Thursday, 31 January 2013

Big Damn Heroes

Have you ever found it odd how different Game genres approach their ‘Heroes Journey?

Well no, probably not, as you are all happy, well-adjusted people but this is the kind of stuff I think about when my brain grows tired of attempting to be a productive member of society (also, Vikings).

Seriously though, while ostensibly each describing a fairly simple character arc, usually along the lines of ‘bad guys do bad thing, you have to stop them, you stop them, much success’, they tend to approach it in vastly different and usually pretty weird ways. Not only that, but sometimes they seem to draw characters from entirely the wrong era.

Let’s take two of the most straightforward examples and I’ll try and show you what I mean. The two I’m going to use are the random soldiers of FPS’ and the random peasants of Western RPGs. I’m using these because; well a little bit because these are the games I play most, but also because they’re the games with the most character-focussed view. Compare the solo heroes in most of these games to the Omniscient Gods of RTS’ and the spiky haired, mal-nourished teenagers of JRPGs and you’ll see what I mean.

Eat a Damn Cheeseburger!Source

Let’s start with a brief rundown of how the two characters normally play out.

Your standard FPS, whether Sci-Fi or Modern, begins with you and usually a squad being deployed or already present in some hot-spot or warzone. As things escalate around you and people shout whatever random Caucasian or semi-ethnic name you’ve been given (Johnson! Ramirez!!) it will eventually become apparent that you are the only competent member of that particular military/space marine corps and the next 8 hours are spent rushing headlong into a wave of bullets and enemies.

Meanwhile in a normal Western RPG (except Elder Scrolls Games where you are always some kind of criminal, I assume because Bethesda are ‘down with the streets’) you are generally a plucky and not unduly downtrodden peasant living in a facsimile of Arthurian Britain. When your surprisingly pleasant country is invaded by todays flavour of ork and all the professional knights and soldiers are routed it’s up to you to start gathering allies, combine powerful characters and forces and save the day!

Also, sometimes you’re Link.

If anyone says 'Hey, Listen!' I'll knife youSource

Now let’s think about that for a moment. Apart from the accumulated works of Mr Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger the one-man army doesn’t really have a place in the modern world.  There’s a reason an entire SEAL team took down Osama Bin Laden and not just one dude with the mystic power to open doors.  You know where we do find a culture that holds the greatest warrior of a group up to do the heroic works?

If you guessed Vikings then you’re wrong…

 Nah I’m just messing with you, the Vikings loved that stuff. 

 It’s just that they were a continuation of a tradition that was on going for thousands of years. Amongst the Celts, Germanic Tribes and eventually the Vikings there was a warrior elite of fighting men around important Lords and Kings. These men could come from anywhere, even other tribes if they were particularly skilled, but once ensconced as a Hearth-Troop (Saxon:Huscarl) they formed a cultural elite.

It was from these men that heroes like Beowulf emerged, the best fighters of an elite unit tackling the most difficult foes to achieve their goals…

Sound familiar?

And lo, he did strike upon them as a Troll unto noobsSource

Now, if we look at the RPG storyline I sketched above we can see some definitely modern trends in it. In fact a lone man, or small group, building alliances and leading a grass-roots swell against some outside ‘evil’ force should sound very familiar indeed.

It’s called Guerilla Warfare and it’s how every modern war is being fought.

If you don’t think this is a fair comparison to make, well then let me point out that leading a regime change is literally the entire plot of Dragon Age:Origins , it’s also a sizable questline in Skyrim and once again the entire plot of Dungeon Siege 3 (admittedly there you used to be the faction in charge so it’s more of a reverse-coup).

When you look at it that way, it starts to look like Modern-Warfare is the barbarian to the developed martial prowess of our old-timey RPGs.

So…I guess this means Link is a member of Al-Qaeda?

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Warm Bodies

Wow, so today kind of buried me.

On the bright side, and thanks to my wife, I have a trailer that links quite nicely to yesterdays post. Even if it doesn't involve gaming, Warm Bodies still seems like a pretty awesome movie as it takes a new look at the tropes of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Plus it will be fun to see if all the women who think that pale kid from twilight is hot like the mopy hair/pale skin/unbearable voice triple-threat in zombie form.

Probably not, but this is the kind of thing I think about.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Restless Dead

The undead have been given a bit more life recently. Literally every facet of popular culture is flooded with them. Whether you are attempting to avoid the shambling hordes in The Walking Dead (Comic, TV Show or Game), watching strangely breathy vampires duke it out over a barmaid in True Blood or reading about a werewolf who takes his shirt off for no reason, chances are good you've been touched by the trend in some way.

Even if it is just by watching that pale chick from Twilight tackle a cougar...

I will never tire of this .gifSource

It's not that surprising really. As we've discussed before, humanity has been making up monster myths from the day we stopped being particularly clever ground-apes and started being slightly stupid sentient beings. As it happens, a lot of these involve dead things and creatures that walk the line between life and death.

