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What makes gameplay epic? The essential triumvirate of emotions

A video game’s direct appeal is, in my opinion, based on a triumvirate of elements. These elements are collected together within each and every video game in a sort of tripod array (i.e. three equidistant columns that hold up when combined). The three elements are:

  • Perspective
  • Difficulty
  • Indulgence

These elements form the very basis of a video gaming experience. You might be wondering how that is even possible. Well lets break down the triumvirate and explore these elements in the context of some of the next-gen console’s latest titles?

Perspective

Perspective, in the purest contextual sense, allows a dialogue to morph into a storyline. This storyline is the reason behind the continuation of the gameplay. Therefore, perspective offers gamers a sense of ‘involvement’. This ‘involvement’ thus allows the player to engage and invest emotion into the title.

Difficulty

Difficulty, in the context of challenges, allows the attributes of gameplay to create hurdles which need to be cleared – either literally or metaphorically – in order to progress. These attributes offer gamers a sense of ‘achievement’. These ‘achievements’ thus allow players to build upon the perspective emotions by adding positive emotional capital into their gameplay behaviour.

Indulgence

Indulgence, in the context of gratification, allows the gameplay to offer-up very basic, some would even argue primitive, behaviours that are indulgent to the user. These ‘fun’ elements are divorced from the above in the sense, emotional and achievement-based experiences are not needed for pure fun. However, in tandem with the above, as indulgence allows players to invest emotive behaviours that encapsulate a form of escapism, this escapism is part of the indulgence context.

Combined, the triumvirate helps gameplay by allowing the individual gamer to blend three very important attributes into a single coherent action. Lets explore a couple of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One titles to find how the triumvirate helps enable a more enhanced and emotive gameplay experience.

 

KILLZONE: SHADOW FALL (PLAYSTATION 4)

Killzone-shadow-fall-ps4-wallpaper-in-hdThis game is probably a solid example of how such a triumvirate exists and creates the right atmosphere for excellence in gameplay activities. The perspective element, the storyline so to say, allows you to invest in a franchise that you have already – in all probability – played. You are aware of the ‘back-story’ and you know about the ‘Helgast’. As such, the investment is partially already there. That said, the game needs a storyline.  The game sees the action shift thirty years into the future. The World War has moved into a “Cold” War style rift between the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance’ and the Helghan’ people. The story allows the player to invest into the context of many different emotive involvements. There are themes which are fluid in the storyline from ‘Eurosceptiscism’ – the ‘Vekta Cityspace’ and the nuances between the ‘Helghan’ and the ‘IPA’ spaces allow for notions of ‘underclass’ and ‘immigrationary’ fears to be used in the context of gameplay. Real life fears and issues in today’s society and thus fused with a game that is pure fiction. This is the success of the first strand of the triumvirate.

The game, in the context of difficulty, also finds the right balance between the challenges of playing the game and the similarities of playing the older versions. The game has the right balance of challenges – from inner-space to inner-city – as such the rush and the drive of the gameplay allows for different players at different levels of gameplay experience the right amount of ‘difficulty’ without making it ‘piss easy’ for the pro’s and ‘dead hard’ for the noobs. The game moves away from drudge-based war games – assault after assault followed by end credits. This game uses difficulty in a way other games failed to. It uses the context of nuance – of distinction – to help elevate each and every level. This makes the game more challenging in parts – it’s not perfect but it does highlight challenging elements in a more organic way that say, Deadrising 3 does on Xbox One.

Finally, the final strand of the triumvirate is the context of indulgence. The first two parts illustrated the notion of storyline and difficulty. However, the final strand in what makes a game epic is ‘fun’. Some of the most technically brilliant games ever made have failed miserable because the ‘fun’ was missing. This, it has to be said, is not the case with Killzone Shadow Fall. The game fuses seriousness with fun. The ‘OWL’ drone has to be one of the coolest gadgets ever. The drone can do everything – stun enemies, shield you from attack and you can even use it as a zip line! The overall experience – apart from thematic and linear issues with the storyline – illustrates that technical excellence and fun can be fused to create a great title.

