Category Archives: Gaming

Assays, Articles, Game-play, anything and everything related to Gaming

PopCon, IN, USA 2017

Being present at two pop culture events 8203 miles apart (miles!!! Yes. I’m in USA now) in the same year; both generating the polar opposite emotional response in a manner representing their geological diversity along with distance quoted above, could also be classified as event itself. While the former was tepid, same, boring with few exceptional burst of joy (check the blog here), other was stuffed to the brim with nostalgic, modern, novel and absolute maddening fan service events to the point of bursting out.

Above para also explained the dormancy of my blog for so long. First event I mentioned was ComicCon 2017, Pune, India while the other is PopCon 2017, Indianapolis, USA. Last week I got chance to visit the same during my probably long future working sojourn in USA.

Before I proceed further, first check out below amazing display of Cosplay culture presented by visitors. Please bear the fact that it was such classic display of geekiness which acts as an energy induced plasma to make the fun event more energetic besides professional Cosplayers.

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Merchandise galore; what was more prominent was the milieu of artists and writers of the pop culture world with their latest and best. With pack line of famous artists and TV stars available for signing events along with chit-chat with their devoted fans to you-tubers and twitch channel artists marketing their prowess in digital world what made the PopCon event true to its name.

If I have to describe the event in single word, I would shout “Nostalgia”. Rows of Arcade machines staked up for young generation to gobble up retro-feeling in large area was one of the prime attraction. Stores selling old Gameboys along with prized old titled cartridges along with comic vendors selling old comic runs 1$ each was meant for collectors and aficionados alike. In one large corner I saw rows of players getting their hands on most primeval way of gaming: Board-games. Hexagonal dice and character sheets of Settlers to D&D to civilization, played equal part role with massive rooms dedicated to competitive gaming on large with CoD, Overwatch and many more to entertain the mass. It was enchanted amalgamation of old and new.

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For me, event reached its nerd peak when I found the store of Troma movies along with none other than Lloyd Kaufman himself (I also picked up two movies personally signed by him). Troma movie is the satirical mixture of overtly used grindhouse, splatter, sex, nudity, violence and other 50’s themes in almost superficially farcical way.

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I bought Gaiman to Teen-Horror “Tomie” to R rated Troma movies

The event regarding to pop culture won’t have Star Wars fans is always unusual and hence a whole Star Wars section was dedicated to their fans to get their universe together. Separate section was having Yo-Yo tricks competition for kids and young ones. Indie game developers also got their chance to showcase upcoming or in-development titles to get instant user feedback.

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Yes, Force wants you to join next time.

I would like to end reporting on such spectacular event on its most prominent note which make it unique; uniqueness itself, whether among people who make them differ to established social norms or artists who made their own niche against usual career approaches. These people are rare and unique. Most of the time hiding their instincts against pressure of outer world and due to aloofness but when come to such event they found out that there is lot many like him/her. Let’s not differ. Let’s celebrate. Kudos to fan’s CosPlay for such boldness.

Till next event……………………….

 

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Comic Con 2017 – Pune,India

“More of the Same.” is befitting summary to this years’ Comic-Con, Pune 2017. As if venue and layout almost matching to the last year’s event, there was no variety in terms of shops and merchandise also baring few surprises.

Comic-Con is always celebratory conglomeration of the geeks, nerds and all the fantastic not-so-fit-in-social-conceptions individuals. At the same time Comic-Con is social event all in all. It is fun and frolic event as any other. It can be enjoyed equally by comic enthusiast as well as all of those who believe in superhero fantasy; children and adults alike. Not wasting too much time in establishing the Comic-Con’s reputation as it will always be regarded as celebration with likes of the festival by its devoted fans. Though I would rate this year’s Comic-Con held at Pune, India as lukewarm.

Start was made as ideal as it could be for any Comic-book and DC fan with free giveaway of DareDevil poster for each entrants at ticket pickup counter. Considering the sitcom and binge-watching on rise in India, AXN has grabed the opportunity with both hands to market it with life-size billboards propped at every corners. And usual flair continued then onwards.

Outside the dome same colorful Maruti Alto who is official sponsor of Comic-Con, India displayed which was surprising for those who were first-timers but failed to excite me. Same large Comic-Con peculiar poster to get yourself photographed for future memoirs was also present. Inside the dome, I had deja vu of shops selling same merchandise for fans such as t-shirts, masks, fancy accessories and all other “not so easily available superhero stuff”. Surprisingly, very few shops dedicating to actual comic books which was disappointment for me. In fact only single shop by Crossword book store selling famous DC comics. It was small section and frankly there was no variety in collection also. I could see all those titles which I already owned or read before. I was hoping to lose myself in comic shops this time to find some hidden gems. Alas, no such opportunity presented. Indian comic-shops also selling the same old comics with no new-arrival announcements. Somehow I had the feeling that everyone was going through their zombie-routine to finish the act and not interested in catching the attraction of the audience.