Want some examples? OK, let’s start with this. Remember the Draugr from Skyrim? Of course you do, there were millions of the buggers littering every dungeon in the province. Well, they are actually pulled from Norse myth. The Skyrim versions are an amalgamation of the traditional Norse Draugr (an unquiet spirit that could cause incredible havoc if it put its mind to it) and the Haugbuii ,or barrow-dweller, who essentially filled the role that Skyrims Draugr fill in-game. They guarded the graves of important men and killed those who entered. The best account of them is probably in Grettirs saga, where the eponymous hero kills the Dragur Glamr.

Hi! Have you heard the good news of Hela?Source

Actually, it’s impressive how many of the undead myths we have come from the Vikings and other early Germanic cultures. Most of it is all tied up in layers of pagan mysticism and fear. Werewolves, for another example, might have started at as Ulf-skeres or Wolf-Skins. Otherwise known as warriors who fought in wolf-pelts and were a little bit insane, see also Bere-Skeres (Bear-Skins) otherwise known as Berserkers. The sight of these guys losing their minds in the most explosively violent way possible made some people think they were actual fusions of man and animal.
That’s some serious violence.

Apparently shirts were always optional thoughSource

Now, as for those pesky, cougar-tackling vampires. Most people trace the origins of the myths back to Vlad the Impaler, the man who liked to stick virgins upon spears and murdered all of the turks (Robert Patterson might have stopped at the impaling women part). The thing is, there are other, older, vampire myths. Unsurprisingly these vampire myths largely come from the civilised world (because Vampires are sissies, there I said it) with some of the most screwed up coming from Ancient Greece…including the origin of the fiendishly sexy female bloodsucker, as well as a woman who lends her name to the Vampire realm in Warhammer.

Each of the popular undead myths came about as unique analogues for real-world issues and problems. Zombies represent fear of the faceless mob (or consumerism, if you’re George Romero), Vampires are a walking STD and Werewolves are the risk of giving into humanities more beastial urges. Yet each one also arises from humanities endless fascination with death.

Can I bum a smoke?Source

Nothing frightens and intrigues us quite so much as what happens when we die. For all we see it, we can never really know. Making up stories about some kind of afterlife, even a horrific one, at least serves some small comfort.
When I die, I certainly hope I come back as a Berserker.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Monday, 28 January 2013

I remember now!

So, recently (and possibly because of what happened to THQ) I had a craving for some PC gaming. Then, because I am an incredibly lucky man, my wife bought me a new Gaming-Rig that arrived on Wednesday last week.

The system is good spec, certainly more than high enough to play any game I am interested in. The only problem was it had no Operating System installed (for my fellow console gamers, it didn’t have Windows).

“Easy!” Thought I, Naively.  “I will just install an old copy of XP and go from there.”

I eventually got it working on Saturday, around 6pm, after multiple reinstalls and finally upgrading to Windows 8.

This is how Vikings react to Compatability IssuesSource

This is the problem with PC gaming that I, in my console-based largesse, had largely forgotten. You constantly have to fight with a machine that has its own logic and pathways, as well as a myriad of software and drivers that are never quite as up to date as you might like.

The difficulty many people have getting their heads around Hardware and Software issues on their PC have certainly helped contribute to the console boom over the last decade and, having now been through a quite gruelling installation myself, I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

Of course, with the rumoured Steam Box generating buzz in both PC and Console gaming circles for its supposed ‘compartmentalised’ construction we may yet see the PC regain ground.

In the meantime, the good news is that I have a working Gaming PC so may be able to talk on topics outside my normally console-centric viewpoint.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Trailers, Trailers Everywhere!

So, I was gonna use todays post to talk about the new Elder Scrolls Online trailer and the Beta signups that you can find here.

However, then Gearbox dropped a new Colonial Marines trailer. As we've established, I love me some Colonial Marines. So today we get to have a double-header. First the Elder Scrolls Online trailer and some breakdown, then the newest Colonial Marines trailer and some breakdown.

Here we go:

First things first, the Nord in this is every bit as awesome and Axe-wielding as I could hope. That being said, Cinematic trailers (while pretty) are notoriously untrustworthy when we're talking about Games.

After all, while anyone can make something beautiful to watch these days, it's entirely different to make something that's fun to play. Being Interactive is literally the soul of all Games and while we may not be playing during a Gameplay trailer either, at least we can see how someone else is doing it, and imagine if we would enjoy it ourselves.

That being said, do we need a Gameplay trailer for an MMO? I've got a spoiler for you: There will be pointless quests to collect x amount of y and deliver it to random townsman A. The meat of ESO is supposedly the massive PvP sieges, some of which can be seen in the earlier trailer here.