 

RYSE: SON OF ROME (XBOX ONE)

On the other end of the spectrum (and I mean spectrum by the way, not Spectrum the 80s computer), we see Ryse: Son of Rome. This is a Microsoft title that was given the green light to highlight what’s great and excellent about Xbox One. So let’s look at how the triumvirate worked on Ryse?  Ryse is a great example of shoddy storyline development. Developers have long avoided Rome and Greek themed titles – I remember Shadow of Rome on PlayStation 2 and that was pretty awful. This storyline has elements that seem to be mashed together in an incoherent fashion. For added flair, they have mangled Roman fables and histories into a mongrel tale. This ‘mongrel’ tale leaves little for the gamer to invest any emotion into. There are light-hearted areas – the motion capture scenes are epic. However, the collective storyline fails to incorporate the right balance of emotional and psychological allure to help develop the right relationship between game and player.

Ryse Arena  - Ultimate Gaming ParadiseThe ‘difficulty’ context of Ryse: Son of Rome is another epic failure. The game fails to create enough in the way of challenges for the player. It’s important to define what we mean by challenges. This is not about setting the difficulty level from easy to hardened. This is about the difficulty, and therein the achievement, complexity that allows gamers the emotive capital to invest into the title. Yet again, Microsoft and Crytek have failed miserably to offer the right balance in terms of challenges for gameplay achievement. The ‘rumbling’ between stages from arenas to open-spaces fails to create a sense of urgency and this at its core is about the lack of achievement-building in the wider gameplay experience.

Finally, the fun context of the game is a whole different story to the other two elements. The game is fun! There is no denying the lavish beauty of the graphics – as a visual showcase, the game at present has no equal in terms of Xbox One graphical excellence. This beauty echoes through the gameplay. As such, one part the ‘hacking away’ element is, whether it’s a good thing or not, rather fun on the whole! Those pesky Barbarians will meet the blade of your sword and it’s not going to end well for them. That said, it’s a fun game it’s just that the two other elements fail to create the complete package.

 

There. Two examples of next generation gaming and the importance of a triumvirate of essences that make video games better. They exist in the context of Killzone Shadow Fall but are miserably left out of Ryse: Son of Rome. The dynamic of the triumvirate can be seen in the successes of Call of Duty: Ghosts and FIFA 14 whereas they are epically missing from Battlefield 4 and Forza. Therefore, when looking at what next to buy for your console, why not use this evaluation tool to better engage with the right title. The triumvirate of achievement, entertainment and perspective creates the right environment for a game to flourish and therein the player’s experiences to be completely blown out of the water. This, at its core, is what gaming is about. That’s why we need to make sure we “keep it real” when gaming.

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Android Achievements

Confessions of an Achievement Hunter

They used to annoy the hell out me, the periodic pauses in a game as it informed me that I’d unlocked a Dwarf-Throwing achievement on some Middle-Earth inspired title, but now I hunt them out like the slick, gaming badass that I am.  Why?  Well derrr, because I’m an achiever; the clues in the name.

What started out as a simple side system of point scoring in Xbox games has transformed into its own sub-genre of gaming, with Sony’s Trophy system and the rather odd Steam Achievement Manager (SAM) waging into the fray too.  Taking the Xbox and PS systems, they represent a simple yet effective system in which a player receives in-game notification of passing an achievement determined by completing certain circumstances within the gameplay.  Achievements can be simple or complex and may be as simple as shearing your first twenty sheep in Farm Simulator, or sending fifty nameless henchmen to the Emergency Room in Batman:Arkham Origins, the game notifies you of your achievement and lodges the fact in the game statistics. Some achievements are useful markers in your journey through the cyberworld, some are just plain bonkers.  At one end of the spectrum you’ll find simply shooting weasels running around your feet with a handgun in Big Game Hunter wins your achievement, while it gets a tad more fraught in Rock Band 2 where the Bladder of Steel achievement requires you to play every song in the game without hitting pause once – yowzer; that’s seven hours of gameplay!!!

xbox-live-achievementsSo why are achievements such big news?  What makes people want to pursue gameplay to gather these virtual medals?  Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” puts the obvious human requirements at the bottom of his eponymous pyramid, supporting all the others above them.  The need for food and shelter come before the need of a secure environment and so on, but once you have the basics, most humans – Buddhists aside – want a little more from their lives.   Sitting proudly on top of Maslow’s triangle are the softer elements of self-esteem and the need for interaction, and that’s where the achievement system becomes important.   Finishing a game is one thing, but finishing it and gaining all 1000 of the achievement points sets one aside somewhat from all of your friends who have only gone as far as getting to the end credits.  It’s that “going a step further” that gives you the satisfaction and the ability to wryly flash a winner’s smile at your friends.

