WHAT TO EXPECT Dara O’Briain Comedian Dara on BAFTA’s, violence and Olly Murs. As well as appearing as an advocate for gaming unintentionally, he shares some of his favourite games.
Random Loot A review of some of the absurdities and the downright weird products and games available. This time we look at a game aimed at molestation as a form of recreation. Yes it’s
Virtual Geographic A feature from the tumblr site of the same name, this issue focuses on the breathtaking, barren and beautiful land of Skyrim.
Soft Wars We review the new Zelda and compare it to its earliest incarnate: Ocarina of Time.
Extra Punctuation Guest writer, wizard, gamer and elequent wordsmith Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw outlines what themes make games so pleasing to play.
Wireless Gameplay Our look into the weird, wonderful and often misunderstood world of Live Action Role Playing. We interview several people from Leeds’ society of LARPers to determine how it has gathered in popularity.
Loading... Welcome to Code. Everything from in game environments, art, illustration, ridiculous products and even interviews from some of the coolest individuals who share their years of experience. “But print is dead, especially with all recent content being online” we hear you scream at the page. Well we want to change that. A compact, easy to transport gaming rag, with features you won’t find immediately, unless you trawl the net for them. Instead we have compiled the latest, most interesting news and compiled it into a comprehensive, contemporary publication that wants everyone to read it. We challenge our identity, and try to provide you with the other side of video gaming culture and the fastest growing industry. EVER. We also have a website that is a symbiotic hub for resource in regards to our contributors and industry exclusive news visit us at - www.code.co.uk. You will find a voucher in the middle of the publication which can be redeemed online for a free A3 print selected from out Virtual Geographic feature, or get discount off an A5 limited edition book with the full range of images. So, the magazine is more of a place to see yourself in print as opposed to the hyperreality of the world wide web. We aim to have dicussions with some big names in the industry as well as expelling the gamer stereotype, pixel by pixel. A regular feature that we are pleased to announce, is that Ben Croshaw aka Yahtzee Croshaw is a regular contributor to the magazine, helping destroy and evaluate your various questions and opinions in the only way he knows how; the opaque critique of a madman in heat. Expect all sorts of news on our site, not just from the gaming industry as we try to deliver a different side to gaming that sometimes does not get as much of a mention as it should do, since it is the driving force behind games; subculture, illustration and design. Make sure you drop your copy off on a train, bus pram, plane, buggy, ship, starfleet, or anywhere. We aim to reach and inform as many people as possible! Feel free to rant in our forums as you may get the chance to feature in the magazine since we do this magazine for everyone and we appreciate your feedback and support. So, this issue is the first and covers the main theme of ‘quest’, expect all topics related to fantasy and the neverending journey of self-discovery and carving carcasses.... In character that is.
RETRO CHARACTERS - link Everyone loves a decent role model in a game, as long as they donâ€™t talk or have anything to say really about anything. A mute, angry and often benevolent individual who can swing a sword with
elegant carcass-carving excellence. This illustration is courtesy of the Triforce Tribute show in Portland, Oregon this month as part of an exhibition in homage to the Zelda franchise.
If you fancy either some large prints of some of the pictures taken, or an exclusive Virtual Geographic book, with all of the images in them, enter this code online to get an exclusive discount:
BEN ‘YAHTZEE’ CROSHAW
DISCUSSES CONtext, challenge
I used to think that at the most basic level every game had to consist of two distinct but essential elements - gameplay and story. Without one of those you either might as well be a film or might as well be a piece of dangling string for a cat to play with. Only with a balance of both do we reach gaming’s true potential as a creative medium, emotional involvement in a story and visceral pursuit of betterment propping each other up shoulder-to-shoulder. But recently I’ve had cause to update this imaginary model of mine from a two-man arm-in-arm arrangement to a more sort of three-man ring-a-rosie affair. “Gameplay” was too broad a concept, I realized. How
all a game’s features fall are Context, Challenge and Gratification. If this were XKCD this would probably be the point where I draw a big triangle with the three points labelled as such, then place crosses on the triangle indicating where certain specific games and game experiences lie. But this isn’t XKCD so you’re just going to have to imagine it. While thinking this over I tried to come up with an example that sits right in the middle of the three, and came up with the slightly odd example of the surprisingly good ending sequence of Halo Reach. When you’re abandoned alone on the occupied planet
does one differentiate, say, getting all 150 Pokemon (or however many there are now) from smacking passersby to death with a giant floppy dildo? People can’t possibly be finding the same kind of enjoyment in both those activities. So here’s my updated recipe for a big fluffy video game cake: the three categories into which
and the ending only comes after you die, leaving you to hold out for as long as you can within gameplay as a final melancholy challenge. Also gratifying in a sort of heroic tragedy kind of way (and in the killing of the aliens if you’re some kind of massive racist) and of course it would be nothing without context.