After so much bickering about down-points, let’s move to good points now. Rows of screens connected to high-end consoles (mostly PS4) for visitors to battle out competitive gameplay either against human opponents or AI was always good sight to behold. Along with usual tropes like FIFA and NFS, Battlefield 1, Titenfall2 and Uncharted 4 were more than satisfactory. Promotional booths erected for just released movies Logan and upcoming Indian epic fantasy Baahubali 2 were, I must confess, novel addition. You could live out your fantasy with available props for a while and to be immortalized in digital photo (especially cool for social media update aficionados). Best part and the real highlight for me which has acted as fuel to warm this event review from completely “cold” to “lukewarm” was 30 seconds short animated VR experience (Setup mojo was Radeon Fury with Oculus gear).  AXN booth also held some fun activities such as shooting with blind and passing through laser a la Entrapment imitation to attempt and win goodies.

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At last, let’s not forget the most appealing aspect of Comic-Con anywhere in the world; Cosplay. Fans were fabulous again with their Cosplay as usual considering heat already making news here in India at start of summer . I witnessed lot more variants also amidst all-time favorite lot like Jokers, Batman, Star Wars characters and all. As far as special guest concerns, world-famous artist of V for Vendetta, David Lloyd had graced the occasion with his mild presence and signing event.

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David Lloyd-Prime attraction of this year’s ComicCon

All in all, I am still having mix feelings for this years’ Comic Con. And my disappointment is purely due to comics themselves were put aside to give more emphasize on commercialization of other merchandise. Which was not bad idea but fans like me still want to scour through multiple outlets completely devoted to comics and emerge with something which,doesn’t matter if old or new, but it must be fresh.

Game on…

Numbers are dry; drier than the Sahara desert. But at the same time, as all statisticians and analysts agree, numbers are the perfect lenses to observe the trend and future predictions. Best way to click the perfect picture and see what is out of focus and what caught the center of frame for any business trends and market in general. Every year ESA (Entertainment Software Association) come out with data encompassing sales, demographic and usage in terms of entertainment software, in short, gaming. I blogged about it before here with my own insights. After almost 2 year back let’s take measure again and see how deep the rabbit hole is. Let’s start.

Average game player age is 35 indicates that I have a couple of years more before I go out of the league. Though the fact that 26% gamers are 50+ years; almost catching up with younger competitors (Under 18 years-27%) and prime age personas(18-35 years-29%). I have all the sympathy with mid-life crisis sufferers (36-49 Years-18%).

Gender demographic is almost equally balanced with obvious minor lead for male (59%) over female (41%).

52% gamers believe that games are better over Movies, DVDs, Music etc. when it comes to value for money. And I completely agree with them. Take example of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from Polish developer CD Project RED. Even though I pre-ordered and bought all DLC without discounted price, the main game contents itself spanning over 200-300+ hours of game-play excluding DLCs and other tons of goodies. Combine that with AAA quality graphics and RPG engagement and it will be free deal on sale prices.

48% gamers are social gamers. Now that is very contradicting statement when you use “social” and “gamer” in single statement. But I think this is because of lot many co-op and family games available nowadays on console as well as on mobile platforms. It shows smartphones share 36% of all gaming devices with my favorite PC topping the chart with share of 56%.

In terms of co-op, gamers still prefer to have friends at their side rather than family members, parents and spouse/GF/BF in that particular order of receding preference. However anti-social still most of the world believe games are, 51% gamers believe that games help them connect to their friends on regular basis. However anti-educational still most of the world believe games are, 75% gamers believe that games are more mentally stimulant and educational than other “stuff”.

As predicted 2 years back in similar kind of post here, VR is the next in thing for future gaming. Considering 40% gamers ready to buy VR devices in one or the other way, it’s becoming “game” changing scenarios for future developments.

Only 11% M-ratings games compared to 37% E-rating in the year of 2016 also shows how diverse the gaming is becoming. And why the rise of family games. Gaming has stopped becoming geeky-business anymore. There is also shift in accepting the effects of gaming on child’s upbringing. 68% parents believe that it’s positive part of the life. 62% parents themselves participate in gaming sessions with their offspring.

Shooter and action genre still dominate almost 45% of all the genre available on the market. But when it comes to PC, strategy is topmost choice for 34.4% gamers. Notably RPGs also occupying 18.7% share in terms of PC gaming. It’s always difficult to play strategy and RPG without keyboard/mouse combo.

As support to my previous consumerism blog, data shows that 18% gamers buy game titles if it belongs to some continuing series or looks familiar. Though still biggest factor in influencing the consumption is price: 21%. That explains peak buying during winter/summer/autumn sales going on all the time on digital distribution sites. Quality of graphics has lost its charm though with all the new Indie but well-designed and immaculately conceived ideas. No need to have life-like graphics to get immersion.

Total consumer spend in the year of 2015 is 23.6bn $. No need to say that digital format is the best deal for distributors. Comparing to 2010 where physical format was having its golden days with 71% market share, now, in 2015 it’s reduced to mere 44%.

Magical future still awaits. No one has predicted that future holds such fantasy as living and playing out your dreams literally.

