Achievements

Coincidences are weird, aren’t they?

I’ve just finished getting my final Achievement for Dig Dug and, in between pumping my fist into the air in triumph, started drifting through the gaming-news-of-the-day.

I spot an article by fellow Aussie Luke Plunkett on Kotaku: I’m Free of my Achievement Complex. It seems that, due to a minor snafu with multiple accounts, he lost about 6,000 GS of Achievements.

Ouch. Double ouch, with a stabbing on top.

But, rather than being mad as hell (as I would have been in that position… after I dammed the river of tears, anyway), Plunkett saw it as a liberation, a chance to be rid of the Curse of unachieved Achievements. Which I can kind of appreciate: I’d trade a kidney – and probably a testicle – to have not had Astro Pop grace my Gamer Card.

Back to the coincidence – during my Space Giraffe scoring spree, I thought a quick blast of Dig Dug was a good palate-cleanser. Coincidentally enough, I’d only bought Dig Dug during another Giraffe break because (a) it was a mere 200 MS Points, and (2) I still harboured some guilt from having a dodgy copy on the C64 all those years ago. The night I bought it, a quick game or two gave a lazy 8 (of 12) Achievements – but a bit of research revealed that one of the remaining Achievements, “Dig”, was… well, a bit of a bitch, frankly. Tales of woe exist everywhere – whinges about failures to unlock were countered with helpful tips and “works for me”-isms which were subsequently followed by more whinges and threats that Microsoft had better fix this game or else.

Anyway…

I finally returned to Dig Dug, and was adamant that my brand spanking new Hori EX2 Arcade Stick would provide oodles of assistance (as opposed to the deservedly-maligned 360 controller D-pad). An hour or two of frustration later (much musing over whether it was better to tackle Level 1 with two Pookas, or Level 2 with two Fygars), and the Achievement was mine. The remaining collect-em-up Achievements quickly followed, and Dig Dug was complete – ticked off the To-Do List, probably never to be played again.

But the fact remains that I had returned to it, and the only reason why was because of those outstanding Achievements. For the O/C Gamer, it makes it very easy to define the extent of the game: get the full allotment of GS, tick the game off – it’s done. Which is, in a way, much easier to handle than something like “complete the game on every skill level, collecting every item, one-handed”. Sometimes Achievements set the bar low – Dig Dug‘s item collection is a rudimentary “completion”, at best, and EDF 2017‘s brace of tasks were just plain thoughtless. Sometimes Achievements are a bit silly – 1 point for Bullet Witch‘s Hell Mode? Nearly half of Gears of War‘s points coming from ranked online matches? People attempting to subvert ranked online games to speedify their GamerScore plumpification?

But many other cases provide lovingly selected, gameplay-extending ideas. The meta-game targets in Halo 3. Crackdown‘s grinningly loony little destructive side-quests. Even the Ridge Racer 6 No Crash Victory takes the original game and squeezes it into a new shape, yielding hours more enjoyment.

So – Achievements can be good, and they can be bad. I admit that, if a game is teetering on the edge of purchase, I’ll consider at the perceived difficulty of the Achievements before making a decision. But could I turn my back – as Plunkett did – on my gameplay? Hell no. The O/C Gamer requires proof of Achievement, for better or worse – and those lovely little icons and common nomenclature between gamers really hits the spot.

About that coincidence… bugger it, it’s in there somewhere. It made sense when I sketched this piece out :}

Simple Minds and the Gaming Unconcious

My brother and I have little besides parents in common. One thing that we do share, however, is a love – well, perennial interest – in Simple Minds (the band, not dullards). Thus, when my brother rang me (on my mobile on my birthday at some silly hour during the Fringe) to let me know that Jim, Charlie and the boys were doing an Australian Tour… well, I was in. An overnighter in Melbourne was required, but no biggie.

We wind up getting a hotel berth a short stroll from the Palais in St Kilda, so we wandered down Ackland Street for quite possibly the dirtiest dirty-burger I’ve ever stuck in my mouth – seriously, it was filth, like charred falafel and sawdust with red gelatinous goop for “flavour”. No matter; we pop into the Palais, grab a beer or three, and observe how the opening chords of the backup band caused absolutely no-one to rush to their seats.

