Sunday, October 23, 2011

Computer love

I first played what could be identified as a computer game in the 1980s. It was Pong, which made a distinct "bop" sound when the ball hit the paddle. I was a bit contemptuous of it, but not long after that I played a few dungeons-and-dragons style games, using the C-prompt, where you could choose one of several outcomes. I remember standing helplessly watching someone trying to resolve a problem where the computer wasn't responding, and wondering whether I would ever understand how these things worked.

The first game I got really excited about was Wolfenstein 3D. In the early 1990s I played a lot of Wolfenstein, although the crude graphics had the effect of making me travel sick (run down a corridor, look left, look right, shoot a Nazi guard, go into a room, turn 360°, extract a symbol hidden behind a brick, run down a corridor... I lasted about 5 minutes before I started feeling queasy). My next obsession was Lemmings on an early Apple Mac, followed by SimCity (which is still a pretty damn good game, especially the version where you can make city transport decisions such as deciding where the bus stops go, and building ferry ports and subway systems with real-time data on how many Sims are using the system). After that, I played Shadows of the Empire on the N64: the first truly inspiring game I'd ever experienced (I loved the attention to detail and continuity; the way that, walking along a treacherous cliff-edge path to accomplish one task, I could see the moving parts of the next challenge, already engaging far below; and the experience of running round a junkyard with the droid IG-88 in clattering, menacing pursuit was genuinely terrifying).

I'm still playing, but I'm very particular: despite an early attachment to Wolfenstein, a lot of the first person shooter games never really appealed to me; despite the fact that graphics are a lot more smooth and sophisticated than they were when I first started playing, it's the format most likely to make me feel sick: run down a corridor, look left, look right..., and more than that, unless very well done it can be repetitive and dull. I have an abiding dislike of games set on spaceships, "boss" fights (engaging in pointless battle with a large, relentless foe armed with tentacles/fire/thorns/stingers, who has a tiny Achilles heel that you have to die numerous times to discover), fights with robots, and post-apocalyptic landscapes. I don't like my characters to be as thick as mince, and sadly a lot of them are. My favourite weapon is the sniper rifle, followed closely by the shotgun. I like to be behind my character rather then looking through his/her eyes (third-person shooter) and prefer my opponents to be human, or almost human (I don't mind engaging with the undead). I want a proper story in a believable, if exotic, setting: essentially, Resident Evil and Uncharted are perfect games for me. Both even have credible female characters who aren't afraid to wield a gun and never get their kit off. On that last point, it seems pretty clear that most games are designed for men; games specifically aimed at women have tended to be pretty contemptible (with an emphasis on romance, pets, or shopping). I'm perfectly happy to shoot people (hence the tag for this post, "I know how this makes me look"). I know it's not real. And I don't need to be patronised.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Blistering barnacles!

I have very happy memories of reading Tintin books as a child: oblivious to any anachronistic colonial undertones – which delayed the publication in English of Tintin in the Congo until 1991, and now, on re-reading, seem pretty dated – I took it all at face value and loved the stories. My attitude to Tintin himself was not dissimilar to my feelings about the hero of the other omnipresent cartoon books of my childhood, Asterix: I thought both of them were jumped up little squits, too smug for their own good, and in Tintin's case, accompanied by an insufferable little know-it-all dog which didn't even have a proper bark (wo-ah! wo-ah!).

Never mind Tintin: my favourite character was Captain Haddock, mainly on account of his endlessly inventive vocabulary of curses (of which "Bashi-bazouks!" is one of the finest), but also because of his perpetually dishevelled, frequently bemused demeanour, his constant battle with the temptations of booze, and his underlying nobility and capacity for self-sacrifice (see Tintin in Tibet, a particularly moving Tintin book in which my hero (Haddock) offers to die in order to save Tintin). It's because of apprehension about the potential depiction of Captain Haddock (a Scottish accent? I'm still mulling that one) that I find myself with mixed feelings about seeing the new performance capture film, The Adventures of Tintin (although of course I'm excited: who wouldn't be?). Frankly I couldn't care less what they do with/to Tintin; I never liked him anyway.