Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Gaming Education: WipEout HD

The thing about WipEout HD is that I love it wrong.

I don’t love it because of its insane speed, which is totally insane and breakneck and makes my brain melt into a gooey, twitching, satiated mess. I don’t love it because of its high-definition 1080p visuals, which are so luxurious I wish I had higher definition eyes to take in the true majesty of its high-definition with. I don’t even love it because it reminds me of the first WipEout, which, back in those halcyon days of the mid-nineties, helped make gaming cool as it had never been before.

Those would all be right and proper reasons to love WipEout HD. But sadly they’re not my reasons. I love WipEout HD, purely and honestly, because I’m certain I’ll be better at it than my best friend Alex.

What you should know about Alex — a spidery, wire-haired Liverpudlian I met at university — is that he’s not someone who wants to win; he’s someone who needs it. His lungs fill not with air, but with the agonised screams of his defeated opponents. His heart pumps not blood to the gnarled recesses of his body, but a black ooze thick with the life-force of his many victims. Alex doesn’t play you at a videogame, he crushes you, remorselessly, in order to feed his organs the nutrients they require to … carry on crushing you, remorselessly.

I used to consider myself a laid-back gamer. I didn’t play to win, but to enjoy myself, and victories and losses were all part of the experience, and every failure held a lesson, and whatnot and so forth.

Then I met Alex, and a darkness was introduced into my life — a darkness from whose gloomy interiors rose the repeated, scouse-twinged refrain of “BOOM, HEADSHOT!”

I cannot begin to impress upon you the agonies of finding yourself in first place in a heated game of Mario Kart, not ten yards from the finish line, when a blue shell arcs down from nowhere and envelops you in its explosive radius … Then as you crash back to earth you see a blurred figure swerve round you and across the line … And you turn your head and there’s Alex, sitting back on the sofa, this tiny smile pulling at the lips of his otherwise impassive face.

He’s my friend and I love him, but moments like that I want to break every tooth in his goddamned mouth.

He once killed me 75 times in a row on the awp_snowsk337 level of Counter-Strike, and I punched my keyboard so hard the space bar hasn’t worked properly since. Our friendship was nixed for a full week in third year after some idiot brought Mortal Kombat into our student house. The less said about Diddy Kong Racing, the better.

And yet, just as Superman has kryptonite, Achilles has his gammy foot, and James Murdoch has Guardian journalists spearheading a Twitter-based grassroots protest against decades-worth of mud-slinging and shit-stirring, Alex too has his one weakness: he is useless at futuristic racers.

Not normal racing games, you understand. He takes to cars, karts, jet skis and snowboards with aplomb. Hand him a racer set in the present, or the past, or a mushroom kingdom in the clouds, and he’ll hand you back the last vestiges of your dignity.

But drop him in the cockpit of an anti-gravity hover-ship circuiting neon tracks suspended above the glittering spires of an alien city in the year 2342, and the lad is flummoxed.

Idly zooming around on my friend’s dog-eared copy of Star Wars Episode I: Racer one weekend at uni, I figured Alex to be unfortunate. He was awful at it, but then again I’d played years before, and still remembered how to do the boost. Even so, the look on his face as he limped over the finish line half a lap behind me was something new, something I could get used to.

Then one day I picked up F-Zero GX from the deserted Gamecube section of some videogame shop or other. Neither Alex nor I had played it before, so we were on level footing, only our inherent talent with the form to fall back on.

I proceeded to trounce Alex in every race for the next two weeks, until he threw down his controller and shouted that the game was “shit”, and I was cheating by “just fucking knowing when to turn quicker than me”.

The same complaint was echoed the day we found a second-hand Extreme-G cartridge for the N64.

