So many games. It's cruel really. It hurts to think how many games I have bought but will barely or never play, as being a groan-up, there are only so many free hours in my week.

When I make the time to indulge in my lifelong obsession, by flopping onto the sofa and picking up a controller, or contorting my body back into the tortured shape of the workweek at my PC, I am often at a loss for what to load up.

My already exhausted mind tries to weigh-up what the most valuable return on my playtime would be. And so, I sit there; staring at my burgeoning Steam account, then at my new consoles, then at my old consoles and, sometimes, I just give up and zombify my night away on YouTube, Twitter, or go back to the seemingly endless but brilliantly strange book I've been reading since March 2016 (Infinite Jest by David Foster-Wallace)] [finished in December 2016, now ploughing through the Laundry Files by Charles Stross].

Steve Burns, previously of called this phenomenon "shit-muncher paralysis", which I feel is a more authentic title in this context than "decision fatigue" or "analysis paralysis".

I've had some success in combatting this by pre-selecting what to play and committing to it without experiencing the remorse of a poor choice:

On 1st January 2015, at around 2am, I completed Zelda: Windwaker (Wii U version), and resolved along with my wife to play the remainder of the 3D Zelda games that year. If not for her, I never would have made it through the first 10 hours of Majora's Mask (I kept feeling very tired and drifting off when playing it for some reason).

By setting that as our mission and sticking doggedly to it, these masterpieces were very much enjoyed without the distraction of choice over a period of 6 months or so, and I now have very fond memories of journeying through these games to the finish for the first time, and of sharing that experience with my wife.

Such was the success of this, that I proposed our next series would be Final Fantasy (starting with VII, as it was my first and the one which most deeply affected my early pubescent self).

With its beautifully hand-painted backgrounds and a soundtrack that more powerfully than any other game I've played provokes all kinds of emotions, Final Fantasy VII was another masterpiece which we played through. I secretly worried that it wouldn't have aged well, and was so delighted and relieved to relive this experience and share it with my wife, who had never seen a JRPG before, and enjoyed the story, graphics and music too. Years before, I repeatedly exposed our firstborn in utero to the soundtrack, so there was a familiar nostalgia for us all.

Interestingly for me, the next game, Final Fantasy VIII, had much better writing and localisation, while somewhat annoyingly pushing the teen angst and cauldron of emotion and morbid ennui of lead protagonist, Squall. The other characters are far more interesting. Their interactions and character development outshine Final Fantasy VII, and replaying in 2015, I can say that the maturity of the writing, story and world makes it a much more adult and deeper experience than VII, though it lacks the raw power of the music. It also took me a while to prefer the steal and craft magic system in VIII to the materia combinations and MP of VII.

Following this we tried Final Fantasy IX. Sadly, even after fifteen hours, I felt no attachment to the characters or story, and the loading times and delay in starting each random battle, which of course there are many, were utterly dreadful. The same happened with Final Fantasy X, so it was back to the drawing board for 2016.

Three massive games took care of most of last year: Fallout 4, Stardew Valley, and Final Fantasy XV, with Stardew Valley being ideal for our busy family and work lives. Such a charming, colourful, relaxed, and utterly stress-free world. Pick up and play for twenty minutes or two hours and family-friendly too. The variety of activities, soothing music and feeling of accomplishment in building your farm and relationships with the villagers was immensely satisfying.

Fallout 4 was a very fulfilling open-world-a-thon which felt as good as I remember 2008's Fallout 3 being. And Final Fantasy XV was an interesting mess of superficial beauty, and a handsome boyband group of friends, which while plagued with many years of development hell, would have benefited from a lot more dialogue and a more complex story character development to flesh out the best part of the game—the friendship between your characters. My biggest bugbear was the repeated dialogue, which broke immersion so much as to become laughable and quickly spawned memes all over the net. "I've come up with a new recipe!"

The big game of 2017 so far is Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As of May, we've completed the main story, all the shrines, all the memories, most of the armour sets are fully upgraded, and we're still playing to explore and collect Koroks, with 160 of 900 in the game found after 140+ hours. That's some serious value for money, even considering the eye-watering cost of the Nintendo Switch, Pro controller and game.

