2017’s over! So… games…

What a crazy year! For the world, for the game industry, for games culture, in my own personal life and for RetroNeo Games.

I really can’t pick a topic for this month so I’m free-styling a bit.

There’s no shortage of topics to choose from.

  • It’s been the year of the Loot Crate, but that’s been done to death. Even my blog of lost month dealt with it indirectly.
  • Relatedly, EA has been seeing nothing but negative headlines all year even apart from the Loot Crate issues, due to Mass Effect Andromeda, closing Visceral Games (and shutting down the single-player Star Wars project),  and more, but I don’t really see the fun in rehashing that out.
  • Reportedly, the new Assassin’s Creed was great and sold twice what its predecessor did (proving the benefit in breaking the yearly release cycle), but I haven’t played it so I can’t really talk about it.
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the top games of the year, but I haven’t a PS4 so I can’t speak about that either (borrowing one is top of my to-do list though).
  • The Nintendo Switch is doing far better than anyone expected, and Zelda and Mario are another two game of the year contenders, but I’ve no Switch so I haven’t played them either.
  • One thing I can say is that I was wrong in my predictions of this time last year that the big shooters would be 50% off again this Christmas. The sale prices this season on Battlefront “2” (it’s 4, really) and Call of Duty are decidedly more conservative, with only Wolfenstein 2 being discounted all the way down to 50%.
  • Today’s news that a man was killed in Kansas during a swatting “prank” is very newsworthy but I don’t exactly want to end the year on that note. Though I will link to the PC Gamer article. An arrest was made, at least. Conventional wisdom is to keep your business channel quiet on anything political or controversial, but I don’t fully subscribe to that idea. If something is plainly wrong and needs opposing, then staying silent helps the offenders, not the victims. I hope the perpetrator goes to prison for a very long time. I personally can’t believe that the ‘set an example’ harsh sentencing of another swatting case last year didn’t stop swatting in its tracks. In that case, police non-fatally shot the swatting victim. The perpetrator, a teenager, was charged with domestic terrorism and given a heavy sentence (if I recall correctly. I can’t find the older articles today as the current tragedy is dominating the search results). He cried for his mother as he left the court room.
    Anyway, now a man is dead, and we have toxic gaming culture and manchild streamers to thank.
  • That segues into a personal note. I like coding, and I like creating, so making games is a great fit for me, but looking at the problems of the world this year, and then looking at the types of people I’m creating disposable content for (whiney sexists & racists and swatting scumbags) really turned my stomach all of a sudden. I’ve struggled with feelings of anger, frustration, and depression on and off for years. While I’m coming through it, I used to use playing games as escapism, and making games as my way of fitting into the world productively.
    Lately, though, I’ve felt an urge to help the world more directly. To stop contributing to distractions and start taking positive action – whether that be for charity, fighting toxic gamer culture, or something else. I’ve wrestled with the idea of leaving this industry (that I’ve fought very hard to become a part of – more on this next month) and beginning a coaching practice to get unhappy young men out of their gaming escapism and give them meaning and purpose. Then, as fate would have it, a couple of amazing opportunities came my way from the games industry and so I’ve stayed – though I still feel the call to do more. As I said, more on this next month.
  • I want to update the world on what all of that previous bullet point has meant for Sons of Sol, but, next month.
  • I’ve also barely played any games in the last 5 months (reasons next month, again) and when I do I’ve only managed to enjoy the ones that I know I can beat in an evening, like What Remains of Edith Finch or Tacoma. Just why this is, I’ve a few ideas on, but that’s a blog I’ll write another time.
    I was seriously looking forward to Wolfenstein 2 as I loved the original remake, but after a few hours playing it over Christmas, I was just stressed by playing it, which defeats the purpose. Great game though, and I’m all for its themes and marketing. Would like to hear if other non-parent gamers (because the reasons for parents not having time are obvious) experience the same thing.
 Click for short video.
Click for short video.