References:

http://www.theesa.com/article/2016-essential-facts-about-the-computer-and-video-game-industry/

http://www.theesa.com/

http://www.theesa.com/article/more-than-40-million-americans-age-50-plus-play-video-games/

 

Consumerism & Gaming

“Consumerism is a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.” – Wikipedia.

I was rifling stacks of digital shelves teaming with gaming titles in my Steam library along with GOG to choose next best gaming title to be installed after completing SOMA.  Honestly, it was and is becoming most “stressful” decision-making process. In upcoming years, it’s going to get worse as I realized my “to-be-played” game list is ever-increasing tail of snake in that classic old Snake game we used to play longingly on our handhelds. Only exception is, no “Game Over” in sight. Even though I somehow able to run through all titles bought by me on current date basis for single play through, there is much more fodder to chew upon for next few years. Forget about second runs. Co-op and multiplayer also not counted. Is such consumerism good for Gaming industry?

I am no economist. On a chilled winter night, having discussion with one of my colleague-cum-friend, he raised the topic of consumerism and impact of the same on our daily lives. If I count myself conservative for consumer goods, I am extremely likely opposite of it when games and books come into picture. Currently Gaming industry is booming billions dollar business globally. In USA and European countries along with few technology-forward Asia-Pacific countries like Korea and Japan, buying games is quite mainstream. But in developing countries like India it’s still in lower gear, accelerating gradually. Credit goes to digital distribution model and inclusion of local currencies. Steam has almost claimed the market with local currency model and all the deals cropping up on regular basis. Other digital distributor also going to follow the trend soon. Still Consumerism won’t hold the same meaning when we are talking about Gaming Industry as there are some peculiar features which can only be applicable to Gaming. Here I would like to focus on PC and console gaming which is comparably more expensive than mobile or F2P model.

Pricey Affair: First and foremost, though user base is quite diverse, Gaming is considered as prime hobby, kind of expensive which could only be claimed by upper or upper-middle class. Average price of the high-end Consoles are approximately 35-42% of per capita income if we consider latest figure of 93,000 Rs. To build high-end gaming PC would cost much more than that. Price of newly launched Console title costs around 4000 to 5000 Indian rupees which is  almost 5% of per capita income. So, gamers are reluctant to buy new title right away if price is on higher side. They tend to wait out till some discounted price is on offer. And that is quite good approach when it comes to gaming as though shelf-life is short, lifespan of a typical title lasts very much longer. There is always something else on offer on lower price tag to satisfy the itch. And that’s when hoarding starts. As a Gamer you want to acquire titles during sale even though you didn’t have time to play as tempting slashed prices are too good to ignore. As soon as you see title with 50-60% price of the original, you right away make your mind to play the game at later date and buy it now. Series and franchisee loyalty also play big part in buying the title. For publishers, new IP is always difficult decision. It takes some time to get traction.

Value for Money: It’s always debatable topic that when should gamer be satisfied in terms of value for money. In gaming, user or consumer is active part of the value. In simpler terms, I might be perfectly happy with short but quality game-play. On the other hand others might not feel satisfied with hours and hours of content. Genre also play the bigger role here. One don’t want to have RPG of 10-12 hours of total gameplay. Contrary to that, 10-12 hours of FPS gaming is more than enough. In short, Gamers are specific buyers. They know their genre well. To draw new consumers is entirely different beast. Though genres also applied to other media like movies and books but they get advantage of peer-review and mouth-to-mouth publicity. Also you don’t have to invest yourself completely to experience them. In Gaming, you won’t take others word for your experience. There are examples of flawed gems where patchy designs actually enhances the gameplay so much that these titles are now considered as cult. STALKER series, Deadly Premonition are few to name.

Sliced: This brings us to sale and discounted prices. And consumer market is same as for other consumer goods. If particular title on discounted price, there is always chance of picking up the sale. And all consumers are attracted towards slashed prices. Gamers no different. Though it’s always difficult to perform valuation in the first place. Softwares or services tends to have various business models and choosing the correct one makes all the difference. Weather to go for F2P or premium package or MMO with gradual contents or go for low-investment cost mobile gaming, are just basic inception ideas Publishers/Developers have to face. Though most of AAA studios back their breads on many burners, kick-starters and Indie developers had gained much appreciated welcome to introduce their own quality flavor. Economic model and value chain of Gaming industry itself is vast topic. I would take that up in future series of blogs.

No Pay, No Gain: I have already put emphasis before on the fact that you need to fuel the economic engine by paying up fair if you don’t want your favorite entertainment to be vanished from market. Paying up for indie development also encourage more quality and passion-driven projects. Game lovers like me do this often. Long list of “to-be-played” games are fair proof of that.

Mumbai Comic Con 2015

One more checkbox is ticked off from the back of the game box titled “Real Life” where all the desires and dreams are listed out to make the “Life” worth “buying”. To attend expos which has “Comic” as their main subject was one of my desire; at east once in a lifetime. As planned out, I was proficient enough this time to attend my first-ever Comic Con held in Mumbai, India on 19-20 December 2015. And how was that, you may ask. I must admit, considering anticipation and excitement, saying that it was fun is gross understatement. It was blast. Though not as big and thundering as its western counterpart, but still noisy enough to notice with mouth wide open in utter amazement.