Alas, I now feel my gaming feet itching for pastures new. The dopamine tickle from Zelda is still there, reduced from a bonfire to a bright candle now, and when I look elsewhere, all I can see is the fiery cold abyss and cranial tension of thousands of choices clambering for my evaluation and commitment.

A close friend has come to the rescue with a solution he has catchily named "35 by 35". This is his title for a project encompassing 35 new gaming experiences by the time he reaches 35 years old. His conditions are that each game gets at least six hours play a week for two weeks, giving a minimum of 12 hours per game (or until the end if it's a shorter game). Then after playing each game, he'll write a short review, then collate and publish at the end of the project.

So now, I'm off to tailor this approach into my own project, which I'll share in my next post. I'd be interested to hear in the comments how you, dear reader, select which games you'll play, and your current backlog.

But remember, as it is, your new £300 PC can enjoy new games as-is, as well as a huge back catalogue of…every PC game ever made. It can easily emulate most old gaming consoles and computers too. That's 30 years of gaming at your fingertips, be it with keyboard and mouse hunched over a desk and monitor, or connecting to your TV and kicking back with a pad on the couch.

AuthorI.B. Simpson

I play Battlefield 4 on the PC a few times each month with fellow adult males and females from an online circle of friends, called a clan.

We all have a great time voice-chatting with each other while we play together on the same map in squads to achieve objectives and hold startegic points to win each round. The chat is often filled with campfire stories and banter, interspersed with tactical discussion regarding the game in hand.

We bond in this social group setting much like one would have done growing up at the Scouts or equivalent institutions that I am not so familiar with.

The in-game violence is abstracted and not glorified. It is like playing tag or dodgeball. When you get tagged, you have to wait for around ten seconds to rejoin the game. A round can typically last 20–40 minutes. There are ground, air and water vehicles which multiple people can enter simultaneously, as well as exploring the terrain on foot. Up to 64 human players on the same map play in two opposing teams, split into squads of up to five members.

It's easy to demonise computer games, as people unfamiliar with them have done for the past five decades, however it is important to remember that computer games are a medium, much like books, films and music. There many fine examples and some masterpieces. As with any medium, for each masterpiece there can be thousands of mediocre and terrible examples.

Once one has selected a quality computer game to play, the other major difference from other media is that a certain level of skill and context is required to play and appreciate games. The general learning curve can prove too steep and frustrating for some.

The other aspect of gaming as leisure activity that I ponder about often is the commonly-held perception of it being a total waste of time and something that one ought to grow out of, as the responsibilities of life are continually heaped on; how dare we waste our time playing in imaginary worlds where nothing we do will ever transpire into real world value.

Though I have found that my self-selected diet of games includes business simulations too, which I have no doubt helped me from an early age to learn quickly, be goal-oriented and think about the world in terms of connected systems, rather than just isolated cause and effect.

A mix of empire-building strategy (Civilization, Capitalism, Sim City 2000, Transport Tycoon); reflex-testing action (Doom, Tyrian, Castlevania); immersive role-playing (Final Fantasy VII, Deus Ex, Earthbound); and many other genres and titles combine to form a rich and interesting living history of an exciting medium where one can derive both value (in terms of skills and knowledge) and entertainment (mental and intellectual stimulation and relaxation).

AuthorI.B. Simpson
CategoriesGaming, PC

Improve your aim with Natural Selection II (NS2), currently £1.89 via Steam until 6 P.M. on 03-JAN-2014 (normally £18.99).

As I discovered watching Noobs Guide to Better Aim in Battlefield 4! by the luminary FRANKIEonPCin1080p, the weapons in NS2 have no recoil and are 100% accurate.

This theoretically makes it an excellent game to use in conjunction with this mouse sensitivity calculator website to improve your aim universally, e.g., in Battlefield 4.