With that in mind, this cinematic tower-assault makes a bit more sense and is also kind of awesome to watch.

"We're Fighting for the title of biggest Badass in the Galaxy! And I intend to win that Fight!"

This is now my favourite gaming quote of the year (including 2012). Hands down.

Everything we see of Colonial Marines just seems to get better and better, but then again I'm kind of a sucker for this stuff. Maybe it's some latent gene in my American side but if you tell me that there's a game/film/series where human military personnel will be pitted against ruthless aliens in a more realistic firefight then your normal 'Gears of War' style space marine? I'm there.

Battle:LA, Space: Above and Beyond, Aliens vs. Predator (originals) all in my favourite things of all time.

The only thing that does worry me in this trailer is the brief shot of a marine shoving a Xenomorph backwards with his bear hands. That stinks of the AvP reboot from a few years ago and that game sucked like a Dyson.

Still, overall I remain optimistic.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

THQ Bites the Dust

I'm actually pretty sad about this.

From about the mid 2000s onwards, THQ were responsible for some of my favourite games of all time. From Dawn of War to Saints Row, by way of Homeland and Metro, they consistently created games I not only enjoyed but occasionally genuinely loved.

Still, Ashes to Ashes and all that jazz. Let's take a look at what some of the big acquisitions might mean for the future of some franchises.

In my head, this is what the auction looked like.Source
(Just a quick note before I begin, this list itself is pulled from The Escapist, article link is at the top of this post, commentary is my own.)

  • Relic - purchased by Sega for $26 million  
This is the most exciting one for me, and also the most obvious. After Creative Assembly (The Sega-owned company behind the Total War series) and Games Workshop announced a partnership for a Warhammer:Total War type game it makes sense for Sega to also aquire Relic, the studio behind the genre-defining Dawn of War series set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Will they be making a Dawn of Total War? I doubt it, but Sega have come back as a major player in gaming over recent years (any Sonic Team game notwithstanding) and I'm excited to see where this goes.
  • Volition - purchased by Koch Media for $22.3 million
Saints Row is often described as a series trying to be GTA. This isn't true, Saints Row is the series GTA wishes it still was. Long before Niko Bellic was growling his way through a mountain of gritty dialogue and annoying customers I was chasing pedestrians with a flamethrower in a top down-view while the world around me exploded with insanity. Saints Row brings back that childish, giddy thrill of pure, silly destruction and ratchets it up to 10 in both intensity and graphics.

All of that makes it one of my favourite franchises of all time, and is also why I'm a little sad that it got picked up by Koch Media, a publisher who releases games through the brand 'Deep Silver. Sound familiar? This is why Yeah, not relishing the thought of them taking the reigns. Then again, maybe the kind of people who think of disturbing torso figurines are right at home with a franchise that includes giant purple dildo-bats.

Fun fact, my employer almost made display cases for theseSource

  • Evolve (IP) - purchased by Take-Two for $11 million
To be honest, I know nothing about this franchise. I'm overall fairly fond of Take-Two though so I guess you can take that as a positive?
  • Metro (IP) - purchased by Koch Media for $5.8 million
Hoo boy, please see my earlier comments about Koch. While their crazy marketing choices and somewhat bland game design (Risen, Dead Island) might have been workable with Saints Row they could possibly kill a sombre, serious and respected series like Metro, at least after this latest installment (Last Light). 


  • South Park (IP) - purchased by Ubisoft for $3.2 million
  • THQ Montreal - purchased by Ubisoft for $2.5 million
I'm not sure about the South Park games, I never played them. I gotta figure that the aquisition of THQ Montreal though is more a geographical one for Ubisoft, whose largest studio also happens to be in Montreal.
  • Homefront (IP) - purchased by Crytek for $500,000
Finally! Something else I can get excited by. Homefront was a big, silly shooter that would be a clear ripoff of Red Dawn if not for the fact that it was written by the same guy. Can you accuse yourself of Plagarism? Deep.

It got mixed reviews but featured some fun set-pieces, great multiplayer with an innovative in-mission unlock system and was generally just a ton of fun. Now that it's been aquired by Crytek, the name in big and beautiful shooters, I can see a future installment being not only tons of fun but also eye-burning levels of pretty.

Unfortunately the rest of THQs franchises weren't sold, leaving somewhat promising titles like 'Darksiders' with no future for the moment. This is doubly sad, not only for the death of some great Games but also because the studios that made them will now not have their contracts renewed. That means another wave of Layoffs in an allready recession-hit industry.

Bad times.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Even Viking food is deadly...

Hectic today, so only time for a quick post. Luckily the BBC has this rather amusing story about a Norwegian tunnel being closed by flaming viking cheeses.

That's a 'Gouda' blaze, eh Bjorn? Eh?Source

If that's not enough whacky Scandinavian cuisine for you then how about some producer-prohibited fish? Take it away, Stephen Fry.