Now I don’t know the reason he’s so bad at futuristic racers, I just know he is bad, probably worse than your mum or your baby sister or some kind of disabled crab. When there’s a boost-start he fluffs it; when the track splits in two he crashes into the central partition; if there’s a giant pipe to race across the outside of he accelerates too quickly and falls off. He doesn’t even remember to fly over the glowing blue pads at the end of a lap to recharge his shields. I mean everyone knows to fly over the blue pads. Martians composed entirely of gamma particles, residing in a dimension diametrically opposed to our own, in which the mere conception of digital entertainment is an impossibility, even they would be looking at him, going, “He didn’t fly over the blue pads, the moron!”

Alex has not, to my knowledge, played WipEout HD before. But it wouldn’t matter if he had. He could practise every day for the next forty years, and he’d still be pathetic.

And that’s why I love it. Videogames serve a variety of purposes. Some of them provide worlds you can lose yourself in for months at a time. Others are works of art to find meaning within, or dreamscapes waiting to be explored.

And then there are those others — the ones you buy simply so you can present them to your best friend and say, I will destroy you at this.

And then you write a mocking, defamatory article on your blog about it, and you imagine your friend’s face as he reads it.

And then you worry if somewhere along the way you lost sight of right and wrong, if gradually you’ve become everything you once despised.

And then you remember the feeling when that blue shell hit you in Mario Kart, and you think fuck it, and you click “Publish”.

And then you lean back, and you smile.

34 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

Kicking Pigeons: Part Three

God does not exist. I know this because if he did, he’d never have invented such a thing as a hangover.

I get that the universe has to balance, that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction — But I’ve already emptied my bank account, lost the jacket I was borrowing off a friend (sorry, Mike) and danced like no one was watching, except they were watching, they were totally watching all of it, even the bit with the hand gestures and the air guitar. Shouldn’t that, you know, be punishment enough?

But the universe must have its full pound of flesh. And while being drunk is always the same (misplaced confidence — self loathing — kebab), each hangover is unique in its hideousness.

The bastard I’m struggling with today crashed down like a tsunami, before washing back out and leaving me bedraggled and wretched, splayed among the detritus of my ravaged mind.

I can barely focus on existing, let alone writing. Complex thoughts require a gargantuan effort to piece together, dredging the fragments up from still-waterlogged recesses and assembling into finished statements such as: “Need coffee”, and “Ow.”

But let’s not dwell on such troubles. Let’s forget the pain and drift away into another world, one in which I’m not Rob Parker: Despair Incarnate, but Nikko Bellic: Pigeon Hunter.

Where did we get to, anyhow?

Aha. I’m a few streets on from where I left off last time, down by the docks of the industrial borough of Broker. My approach up to this point has been — to say the least — haphazard, and I want to be a little more methodical in my duties.

The docks feel like prime hunting grounds. Among the stacked cargo crates, dilapidated warehouses and towering cranes there are bound to be pigeons galore.

Ooh, and speaking of cranes …

This one is going to have a pigeon at the top. And if it doesn’t have a pigeon it’ll have a sniper rifle. That’s just common sense.

No pigeon. No sniper rifle. What the hell is the point in a crane without a pigeon or a sniper rifle at the top? I mean, okay, there was never going to be both, but there should be one or the other. That question of which of the two it’ll be is like a videogame crane’s only raison d’etre. A crane without either — man, that’s a crane with some serious existential issues.

I descend back to ground level and move on to the next crane along. I climb to the top.

No pigeon.

No sniper rifle.

Jeez. I’m losing faith in Rockstar’s basic design skills. If they can’t even get the fundamentals right …

Well, whatever. As night falls I clamber aboard the cargo ship docked nearby.

Is this the same ship Nikko arrived on in the game’s opening? Why so it is.

That sort of detail is non-trivial in my eyes, and something GTA games usually get right. The persistence of the game world — the idea that the freighter Nikko sails into Liberty City on is an actual place that you can visit and explore at any point on your travels — it creates this sense of continuity, a feeling of the game having a functioning existence outside of and above your own actions.

