Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A Gamer's Year Part 4: June, July, August

It looks like the 2010 gaming retrospective will continue into January. Heigh ho!

This section contains an impassioned rant about piracy and videogames' "artistic legacy". Never let it be said that I take blogging too seriously.

Delightful though my shiny new PC is, it's mainly a tool for learning Web design and playing retro games. And by "retro" I mean "released before 2006". I can turn the graphics on these games up all the way. My mouse/keyboard setup isn't quite optimal for playing FPSs either. 

So when Well-Rendered towers' other occupant decided to spend a weekend doing mysterious things in a field in France, I took the opportunity to clamber aboard his monolithic PC and play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and its imaginatively-titled sequel Modern Warfare 2. I wasn't disappointed.

I'm not generally a fan of the military shooter. Often this is because they require a level of patience with which I am not equipped, but mainly it's because I just don't like pretending that I am in a real-life war.

Consequently, part of the reason the Call of Duty games appeal is because they're more Tom Clancy than Kate Adie. They feature preposterous explosions, snow-mobile chases and midnight raids on the Gulag. More significantly, they also make you feel a little queasy when needs be. Why are you spending your free time pretending to kill other human beings? Is this ethical? Is it any different from watching a film about war? Does the fact that you're in control make it worse? Where does exploration end and war porn begin?

It's also worth pointing out that they are spectacular games in their own right. The artificial intelligence (AI) is unbelievably good, and every time you run through a level, the non-playable characters (friend or foe) will behave in different ways.

To date, these two Call of Duty games are the only military shooters I have ever played (that I can remember). I really have no interest in playing online matches with other players, and this goes for all shooters. Though I can see the appeal (human-controlled characters are always going to be more dynamic and challenging to fight than those controlled by a computer), I just don't have the inclination. I'd rather immerse myself in another story.

My adventures in PC gaming continued throughout July. I played Deus Ex, Tomb Raider III, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Grand Theft Auto III (a lot of "III"s). Of these, Deus Ex was by far the most exciting, and not because it's the only one that was not a sequel. My thoughts on why, and indeed a summary of July's adventures are summarised here.

Wonderful though it is to be able to play ten-year old PC games, the ease with which I could fire up Tomb Raider III only served to increase my frustration that it's nowhere near as easy to do this with console games. 

I am not in favour of piracy. I might have done it when I was a student, but now I have a job, there is no excuse. Developers work extremely hard to create wonderful games, and I think they deserve support. It doesn't make sense to me that it's ok to enjoy a wonderful game but not to support the developers by buying it. Besides anything else, spending money on the things you love increases the likelihood that the same talent will have the freedom to create more wonderful things in the future.


That only applies when it's possible to pay developers for the content in question. If you can no longer buy the game (or indeed the platform to play it), what then? What if the only way to play an old game is to either buy it second-hand (thus depriving the developer of a sale) or to create an illegal copy? 

I just checked on Amazon, and you can't buy a new copy of Silent Hill 2, even though it's one of the best games ever made and it was only released in 2001. That's not only ridiculous, it's really worrying.

Imagine not being able to get your hands on a copy of Moby Dick. It's out of copyright now, so I think anyone can print out a copy (any rights lawyers who wish to correct me are welcome here), and it's not as if Melville's around to collect his royalties cheque. But imagine - try - just not being able to ever read any works of literature released over 10 years ago? This is what is happening to games released exclusively on consoles.

Part of the problem is the shocking lack of effort made by Microsoft and Sony towards the backwards-compatibility of their consoles. I think it's an absolute disgrace that they haven't made more of an effort to ensure that Playstation 1 and 2 games can be played on a Playstation 3. It means that people who paid good money to buy a legal copy of Silent Hill 2 back in 2001 are unable to play it on their Playstation 3, even though it may well have cost them upwards of £250. 

I know that backwards compatibility is probably a coding nightmare and that prioritising it would have pushed the (already ludicrous) time and budget for the PS3 through the roof, but I am appalled at the lack of foresight, and the impending loss of all the wonderful games from the 90s. You may as well torch the British Library, frankly.

Now, some of you may be aware that it's fairly easy to download a PC "emulator" for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and all the games that were ever made for it. I'm not really a techie, but I assume that's because the code involved in a SNES game is rather simpler than that involved in a Playstation one game.

I also understand that it may not be in Sony's business interests to write their own legal emulator and start selling downloadable versions of their older games for a reasonable price (though you could argue that they should be free for people who bought them in the first place, I can't ever see that being possible). But the impractical side of me that believes that artistic heritage should not be lost says that it's something that must be done.

This side of me also says that the artistic heritage of these older games is so important that if you can't get them legally, it's ok to get them illegally. I don't feel bad about pirating a copy of a game that I can't get any other way when the alternative is that game being lost forever.

I'd be interested to hear what everyone else thinks about this, I know it's a contentious issue.

August, in which I took a chill pill and re-played Fallout 3.

Fallout 3 is a brilliant game which inspired this article about domestic spaces in video games, the first piece of writing I have ever been paid for. Kudos to The Escapist for the natty "Buffout" graphic in the title.

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree about the tragic loss of parts of our culture due to gaming hardware becoming obsolete. This problem isn't unique to gaming though -- the same argument applies to recordings on wax cylinders and 8-tracks, it just happens that it's much, much easier to rescue audio by recording it onto a new format than it is to rescue games.

    You're right that it's technical hurdles that stop newer consoles from being able to play games from previous generations. The only reason you could play any PS2 games on the first generation of PS3 consoles is that the first PS3s actually had some PS2 hardware inside just for this purpose. Emulating an older console in software has two problems: first, that it's almost impossible to emulate hardware exactly. Some game code, especially code written for older, more limited consoles, exploits the fact that the hardware is known to be identical on all consoles, and use undocumented features and hacks that work by coincidence, which a software emulator won't reproduce. Secondly, to emulate a machine in software you need a significantly more powerful machine to run the emulator at full speed. It may take a machine 3-5 times more powerful to get acceptably fast emulation, so the PS3 can't reasonably emulate the PS2 in software.

    Finally, game companies are starting to release older titles running in emulators on their newer consoles. Wii Virtual Console lets you buy most of the best NES, SNES, Master System, Megadrive, etc, games. Microsoft has put up old Xbox 1 games for download as well, and I'm sure Sony is doing something similar. The only downside of this is that you can only play the games they choose to port, but at least you know that not all games from that era will be gone forever.