CONTEXT Is where you engage the player’s sympathies with the protagonists by establishing who they are and why they’re doing it, encouraging the player to push forward with the game to see what happens to them next and see plot arcs get resolved. Pure context gives us things like the Japanese-style visual novel or occasionally something weird and arty like Silent Hill Shattered Memories. But don’t consider context to be solely about cutscenes and dialogue; context can also apply to aesthetics. It can be something as simple as making the enemy look like a scaley growly monster with a pointy face, so you know it must be purged from existence. All games have a degree of visual context except Pong. And maybe Bad Company 2 since I can’t see through the dust clouds.
CHALLENGE Shouldn’t need too much explanation; it’s the simple matter of beating the high score, killing your way through the entire horde, or getting 100% completion in Pokemon for the sake of getting 100% alone, you crazy, crazy bugger. It’s on the extreme end of the Challenge category that you find most retro and arcade games, the sort of thing that only nudges the realms of Context with the lightest of touches, such as ‘aliens are invading, shoot them’.
GRATIFICATION Is that magical land that lies outside the two kingdoms above. It’s the aspect of a game that speaks directly to the animal part of your brain. It’s about the pure visceral fun one has entirely outside of both context and challenge. This, friends, is where you have your Saints Row 3 big floppy dildo passer-by combat. There’s no challenge ‘cos passers-by don’t fight back and like many things in the game there’s certainly no context for it, but by golly is it fun. This is also the category where you’ll find my lengthy sessions of Spider-Man 2 spent web-swinging randomly around the city, with no intention to enter any missions or further the story.
I hope you’re still picturing that XKCD-style triangle chart because now I want you to imagine Saints Row 2 being pretty much in the middle, and that’s why I liked it. It had challenge, it was certainly very gratifying, and the context of your customised character clawing his (or her or its) gang up to the dizzy heights made it involving. Saints Row 3 you have to imagine being nudged a little too far from the Context point and a little too close to Gratification. So while it is still fun in a ragdolls to the wind kind of way - there’s hours of fun to be had just in running around doing sprinting takedowns, especially the one that ends with your character doing a cheeky swimsuit pose and smile for the camera - it’s no longer
You know, I have a long-standing grudge against the concept of awarding review scores to games, because I think it represents everything that’s wrong about videogame reporting by treating every given game like some kind of kitchen appliance whose chopping blades have been slightly rearranged since the last generation and are now therefore precisely 1 point more efficient at dicing sweet potatoes. But if I did finally knuckle under to those bean counters at Metacritic, this is exactly how I’d give scores to games. Three separate marks out of ten for Context, Challenge and Gratification. None of this buggering about with graphics or sound or anything else as consequential as the color of the wallpaper in
fun on the same number of levels. And even if there’s still enjoyment in it, a sequel should always be admonished if it turns out to be less than its predecessor. Because that is a series that is not moving in a forward-style direction.
an operating theatre. Of course what I would definitely not do then is combine the three scores into some kind of “overall” value, because that’s totally fucking meaningless. That’d be like having a meal where the main course was tasty but the dessert was disgusting, so you give it a final review of TASTGUSTING.
