain’t a rousing classical chorus for me, but the theme music to Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup. Someone give me a controller and a copy of Ratchet and Clank and that’s it, I’m gone. Bye!

I had a Gameboy Advance too and spent hundreds of hours on Pokémon Sapphire (until I lost it) and Pokémon Ruby (when my brother and I found a copy underneath the sofa in a holiday home in Cornwall with Zapdos already on it – if you’re the person who lost it, sorry not sorry).

The Wii also made an appearance in our home; my mum bought it primarily for Wii Fit, which we all did as a family. We even tried to weigh our fucking dog – the memory of my stepdad standing on the Wii Fit board in his shoes (we tried in vain to explain to him that it wouldn’t work if he kept his shoes on) holding our big collie/boxer cross in his arms while he struggled with his tongue lolling out of his mouth is etched in my memory. The first Zelda game I ever played, Twilight Princess, I played on the Wii.

I did get a Nintendo DS as a present once. I played some version of Pokémon on it and then lost it on a flight back from Morocco. Apparently my brain did a whoops when it decided the best place for me to put it so I didn’t forget it was under my seat. Needless to say the person who gave it to me wasn’t happy, and a couple of years later I bought a 3DS and I’ve been Animal Crossing it up ever since.

But my ultimate gaming system of choice is the PC. And I’m not a PC snob by any means, it was just the platform that I had most access to while growing up. I first met The Elder Scrolls on the PC, and that sealed the deal I’m afraid.

I find the keyboard and mouse combo really comfortable and intuitive. Sitting closer to the screen than with a console helps too. There are games I play that I think work better on PC, such as Dragon Age or Cities: Skylines . Being able to mod my games is a big win for me too, especially when playing the big, bug-ridden RPGs such as Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. As I said in my last post, there are game franchises such as Assassin’s Creed which I’ve only ever played on PC and would find it too difficult to move over to console now.

Can’t customise a PS4, either.

Honestly I love all forms of gaming, and my Switch is perfect for me as I travel fairly frequently. But I’m always gonna come back to the PC in the end.

Day 10: Best Gameplay

Okay, I’ll be honest; I had to Google exactly what ‘gameplay’ was.

Wikipedia describes it as ‘the specific way in which players interact with a game’, as ‘defined through the game rules, connection between player and the game, challenges and overcoming them, plot and player’s connection with it’. Graphical quality and audio are separate from gameplay; it is simply how the game is played.

Before I wrote the above paragraph I had a few ideas. I really like the style of Cook, Serve, Delicious!; originally developed by Vertigo Games as a PC exclusive, I find the keyboard-only system easy and fun to use. My brain will forever retain the information that ‘BOMG’ is the code for a salad with everything on it.

Eventually you get more and more customers making more and more complicated orders until your keyboard is a flurry of fingers rushing frantically across the letters until your family barge in and demand to know what all the banging is.

But, as I wrote the first paragraph, I realised there could only be one. It’s an obvious one, played and loved by millions of people around the globe. Developed and published by Ubisoft, it’s Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood.

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Image from Assassin’s Creed Wiki

People say that moving the controls over from console to PC is a detriment to the overall feel of the game, making it clunky and difficult to handle. But I’ve never played any Assassin’s Creed game on anything other than PC, so not only can I not tell the difference but the feeling of using WASD while also pressing down Shift and Space and pretending your hand isn’t cramping is actually rather nostalgic. In subsequent games the controls have been made simpler, meaning fewer cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, but less control over your character. Swings and roundabouts.

Combat mechanics also got a makeover since the previous Assassin’s Creed II. In the first game, street-fights were simple to the point of tedium; counter-attacks were much more powerful than if the player attacked first, meaning fights are stunted while you wait for the enemy to attack you. However, in Brotherhood, Ezio got an ability boost. Aggressive actions do much more damage, giving the player more freedom to choose their own playstyle.

A big addition in Brotherhood are the Assassin Recruits. City guards got you in a pickle? Call in some minions to help out, and they’ll fly in while still somehow keeping their hoods up. But what I really liked was being able to send them on little missions around Italy. I even made up little backstories for my Assassin gang and got really sad if they died. I just got a really good feeling out of having this army of loyal soldiers and sending them out to do my bidding, like little gremlins. Fly, my pretties, fly!

The overarching feeling I remember from Brotherhood is how the game flowed. The free-running is smooth, the climbing is satisfying both to do and to watch. Flying through the streets of Rome and coming to a corner? No worries, a handy lantern is there to fling you around and continue you on your journey. It’s easy, addictive, and beautiful gameplay.

Ezio himself is an extremely likable character, the best protagonist in Assassin’s Creed so far. And not only that, but being able to explore both 16th and 21st century Monteriggioni is such a cool experience. Desmond’s story is so engaging; I miss it, and I miss him. That dual storyline is something I really really miss in Assassin’s Creed nowadays – I understand the franchise has to move on, and I appreciate the new direction, but I can’t relate to the nameless mug who plays through the storylines of Edward, Shay, Arno, the Frye twins, etc.

I need to know who you are and what your motives are. How did you end up at Abstergo? Why are you helping the Assassins? Did you even know anything about this conflict before you got here? Who are you?

