Tag Archives: video games

Rediscovered Joy – Video Gaming & Destiny

Of all my interests / hobbies, video games probably consume the most of my free time, yet oddly enough, it’s not a subject I write about very often. Mostly that is because there is a dearth of gaming writers out there, but also because until recently I’d been slowly losing the desire to game. It had got to the point to where I was seriously on the fence about not getting a PS4 & was basically considering retiring my lifelong hobby.

I did decide to get a PS4, primarily because I enjoy gaming with my friends online, but also partly because the chance of getting a next generation console on launch day for the first time ever was just too much for my inner geek to resist. When the PS4 launched it was a significant step up from the PS3 as a gaming machine, but rather lackluster as a home entertainment system, something the PS3 excelled at, for example you could not (& still cannot) pair the PS3 remote control with it to make playing movies easier. The youtube app only recently made its way over too, little things, but initially, it was clear the PS4 was for gaming first & the rest would come. This is not a bad thing, just my observation.

Unfortunately, the first year of the PS4 gaming was a little hit & miss. The new games all looked very impressive, but other than continuing my lifelong love affair with FIFA, non of the games I played managed to capture my attention long term. I’ve still not fully finished any of the launch titles I got. I was starting to wonder if I had wasted my money, made the wrong decision about committing to this new generation of consoles, to the point of considering selling the PS4 & moving on with a gaming free life.

That is until June of last year. When I had the opportunity to play the Destiny alpha public test. I had seen the E3 launch campaign for Destiny the previous year, loved what I saw and had been keeping a distant eye for it’s release day. I don’t recall what I signed up for to get into the alpha but I was very glad I did. Following the alpha I pre-ordered the game, not something I usually do, but I was already hooked & pre-ordering got you into the public Beta which I consumed just as eagerly as the alpha.

I picked up the full game on launch day, I’m not here to write a review per say here, there are more than enough of them out there to satisfy any level of curiosity. What I am going to try and do is put into words what the game has meant to me. The first thing I guess I should say, is that the joy of gaming has been completely restored for me through this game. It may not be the best game ever, but you would be hard pressed for me to find a game that I would say I have ever liked better or enjoyed more. For many different reasons, this game just has my number, the joy of gaming may be borderline addiction once again lol.

11 months after the game launched I still play pretty much daily, I have made a number of new friends through the game, made several questionable decisions about how much sleep I can get away with on a work day, laughed, almost cried and just generally really enjoyed my nights gaming again.

Destiny is a funny game in a way in that it can be very repetitive yet never gets old, for me it is in a way similar to sports games. Yes FIFA is pretty much the same thing over and over, yet there is enough variance in each game, enough of an enjoyable challenge that I will play season after season. Destiny has somehow captured that same magic with its fun and at times intense gameplay. It can be a relaxing evening doing bounties or an adrenaline pumping stress session in the crucible, I can get whatever I want from the game on any given day.

Sadly the gaming clan I was a part of, dmg gaming, did not adopt the game very well, this led to me making the tough decision to call it quits after 6 years with then and sign up with a new crew, which fortunately has a number of fellow ex dmg’ers in it. It was a strange & tough decision to “leave” people who had become real life friends, but in order to get the most out of the game it was what needed to happen & it is a decision I do not regret in the slightest. Taking the step to do that has actually emboldened me to meet people from many different clans & I have discovered that i just really enjoy meeting new people in the gaming world.

The social aspect of the game is quite amazing, I have met a TON of new people & almost all of them have been great company. My new friends in the BYOB clan have been a blast to hang out with, the guys from Dads of Destiny are always there for company or to help if you just ask. The Safe Gamers group is a really cool place where people can hang out & be sure of a positive gaming experience. I’ve even had the privilege of playing a few games with some of the best players in the world from the Invigorate clan, their skill level is off the carts, yet they are totally humble, glad to help a guy like me out & just all around good company either in game or in their streams.

Streams, yes, that’s another thing I have discovered this last year. From twitch to mlg tv, there are folks all over the world at all hours of the day live streaming their gameplay & interacting with their viewers. A year ago I would have told you that was ridiculous & I would have no interest in such a thing, how things change lol. The right streamer, with a game you love can be great entertainment & in some cases very educational. I’ve watched quite a lot of John & Burdi from the Invigorate clan the last couple of months & just watching them has vastly improved my skill level as a gamer. Seeing how things work and opening your eyes to what is possible is a game changer.

