Fun and games

I’d love to do games journalism: gaming is a hugely exciting art form, it’s driving the development of hardware, it isn’t taken seriously enough by the mainstream media, blah blah blah. Unfortunately I’ll never be able to do it, because I’m rubbish at games. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a first person shooter, an arcade game or an adventure: I’ll play for a few hours, get horrifically stuck and reach for the cheat codes. If I can’t find any cheat codes, I’ll usually give up.

It’s interesting to compare the opinions of game journalists – people who eat, drink, sleep and breathe games and who, as a result, have gaming skills – with rubbish gamers such as me. Take Timesplitters: Future Perfect, which has attracted lots of positive reviews. Something that comes up quite a lot in those reviews is discussion of the puzzles in the program, which come as a delightful surprise to reviewers. Based on the reviews, I bought the game. It’s good. It’s fun, up to a point – and that point is the bloody puzzles.

At the end of one section of Timesplitters, you have to defuse a defence system. To do that, you need to hack a terminal, hack another terminal, shoot a bunch of guns and robots, and then hack a third terminal. If you get any part wrong, you need to start from the first hack. Needless to say, the hacks are beyond me.

The hacks are based on an old game called (I think) Pipes, where you have to get two or three pipes to go from one end of a grid to another. To do this, you need to click on individual pieces and rotate them, and this links them all together. Or not. So for example, the solution to one puzzle might be:

BLUE – down, down, left, left, up, left, down, down, down, right, down
RED – up, right, right, right, right, down, down, left, left, down, down

The second puzzle has three pipes; the third, four pipes. Naturally this is all to a time limit.

I can’t do it. My mind simply isn’t wired that way, which is WHY I BOUGHT A FIRST PERSON SHOOTER INSTEAD OF A SODDING PIPE GAME. Delightful surprise, my arse: this particular set of puzzles is an evil invention that sucks the joy from the game. I spent three days – three unhappy, sweary days – trying to get past it, cursing the developers and teaching my neighbours new and exciting expletives. Eventually I cheated, found a walkthrough and printed out the instructions. They were dead simple: “down, down, left, left, up, left, down” and so on.

Actually following those instructions wasn’t so simple. It went more like this:

“Blue… okay…. down, er, down, er, left… shit… [pause game for another read]… down, right, no, shit, left, down BEEP BEEP BEEP OUT OF TIME YOU ARE TEH LOSAR!!!!

Two hours. Two hours of my life that I’ll never get back. And two hours that removed any remaining enthusiasm I had for the game (which to be fair, is one of the better FPSes I’ve played). But despite finally getting on to the next level, I can’t be arsed playing it any more, so it’s on the shelf.

I’ve got Far Cry: Instincts now, which is by all accounts a superior Xbox FPS and NOT A SODDING PIPE GAME. Fingers crossed.

15 thoughts on “Fun and games

  1. Tony Kiernan says:

    I’ve always put my complete lack of aptitude and (therefore) interest in computer games (past Tetris) dwon to the fact that they are designed (as is the hardware) for right-handed players. My excuse, and it’s stuck too.

  2. David says:

    Why not ask future if, in exchange for xbox games (which you can give to me or ebay!) you write a little boxout on the bottom of all their reviews to give the opinion of a crap gamer?

  3. Andy Krouwel says:

    Gary, not being very good at games would make you a perfect games journalist. Who are we writing for? Other journalists, or players?

    Personally, I’m not very good either. I play a broad range of games for the ideas, not to complete them. Even if I’m perfectly capable, I often get bored and wander off before the end. Too many other shiny things and too little time.

    Mind you as a freelance, writing reviews is unlikely to pay the rent.

  4. Gary says:

    Hi Andy. Nice site :)

    > Who are we writing for? Other journalists, or players?

    Good question. The problem with games writing (IMO) is that there’s two distinct camps: the “new FIFA game! Woo!” lot, who don’t care about reviews; and the hardcore, who do – and who’ll quickly spot that a hack didn’t even complete the game on Easy mode :)

    > Too many other shiny things and too little time.

    Oh, absolutely. That’s why the Timesplitters thing was so annoying: once i’ve got a puzzle right once, I don’t want to have to redo it again. Let alone again and again and again and again.

    Mind you, it must be difficult to balance the difficulty the hardcore gamers expect with the ease of use casual gamers want/need.

    > Mind you as a freelance, writing reviews is unlikely to pay the rent

    Not with the amount of time I take to complete games, no :)

  5. Gary says:

    > I’ve always put my complete lack of aptitude and (therefore) interest in computer games (past Tetris) dwon to the fact that they are designed (as is the hardware) for right-handed players. My excuse, and it’s stuck too.