Brotherhood is the last Assassin’s Creed game that I truly truly enjoyed without any reservation. I usually try to embrace when games make a move in a new direction, especially when a franchise has been going for a long time. Stagnation is never good. But a pot that’s left boiling isn’t stagnating. I think, even after all the years since the end of Desmond’s story, that this was a mistake.

Tl:dr: Ezio & friends 5eva. ❤

Day 9: Saddest Game Scene

After literally almost a year since I posted Day 8, I think it’s pretty safe to say I failed the 30 Day Challenge.

Still, no time like the present! Today’s title is Saddest Game Scene – and while my penchant for heart-wrenching video game narratives is as strong as ever, there’s one scene that sticks out like a nail in an eyeball. My eyeball, that is. Streaming tears down my miserable face. If you’ve not yet played Life Is Strange (and for heaven’s sake, what are you doing with your life), spoilers incoming.

Life is Strange is chock-full of tearjerkers. I know several people who had to restart after failing to save Kate from jumping off the dormitory roof, too guilty to go on, not to mention the end of the fourth episode where a mystery running through the game is suddenly and miserably cleared up. Add the horrifying vision of a dead plant you over or under-watered, and you’ve got yourself one big ol’ sadness cake.

Twice the player is presented with a big choice regarding the co-protagonist: blue-haired, punk kid rebel Chloe Price. Both times the player is called upon to question their morality – and while the second choice, the final one in the game, is easy for me to make, the first one forces the player to evaluate their thoughts about terminal illness and euthanasia. I’m talking, of course, of the beginning scenes of Episode Four: Dark Room.

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Chloe, once a feisty, angry person, is now paralysed from the neck down. Her own father had originally died in a car accident, but when Max travelled back in time to stop him going out that day it seemed time had her own thoughts on the matter. Chloe was forced into a car accident instead, leaving her confined to a wheelchair and plummeting her family into medical debt.

Chloe and Max share a day together; the episode opens with them walking along the beach and stopping to admire the sunset (‘The Golden Hour,’ Max says when Chloe asks her what photographers call it). Max apologises for not being there enough, and Chloe forgives her, albeit bitterly. Her own friends abandoned her long ago.

Back in Chloe’s house, where the garage has been modified into a care room complete with a specialised bed, a huge TV and a mouth-controlled joystick for her computer, Max contemplates her actions. She knows that she is responsible for Chloe’s illness. But the Prices are a family again now she saved Chloe’s father, William – is that enough? Is it worth it? Is it better this way? Or should she go back and put the world to rights again? Eventually the girls watch Blade Runner together; Max falls asleep on Chloe’s bed.

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Morning comes, and Max wakes from a deep sleep to find Chloe wide awake, obviously consumed with thoughts. She asks Max to get a morphine injector from upstairs to soothe her head pains, and Max agrees. The living room, just off Chloe’s care room, has changed – not a lot, but enough to make a difference. There’s no money in the cookie jar anymore, just cookies. Coupons lie on the kitchen surface. The TV is tiny, and letters with medical bills lie in various places. The Price family is in bad shape, and in the middle sits William, scratching his head over a threatening letter and mumbling. It’s like seeing a ghost. By all rights, this man should be dead.

There are good things in this house as well. A figure of the Eiffel Tower sits on the desk, a souvenir from a family trip to Paris. The house is well kept, well painted, and the garden is tidied up. From the outside it looks like a normal, happy, family home. But inside, the stress is mounting.

Max exchanges conversation with both William and Joyce, Chloe’s mother, and on her way she learns that Chloe had been let go from her school, who claimed they could not adequately support her disability needs. She also learns that Chloe’s condition is rapidly deteriorating. A letter from a specialist reveals that her respiratory system will eventually shut down as her spinal condition worsens. Chloe is dying. How long does she have left?

Returning to the care room, Max attaches the morphine injector to the drip and sits with Chloe. The two go through a photo album, laughing at childhood photos and remembering days gone by. The morning sun shines through the window as Chloe takes a deep breath. Faced with the knowledge that her illness is terminal, she asks Max, and you, to do the impossible.

‘I want this time with you to be my last memory…do you understand?’

Staring through Max and into you, the player, Chloe asks you to choose.

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All you have to do is crank the IV up. That’s all you have to do. That’s all.

You can’t. What gives you the right to end someone’s life? Why should I be the one to do it? What if she isn’t capable of making her own decision? What consequences will I face for doing this? What if something happens and she gets better? You refuse to do it, and Chloe argues with you in vain. Eventually she turns her face away in disgust, accusing you of ‘bailing on [her], just like everybody else’, and sends you away.

But you can’t leave. Your friend, your best friend, asks you the biggest of all favours, the kindest of kindnesses, and you can’t do it because…why? Her condition will kill her, and soon. Should nature take its course, or is it better to let her end her life the way she wants? Is the negligible chance of her recovering worth putting her through more pain? Pain that you caused in the first place?

You love your friend. You rewind, and accept. You turn the IV up. Chloe thanks you. She tells you she loves you, praises you for following your dreams. Her eyes close. Her face relaxes. Her head drops onto her shoulder, and her breath oozes out of her.

