Sunday, 27 February 2011

Don’t kill The Walking Dead

Robert Kirkman’s ongoing, Eisener Award winning, epic comic book series, The Walking Dead, has thrilled and chilled readers since 2003. Recently, a TV adaptation secured a second series, and now Telltale Games has announced that the franchise is to be turned into a video game. We can only hope the transition to console doesn’t kill The Walking Dead.

I am a huge fan of the book and I enjoyed watching the TV series, although I did think it deviated a little too much from the comic. The main draw of the franchise has always been the great writing. In all good zombie fiction, the undead serve simply as vehicle for story telling. As terrifying as the flesh-eating fiends are, they are never the true enemy. They cause the downfall of human society, a situation so far outside of every day life that ordinary people are pushed to extraordinary limits, and thus we can explore the darker aspects of humanity. As with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, World War Z and other great films and books of the genre, the most dangerous foe in zombie fiction is always us; the people whose weakness and actions in the face of adversity are their own undoing.

Telltale Games has an opportunity to create a great title from a great franchise, but my fear is that they may attempt to make the game challenging by introducing a variety of enemy types. In big release zombie games, zombies are commonly supplemented with “boss” enemies, such as Resident Evil’s dogs, crows and Tyrants. Left 4 Dead did an excellent job of representing a zombie horde (although the creatures are “infected” humans in the vein of 28 Days Later), but again relied on more ferocious creatures such as Boomers, Smokers and Tanks to add another layer of difficulty to the gameplay. Capcom’s Dead Rising managed to capture some of the Dawn of the Dead nostalgia by setting the game in a shopping mall and, for the large part, presenting the player with a zombie we would recognise from the George A Romero classics. Admittedly, the game was darkly comic and injected a great deal of fun into zombie killing, but even Capcom’s homage chose to modify the zombies, having them become faster and more dangerous at night than during the day.

The true horror of zombie fiction isn’t the graphic violence, the tearing of flesh from bone or the copious amounts of blood and gore, it’s the loss of individuality that results from being engulfed by them and the fear of becoming lost in the mindlessness of the horde. Kirkman’s creatures conform to the Romero paradigm of zombies - slow and lumbering, easy to avoid in small numbers but increasingly terrifying as their numbers swell. Ultimately, survival depends on groups working together in the face of a common enemy. It is my great hope for the game that it will remain true to this vision of zombies, and to Kirkman’s main narrative.

The greatest enemies presented throughout the comic book series are the array of psychopathic and self-interested characters that Rick Grimes, the series main protagonist, encounters, and this material provides a more than sufficient basis from which Telltale can draw. I look forward to the game, but very much hope that Telltale avoids creating other classes of the undead in an attempt to bolster gameplay, and represent such a great franchise in the manner it merits. My worry may be groundless, with Kirkman likely to work closely with the developers, but I truly hope they don’t kill The Walking Dead.

Friday, 25 February 2011

"Do, or do not. There is no try."

I’m aiming to write more feature articles. Over the past couple of years I have reviewed many games and had said reviews published at various sites. However, the writing I have enjoyed most has been features. The last post published here was recently picked up by Bitmob and promoted to their front page. This gave me a boost, and my editor at Game Kudos, where the vast majority of my features have been published, has encouraged me to focus on this sort of writing. This doesn’t mean I’ll be dropping reviews; I still enjoy reviewing games, but the majority of my energies will be channelled toward features in the future.

With that in mind, I’m linking up two of my recent reviews that have been published at Game Kudos:

Fifa 11 is a stunning game that all football fans will love. Read my view on the game here.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 was a big letdown for me. As an avid Star Wars fan, and one who loved the first game, this half-hearted sequel has left a sour taste in the mouth. Read why here.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Social shaming: My fear of FarmVille

The image of gamers is changing, slowly, and this is largely due to social networking sites. The stereotype of pasty mal-exercised social outcasts gaming for 20 hours-a-day in their mothers’ basement is being replaced by that of “normal” people from a variety of backgrounds, social groups and cultures who do their gaming on sites like Facebook, making gaming more mainstream; so, as a lifelong gamer, why am I afraid to play FarmVille?

Statistics show that social gaming is massive; FarmVille, the game that arguably started the social gaming revolution, has 52 million active users at present. This is dwarfed by the new hot title, CityVille, which has a whopping 98 million active users. To put this into context, that’s more than the population of the United Kingdom. So if gaming has become socially acceptable, as indicated by the sheer numbers of people gaming on one particular application on just one – albeit mammoth – website, should hardcore gamers feel a pang of shame for indulging in these pursuits?

I am a gamer; I have been since the early 1980s. I have owned an Atari 2600, a Commodore 64, a ZX Spectrum, an Amiga 500, a Microsoft PC, a Sega Master System and Mega Drive, a Gameboy, PlayStations 1 & 2, a PSP, an Xbox and a 360 in my gaming career. I have sampled most game genres and rank Real Time Strategy games highly. As one who has witnessed the evolution of video games over the past 3 decades I feel I should embrace the move toward social games, many of which are RTS based that I should enjoy. I speak here of FarmVille, although in reality I’d be more likely to play games like Kingdoms of Camelot or Mafia Wars, but their presence on such a widely used social network puts me off. My reasoning may be debatable, but it’s as follows: I don’t like the idea of everybody on my “friends” list, which includes work colleagues and people on the peripheral of my social circle, being updated every time I sew a field or request help to build a barn. The very nature of social gaming requires this sort of interaction with other users, but having been on the receiving end of countless requests to help others in their gaming efforts, and having been annoyed by the persistence of them despite my not having the same application, I am loathed to inflict this upon my “friends”. It’s the carpet-bombing nature of the applications’ update messages coupled with the lack of customisable privacy options with which I have an issue.

An immediate retort to this would be to say that the option exists within Facebook to ignore all such notifications, however, not everyone chooses to click on this option. This may be because they are happy to receive them, or eager to involve themselves in the game, but what if they’re not? It is entirely possible that people can simply skip through the endless updates spewed out by these applications and, although it could be argued that it is their choice not to get rid of them, I wouldn’t want everyone to see these updates generated by my gaming. I’m not alone in my frustration; an entire anti-FarmVille movement exists within Facebook, born of just this sort of complaint, sporting over 2 million disgruntled users.

For me, collaborative gaming should be about people who want to game together working toward a common goal. If users don’t want to be involved, or don’t have the application, then the system shouldn’t bother them with updates or requests. However, as Facebook and social networks like it have a mandate to expand, it’s not likely that social gaming will move into a less intrusive format any time soon.

I’m sure there are many very worthy games to play in the social gaming genre, but until the scope of who is informed of and involved in my gaming is more tightly controlled it will remain an area of the gaming world that I’ll avoid. I don’t play games on Facebook partly because of the privacy issue and partly due to a reluctance to have my pastimes scrutinised by everyone connected with my social media accounts. I don’t want everyone I know to see what I’m playing and how often I play it; for me, that privilege is reserved for those friends I game with on Xbox LIVE.