AuthorI.B. Simpson
CategoriesGaming, PC

This piece is intended as a homage to games in general, a discussion of my experiences with gaming platforms, and a proclamation of my love for gaming, speaking as a rapacious appreciator of this wonderful interactive art form. This is not a controversial PC Vs. Consoles opinion piece. That would be an utter waste of time and energy. The main points I shall put forward are:

  • The best single-player games are timeless and yield inestimable value to appreciative gamers.
  • To enjoy today’s cutting-edge PC games as their designers intended is expensive.
  • Delaying your gratification a few years could save you a fortune. Patience is also, I’m reliably informed, a heavenly virtue. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having the money to spend on a killer gaming rig now…
  • Though you can enjoy PC gaming masterpieces such as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth [2006] or Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines [2004] today with a relatively inexpensive gaming machine.

It has been seven years since I owned a capable beast; that story is told elsewhere. High-end gaming PCs are like racehorses: even the finest are retired after only a handful of years. In the aughties, they were incredibly expensive both to buy and to maintain.

Costly, not just in money, but in time. You could spend £1,000 and a year later, your machine would struggle to play the latest games as they were intended to be seen. A three year-old powerhouse from 2003 would struggle to keep up with the games of 2006. Some expensive transplant surgery would be needed:

‘Let’s see. We’ll need a new Graphics Card, and ooo… a bit more RAM. Oh, that graphics card is going to need a bigger power supply, and then your motherboard will be the bottleneck. Hmm, the CPU you currently have is a different socket from the motherboard you plan on getting. The case is nice though; you can keep that.’

With consoles, like the Sony PlayStation 3 or the Microsoft Xbox 360, we have a platform that has a longer modern life, with the most recent (seventh) console generation set to last at least eight years with no mandatory hardware upgrades required. Excepting replacement of the whole console due to unfortunate but not uncommon catastrophic failure, the cost of maintenance in pounds and hours is negligible.

For me, this isn’t a case of owning a PC or a console. You can have a horse and pony, donkeys, chickens, turtles, and any other animal or beast. If you have the room for it, can afford it, and will give it the love, care and attention it deserves, then you should have it, else you should set it free. Having a loft full of aged animals [read - decrepit computer hardware] is maybe not good for you, or for them. Minimalism be damned; for posterity these cherished pieces still hold personal, sentimental value to the geeks who grew up with them. It is a love that cannot be emulated.

Albeit it can be emulated, some of the time. Getting a hold of the original joypad and via a USB adapter, most Windows and *nix systems support programs that allow nostalgic trips to the best old games, and classics missed first-time round.

A computer is required then, but how expensive does it need to be? Well, what are you going to use it for? Today’s cutting-edge games require today’s cutting-edge hardware (to be played as intended). Whereas games of five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago don’t. Highly capable hardware will set you back £700 to £3,000 (you could probably get something pretty amazing on the price/performance curve somewhere in-between).

Older games and games consoles can be had for a fraction of the price at wondrous flea markets like eBay. The point I’m getting to is this: what do today’s cutting-edge games offer that games of yesteryear do not? Apart from the obvious improved graphics, sound and scope, the main difference I feel in today’s best games is the influence and refinement from past effort. They are informed by their forebears. Only in the best examples the gameplay has evolved and past foibles and poor decisions mitigated; by standing on the shoulders of giants.

However, the excellence of new games does not preclude the timelessness of any past treasures. There are lifetimes of sublime gaming experiences to be had from the body of games that have already been released. Like other forms of entertainment, you will never have the time to enjoy them all. To pick wisely, there is a world of enlightened people who have enjoyed certain games a great deal, and felt compelled to reach out and tell others. For this Retro Gamer magazine is an ideal source of nostalgic ambience to read as you comb eBay and the like for old computer games and systems.

There are plenty of standalone masterpieces, and the timeless ones will always be available to us in the future. I knew this when I ducked out of the PC arms race in 2006, just as MMORPGs like EVE: Online and World of Warcraft were coming to the fore. Social online games such as these are outwith the scope of this piece though. Here I am a proponent only of offline gems such as the life-changing Final Fantasy VII.

Moving forward with this logic, spending a modest amount on a gaming PC, a current generation console, and older consoles today would allow all the treasures of the recent era all the way back to the dawn of the computing age to be played. This logic further permits that around £500 every four years would allow you to have amazing gaming experiences now, equivalent to spending £2,000 every year or two to stay on the bleeding edge of technology.

Most modern games are multi-platform and though the graphics may not be as good on the Xbox 360 as they are on a Water-cooled GTX 51200 3570k blue-LED Horsey i9, the experience and gameplay may be not be diminished at all by the inferior graphics. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Happy gaming.