I remember feeling that really strongly playing GTA III for the first time, how you didn’t choose missions from a menu screen but actually went to find characters in the world, who operated out of cafés or offices or mafia houses at the end of twisting driveways. And then when you weren’t on a mission you could poke around that mafia house, and there was a grand piano and leather sofas and fine rugs.

Tying the environment to the narrative, I suppose I’m talking about. Roman’s apartment with its dirty washing up, the internet cafés with working computers, Faustin’s suburban home with the sports car outside — all are made more significant because of their links to the game’s story and characters. We believe in these places, they really exist.

So the cargo ship adds a narrative depth to my search, but doesn’t, sadly, yield any pigeons.

I continue along the docks.

Progress is slow, halting. The docks are a maze of machinery and concrete, imposing to the aspiring explorer. The minutes roll by, run into each other, coalesce into chunks of empty, dead time. I’m very aware of time, of its dimensional existence. It feels thick around me, syrupy, somehow revolting. The hangover is still there, my body is trapped in a weightless lethargy.

There are no pigeons anywhere. The crawling, torpid pace is frustrating, and the lack of rewards make it seem pointless, as if I’m torturing myself for nothing.

I walk into an office cabin for dock workers. It’s barren inside. I walk into a warehouse later used for a shoot-out. Desolate.

I want to scream. My mind is alert, wired, yet my body is wrecked. Even holding the mouse feels like too much effort. I need to get away.

Fuck these docks. Fuck efficiency. Fuck the fucking systematic approach. I climb into the sports car I stole on the way here. I’m not a robot, not a sequential search algorithm running through its subroutines mechanically.

I’m a man. A man who right now must drive very, very fast. I gun my engine.

– And I pause. Something catches my eye. I get out of my sports car, walk across the road.

If I’m doing this shit, I might as well do it in style.

Now this is a car!

The engine splutters, there’s a bang as a cloud of black smog is expelled out of the exhaust, and I’m away. I screech onto the road, skid past a stunned police officer, and suddenly I’m free.

The listlessness falls away. I powerslide round corners, zip between traffic, barrel over the sidewalk (which is an erroneous name for a pavement). It feels great, and I can tell the honeys are going wild for my dope ride.

Though maybe I should do something about sprucing it up. Hmm. Finding a clapped out old banger and restoring it to its former glory. This is like the most manly I’ve ever been.

The cars in GTA IV accumulate dirt, which can be removed at the functioning carwash. The level of incidental detail in the game is staggering. I head to the carwash.

… And come out looking like this:

Umm, yeah. Why did I think soap and water was going to improve the condition of a car that is 95% rust? If anything it’s going to exacerbate the problem. I am not, it turns out, very manly.

Oh well. To the Pay ‘n’ Spray!

Nee-naw, nee-naw, coming through! Important man-business to attend to, outta my way!

I arrive at the Pay ‘n’ Spray. The garage door closes. A few in-game hours pass. The door opens. I come out looking like this:

Goddammit! Why won’t this game let me be a proper man? All I want is to be a proper man.

I sit by the side of the road, a little despondent. I’ve wound up next to a park, so I edge my car through the gate and onto the grass.

I like parks in GTA games. There’s something calming about them, with their little pathways and bridges, and the sounds of the traffic fading out, and grass and trees everywhere.

This is exactly what I needed. I feel myself relax. A quiet moment away from the hussle-bussle, out of the endless grind. I might start a petition for more parks in gaming.

And I realise my car doesn’t need fixing. It has character, it’s perfect just as it is.

Oh-ho, and what’s this?!

Chilling on the rail of the park’s central bandstand, it’s Pigeon Number Four. I bloody knew coming to this park was going to be a good idea.

Kapow!, and 196 to go.

I get back in my car and zoom away from the attention of a nearby policeman. Without planning it I find myself pulling up outside my apartment, and suddenly I can’t go on a moment longer. I fall out of my car, fall up the stairs, fall into bed, and darkness descends about me.