DARA o’briain TA L K S W I T H C O D E It’s obvious you have a real history with games. What role have they played in your life? Well they’ve been constantly buzzing round as a ready form of entertainment. On a holiday to England once, I caught my father coming out of Argos with an Atari 5200, or 2600, I struggle to remember. He was discreetly trying to buy it as a Christmas present. I was about 10 or 11. That went all through my early teens. And then in late teens and early 20s that kind of disappeared, so I missed Sonic and I missed Mario. Then when I was a kids’ TV presenter, I rediscovered it all because I bagged a PlayStation from Sony. From there in on, it’s kind of been buzzing around constantly. I describe myself as “hardcore/casual”, which is that I have the heart of a hardcore gamer, but I don’t have the skills or the time. So I can get as far as a couple of boss battles and then I baulk at it. I just like the virtual worlds. I play lots and lots of games now. Now, I host a lot of awards. In March I’m hosting about seven different awards - including the Money Marketing awards. I don’t pay anywhere near as much attention to that as I do to video games. I’m hosting the Mothercare awards, and I’m not looking at different types of nappy in quite the avid way I’m playing Bad Company 2. You’ve talked about games ‘blocking’ less accomplished players from experiencing what they’ve paid for. Although that seems to be happening a little less now, which the hardcore aren’t great fans of... Of course they’re not! It’s so funny, when that routine [about Dara being unable to beat a Gears boss] came out - which was a celebration of gaming - there were a load of people sneering: “He’s obviously rubbish at games.” That was kind of the whole point of it. It’s a very common thing. There was a phrase from Caitlin Moran in The Times - we were talking about anonymous commentary on things. Haters gonna hate.You’re always going to get people on YouTube saying how lame something is. But if my nagging has had anything to do with that
phenomenon of players being ‘blocked’ from content [dying down], then great. I’d love that. Just a button saying: “You’re not getting this. Why don’t we just let you pass. We’ll stick it in a section called ‘uncompleted bits’ and you can drop back in later. Because this is getting ridiculous.” I read an interview with you where you discussed Bill Hicks. Although you said you respected him, you also suggested he opened the door for some less witty, less driven comedians, who were merely offensive for offensiveness’s sake. Do you think games have a similar problem? Yeah. I thought The Onion nailed it with that ‘Headshot 2’ spoof.You press the space bar and just get headshots. There’s a horse at one stage and you pop one in his head. That sort of thing reminds me of Bad Company - but then you just have to admit that there’s something about looking down the scope of a lens and just [makes dampened gunshot noise, complete with hand gestures]. I like the way we’re both silently dismissing other antisocial behaviour in games, by the way - like stealing a car. That’s just a common storytelling point, right? It’s almost like it drags on: “Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’m pulling someone out of another car.” If anything, I think this year has been an interesting move for games, because they have “grown up” to a certain extent. Look at Heavy Rain - the fact that you could have long periods of pause and there were very few ‘killings’. Compare it to movies in the 1980s, where you’d rent Terminator or what have you and there’s been countless bodies getting gruesomely murdered. Both movies and games have had this [fascination], games just came to it later. I think the gaming industry is developing more mature content, but also has the thing unique where older gamers don’t look down their noses at Mario. Even people who like FPS and headshots don’t look at Mario and sneer. The gaming industry is happy to accommodate Angry Birds and Call Of Duty together. You’re obviously passionate about the games industry - and have been for a number of years... It’s true - I am. But I never saw myself becoming an advocate like I have. I remember one games awards show, when an ex-children’s TV presenter bounded on stage and