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Yes, that tiny happy fleck bursting with joy is me

Getting up at 4:00 in the morning and catching a cab for 3 hour drive to reach testosterone imbued highly energetic and insomniac city of Mumbai was refreshing enough to wear down all the lethargy and laziness of the early start. Reaching to venue well in advance of more than 3 hours has its own advantage of seeing volunteers and management completing the necessary activities before the fun begins. Amid handsome faces and beautiful hearts, Comic Con was guaranteed to be as exciting as expected even before it started. When it really started it was more than what I expected. While entering, I was no different than that ogling child jumping with joy and happiness at each new encounter along with us with it’s parents. There is no age of fandom; there is no age bar for Comic Con.

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Super Fan pass for both days has already sold out a month before.

Cos Play on high note, Announcements aired incessantly from various booths and mingling and adding to the cacophony of others, people pouring in from everywhere to get glance of the new on offer and takeaways, superhero quizzes and competitions getting the attention, large center stage accompanied with necessary technological advancements for latest release and special guest interviews, everyone trying to imitate superhero/villain belonging to both DC and Marvel, Plethora of “Jokers” (Most of Heath Ledger version) floating around, superb Indian sketch talent on display with send artist also pitching in, Pop culture dripping out from every nook and cranny; All fitting well to produce the ambience of new and different. It was courageous winning effort for Indian artists and all the publishers of Indian comics. It is not easy to find so true fandom and geekiness, all gathered and geared up among mass of billions until such events. It was special. Like belonging to brotherhood. Feeling is of absolutely satisfaction and joy that so many people are like you and you are not alone.

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If anyone need Medic due to high anticipation stress….
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Harley Quinn was getting popular with DC’s new 52 Suicide Squad comic series along with upcoming movie
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Best platform to display your sketching and drawing skills
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Unfortunately this was only for promotion and not for sale.

At last, I must also make special note on guest available at this year’s extravagant Comic Con. There were three international guest from Rob Denbleyker (Author: Cyanide and Happiness), Joe Harris and Gavin Aung Than (Zen pencils); Also special guest appearance by Sylvester Mccoy (Actor: Doctor Who and in The Hobbit as Radagast). Along with this there were many Indian artists to interact with such as Vivek Goel (Who’s amazing personal persuasion convinced me to buy entire “Aghori” series), Shamik Das Gupta, Abhijeet Kini, Saumin Patel, Reshmi Chandrashekhar, Leena Swamy and many more.

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Launch of new Indian title
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One of my friend has put up so genuine deranged look and style that if Nolan would have encountered him then he must have planned for Dark Knight 2
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Yaa…right. When exiting the Con, I was considerably lightweight with joy and of wallet.
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Resting out super villain personas for little refreshments.

Kickstarting the Old engine

Pillars of Eternity

I am very much obliged and indebted to Kickstarters; a way of crowdfunding the project with support of zealot fans. And if you are fan of old school RPGs than you must also feel the same. With the release of Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian has proved their mettle on crafting massive yet engaging RPG. This proves that what can very very talented crew can do once they were given free rein. Even though lot many failures in mind, few Kikstarter gems like Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original sin, Dreamfall chapters, Pillars of eternity and many more has just created torrents of wind in the sail of crowdfunding. Anyhow it’s happy-happy situation for both parties as creators getting their hard work rewarded in monetary aspect as well as getting the recognition on larger scale; and consumers can spent money on what they want to play and in turn take part in building good-quality product through feedback and beta testing. Kickstarter is also great way of treading waters before plunging right away into risky Gaming Ocean.

Apart from quality products major influence of such kickstarting projects are revival of old titles, especially old school RPG has gained a lot. Never was I so excited to play old Fallout series along with classic old Wasteland until Wasteland 2 got released. Due credit to these creators on never wavering away from producing old school RPG nostalgia for their true fans. Just when I thought that Gaming is getting drifted towards more pixel crunching, high definition, high resolution, graphics intensive scale; titles like Wasteland 2 and Pillars of eternity has kicked the scale in other direction in the year 2014-15. It also proved that excellent writing is old horse but experience one and you can safely bat on it without losing the money. It’s so good to visualize the atmosphere through pixel produced text rather than pixel crunching GPU rendered atmosphere. (There are two most appealing aspects to me in the life; Gaming and Reading. So anything which can combine the both in most innovative and brilliant manner is must for me. I loved those DA:O lore. I loved to read Skyrim books. I absolutely adored so many text dialogues in Planscape: Torment. Alas for that you need to have highly intelligent character and that’s what I have done.)