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No matter what happens now, you have to change this. You made this mess, now you have to clear it up. Focusing on a picture of Chloe and herself as children, Max travels back to that fateful day, the one where Chloe’s father died. Instead, this time, Max doesn’t hide William’s keys. She lets him find them, lets him walk out of the door to his death. Then she tells Chloe to be strong, and promises never to leave her again. The scene ends. Photographs of Chloe and William burn up, replaced by a drizzly funeral. Photos of Joyce and William, happy and smiling, burn up also and photos of Joyce’s new husband appear in their place. William is dead. Chloe is once again bitter and angry, but alive. The world is at rights.

I think this scene is so strong because we’ve developed a personal relationship with Chloe throughout the series. Having meaningful choices in-game immerses the player in the in-game world, and even though the player themselves didn’t directly make the choice to go back, save William, and put Chloe in the wheelchair, by this time I was so engrossed with the game that any choices I made were my choices, not Max’s. Max’s mistakes were MY mistakes. Not only did Max put Chloe in the wheelchair, I did too. And so did everyone else who played this game. And now YOU have to choose what to do. And it’s not Max’s choice. It’s yours.

Choose wisely.

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Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Review

Many of us who grew up with Harry Potter have now reached adulthood and are still, for some reason, waiting for our own Hogwarts letter to arrive. The idea that we are secretly more than we think we are is a thrilling one, and even though we know it’s purely in the realms of fantasy the idea still lingers around at night before we sleep. If you could have superpowers, which one would you pick? If you woke up one day and could do magic, what would you do?

The trailers for Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery generated a lot of hype. I signed up to be notified when the game had released out of a childlike excitement for more of the story I grew up alongside, and the game, developed by LA developer Jam City and published by Portkey Games (the official Warner Brothers publisher for all HP games since 2017), released on 25th April. But, unfortunately, Hogwarts Mystery does not ‘Exceed Expectations’. It scrapes an ‘Acceptable’ at best. But an HP mobile game has been a long time coming, so let’s start with some of the good things. Because there are good things. Right? Right?!

At first, Hogwarts Mystery is quite fun to play and being able to customise your character (albeit with unforgivable restrictions) is an attractive element. The graphics and design of the game are pretty cute. It’s got a Sims like charm shown through the facial expressions of your character, for example an exaggerated, bewildered look given when your character asks a question or doesn’t know something. The palette is pretty colourful overall and it’s pleasing to look at. The story is also okay and I’m invested in finding out what happens. Character dialogue is sometimes annoying or cliché, but on the whole it’s quirky and fun to read. But…that’s about it.

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You can’t take Defence Against the Dark Arts in Hogwarts Mystery. This is, of course, a cleverly executed joke. Ha.

Hogwarts Mystery is another of those free-to-play tapping games, with the economy to match. Tap to do this. Tap to do that. Tap to make your character say they’ve done something. Tap to – oh your energy has run out. Well, you can either wait for two hours…or you can spend real money to continue playing. This is nothing new in the free-to-play market of course, but there’s one part in the game where your character is literally being strangled by vines, and if you run out of energy halfway through you just have to stay there, being slowly choked to death, while your energy meter racks back up. It’s ridiculous, and I wasn’t the only one to have that happen:

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This fellow had the perfect reaction to the constant waiting that happens in this game:

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So, did I download this game to play, or did I download it to wait? You can speed up the progress with Gems, the premium currency, but that involves spending real money. Money on something that is just going to be spent right away. Apart from various items of clothing you can buy nothing tangible, and certainly nothing that will help you long term. Your character is barely customisable, with clothing and hair items costing so much that you need to complete a stupid number of quests to be able to afford just one. New quests appear in your journal but only become available after a certain amount of time (sometimes an hour, sometimes three hours). Unless, of course, you speed it up with Gems. And so it goes. And it is such a SHAME.

I, personally, would far rather pay up to and over £5 for a completed, bullshit-free Harry Potter mobile game that didn’t try to manipulate me into spending £3 on 130 Gems. The largest purchase you can make is £86.99 for 3,125 Gems, for heaven’s sake. And given that to refill the meter completely costs around 55 Gems, speeding up an event can also cost you around 55 – 60 Gems, and some premium clothing items are upwards of 200 Gems, how far does your £87 go?

There was also a contradiction where Professor Flitwick excused me from a Flipendo lesson because I’d been caught duelling, but I was able to take the class anyway because the game required me to in order to move on. Can I get some continuity over here please?

At face value, Hogwarts Mystery is a children’s game, which makes the miserly tactics outlined above all the more deplorable. But really this game appeals to adults and young adults who can’t quite let go of the beloved series and will scrabble at another piece of the pie. And here is the crux of Hogwarts Mystery. It is designed, like many other free-to-play games, to goad you into spending real money, and they do it by creating a game with surface value but no substance. Just addiction. There are no challenges. No consequences. No game. Just a whole lot of waiting.

In response to the backlash over the microtransactions included in the game, the devs have recently blessed us with a sale on Gems. Now you can buy 575 Gems for the low low price of £6.49 – but it’s half price, so that’s okay.

