Fun. And Games.

This year I’m teaching a module again that I used to teach many moons ago: History and Conventions of Computer Games. It was actually called H&C of Video Games way back then, but that’s progress for you! It’s a first year module for the BA and BSc games students. When we first introduced games into the curriculum it was the days of the PS1, and students had to design a Doom level. Today they use UDK. Now that IS progress!

For the first session, I reintroduced something that I used to do when the module first started: a session playing games. I know what that sounds like, but this actually serves some very useful purposes. First off it’s a bit of an ice breaker, hopefully getting people to discuss the games they’re playing. Gamers tend to have strong opinions about different games and even entire genres, so it’s always good to see where people’s allegiances are. They also have to fill in a ‘review’ for every game that they play that hopefully gets them to think a bit beyond the initial knee jerk reaction. Always good when they might be playing something outside their comfort zone, and hopefully at least one game they’ve never even considered playing.

When choosing what games to include, I wanted to try and make sure that most people will play at least one game they haven’t played before. This is of course quite difficult with some of the hardcore gamers that the courses attract, but to help with this it’s useful to raid the archives. This then presents its own problems fo course.

Digging through my cupboard at home and the equipment store here, I gathered together two original Xboxes, two PS2s, two 360s, a GameCube, a Dreamcast and an N64. These together with the PS3 in the room meant plenty of variety of kit. The next problem was setting it all up.

Tech support did a great job of swapping out the existing monitors and putting some in with composite inputs. This was fine for everything except the Dreamcast and the N64, which wouldn’t drive the composite inputs (don’t ask me what the point is of putting in a composite input that only supports a minimum resolution, cost cutting I guess). After sorting this problem, the final hurdle was a failed Dreamcast drive. Luckily our very own TV star Kaye had a replacement tucked away that she could lend me. It’s good to have plenty of game geeks about!

Next, what games to choose? I wanted some that everyone had to play and a few wild cards that people could use if they wanted to. I ended up with a few compulsory games: Goldeneye (N64), Armored Core for Answer (PS3), Space Channel 5 (Dreamcast) and one of Hello Kitty Roller Rescue (Xbox) or Spice World (PS1 game running on a PS2). Scattered about we had XIII, Manhunt, The Getaway, Vib Ribbon, Pokemon Stadium, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Viewtiful Joe, Soul Calibre 2 and a few others. So a fairly elective mix.

So what did they all think?

Well it was no surprise to find that Spice World came out the lowest overall score (2.1/10). It would be kind to say that this isn’t a great game, and got poor reviews when it was released (IGN scored in 2.0 and Gamespot 2.3). A cheap attempt at a cash in on the back of the Spice Girls success would sum it up well. Worth seeking out as a bad example though if you need one.

Hello Kitty did surprisingly well (5.3, compared to IGN 6.0, Gamespot 7.0). It’s not a bad game, although it wouldn’t win any innovation awards. It does use some well established game mechanics to do a simple job well.

Dividing opinion dramatically were Goldeneye (5.6, compared with IGN‘s score of 9.7 and Gamespot‘s 9.8) and Space Channel 5 (4.2 overall compared to IGN 9.2 and Gamespot 7.0). I loved both these when they came out, but interestingly I feel that SC5 has aged better. This is probably because it doesn’t take itself  too seriously and the simple cartoon graphics on the Dreamcast have aged better than the once awesome graphics of GE on the N64.

That and the controls! SC5 is basically a rhythm game and so uses the buttons sparingly, whereas the controls for GE are instantly compared (unfavourably) with modern FPSs. The N64 controller with its the innovative standard analogue stick seemed great at the time, but the combination of buttons and the stick to look/move/strafe now seems clunky to say the least, a point made by several of the students. I also found myself searching for the ‘crouch’ button several times when reliving the good old days.
A surprise was the way people took to Armored Core (5.5, 7.8 from IGN and 7.0 from Gamespot). To me, this game exhibits the worst features of a game that comes along late in a franchise. It seems to make huge assumptions about what the player will already know about controlling a mech or the game objectives, and whilst there are tutorials if you choose to do them, these are long and poorly structured. That was my opinion anyway.
But a number of students who had never played similar games took to it quickly, seemingly more forgiving of it than they were of Goldeneye. This could be because the graphics are so far advanced that people spend time looking at those rather than giving up after a few minutes and so get further than they might otherwise. There’s also the familiarity with PS3 controller which helped people find their way around the complex controls relatively quickly.
Maybe my rose-tinted view of Goldeneye and my inability to just pick up and play Armored Core means I’m getting old.
Did I say maybe?!