The pigeon hunt will continue soon. But now is the time for sleep — the empty, contented sleep of a man who, in an epic battle against his hangover, has emerged victorious.

No, on second thoughts, the hangover has totally won. I feel awful. Good night.

17 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

Kicking Pigeons: Part Two

Discipline! What is it? Where does it come from? Why are some of us born with none whatsoever?

I felt Part One of my game diary came off quite well, all things (laziness, a redesigned Edge to read, Assassin’s Creed 2 to play) considered … but now I feel sick. I really don’t want to be doing this. I promised I’d do it but now that I actually do have to do it I’d rather not do it at all. You know what I mean?

It’s like having a job. Except there’s a bed in my office, the kitchen is just downstairs, I don’t have a boss and I’m not getting paid. And my workstation doubles as a portal to every embarrassing video of people falling over ever recorded by mankind. And also the kitchen has biscuits in it.

But no. We must not think in such terms. We must be strong, dedicated, disciplined. Then later … later there will be schadenfreude. Schadenfreude and hobnobs. Oh yes.

Well here I am then, right where I was when you left me. I’ve just been stood on this beach waiting, while you lot have been off tweeting moral outrage into your iPhones about tabloid skullduggery that is itself only a product of society’s insatiable hunger for gossip that you yourself have helped contribute to. I mean not that I’m blaming you personally for everything the News of the World did. But it is essentially your fault.

“Press E to use the binoculars,” a disembodied voice commands of me. I obey.

What a view.

“Press E to quit,” I am commanded. I do so.

Gosh, I’m glad of that discipline. I hope you’ve got as much discipline to read this guff as I have to write it …

Oh but what’s this?!

Adventure! Excitement! Intrigue!

Well no, not adventure. Or excitement. Or intrigue, per se. But a pigeon. An actual, hidden pigeon — one of the fabled 200 — on the pillar behind me.

I pop a cap in its ass (it’s whole body, really), and strike another off the list. 198 to go.

(And I was lying when I said I was waiting on that beach for you all. Actually I was doing story missions to open the gun shop and kit myself out with some weaponry. Breaking the narrative flow of the diary I suppose, but at least I wasn’t out buying Heat magazine and discussing Lindsay Lohan’s waistline and feeding into a climate where hacking missing teenagers’ answerphones was considered acceptable. You shits.)

The discharging of my firearm into a stationary bird appears to upset the beachfront tourists, so I jog away briskly. I’ve not gone far when two bald men screech their car to a halt and start shooting in my direction.

What are they, like plain-clothes investigators of pigeon-related crimes? The Pigeon Detectives, I guess you could call them.

“I can’t control myself,” I shout at them. “And I’m not sorry.”

“We found out,” they shout at me.

“I’m caught in your trap,” I shout at them.

“Take her back take her back take her back take her back boys,” they shout at me, which isn’t contextually very relevant, truth be told.

I shoot the Pigeon Detectives with my gun and they totally die — a sentence I’ve wanted to write for such a long time — then I steal their car to evade the regular cops who are now on my case. I reckon a judge would probably sympathise with me that I was making the world a better place by killing the Pigeon Detectives, but hey — car chases are fun, right?

This particular chase proves uneventful. The police input is decidedly lacklustre, as if they don’t really care that I just killed the Pigeon Detectives, as if the Pigeon Detectives were utterly charmless and entirely irrelevant and everyone is happy they’re dead. I drive a little way and the cops give up and go home, so I wrench the car around and head back in my original direction.

I pause at a hotdog stand to eat lunch and regain health, then continue with my mission.

The sun begins to set. All facetiousness about landfill indie bands aside, GTA IV is absolutely gorgeous at sunset. Store fronts glimmer, shadows stretch, and the streets are bathed in a golden light that makes me wistful, melancholic about the eternal passing of our world.