I think if the people responsible for this game ever issue an apology for being such despicable money grubbers, this is what I’ll send over to them:

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Incidentally, this is the only part of the game that stands up to scrutiny. This one line.

Except that little comma between ‘you’ and ‘is’, which totally breaks the flow of an otherwise utterly savage sentence. Goddammit, is there anything good about this game?

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is available for iOS and Android and you can pick it up for ‘free’ at the App Store or the Play Store. Just be prepared for mediocrity.

Official merchandise for Ni no Kuni II: REVENANT KINGDOM available for pre-order

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If you’re awaiting the release of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom with baited breath, why not spend some time checking out some of the official merchandise, released on March 13th?

Designed by official merch firm Numskull Designs in conjunction with Bandai Namco Entertainment™, the range includes a number of wearables and collectibles that are sure to brighten up the home of any Ni no Kuni fan. With mugs, t-shirts, and a delightfully charming pin set, fans can proudly show their support for the series in glorious technicolour.

Developed by Japanese developer Level-5, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is set hundreds of years after the events of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and tells the story of Evan, a young usurped king on a quest to rebuild his kingdom. Amongst the vivid and brilliantly coloured landscape, quirky characters guide Evan on his journey, with designs by animation artist Yoshiyuki Momose and music by the renowned Joe Hisaishi (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away).

The full range of merchandise consists of:

  • Limited Edition set of 13 pin badges
  • Two drawstring bag designs
  • Heat reactive mug & world map design mug
  • Set of 12 key charms
  • Four T-shirt designs
  • Various keychains and magnets

Undoubtedly the highlight of the range is the Limited Edition pin badge set. Easily displayed on a bag, coat, or shirt, the pins can also be presented in a colourful green chest. The ultimate collector’s item, this pin set can have pride of place in your home or be a symbol of admiration for the series wherever you go.

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The range also includes four original T-shirt designs. Show your support for the cat tribe with the Leader of the Cats tee, or show your dark side with the Leader of the Mice. Two raglan shirts are also available, one with the cute but feisty spiky haired character Lofty, and one with the official Ni no Kuni II logo. All four designs are unisex and made from 100% cotton. A great choice to wear at a convention or other gaming event.

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Also included in the range are two designs of drawstring bag. This one features the beautiful cover artwork and original logo. A perfect addition to any fan’s collection, the bag is easy to open and is ideal for carrying personal belongings of all sorts.

The full range of official merchandise from Numskull Designs can be found here. Available for pre-order now from major high street and online retailers, and released on March 13th.

For more information and other gaming merch from Numskull, visit their official website.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom will be released on PC and Playstation 4 on March 23rd 2018.

Links:
Limited Edition Ni no Kuni II Pin Badge Set
T-shirts:
‘Leader of the Cats’
‘Leader of the Mice’
‘Lofty’ Raglan
Ni no Kuni II Logo Raglan
Drawstring bag:
Ni no Kuni II Artwork Drawstring Bag

‘Do I Have a Right?’ Review

This week I’ve been playing a charming little game by the civic education advocate organisation iCivics, founded in 2009 by Sandra Day O’Connor. By then, O’Connor had served 25 years on the Supreme Court of the United States, and iCivics was founded in response to what O’Connor perceived as a lack of education surrounding government practices. The aim was to increase young people’s involvement in politics and restore civic education in the American schooling system.

Do I Have a Right? was first released in 2012, but received a major overhaul in October 2017. You play a partner in a law firm and must support clients in defending their rights; first, by deciding whether they have a right in the first place, then matching them with a lawyer with the correct skills, then finally taking the case to court. Each court victory awards you prestige points, which you can use to upgrade your office and hire new lawyers. Before October 2017, players only had the option to play using the Bill of Rights (for us non-Americans, that’s the first 10 amendments in the US constitution), but after the major overhaul this was extended to include the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, and 26th amendments.

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Do I Have a Right? is educational in a fun and engaging way; the bright colours and cartoonish art style is visually attractive, and the jazzy, fast-tempo shuffle music brings an energy to what could be considered an otherwise boring subject. The effort of full voice acting further involves the player; even though the explanations given by potential clients are very simple, the game is heavily text-focused and could become tedious if the player is forced to do a lot of reading. However, the simplicity of the text does not diminish the educational quality of the game; there’s an analysis tool to help you work out if a client has a right or not, and there’s even a handy glossary to define individual words in both the claim and the amendment description. It is obvious that a concerted effort, and a gratefully received one, has been made to make the serious subject matter as digestible as possible.

Customisation is a small but important element of the game. There is the option of choosing an avatar of either gender and there is a choice of several different races. You can put glasses on your avatar and even give them a wheelchair if you choose. As the game promotes the education of basic civil rights this is an excellent instance of leading by example – the in-game description of the Fourteenth Amendment is ‘Everyone — no matter what you look like, how much money you have, or how popular you are — should be treated equally under the law‘. Including these customisation options at the beginning, as well as choosing to add the 15th, 19th, and 26th amendments (all of which deal with equality in regards to voting rights), is surely a conscious decision by iCivics to uphold the values they teach within the game.

