being cultured with

Games

New Skool Media

I've spilt the games down into a few categories on how I perceive them. This is not looking at genres but at the actual inspiration behind what makes me play them.

I've been playing video games as long as I can remember, and I'd wager for much longer than I do remember. The reasons why can be anything from loving the story, to socialising or to keep my gaming skills sharp. Wouldn't want to be pushing buttons slowly now would I?

I, like many others, started learning how to make games at a young age and from that learning to program just came naturally. So I owe a lot to the countless bodies that have moulded me to be the guy I am today.

As ever, you can click the images to see trailers of the games

Keeping Sharp

These are games of skill. Ones where merely getting from start to finish really isn't the point, it's about doing it in style.

Ikaruga

considered one of the hardest shooting games of all time, the premise is simple; you're a ship, you fly up and shoot stuff. You can switch colours between black and white, you can absorb bullets of the same colour and that charges a homing missile attack which blows everything up.

This game genuinely transcended from just a simple shooter to a piece of art by two things, combos and difficulty. The game keeps a combo system based on you killing enemies of the same colour three times in a row. Meaning you can struggle through the game, and feel like you've genuinely achieved something. Until you go online and see people not just breezing through the game you've died 5000 times on but that they've actually done it and paid attention to every kill to make sure they don't break combo.

The craziest skill video? One man plays through a level of the game controlling both planes and getting a ridiculously high combo. He dies at the boss once or twice, but I can live with that.

This is the game that the word bullet hell was made for.

Super Meat Boy

The platformer of my dreams. The story is simple and is an obvious homage to Mario. You are a sack of meat, you have a girlfriend made of bandages, she is stolen from you by a fetus (who hates everyone), you try to get her back. The game plays out as a series of smaller levels with alternative super hard versions. The controls are so refined it makes every other platformer I've played since feel clunky. The game is easy to pick up; someone who has spent 2 hours watching me play can pick up the pad afterwards and continue. And here's what makes this game about staying sharp. It strongly encourages speed running, in fact to access any of the dark worlds ( the harder versions of the levels) you have to speed run the original level, which in itself is a challenge.

In researching this game, I even went out and bought the soundtrack to write this article with because they were donating half of the cash to charity, imported into iTunes then made into a spotify playlist. <3

Super Meat Boy has additional painfully difficult challenges in the form of wraps and bandages, small items where you really have to go out of your way to pick them up. These babies aren't easy to get in the slightest, and so far I've found a few to be impossible without having to go back with a different character. It reminds me a lot of playing Donkey Kong Country, another amazing platformer that revels in having extremely clever nooks and crannys to explore.

Super Meat Boy

If there was one game to represent my first year of university, it is this. (For those interested, the 2nd was Donkey Konga / Ikaruga, and the third Wii Sports Tennis.) You can take Super Monkey Ball at face value, as a game where you are a monkey in a ball collecting bananas trying to get from the start to the end. Or you can join the Super Monkey Ball Elites (now called EliteScores (lame)). And join a few of us did, armed with our trusty gamecube and an understanding that this game had an accidental physics we would proceed to record our replays for showing to each other.

What made this game stand out was‚ Speedrunning. Sega blatantly noticed this. Super Monkey Ball 2 actually came with a jump button as everyone Speedrunning had become so used to bouncing off the bits to keep slow people on the course.

Social

I play games to socialise, and these are the ones that I play with friends, mainly people I've met on the games themselves, or in a clan.

Counter Strike

If you were playing games online in Europe / America at the start of this century, you were most likely playing Counter Strike. A quick look on the Steam stats page shows that the original (last updated in 2003) Counter Strike is still more popular than its prettier sequel Counter Strike Source. And combined they topple the closest competitor in the multiplayer space (on the PC, I'd easily imagine that the Xbox version of COD topples everything a bazillion times.)

So what's the appeal? Counter Strike is a game where is helps to work together, but it's not essential. You have a round based game whereby if you die early on you're forced to sit through watching from your teammate’s perspective. I think this is the key to the game, dying is frustrating. Dying early is rage inducing. It also helps to foster getting people up to speed on tactics overall, if you can watch everything whilst you have to wait, surely you're gonna learn a little bit more with each death. At least that was my impression.

So Counter Strike is also a game known for its rampant cheating, it works well for cheaters because getting the jump on someone can almost always mean you're going to out reflex and presumably kill them. The latest update for Counter Strike Source seems to be pulling in a lot of good ideas from TF2 / COD and it's nice to see the game being cared for.