This was GTA IV’s real strength, I always felt. The driving and shooting systems were solid but not extraordinary, the missions a little uninspired, but Liberty City itself is still probably the most well-realised environment in all of gaming. It feels complete, I believe in it — and wandering its streets, watching its motions and cycles, I often experience the kind of emotions usually reserved for real life travelling. “Meditative,” is perhaps the word.

There is a little stairway down to the waterfront behind me. I follow it purposelessly, a Zen adventurer strolling through a new land, lost without the desire to be found, a rambling child, cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.

I have no needs. I want nothing but what is. I am empty, I ride the wind, thinking not of the weight of the past nor the terror of the future, but simply of what the present moment brings. I embrace yet I do not strive. I am silent as morning dew, alert as the deer, fullsome as cherry blossom in spring. I am Ryokan the fool-wanderer. I am Chuang-Tzu the butterfly-dreamer. I am –

FUCKING PIGEON! I’ve found a fucking pigeon! Waaaahhhh ohyesohyesohyes.

Oh I am so amazing at this game. I am the god of pigeon hunting. Bow to my superior pigeon-stalking skills. 197 to go, motherfuckers.

Ahem. Well yes. And perhaps we should leave it there for today munchkins. I think these diary entries will work better if they’re shorter but more frequent; less planned, more spontaneous. You know, like diary entries.

So tune in … at some unstipulated date in the future, for more adventures of Liberty City’s most lackadaisical pigeon hunter. Perhaps I’ll even travel further than 100 yards next time. No promises though.

Now … to the biscuit tin!

10 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

Kicking Pigeons: Part One

“Part one.”

“He adored Liberty City. He idolised it out of all proportion.”

Hmm, no. Make that: “He romanticised it out of all proportion.”

“To him, no matter how many years passed, this was still a town that existed in crisp resolution, pulsating to the tune of Q Lazzarus’ Goodbye Horses.”

Umm … no. Let me start over.

“Part one.”

“He was too romantic about Liberty City, as he was about everything else.”

“He loved the urban sprawl, the verticality of the environment. The city’s rooftops, its steamy back alleys and solitary train stations, somehow epitomised everything that he played games for.”

Too grandiose. I want this to feel personal.

“Part one.”

“He was as complex and enigmatic as the city he loved. A mysterious man roaming mysterious streets. A tough exterior masking deep vulnerability. Dark. Brooding. Sexual.”

This is dynamite.

… Although, on second thoughts, maybe doing the Manhattan thing isn’t such a good idea. I’m stressed enough about living up to early promise as it is.

Last week I decided to start a game diary documenting my journey scouring Grand Theft Auto IV for its 200 collectible pigeons. I wrote that I was apprehensive about embarking on such a prescribed endeavour, seeing as I write haphazardly, re-draft continuously, and my brain has a tendency to implode under pressure. In the end, though, I came to the conclusion that the challenge would be good for me, and even if I failed, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Right now I think I must have been crazy.

I can’t do this. I’m not a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy. I’m not even a steady-shot kind of guy. I’m a put the gun in the drawer and hide under the covers and close my eyes and hope everything that has ever happened and will ever or might ever happen just goes away. Kind of guy. I mean, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do.

So I climb up high.

I always have a compulsion to climb in videogames. More than the social aspect of online games, more than the meditative trance that games like Geometry Wars or VVVVVV can engender, I really play to explore. And climbing is the primal expression of that. Whenever I’m lost and bewildered in a new virtual landscape, my first step is always to climb something tall and get my bearings. It makes me feel like a caveman, deeply connected to my surroundings — even if those surroundings do only exist within a computer simulation.

Strange that, how we’ve mapped out and ordered and de-mystified our world, taken charge of it and plundered its resources, in order to create technology that allows us to invent simulated worlds … ready to be mapped out and ordered and de-mystified. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Anyway. Here I am. I’ve completed a handful of GTA IV’s missions already. I’ve punched here, driven there, remapped the controls to put the handbrake back on the right mouse button. Now it’s time to start my true journey.