The community playing Destiny is by far the best part of the game, it is the best part of any video game I have ever heard of. Want to know more about the lore? Go over to reddit or one of the many Destiny sites and fellow gamers have gathered the intel in easy to read formats, some chronological etc. You could spend days theorizing with other fans if you wanted. Even better, you could head to http://www.astrumterra.com/audiogrimoire.html and enjoy some incredible dramatized reading of the cards, or tune in to the Guardian Radio podcast every week.

One of the great complaints with Destiny is the failure to convey the incredible story particularly well in game. While I agree it could have been done better, I personally do not feel that the way the game is set up would be really conducive to extended story telling cut scenes. The game and its universe does have an incredible story though, this lore can be found through reading the grimoire cards on Bungie’s website (and other sources – see above). Again, this has been a major complaint from many (having to do it outside of the game), however to me, what could be considered a design flaw was actually a work of accidental genius as it has brought the community much closer together as they try to figure everything out.

There are very limited matchmaking systems in the game, again a frustration for some, yet form this has come an incredible array of LFG (looking for group) systems. Clans work together, alliances have been formed & so many real life friendships. My virtual circle is ever increasing, sure occasionally you meet someone you never want to hear from again (easy to accomplish), but you might also meet some really cool people.

Not just in game, but outside of the game the community regularly comes together to help a worth cause. There have been efforts to support fundraisers for Cystic Fibrosis, Operation Supply Drop, St Judes Hospice, the Nepal earthquake and even to do something nice for a kid that was bullied. There have been many more, these are just the ones that I have been involved with in some small way.

There are times when I wonder if I have allowed this game to become too prominent in my life. 2-3 hours every night I spend playing Destiny. However, they are the hours after my family has already retired for the day & if I am being honest, the only other thing I would do with that time is watch tv. Yes I could read a book, or go for a run or do things that people say you should do, instead I do something that i love, that I am passionate about again thanks to Destiny. Those hours are always some of the most enjoyable of every day, time that I spend time in good company doing something I enjoy.

I should I suppose put this in perspective.  I am still enjoying my family time, leading worship at the homeless shelter, making new music, looking forward to another season coaching my kids soccer team, I even write a blog post occasionally 😉 Sometimes i give myself a hard time for playing the game a lot, but I am just fighting the old fight of judging myself for allowing me to be myself if that makes sense. For the first time in my life, I am just embracing this, not ashamed, not trying to hide my love of a video game, I am just having fun playing a game in my spare time with a bunch of different people that i really enjoy, if thats not a good thing, then I have no idea what is. If you follow me on Twitter & don’t care about the game, sorry about that 😉

When I was pondering on whether or not to get a PS4, I wrote the below on my hopes for the next generation of games. Thanks to a company called Bungie & their incredibly talented team, thanks to the amazing community of people that I am  proud to be a part of, I can whole heartedly tell you that all my dreams for this generation of gaming have come true, and I have truly rediscovered the joy of gaming.

Maybe the next generation of games will have some fresh ideas, better co-op, more original themes that involve more than just killing wave after wave of bud guys. Don’t get me wrong, there is enough little boy in me to still enjoy playing war, but it just seems like there should be more to a game than that, especially with the technology available. Maybe the next gen of games will have online modes where the technical flaws in the game don’t make my lack of ability even more frustrating than it already is. “

If you’re on Playstation & want to team up with a semi-responsible grown man who just loves to play Destiny, my PSN ID is LUFCTX 🙂

Want to see some of the game? Here is a video I made, with a song I wrote & recorded, more on that soon…

 

Destiny – Alpha

And now for something completely different; This last weekend I was fortunate enough to take part in the PS4 public alpha testing for the forthcoming sci-fi FPS game Destiny. This was a pretty bold / confident step by the producers, usually Alpha tests are private, only occasionally are the later Beta tests made public. This is easily the game I have been anticipating the release of the most since I got my PS4 last fall. Although being part of the limited access alpha testing does not exactly make me special, it just means I read an email and clicked to register, hey bonus for reading 🙂

Now, my anticipation for this game is honestly based on not that much. A couple of game play videos and a few articles. I haven’t done any more research than that for 2 reasons, #1, I’m a grown man with responsibilities and a life etc, researching future games is just not high up my list of priorities, I mean, it would take away from my game time. The 2nd reason is that most of the games that I look forward to usually disappoint, not sure why, it just seems to go that way. There are exceptions like Red Dead, or Gran Turismo, but the annual stream of Call of Duty etc has become more a season of dread for what they are going to screw up next rather than anticipation.