“i’m hosting the mothercare awards, and i’m not looking at different types of nappy in quite the avid way i’m playing bad company 2” patronisingly shouted: “Hello gamers!!” The likes of Ian Livingstone, Charles Cecil, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft’s UK managing directors were all there. The room fell silent. God. The perception of the strength of the relative entertainment industries should be something for gamers to be quietly happy with that I think, rather than just chasing after [a mainstream audience]. I don’t think the games industry has any need to chase after anything. It’s like when people say: “Hey! How do we get young people to vote?” You kind of think, “fuck ‘em”. If they’re not sufficiently engaged to know that there’s an election on, then they don’t deserve a say in who runs the country. I’d make the same comparison with [gaming] and ‘popular science’ too. Which is: “How can we make it appeal to the cool kids?” Sorry, again, fuck ‘em. Concentrate on the people who get it - who actually want to do this. If you just go after the pretty people in the class, they’ll go: “What, really? Is the
universe a little bit funnily shaped?” Then go back to Glee or Gossip Girl or whatever.You have to be careful not to patronise the fuck out of the very people you’ve already attracted, your biggest fans. Because we know we’re all on the same page at the BAFTAs, it should just be, “Hey, what about this bit, or what about this level.” My favourite joke last year was about [X-Factor contestant] Olly Murs. He came on and said: “I’m a big fan of games.” He presented an award to Infinity Ward. They came on and said: “And we’re big fans of yours as well, Olly.” Then they sat down again. I went up and said: “That actually sounded like a joke, but it’s true - Infinity Ward are huge fans of Olly’s. In fact, they use one of his songs as the background music in the airport level.” It got a big laugh, and it was so nice because it’s so specific a joke. Infinity Ward’s table kind of collectively went: “Errrrr.” And I said: “If you don’t like that content, you may opt out.”
check out dara on youtube, where you can watch “tough gig”, where he does a routine to a group of larpers /7 9/9
DOn your capes and cloaks
ENGAGE WITH THE REALM NOW ACTION Wireless reality:Live action role playing. Words by tom cummings Live Action Role Playing is a phenomenon normally associated with Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Gamers (MMORPG), ranging from the socially inept bedroom fanaticist, to the casual player who “only plays at weekends”. Now for those of you who don’t have any clue as to what I am rabbiting about, Live Action Role Playing is basically taking what you see and understand on-screen to your local field, warehouse, castle or in some cases, bunker. Taking into account the amount of complex algorithms that pad the game with rules, lore, social patterns, authority figures, NPC’s (non playable characters) that run seamlessly within the game’s virtual environment, role players have accounted for this and most games are overseen by a referee. This is all well and good for the nerdiest of types, who absorb and immerse themselves into the putrescent waters of in game knowledge and know-how to put the game developers to shame, but what about those who tend to forget the rules and rites of the gameworld? You know who you are. Those who run off at the first sight of innocent NPCs to spill their blood on the sacrificial altar of the town square in front of the populace. This aside, the referee is a quest giver, so once you have acquainted yourself with the various info needed to integrate and engage with the world, the ref is your main point of contact. They
do not however, impede gameplay, if anything they help you know when and when not to be “in character” or “out of character” whilst giving you a decent heads-up of where you can pillage or team up with some likeminded players. The system of gameplay is akin to D & D style gameplay, with points attributed to a scoresheet at the start and end of the game to keep a “save” of what you have done and achieved in game. LARP is not just limited to a Tolkien-esque fantasy world compromised of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Humans. Quite the opposite, there are games such as Dystopian Rising in New Jersey, USA where the overarching theme is that of a zombie apocalypse, stretching over the entirety of the state, and even war re-enactment groups such as Bauhaus Operations who focus on pre1940’s attire and have an entirely different set of rules and decor requirements. Now, I understand that there might be some terms you don’t quite understand in the body of text proceeding this sentence, such as; NPC, IC, OOC, D&D etc. On the next few pages you will delve into the mind of a LARPer, whilst learning some handy lingo used in the field. Bear in mind that this article focuses soley on the Lorien trust, a popular branch of the LARP community who focus primarily on the Tolkien-esque fantasy world, but injected with a Bethesda level of intensity, both politically and socially.