Where the pigeons at?

Umm.

I scan the horizon. I peer up into the sky, and down at my feet. I run in a circle around the rooftop.

“Pidgeys?” I call into the breeze. No answer returns.

Well. This wasn’t supposed to be easy.

Down below me I can see a quaint family playground and basketball court.

As good a place as any to begin my search. The sun is shining, and the bleached-out blues and reds of the court looks inviting. There is a brief hiccup as I forget where the ladder back to street level is, but then I stumble upon it and I’m ready to roll. To adventure!

Oh no. This isn’t a picturesque family utopia at all, but a sleazy and squalid smack den. It’s like a scene from one of those anti-drugs adverts, where they pretend to be offering impartial and non-judgemental advice, but in reality imply that if you ever take so much as one ecstasy you’ll spend the rest of your life huddled in the corner of inner-city parks with swing frames BUT NO SWINGS, wrenching out your fingernails to distract your mind from the satanic voices emanating from the cans of special brew abandoned at your feet.

What rubbish. I mean I took two ecstasies once, and look at me now. Right as rain.

Worse than the Talk-to-Frank vibes, though, is the fact there are no pigeons here. I think the men on that bench must have eaten them all.

The basketball courts prove equally unaccommodating to my needs. This is soooo boring. I’ve looked literally everywhere in the world. Well, two places. But literally two places in the world. Surely I deserve a reward now?

On my way back out of the park I’m accosted by two baggy-trousered gentlemen.

“Yo whattup muthafucka wanna score some coke yo be cool man be cool.” I say to them.

They look puzzled.

“Is he mocking African-American patois for comedic effect?” the kid in blue asks his friend.

“That sure appears to be the case, Darnell. Let’s fuck him up.”

“Woah now lads,” I say, backing off. “It wasn’t a racist joke, it was a joke about racism.”

“In my eyes that’s an irrelevant and cowardly get-out clause used to mask the widespread and insidious prejudice of society at large,” Darnell retorts. “Wouldn’t you agree, Cee-Jay?”

The other one pauses. “Yo back up, Dee. Don’t you think that tired reversal where the black dude turns out to be eloquently spoken — within a white framework — is just as inherently racist as the street kid stereotype? I mean we for real, man. We be who we be.”

“So I can’t be educated?” Darnell says. “I can’t aspire to rise up out of this ghetto?”

“It aint like that, yo. The king stay the king. The game is rigged. But you cannot lose if you do not play.”

“Are you just quoting from The Wire?” I ask.

“Shieeeeeet!” they both say in unison, and we all laugh, and I walk on, and we’re all relatively happy how that turned out, even though it was a potential minefield, and essentially we’re just glad the conversation hasn’t been transcribed and put onto the internet or anything like that.

The next thing I do is find a good car and drive fast.

You can only go so long in a Grand Theft Auto game before succumbing to the desire to find a good car and drive fast. Here I’ve managed a record twelve and a half minutes.

I powerslide round some corners and gun the engine and crash into a few trees, and next thing I know I’m at the Coney-Island-inspired beachfront.

And look: crazy golf.

There will definitely be pigeons at crazy golf. They can’t get enough of that shit. You develop a kind of sixth sense for where hidden packages will be when you’re a seasoned explorer like me.

I always go poking around for hidden packages in games. Gold Skulltulas in Ocarina of Time, feathers in Assassin’s Creed II, diamonds in Far Cry 2. After a while you can just sort of tell where they’re likely to be. It’s a beautiful feeling, an alignment of your mind with the minds of the level designers. Some tiny subconscious curiosity switch gets lit deep in your brain by the appearance of an otherwise innocent ramp or pathway or flight of stairs, you head off to explore it, and BAM, there’s this glowing trinket at the end, saying, You did the right thing, congratulations.

Like I said, a beautiful feeling. Except I don’t find any pigeons at crazy golf. It’s a lovely little course, meticulously modelled, but still … bloody fucking hell.