Hungry yet?

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Et tu, Luigi?

**Warning! The following post contains Spoilers for Dishonored, Game of Thrones, Borderlands, Bioschock,  one Norse Saga and Mercenaries 2. If you don't want to know any of this...RUN AWAY FROM YOUR COMPUTER**

So, yesterday I had a day to myself after the British driving publics continued efforts to lose their minds all at once over some snow meant I had to miss out on a friends wedding.  Being the Viking Gamer and not, say The Viking Hiker (I hate that guy!) I used this opportunity to play Xbox for pretty much 8 hours straight.

The Viking Hiker, note the spear and smug sense of satisfaction   Source
Now, someone very kindly gave me Dishonored for Christmas and I've been playing it on and off ever since. I like the world they've built but never really got a chance to sink my teeth into it and finish off the campaign. Until now.

So, there I am having sucessfully rescued the young empress and ruined the hell out of the Lord Regents reputation on his own propaganda network (deliciously ironic revenge is the best kind). The Good Guys are throwing a party back at the Pub that served as our revolutionary base (you can tell this game is based on British people) and then Boom, Poison.

Yep, I'd been betrayed by the guys who I'd been working with for the whole game but that's not what shocked me. No, what shocked me was how un-shocked I was.

This betrayal bores Emo-CorvoSource
Now, to be fair, this twist in Dishonored was actually pretty well done. I mean everything seemed pretty ok and there were only a few warning signs (Havelock does start giving off evil vibes if you read his diary). The problem is, I've been hurt before. Alot.

I actually am struggling slightly to think of a 'dramatic' Game (or Action/Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie) that didn't have at least one betrayal. I mean Borderlands has it's Guardian Angel turn out to be a computer program that 'neglects to mention' the unspeakable evil in the vault, Bioshock has the guy helping you out turn out to be horrendously controlling you and I don't think Nathan Drake has ever met a NPC who didn't double-cross him at least once.

Hell, Mercenaries 2 starts with your former employer shooting you in the ass.

To be fair, I'd shoot that guy tooSource

Even Literature isn't safe, after all there's almost no better example of betrayl then the infamous (serious Game of Thrones spoilers coming up, I've warned you twice now) ....

...Red Wedding where the Freys betray Rob Stark (after he allready kind of betrayed their trust. Why? GRR Martin.) and murder him and almost all of his closest friends, allies and family members.

So what's behind this pile of treachery? Is it another example of Games (and other media) going just a teensy bit insane?

Actually, this time it's more a case of Art imitating Life. Lets face it, Human Beings are kind of selfish, wicked and often cruel animals. Not all the time, but enough of the time for everyone to be in on it. Most of you reading this will have felt some small betrayal in your lives. Whether it's a co-worker not backing you up with the boss or a friend stealing the girl you fancy at the bar. It almost universally sucks.

It's certainly no modern invention, the triumphant march over other people. If you don't believe me I humbly suggest you check out the Saga of Burnt Njal.

Njals Saga is a hearty tale of backstabbing, vengeance and cold blooded murder that spans decades and involves some vicious Blood Feuding in Dark Age Iceland (spoiler alert, everyone dies).

The whole thing started with 'overcompensating' jokes           Source
Now, while a bit of realism in media is always welcome that is not while this particular trait has stuck around so long. No, what makes backstabbing such popular story fodder is it's hotter, more screwed up sister: Vengeance.

We all love a good tale of Vengeance, of the wronged party getting their own back on those who wronged them. After all, if they can do it maybe one day we'll set the world to rights too? Writers love it because it's instant motivation. Why does our hero want to fight the bad guys? Cause they betrayed him! Boom, instant plot.

It's a one-two combo that's hard to beat, and while Dishonored didn't shock me, it sure was one hell of a ride.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together

Monday, 21 January 2013

Hilda Knott, you are my new hero

I had a post worked out about NPC betrayls in games, but when I saw this I knew I had to put it up. This little old lady is a brilliant counter-argument to every moronic article about the long-term problems of gaming and the image of the Gamer as a fat teenage boy.

Hilda Knott, you are my hero(ine).

Apologies for the external link, but the BBC only allow videoshares on Facebook and Twitter. Link is current as of today (20/1/13)

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Friday, 18 January 2013



As some of my UK audience will have noticed the country has once again collectively gone insane at the sight of frozen raindrops.

As my wife points out, this isn't really the fault of the British people or government. It's more a case of literally nothing in this country being designed to cope with more snow then you'd find in a particularly overworked freezer unit.

You wouldn't think we're all descended from Scandanavians would you?

Anyway, this has meant that my real job is somewhat insanely busy as we try to coax our suppliers and couriers out into the cold so just a short post today, but don't worry there's a funny video attached.


Until next time (unless this is the Fimbul Winter) let us say Skål! and drink together.