Category Archives: Life

A slow year for games

Yesterday’s update on my HTPC was my first post on here since my annual look at the best of the year, a gap of nearly ten months. I must have a lot of exciting games to talk about after such a long hiatus, right? Well, no.

Truthfully, the back end of this site is loaded with unpublished drafts of hands-on impressions of the impressive HTC Vive, the gloriously nostalgic revival Doom, The Witcher 3’s standard-setting expansions, the ridiculously gorgeous Uncharted 4, and even a handful of books. None more than a few paragraphs and all abandoned after my failure to arrange them into a coherent post in time for a timely publication.

Really, though, that about sums up my gaming for the year. There hasn’t been much of it. I’ve played some Doom, Witcher and Rainbow Six over the last couple of evenings, which was my first time on a ‘proper’ game in nearly two months, judging by the timestamp on my Doom save. I moved to a new flat in December and sold a lot of the family silver to pay for that, so even my collection looks threadbare and shorn of its crown jewels. Invitations from gaming friends to arrange a game in Battlefield 1 this weekend have been rejected because I haven’t even bothered to preorder it. I’m helping my girlfriend move house in preference to playing a new Battlefield. What’s happening? It’s like I’ve become an adult or something. *shudder*

I’ve been one of those people who talks about games more than actually plays them for a while now, and this indifference has recently acquired a pining for the old days and a cynicism of what now constitutes a game. An occasional release will pique my interest and bring me out of retirement – Persona 5, Red Dead 2, The Last Guardian and, of course, Shenmue III are a few that will do that over the next couple of years – but I now struggle to put together a top ten for the year simply because I haven’t played that many games.

Don’t expect things to change any time soon. My only preorder for the rest of the year is for a Nintendo Classic Mini, after all. But I’m still here, and I’m going to keep posting.

Bournemouth in the Premier League

Me and my brother with Alex Ferguson at Dean Court, circa 1996.Strictly speaking, I’m not an AFC Bournemouth fan. I’ve been a supporter of Manchester United since I was a kid and always will be. But I am a lifelong Bournemouth resident – no United fans actually live in Manchester, remember – and I remember going to Bournemouth games with my dad and uncle. I remember watching on TV as they literally passed a bucket around in the Winter Gardens to collect donations to stave off bankruptcy, and that’s not the only time I’ve seen it minutes from the end.

I met Sir Alex Ferguson and David Beckham in the tunnel at Dean Court when United came down for a pre-season friendly and my dad sponsored the match ball, circa 1996. A close family friend has the dual claims to fame of being a former Bournemouth player and an answer to a question on A Question of Sport. (It was on sports people named after body parts, incidentally.) My dad has a framed photo from the Daily Express on the wall showing the Bournemouth goalkeeper making a save as the Cherries beat Stoke City 4-0, his company’s logo on the hoarding below him.

It’s a club I have numerous connections with, in other words, and therefore also a lot of fondness. That’s what’s left me so chuffed over what’s happened today. Bournemouth in the Premier League is surreal and wonderful to see. It’s still odd to type, like it’s something that happens to other, better resourced clubs: Bournemouth in the Premier League. How on earth did that happen? Officially it hasn’t yet, admittedly. I hope I’m not looking back on this post with embarrassment after Charlton’s prediction comes true.

Good luck to them. They’ve played great football this season and are about to become very rich indeed – a far cry from shaking buckets for pennies. Becoming a Premier League fixture is perhaps too much to hope for, but you never know. Other clubs have come up and impressed, even if they don’t stick around for long. Invest it wisely and be a Swansea rather than a Portsmouth.

But that said, when Bournemouth visit Old Trafford, I’ll be sitting in the home end.

Passage to India

A couple of hours from now I’ll be on my way to India for a couple of weeks, my first foreign trip since I went to New York in 2009. I don’t think I’ll be going on a tour of the major locations from Temple of Doom or anything, but you never know. In any case, a trip like this is long overdue.

And it better be good, considering how many injections, visa applications and unexpected expenses I suffered for this jaunt.

I’m doing without my computer and phone, so my connectivity will depend on Internet cafes and my ability to remember my 30-character gibberish logins without 1Password, so don’t expect what updates I make to be particularly verbose. But I do plan to take a lot of photos and video, having finally replaced old faithful with another Lumix, and will post them here and on Twitter. I don’t often test WordPress’s gallery functionality, but when I do, I do it during altitude acclimatisation in the Himalayas.

Reports of my demise and so on…

It’s funny how getting out of the games media, despite leaving this site as largely my only outlet for writing about games at a time when a long-overdue generational shift has left plenty to talk about, has led to me writing almost nothing. Seriously, apart from last year’s top ten and coming out of retirement for one freelance review, posting on GAF is all I’ve done.

I aim to change that. I’ve given the place a facelift, and now I’m going to be more regular in posting impressions and opinion pieces. Honest.

My biggest dereliction of duty has been nothing about my PS4, as letting the opportunity to post impressions on  a new piece of hardware would once have been unthinkable. I’m more positive than a lot of places have been, being happy with the price/performance ratio and the focus on gaming at the expense of multimedia functionality, which will no doubt come through future firmware updates. It’s nice to have a non-evil Sony back, and I’m even hopeful at the prospect of the benevolent dictator situation that gave us such a great library in the PS2 generation. But maybe that’s from spending too long on NeoGAF.

