BBC Radio 6 Music is Currently Running an Interesting-Sounding Series About Video Games Music

Radio 6 High Scores website

It’s called High Scores: A History of Video Games Music and is being hosted by the BBC’s Mark Savage. The first episode is currently available to listen to so far, and guest features persistent video game fanatic Charlie Brooker (yes, that Charlie Brooker) showcasing a selection of his favourite video game jams through the years, along with some nostalgic and amusing anecdotes to go along with them.

Though just a teaser for the series which begins properly on March 10th, this first episode is worth a listen for anyone interested in the history of games music, and has piqued my interest for what’s to come. Radio 6 has had excellent high-quality programming about video games music in the past and I expect this will be a continuation to that theme. I look forward to next week’s show!

High Scores: A History of Video Games Music is being broadcast live every Sunday at 13:00 on BBC Radio 6 with recordings available to listen to for 30 days after airing on Radio 6’s website. You can also listen to it using the BBC Sounds app. Click here for more information on how to listen to Radio 6.

How I Fell in Love With NieR

nier-fanart-e1528712036880.jpg
Source: zerochan.net Artist unknown.

In early April of this year (2018), I was aware of the game series called NieR, had heard of its popularity and acclaim but knew nothing else about it.  Fast-forward to June and I am now a devout worshipper. There are probably many others who are currently in the same mind about it as I was two months ago (ie. never really thought about it), but who would love it as I do if they got into it. So, below I am going to try and list what exactly made me turn, in some sort of chronological order. How did I become a NieR convert?

1. I watched a playthrough of Drakengard

Drakengard is the game series that NieR is a spin-off of, and by pure chance I happened to watch a playthrough of the first game towards the end of April. It started off quite tame, if a little dark. However, once I had witnessed the final alternate ending (the one which is canon for the beginning of NieR), and had gotten over my flabbergastedness over it, I felt as though I had sampled something special and wanted more.

2. I familiarised myself with NieR: Replicant

Following on from Drakengard, I started watching a playthrough of the first NieR game, as I am a little late to the party and it is now very difficult to get a hold of a copy. There are two versions of this game (bear with me); Replicant, which is a Japan-only PS3 release, and Gestalt, which was released on Xbox 360 in Japan and released in the west as simply NieR, on both PS3 and Xbox 360. The two games are identical story-wise, apart from the main character of Replicant being a teenage boy/young man and in Gestalt he is a middle-aged man.

‘This all sounds very confusing!’ I hear you cry.

Again, bear with me. Because of the nature of how the narratives Drakengard and NieR are structured, they deal with multiple endings and simultaneous realities. Gestalt and Replicant are both equally valid in their interpretation of the main character of the game, because in my opinion they should be looked at as simultaneous, alternate realities of each other.

The main character “Nier” in Replicant is the older brother of the young girl character called “Yonah”, whereas in Gestalt he is her father. This alters the relationship dynamic between them in subtle yet significant ways between the two versions, and also gives a different point of view to the player of certain story elements.

The main point I noted was in the tragedy of the main plot point; trying to save Yonah from the deadly disease she has. “Father” Nier gives the aura of being physically strong and capable of protecting the people he cares about, and obviously Yonah’s protector as  her dad, yet is powerless against the disease that is attacking her from the inside. You can pretty much feel his failure, and it’s bloody painful.

“Brother” Nier is just a child himself in the beginning of the game, and is having to cope with the burden of finding ways to survive for both of them in the absence of parents, along with locating a cure for Yonah. In this manner, Brother Nier and Yonah have a more equal relationship, as even though Nier still plays a protective role it isn’t laid out as obviously to the player as it is with hulking Papa Nier. This results in the feeling of a different sort of tragedy, as young Nier’s powerlessness is like a constant barrage coming at him from all directions.

I chose to watch a playthrough of an unofficial translation of Replicant mainly because it is the version I would never be able to playbeing in Japanese, a language I don’t speak, and never being released in the west. And if I ever do get a hold of Gestalt, it’ll at least be partly a new experience.

You can watch the playthrough I saw here. Note, however, that it is patched with the English script. It has been tweeked a bit, but you have to use your imagination in several places to change references of Yonah/Nier being daughter/father to sister/brother. A minor flaw compared to the rest of the experience, trust me!

3. I read Grimoire NieR

Another Japan-only release, Grimoire NieR was a book that detailed a lot of aspects from NieR that weren’t completely covered in the game itself. Backstories for characters, concept work, game guides, information on items; much like the Ultimania guides available for Square Enix titles. Too bad it was only ever published in Japanese.

But!! Luckily for us, a fan translation into English exists of many parts of the book. This entertained me for a good few train journeys, and gave me so much insight into the world and characters of NieR, that I think it formed the final cog in the mechanism that got me hooked on the series.

