Addendum to Tropes vs Women: some games not mentioned

I note in passing that two series of games specifically were not mentioned in the Tropes vs Women video I discussed yesterday.

- Call of Duty

- FIFA (also Madden, et al)

While she wasn’t aiming for an exhaustive summary I think it’s worth noting that the two most popular, best selling franchises of recent times don’t actually ping the anti woman radar. I’m sure they are also aimed at the same audience and tend not to attract female players (although sports games might surprise us if we had the actual figures, I was always a sucker for Football Manager frex), but they’re not seen as problematic in the same way.

This isn’t to say that all is fine and well in the world of gaming, but it simply isn’t true that games need to include semi naked chicks or horrible things happening to female love interests to sell well.

Why CoD Elite is great for gamers

Amidst all the complaints of cash grabbing and random exploitation of gamers levelled at Activision after the announcement of the CoD Elite subscription service, I wonder if anyone else thinks it’s a smart idea for what  could be a pretty good service.

I really like the idea of being easily able to find players who share similar interests. Don’t hate me! I just think it would be kind of fun to be able to run a battleground with other players who are fans of The Game of Thrones and discuss what’s likely to happen to Sansa and Arya in between rounds of PvP. Or easily find players who are from the same area so that we could get together for meetups more easily if we all get on.

One of the big unsolved problems in MMOs has always been how to find a good guild. Achievement-heads have gotten around this by defining a good guild as one where they can get lots of achievements, and then flocking to websites where guilds are defined by their achievement scores/ progression. More social players make contact with each other by chatting, by targeted ‘adverts’ on bboards and by getting recommendations from their friends. But there is always an element of luck involved.

But what if it was just easier to hook up with a bunch of fellow gamers who share similar interests/ location/ age/ criteria of your choice? What if it was easier to set up tournaments and events in the game just for your friend list?

The challenge of building a social network layer onto games isn’t a new one. Steam has an implementation, Blizzard toyed with Facebook associations before an outcry from players closed down that idea (incidentally, Facebook would have been free, anything they decide to implement for battle.net might not), various startups like raptr and xfire have experimented with these ideas as well.

But none of them have been as well integrated into a specific game as CoD Elite will be.

The first step with introducting a new paid service is to plan out a service that people will want to use. I think that Activision have hit this one for six, it could improve the game experience for a lot of current fans. The second step is to get them to actually pay – and in a world where other social networks tend to be free, that may be a harder sell.

And yet, those ‘free’ social networks are supported by advertising, by marketing demands which are tilted in favour of the bottom line and not of the users. Perhaps a pay-for social network which really is designed purely to serve the users’ needs isn’t a step we should be shying away from.

At the end of the day, you pays your money and you takes your choice. I commented recently that the way I’d prefer MMOs to earn more money from players is to offer more services and goods outside the game itself. I’d much rather pay for access to a cool social network than for cash shop goods and xp potions …

My tour in Call of Duty Black Ops

call-of-duty-black-ops-arctic6

I could hear the crunching of footsteps on snow, and froze with my back to the wall. Suddenly there was a flicker of movement in my peripheral vision and I spun round in time to bring the light machine gun (LMG) to bear on the man behind me.

“Oh shit, which button is it to fire…” I said, accidentally swinging the viewpoint round so that I was pointing my gun at the floor. I may possibly have said rude words to the PS3 controller.

My friend, patiently, waited until I had gotten the controls together and could happily obliterate him with a headshot.

“Sorry,” I said, as his blood splattered over the snow.

“You don’t have to say sorry every time you kill someone.”

Call of Duty doesn’t do unhappy endings. You don’t really die, you just respawn round the corner with a full clip.

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So here’s the setup. I was round visiting friends over New Year and had a chance to play Black Ops on a lovely big TV. “You write about games, you should try this,” seemed like a great idea at the time. And then there I was, controller in hand, feeling like the clumsiest soldier in the western hemisphere. Do real black ops personnel spend 5 minutes trying to get through an open door? I suspect not.

I can’t get over how awkward the controller is for this type of game. I haven’t played shooters for years, not since playing Quake on the office LAN (despite my partner’s best efforts to interest me in Unreal Tournament) and never on a console.

And yet. Once you have a vague feel for the controls, it’s a very exciting game. Sure, it’s just a souped up version of hide and seek. That actually is the basics of most shooters, as best as I can see. But add in interesting buildings, vehicles, and obstacles to duck around, and hide and seek with imaginary guns seems like a perfectly good afternoon’s pastimes.

I personally find that the ultra realistic uniforms and guns add approximately zero interest to the genre for me. If anything, the more realistic it gets, the more uncomfortable I get. I have no desire to shoot real people. I don’t really want to do anything more violent than paintballing (which I have done iRL and was a lot of fun.)

And compared to the MMOs I’m used to, Black Ops with its first person view feels very claustrophobic. You can’t see the whole battlefield, you can often barely see a few inches in front of your own face and if you tweak the controls awkwardly then the camera careers around, not only making you feel seasick but also destroying any chance at all of you getting a feel for the layout of the area.

I can see though that once you are comfortable with the controls and can get more into the ‘hide and seek with guns’ zone, you can get a good deal more fun out of it.

Reflections on FPS and Black Ops

One of the stand out points for me is that Black Ops was not especially more fun than Quake, despite the length of time between the two games. The actual gameplay wasn’t all that, at least not that I could see. It certainly has prettier graphics, more hyper realistic settings, and lets you interact more with the environment (or at least shoot holes through doors and break windows), but I’m not really seeing the great leap forward in FPS that I was expecting.

The second thing is that really, paintball is a lot more fun and way less claustrophobic. I did find the controller was a hindrance. The studio that can make a good Kinect based shooter will be onto a winner.

The third is that there’s nothing really novel about playing hide and seek online. It’s very basic gameplay, even compared with other console games like Uncharted 2 or Grand Theft Auto. (GTA in particular shows off the console much better, to my mind.)

The fourth is that although it is kind of fun to tag your friends, I just don’t like actually shooting people. So I feel a bit conflicted when I kill anyone. (I think once we started playing for real a bit more, although I obv. wasn’t as good as the guys who had more practice, I did get some actual kills that weren’t pity kills :) ).

The last is that if Blizzard are working on a PvE/ MMO type shooter for Titan, they could well be onto a winner. I think there are lots of players out there like my friends who enjoy playing with people they know, and like the PvE game, but aren’t all that excited about being massacred by random 14 year olds (the game, astoundingly, has no player rank matching a la Starcraft 2, which is an inexplicable omission for me in a genre that stands or falls on it’s PvP tournament modes.)