My main goal for Christmas (and my reward for the year) was to play through XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, along with several other games, but with it more than half over I feel I’ve barely started.

I asked a friend who’s staying over what I should blog about, and she said to write about “how to find more time to play games”. Together we joked that the first thing in the article would be “stop writing blogs”!

So, I’m actually just going to go with that and stop this one here!

Happy New Year to all of you fine readers, especially the regulars. Thank you. Your support is greatly appreciated, especially the notes or the comments when we meet in person. They keep me going.

I’ve a lot more life changes coming up shortly and some Sons of Sol questions to be resolved in the next month, so I’ll fill in all the blanks next time. It’ll be a sort of a follow-up to the quite-popular first blog I wrote after starting full-time development on Sons of Sol.

So, until next time…

Gaming to EAT in Venezuela!

The initially apparent absurdity of this topic may be bewildering to some, but on further investigation and understanding, it should be of interest to everyone. Also, the inhumanity of certain scumbag first-world gamers you will find infuriating in the extreme. But then, it’s 2017, and the world is a messed up place.

Not a happy topic today, folks, but an important one that raises many questions about the world we live in.

 Credit: game development studio Jagex
Credit: game development studio Jagex

Venezuela in crisis

Not to dwell on the history or political details here, but the facts on the ground are that Venezuela’s economy has been in a critical condition for years, and it continues to slide. With inflation rampant, their currency is close to worthless. Unemployment is widespread. Protests frequently turn fatally violent. Crime is an epidemic. Murder rates exceed those in war-time Iraq. Food shortages abound. People are eating out of rubbish bins (or often not eating at all). Three quarters of the population report involuntary weight loss, and deaths through malnutrition are common, particularly amongst infants.

Gold Farming

For the uninitiated, ‘farming’ gold involves playing a multiplayer game (usually a Massively Multiplayer Online game, or ‘MMO’) and deliberately collecting large amounts of the game’s primary or secondary currencies, which can be exchanged for in-game items. Let’s refer to all of these currencies as ‘gold’ for simplicity’s sake.

The farming players then go and sell in-game gold for real world currencies like $US or Bitcoin, thereby turning gameplay (albeit usually very unenjoyable parts of the game) into a paying job. The payout isn’t very much, typically, but Venezuelans at the moment report earning $2-3 per day, which can be enough to buy some food and stave off starvation.

The problem with doing this is that the introduction of more and more currency into a game’s economy has the very same effect as just printing unbacked money in a real economy – inflation! This can destroy a game’s balance/difficulty curve, and since that’s kind of the point of playing, it can ruin the game for people. If left unchecked, this kind of activity can collapse a game’s economy and potentially drive away all its players, basically ending the game and potentially putting the company out of business.

Gold farming by (predominantly) Chinese farms has been a major problem for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, that readers may have heard about before.

If you’d like to learn more, Extra Credits did a very informative episode on MMO economies that I would recommend.


So what we’re seeing at the moment is a very large number of Venezuelan players choosing to farm gold in the 2001 MMO Runescape. Personally I’m not sure why they chose this game in particular, though it seems to be that, being an older game, it can run on cheaper, older hardware. I’m reliably informed that electricity in Venezuela is cheap, but computer components are fairly expensive, so this would make it preferable to modern MMOs for new farmers 

Importantly, the game also has dedicated players spending money in the game. That’s the key. The game is alive and money is changing hands.

Runescape’s regular players are understandably upset about their game becoming unbalanced. Their hobby fantasy world is being invaded by new ‘players’ who don’t care about the game at all and are just there to farm their gold and log out. This ruins immersion for the players and is just generally disruptive of their hobby. The game gets easier and less fun as stat-boosting items get cheaper due to more of them appearing on the in-game market.

First world problems!

We’re talking about a situation where these gold farmers are trying to feed themselves or their children, choosing to ‘work’ inside instead of risking mugging or murder on the streets of Caracas, and even still they have to queue hours for food that might have run out by the time they get to the front of the line.