RPGs have come a long way since its inception. D&D pen and paper RPGs were purely text based and still lot more fun. Even though 90’s were dominated by FPS gaming, RPGs managed to hang on with help of classics like System Shock 2, Deus Ex, Baldurs Gate, Neverwinter nights, WoW etc. But there were less and less of party based RPGs. Bioware has somehow managed the light from extinguishing with release of Dragon Age: Origins having party based strategic combat at core (It’s altogether sad that they lost track with series to put emphasis on mass appeal). Bethesda has started different kind of RPG strand with Elders Scroll series which was deep and complex and at the same time approachable by many. With Fallout3 and New Vegas, RPG has completely donned new “Avatar” which was entirely different from old school text-heavy predecessors. Mind you, all these modern RPG titles has retained the flavor of RPG for sure. Still there was XP to be earned, points to be allocated, quests to be solved, character to be developed, alternate solution to be found and all the tropes of RPG; but I feel that somehow in introducing and hence using the new graphics hardware those nostalgic text-based adventures were replaced. Heavy tactical combat was compromised. (BTW I am big fan of Elders scrolls and Fallout of Bethesda as they had pulled me into RPG black hole at that time and still time froze than onwards). Titles like Deus Ex:HR and Borderlands have combined few more game types resulting in movie like quality of non-stop fun and action. And those turn based strategic old school RPG were left alone for resurrection which was possible through new god; Kickstarter.

With the release of successive attention grabbing cRPG titles, can we say that computer gaming is getting back to the old route? I prefer to say Gaming has just found new route running parallel to the current expressway of AAA titles. Love to see these old school RPGs getting appreciated and played well by gaming community. This in turn going to result in many more Kickstarter projects resurrecting and/or creating new cRPG games in old school way. And if you are new to RPG than what are you waiting for, gather your party and move…………………

Half-Life – A tribute

No. It’s not that I am having self-realization of lived through whole of my life with ever-approaching old age and now getting into that “past tense” mode where you always want to compare current events against old beautiful and majestic moments; Keep cussing the present and wallowing in “those beautiful days”. This is not my trait though. Daily 2 to 3 hours commuting via ever increasing dominant traffic provides that time leverage in which my subconscious could breed ideas for blogging. I was always looking forward to pay tributes to active agents which had drastically changed the “chemical equation and interactions” of my life; converting, transforming and in some way attributing something utterly different to final result what could have been straight forward “simple life”. Like lead to gold conversion, these agents had power to imbue my life substance with forever gloving, unique and never to be forgotten memories which needs a bit of spit and polish and there they shine again like a gem in the gold.

Half-life is one of the many gems. If there was no Half-life, I would have never became gamer (I can hear people passing the sneer as that would have been quite better :). Half-life has injected me with the gaming-drug whose effects were never going to be receded over time. What was so good about it? I can rant memoir justified via book and not via single article as answer, but I would like to restrict this blog particularly to my own views and perceptions which made Half-life special to me. You can find a lot about Half-life on the web as lot has been written and bragged about it, proving how great leap it was in terms of computer gaming.

Introductory text crawling in and out of the screen along with moving metro-coach like contraption; slowly sliding along the rails, giving glimpses of claustrophobic dim-lit underground lab facility to vast open and altogether bizarre experiments. My cut-scene conditioned mind was never ready to grasp the in-game carefully crafted game-engine driven story telling. I still remember the surprise when by mistake I pressed movement keys to check if something was going on and my all-time favorite FPS protagonist: Gordon Freeman was moved in coach’s confined space without any resistance from game-design. And that was the most prolific point of Half-life in that era. You were never out of the game. All those story driven cut-scenes were played out in front of you without making you a mock spectator; everything in first person perspective. Even after so many years million CoD games had not able to create such easy control. It was never forced.

90s was era of FPS gaming where such take on story was absent. You start the game and start killing whatever moves. Another surprise (And Half-life was packed with such surprises) was that you start the game with nothing. In those days, few of my friends along with me were utterly confused with what to do once we finished off with that “long driving sequence”. My mind was also conditioned not to listen to babble of NPCs in FPS as it didn’t mean anything in terms of playing and also I was not much into English at that time due to study in regional language and having English as minor language (Remember, it was era without commercial internet and almost 10 years more to start the economical smartphone uprising). All those tumbles acted as fuel to curiosity towards playing Half-life and also raised awareness to great Gaming world.

“Freeman, we don’t know how much time this will take…..”  How could I forget these lines!!!!?? It could have been eternity, If Freeman would have not chosen to drag that trolley and perform the experiment. And that’s where Half-Life shines like sun, I spent almost 20-30 minutes jumping, observing, falling (from ladder) and listening to continuous babble of scientific talk till my curiosity ran out. At last I dragged the trolley to desired destination causing the rift (Resonance Cascade in Half-Life terms) which was going to result in more than half of my life’s commitment towards Gaming. Pure chaos, ducking through bone-cutting lasers, first headcrab appearance without any weapon and of course the crowbar. These were the defining moments which had haunted the nights of many at that time (And still doing it).