Over the fence from the crazy golf course is a scrap of derelict land housing the hulking shells of a fleet of broken-down schoolbuses.

I get another tingling in my waters: this is going to be pigeon central. But again, my pidgey-sense is all off. Plenty of ugly bump mapping [that’s a joke about GTA IV’s image rendering — you know, cos I’m cool like that], but no pigeons. I think I’ve lost my explorer mojo.

I try climbing the wooden rollercoaster behind me, but I’m a little deflated by now. I fall off twice on the way up, and when I finally reach the top I find it to be sans pigeons. A gorgeous view …

… but a pigeon-less one. Dammit.

I’m at a bit of a loss. I’m starting to wonder if you have to reach a certain point in the story mode to trigger the arrival of the pigeons, or whether the pigeons even exist at all. Perhaps it’s an elaborate ruse on the part of the developers, online journalists and all my friends to get me to look a right tit on my blog. The whole population of the earth colluding against me, like The Truman Show.

No, Rob. Not everything that happens in life is evidence that you’re in The Truman Show. You have to stop thinking like this. Even if that postman and dog-walker have been looping the block for the last four hours …

To prevent myself going insane I run down the rollercoaster track, as if I’m going for a ride. It’s not very fun — and I realise doesn’t help me look any more sane. “Whee,” I say, a little halfheartedly.

Under the boardwalk (we’ll be haaaving some fuuun!) on the way to the beach I spy an orange glow, and my heart skips a beat. It’s only a Molotov cocktail though.

I resist the urge to throw it at the old lady nearby — you have no idea how strong that urge is — and continue on my way. Gotta stay focused.

Beaches are always rubbish in GTA games, aren’t they? Miles of featureless brown sludge, dotted intermittently with lurching, crudely animated gimps in oversized tramp coats. Sort of like Cleethorpes, I suppose.

And then. AND THEN…!

Beneath the pier, shit finally gets real.

Oh yes. You know what that is, don’t you? That is VICTORY. My very first pigeon, pecking away nonchalantly, pretending not to care that it’s the MOST IMPORTANT PIGEON IN ALL OF HISTORY.

This is fantastic. This is the best feeling a human-being can have. This is … this is balls. Balls. BALLS.

I don’t have a gun yet.

I try punching the pigeon in the face. Nothing happens. I stare at it, furiously, impotently …

… Then I remember. The Molotov cocktail I picked up literally two minutes ago.

Overkill, perhaps, but I might as well start proceedings with a bang.

Did I get it? Did I? Huh?

You better believe I did.

Well there we are. Almost 2000 words for one pigeon. And look at that city out there, throbbing, pulsing, waiting for me. It’s not going to take a man to conquer that city, it’s going to take a god.

But as this guy who made a couple of films once said, I … err, I gotta model myself after someone.

I hear ya, Woody.

10 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

Kicking Pigeons: The Silly Thing

I’ve done a silly thing. I’ve bought Grand Theft Auto IV for the PC, despite having a backlog of fifty other games I don’t have time to play, despite being so poor I can’t afford new socks, despite the PS3 version of GTA IV already sitting by the TV in the living room one flight of stairs down from my PC.

I … there was a sale on, okay? It wasn’t expensive. I wanted to check the differences in the versions, investigate whether Rockstar have become any more adept at not cocking up their PC ports, see how mouse and keyboard controls hold up … in … with regards to …

Basically, I’m entirely decadent. A Roman emperor lounging back on silk sheets, engorging himself on fine wine and venison as his kingdom crumbles around him. Except in place of the silk sheets is a swivel chair from Staples with the padding leaking out of the side, and my epicurean delights are really a simulated tale of corruption and car-jacking through the seedy underbelly of the archetypal American city. Still though: Decadence.

But this classical tale has an avenue for redemption, in the form of that loosest and most raggedy of modern games journalism modes: the online game diary.

