Category Archives: Life

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 It hasn’t helped, for sure, but what we’re seeing the rejection of the outdated mode of selling, where the £49.99 RRP is seen as something other than wishful thinking on the part of publishers, to be chuckled at and disregarded before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.

Makin’ Games

Although I know a lot about games and I’ve certainly played a significant number, making my own has never really crossed my mind. I came in when consoles were in full swing and so missed the days of easily programmable home micros, and a couple of attempts to learn anything more complicated than HTML have come to nothing.

It’s been at the back of my mind, though. Working on Retro Gamer, I frequently read interviews with people who made masterpieces in their bedrooms before they’d even finished school, which I suppose has made an impact, and then I’ve run into something of a perfect storm: Code Year, talk of the recent overhaul of school computing – which, as someone with an A-level in the useless old-style ICT, makes me insanely jealous – and the push behind the homebrew-friendly Raspberry Pi, all mixed in with a bit of a self-improvement bent on which I’ve found myself.

So Code Year’s been teaching me the fundamentals through building basic applications and games in JavaScript, and on the recommendation of some forum buddies I’ve started learning Python as well. I can’t do much beyond play with variables, but within a couple of weeks I know enough to make my computer draw a grid, simulate a dice roll, or move a sprite wherever I tell it. Baby steps, but I can see how these fundamentals build up into something that could legitimately be called a game.

I’m not going to go so far as to drop everything and embark on a career in development – not the most stable area right now – or get ahead of myself by announcing that I’m creating the next Minecraft, but man, it’s a good feeling when you can feel it clicking. It’s a string to my bow and something I want as a hobby so that I’m not strictly a consumer when it comes to computing.

I will make Shenmue III once I’ve worked out how to get lookingForSailors() running on a Dreamcast, though.

 

Busy Times…

Just a quick post, really, to say that I’m still around and this site isn’t dead, and with any luck I should be back to business as usual before too long. A mixture of moving house and having to get Internet access sorted, deadlines at work, and not actually playing that many games for a combination of the aforementioned reasons has conspired to keep me away, and the relative dearth of news hasn’t helped. But with a return for a series that I have an affinity for next week – I’ve already been through the demo several times, and I’m chomping at the bit to get my hands on the full thing – as well as some potentially interesting developments, I foresee plenty to talk about.

In other words, reports of my disappearance were an exaggeration. More soon.

Best AV Upgrade I Ever Got

GlassesI’ve known that I’ve needed glasses for some time, ever since I found myself struggling to read the whiteboard in school about ten years ago, and as I’ve found it increasingly impossible to read football scores and news tickers on the TV, I finally took the plunge last week. It turns out that my eyesight didn’t even meet the DVLA standard, so if I was taking my driving test today I’d have failed it. Oops…

The first night I had them I watched Hot Fuzz on Blu-ray, which has been noted as being particularly handsome but failed to blow me away when I dipped in for a look, and the difference was night and day. What were once flat-looking skin textures were suddenly beautifully flawed and pitted, and I could see individual hairs or threads in clothing. Since then I’ve watched several HD films and played some of this generation’s most beautiful games, and I frankly can’t believe that it took me this long to get my eyes checked out.

Seriously, if you have any doubt about your eyesight, get an eye test. It might not be your TV that’s the weak link in your setup.

Of course, Freeview looks like compressed arse now, so it looks like Sky HD or Freesat is on the agenda again. You win some, you lose some.