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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Lead and Gold – Review

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

Prior to this current generation, the Wild West seemed an untapped vein of video game potential. The untamed plains; lawnmen attempting to keep a grip of social order; and to say nothing of brandishing a six shooter whilst careering down main street on the back of a stagecoach. Call of Jarez and Red Dead Revolver have since filled the void, but Fat Shark feels there is more to be said. Whereas the aforementioned pair concentrate on adventuring across the frontier, Lead and Gold is solely a multiplayer experience, putting players in the spurred shoes of one of four archytpes and letting them exchange gunfire for bragging rights.

Lead and Gold is a class-based, third-person shooter set in a time when men were real men, women were real women, and the natives were complaining bitterly about their raucous neighbours. You have the choice of the quick firing sharp shooters, a sniping hunter, the rifle carrying deputy, or the shotgun toting red-neck. Each has their own set of positives and each is varied enough that everyone will find one which suits their own play style. Though, there is more to them than simply their effective combat range, as all have an extra skill that they bring to this gunfight. Whether it’s the sharpshooter’s quick fire, the hunter’s ability to set bear traps or the red neck’s love of wanton destruction as he merrily tosses sticks of dynamite into the fray, each of their varied talents proves useful as the bullets starts flying.

As with any class based shooter, the key is a balanced team. In Team Fortress 2 a whole team of medics might be well covered when it comes to private health insurance, but it is very unlikely to bunch through the enemy lines, and the same is true here. To encourage such diversity and team work, each class exudes one of four bonuses to others in close proximity. This can be extra health, toughness, accuracy or strength, and when combined they can turn your lone gunman into one hardened varmint, simply by sticking close to your gang.

What ultimately makes Lead and Gold a success, however, is not the tweaks that have been made to a tried and tested genre, it’s the way that their chosen theme has been embraced for more than simple window dressing. Squint and you’ll see its classes mimicked in many of its kin, but the setting, although bearing more than a passing aesthetic similarity to Team Fortress 2, is its identity. Aside from the traditional team deathmatch and conquest modes, there are game types that place you in the very centre of Spaghetti Western plots as you attempt to raid gold mines for their riches and blow rival cowboy’s farms sky high with barrels full of gun powder.

The highlight centres around relieving a bank of the content of its safe. Not only must one team break into the opposition’s bank and make off with large sacks of gold, but first they must lug a barrel of gunpowder to the safe to crack it open. A posse of cowboys first sneak into a building, tottering beneath the weight of a keg, and then a moment later – after a loud bang – disperse laden with gold and pursued by the law. It’s something quite unique.

Each of the available maps is set around locations plucked straight from the Big Book o’ Wild West – the gold mine, the frontier town, the panner’s waterfall, the farm – but rather than feeling clichéd, they enhance the experience. One futuristic spaceship is very much the same as another, but these familiar surroundings just further reinforce the sentiment that you’ve just come in off the range to sort out this ruckus.

Set in any other timeframe or location it could easily have been brandished as “just another class-based shooter.” Instead, the choice to go out West has woven a great deal of character into the game’s makeup, from class loadouts to the handful of gametypes contained within, Fat Shark have produced a well rounded title. Now get! I’m gonna find me a posse and mosey back online.

7 /10

The Conservative Party: Interview

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

With the General Election looming there are many issues that British voters will have to consider when heading to make their mark on 6 May. The economy, health, education, and security are all on the agenda, but what are the main parties’ policies regarding the video game industry. 7outof10 have contacted the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats on their views to find out.

Today is the turn of Conservatives and Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

7outof10: Many thanks for taking time out to talk with us. Speaking to video game industry magazine Develop and in response to Labour’s Budget, Conservative MP Ed Vaizey spoke about how the Conservatives would introduce tax breaks for the video game industry during their first Budget if elected. In your 131-page policy manifesto there is no mention of such a promise; could you clarify the party’s position on such a matter, please?

Jeremy Hunt: Our manifesto was not a list of every single thing we would do in government. As we have said before we think there’s a strong case for the introduction of a tax credit for the video games industry and, like Labour, will look at doing so. It is worth pointing out that although they announced one in the Budget Labour didn’t see this through and introduce such a tax break in the Finance Bill. Had they done so it would have been law by now. For thirteen years they have ignored the games industry so I take their new found support with a pinch of salt.

Speaking during last week’s State of Independence in York, Ed Vaizey also spoke about the possibility of creating the video game equivalent of the UK Film Council. Would that be pursued by a Conservative Government?

We think the games industry needs greater recognition from the Government and some sort of council would achieve this. However, we don’t like creating new quangos so instead we’d rather look at if the Film Council’s role could be expanded to include video games. As the two industries are converging this would seem to make sense.