As well as the extra story segments, often shocking (including a particularly sad one that alludes to a certain character prostituting himself to get by), the interviews with the creators give some very interesting insights into the thought processes behind the game. I’m even satisfied with the explanation behind why the tritagonist, Kainé, runs around in her knickers the whole time. Okay, maybe it is a little tongue in cheek. But that is what makes it great!

kaine nier sword
Not subtle enough? Okay 😛 I’m still trying to find the original credit for this image. Unfortunately I don’t recognise the artist’s signature!

4. I listened to the soundtrack

No, hang on. I lied. The final cog that locked me into the machine that is NieR was in fact the OST. It is beautiful. I was tempted to buy it on vinyl a little while ago, even though I don’t have a record player.

Here is one track I enjoy (out of many. MANY. This was a difficult decision to only put one, but I think it’s gotta be this one):

So there we go. After all this, I went on to inevitably purchase NieR: Automata. And it was the best darn game purchase I could have made at that point in time. Would I have enjoyed Automata if I hadn’t have done all of the above? Most likely. A huge chunk of the overall game sales are probably people who haven’t made this same journey, and I bet most of them love it all the same.

But am I glad I took this route? YES.

Part of what I enjoy about a series (any series, be that book/TV/film/game), is getting into the world around it, the characters, how everything works; the lore. If I had dived right in with Automata, I would have eventually gone back to research all of the above if I hadn’t already seen it, simply because it is part of my personality to want to know all I can about a series I’m interested in.

By becoming familiar with NieR beforehand, I was able to recognise references made to various aspects of the lore, be they subtle or not, in Automata. A piece of music here, an entry in the Weapons Data there, some rather odd-familiar-terrifying-looking giant spherical objects way out in the desert …

It might be a bit late for this, but long story short, experiencing what Automata was built upon helped me to enjoy it all the more. And if you haven’t yet looked into it but are at all interested, please do!

emil head

 

 

 

My Case for Turning off PS4 Notifications (other platforms also available)

PS4 Notifications

Back in Ye Olde Days, the video games we played were just thatyou put the cartridge or disc/k in, turn it on, and you’re away.

Fast-forward to now, and there are all sorts of features which punctuate the average gaming experience: screenshots and video capture, voice features, multiplayer and other network features, trophies/achievements, community-created content and DLC, and so on. It can get quite noisy.

Most, if not all, of these extra features have developed slowly over several years, driven by the demands of the gaming community as a whole. They can all be useful, and are all capable of enhancing the experience of whoever decides to pick up a controller. Some features, like screen capture, are indispensable for, for example, humans who have gaming blogs they need to make look pretty ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Life Is Strange™_20170804234057
Pretty. The trophy notification is necessary for this blog post.

Along with all these additional features comes the need to keep track of them all. This is where “notifications” come in. Usually in the form of a small message box which pops up in the corner of the screen for a few seconds, they tell us when our friends have come online, when we’ve managed to collect every item in the game, or whatever else has happened in our virtual vicinity that isn’t directly within the game itself. On the PS4, which is what I will be concentrating on here, they are literally called notifications.

Now for the drawbacks, at least in my experience.

It’s all very well and goodincredible, even to do all of these things. Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT want these features to be gone! However, I find it impossible not to become sucked into engaging with every notification that pops up while I’m trying to enjoy a game and become absorbed in its atmosphere. Message in my message box? Hold on a moment while I push the PS button. I’m then distracted from concentrating on the events leading up to a particularly poignant scene in [artsy fartsy game name here].

HEAVY RAIN™_20180428220732
You just finished a really good scene in the game. I SAID, YOU JUST FINISHED A REALLY GOOD SCENE!

Which leads me onto trophies.

Ever since I first encountered the concept of achievements on Steam, I’ve gradually become more obsessed with them. They help to encourage you to play games in ways which you wouldn’t necessarily on your own, and often lead you to discover its most deepest secrets. They are a mostly good thing, in my opinion.

When I first obtained a PS3 and was introduced to trophies and the elusive platinum trophy most games have for getting all the others, I slowly started becoming more motivated to get as many trophies as I was able to.

20180505112852
The typical (if particularly relevant) Plat. I platted this game. Witness.

And then in rolls the PS4, whose trophy notifications come with a screenshot of what you were doing at the time the trophy “popped”, and also the ease of looking at your own and others’ trophy collections mid-game via the Quick Menu. Cue inevitable obsessions with trophy collecting!

I soon found that I was trying to collect as many trophies as I could during my first run through of any given game, often using guides to do so. And upon reflection, I realised that this was detracting from the main aspects of games that give me enjoyment; a sense of discovery, and the element of surprise (through plot, or as a result of discovering something unexpected in the game world). It was all too easy to run into major spoilers, and turned the game into a chore rather than an exciting unknown to explore and enjoy.