The psychological building blocks behind achievements may seem as simple as sheer gaming addiction, but research has found that it’s a lot more complex than that with shades of both obsessive-compulsive behaviour and the need to win coming into play.  The collection of points isn’t about having them just because they are there and available, it’s much more to do with standing out as a winner.  Gamers finish the game; Alpha Gamers finish the game and collect all the achievement points too.  In an electronic version of kicking sand in the wimpy kids face; flashing your achievements in gaming communities gives you a weird credibility.  After all, the need to win is allied to our sense of what is right and being thought of as right, inflates our ego and self-worth which harks back to Maslow’s infernal triangle.

xbox achievements gears of warAchievements are undoubtedly big business, but the move towards cloud computing and the posting of achievements on public forums has the possibility of taking the system to a whole new level.  Supposing the completion of a game with all 1000 achievement points could be transmogrified into a certain value being taken off your next game purchase, or maybe used to increase on-line presence or abilities?  Suddenly hunting for those hidden gems becomes a whole lot more interesting and worthwhile. Game consoles using an achievements system have seen the benefits of it and manufacturers are starting to realise the potential in a mode of entertainment that is fast outstripping movies in terms of money-making capabilities.  With the new generation of consoles hitting the stores, there is much focus on achievements and how best to use them to retain a game-playing public is well underway and those results could well determine how we all play games in the future.

So love ‘em or hate ‘em, achievements are certainly here to stay; they’re just too important to be disregarded.  And just what is the toughest of them, should you be feeling really brave?  The Seriously 3.0 achievement from Gears of War 3 may be it. First, you have to reach rank 100 and earn all of the game’s “Onyx” medals, itself requiring 6,000 kills with each of the game’s 5 weapons. After this you’ll need to take 1,500 enemy leaders captive and be an MVP in competitive combat five times. But that’s just the warm-up in this mega-tough requirement! The achievement ultimately has over a dozen checklist items, becoming increasingly brutal as they go.  However, pause a thought for the I Am Arthur Clarke achievement in Paramount Digital’s weird platformer, War Of The Worlds.  The game itself was fairly mundane, but it boasts the achievement which requires the gamer to complete the entire game in one sitting with no deaths. To date, it has not been reported as unlocked.  Now that sounds like a challenge.  Who’s with me: who’s bloody with me?

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The curse of microtransactions and the bleak future of gaming

You have a console, that’s roughly worth between £349 and £449, depending on whether you opted for Xbox One or PlayStation 4. You then paid online subscription to either Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus which costs around £39 to £49 a year. Then you purchased a game, any game from Grand Theft Auto 5 to Call of Duty: Ghosts for, on average, around £50. That’s, on average, just a bit over £500 just for the console, network access and a game. You might be thinking that, “that’s it; I can play and keep playing without having to spend any cash all year!”

Well, you’re actually quite wrong! In-game purchasing, in the form of microtransactions, has been in existence for over a decade now. However, mobile gaming has taken microtransactions to the next level. As such, games publishers and developers have started to go all ‘dollar-eyed’ over the prospect of ‘monetizing’ their video games further. This week saw the launch of Angry Birds Go! on Apple’s iOS platform – the iPad and iPhone OS environment. This game, takes microtransactions to the next and most obscene level.

Angry-Birds-High-Priced-microtransactionsMany commentators, including The Metro, found the game’s “sickeningly offensive use of not just microtransactions, but every underhand trick in the marketing handbook” an embarrassment to video gaming. Fast food operators ‘sponsor’ car upgrades and all sorts of other must-haves! 8Ball Pool, Plants vs Zombies and Angry Birds are part of a plethora of mobile titles that are either a couple of quid or are completely free that make their developers money through microtransactions.

Now it’s easy to argue that because the game is ‘free’, the developer needs to cover costs – so microtransactions help them to profiteer their product. This isn’t an issue, what is the issue is the cost associated – some perks on Angry Birds Go! include a £39 upgrade pack and the way the characters are geared towards you ‘having’ to pay to continue playing all points towards a money-centric development approach. Not so micro any more! This is a racket, in all intents and purposes, and one that Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry and Apple are propagating.