One can understand anyone being upset if their hobby is being ruined, but an ounce of human empathy (an increasingly rare commodity) would surely put these concerns in perspective. Sadly, this is beyond certain people.

One should rarely read ‘the comments’ or certain seedy corners of Reddit, but what can be found there on this topic is a vile new low (well…let’s just pretend that it’s a new low, shall we?). Guides have been posted on how to identify and attack specifically Venezuelan players deliberately! Not only that, but some useful Spanish phrases have been shared so as these loyal Runescape players can insult the starving Venezuelans while they do so.

Okay, PvP (player versus player) is all part of the game, and virtual death is a risk associated with farming the gold in these PvP areas of the world (that’s why the gold holds any value to begin with, because it’s not that easy to obtain), but to deliberately jeopardise a starving person’s sole source of income and mock them while you do it is sadistic in the extreme. It’s not good fun. It’s fucking sick.
Side note: this post is, to my knowledge, the first time that I’ve committed profanity to print on this blog, but there’s a time and a place for it, and this is it.

I’m not saying to let the farmers away freely. There has to be a risk to their players’ safety or the farmed gold has no value because everyone can get it, then the gold decreases in real $ value, and then nobody can make a living from it. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it’s the racist insults and, more than that, the sheer glee exhibited by some of these first-world players (including YouTubers) at being able to cause real people real pain that sickens me. “That’s what makes it so funny” writes one Reddit user.

I’d like to quote from a Kotaku article on the topic:
“I was expecting people to empathise and for once realise that games might just be a way to change people’s lives,” said Yasser, a former Runescape farmer who moved to the US a year ago, in a DM. Instead, he said, “the whole thing just made feel rage. Not your normal ‘political debate’ kind of rage but something more personal, especially because my family is still [in Venezuela], and I know what starving feels like. To see these guys that had the luck to be born on the right soil dehumanize Venezuelans, man, that tore me.”

Me too, Yasser. Me too.

 Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

You might argue that they’re killing ‘bots’ and not players, but according to what I’ve been able to discover, most of these farmers seem to be just one player farming away themselves. Not an army of AI bots designed to enrich one human person/company through nefarious means that more directly violate the Terms of Service.

Fiduciary Responsibility

So, let’s be clear. Farming is bad for the game, and is against the Terms of Service, but this is also an unprecedented situation that has some very interesting considerations.

The game’s UK-based developers Jagex are reportedly banning a whopping 10,000 farming-related accounts per day!! That hurts those banned, but that’s fine. Frankly, it has to be. Jagex have a fiduciary responsibility to keep their company afloat, and banning farmers is an important part of that. If they were to allow the farmers to operate unchecked, they’d lose their actual playing and paying community, gain more and more farmers, and then there’d be huge amounts of gold to sell with nobody to buy it, and the game would be dead.

Getting banned is just part of the calculated risk of operating a farming scheme. These farmers know that they’re ruining (or contributing to disimproving) the game for people, but, to again quote the Kotaku article, a farmer by the name of Fhynal said “When you don’t know what the future promises, and you fear for your life and the lives of those you [care about], you kind of don’t care about people’s opinions.”

True enough.

In Conclusion

There are a lot of issues tied up in this one topic. I’ve mostly written it as if I’m trying to explain to non-gamers such as my parents (or the Irish government – still waiting on that investment and tax credit..) just how important a role games can play on the world stage.

Games aren’t just ‘pew pew’ time-wasting. They can literally be life and death for people now. That’s the world that we live in.

I’d like to thank my Venezuelan friends Carlo and Claudio for fact-checking this article.

Until next time…




Empathy For Pixels

 Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64. A classic. 20 years old already.
Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64. A classic. 20 years old already.

Truthfully, I didn’t know where I was going when I started writing this. Turns out it’s about two things: ways to deepen game characters, and reasons why it’s important (as well as when it’s not.. so okay three things).