FINAL FANTASY Ⅻ THE ZODIAC AGE_20180402151651
My screen capture gallery is full of these trophy screenshots which are just a black screen.

I tried to ignore the trophies, and just focus on the games themselves. But it was just too tempting to check on my trophy progress whenever one popped up. It was almost an automatic reaction.

So came the decision to just turn notifications off. At first it was the whole lot, but now I think I’ve figured out a happy medium.

When I’m playing a game for the first time, particularly a story-focused game, I turn off all notifications. No distractions. I find this helps to revive the enjoyment I used to feel before the days of video game “extras”, like achievements. I can discover the game on my own terms, make my own mistakes, enjoy the story, and when I complete it I feel satisfied.

Then, if I choose to revisit the game to hunt trophies (as despite my prior obsession and frustration at such, I still stand by them being something that can enhance our gaming experiences), I will turn on as many notifications as I think I need, this often being trophies and chat.

NieR:Automata_20180430223650
Post-game trophy hunting is the best kind.

Now, if I have a gaming session approaching I will no longer be thinking about how I’m going to get this-or-that trophy and will instead be pondering the storyline and which way it might twist next. When something shocking happens during the game itself I will be left with my mouth agape, my emotions high and my mind racing, and no “ding!” will suddenly interrupt to tell me I’ve just finished chapter 7.

Sure, I might miss out on certain trophies because I wasn’t setting out to get them from the beginning, but in the end I have realised that my enjoyment of the storyline and the gameplay itself is more important to me than being a completionist. Note that other humans may vary.

I definitely think this is the right setup for me. If you’re also finding that trophy hunting and its subsequent notifications are dampening your enjoyment of video games, I strongly urge you to try it too!

Games I Grew Up With That Weren’t Mario — Dragon 32

Firstly, Happy New Year!  Now that’s out of the way, let me introduce this post:

I have to make a confession: I didn’t grow up playing the Mario series.  I never had a NES, SNES or N64. I was aware that Mario existed, but never touched one of the games until I was encouraged to try Super Mario Sunshine around my friend’s house at the tender age of 15.  But still, I never developed a love of Mario that so many other people foster, probably due to not having developed a nostalgia for the series at an early age.

Despite my futile, Mario-less bringing up, I managed to develop nostalgia for many other games which I was exposed to, and I have a feeling in researching these I’m going to discover some are even more weird and obscure than I was aware of.

I’ll try to keep them in chronological order, so not necessarily in the order I played them.  This time around, I’ll be looking at games on the first computer we had in my family, the Dragon 32! And as we only had two games for it, this should be easy peasy:

 

Chuckie Egg (1983 / A&F Software)

186856-chuckie-egg-dragon-32-64-screenshot-third-level-take-the-elevator

 

Genre: Arcade, but a platformer (in the purest sense).

Players: 1 or 2, but you take turns as opposed to playing cooperatively.

Plot (from what I remember): You are a farmer. You must climb around each barn collecting eggs before time runs out, without being touched by the (I’m assuming) chickens or falling to your death. Sometimes, the caged chicken at the top of the screen gets loose and flies around, which is terrifying.

chucb
Hen-House Harry (from the ZX Spectrum version)

Factoids from the internet: The farmer is called Hen-House Harry. The red triangles you can pick up are piles of birdseed and momentarily stop the timer. The caged chicken is actually a duck, and only gets out once you complete the game once.  There are eight levels in total, but to “complete” the game you must play through them all five times (at increasing difficulty due to the duck getting involved and the speed increasing), plus a bonus level.

Nostalgia: The first game I ever played (at around the age of 4), so despite its mediocrity I remember it dearly. As we had the Dragon 32 version as opposed to the ZX Spectrum, the background was an extremely bright acid green colour. And the game ran off of a cassette tape, which you had to put into a cassette player, then connect to the Dragon. Ah, memories.

 

Mysterious space game (198x / Unknown)

Now, I cannot for the life of me find anything that looks like what I remember from this game, and I have no idea what it was called so I drew a marvelous Microsoft Paint replica of what I remember. DISCLAIMER: May not be entirely accurate:

mysterious dragon32 space game

Genre: Arcade racer, possibly shooter but maybe not

Players: 12, unsure as to whether it was co-op

Plot: You are the pilot of either a pink(?) or blue spaceship, flying very fast through white caverns of increasingly jagged stalactites and stalagmites.

Nostalgia: I wish I could remember the name of this, because I enjoyed it more than Chuckie Egg if I’m honest! If I ever manage to find any references to it I’ll update. The closest thing I could find online was Starfighter, but it isn’t the same.

Special thanks to The Dragon Archive!