Talking about haunted memories, Half-life must be the only game which has succeeded to shit my pants in broad daylight (even current lot of survival horror titles are not up to this mark). Ok, I accept that I was not grown enough at that time as compared to now but still fear instilled by half-life was potent enough to anyone who is just foraging their way through digital entertainment to make them paralyze and cower away from computer terminal in sheer horror. Among couple of moments I can think of, first was definitely The Tentacle Beast. I was so afraid of it that at first I tried to finish it off within off-limits to the beast, expending all my ammunition even though I knew it was never going to work out and there had to be different way. I was so stressed out not to twitch my mouse while silently skulking around that beast so that it would accidently not turn Freeman to see the beast. And ladders, I was never ever afraid these much while climbing up and down the ladders during presence of the beast. With the beast breathing at your neck (yes, you can feel dampness and hotness caressing your neck), missing single rung on the ladder would be instant death. Even with multiple deaths and handy quick save, fear was relentless. I will always be afraid of Tentacle Beast.

Other most paralyzing and brutal on my nerves encounter was Gonarch’s Lair. As if surrounding was not gross enough to scare me, mere glimpse of that mother of all headcrab had literally covered me all over with Goosebumps size of a chickenpox. I still remember putting down keyboard and mouse with dread and fear not to face that abysmal and most grotesque creation I have ever encountered. I really would have chosen Gonarch over Nihilanth as last boss battle. (There is one Half-life mode where developers/modders just gone extreme level sick by putting Gonarch to confined, darkness shrouded space in some crazy spaceship. It literally took few days for me to gather courage and check out the source of guttural sound coming from deep, pitch darkness.). Moments like the frightening fish-thing in the pond and the cage dangling above it with most powerful weapon. Half-life has this peculiar vision of making you afraid with unknown and then to empower you to face it. Make you learn that only way to overcome something frightful is to face it and fight it head on.

Brilliant fusion of level design along with meaningful puzzles, all out firefights, layered storytelling, loyal mod support, countless popular spin-offs such as Counter-strike and opposing force and that mysterious G-man; all these things make me so devote fan of Half-life that I took up challenge to playing anything which has Half-life in the title or based on half-life universe (I tried to finish as many modes based on half-life as possible along with current brilliant tribute Black mesa which is Half-life revised on Half-life 2 engine).  Even considering the fact that Half-life follow up by Valve i.e. Half-life 2 and episodes 1 & 2 are improved and brilliant experience on themselves, playing Half-life is by far unique experience which is impossible to replicate.

PS : Today Half-life developer Valve is known for its extensive QA testing for immerse user experience conducted with various player and non-player game-play events held in close observation of QA executives to know the first-hand player experience. Even Half-life was their first brain child, they didn’t cut any loose in terms of QA department. Very well-known finite state machine based dumbed-down AI has played its part in terms of immersion like none other. Very simple idea consists of command matrix or states with number or weight attached to them. Commands consists of something like Attack-Reload-take cover-asking for backup and so on. At any moment, simple AI logic will control that not more than attached threshold value to particular state should be crossed in terms of number of opponents. So let’s say threshold value of Attack is 2 than, if more than 2 commandos start attacking player, one will transition to next state of reload. Also each state has time limit so that all opponents keep themselves transitioned regularly to different states. Best part of it was that AI was easy to implement without any brutal difficulty curve for player along with believable state transition which will never result in breaking the immersion. (Anyhow Half-life was going to impress me in terms of AI with release of HL2 where they came up with one of the best companion AI ever to grace gaming community in the name of Alyx Vance. Elizabeth of Bioshock Infinite was also notable mention but Alyx was my first love :).

PS 2: One more reason why I love half-life so much and hence Gordon Freeman is that Freeman never projected as some bad-ass killer machine. He is material physics scientist. Never meant to be hero saving the world. Even after two excursions of saving the world, I always feel like he is not fighting but surviving, saving only his skin and as a result winning the whole world and also millions of hearts of gaming community.

Are we progressing backwards?

Our mind are conditioned in such a manner that “Progress” word becomes synonymous to something positive and appreciable. We’ll take it as positive improvement over something without considering any context or background. A little wordplay of the blog title is nothing but to emphasize the fact that there may be different angle or context to everything which we completely missed out due to our closed perspective and hence take it as offense or against nature. Why so much ranting on simple wordplay, you may ask.

dragon-age-inquisition

Here’s the reason: EA has pulled out the release of its super massive, highly anticipated (by Gamers like me), finale to the Dragon Age universe, final chapter of the trilogy; Dragon Age: Inquisition from India. Reason being presence of gay character and potential story arc where main protagonist can have homosexual relationships. Self-realized reason by EA is not want to be on the other side of future lawsuit because of these portrayals.

Before dissecting EA’s clear conscience, I would really like to make note here in general logical terms regarding to social conventions prevailing in India. From dubious censor rules to ever degenerating public mindset, India is nowhere progressing in terms of acceptance of individuality or expression of art. In fact considering the ancient “Kamasutra” legacy of India, we are progressing backwards (and hence the title). I would like to see social setup where same-sex partners don’t draw a single glance (forget about scornful looks) and be treated as routine or usual. Education won’t work here as I have seen educated people with extreme prejudices and closed minds. This is something else, this is to understand that there may be some other context/perspective from where we never try to analyze the notions. A view beyond our pre-configured, conditioned mind.