Let me tell you a story. It’s about a boy who was born into a fairly poor family who eked out a passable existence on a family plot in the mountains. When he was only 12 years old, his father was killed in a tragic farming accident, and as his mother was too ill to work, he became the sole breadwinner for a family of six younger siblings.

He had a talent for singing. His deep and melodious voice, paired with a deep well of emotion bought from years of personal sacrifice, won him many admirers in the taverns and dance halls around the local villages. It wasn’t long before the girls started to notice him.

As his younger siblings matured, he dreamed of leaving the farm and pursuing a career in music, until one day a paramour told him she was pregnant with his child. Dreams of a life of travel and singing were forgotten. They married and his love gave birth to twins some few months later. He was the happiest man alive!

Unfortunately, the harvests had been poor for years, and the bank reclaimed his family’s farm as the twins neared their first birthdays.

With not one, but two families to support, and no means of doing so, he joined the army, one of the few employers who was always hiring. He moved both families to the city as he began boot camp.

His first post was guarding a hydroelectric power plant. It was hard to be away from his family, but he knew that they were safe and provided for.

One day on duty, as he quietly hummed a lament, thinking about the night he first met his beloved, this happened…

 GIF recorded from tommytep's YouTube Channel. Click image for source.
GIF recorded from tommytep’s YouTube Channel. Click image for source.


Like that one? Let me tell you another (shorter) story.

A class sits idle in some code, waiting. Its name is Soldier 4. It’s basically frozen in time. It doesn’t even look like anything yet because its mesh hasn’t been rendered because the player camera’s frustum hasn’t come across it yet. Suddenly, the player enters a trigger area around the corner and the class springs to life in glorious pixelated detail. It starts playing an animation, shifting its weight back and forth on two legs. Then a raycast determines  that it’s just been shot 3 times. A rather slow and painful looking death animation is chosen from a small list of predetermined death animations. After a few seconds, Soldier 4 lies still, fades to nothing, and the garbage collector erases any trace of his existence shortly thereafter.


Okay, which story do you like better? Which is more true? Which is more believable?

Which would you tend to think of when playing a game? I suppose that would depend on how immersed you are, and what lengths the game goes to in order to inform you about non player characters (NPCs).

I used Goldeneye because it’s one of the earliest examples I can think of where my mom was a bit upset that I was shooting people in games, rather than speeding through checkpoints and jumping on robotic animals. It’s also one of the first games I can recall that put some real effort into showing pain in the enemies. You could shoot them in the foot, hand, or crotch, and they’d stop shooting, grab the injured area, make a pained noise and hop around (if they still could).

I was too busy at the time being blown away by the speed and the technology (I’d also never played Doom or similar 3D shooters at that time) to think of the enemies as anything more than obstacles to progression, but I can see now in games what my mom saw then. And it’s got nothing to do with graphics, or realistic animations. It’s partly a question of emotional maturity, of course, but also of storytelling. Where I just saw ‘baddies’ my mom saw me walk into a room and gun down a random young man in a Russian uniform with no provocation. Goldeneye didn’t really give you reasons to kill most of the game’s enemies other than “you’re James Bond and they’re Russian. Duh!”

Twenty years later, we have plenty of room on the disc to fit even a little audio that can precisely let you know why you should (or shouldn’t) want to kill these dudes. Yet in those situations where we have the opportunity to do better, how often do we actually strive to?

When to dehumanise

There are so many games of all sorts. I’m not at all trying to argue that we do want backstories for all game characters in order to make them better. That could often do the opposite.

  Brutal Doom 's ott gore doesn't exactly inspire regret or sympathy. Because demons!
Brutal Doom ‘s ott gore doesn’t exactly inspire regret or sympathy. Because demons!

Take Doom (new or old). It’s an unapologetic power fantasy, delivered through the medium of speed and violence. Killing demons removes any need for cumbersome storytelling. It’s black and white. Demons are evil. Kill demons. A game shouldn’t try to do too many things. If the extras conflict with the core idea, cut them.