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If you’re not sure, the Legal Eagle Case Analyzer is there to help you out.

It is a short game, being set across 7 in-game days and only taking around 40 minutes to complete. This is a shame, because once you get to the end of 7 days you should have built up a pretty little office with a full team of lawyers; to end the game there when you’ve invested in improving your skills and your firm feels anticlimactic. In the future it would be great to see a ‘Continue?’ button after the 7 days are up so you can carry on helping your clients and learning more about the rights of American citizens.

Young people can be a powerful force in the politics of any nation, and it is the people at iCivics and games such as Do I Have a Right? that are creating new ways for teenagers and young adults to become interested in the issues of today that really matter.

Do I Have a Right? is available on Android and iOS, as well as online at ww.icivics.org/games/do-i-have-right. For more information on iCivics, visit www.icivics.org.
Thanks for reading!

Switching Up Skyrim

Like many Elder Scrolls fans, I’ve been holed up in my room for the last month playing Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch. Having played it on PC since the game was released six years ago on November 11th 2011, the idea of experiencing my favourite stories, characters, music, and environment on a totally new platform was enamouring, and I became one of the presumably thousands of people to pay £50 for a game I already own.

Skryim has been described by numerous media outlets as a game that ‘just won’t die’, not least by Jim Sterling in an episode of The Jimquisition (whimsically titled ‘Fuck Skyrim‘), where he described it as ‘the cockroach of video games’. The game has been released and re-released on several platforms several times and the franchise is still going strong, so far selling nearly 43,000 copies in 2017 alone (as of October 28th 2017, so not counting the Switch sales which haven’t been announced yet), totalling up to almost four million copies sold since its release. When your elderly, bow-legged horse is still somehow winning races despite being more than a little past its prime, why stop flogging it?

This review doesn’t take into account the amiibo feature, as I, ahem, don’t own any amiibos.

Take Tamriel With You

The initial draw of Skyrim for Switch is the portability. No longer confined to your living room or bedroom, now you can take your Dovahkiin with you wherever you go. I played on a train from Utrecht to Amsterdam and then again on my return journey; a novelty that won’t soon wear off. There’s something freeing in exploring such an expansive world on a handheld device.

The battery drain isn’t as bad as I expected it would be. Knowing the enormity of Skyrim, I expected it to leech the power from my console. It took me just under three hours to run the battery dry while playing, making it perfect for a long train journey or flight. And of course, the portability of the Switch means its easy to charge up while waiting for a connection or on the go with a Switch power bank.

Immersive controls

I’ve roleplayed so many characters over the years with Skyrim. The first memorable one was Hrolfr, a patriotic Nord who revered Talos and brought the Stormcloaks victory over the Empire. After that I played as a Bosmer, with a penchant for thievery and deceit, and I’ve even tried to go out of my comfort zone and roleplay a female Orc specialising in two-handed weapons. My Switch character is Teriarvel, a Dunmer whose first port of call was the Thieves Guild in Riften, who laughs at the Daedra and abuses their artifacts, and who cares not for the Thu’um save what it can bring to him. I haven’t even touched the main quest in this game; why would he risk his neck traversing the 7000 Steps when there’s easy loot in the neighbouring town?

The point is immersion is incredibly important to me, and I always revert back to stealth based characters when I play The Elder Scrolls. Bows are my weapon of choice, and if I can sneak around a high level enemy and get them with a backstab I’m happy. But I’m used to playing on PC, using the mouse to aim precisely. I’ve never been good at aiming with controllers and this was a concern when buying Skyrim for Switch. However, I was relieved when I found that the motion controls present in the Switch were being utilised to their full potential. It is incredibly easy to aim both bows and spells in handheld mode by just moving the console around, and the lockpicking mechanic when using tabletop mode takes a little getting used to but, in the end, is intuitive and very, very fun. The joy-cons even do a little vibrate when moving the lockpick, getting subtly stronger when you’re close to the sweet spot – just enough to give you a physical tie to the virtual world, but not enough so that you feel you’re being hand-held. It is wonderfully immersive.

Back to basics

If you’re anything like me, your PC is choca with mods and improvements. From purely aesthetic mods that make the world look just a little bit better, to fully-voiced questlines to bring some more depth to the fantasy world, mods can range from the useful, to the essential bug-fixers, to the downright ridiculous. One of the first mods I installed made Nyan Cat appear in the night sky. Hmm? Oh sorry, I forgot it’s 2017 now.

But the idea of going back to a totally vanilla game was alluring to me, as I’d pretty much forgotten what vanilla Skyrim looks like. How would I cope without my invincible horses, galloping over the top of mountains so I could get to my destination as the crow flies? More seriously, how would I cope with the original stupidly-designed inventory system, with everything ordered alphabetically and no way to organise it? Sky-UI has been my saviour when it comes to easily seeing which items are worth the most, or which ones are heaviest and should be sold first.

Well, the answer is you get used to it. Yes, the inventory system is a bit clunky, but after a while there’s a certain charm in viewing the game as it was originally released. Stripping back the modifications, you’re left with the game you originally fell in love with, and that is very refreshing.