Talking about another view, I also need to tackle other side of this rejection also. Not everything wrong with India here it seems. If you rifle through bit of Google search pages and bit of deduction, you realized EA also thinking something else and may be all this “Gay” affair is nothing but safety switch. Already EA has released previous to installments of Dragon Age along with super hit Mass Effect series where you can pursue same-sex romances. Also I am surprised to see positive involvement from India in Gay Pride parade this year. Even I am pretty much sure that not a single Gamer who wants to romp through new Dragon age RPG really care about homo-sexuality (Even they will be happy that Games getting serious on depiction of such sensitive issues nowadays). Even Rockstar is regularly releasing GTA titles in India containing nudity and all. Problem here with EA is the popularity and demand with deep RPGs. I read that EA along with Bathesda (Whose absolutely brilliant Fallout 3 and New Vegas never released in India due to two-headed cow called “Brahmins”) ship only very limited copies to India when it comes to RPG. Potential market is very low here. And considering the fact that EA, Ubisoft, Bathesda, Rockstar are big names now in gaming giants they don’t want to take risk by releasing “law-suite prone” title whose sales are not promising enough to justify the risk of release. They are happy to leave marginal profit rather than spending more money on lawsuit.

This social commentary mixed economic “play” article has two improvement on concluding side. Indian mentality has to claw out to that unreachable edge of garbage dike, at the bottom of which it has managed to settle down after these many years (and still sinking in). At the same time, Gaming needs to be considered as art covering broader age-span which can have serious adult content not appropriate for children (and hence no to be indulged by children, same as Movie and other media). We cannot punish the media just because negligence of audience causing them to hurt their own sensibilities.

PS: EA has stopped all kind of distribution for Dragon Age: Inquisition i.e. physical as well as digital also in India. So either you can import via other country (buy from Amazon US-UK) or try some other digital distribution sites. You know the drill. (I will most probably import).