So the game Destiny, while eagerly anticipated, is anticipated by me with at least some hesitation, at least that was before this last weekend. After a lengthy download, I first ventured into the game late on Thursday night, a little unsure as to what I was doing, but figuring things out fairly easily (as it should be). The first thing that struck me was that the controls / the feel of the movement felt just right. Not quite as loose as a COD game, but not in any way clunky or cumbersome. The second thing that struck me was the amazing graphics, it is one thing to see it on trailers, but it is not until it is live on the tv in front of you that you can really appreciate what a beautiful looking game they have crafted. The environment is perfectly dirty and gritty, but that is immaculately balanced by stunning lighting effects including a northern lights display in the evening.

The Alpha offered a small sampling from each of the game modes that will be in the finished product; the campaign, explore mode (endlessly generating missions), strike (grandiose co-op missions with crazy firefights), the multiplayer and the social hub where you upgrade your equipment. I began in the campaign section, looking around, figuring out the controls, shooting “the fallen” (bad guys) and generally having some simple exploratory alpha fun. I was not long in to this when something rather unusual happened, one of my PSN friends walked by in the game, in real time, doing his own thing. I called out his name to make sure he was really there & he was, we spent the rest of the evening (and a good chunk of the weekend gaming hours) playing the game together. I found this invite-less social drop in feature to be extremely cool. I’m not sure if there is a way to play non-sociably, other than signing out of the PSN, then again, this is only an alpha release. There did appear to be something of a proximity effect for mic communication when plying this way, so the rest of the weekend we formed a PSN party which worked flawlessly.

The game itself is extremely enjoyable, the freedom to roam and explore is just as you would want it, the skirmishes you get in moving around are enjoyable and can be challenging when the scale up. I only tried MP aspect once, but it worked well if not exactly groundbreaking the game mode available was a domination / capture and hold type affair. One of the funs things is that your created character(s) are available will everything you have equipped them with in all modes, so the time you spend in co-op will help you in MP with more than just practice. The RPG elements of the game were much less intrusive than I had initially feared and will, for me, lead to a good challenge and longevity as you try to build your character(s). I have gone from being hopefully expectant for this game, to being frustrated that I have to wait until September. If it is this good now, what will it be like then? I can see me losing many hours to Destiny in the last quarter of 2014 and beyond. Sometimes a game just feels right, it has that unquantifiable je ne sais quoi, well Destiny has that, more so than any game I’ve played in a long time, that more than anything else is what has me most excited about this game.

 

To PS4 or not to PS4?

On the surface of it this is a ridiculously simple question. I still enjoy video games, I still enjoy playing online with my friends, I’ve always loved what the next generation of each Playstation has brought to my entertainment life. So given that the new PS4 will be released in November, and for the specs, the price is remarkably reasonable, you’d expect me to be one of the masses on the pre-order list.

Why then am I so reluctant to move onto the next gen of gaming? Well, there are several things. One is that other than the social aspect of gaming with friends, or the default, it’s just what I do, I’m not sure why it is that I currently game. Sure it is fun to dominate the PS3 on FIFA, it would be fun online if the connections were more stable & if people couldn’t quit so easily. Other than that, I’ve not been enjoying games recently. It seems like a real slog to get through single player games these days. I recently finished Uncharted 3, the first 2 games in that series were incredible games, 3 though while being technically impressing just seemed so generic. They took a game that is supposed to feel like an Indiana Jones adventure & changed it into Rambo.

The thing I’ve most enjoyed about the PS3 has been online gaming. It has brought a wonderful social aspect to what used to be a solo hobby, other than drunken gatherings at friends houses. The clan I have been a part of for the last 5 years has done a wonderful job of filling an empty social void created when I left my homeland. Unfortunately that clan has been on life support for the best part of the last year. There is the hope that the PS4 will revitalize it, I truly hope it does. I have my doubts though, I don’t know about the rest of the folks but I know that at least for myself, I don’t at this moment have the heart or commitment to try & make what was once great, great again. That’s not saying anything about anyone in the clan, more just a reflection of the state of me right now. More than anything else it is the social aspect that would drive me towards getting a PS4. Much more so than the hope of profit being achieved through quality over quantity, but hey..

Maybe the next generation of games will have some fresh ideas, better co-op, more original themes that involve more than just killing wave after wave of bud guys. Don’t get me wrong, there is enough little boy in me to still enjoy playing war, but it just seems like there should be more to a game than that, especially with the technology available. Maybe the next gen of games will have online modes where the technical flaws in the game don’t make my lack of ability even more frustrating than it already is. Maybe what I see on my screen will match what I see on the replay. Maybe they will offer the ability to improve with practice rather than just struggling with fighting the connection or BS hit detection. Maybe online lobbies will be civilized places & talking to your friends will be possible in all games, not just a few. Maybe my expectations of games are too high for a $60 product?!