AuthorI.B. Simpson

My favourite games were made in the nineties. For a long time I thought this was because I did a lot of growing up and had a lot more free time, and less commitments then. In 1990, I turned five. In 2000, I turned fifteen. I went from C64 to Master System to Megadrive to Playstation with a big dose of DOS throughout, and later Windows gaming too.

Gaming turned a corner in the second half of the nineties. We went from 8-bit to 16-bit and beyond. Beautifully rendered sprites (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) gave way to lumpy, clumsy polygons; and a horde of cruft games (with the odd nugget of gold among all the tonnes of worthless dross that the cheapness of Compact Discs brought). It took years for technology to catch-up with representing the designer‘s imaginings. And it also took quite some time for developers to get the hang of camera in 3d space. I remember that magazines at the start of the PlayStation‘s life always remarked on how good (or more often terrible) the camera was.

But I’m by no means against polygons. There is a certain artistry to classic Sega titles like Virtua Fighter that worked very well — because the feel of the game was so real; the mechanics and responsiveness. I could easily argue that Sega Rally is the best racing game ever made. The feel of the car; The responsive controls, and the difficulty to master. Even now, I’ll boot up the Saturn for a quick blast; the steering wheel as satisfyingly tactile as ever. I still play Castlevania: SOTN to this day. I have it on my Xbox 360, and on my PSP. (You have to play through a couple of levels of the vastly inferior Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles to unlock it within an awkward to get to secret area. Why Konami? See herefor Kotaku‘s unlocking instructions.)

So when gaming reached the turn of the century, and the aughties were upon us, 3d was still largely in it‘s infancy. Only a few games managed to be stylistic enough to hold be worth playing now. So many ere just all about the graphics; shoddy polygons and muddy textures, and no decent gameplay beneath the cracking caked-on rogue graphics.

Against this heritage then, what else made up the backdrop of gaming in the aughties? Well, 6th and 7th generation consoles. And alongside them, handheld consoles that kept the spirit of 2d gaming alive, and monstrous, unreliable PCs that constantly needed the latest graphics card and processor to have a hope of playing the latest games. And at £200–300 a pop, that was a real labour of love. And one that I mercifully quit in 2008, when I gave up tinkering with Windows and PC bits to buy a Mac.

UK Popular Console Release Dates
Console  Date (Y/M/D)
PlayStation 3 2007.03.23
Wii 2006.12.08
Xbox 360 2005.12.05
PSP 2005.09.01
Nintendo DS 2005.03.11
GameCube 2002.11.18
Xbox 2002.03.14
Gameboy Advance 2001.06.22
PlayStation 2 2000.11.24
Dreamcast 1999.10.14

I spent a good deal of early aughties gaming emulating old systems on my family‘s 550Mhz[1] Pentium 3 powerhouse. You learn patience squeezing titles down a dial-up connection: praying the connection doesn‘t drop out, or that Windows doesn’t twirl into a blue-screen of death.

Perfect Dark [2000, Nintendo 64]

As the spiritual successor to the infamous and definitive N64 <abbr title=“First-person Shooter”>FPS GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark had a lot of impressing to do. The three years between these games shows. Rare were able to push the hardware, with much of the game necessitating the N64 Expansion Pak (increasing system memory from four to eight megabytes).

As the protaganist Joanna Dark is an original IP of Rare, they had freedom to experiment with this game. The single player is full of good humour, conspiracies and aliens. But where the game really comes alive (as in GoldenEye 007 ) is the multiplayer. Innovative new game modes (for the N64) such as King of the Hill and Hold the Briefcase, combined with highly customisable bots, teams, varied weapons, and interesting arenas made this game so much fun to play together.

An HD-skinned Xbox 360 Perfect Darkwas released for the Xbox 360 market place in 2010, and it is still a joy to play.

Deus Ex [2000, PC]

Deus Ex, with it’s brooding cyberpunk tracker soundtrack and dark visuals made for a groundbreaking title. The game story branched in different directions depending on critical moral decisions, resulting in three distinctive endings, but more importantly, different dialogue and missions throughout; meaning many playthroughs could be enjoyed to experience the whole game.