Gaming all the way

In this great era of technological advancement, any new “EUREKA” in digital world has very limited and in fact, short lifespan. Ironically, these are the days of dying and reviving, fading into the gloom and coming up again with new enlightenment, dissolving into the dust and ashes and reincarnating with new form. Who would have thought that once popular valve based Radios, once forgotten with latest arrival of Walkman and digital music playing media, could possible again get the attention by masses with introduction of Smartphones in new accessible version? (And Walkman itself will fade in to the gloom). Who would have thought that once dumbed down as “Idiot Box” with its CRT filled body could do workout on technological treadmill to get the slim avatar of absolute “High Definition” clarity? (And with introduction of 4K TV, entirely new experience is awaiting for us). Still concentrating on “Short Life Span” definition for digital medium is true in terms of how longer particular digital media/gadgets will remain in conscience of masses with its usability and attraction factor. Usability will never be issue if one can really understand the real urges and requirement expected from the investment. But if attraction and presentation factors are playing along with social competitiveness of “catching-the-attention-of-public” compulsion, there is no limit to stop at something one owned. There is always new in the market. There is always something better out there.
Point of raising this introductory thought is to raise more profound question in terms of Gaming. Here gaming is used in most generic way possible, covering all those gadgets and games pertaining to it i.e. Computer, consoles, Kinect, Move, Online, Handhelds, Mobile, Tablets, future Steambox etc. Gaming has come a long way after its initiation and we can say with close approximation that it’s at peak of popularity and spread. Is gaming come to that part of curve where only possible way for that curve to proceed further is downwards? For me answer is definitely NO. Commercially and economically it stands tall on biggest and broadest shoulders of giants like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Considering Valve also pitching in with its idea of home entertainment in terms of SteamBox, future is much brighter for gaming on the whole. So evaluating strength of commercial and economical pillars and placing them aside, what else required for this king of digital entertainment to retain and spread its root of popularity among audiences. Let’s get through that various underlying currents and measure the force of these currents in terms of gaming.
Mass Appeal: Considering the fact that almost every second home in US holds at least one gaming console will leave no scope for second thought to appeal of Gaming as entertainment. The fact is most owners have more than one gaming console or dedicated gaming devices. Even though this appeal is widespread in US & Europe, Japan, Korea, China etc., lot bigger potential market is still unexplored in terms of developing countries like India. With online and co-op gaming this appeal is on the rise, infecting everyone like viral with only difference is that there is no cure for this contagion.
Spread: Surprisingly,  Sales, Demographic and usage data published by ESA(2013) shows almost equal distribution of percentage among age groups of Under 18 years (32%), 18-35 Years(32%) and 36+ years (36%). Even gender demographic will blow some established nuances regarding to females in gaming with hefty 45% share of females while male counterpart barely managed to do better with 55%. Gone are the days when gaming had so little to offer that it was gender dominated. Now gaming has so diverse things to put on the table that everyone can find their share of entertainment value (More on this in next point). True to analogy of viral infection spread for this gaming virus is just going to be bigger in the future years to come.
Diversity: Here approach is to tackle diversity in terms of how diverse the classes of gamers and games are. It’s true that Gaming is expensive hobby in itself especially if you are catering to dedicated gaming needs. Still nowadays gaming consoles are well within grasp of middle-class households. Apart from this Gaming just spreading its arms and clawing out of that lonely, singled out, dark room of the teenager boy and getting its prime seat as main attraction of the family in the drawing-room. With Wii, Kinect and Move on the move no one in the family will want to opt out from filling his/her share of happiness from this ever flowing eternal fountain of entertainment. Also it has a lot to offer. Gaming doesn’t need to know what you play it just needs the tiny little urge within you; if you give in to play or not. Currently roster of games has covered everything one can imagine to play. To name the few game types includes FPS (First Person Shooter), TPS (Third Person Shooter), RTS (Real Time Strategy), RPG (Role Playing Genre), Adventure, Point and Click, MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online RPG), MMOBA (Massively Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), Action RPG, Turn Based, Tower Defense, Open World Exploration, Puzzlers, Platformers, Brawlers, Simulations etc. (And also variations with fusion of two or more of these types). So it’s not that one would not like gaming, it’s just one has never found out correct entry point from these many possibilities to enter this amazing universe.
Morphism: Morphism is nothing but the art of evolution in technological way. As said above, it’s very difficult for any new technological advancement to retain its position for longer period. Only way of doing that is by morphing into new phase and improves upon the originals by aligning with new technology. After 3D gaming, currently gesture based gaming is new wave. With Oculus Rift introducing virtual reality based 3D gaming; gaming has proved that this genre is here to stay for long long time through art of morphism.
Niche Audience catering: Gaming is not restricted to strict classification as entertainment medium nowadays. It is considered as art by many enthusiasts. Some games are designed as just interactive experience encapsulating abstract and philosophical ideas rather than clearly defined goals or quests. (Gone Home, The Path, Dear Esther are some of the examples). These games can leverage on directing gameplay on specific experience with limited budget and targeting much smaller or niche player base; deviating from generalized gameplay mechanic. It means that gaming is covering up that small percentage also in terms of player base.
Nostalgia and Fan base service: Biggest advantage Games have is loyal fan base and supportive player community. There are very few new IPs in the market every year. Generally more that 80% games are kind of either part of some series, revival of old games, reintroduction of old series, have some other popular media tie in, based on book, universe/world sharing, gameplay mechanic or game engine tie up i.e. some or other way fans of the original media continuously support it and in return game developers and publishers are bound to perform fan service with of course setting their eye on that increasing profit percentage with new player base. As previously evident, more than 60% of player age is more than 30 itself shows the loyalty and fan base service. Even publishers trying to milk this situation through powerful nostalgia factor by investing in games with old school gameplay nowadays.
Indie factor and modding: One biggest improvement came in Gaming world from last few years is the introduction of indie game development. With Steam and GOG like digital distribution services’ support, Indie developer got much more recognition and scope to shine on international level. Indie developers and small development companies are opting out for Kickstarters to fund the project with much more clearly defined scope, reducing the large budget involvement of giant publishers. This kind of set up has allowed many development and art skills to be transformed in successful indie development. Biggest advantage is to retain the original view of the game-play initially conceived by designer/game developer without interference of publishers and they can have free reign to achieve the final goal. In fact, nowadays these kinds of games are achieving more applause and critical acclimation with much wider scope of player recognition than before. Game toolkit made available with original games keeps gaming community buzzing and experimenting with mods which allows the product to stay in the market longer than its intended lifespan. (Who wants to forget the classic sandbox game tool experiment called Minecraft and out of the world dedicated player creations using the toolkit).
Reward system (feedback measurement): In simpler terms its nothing but value for money. Again taking the help of ESA survey and put the matters into statistical figures; 43% game players believe that games have much higher value for money than other entertainment media like movies, DVD etc. And why shouldn’t be? Nowadays minimum average game-play time of the games is considered around 10-15 hours, with RPG games eating 25-30 (if it’s from Bathesda than 50 hours also not enough)hours of your life. Considering replay value which is generally high when it comes to gaming, all those numbers get doubled. And it’s not possible to count all those human hours spent in MMORPGs altogether. Games, when done masterfully, are triumph in this way as giving the long exposure time no other media can retain entertainment and interest of the user with such diligence. (Who wants to stop playing without spending less than 50 hours from say Skyrim?)
At last putting all these aside, it’s better to wrap all these up with simple economical figure, which is $14.8 billion. This is what consumer spent on gaming contents (including retail and digital distribution) in the year of 2012. Considering the dedicated Hardware and accessories this figure will rise to whopping $20.77 billion in a single year of 2012. Gaming is here to stay for long time and if somehow one managed to keep away, it’s not long that this virus will surely infect him/her sooner or later.

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Famous electronic store in Switzerland dedicating entire floor to Gaming….