There is also the whole, hey we have a new PS4 so you have to buy it thing, the video game industry is obviously all about profit, but it seems that with the success of the Playstation & Xbox etc, it has become solely about profit. Unfinished products are rushed out with the intention of trying to fix the bugs later, new and inventive ideas are shelved in favor of more generic themes in order to sell the most units. I’m going to need to see more than some pretty video clips before I am convinced they can combine the notion of profitability & actually good games in the same package.

My final & probably biggest concern for the PS4, is not so much about the PS4 itself. Sure I could come up with the money to get one, I could come up with the money to buy some games, I could even come up with an hour or so a day to play them (most days). The question is not could I, but do I really want to? Do I want to commit another 10 years of my life to this form of digital entertainment? Time that could be spent reading, writing, making music or generally becoming a better person.  As my daughter grows & starts to go to bed later, there will be less time to play too (I don’t play while she is awake, other than the occasional fifa match).

Of course, it is hard to say if I would read or write etc with that time. More realistically I’d just watch mindless tv, because at 9pm I don’t really want to exercise my creative brain too much, I’m usually tired & want to switch off, which gaming does remarkably well for me.

We will see, I love to game, I’m just not sure I want to continue to game at this point in life (maybe I need a break from something I love to see if I like it anymore). I guess I have at least 4 months to decide, or be sold on the notion that the PS4 will be a good use of my increasingly infrequent recreation and relaxation time.

Video Games; guilty pleasure or just a hobby?

I love video games but for many years I have been uncomfortable publically admitting that. Why? Well there is, at least in my mind, some kind of public stigma about those who play games. We all know the stereotype, nerdy glasses wearing kind in a basement with no life.

Yet of my generation, there are very few people who have not at least at some point in time played video games. There are many of us who have never stopped, just ask Sony & Microsoft, they don’t make billions from 10 year olds, maybe their parents help, but the playstation generation is still going strong & we still love our hobby. That is what it is, it’s a hobby, just as valid as any other.

What is it about games that I like? In much the same way as my wife enjoys reading, it is an escape, a journey into another world. A well done game is like being in a movie only you get to control the star. There are other aspects too, as much as I love playing sports, I am not a start athlete, I will never play for Leeds United or the Dallas Cowboys. Thanks to video games though, I can not only can I control the team, but I can also fix everything and make them good again – ahh if real life were so simple.

Then there is the relatively new (to me at least) aspect of online gaming. This wonderful change of direction that changed something that used to be a solitary event or at best you & a friend or 2 into this massively social adventure. I never used to care much for shooting games (FPS) but online gaming changed that. It is a wonderful adventure, it somewhat fills that competitive void that was created when I stopped playing soccer; it also fills the social void created when I left England. Not one of great depth, but the social aspect of hanging around & talking crap, in England I got that at the pub with my friends, I have no desire to hang out in pubs or bars anymore, but having a laugh with some friends is always enjoyable, FPS online gaming gives that to me. I joined a clan in 2008, a clan is simply a group of individuals who like the same games & play regularly together. It is a team of sorts, over time if well done it changes from a group of individuals to a group of friends, that is what I have.

 

Yeah, it’s kinda like this 😉

Video games, probably my favorite hobby, I’m not sure if I like it being ranked that high, but if I look at how I spend my free time, they are usually right at the top. I’m not sure that favourite is the correct word, but most active, it requires so much less effort than other things that the hour or so free I have at the end of a night usually gets dedicated to that over other things.  So long as they are not messing with my life balance I suppose that is ok, I certainly prefer playing to watching tv or movies, something about being involved rather than just watching does it for me.

Of course like everything else that I have loved since before the transformation in my life, I have doubts about gaming. Is it a good thing for me to be pretending to kill people every night? Is it a good thing to play a game that can get me so wound up I could make a sailor blush at times? Why does every non-sports game have to be about killing these days? I swear it wasn’t always that way, I guess violence sells, my generation is so desensitized to it that it doesn’t impact us like I assume it would my parent’s generation. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy a good shooter, I do, but it seems like even adventure games these days have to be at least 60% killing, it really is too much.

I sometimes wonder if it would be better to get rid of the PS3, spend that time writing or playing music or reading. My most prolific period of music creation was when I had not games in my life, however that could simply be a coincidence of timing (16-19). The truth is that I would probably spend that time watching tv or youtube & not doing anything more productive anyway, so I guess I will just try to enjoy my hobby, keep it in balance & remember it’s just a game 🙂