There's always going to be a place in my heart for Counter Strike, and my first girlfriend will probably always hate it for that

TF2

The next step from Counter Strike. There were a lot of people playing the original Team Tortress for a long time, and I knew the moment that I saw trailers for TF2, that that was the game for me. I instantly bonded with the medic class, the ultimate support role. You were the shoulders that all the aggressive, top players had to stand on in order to really do some damage to the opposing team. Basically TF2 is a game where teamplay is downright demanded. Whilst one ridiculously good person could overcome anyone, if you had some people working together and talking it over, you could get some extremely intense games going on.

I kept Counter Strike up as my main game from 2003 to 2007, TF2 was then from 2007-2009. TF2 was a crazily updated game, they would have massive updates for single classes bringing in free maps, new weapons and new game types. I played in a few clan matches, and generally hung out on the same servers. In fact here's my character sheet from the server.

I should have started playing TF2 again when they released it for the Mac, but I'd moved on from massive time-consuming gaming to short bursts. To keep sharp in TF2 required knowing who you were playing against and keeping up to date. Instead I wanted to start contributing to open source projects and to then do some small amounts of gaming on the side. This is what led me back to Starcraft.

As an aside, TF2 seems to be getting crazier and crazier, it now seems that they've introduced micropayments for in-game items, which makes an oldbie whose not in the community like me say 'Get off my lawn, damn kids!' .

Starcraft 2

The main reason I turn on my Mac Pro. I played the original Starcraft when I was first learning to program HTML back when tables were the only layout options, and having a hand-coded Angelfire website was considered to be pretty cool. The game looked amazing to me, the idea that strategy game with three completely different races that were actually balanced pretty much blew my mind. Before then I think my only experience was with Command and Conquer, which was pretty much red army vs blue army.

Starcraft hooked me in initially with having a huge manual telling the entire backstory, I sat and read the entire thing over the course of a few hours before even playing the game.

I'll be honest; I'm not very good at Starcraft. I spend most of my time playing custom games, because that's what really interests me. I used to play Tower Defence games every night on the original and now I seem to be playing Marine Arena every 2-3 days. Shame Blizzard's method of letting custom map makers release maps sucks meaning in the UK we don't get American maps unless they trust someone enough to have all their map source files.

So what's good about it? It's beautiful, it's polished (they've had twelve years), and it feels tight.

Fun

I guess this is useful sometimes.

Track Mania

Best LAN game ever. Back when I used to go to LAN parties (basically throw a bunch of computers into a room and play the same games together) Trackmania was in vogue; the game was free, looked good and was easy for those fresh to play against people recommending it. It's a racing game that only really cares about your timing from start to finish, so it's another Speedrun game. Though it's nowhere near as challenging as Meat Boy / MonkeyBall it holds its own as a good party game because you can see everyone's ghosts and fight over the leaderboard.

One aspect I love about the game is the constant modding that's going on online by creating an ingame currency. You earn money every day since you've bought the game and you can offer payment to people as a way of giving kudos, or to purchase/trade in-game items it seems to have a booming little economy.

The single player mode is quite interesting too, one of the game modes has you being given a set amount of track to make to get form a to b, via c. It forces you to be inventive with the level editor to complete the levels. A brilliant way to get people trained up into making clever custom levels. I could only imagine what Starcraft would be like if they did something like that!

Dead Rising

Take a serious genre, and take the piss. Zombie games are normally pretty serious. So what makes Dead Rising interesting apart from its crazy b-movie voice-acting and ridiculous plots? What initially sold me on the game was the idea that it kept your zombie kill count in the bottom corner.

The original Dead Rising came with an amazing photography mode, where you tried to snap your best shots of up the skirts of zombies, or people hugging, or zombies with LEGO heads. I thought it was a massive shame that this got pulled out for the sequel, but adding the mixing item mechanic worked well enough for me.

Zack and Wiki

I like Zack and Wiki because it turned point and click puzzle games into chunkable levels. Zack and Wiki is a game that I exclusively play with friends, similar to the new Monkey Islands and Super Mario Galaxy. All of these games are games you can either sit down and have a good 4 hours session in, or a sitdown for 30 minutes before doing something else.

The game is a level based point and click game, where you play as the cutest pirate ever trying to find all the bits of a dubious golden skeleton who promises to show you the way to treasure island. Weird thing is is that the treasure island turned out to be a ship. Regardless, it is quite possibly my favourite Wii game and I bet you can find it in any shop for a tenner or so.

I think what Capcom (the creators) wanted to do with the game was to take a traditional point and click game and add some Wii style waggling, it worked well for almost all of it, but sometimes you don't expect to waggle in a certain direction. I remember being stuck on puzzles for 20-30 minutes simply because I'd tried waggling an item, but there was a special way of doing it.

