Editorial: Why GTAV Needs to be Something Special

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

When I think back through my long history of video games, very few stand out in my mind as being as commonly criticised as Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise. From driving over prostitutes, to arming yourself with the widest variety of weapons and gunning down all number of pedestrians, to San Andreas’ infamous “hot coffee” minigame – if there’s one thing you can grant Grand Theft Auto, its pushing the boundaries of what most people would deem acceptable.

Growing up, I played most of the Grand Theft Auto games; I even had the original, top down and as horrible as it was. Vice City and San Andreas certainly left their mark on me, too, and I still to this day herald San Andreas as one of the best PlayStation 2 games I ever played. Sure, some of the scenes might’ve been a little dicey and some of my actions questionable, but underneath all of the over-the-top drama the game was layered with, there was a diamond in the rough that really was quite the feat at the time.

Move on almost 8 years since I first played San Andreas, and there are millions of people eagerly awaiting what is certain to be Rockstar’s coup de grâce for this generation of consoles; Grand Theft Auto V. Currently, GTAV is poised to be one of the biggest games not only of this Christmas season, but for the entire year. Many people will purchase the game simply because they’re a long-running fan of the series – I myself can’t even count on both hands how many people I know that have already pre-ordered the game ready for its slated release on September 17th, and I know even more people that will be picking it up when the time comes around.

However, I am here to ask the question, why does GTAV need to be something special – and more to the point – how can it be that something special that everybody wants and needs it to be. I’ll be looking back at some of Rockstar’s biggest titles so far, and also some of the stiff competition Rockstar is likely to face over the coming months when the title finally lands to define exactly what Rockstar needs to do to make GTAV a surefire winner. Lets begin, shall we?

Rockstar has a reputation to uphold.

When you consider a video game and the success its likely to garner, one of the things most people probably don’t consider is video game companies that have been doing this for quite some time and have their potential reputation on the line. Rockstar have been developing games since 1997, and among their titles have been some of the most successful franchises ever to exist.

Lets consider, then, some of the titles which have been released since the last GTA title – Grand Theft Auto IV – hit shelves, and their potential impact on Rockstar’s reputation:

  • First up, Red Dead Redemption followed Grand Theft Auto IV in 2010. Set in an open world Western environment, Red Dead Redemption borrowed a lot from the way Grand Theft Auto did things, and was surprisingly similar to the game despite having a much different feel to that of GTA. Players took on the role of John Marston, an outlaw who is taken from his family and is forced to search out the remaining members of his old outlaw gang in order to achieve amnesty. The plot was overall a lot more serious than any of GTA’s previous titles, and did extremely well off the back of it, generally garnering 8-9 out of 10 reviews across the board and selling in excess of 10 million copies worldwide. To this day Red Dead Redemption is still stuck firmly in the minds of many people as the best western action-adventure of the 21st century.
  • Realising that many players were more than happy to play as someone rather than the criminal for a change, and following in the successful footsteps of Red Dead Redemption came 2011’s L.A. Noire. Set in the seedy 1947 Los Angeles, L.A. Noire takes GTA and flips it on its head, putting players in the shoes of one Officer Cole Phelps as you progress through the ranks of the law enforcement, generally solving more and more severe crimes. The game introduced several new mechanics to the Rockstar universe that many players enjoyed, such as the interrogation “mini-game” and the use of extensive facial motion capture. Rockstar painted the role of a police officer in an entirely new light, and in doing so captured the hearts of many an avid gamer, myself included. The series went on to be extremely successful as a first-time hit, selling well over 5 million copies worldwide.

The interrogation mechanic was loved by many. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

  • Finally, and most recently, we have Max Payne 3. Released last year, Max Payne is a long running franchise for Rockstar, but was developed by Remedy Entertainment until MP3, upon which developing duties were handed over to Take-Two Interactive instead. Many feared this would impact severely upon the quality of the game, but the game still achieved impressive ratings across the board and sold over 4 million copies since its release. The game also reintroduced the bullet-time mechanic which was incredibly popular with many fans, as well as a “last stand” mechanic which allows players a chance at second life after they have been downed.

As you can see, Rockstar have carved a considerable mark on the gaming market over the past few years, and while some would argue that this would only benefit the release of GTAV, I would say that in some ways, it may very well hamper it.

Consider, if you will, the level of expectation that is currently sitting on GTAV – Rockstar have, in the past 5 years, released several games which have all hit 90+ ratings and sold in their millions. These games have introduced some incredibly well known mechanics such as L.A. Noire’s facial recognition and interrogation, and Max Payne’s bullet time and last stand. This puts a huge weight on the shoulders of Rockstar and GTAV to pull something similarly new out of the bag to continue to impress – use too much of the same old GTA formula and its going to look like a whole lot of waiting by the fans for a whole lot of “same old, same old” by Rockstar.

