Not The E3 Diary – Part 2
It’s over. It’s done. E3 2012 has crawled to a close, and with it comes the second and last of these ‘Not the E3 diaries’. If you bothered skimming your eyes over the last ‘Not the E3 Diary’, then you’ll of course know that after choosing to abstain from E3 this year, I decided to keep a diary anyway… after all, my riveting days, filled with absolutely no new games, no buxom booth babes, and no booth carpet so deep that the fire brigade would need a ride-on lawnmower to rescue you, are obviously top drawer entertainment. I’ll raise my eyebrows for you to save you the trouble.
After detailing my recent realisation that I’m heading towards being a full-time PC gamer now, sod’s law decided to kick in and punish me with technology. Hell may well be other people, but that tag is also reserved for PCs. To say that my day didn’t go as well as it could have is, perhaps, something of an understatement.
I had fully expected to wake up at a reasonable time and begin my assault on gaming and all things Hitman, unlike my E3 counterparts who were suffering from severe sleep deprivation (sympathies are low given that they have been topping up their tanks at the Cheesecake Factory every night and I am having to edit their diaries, which are full of tales of steak and cake). The Kid, however, had other ideas and began yanking on the leg of her obnoxious musical frog like it was some kind of butler-summoning bell-pull in a ye olde country mansion. This was at 2:11am precisely. After pouring myself back into bed I told myself all would still be well. However, by the time I was summoned once again and decided to start my day at 5:35am, things were not going as planned as I boot up my laptop.
The problem with being a PC gamer is the faff that goes with it. You see, I’m a bad gamer. I’m one of those slackers who never updates their drivers. Ever. They’re faff, let’s be honest. And a game will have to be pretty damn broken and eat all but one of my saves before I’ll usually bother patching it. As far as drivers go, I’ll inevitably download the wrong ones anyway, and I can never remember the make and model number of my Nvidia card, so it is always easier to shrug and leave it. This attitude will inevitably blow up in my face at some point.
Updates are also an irritant and this was evidenced when Windows finally loaded in. It appeared that in a recent ambush, otherwise known as an ‘automatic update’, Windows had stolen my desktop. This happened not so long ago too, and now the curse had struck again. My desktop is usually resplendent with a chaotic jumble of shortcut icons… and Windows had now fucking stolen half of them. I can never find anything in Windows 7, so there was precious little hope in retrieving them or making new ones. Perhaps worst of all though, was that my naked man wallpaper had vanished. Outrageous. The puritanical, right-wing, sexually repressed, probably homophobic, Windows 7 had vanished my artistic, penis-oriented wallpaper and spoiled the start of my morning. I had to scramble in some buried system page and cut to a sort of backup in order to restore everything.
I topped my mood up with a slab of toast and Nutella and decided that I felt like getting back into a point and click adventure that I had recently been playing, by installing the new version on my laptop. Only it wouldn’t run. Cue uninstall/reinstall hell and much grinding of teeth. Could this be the day that I finally needed to update my graphics drivers? Bollocks. I sloped off to the Nvidia site and spent fifteen minutes downloading and installing…. the wrong drivers. Another chunk of the clock vanished as I fetched and installed the correct ones. Didn’t work. That’s what I get for finally acknowledging my responsibility as a PC gamer, I thundered to myself. I decided to have a wild stab in the dark and run Crap Cleaner in case a rogue file or registry entry of some kind was responsible for my increasing anger levels, only for it to calmly remove all thirty two of my Firefox tabs from existence. And the game still didn’t run. I take back what I said in the last diary – fuck PC gaming.
I gave up in disgust – technology obviously hated me. True, I have a somewhat blasé attitude towards it, even bordering on abusive, so it is almost understandable. Things are used to destruction, pulled apart and not put back together properly, left undusted for too long, thrust into pockets containing keys and other scratchy things, spilled on, dropped, ignored, you name it. I’m also the impatient type… to Mark’s chagrin, I’m the sort to get fed up after five seconds of a PC not shutting down and end up wantonly holding down the power button to kill it. My attitude is almost challenging; resentful of being forced away from good old bic biros and paper, my argument is that technology therefore has a great deal to prove to me and so should work instantly, exactly as I think it should (irrespective of what it actually does or any known limitations), and if it doesn’t it is worthless, spiteful, and rubbish.