Much effort was made to create the atmosphere, with even seemingly unimportant Max Payne [2001, PC]

Another stunning game. Even now it still looks good, with photo-realistic textures portraying a gritty, visceral noir vision of New York. The comic style story sequences and interspersed protaganist narration goes a long way to pushing the quality of this game into a masterpiece. Layered with a musical score which is haunting and beautiful, the scene is set for a fantastic game.

And the gameplay only builds on this. One hyphenated compound sums it up perfectly: bullet-time. And cinematic bullet-cam (where occasionally you will be shooting a baddie and the camera will slowly rotate around them while you can still riddle them with more bullets). Some may call the game samey, but I believe the mechanic and controls were slickly executed, and the satisfaction of bullet-time shooting in third-person didn’t wane at all from start to finish.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City [2002, PlayStation 2]

Where Grand Theft Auto 3 was groundbreaking in taking the franchise from top-down adult Micro Machines fare, to a large-scale 3d open-world, it was also pretty dark and grim, and wet.

Vice City used the same formula and engine, but was vivid with eighties colour, eighties sunsets, and eighties music. With this loud new scenario, and oodles of eighties pop-culture, Vice City fast became my favourite game of the time.

Burnout 3: Takedown [2004, PlayStation 2]

When it comes to arcade racing feel and speed, there are few games that can keep pace with Burnout. Harking back to the aforementioned Sega Rally, Burnout gets it so right. By having different game modes and interesting abilities such as being able to manoeuvre your car post-crash to take-out opponents, Burnout stayed intense fun for tens of hours, and is still just as good today. It is another game which can be digitally bought and downloaded on the Xbox 360.

Battlefield 2142 [2006, PC]

To this day, BF2142 is still my favourite of all the Battlefield games. Being set in the future allowed for some fantastic weapons, class abilities, and vehicles (think walking tanks). But there is one reason that makes it better than all the others.

Titan Mode. Both teams have a massive floating warship which begins each round with a core protected by four power-relays and an external shield. Teams must capture points, like in conquest, however the points are missile silos. Each missile launched weakens the enemies Titan’s shield. When the shield is destroyed, players can launch pods from the Armored Personnel Carriers or drop from the helicopters onto the Titan. Then the Titan can be infiltrated, the four power-relays (located down four different corridors) destroyed, and finally the Titan core shot or exploded to smithereens. Once the core is down, players have a ~30 second window to escape the exploding Titan and parachute to the ground, to earn a Titan survivor pin. All while the other team are trying to do the same.

This meant incredibly cooperative gameplay was required to win. Which made the game incredibly tense and fun when played with a squad of friends.

Fallout 3 [2008 ,PlayStation 3]

A living, breathing, post-apocalyptic world filled with characters you can meaningfully interact with, and a feeling that you can wander anywhere. This game has immense scope and is executed so well. Except for the bugs (and no, I don’t mean Rad-roaches), which this game (and all Bethesda masterpieces since) suffers from. Save regularly.

Super Mario Bros. Wii [2009]

Got two to four people? This game is just as much fun as Super Mario World, only now you can mess up your friend’s well-executed jump by being in their way. This adds a new layer of frustration, but in a fun way, like Streets of Rage on the Megadrive, but playing through the gorgeous landscapes with someone else at the same time is a wonderful experience.

Borderlands [2009, Xbox 360]

Forget depth, complexity and story-line. This game is an excuse for shooting things with ever-more powerful weapons. And that’s all it need to be. What made it so much fun was the split-screen coop, which meant I could play through the whole game with my better half. And it also meant she became quite deft with FPS games.

Played together, Borderlands is a very fun experience. I definitely wouldn’t have bothered to complete this if I was playing by myself though, so if it’s just you on your lonesome, I would stick with a game with depth, such as the Fallout series.

Shadow Complex [2009, Xbox 360]

Super Metroid in a different skin, i.e., areas of the map unlock as the player finds upgrades. 2.5d platformer with great shooting mechanics. Any metroidvania game gets the thumbs up from me.

  1. I over clocked via BIOS. Thankfully, it held-up for the remainder of it’s five year life.  ↩