You might be thinking, well I don’t pay for such things! I enjoy my PlayStation 4, my Nintendo Wii U or even my Xbox One. But take a moment and ponder? Map packs on Call of Duty, Dream Teams on FIFA and even in-game currencies for games like Grand Theft Auto V. This is a cancer, one that will destroy the current video game marketplace. I am not arguing that all change is bad. I believe sponsorship in games is a better alternative to microtransactions. It’s what Rovio initially did before it started ‘flogging’ Angry Birds across the different phone OS platforms.

If this behaviour becomes mainstream during the lifetime of the current next-gen platforms, it will, due to the initial investment costs, create a fracture in the relationship between gamer and console. The very relationship is built upon a conflagration of extreme passion and loyalty. This unique relationship, on a consumer level, helps mould brand loyalties. However, these loyalties will be tested if every time you need ‘an extra perk’ on Battlefield or Call of Duty you’re forwarded to your credit or debit card payment page.

It’s a personal choice – we, as gamers, need to understand that every bit of money that’s paid towards in-game purchases will only embolden the developers and publishers to continue their behaviour. They are, right now, financially loyal to these funding formats. However, if enough people re-think their attitudes and it become fiscally unviable, the developers and publishers will move on to the next ‘big thing’.

Microtransactions Advertising RevenueVideo game development is a multi-platform endeavour. That said, the behaviour of developers on mobile platforms is starting to creep into the mainstream of top-end video game development. The ownership and game play costs cannot be increased by ‘cash hungry’ developers wanting to further their product monetization. Therefore, if you want to help keep the platforms of the next generation consoles clean of microtransactions and “sign-in to PayPal buttons”, you need to think about whether in-game purchases are really that important to your current video game-play enjoyment? If more and more developers force players to pay by microtransactions, the end result will be a commercialised drip-feed of adverts, mini transactions and expensive (and in all intents and purposes useless) discs. What we need is a thriving development scene – a scene that focuses on disc purchases and not in-game purchases as the central driver for consumption.

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Video Gaming: What does it mean for each and every one of us?

NESIn 1983, Nintendo launched the Nintendo Entertainment System, initially released in Japan as the “Family Computer”, referred to in the US and Europe as Famicom. This computer ushered in a new period of video gaming. It built upon Atari’s endeavours and Amiga’s coding exclusivity. However, by the 90s video gaming became less of a ‘family’ event to a more ‘individual’ event. This morphed the relationship and therein the development of titles. The sociability of two-player gaming was sidelined in favour of more grandiose single-player experiences. This, by 2006, was seen by the popularity of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3.

Why do people play video games? It’s a difficult question – even if you have Wikipedia’d the answer, which for those of you who haven’t, is quite simple. The reason you guys play is “mainly for entertainment.” However, it’s fair to say that the amount of emotion that is invested into a game and console, in reality, means no singular answer will really highlight the true answer to the question. It’s a difficult question – the meaning we apply to an electronic box that plays games?

In recent months, IGN have created a ‘gallery’ of responses surrounding peoples’ experiences of video gaming and what it means to them. Some of the responses include “a way of connecting with family living away from home”, a “way of relating with past periods of your life.” Others found playing video games was “escapism” and a way “of giving more meaning to life.” The comments seem to relate around notions of belonging, of remembering and of engaging. These themes are ever present throughout the wider narrative of the IGN experiment.

video-gaming-girl

Research conducted by the University of Taiwan found that “social influences” were big markers towards video game engagement. Thus, arguing that people’s experiences of video gaming, post-2007, are predominantly around being enclosed in a “flow of social influences”. Another notable study found that motivators, behavioural attributes that engaged people with video gaming, focused predominantly on the interactive process as a journey. This journey becomes a crucial element in their digital existence – thus completing a level, finishing a game or coming first on a multiplayer game, gives the individual a sense of worth.

Personally, ever since my first console – the wondrous Sega Master System with Alex the Kidd, video games have been a mixture of socialisation, of escapism, of engagement and of self-completion and self-challenging. These behaviours and attributes are the central part of why, I personally play video games. The happiness, the sense of satisfaction when you get your “Juggernaunt Maniac” on Call of Duty, when you beat someone three ranks higher than you on FIFA 14 Online or how angry I feel when I get smashed online by Battlefield 4. These numerous feelings, thus, helps me to build a relationship with the platform and the games.

How do you connect with your console? Why not add some of your thoughts or suggestions to the comments box below? We would love to hear from new and old gamers – from NES to PS4 we want to know why you play and why you enjoy playing. So, get writing in the comments section below? What does video gaming mean to you?

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