I decided to do something vaguely useful – I tidied my gaming corner in my office, only for my tiny Pikmin figures to fall down behind the unit. They could stay there for all I cared. Then as I attempted to slide a DVD player underneath my CRT TV (yes, a CRT; yes, I still have one for playing old consoles on), disaster nearly stuck. Literally. #CRTfail when I nearly dropped it on my foot. Clinging by the fingertips to a lump of plastic and glass as it strains for freedom above your quivering, naked toes is not a pleasant experience. I wrestled it back to the unit and hopped on to Skype to speak to Mark and see how wonderful E3 was, with Chris chatting in the background next to him. After the usual stuff about the show and various games, for some reason, talk turned to Chris’ hairy man piece, at which point, Skype instantly crashed in protest. After reconnecting, it proceeded to crash seven times, eventually rendering all conversation impossible. We gave up. Damn you, technology.
At that point, on an entirely unrelated note, I remembered that I hadn’t actually told Tania that her unidentified meat had fallen out of the fridge the previous day and had splatted out of the packet onto the kitchen floor. The five second rule applied, however, and it was rescued and put hastily back. She seems fine. Shame the fridge isn’t. It is currently housing some vile lumps of breaded animal product known as Bernard Matthews Turkey Drummers, or something. It may never recover.
Later in the day, after much seething and randomly trying to start the adventure game to see if I could catch my laptop out, I took stock of the situation. Tania was playing Pokemon, The Kid was playing ‘Puke’ and ‘Punch Devil Bear Repeatedly In The Face’, and I… was playing nothing, thanks to my laptop’s malicious lack of cooperation. With a sigh, I looked over at my Xbox, perched smugly in the corner. Like slinking back to an ex for a satisfying, uncomplicated roll in the hay, I switched it on and fired up Hitman once more.
As the strains of Ave Maria filtered through to my distracted brain, I mused upon the fact that while the GL team were in Los Angeles viewing the sparkly and sexy Hitman: Absolution, I was sitting down to play its six year old predecessor. Badly, I might add. For someone who has maxed the damn thing out (the second game I ever maxed out on the Xbox360) and even completed Redemption on Professional difficulty – a fact I’m very proud of – I seemed to be having a spot of bother. While I still remembered much of the levels, the opera house was an absolute bastard – a rabbit warren of infuriating proportions; my previous like-the-back-of-my-hand knowledge was struggling to dust itself down, making life very hard, but oddly satisfying. Hitman: Blood Money was – and still is – a hard game, but so very enjoyable.
The sheer amount of ways in which you can tackle the levels and off your targets is a true gift, and playing it, I hoped that the core gameplay hadn’t been too dicked around when the new release hits shelves later this year. I began to make myself angry by imagining the gameplay and difficulty being dumbed down by the new equivalent of ‘detective vision’ that I saw at last year’s E3. Then I was interrupted by Agent 47 getting shot to buggery. I retaliated, threw caution to the wind and brutalised my way through the opera house. So much for stealth. The next one up was the clinic level, which I had always enjoyed, given the various satisfying accidents that can be arranged for targets. I honestly love this game, and since I never got the chance to review it, what better way to celebrate than with something equally as suave:
I decided I’d had enough for the time being and got down to my usual round of editing, article pimping and checking emails before making a vat of tea. It was then that I discovered food abomination number three. There was a jar of what appeared to be bird shit by the Hovis. On closer inspection it revealed itself to be white chocolate spread. White chocolate spread. Only my sister could have introduced this to my home. It smelt vile. It looked vile. I’m not a fan of white chocolate anyway, so my score will inevitably be biased, but I don’t care.
When I returned to the lounge, Tania was teaching The Kid about achievements, after popping a particularly tough Naughty Bear cheevie. She told The Kid that one day, she’ll get her first achievements. “Unless the new Xbox is shite and not really a proper games console anymore,” was my reply.
“With all the trouble you’ve been having with your PC, you’ll come screaming back,” she retorted. She was right. Damn it. Smug, she flicked through her case of games while I sulked on the sofa, reading Private Eye and GamesTM. Oh my fuck, what was she putting on now? Shadow the Hedgehog?! I fell into a coma and was unable to recall the events of that terrible evening until enough time had passed and we were well into the following morning. It was one of those painful things, but I had to bring it up, if only to lay it to rest.
Me: “What the fuck were you playing last night? Bloody Shadow the Hedgehog?”
T: “Yeah, so?”