Aside from Tax Breaks, how does your party plan to support the video game industry during the course of the next Parliament?

We will provide the digital infrastructure that both the industry and gamers need by delivering superfast broadband across the country. And we will do this without forcing everyone to pay Labour’s new phone tax. Our manifesto also set out plans to refocus research and development tax credits on tech companies and start ups which I hope the games industry will be able to take advantage of, stop Labour’s job tax and cut corporation tax to 25p. All of these policies will help make the UK a real hub for the digital industries.

Regarding the recent Digital Economy bill: some have said that the bill was rushed through during the last days of Parliament. With regards to the rating of video games, do you think the legislation was enough to protect children from violent video games?

The move to a single age rating system is welcome and should help parents understand what sort of games their children should be playing. The legislation should be enough but we’ll have to wait and see.

Also regarding the Digital Economy bill, given the speed at which it was passed, would you have liked to see any alterations made on the clauses on piracy and the threat to strip users of their access to the Internet?

I really hope that the measures in the Digital Economy Act designed to tackle online piracy work. In particular I want to see the initial obligations, things like letter writing, given a chance. We have said that we reserve the right to come back to these provisions if they don’t work or treat consumers unfairly but I think we have to wait and see how things bed down before we rush to any decisions.

Finally, is there anything else you would like to say to our readership regarding the forthcoming election?

We are huge supporters of the games industry and believe it can play a significant part in our economic recovery. As well as provide all the financial help that we can a Conservative Government will also do much more to recognise the positive aspects of gaming. We won’t rush to condemn the industry as some in the Labour Party have done. Instead we’ll do all we can to support a social responsible and economically vital part of our society.

Many thanks to Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt for taking time to answer our questions, and thank you to Sue Beeby for arranging the interview. You can find out more about the Conservatives and their policies on their website.

Hall of Fame: Xbox Live 1.0

It’s fair to say that when Microsoft originally launched the enormous, black box entitled “X-box”, I was less than enthusiastic. It happened during my final year at university and I can still remember pouring scorn over the copy of Edge which had the brazen audacity to sit open on a page in a lecture theatre describing how a game known as “Halo” had just scooped their highest possible score. As a self-confessed Nintendo fanboy, the thought of an operating systems manufacturer invading the console market irked me and I wished for their machine to go the way of the Virtua Boy.

Time makes fools of us all however, and I sit here typing with not one but two Xbox 360s to my name and an original Xbox sat in the loft, retired after a long life of service. The Xbox is now my primary gaming platform and quite paradoxically it is Nintendo who I now question, though that is a matter for another day.

What started this about turn was a small socket on the back of the box. I’m not denying that there were other network-ready consoles prior to Microsoft’s console debut, but the Xbox was the first to require more than dial-up. Though initially limiting its own market, you either had to have a LAN or a broadband connection to make full use of the multiplayer features and what this leant to proceedings was a level of expectance: the extra bandwidth meant voice was standard; you had a unified match-making system rather than selecting random servers from a lengthy list; there was the ability to keep a friends list. Many of the seeds of what we now see as commonplace were the bedrock of Xbox Live 1.0.

Others have iterated on it, and some have even surpassed it, but those first few online games were enough to mean that since 2003 – the launch of Xbox Live here in the UK – I have been registered BIGsheep on its books, and not even the potty mouthed US youngsters that you so routinely encounter in voice chat will put me off renewing my subscription for an eighth consecutive year.

With Microsoft choosing to discontinue Xbox Live support for the original console today, an admirable five years after it was superseded, I’d like to mark its passing with the games that saw me drawn in to my very first online community.

Moto GP 2

This was the trail blazer: the first Xbox Live title. Thankfully, though, it was more than simply “the first”, as it revealed itself to be an incredibly deep game for me. Not usually taken in by racing games, the extra skill needed to ride a bike through the twisting, tight bends of the Moto GP calendar proved fascinating. The need to line your bike up in preparation, the dual brakes, and the want of not ending face first in the gravel, all in all made me play this far more than any straight car racer. Plus, with fastest laps also being regularly traded in the office, this was also my first exposure to the power of leaderboards.

Furthermore, from a professional point of view, what made this even more incredible was finding out that the entire Live implementation was fitted into the game in less than three months. An astounding feat given the infancy of the system.

Project Gotham 2

As mentioned above, I can give or take racers. Usually the thought of spending time retracing my steps around the same piece of tarmac multiple times is enough for me to eject the disc and walk away. Rather than stick to the conventional, what Project Gotham presented us with was a meta-game: Cat and Mouse. Split your contingent into pairs; one will take a mini, the other a Ferrari; race as normal but only the Minis’ positions count. Oh, and the Ferraris can do whatever they feel justified in doing to “protect” their own mini.