I’ve been wanting to write a game diary for a while now. In many ways they feel like the perfect expression of what Kieron Gillen actually meant with his NGJ quotation-marks-in-the-air “Manifesto” — not overwrought, self mythologising drivel about your cat (or a girl you used to fancy), but simply a way to convey to readers the experience of playing a game from the inside, a personal adventure that eschews the supposed objectivity of “buyer’s guide” reviews in favour of documenting a single, subjective journey.

Games are models to be interacted with. Pretend for a moment you’d never seen a playground in real life, and didn’t know what one was. A “review” of the playground — how many rides there were, the dimensions of the sandpit, the angle of the slide — would only explain so much. An alternative approach, a first-hand account telling the story of one writer’s afternoon in the playground and the trials and tribulations therein, could say more. Not as a replacement for the drier review style, but as a compliment, providing that warmer, richer side of the coin that reviews, with their need to compare and encapsulate, tend to miss out on.

But we’re getting too deep into justification here. I always feel this overwhelming urge to justify myself. The point is: I like the idea of game diaries. I’ve not tried one before, partly because there hasn’t been an open-ended game on my schedule that would be suitable for the approach, and partly because I’m scared.

I write slowly, you see. I plan and take notes and draft and re-draft and go away and cry and come back and bang my head on the keyboard and cry more and then start from scratch and cry all the way through that rewrite and finally end up at a point where although I’m not remotely finished I am somehow Done, and I post the piece and bite my nails and wonder what the hell I was thinking starting one of these blogs in the first place.

So the idea of a game diary — by definition a rough-and-ready write-up of events as they occur in-game — fills me with dread. What if nothing of interest happens? What if I get bored one post in and can’t motivate myself? What if, worst of all, the off-the-cuff approach gives away the secret to you THREE READERS that I can’t actually write at all, that I just work harder at faking it than other people?

Well you know what? There has to come a time when you just stop giving so much of a shit. It doesn’t really matter. In a world of very real problems — death, the inevitable collapse of the universe, Steam sales always beginning the day after I’ve been paid — the potential failure of one little game diary feels pretty insignificant.

So I’m going ahead with this. It is happening. Yes indeed.

Why am I still typing here then? Because I need to outline the Rules, obviously. Every game-diary must have its Rules — the parameters for its specific journey, setting it apart from all other journeys, defining its quality and colour.

My diary, as the “Kicking Pigeons” title implies, will be a document of my attempts to collect the secret pigeons dotted around GTA IV’s Liberty City. Every GTA game has had “hidden packages”, little baubles and knick-knacks to discover, rewards for venturing off the beaten track. In GTA IV’s case these collectibles take the form of 200 “flying rats” concealed about the city, which you can find and shoot.

Usually, gamers seeking out the pigeons will use internet guides and Youtube videos to help them, looking up a location and then driving to it and collecting the reward. I don’t want to do that. If you’re all about the destination then take a fucking flight, as Frank Turner so eloquently puts it — so I’m going old skool. No guides, no vids, no external help whatsoever. Just me, hitting the streets, “going nowhere slowly but seeing all the sights.”

I won’t use any cheats. I won’t reload old saves. Whatever happens on the journey stays happened.

I don’t know how many of the birds I’ll find. Maybe none. But I think the attempt will be fun. Playing games to write about them can be dull — I spend my time analysing and evaluating, picking apart threads, distilling into base components. In fact “playing” probably isn’t an apt term — more often what I do is more akin to “studying”.

I’ve touched before on the idea of games being waking dreams. Imagined landscapes to jump-drive-soar through, worlds unbound by social convention and physical restriction, waiting to be explored.

That’s what I want to do here. I want to get lost, to not know where to go next, to run around and have adventures and just see what happens. It might be a silly thing — but sometimes silly things can be pretty cool. Why not stick around and see how I get on?

5 Comments

Filed under Ramblings