Me: “It looks utter fucking shit.” I get a look. Seriously though, have you seen this game? It is childish, naff, contains awful dialogue and there is bugger all in the way of diverting gameplay. I say as much. I couldn’t help myself. Tania defends it, as well she should. “…At least he’s better than Sonic,” she finishes. Say what?
Me: “Erm… Sonic doesn’t have that ridiculous eighties chest hair quiff.”
T: “Shut up! I like that!”
Me: “All he needs is a fucking medallion…”
She claims that she is aiming to complete it several more times over in each of the good/bad/neutral modes to unlock a big boss of some kind. Well, that shouldn’t be too hard, seeing as the game lasted all of ten minutes (okay, it was a few torturous hours, but still…).
After much banter, she eventually redeemed herself by clicking in a DS cart of what is possibly one of the hardest games that I have played – Lost In Blue. Yes, you play as one of two teens who wash up on a seemingly deserted island and have to survive, but hear me out… it is actually good. Diamond hard, but good. Predictably and miserably sexist (girl sits uselessly in cave, cooking while boy goes out adventuring and killing things for meat. Girl also collects shells to make jewellery… as opposed to spelling out ‘HELP US’ on the beach with a ton of them), but still, oddly, good. It is also the most excruciatingly hard game I’ve ever played on a handheld. It is brutally unforgiving and the game seems so keen to kill you at every turn, the cart may as well have come dusted with Cyanide.
I began to consider why we like games that are so punishing. While companies like Ninty are rushing to dumb down and appeal to casual gamers, and accessibility is the new buzzword, are gamers seeking real challenges because there are so few out there now? Gaming life is made so much easier for us now, with much hand holding and head patting. In the days of the Speccy, you got no saves. Games came down to muscle memory, practice, and a shed load of patience (how few did you ever complete [and not for want of trying] – be honest).
I think that’s why I loved Hitman Blood Money – it was hard. On pro difficulty it was old skool hard: no saves, a map that was rendered next to useless, and levels which had to be painstakingly learned – parts of which required split-second timing or the whole thing was screwed up – and personal gameplay style that had to be developed and evolved as the challenges continued to batter you. Something not working? Then adapt or fail. Learn or die. Lost in Blue also pulled no punches. You had one save slot, which could be irretrievably screwed up if you did the wrong thing and committed it to your cart’s memory before realising. Harsh, but tasty.
I found it fascinating that Tania had moved seamlessly from one end of the difficulty spectrum to the other in the space of one day. It got me thinking about my own habits and about gamers in general. Perhaps even ‘core’ gamers need those titles that they would normally eschew – those casual or easy games – just to provide some relief. Hell, even I have two Viva Pinata games on my gamertag. Hitman on pro and gardening/squirrel-minding in Viva Pinata – an odd combo if ever there was one. For all the Mirror’s Edge speedruns I have gloriously taken down, there is a Sea Life Safari lurking unashamedly on my tag.
Hard games are so much more satisfying when you defeat them, as punishing as they can be, but easier, gentler titles are the soothing balm when those aforementioned games have whipped and drained you. Balance. On reflection, considering how you can tackle much of Blood Money – easy or hard – perhaps I have been too suspicious of the new Hitman game. The addition of new, easier, gameplay features may irritate, but if they are optional, then it can still hopefully be the old skool hell that its predecessor is. As long as it doesn’t have all the usual ‘make life easier’ tricks that so many titles have these days (regenerating health, infinite saves, etc). So I play Blood Money with a little more hope for the next in line. And for an old game, it doesn’t play me up once. No Xbox locking, no glitching. A better, more triumphant day then, living in harmony with technology.
It’s been a good non-E3 for me. I’ve rediscovered my love for some great games, witnessed some truly terrifying ones (and foodstuffs), and enjoyed the coverage of upcoming titles from LA. Whether many more are also going down that all too familiar route of accessibility, ease, QTE hell, inclusiveness, or dumbing down, there are some good things out there. Most of them probably weren’t at E3 though… they’ll be those games which creep out of an indie studio on some idle Tuesday. And for every QTE-filled triple A release or reboot, there is a Super Meat Boy or Amnesia out there. The future is good, the future isn’t all Kinect and hand-holding. Now I just need to decide on what platform I’m playing them… probably (for the most part), for all its sins, the PC*.
*In the ultimate ironic twist, Windows 7 waited until I was on the last paragraph of this diary, with over ten minutes of unsaved typing before blue-sceening on me. Pretty much sums it up the last few days, doesn’t it. Technology, woe is you.
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