Splinter Cell

The Spies v Mercs mode displayed to many that the online world did not have to be exclusively shooters and racers. This stealthy approach to multiplayer and online co-op is still the reason why I look forward to the imminent Conviction, in the hope that no matter what they do with the single-player the multiplayer will still hold the same sense of satisfaction.

It was Pandora Tomorrow that introduced the concept or pitting well-armed Argus mercenaries against the more nimble and stealthy spies, attempting to prevent them from reaching computer terminals. Chaos Theory then iterated and created cooperative missions and moves for spies to tag-team their opponents. This was real cat and mouse gameplay and the unbearable tension that came along with it was just proof of its success.

Top Spin

Looking back, I have very mixed feeling about this game. Even though I used to play it obsessively I seem to remember hating it by the end of my time with it, the problem being that I became too good. As conceited as that sounds, my doubles partner and I edged up to being ranked 8th in the world; an achievement wrought from sheer effort and teamwork. Sadly in our closing weeks we encountered far too many glitchers and standbyers for the fun to continue and my last loving memory of it is swearing loudly down the headset and shutting off the Xbox in a huff as we were cheated for the final time.

Halo 2

Last, and by no means least, Halo 2. Gameplay aside, this set a new standard in Xbox Live games with easy access to your friends list, skill based match making, clans, web-side stat tracking and large amounts of DLC. Several of its core facets turned out to be so successful that they were even taken into the heart of Xbox Live in future updates. If ever there was a game to mark and personify the original Xbox Live, this would be it.

Goodbye. You may be gone, but you won’t be forgotten.

Digital Economy Bill

On Tuesday, Gordon Brown went to the Queen and requested that Parliament be dissolved in order that a general election may take place on 6 May. Not only did this signal the beginning of the campaign for your vote, but also that there was only a further week to rush through any key outstanding legislation. Ten bills are being considered during this “wash-up” period, one of which was the Digital Economy Bill which was passed late Wednesday evening.

Ratings

The bill stems from the Digital Britain report, which outlined various recommendations aimed at moving Britain to the forefront of digital telecommunications, and the biggest positive to emerge from it was the acceptance into law of the European-wide PEGI system of game ratings over the UK-only BBFC method, which used the same guidelines as films. The independent Video Standards Council will now handle ratings, with the promise of Government working closely with them and PEGI to develop a clear set of symbols to give parents the necessary information at a glance.

Previously the BBFC system ran alongside PEGI and at times they offered conflicting messages; a single box could easily display symbols depicting two separate age ratings. With a single model the system will have the unity required to show coherency and strength in a society that is easy to try and lambast games for being too violent, rather than question the parent who let their offspring play unsuitable material. The system will also be legally enforceable meaning that retailers could be liable if games are sold to those underage.

Some have said that the BBFC ratings were a more instantly recognisable symbol thanks to their use in cinema, but their use was inconsistent at times with not all games displaying their iconic circles and triangles. Bar the imagery, the fundamentals are unlikely to change at all.

Tara Byron, psychologist and heavily involved with the Digital Britain report, told MCV that “the PEGI system has been strengthened since my review and the Government has consulted widely on each of my suggested criteria. I support the Government’s decision to combine the PEGI system with UK statutory oversight.”

Piracy

The other clauses of note can be found between numbers 4 and 18, and are possibly the most controversial. They relate to illegal downloads and the methods of tackling such activity, with possible recourse including cutting off users’ internet access and shutting down websites that are considered guilty of pirating copyrighted material.

Speaking to the BBC last week, a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that the bill would “allow copyright holders to apply for court injunctions requiring service providers to block access to specified Internet locations providing access to copyright infringing material.” Although they did point out that the Secretary of State would have to consult with the industry at large before carrying out such an injunction.

Depending on your line of thinking, this could be considered a good or a bad thing. For one it is the first signal that the authorities are looking at cracking down on piracy, but others could view it as the first step on a slippery slope as there are currently no plans for an appeals process. Indeed, many MPs were perturbed by the way the bill was rushed through the Commons with such haste believing that it required more scrutiny. Labour’s Tom Watson Twittered that it left him “physically sick”, whilst fellow MP Kate Hoey labelled it a “stitch-up”.

The main bone of contention is the way users may be identified through IP addresses with the worry being that innocent people may be prosecuted, brought about by the use of unguarded wi-fi, netjacking or even a communal IP address that serves an entire building. With The Telegraph reporting that less than 5% of the House were present during the final debate on the bill, it’s hard to argue that it was given the necessary consideration by all those involved. Already over 20,000 voters write to their MPs opposing such legislation with groups such as the Open Rights Group having carried out and planning more protests against it outside Parliament itself.