We eventually amble to our seats (Row ZZ – fantastic, eh? It sounds more like a joke than an actual location – and there were still another half-dozen rows behind us) moments before the Minds take to the stage. And suddenly we’re amidst a performance that, as much as it existed in the present, felt like it transported me to an earlier time with a younger me. Which is odd, because the average age of the audience is – guessing – late 30s to mid 40s. Oh shit – that very nearly includes me :}

Initially, I was a little concerned… they opened with AnonymousNewSongFromLatestAlbumThatNo-OneKnows. Eventually, though, I hear the brooding bassline and always-warbling lead guitar of Burchill in “Love Song”, and I’m sold.

“Ghostdancing” has the crowd up and jumping. The mid-song interlude into “Gloria” is a treat, and only heightens the tension leading to the crescendous end of the song – which delivers gobs of glorious rock goodness.

It’s scary when you realise that the punch of the song you’re grooving to is “81, 82, 83, 84”, the era for which the song proposes hope. That I felt disappointment – after the initial quirky delight of the difference – when the phrase is reduced to a meaningless “1, 2, 3, 4” is a genuine surprise.

Whilst I’ll not say that this was the greatest show ever, the inclusion of “Love Song”, “Ghost Dancing,” and “Waterfront” made it more than worthwhile; and the only post-80’s SM song I like, “She’s A River”, received a suitably rocking treatment. Lovely stuff; a bit of filler, but that’s only to be expected.

So – what does this have to do with gaming?

The fact that this middle-aged crowd were on their feet – stomping, clapping, singing, wide-eyed with joy – looking at each other in recognition of a shared experience, a collective youth, led me to believe there’s a deeper connection to the formative experiences.

Formative experiences – those occasions, when growing up, that shape your life. That mold your soon-to-be-adult thinking. The common childhood encounters that bind adults. The collective shared knowledge of a generation.

And maybe that’s what we – as gamers – need. When will great games reach the same level of collective recognition as the great bands or concerts that create such indelible marks in our formative consciousness? When will they form a cogent part of the formative experience? I believe we’re approaching such an era now; men in their mid-to-late twenties may have had a childhood featuring a NES or SMS; in ten years time, people of the same age have a pretty good chance of being raised in a PS2 household.

Of course, gaming has nowhere near the social acceptance or availability that music has; it’s still a relatively niche passtime, a solitary hobby. But acceptance continues to grow – parents these days seem to see less evil in children plonked in front of the TV all day if they’re being actively involved in an activity that fires cognitive neurons. Right or wrong, that’s making gaming more mainstream.

2006: The Year in Review

Yet another collection of worthless opinions from some guy you don’t know.

Surprise Discovery of the Year: 2006 saw me acquire my first handheld gaming device since my good ol’ Helmet (CN-07) Game And Watch… I picked up a Nintendo DS Lite. This really opened my eyes to the opportunities of handheld gaming, mainly because of the World Cup in Germany. I’d sit in front of the telly, “watching” every minute of every game (including Australia being robbed) and, during breaks or dull bits of play (hello, USA) I’d belt through some Project Rub or Sonic Rush.
However, late 2006 also saw the arrival of the Wii – and what a blast the last couple of weeks has been.
Wii Sports Tennis, Wii Zelda… it’s been brilliant. Sure, my shoulder’s stuffed now from that bloody Baseball, but it’s just fantastic fun. And so the Surprise Discovery of 2006 Award goes to… Nintendo. For… well, everything. Hey look at me, I’m a born-again Ninty fanboy :)

Disappointment of the Year: Easy one, this. After the sheer bliss of Project Rub, I felt compelled to snaffle the sequel, Rub Rabbits. Big mistake; no real advance in gameplay, and several aspects broken. And, let’s face it, Stampede on Hell Mode is just stupid. Booooooooooo.

Almost-but-not-quite Award: Ninety-Nine Nights. So much potential, and when the stars are correctly aligned the gameplay blissful. But the fact that it crashes more-than-occasionally, the completely half-arsed “story” (and I use that term very loosely), and the fact that there’s no checkpoints or save opportunities in Missions that can last half-an-hour result in you screaming with rage at the 360 because an end-of-Mission boss mashed you to a pulp because your dry eyes blinked at the wrong time or maybe the 360 Blade-Of-Death appeared right after the DVD drive spun down whilst trying to load the “Mission Complete” screen… ahem. Bugspray and a bit of care in the concept would’ve seen N3 highly regarded; instead, it’s a sorry tale of All That Could Have Been.