The biggest criticism of the new hardware has been entirely predictable, as it happens every single generation: no games. I disagree. I loved Infamous: Second Son enough to make it my first platinum trophy, have put over 120 hours into Battlefield 4, and enjoyed Ground Zeroes (don’t pay more than £20), Assassin’s Creed IV, and the freebies from PS Plus. I liked Tomb Raider enough to give that another crack once the definitive version reaches a more justifiable price too. Just don’t be tempted by Killzone; any reviewers who scored it higher than a 5/10 are insane, and Infamous has supplanted it as the essential eye candy.

Admittedly I have been playing the PS3 more than the PS4, but Dark Souls II and Final Fantasy X HD are no mere games. The former captured my interest more than either of its predecessors and will happily be upgraded if the rumoured PS4 version turns out to exist.

But like I said, a software drought happens every generation, so you should at least give it a year before you start worrying. If you bought a PS4 without expecting this, you must be new at this early adopting lark.

In other news, a little over a month from now I’ll be heading to India for a fortnight, spending time in the Himalayas and the desert of Rajasthan. I’m not sure what sort of network access I’ll have apart from the odd forays into towns with Internet cafes, but whether they come before or after my return, this and Twitter will be my main repositories for photos for those at home. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

And no, I still haven’t given up on Shenmue.

No games on the high street?

Word on the (high) street seems to be that the troubled HMV is looking to get out of the market, meaning there will shortly be nowhere to buy new games here in Bournemouth town centre. Tesco Express might get in a new FIFA or Call of Duty, but if you want something more obscure or older than a couple of months? No chance. There’s CEX for used stuff, but that might be threatened and doesn’t do much to help the industry.

I’m really torn on this issue.

On one hand, it’s a very bad thing that gaming now has so little high street representation. The likes of Dixons are long gone, of course, so when the new consoles arrive there will be nowhere plugging them from ornate window displays – nor, indeed, anywhere to actually, you know, buy them. I don’t drive, which makes the out of town shopping centres with large supermarkets and the few surviving Game stores a pain, so online is my only option. It would be my first choice, admittedly, but the choice would be nice to have.

Game closed

But another part of me is glad. So many major retailers have gone down the pan in recent years that it’s tempting to put the blame solely on the economy. It’s not the only reason, though. It hasn’t helped, for sure, but what we’re seeing the rejection of the outdated mode of selling, where the £49.99 RRP is seen as something other than wishful thinking on the part of publishers, to be chuckled at and disregarded before selling it for £40 or less.

I buy the vast majority of my games online, and you get so used to paying £37.99 for a new release from ShopTo that a rare expedition to find the endangered species that is a branch of Game can be a genuine shock. I remember going into one with the intention of grabbing something I’d neglected to preorder online and walking out empty-handed because the £50 price sticker felt so absurd. I hadn’t paid that much for a game that wasn’t a rare JRPG in so long that I’d genuinely forgotten that suckers actually still did it.

Analysts like to blame the proliferation of 69p iOS games for this sticker shock when it comes to buying console games at retail, but even among friends and family who don’t consider themselves hardcore gamers, they still buy as many as they ever did. They’re just not doing it for the same silly money. People are buying games from Amazon, ShopTo and the like because they’re cheaper and more convenient. They’re better in almost every way, and that’s why they’re winning.

This ultimately won’t affect me directly because I’ll be buying my next-gen consoles online and I expect all my game purchases to come from online retailers or, if they can be trusted to price them competitively without retailers to keep happy, completely digitally. Part of me will miss a presence for gaming on the high street just like part of me – OK, all of me – misses the independent retailers that used to be everywhere. Times change, though, and it’s a natural evolution that could turn out for the better.

Back on the Sidelines

Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen that, as far as gaming is concerned, a couple of weeks ago I returned to civilian life. I spent a good decade trying to get into the gaming media and, after doing my stint on the fringes, I’ve moved on.

There were a number of reasons, some of which I won’t talk about in public any time soon, but I’d been unhappy for a while and seized the opportunity to move on when it came along. Coinciding with Doritosgate was purely accidental, although that does act as a neat summation of several things I got tired of seeing on a daily basis.

The main problem, though, was that I could see myself rapidly burning out on gaming, especially when I looked at what was – or rather wasn’t – on the horizon for this year and next. If a gamer with as much history, as much investment as me was getting tired of it, a field as under pressure as the print media isn’t the place to be. Since taking a step back from gaming, no longer spending all day surrounded by games at work and struggling to work up the enthusiasm to play them for fun once I got home, I’ve actually found myself wanting to play games, digging out some old favourites, rebuying some long lost classics and generally wallowing in the nostalgia.

It’s amazing what not being forced to read the third breathtakingly dull ‘preview’ based on a single GTA V screenshot of the month does for one’s interest in the medium. Now the prospect of new consoles is something to be excited about rather than the herald of poorly researched speculative news stories and crossed fingers that they’ll hurry up because a magazine is a hard enough sell these days without mere scraps to work with.

So I now spend my days in commercial software development, where I’m at Decoded Solutions in Bournemouth. Things won’t change here, though, as this will remain my primary outlet for talking about gaming, which I hope will once again sit firmly atop the list of my great passions. In fact, I aim to write a lot more on here, as I now have no professional stake in games and am not contracted anywhere.

“Freedom!” and all that.