I’m not suggesting Rockstar implement facial recognition, interrogations and bullet time into GTAV by the way – I’m just saying they’ve got a lot to live up to when it goes shoulder-to-shoulder with its peers.

Grand Theft Auto needs to be careful it doesn’t become Saints Row: The Third 2.0.

Furthermore, we know that Grand Theft Auto was always a game renowned for being a little over the top and ridiculous in its ways. Since its last release, Volition’s Saints Row has seemingly stolen its crown, and is currently floating down crazy bubblegum river inside a fruit loop – its that far off the chain. While I’ve always been able to appreciate a slant towards humor in video games, I really think that GTAV has to be careful and try to be a more mature game now more than ever. If it verges on being too ridiculous, its only going to look stupid alongside games like Saints Row: The Third which have already done it much better (worse?). As great as flying a helicopter into someone’s grandmother in GTA might be, maybe its time for it to be the potentially more mature game that it needs to be and rise above the silliness.

Finally, competition.

GTAV will certainly have some competition this year. (Source: Thepipe 101 via Creative Commons)

Finally – GTAV has some extremely stiff competition from other long-running franchises. Let us not forget that since the previous GTA game last released, almost every other franchise that’s got a game releasing this year (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and Battlefield to name a few) have been continuing on and building a fanbase, while GTA has led relatively dormant. This means that GTAV may well have some catching up to do when it releases in September. GTAV will be, however, the first to release out of all the major titles, but whether this gives it the upper hand when it comes to sales has yet to be seen.

So can GTAV pull it off? Am I just being a massive cynic?

Probably, yes. Grand Theft Auto has never failed to carry its own weight when it comes to game sales, and I don’t see it being a problem for #5 either. The one thing that shows serious sign of promise to me currently is the fact that GTAV is introducing new facilities to ensure that there is some level of variety in its mechanics – for example, being able to switch between characters on the fly will certainly be a first for the Grand Theft Auto universe, and its sure to bring some interesting things to the table.

Regardless of what I’ve stated above, I feel that Grand Theft Auto is such a behemoth at this stage, the only way it could really crash and burn would be to trip itself up – IE, with something drastically wrong. I have faith, however, that Rockstar won’t let its fans down.

Whether or not Grand Theft Auto V will be something special remains to be seen, but its starting to show its potential. As long as it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its peers and does not get hidden behind them, I have no doubt that Grand Theft Auto V will be the game we all want – and need – it to be.

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Editorial: Will Backwards Compatibility Become a Thing of the Past?

Source: en:Image:360controller.jpg

With the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 currently battling it out for the rights to call themselves this year’s “must-have” console, many aspects of both systems have been analysed and critiqued; DRM, always-online policies, the technical specifications, and much more besides.

One particular point that I feel has been a little less covered, however, is that of backwards compatibility. For those unaware of what the term “backwards compatibility” means, it essentially states that a current generation console (in this example the Xbox One/PS4) is capable of playing games from the previous generation (the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3), thus allowing a user to still continue to play games that they may have purchased in the past while also enjoying this generation’s blockbuster hits.

First, a little history lesson in regards to backwards compatibility with the two consoles being considered here;

  • The Xbox 360 was compatible with some, but not all, of the original Microsoft Xbox console’s games. While I won’t list all of them here, Wikipedia has comprised a fantastic list of all of the games from the original Xbox that work with the Xbox 360 currently.
  • The PlayStation 2 was capable of playing all PlayStation 1 games. When the PlayStation 3 released, earlier models (the 20GB, 60GB and 80GB models) were capable of playing PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 games. This feature was removed in newer models and the PS3 Slim, as Sony stated they felt that there were enough PS3 titles that most people would not be concerned about having access to their older back catalog.
  • I should also state that both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 featured the capability to download older games through their respective live functions, although this required users to purchase the game a second time. More on this later.

Essentially, both consoles had some form of backwards compatibility, regardless of how limited this feature was.

Skip forward to 2013, and we’re now looking at a future of next-gen consoles that feature little/no backwards compatibility whatsoever. Many people believe this is a conscientious decision by the companies to not support backwards compatibility, although a great deal of it actually boils down to hardware restraints. Without getting extremely technical and remaining on a level everyone can understand, both of the new consoles use x86 chipsets, which are very different to the sets that were previously used in the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. This puts a rather large void between the possibility of allowing backwards compatibility.