The Lorien Trust is one of the UK’s largest LARP groups and the most decorative. The system is grounded in what is known as “high fantasy”; this is where all magicks and malevolence is smiled upon, whereas “low fantasy” has a focus on the druidic/mystic elements of the fantasy realm, or what I like to call: tedious. The system that the LT is based on has about 1,275 people involved, hosting huge overnight FEST events that can have up to 5,000 players at one time, governed by a whole host of NPCs donning hi-vis jackets, a bit like Glastonbury but with an injection of Big Chill’s costume display. Mainlines include guilds and factions, guilds being where a player can build on their skills regardless of faction or alignment. Mages, Scouts, Alchemists, Armourers and Bards are all recognised professions in the LT. Factions, as you could probably guess from the title alone, is the political alignment you can choose from; Dragon (Celtic), Norse (Scottish), Southlands (Greece/North Africa), Tarantulas (Pure fantasy), Unicorns (Traders), Lions (Arthurian), Harts/Stags (Mid-England) and the Vipers (Tutonia/Germanic). A history textbook is advised as standard equipment, so you can read up on all the terms and rules of each country, in accordance with monarch law and rule. Remember, your local MP is elected by strict regulations as laid out by the LT. What strikes me as quite strange, yet enlightening is that IC and OOC, people refer to Gods as Ancestors. This is to account for the lowest common denominator in all games, allowing for all religous types to join in without fear of ridicule. Although any Dark Elf knows that humans are scum ridden pit slaves.
SO, after you’ve selected your race, faction and guild, its time to pick out your OSP, then after you’ve donned the relevant decor, you can begin the game. Try not to speak OOC as most queries are solved by just FOIP and can ruin the flow of gameplay, so please turn off your mobile phones before you play and put your dwarves in the upright position before take off. No sooner than I have begun the game, I am intercepted by
LIVE ACTION ROLE PLAYING: terminology Here are some common terms affiliated with the practice, we advise against using these outside the game world, as you would be referred to as “froffing” also known as chatting shit, or excreting via your mouth cavity, both should only be engaged after a few meads or ales.
Boffer - The hard core foam covered weapons used in combat.
FOIP - Find Out In Play, so be patient!
Decor - The attire required in order to engage with a game. No trainers please.
Hobbyist - One who LARPs for fun, someone who does’nt take it too seriously but for fun.
DPC - Directed Player Characters. These tend to be referees and give out plot.
IC - In Character Lammy - Laminate that grants special abilities.
a stray child in a cat costume, telling me that he is the camp’s cat and I should move away post-haste. I ignored said warning with a shrug and a happy return, yet nothing prepared me for the ambush led by some outlanders who raided and beat me for everything I had. Children often turn up at festivals, often brought along by parents who are keen enthusiasts and in my opinion,
fantastic people who actively encouage their children to be a part of a highly imaginative endeavour, although at the expense of having some top quality photos to show their grandchildren what a great cat their son was. The battles were daunting at first, but as soon as I embraced being IC it made the whole experience as memorable as any junior theatrical performance, except for the level of integration and immersion with the characters outweighed the nervous disposition of some players, myself included. Nothing quite matches the experience of being unable to ad lib in a situation where everyone else is out acting you, yet trying their hardest to include you in the storyline despite your poor efforts at contributing to the game. But seriously, the vibe is one to match any music festival going and the people who go to these are as big of a mix as you’d expect to find at a comedy show, albeit just as funny and full of great stories. Often the subject of discourse and judgement from “normal people”, yet these bankers, social workers, labourers, gamers, actors, jugglers, clerks, hairdressers and managers made me realise what we are missing from our everyday lives; human interaction. Not once did I feel stupid, out of depth or socially awkward, not just because everyone else was in such a mad state of attire or social convention, but because everyone was having fun and enjoying the made up backstories each one of us had made up by the fire or in the middle of crossfire, trying to remember how to fight correctly. I would highly recommend giving it a go if you’re curious or even cynical of the idea, as the variety of people and perfomances will leave you asking game companies for your money back, and to invest in some awesome cosplay.
Metagamer - Talking OOC to gain knowledge IC to use against players. See PGT.
OOC - Out Of Character
Munchkin - Hoarders.
Phys. Rep. - Physical Representation System - Can range from small to large, used to define the size of the group, from anything between 15 - 3,000 people in a game.