Indie

When there's a tiny amount of people in control, artistic merit can really shine through, I love Indie games.

Braid

Braid: A Story, then a game. Braid's story is a lot like the movie Primer's. It's introspective, in order to understand it you have to run through it once or twice and pause to think (or you can just google it) but even then there is no one true answer. Braid is a platform puzzle game, with an amazing hand-painted graphic style, beautiful music and completely new game mechanics that wrap neatly into the story.

There are 6 worlds, and each one has a unique mechanic to the level that you have to study and understand before you can pass through. As with Super Meat boy, this is a game that is constantly paying homage to the games that come before it. Hell, Super Meat Boy actually has the main character from Braid as a unlockable character.

Braid moved me in a way that very few games have, the ending is both amazing and terrible. And in that moment, I wished I could share that experience with everyone I know.

On an awesome note, as of this moment there's been some leaked footage of the next game that the creator of Braid is working on over youtube.

Plants vs Zombies

Simple Braindead Tower Defence. I initially got Plants vs Zombies on the iPad after hearing about it being the next Peggle on the blog Rock Paper Shotgun, as at the time there weren't too many iPad games that felt like shovelware. I played the game mainly on that the iPad. And it worked.

Though the game wasn't made with multitouch in mind initially a little bit of love really pushed it into awesomeville and playing it back on any non-touchscreen computer doesn't feel right anymore.

In Plants vs Zombies, (I think) you're a houseowner trying to keep hoards of zombies from ruining your glassware by putting down enough plants to stop them. Each plant has different ways of attacking and you need to pick up sunlight in order to plant more. In a similar respect to Zack and Wiki, Plants vs Zombies takes a genre known for large time investment and chunks it down so that you can have a burst game and do a few levels and then come back another time and try some more.

It's debatable how much Popcap (the creators of Plants vs Zombies) are in the indie world, but if ID can be indie. So can Popcap.

Osmos

Relaxing. In Osmos you are a single celled organism you have to absorb smaller organisms into yourself. It's very similar in concept to the inital part of the game Spore, but more indie. Presentationally Presentation-wise it feels like you're looking down a microscope at some nuclear cells bumping into each other.

There are three main types of game; become the biggest, get the something, survive what's going on. Become the biggest is a nice simple game where you go around absorbing what is smaller. Getting the something can prove to be a bit of a challenge as the something could also be competing for smaller organisms to grow with. The "Survive what's going on" levels are usually trying to control yourself in what is essentially wind. You need planning on those levels, but it's a nice game, throw in the beautiful bubbly soundtrack and you can sit down and distract yourself for a while.

iPhone

Megaworm

Supposedly the film Tremors summed up as a game. I love this game, but I've only played through it properly once myself. It's a great game to let other people play. Initially you play as a worm eating as many humans as possible as they slowly start to fight back. Luckily you can evolve to fight back (and they stay between games too) so suddenly you're a worm armed with EMP's and fireball breath.

Aesthetically this is another iPhone throwback to the 90's pixel art scene, which is something I for one can never get enough of (link to that Pixman's app) the soundtrack I have no idea about, I never really listened to the music. It's an iPhone game, use your own music collection.

Counter Strike

I've still not completed the free version of this game. Trainyard is my favourite puzzle game on the iPhone. The style is sleek, lots of effective uses of black and great typography. Your aim is to get trains from their start stations to their respective end stations. A train starts out as a colour, but the end itself could mean that you have to mix, merge or crash your trains with each other in order to get the right amount of trains into the exits.

This is the game I play on the bus all the time. It's simple, a single level is (so far) a single screen so the puzzles can usually be completed within 10-20 minutes and a million retries.

It's interesting that he uses the same game framework that I've both lectured on at my old university and that I've helped write about in a book. I truly hope that now the guy who made this has made enough cash to go full time on iPhone games and to make another puzzle game. Because the moment I finish the express app I'm moving onto the full one. Then hopefully whatever else he's made.

Cut the Rope

It succinctly sums up the gameplay. You cut ropes to ensure a cute monster-thing gets its candy. I could probably hammer through cut the rope very, very quickly. But that wouldn’t be right; because you want to collect every single star in the process (gotta do the game in style.)

The levels are over far quicker than Trainyard express, and it's a lot easier to explain to someone else, so quite often it isn't me completing the levels but someone else. They get kudos for forcing multitouch on some levels, so far I've found a few that aren't doable without it fingers slicing simultaneously