Press Conference of the Year: No-one could have guessed at the time that E3 2006 would be the last rendition of the Gamer’s favourite meat-market; no doubt a squillion smaller dev studios heaved many a sigh of relief after the announcement, thanking their deities that yet another make-or-break deadline for their pride and joy had disappeared. Still, E3 went out with a trio of variable press conferences from the console manufacturers. Sony started the ball rolling with the epitome of marketing suicide – talking smack, followed by gob-smacking stupidity. “The next generation doesn’t start until we say it does” blended right into “actually happened in actual ancient actually actual Japan” and, of course, the giant enemy crabs. Never has one hour of such head-up-arse arrogant dribble turned me against a company so completely. Compare and contrast, then, against the much shorter press gig that Nintendo put on – chock full of enthusiasm and, dare I say it, FUN and JOY and LOVE OF GAMING. So, who takes the award – the people who encouraged me to hate (and I do love a good hate-fest), or the people who projected love? Nintendo, hands down.

Saviour/Death of Gaming Award: I’ve professed my love for Xbox Live and its GamerPoints before, but in that missive – right at the end, for all two of you who bothered reading – I expressed concern for the cheating potential. Of course, human greed is a wonderfully predictable thing, and so the numbers of people cheating via gamesaves (or similar) has gone through the roof, and there’s even “services” now who pledge to acquire GamerPoints on your Xbox Live account in exchange for cold hard cash. Delightful. And yet, Live still proffers plenty of moments from Gaming Heaven; wonderful demonstrations of international camaraderie and competition, and gentle encouraging GP goading. I guess the good comes with the bad.

Where-have-you-been-all-my-life Award: My Nintendo DS allowed me access to a game family that I had never previously tasted: I snaffled New Super Mario Brothers and indulged, for the first time, in the glorious 2D platforming antics that Mario (apparently) typifies. And NSMB would be a more-than-worthy winner of this Award – symbolising the gaping holes in my gaming upbringing – were it not for the stunning beauty of Ico. For which my words cannot… ummmm… express stuff. But it’s a bloody brilliant game, I’ll tell you that.

In Summary: 2006 was a great year to be a gamer here in Australia – even if we had to make do with late 360/DS Lite/Wii launches and no PS3 (guess what, Sony? The next gen has already come to Casa Moobaa, and the PS3 isn’t part of it – oh boo hoo). The brickbats from this rag-tag bunch of awards went to Rub Rabbits, Ninety-Nine Nights, and Sony; bouquets were delivered unto Nintendo, Nintendo again, Xbox Live, Ico, Ridge Racer 6, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I threw those two at the end in just because.

Anyway, what are you still doing reading this? It’s 2007 – a whole new year – so get gaming!

On Music and Gaming…

Since the dawning of my gaming life I’ve enjoyed the aural pleasantries afforded by my addictions. Be it the twee jingles in Moon Cresta that almost goad you into performing well with the little pea-shooter that is the “I” ship, or the jaunty bounce-along of the near-monotonic backing music featured in Moon Patrol. Hey look, both examples had “Moon” in the title – wacky.

Of course, I was spoiled in my upbringing; my first real games machine (the beloved Commodore 64) featured the mighty MOS 6581 sound chip, affectionately known at the time – and fondly remembered as – “SID”. Sure, the early aural “delights” created by programmers using SID did little to elevate the games on the C64 above those of its peers; but there’s little denying the impact of the glorious speech synthesis of Impossible Mission (and the somewhat grittier Suicide Express).

However, the advent of the professional computer musician – and, most notably, Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway – changed all that. After reading all the hyperbole of the english gaming magazines (thankyou, Zzap!64), the first time I heard Monty on the Run I was gobsmacked.

In the same way that people tend to be polarised into two groups – Mac or PC, Crows or Power, Black or White – the C64 community tended to be split on the “best” composer for their machine. I’m a Hubbard man, myself; whilst there’s no denying that only Galway could create the eleven-minute epic of Parallax (which, I risk flamage to state, is infinitely more enjoyable than Hubbard’s Pink Floyd-esque Delta theme), Hubbard consistently came up with a great beat and tunes that bubblegummed away in your mind for days.

The dark horse on the C64, in my opinion, was Steve Rowlands of Apex Computer Productions, the brotherly duo responsible for the magnificently sick Creatures series, the deep Retrograde, and perhaps the C64’s last great game, Mayhem in Monsterland. ACP frequently published little compilations of their tunes and demos on the covertapes of various magazines, and so it was that I happened upon the Monty on the Run, Crazy Comets, I, Ball, and the oft-lauded, but rarely heard, Thalamusik from Sanxion (the “live” synth version of the loading track was on the first Zzap!64 covertape, no less). But after I left my C64 in search of degree qualifications I also left my gaming-bound musical interests.