But…

There’s a reason why so many people play The Elder Scrolls on PC. It’s because the vanilla game is so full of bugs and glitches that consumers spend their own time fixing them. Not everything is rosy for Skyrim for Switch, and bugs are an issue among many.

Visually stunning (most of the time)

It’s reasonable to expect a certain degree of reduction in the graphical quality of Skyrim, considering how huge the game is and how hard the Switch has to work to accommodate it. And I’ve been really impressed with the game so far, as most of the time it doesn’t feel any different to the way I see it on my computer. The only time I notice is when viewing the landscape from on high, where the terrain texture quality is noticably reduced, and with certain characters, such as Lod in Falkreath, who has a horrifyingly cartoonish quality to his lined face that I’d never noticed before. Maybe it’s just because I’m holding the console too close to my face. Who knows.

Also expected is a certain amount of lag The Switch is powerful, sure, and it handles Skyrim very well, but I have experienced serious lag on more than one occasion. The worst was when I was in combat with three Thalmor justiciars all throwing spells at me – something about the amount of chaos that ensued was too much for the console to handle, and I lagged my way through the battle until it was over and the gameplay returned to normal. Not easy to deal with and I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done about it.

Aurally sound (except when it isn’t)

Generally, I haven’t noticed much difference in the sound quality of Skyrim for Switch. Obviously there’s a reduction in depth as the Switch speakers are just a little bit smaller than my laptop’s, but it’s not enough to make a difference. Every so often, however, I get a sudden and loud sound distortion, like white noise played staccato. Sometimes this happens once, sometimes it happens over and over again in an irritating, immersion-breaking rhythm.

It’s been 84 years

Come on, Bethesda. I’ll tolerate some bugs and glitches, but it’s the smaller ones which are the most infuriating. Skyrim has now been in existence for over six years and some of these bugs are now unacceptable when it comes to a game which has been improved and released so many times.

Personally, I’ve experienced several glitches, some which I would ordinarily correct with the console, and some which I still would have had to suck up and deal with even on PC. For example, players who have had the pleasure of entering Windhelm at night will have come across the quest ‘Blood on the Ice’, where the Dragonborn helps to solve a series of murders across the city. Some players will also be familiar with the annoying problem of having the Strange Amulet stuck in their inventory forever because they didn’t sell it to Calixto before the end of the quest. You can’t turn it into the Necromancer’s Amulet and you can’t sell it because it’s marked as a quest item. It doesn’t weigh anything, but it sits there, useless, for ever.

The addition of Hearthfire a year after the intial release of Skyrim allowed players to build their own homes, marry their favourite NPCs, and adopt children. But a niggling bug that annoyed me when I first started playing Hearthfire five years agois that none of the display cases work. You can open and close them but you can’t place anything in there. This is exceptionally annoying, and it’s even more annoying to know that I’m not the only one to bring it up, and even with all the improvements done to Skyrim over the years it’s been in existence, Bethesda haven’t ironed out even small bugs like this one. Come on, Bethesda. For a game that has been released as many times as Skyrim, it’s not really good enough. These are just two of the numerous graphical and gameplay glitches that dot the game, and unfortunately for console players there’s no way to fix any of them without reloading previous saves.

Not Enough Space

The nature of the Elder Scrolls series, as well as the popular Fallout series and other role-playing games, is that players will create several saves rather than one big one. This is to be sure that they can go back and fix a glitch if it happens, or perhaps they don’t like the decisions they made and want to go back to do something different. But I can’t get more than about 120 saves on my Switch, and that’s not enough for someone who saves roughly every 10 minutes. You can use a Micro SD card, of course, but…I don’t have one, and I resent needing to pay for an extra item so I can play.

It’s not really a huge deal if you’ve only got one character – you can delete the saves from your early game if you’re comfortable, as you’re not likely to go all the way back to the beginning if you’re already Thane of three holds and starting to rack up a nice selection of perks for your skill tree. Where it could become a problem is when you decide to create a new character alongside your first – there is the option to choose which character you want to play as in the save menu, so to be able to do that sucessfully you need to have the storage capacity to cope with double the amount of data, or you’ll be spending a lot of time freeing up space and losing possibly valuable saves.

I love Skyrim. I love the whole Elder Scrolls universe. So even though there are some annoying aspects such as the lack of bug-fixing, they’re vastly outweighed by the ability to take my favourite game series away with me. I hope that they will continue to improve the experience for Switch players. But at the moment, I’m just happy that I can shoot a dragon down from the sky while waiting for the bus to work.

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Day 8: Best Soundtrack

As a musicologist, this one is quite close to my heart. My music taste in general is quite eclectic so, as is slowly becoming a theme of these blog posts, it’s really really hard to narrow down. I have to choose between the music I listen to at the gym (lol when I actually went), to the music that makes me nostalgic, to the music that has challenged me intellectually, to the music that is just plain fun. It’s honestly really really hard. There aren’t many soundtracks from games that I’ve disliked.

I can’t choose.