NPC - Non Playable Character OCS - Occupational Character Skills
PGT - Power Gaming Twat.
For more information on LARPing check out www.lorientrust.org
review by Toby Craven
ou know, a chap could start to feel unappreciated after the usual response I tend to get from honestly reviewing first-party Nintendo titles. They really do feel like games that it’s utterly pointless to criticise, because the moment I utter anything short of gushing hagiographical praise, Zelda’s army of self-appointed nannies fight each other to put little sticking plasters on the boo-boo. One complaint that usually gets directed at me at this juncture is that pointing out how samey the games are has become a tired argument. I fucking agree, it certainly has, and yet, the problem hasn’t gone anywhere, so I’m going to keep using it. You wouldn’t tell those Occupy Wall Street to sod off because their complaints are getting repetitive. Yes, I did just compare the Occupy movement’s courageous opposition to corporate injustice to me saying Zelda games are a bit shit. The other, more common argument I hear at these times is that I’m just automatically biased against the entire franchise, or Nintendo in general. Nothing, I say, could be further from the truth. If I’m biased against anything, I’m biased against games that aren’t fun. Games that I spend thirty hours of my week ploughing through looking for entertainment value and cultural relevance, after which I realise I would have been better off spending the time eating chocolate biscuits and watching The Ascent Of Man. Yes, I’m biased against motion controls, but that’s just a sub-heading of the broader overall bias against games that aren’t
come up with something I like: Motion controls are a system wherein a game can fail you for something that completely wasn’t your fault. Like smacking an electrified sword because it was horizontal half a second ago and the game only just registered your horizontal swipe. There ya go. Alright, locking a capable-seeming Princess Zelda in a basement for the last half of the game wasn’t doing much for gender relations but the fighting engine worked well, there was an epic free-roaming world to explore and the cartoony visuals will ensure that it never ages poorly. Link was actually able to express emotion and have a visual personality. The first time I saw Link in Skyward Sword I had to stifle a horrified laugh because his exposed nostrils and swollen lips look like he let a swarm of bees practise amateur plastic surgery. I even liked Twilight Princess quite a lot, although bear in mind I again played the Gamecube, nonmotion-controlly version. It had a slow start and was structurally rather similar to Ocarina of Time, but
fun. I’ve been trying to figure out a quick, pithy, all-encompassing way to express my reasons for thinking that motion controls are poisonous to gaming, so I can bring my opinion across in conversation without having to rant for ten minutes, and I think I’ve
again the game world felt expansive and detailed with lots of lovely varied locations and dungeons. Even if it wasn’t a revolutionary take on the concept it was at least an elevation, which is apparently the most anyone expects of Zelda games. The support character, Midna, actually had an interesting arc.
“How many times should a hero reasonably have to ‘prove their worth’ before you start to question the local hiring policies?”
I could only think of her with soppy nostalgia as I barely tolerated the monotone creepy-eyed dullard that follows you around in Skyward Sword, endlessly popping out to remind me that my health was critically low while I was busy trying to circle strafe something nasty. And that excruciating is-this-theemotion-you-call-happiness dialogue in the ending scene made me want to projectile vomit all my innards like a giant party streamer. I mean, at least Navi was enthusiastic, y’know? So while never quite being what you’d traditionally call a sandbox game, Zelda at its best certainly leans in that direction. Closer to the ‘open world’ model one associates with Metroidvania, I suppose, exploring new areas once you’ve unlocked the ability to go there. And what disappointed me about Skyward Sword is that there was a fairly massive downplaying of that exploration element. The game world felt small with just the three questing locations and rather rigid separations between gameplay areas. There didn’t seem to be as many opportunities as there usually are to go to places in the open world you’d seen before and can only explore now you’ve acquired a certain tool, to find optional treasures and all that. I can’t even remember any points when you use the whip item in anything except a mandatory story context.