(For the uninitiated, C64 music is often presented as *.sid files, which can be played using plug-ins for your music player of choice. The Wikipedia page for the High Voltage SID Collection acts as a gateway to memories of my gaming youth.)

My return to gaming after a somewhat Uni-inspired absence was through Quake; it was made all the sweeter because of Trent Reznor’s involvement with the soundtrack. This was after NIN had hit pop culture via the cheekily wannabe-subversion of “Closer” and “The Downward Spiral“, which no doubt created additional interest in the game through tech-savvy industrial pop fans. And, whilst I adore “Broken” and have a lot of time for Reznor’s aural frolics in general, there was no way I was going to combine my fringe interests in a manner similar to that of a LAN-mate one evening; eager to impress all with his intimate knowledge of Reznor’s background, he substituted the troubled atmosphere of the original Quake CD audio for “Pretty Hate Machine“. “The Only Time” should not be associated with fragging. Or any kind of gaming. Ever.

Further PC gaming (most notably through Deus Ex) further enhanced the expectation that game music should be left in the background, or leveraged for atmosphere and punches – I’m hard-pressed to mention any other PC-gaming music of note. On acquiring my Xbox, Halo emphasised that further with a glorious score, but one which worked in concert with the game; it’s impossible for me to hear the score and not imagine the associated assault on the Covenant, and vice versa.

The game that changed it all for me (again), though, was Jet Set Radio Future.

JSRF was recommended to me as a solid second Xbox game and, the moment the “Graffiti is art. However…” warning left the screen, I was awestruck. Hideki Naganuma‘s “The Concept of Love” is a perfect opener for a glorious game, and the rest of the soundtrack was of comparable quality. Discovering (after the fact) that I could buy dodgy Taiwanese bootlegs of the JSRF (and the crunchier Jet Set Radio) soundtracks on eBay allowed me to indulge in Naganuma on demand; then I started branching out into other artists on the soundtrack: Russell Simins, Guitar Vader and, most significantly, Cibo Matto.

In the same way that we have Black/White, Mac/PC, and Hubbard/Galway polarisations, with JSRF there was the love/hate split regarding Cibo Matto’s “Birthday Cake”. I loved it, and a cunning one-click-buy deal on Amazon suddenly saw me in possession of both their studio albums. And they are *fabulous*. Further catalogue exploration, coupled with the wallet-worrying scope of GEMM, saw my Cibo Matto collection pretty much complete, and they’ve rarely been troubled at the top of my AudioScrobbler rankings.

Things didn’t stop there, though; perusal of AudioScrobbler’s charts for Naganuma threw up a few new song names amongst the usual collection of mis-tagged tracks; more soundtracks! An arcade game I’m never likely to see, Ollie King, followed by Sonic Rush for the DS, research revealed. But I didn’t own a DS…

And suddenly, I did. I bought it for Sonic Rush. So I could claim “Fair Use” on the ripped soundtrack I found on the Net. A good friend at Sega helped locate a copy of the CD soundtrack that Naganuma (through WaveMaster) put out. And Naganuma returned to my ‘Scrobbling with a vengeance.

The new DS led to Electroplankton. Project Rub and Rub Rabbits. Buying a Dreamcast for Jet Set Radio and Rez led to Space Channel 5, which will lead into Lumines Live (eventually). Rez on the PS2 justified access to Katamari Damacy and its soundtrack. The track “Glitter Girl” that accompanies the opening FMV to Perfect Dark Zero. The majestic scores of Panzer Dragoon Orta and pretty much any Zelda game. The cheeky cheese of Super Galdelic Hour and Vib Ribbon and Super Monkey Ball. Even the perfectly weighted silence of Ico makes for a memorable aural experience.

I (relatively) recently started trying to bash my way through FreQuency on the PS2 (why do I continually buy these rhythm games? I’m amazingly crapulent at them… but that’s a topic for another entry), and one tune would *not* leave my head. GameFAQs and YouTube told me that the tune in question was Freezepop‘s “Science Genius Girl”. Freezepop’s MySpace page (which contains some great tracks) was enough to convince me to buy all their tunage that I could; initially, I was convinced that “Science Genius Girl” was a perfect pop song (downloadable in a glorious retro-tinged remix). Then I discovered the glorious chorus of “Tenisu No Boifurendo“. And then came the stunning “Stakeout“, in which I utterly fail to find flaw.