The all-in-one entertainment system that completely disregards its older titles. (Source: Dalvenjah via Wikimedia Commons)

Microsoft seems quite content to allow their older titles slip into the background (a comment from ex-boss Don Mattrick stated that “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards”) and have stated that their new console will definitely not support old 360 titles or any of the Xbox Live Arcade titles that people have collected over the years.

Sony, on the other hand, have stated that they would like to use the cloud-streaming service Gaikai to eventually provide PS3 titles for streaming. This at first seems like an excellent concept and certainly makes it seem as though this effort by Sony puts them heads above Microsoft, until you realise that their plan is currently far from bulletproof. For one, its highly unlikely that Sony will be giving these PS3 ‘streams’ away for free – you’ll either be looking at paying up-front to purchase a title you already own again, or paying a monthly subscription fee to access a set amount of games. Secondly, Gaikai is currently incapable of streaming at anything higher than 720p resolution, and even that requires quite the internet connection. Finally, Sony have only nodded to the capability of Gaikai being used, and have not yet given us any indication of whether or not these streaming assets will be accessible upon launch. Currently, its looking very unlikely.

I would just like to stop for a moment and put my 2 cents in with regards to how things are going to work from now on, assuming that my above two paragraphs are set in stone and this is how things will definitely be. For one, users will be forced to pay for their old titles yet again even though they may have potentially bought them once (or even twice) prior, which induces even more expense for the end user. Secondly, there’s an unknown period of when and where we’re actually going to see backwards compatibility – Sony has been incredibly vague about their Gaikai service, and Microsoft has essentially dismissed any likelihood of something occurring with their console, which means we’re all pretty much in the dark as of now. This is before you consider that if you purchase an Xbox One and one day feel like playing some Fallout 3 or some Modern Warfare 2, you’ll have to re-connect your entire system to a separate TV in order to do so. Its a matter of convenience, more than anything.

Lastly, let us not forget the competition these two giants face in this sector. While I don’t pretend to know an awful lot about the Wii U, quoted from Nintendo’s website, Wii U users can currently access a back catalog via the Virtual Console consisting of;

  • Wii (game discs)
  • GameCube (downloads only)
  • Nintendo 64
  • Super Nintendo
  • NES
  • Neo Geo
  • SEGA Master System

That’s a heck of a list right there, and that’s before we even consider that the other major competitor in this sector, the humble gaming PC, has endless backwards compatibility. Heck, just the other week I picked up the ‘Oddworld’ series via Amazon, a set of games that stretch back to the PlayStation 1, for next to nothing.

Indeed, if you search Google right now for the term backwards compatibility, you’ll find no end of articles regarding the significant lack of it in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (and oddly enough, a considerably large amount of Don Mattrick pictures…).

The famous adage goes “you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone”, and this stands true for backwards compatibility. Many people don’t consider that they may want to play their older games when they receive their brand-new shiny Xbox One at Christmas time, but a few months down the line, when you get the itch to do a speed-run through of Portal 2, its going to suck real hard when you realise you’ve sold your 360 and can’t just jump onto the online store and download it immediately. Furthermore, competitors such as the PC allow you to do this already – this is hardly ground-breaking stuff.

Right now we stand at a cross-roads, with no real direction in which to go. Only time will really tell whether or not backwards compatibility will make a come-back, or simply become something that is remembered fondly when the Xbox “Two” or the “PS5” release in a few years time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go blow some dust off my PlayStation 2…

EDIT – A good friend of mine informed me that not all PS1 games worked with the PS2, but these were rare cases such as Monkey Hero which used specific code that confused the PS2 and made it unplayable.

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Hey guys, thanks an awful lot for reading, I really appreciate it. Please remember that, like so many of my pieces, I try my best to provide you guys with solid information while also trying to give you an entertaining/funny read. Any opinions expressed are entirely my own, so please don’t take them too seriously.

If you enjoyed this piece, you’d be doing me a massive favour by leaving a like, sharing it among your friends and giving it a follow/bookmark. Thanks again; see you next time!

[Source: Wikipedia – List of Xbox games compatible with Xbox 360]

[Source: Nintendo – List of backward compatible sources for the Wii U]

Editorial: Violence in Video Games; The Media Storm

Hey guys, Fully Avenged here. Today I wanted to discuss a topic that I’ve followed very closely for the past couple of months/years. Its a pretty sensitive topic and something that I’m well aware is a very difficult thing to write about, but please keep in mind the opinions expressed inside are entirely that of my own.

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Whenever I think about video game violence and the media attention it has managed to grasp in recent years, I can’t help but think back to the first time I personally came into contact with a video game that may have been deemed “violent”. For me growing up, most of the big video games at the times were akin to Crash Bandicoot or Spyro, the sort of game that took stabs at violence, but in the cutest and most ridiculous manner possible. For me, violence never really jumped out because it never really existed on that level.