And then there’s the padding. They make you revisit the paltry handful of locations so many times just to get a decent gameplay length out of all this that it starts getting ridiculous. Some dragon can only help you once you’ve brought him a magical healing fruit that can only be found across the map and which not one entity tries to stop you from acquiring. It’s just a fetch quest for no reason. Busywork. How many times should a hero reasonably have to ‘prove their worth’ before you start to question the local hiring policies? There were times playing Skyward Sword when I actually laughed. Not in an amused way. I was laughing like how that one lady in the movie Necronomicon started laughing while the monsters were sawing all her arms and legs off. Laughing because it’d all just gotten too absurd for my head. Just as I’m about to run out hookshot blazing, that fucking support character jumps out, stands in my path and reveals as slowly and tortuously as possible that there’s a big monster smashing up the ship in case I hadn’t realised and we were probably going to have to fight it. I laugh because I’m not sure I believe this is happening in reality anymore.
THE VERDICT in numbers COntext
Illustrations by Eva Eskelin
Words by Tom Cummings Illustration by Tommings
he Legend of Zelda has long been an advocate for levels of fanaticism that can only be measured by every nerdy conference that allows or dissallows cosplay. However, it is rare we see a game interpreted in a different form than its original unless trawling tumblr or google image searching. This exhibition in Portland, Oregon celebrates the game but in a unique
way that highlights the playerâ€™s experiences whilst demonstrating their creative capabilities. This epic, multi-medium art who will celebrate the many hours collectively dedicated to defeating Ganon and his array of minions featuring a roster of artists who are geniunie fans. Over 30 international artists,designers,illustrators,musicians and photographers exhibiting work inspired by the Legend of Zelda game catalog.
Ian Whitmore (www.ianwhitmore.com) These come as full size high resolution images. Missing ear decor though...
Andrew Kolb (www.kolbisneat.com) Some quality screenprints that give an archaeic feel to the Zelda series.
Young Jerks (www.youngjerks.com) Incredible rework of the locations in the Zelda world, if only we could visit.
Jolby + Friends (www.jolbyandfriends.com) Incredible hand painted sign for potions, you can buy these on their website. Awesome.
Doublenaut (www.doublenaut.com) Sweet print, gold ink as a final touch.
SKYRIM: buggy as hell, NO CONSOLE MODS
BUT IT’S STILL AN
G A M E
The interesting thing about Skyrim is the sheer range of experience different players have depending on where they felt like going first and how they built their character. I have an associate who lost interest in the game because they were playing a conjurer, and the half-dozen familiars and followers they accrued made the game completely unchallenging. Which I found interesting, because I ended up quitting the game when it became too difficult. I was a one-handed / shield specialist with no followers, and I got trapped in a dungeon that I couldn’t leave until I killed the boss, who could kill me in three hits and whom I was expected to fight while a liche was summoning ice monsters in the same room. Even with every buff I had and using the last resort technique of pausing to slam a health potion between every single blow, no amount of believing in myself was getting me through that one. Earlier on, though, I got involved in a quest in which I had to be followed around by a talking dog that I had to escort to a couple of locations on the map, but I took the opportunity to complete a couple of other quests on the way. Now, being a magical dog with a quest attached, my pedigree chum was completely immortal, and like all followers in Skyrim, it seemed to think that a footrace had been unspokenly declared whenever a hostile enemy appeared within a half-mile radius. This led to a recurring situation in which a dragon was easily defeated because it was busy breathing fire at a small mongrelly dog that wouldn’t budge a fucking inch while I stood behind it hacking at its scaly arse with a handaxe. I actually started to resent this. I felt I had enough problems with my horse stealing my kills that I didn’t need the rest of the animal kingdom getting in on the action. And I don’t recall the prophecy stating that the Dragonborn would defeat the black dragon with the help of the mangey puppy that kept following him around. So I hastily completed the dog quest just to get rid of it. Apparently too hastily, judging by that dungeon business that made me quit.