Right, there’s going to be three categories to this, okay? Most EffectiveMost Energising, and Most Nostalgic. Because there are so many incredible soundtracks out there that I can’t just pick one and know in my heart of hearts that it’s the right one.

Most Effective: Dead Space – Jason Graves

An exceptionally well known composer by any standard, Graves has written music for all three games in the Dead Space series as well as the critically acclaimed 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. I studied a few tracks from this soundtrack as part of my undergraduate dissertation on music for horror games, and Jesus Christ does it get the job done. I don’t think Dead Space would be half as scary without the endless pedal notes and an echo effect like you’re in the biggest cave ever and it’s slowly dawning on you that it’s actually the mouth of an enormous, hideous creature.

Dead Space is set in the 26th century on an abandoned mining spaceship, the USG Ishimura. Soon after picking up the Ishimura’s distress call, the protagonist (an engineer by the name of Isaac Clarke) is thrust into a life-or-death battle as he navigates through the deserted vessel, facing heavily mutated corpses, called Necromorphs, who follow Isaac as he attempts to repair the ship. The ship itself is vast, with large open spaces combined with hugely claustrophobic corridors that restrict the player’s vision. The ambient tracks of the soundtrack are equally as expansive, with high pitched tones that seemingly come from nowhere.

In contrast, the combat music of Dead Space is erratic and percussive, designed as a jump-scare (sometimes considered a cheap shot but effective for people like me who literally can’t think of anything less exciting or erotic than being fucking terrified). When the Necromorphs show themselves at the beginning of the game, the player is treated to a short extract of ‘The Necromorphs Attack’, a lovely accompaniment to the unarmed and unarmoured Isaac running blindly down a corridor to escape the heavily mutated corpses vying for his blood. Graves makes heavy use of syncopation (emphasising off-beats, making the music sound irregular and unpredictable) and also has a large array of percussion with different timbres and pitches. In the original soundtrack (not sure if it’s heard in-game) there’s a slow bit in the middle where the violinists tap on the body of their instrument, which makes the relaxing sound of many crawling legs along a hard surface. Yeuch.

Anyone who’s played Dead Space may agree with me that after you’ve played for a while you sort of get the effect it’s going for and the jump scares wear off. That includes the musical ones. It’s unfortunate that this soundtrack is so polarised; it’s either super ambient and creepy or it’s STAB STAB MURDER TIME, with not much in between. Because of this, the effect is somewhat lost after a while, a real shame for hardcore horror fans but great for people like me who don’t particularly enjoy having the shit scared out of them.

Most Energising: Bastion – Darren Korb

Before I dive into why this soundtrack is literally the best gym music ever, have a look at this artwork.

bastion

How. Fucking. Beautiful. Is That. It was created by illustrator and graphic designer Marie Bergeron, and it depicts the protagonist and playable character, The Kid. The colours are glorious and I find his eyes so expressive.

As relaxing as the artwork is, the music itself is anything but. It’s a steampunk, bluesy, six-stringed adventure that fits perfectly with the aesthetic of Bastion. Relentless drums drive the music forward, and the combination between live instruments and electronic sound makes for an engaging listening experience.

Bastion begins with the protagonist, The Kid, waking up in his bed after some sort of apocalyptic event called the Calamity. It’s never explained what the Calamity is, but it’s left most people in Caelondia dead. It’s The Kid’s job to find and restore the Bastion, a sanctuary. It’s a platform game with a unique art style and a deep backstory which takes a bit of getting into, but eventually will lead you to a choice that tests your courage and moral compass.

The best track on the soundtrack by far is ‘Setting Sail, Coming Home’, which plays at the end credits. I won’t give any spoilers, but it can only be appreciated by hearing two other songs in the game, as ‘Setting Sail, Coming Home’ is a combination of the bluesy ‘Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme)’ and the solemn, regretful lamentation of ‘Mother, I’m Here (Zulf’s Theme)’. The two are beautiful in themselves, revealing more about the characters of Zulf and Zia, but together they bring not just the close of the game but an indication of the hardship suffered by the race of people Zulf and Zia belong to, the Ura. It’s a beautiful ending to the game.

I’ve forgotten that I was supposed to be giving this soundtrack the award for Most Energising. Well, it’s really good to jog to, probably because of the constant driving beat that keeps the momentum going forward. I’m also one of those people that has to walk or run to the beat of my music, and this is at a BPM that won’t leave me collapsed on the floor.

Here’s the full soundtrack on YouTube:

Most Nostalgic: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – Jeremy Soule

If you’re surprised, you really shouldn’t be. You really shouldn’t be.

Actually I get the feeling that you’re not surprised, you’ve just got a dull sense of ‘oh god not this again’.

Well, it’s true. It IS the most nostalgic, to the point where I get a whiff of the main theme and my heart rate goes up like a kid who’s just seen a lollipop the size of their head. I get little heart eyes. Alright, big massive heart eyes.

And why shouldn’t I? The first beat of ‘Reign of the Septims’ always makes me so unbelievably excited, remembering my teenage years when I discovered RPGs. Fantasy has always been such an escape for me, and that first theme embodies everything I loved about the game.