    You should have tried playing Sinistar!

    (bad joke, sorry)

  6. David says:

    >>No, that’s instant career death.

    The ebay bit was just put in to be polite. I actually just meant give to me but didn’t want to say it outright. ;-D Mind you, there are a number of gamers now who don’t keep a lot of games and treat them more like extended rentals. When they complete them they sell them on ebay and buy another. Stu, my mate from esure, used to do that. Usually works out cheaper than blockbuster rentals and much better value than trade-ins at places like Game. you could write about that.

    I think you’ve oversimplified the games market though. It has become a lot more than that. There are an awful lot of people who buy games after reading loads of the reviews and then absolutely suck at them. Anyone who’s ever gone xbox live knows that. Gaming is becoming such a huge industry as it is starting to bring in older players too – not just nostalgia for speccy games – but so they have something in common with their kids!

  7. Gary says:

    > I think you’ve oversimplified the games market though.

    To be honest, I was meaning more the games magazine market rather than the games market. There’s a lot of games buyers who get their games news from tabloid puff pages, or from IGN or Gamespy or whatever… I think in terms of monthly games mags, though, there are really just those two camps (the sales figures are depressing: the grown-up mags barely sell, but the “FIFA! Woo!” ones sell *shitloads*. Then again, we do live in a world where Nuts not only gets published, but gets bought by thousands of people). Plus you get the odd interested observer who can’t play for toffee, ie. me.

    > Anyone who’s ever gone xbox live knows that.

    Oh god, I hate playing online. The joy of getting your arse kicked and kicked again by foetuses wears off very quickly.

    > Usually works out cheaper than blockbuster rentals and much better value than trade-ins at places like Game.

    I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they criminalise that. If you sell your game on eBay you’re funding organised crime, that kind of thing.

    But yeah, the effect of ebay/rentals has been interesting. Reviews now regularly say “worth a rental and that’s about it”, so I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before games go on sale long before reviewers get to see them. As per the Godzilla post of a few days back.

    That probably happens already, come to think of it.

  8. David says:

    >>I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they criminalise that.

    There’s always the possibility (due to the weird copyright rules) that it is already. Doing that, though, does mean that you can play the latest Xbox games all the time and not spend any money at all. There’s always the risk that you’ll lose cash, but it still works out very cheap.

  9. Gary says:

    Yeah. When you consider the amount of time you spend playing a game, even if you only get 50% back that makes it one of the cheapest forms of entertainment. (at full price it’s one of the most expensive forms)

  10. Russ says:

    Gary you need to try PC gaming there’s something for everyone. (Oh and if PCs are too scary these days :-P you could even try World of Warcraft on your Mac.)

    Consoles are good for :
    1. driving games (which I hate and suck at)
    2. fighting games/beat ’em ups (which I love and kick ass at)
    3. Football Games (i am told)
    4. Weird Japenese Puzzle/Dance/RPG shit (Playstations)

    PCs rock at:
    FPSs
    Strategy games (turn based and RTS)
    MMORPGs

    … and that’s pretty much it. However there’s a lot of fun to be had playing Age of Empires 3 or playing the latest Unreal Tournament (still waiting for a new one).

    As for World of Warcraft, it can suck your life dry and make you say thank you for it. Stay away from MMORPGs or at least register with http://www.olganon.org/

    Russ

  11. Squander Two says:

    It’s not just games: all too often, manufacturers simply don’t comprehend what makes their product good, so they start fucking around with it. Look at the VW Golf: the Mark 2 was the best, by a mile. They’re up to Mark 5 now, and it’s still crap compared to the ones they were making in 1990.

    Donna likes games, but has crap hand-eye co-ordination, so she really got into RPGs, where the action is all done by the machine, not the player. I’m sure she’s not the only one. But people who design games, being hardcore gamers, have brilliant hand-eye co-ordination, so don’t understand the Donna-like section of their market, so keep adding fast-moving action bits to RPGs as a “feature”.

    You know who understood what made their games great? The team behind Sonic The Hedgehog. Nothing they added to those games over the years ever changed their essential nature: it was just the same but bigger, better, faster, more. Class.

  12. gusto says:

    I *hate* puzzles in FPSs, especially those stupid levels where you have to jump from ONE BLOODY PLATFORM TO ANOTHER TO FLICK A SWITCH AND NOT FALL IN THE LAVA WHICH WILL KILL YOU!112311234T7

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