I also accidentally became a werewolf. Not because I was bitten by one, I sort of accidentally got into the quest where you become one officially. I didn’t know, I did some jobs for the guys and they asked me to come to a little dark evil cave at night so they could give me a special present. And they’d already given me a very spiffy handaxe as a special present earlier on so they seemed like decent sorts. I suppose the option to decline came up, but after they went through all the trouble of giving me the spiel and one of them filled a big sacrificial bowl with rather alarming quantities of their blood, it felt ungrateful. For some reason, it’s very easy to accidentally pledge yourself for life in Skyrim. I and two of my friends all had the exact same story of accidentally joining the Thieves’ Guild, too. You’d think it would want to keep a low profile, not aggressively press-gang every potential undercover police officer who shows up at the town gates, but what do I know. Anyway, becoming a werewolf did sound fun, I suppose, even if it proved to be completely useless in the end because the transformation sequence took ages, and enemies could freely whack away at my health throughout, so it wasn’t exactly good for turning the tide in a difficult battle. But the first time I transformed and turned back I found myself in the middle of the countryside wearing only my underpants, in true American Werewolf In London style. And the first thing I thought upon seeing my pale, shivering form without armour for the first time since the beginning of the game was “Oh, that’s what I look like. I forgot.”
There’s something I’ve been meaning to bring up for a while, and that’s character creation systems in games like these, the kind that Oblivion more or less introduced, where you can tweak every slightest inch of muscle, skin and bone in your character’s face. I’m starting to think it’s a little bit psychotic. It’s particularly questionable in games like Skyrim where you might spend half an hour getting every detail right before setting off on your first-person adventure, donning a full-face helmet within ten minutes of starting and never seeing your work again. It’s more appropriate in something like Dragon Age or Mass Effect where you can actually see yourself and your character regularly takes part in cutscenes and conversation, but I still feel that the exact placement of one’s cheekbones shouldn’t matter if you’re not trying to faithfully recreate Pete Postlethwaite in the role of Commander Shepard. How it used to go down for me when handed the character face carving engine was that I’d go down the list of sliders one by one and move them all the way left and all the way right before almost always returning it right back to the middle because anything towards an extreme just looks ridiculous. These days I start by picking the hairstyle, beard and general face shape, and anything beyond those hardly seems to matter when you’re mostly staring at the back of their head or watching them converse from a mid-shot. In Saints Row games I’ve sometimes tried to get into the swing of things by giving my character high cheekbones, wide staring eyes and a mouth with a permanent half-smile because that’s the kind of face I imagine a cockney psychopath would have, but there’s always been something slightly off about the way it looks and animates in-game, like there was an accident with the botox.
“You might spend half an hour getting every detail right before setting off on your firstperson adventure, donning a full-face helmet within ten minutes of starting and never seeing your work again.”
I guess the point I’m trying to reach is that these systems, now seemingly a requisite in western RPGs, are starting to feel gimmicky and unnecessary. It’s fine in something like The Sims where you’re just recreating some kind of fantasy household where mummy doesn’t drink and beat the kids, but in an RPG you’re creating a look for a character whose personality and actions are determined by the story to varying degrees. It goes back to what I was saying last week, that even in a game as open as Skyrim, a certain amount of control has to be maintained to keep the game’s overall tone at an appropriate level. And it feels that anyone who doesn’t just use the character creation tool to make a relatable, average-faced heroic type is just going to take the piss and try to see how ridiculous they can make themselves look. And if they end up really getting into the game they’re going to feel pretty silly when Lord Thunderclave is entreating Fishlips McGee to aid their struggle against the dark ones. I actually kind of preferred the Ultima thing where you chose from six or seven predetermined hero appearances of varying genetic backgrounds. Because that’s at least a directed experience. I’ve always felt facial customisation in games these days would work a lot better with a more photofit-like system, where you pick from a catalogue of pre-created off-the-peg mouths and noses, rather than mess around with seven or eight nose sliders in an attempt to create a Romanesque aquiline snout. I mean, Saints Row has you pick from six different voice packs but you don’t micro-manage the pitch and waver or pinpoint the global region the accent comes from. Not yet, anyway.
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