Oh yes, music in gaming has come a long way from the beeps, boops, and occasional spot music of the arcade games of my formative youth. And games have introduced me to music which have introduced me to more games and more consoles and more music… leading to both a burgeoning CD and game collection.

Oh look, my latest batch of Freezepop rarities have just arrived from GEMM…

Welcome…

I am an obsessive/compulsive gamer.

I’ve always loved the out-of-body experience that gaming has provided, even in the days of primitive beeps and blips. From the time I first spied an early black-and-white Sprint clone in the local fish and chip shop, scoring my C64, acting all grown-up when I hit University and “forgetting” games, unintentionally being thrust back into the world of gaming by winning an Xbox, catching up on what I’d missed… all along the journey, I’ve loved the worlds and characters that can only be experienced through the wonder of (once-)chunkified images and (once-)simplistic audio environments. And, now that technology seems to be able to supplement imagination rather than restrict it, the new worlds that are being presented allow immersion to be ever deeper.

However, I have a problem with gaming: it turns me into an obsessive/compulsive. And, to avoid offending anyone, let’s be quite clear what I mean here: the Wikipedia entry for Obsessive-Compulsive disorder states that the phrase obsessive/compulsive “is often used in an offhand manner to describe someone who is meticulous or absorbed in a cause” – and that’s the intent I’m trying to provide: that, for one reason or another, my approach to gaming is meticulous, sometimes at the expense of all else. I’m not trying to suggest that I suffer from OCD – at the very least, my missus would kick my arse for suggesting so.

Part of my problem is that I get emotionally engaged by my avatar; I treat their life as my own (with the notable exception that I’d never pop myself into the situation where I have ridiculous numbers of creatures, robots, or the undead to slay before continuing my quest). In Quake I tip-toed around corridors, afraid to let my health drop below a safe “100”, shitting bricks at the mutterings of unseen knights around the corner. Zelda had me overly cautious in the same way; who would allow poor little Link to be harmed in any way, shape, or form? Halo had me panicking as – not with – the Master Chief; I literally cried tears of relief when I finished Legendary.

The other part of the problem, I believe, is the utter rush that I get from completion – from seeing all that has been presented unto me. And this is a big issue: simply finishing a game isn’t enough, it has to be finished on the hardest difficulty, all the unlockables have to be unlocked, all the bonuses have to be realised. I blame Halo for solidifying this – that extra couple of seconds of footage in the final movie sequence drove me on to finish Legendary and, in doing so, taught me how to play the game, rather than just plod through it, seeing the sights. Glean every morsel of gaming goodness from the article on offer. Experience the game, rather than co-exist.

So the idea of “completing” a game – 100-percenting, mastering, whatever you want to call it – became a very real, very central goal for me. And I started playing through my back catalogue of acquired games, aiming to complete them. I got off to a quick start with a couple of games that I know well.

But therein lies the problem. In striving for the rush of completion, I now find that I can often miss the joy of the journey. I remember precious little of Ocarina of Time, sadly, because I barrelled through both Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, one after the other, in about ten days straight. I remember the beginning of Ocarina, and that’s it. I popped on the demo of Wind Waker the other day for a look, and could not remember the dungeon that was proffered unto me. And so I thought I’d start writing a bit about what I was playing in my O/C way, as a record of what I’d done (in the same manner as my other blog, chronicling the silly number of Adelaide Fringe & Festival shows I’ve seen).

So – what can you expect from this essentially meaningless blog? One average gamer’s musings on gaming in general, and on his journey through the gaming world. The impending car-crash of the O/C’s realisation that his obsession cannot be satisfied, limited by his own failings. Pithy reviews and ever-so-occasional useful snippets. Attempts to leech off a potential readership of three through affiliate promotions and a tips jar. But, most of all, an honest look at an afflicted mind that just happens to dig gaming. A lot.

What you won’t find – at least, not intentionally – is well written and well reasoned commentary. I fully expect to be self-contradictory, self-important, self-involved, and full of shit. This isn’t supposed to be a one-stop gaming info site, and I really recommend that you go elsewhere for your up-to-date news. I’ve still got 70-odd games – most of them 3+ years old – to ruminate on, so there’ll be no breaking reviews of Halo 3, no walkthroughs of the hottest new games. But hopefully someone somewhere will be able to identify somewhat with something that I type.

I am an obsessive/compulsive gamer.

But, most significantly, I am a gamer.