My first encounter of true – and I use that word loosely – video game violence, then, would have been Rockstar’s 1997 classic Grand Theft Auto. At the time, I struggled to see anything in it rather than over-the-top humor and general comical value. For those a bit too young to have played this gem; it was top down, and everything was essentially a square. You were basically a square blowing up/running over/shooting other squares.

This was the grand-daddy of “computer game violence” when I was growing up. (Source: Rockstar Games via Wikimedia Commons)

Grand Theft Auto isn’t the only Rockstar game to drum up significant controversy either; in 2003, Manhunt became infamous for causing shockwaves throughout the world, with several countries deeming the game much too violent to be played by its citizens. A mixture of stealth-based game-play and brutality, even to this day Manhunt is often nodded to when the topic of video game violence is brought up by the press.

Let us take a step back, though, to consider something first; in the 90s, running over people and leaving bloody smears on the floor may have been considered a little “close to the bone” for certain audiences. Even as recent as 2005, video games like Manhunt are contemplated as being far too grotesque in its violence for any person to possibly want to play. However, despite this, many of the biggest AAA titles released relatively recently have their main theme seated in violence and, more specifically, the brutality of war.

Gears of War, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield – these are the obvious games that everyone points to whenever the topic of violence is brought up. However, there are far more titles than this which incorporate violence in their game-play today; in fact, I don’t think I can list a game without any violence in it that I’ve played in my recent back catalog. While violence may be considered “taboo” today, it seems that now, more than ever, every single game wants a slice of the action; quite literally.

So what exactly am I getting at with this blatant display of violence throughout the years of video games? The point I’m trying to make is that just because violence is more prominent in video games these days, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t always been there.  I am a stern believer in the fact that in recent years, video games have become a scapegoat for violence throughout the world. In the 80’s and 90’s, it was music (for those who don’t know, listening to rock and metal music definitely meant you were Satan in disguise and therefore must be purged), while in the 2000’s, that responsibility has shifted to video games.

The problem stems, partially, at least, from the fact that video games are such a massive part of culture these days. While video games used to be a pass-time for specific people, where it was typically associated with adolescents living in their mother’s basements, these days video games are a much more accessible part of society. Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles can all get involved with their Wii and their Nintendo DS, and one of my favourite games of the moment, League of Legends, frequently breaks five million concurrent players. While this is fantastic news for the developers, it also means its far too easy to begin pointing fingers when the brown stuff hits the fan;

“This young man attacked another young man and he played Call of Duty, therefore this must be the root of the issue”.

Its truly a sad time when you can say that this is a “common” excuse for violence.

Excessive? Yes. Gory? You betcha. Realistic enough to be used in a court-case? Apparently so.

Back in April, I read a story that was featured on Kotaku that was perhaps one of the most convoluted and ridiculous blame-games I’ve ever seen in my entire life. In a shocking story, a 14-year-old teenager attacked a fellow teenager, slashing his throat so deep it exposed his windpipe. Coincidentally, the two boys met online in 2011, when they played Gears of War 3 together. Supposedly a “sour relationship” built, and when the teenager lashed out, Gears of War was the fall guy for everything that proceeded. Admittedly, two teenagers of this age should not be playing a rated 18 game and this raises moral issues, but we’d be stupid to believe that nobody under the age of 18 actively plays these games or that a simple connection of “meeting over a game” can be blamed for such a inhumane attack.

This, then, leads me to an inevitable conclusion; violence in video games may not always be a good thing regardless of how much it may bring to the impact of the game itself, but to believe that simply playing a video game like Call of Duty can trigger such a reaction in one person that they would go so far as to kill a human being without motivation is a complete leap of imagination that I think too many media outlets are allowed to get away with these days. Regardless of whether a murderer played Mario, Call of Duty or Pokemon, there is almost always something deeply rooted in the human psyche that causes this behavior; sadly these people just happen to be gamers too.

Does this mean that video games are the root of all evil as some media outlets claim, and the violence perpetuates a reaction that is frequently dangerous and unpredictable? Possibly. But I know one thing for sure – there’s no smoke without fire.

So please, next time you read some jumped-up article regarding how violent someone was made by a video game, just consider one caveat; in the first week of sales, Black Ops 2, the latest in the Call of Duty franchise, sold well over 11 million units. How many of those people do you think turn out to be violent, and how many continue to live a happy, normal life free of the senseless violence you so often hear about in these stories?

Many thanks for reading, and please keep in mind that, as previously stated, this blog is entirely my own opinion. I welcome any and all comments.

– FA.

[Source: Kotaku, Throat-Slashing Blamed on a Gears of War Relationship Gone Bad]