I recently transcribed ‘Reign of the Septims’ for my Masters dissertation and it was no mean feat. There’s a heavy echo effect which makes it difficult to hear, and there are so many layers that I had to work hard to isolate them all in my brain. It took hours, and all the while I was there having a total geek out because I’ve never really listened to the track before.

If you fast forward to 1:49 on the video above, you’ll hear ‘Through the Valleys’, which is a re-orchestrated version of ‘Silt Sunrise’ from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Soule orchestrated it again for Skyrim, and it’s my favourite track of all three games. It compliments the vast landscape and entices you to explore. ‘Look at this’, it says. ‘Look at the wonder before you, and all there is beyond. Go. Discover.’ With surging strings pushing the music forwards and woodwinds adding colour and interest, this track gives me a mixture of so many feelings. Nostalgia is just one of many.

Well, this is officially the longest post I’ve written so far, so if you’ve made it down here, thank you so much for reading and please comment below or tweet me at TCasualGamer with any and all thoughts. I’m always excited to hear about other people’s favourite game soundtracks, as they can be so personal so often. I’m really grateful that video game music can give me a emotional experience like no other music can.

 

 

Day 7: Favourite Game Couple

I’m sure I’ve shipped so many game couples together that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Especially since my attention span for games is quite limited once I lose interest. Additionally, lots of my favourite couples aren’t explicitly stated as couples at all, such as Max Caulfield and Chloe Price from Life Is Strange, who I think most people shipped so hard they were out of the docks and zooming across the Channel before anyone could say ‘canonical same-sex love interest’. In all honesty, I haven’t played many games with canon couples that haven’t been RPGs, and I feel that any romantic options in that case sort of don’t count for this question. For example, if I’m playing a Nord in Skyrim I usually find myself attached to Lydia, the player’s Nordic housecarl who’ll protect you with her life. However, if I’m playing anything other than a Nord, I grow tired of Lydia’s constant bellowing of ‘Skyrim belongs to the Nords!’ and quite soon send her off to keep my house clean. Screw you, Lydia, and screw your racism.

Instead, I’m going to pick a couple in a game that elated me, touched me, and broke my heart. You wouldn’t think that a passport-checking simulator could possibly be interesting, and oh boy, would you be wrong. My favourite game couple is Sergiu Volda and Elisa Katsenja from the BAFTA award winning Papers Please.

Papers Please follows one month in the life of a border security guard for the fictitious Eastern Bloc style country of Arstotzka. This sounds easy enough; let in the people with correct documents, send away the rest. However, the player soon finds themselves with many choices to make – the more people processed, the more money you make for your family. You have bills to pay and food to buy, as well as medicine costs. You choose whether to put your family’s life over everything else, even if that means denying entry to a family without the correct documents, sending them back to the war-torn country they came from. Your compassion is not, however, without consequence. For every incorrect process (if you let in someone you shouldn’t or refuse someone with the correct documents), you incur a monetary penalty. The survival of your family depends on you not making mistakes.

Sergiu appears on Day 17; he is a guard assigned to the Arstotzkan checkpoint to assist with security in response to several terror attacks. It is possible for him to die before meeting his girlfriend Elisa, so the player must keep him alive by using the tranquilliser gun to neutralise any threats before they reach Sergiu (in his initial greeting he says that his aim isn’t what it once was).

If he’s still alive, Sergiu eventually approaches the player, gives them a locket with Elisa’s picture and asks you to let her through, despite her not having the correct documents. Tensions have been high since Arstotzka and the neighbouring country of Kolechia ended the Six-Year-War, which is where Sergiu and Elisa, a Kolechian citizen, met and fell in love. The way he talks about her is adorable and he’s been presented as a pretty nice guy so far. Elisa comes to the checkpoint the next day and you can either choose to let her through or turn her away.

If Sergiu dies before this point, Elisa will say that there is nothing for her in Arstotzka anymore and walks away from the checkpoint. If he is alive, and the player lets her through, she will pass through the checkpoint and walk towards Sergiu. When she is about halfway down, Sergiu will notice her and the two will run towards each other, embrace, then Elisa will walk south out of sight and Sergiu returns to his post. Awh.

Elisa_and_sergiu.jpg

Elisa and Sergiu reuniting. Image from http://papersplease.wikia.com/wiki/Elisa_Katsenja

It’s hugely heartwarming, in a game that is so bleak and grey, where the sprites are associated with suicide bombers and shootouts, to see an expression of love, and this honestly made me so so happy.

You still have to keep Sergiu alive, though. At the end of this day there is another terrorist attack, and if you’re not quick Sergiu will die. That’s what happened in my first game. I had to replay the day because I couldn’t go on knowing that Elisa and Sergiu were so close to their happy-ever-after. Heartbreaking.

The next day, Sergiu will come to your booth and ask you for the locket back. He also tells you that tomorrow he is being transferred, so that’s the last you see of him. There are so few friends in this game that it’s easy to get attached, and Sergiu is so nice and genuine that it was a bittersweet goodbye.

You can, of course, deny Elisa entry, in which case Sergiu will come to the booth and demand the locket back angrily. He then leaves without a word. You heartless bastard.

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