We often dehumanise the enemy in games. Literally. Whether to simplify story, avoid moral debates or to sidestep local censorship laws, we turn our targets into zombies, monsters, robots, or aliens. It works really well. Robots and zombies can also relieve the impact of bad AI, since they’re not meant to be particularly intelligent to begin with. Great! Over the top violence and power fantasies can be fantastically fun, and I wouldn’t change Doom 1 or 4 one little bit.

The topic I’m addressing is what to do when we have human adversaries, who are meant to represent believable people. Because this is the greater challenge, and it’s likely that you seek to tell some sort of story when you’ve chosen to have human antagonists.

There are two types of games that use humans as enemies; those with either fictional or non-fictional settings.

Fictional Settings

GTA V is one of the most realistic, alive open world games that’ve ever been created. But players have zero empathy for the citizens of Los Santos. The game’s over the top satire, occasionally wonky physics, and amazing yet vastly imperfect AI, prevent any great depth of immersion. That’s not to say that you can’t get lost in the game for hours, but you’d never mistake it for a real experience, and you wouldn’t really start to feel for the characters. The emphasis on driving fast across a world populated by pedestrians is fundamentally incompatible with any sort of attempt to make you care about individuals in this world. And that’s fine. GTA V is incredible for what it is, and no game can be everything (though it’s not far off, to be fair).

Now take Rise of the Tomb Raider, which I just finished playing yesterday. As in most games, you’ll mow down hundreds of enemies, but narratively there’s something interesting going on. If you listen to the idle dialogue and/or audio records, you’ll come to appreciate a depth to the enemies. There are the core villains but also their paid and oblivious contractors. Trinity are out to do bad things and don’t care who they kill, but most of the enemy army are hired mercenaries who don’t know about or don’t believe in the religious fanaticism that drives their employers. Among these contractors, many start to realise that their bosses are nuts, and say that they didn’t sign on to round up and shoot local tribespeople. Some talk about trying to get out asap. Some other contractors are psychopaths themselves, and then Trinity are always evil. This approach did make me want to avoid killing certain guys, or at least regret having to do so. A little. It also made me more eager to hear what type of group I was about to go up against, by stealthily sneaking up on their positions instead of opening fire early. It’s a pity that there aren’t any non-lethal options or other mechanics to expand on this narrative theme. Once the bullets start flying, the good ones and the bad ones all want to kill you just as much.

Still, it was a good effort at adding some depth to the game, and I appreciated that it was there. Because personally I’m usually (when facing human game enemies) thinking that they’re probably not all bad and they don’t all deserve to die. It was nice for a game to respond to this.

Of course, other games have done this, and done it better. If you haven’t yet played Spec Ops: The Line then do it now! Even if you think you know all the spoilers, it’s a masterpiece in subverting player expectations. The whole journey through the game is brilliant.

Fundamentally, I think that most conflicts only occur due to a lack of understanding or empathy (including an unwillingness to share resources). With better communication and patience, most could be avoided. Games so rarely attempt to show this, but if narrative is a serious part of the game you want to deliver, then it should be strongly considered.

Games are such a powerful medium for delivering understanding and empathy because the player actively takes part in them. I’m not saying that every game should be doing this, but we could certainly be faring better as an industry.

Historical Settings

Real world armies have forever attempted to dehumanise the enemy in order to make it easier for your own troops to kill them. They’re all savages. They’re all baby killers. They’re all rapists, thieves and murderers, and God is on our side. War films are almost universally anti-war films (especially since Vietnam) and they usually tap into the folly of these lies. Yet war games still seem to find it more convenient to buy the lie hook, line, and sinker.

Maybe it’s because you’re asking the player to do the killing directly for hours on end that designers have felt the need to retain these lies. I remember that in the opening minutes of Call of Duty World at War you’re being brutally tortured by Japanese captors before being rescued by Kieffer Sutherland and his band of more morally upstanding brothers. It’s set up so that you will have no problems killing Japanese or German pixels for the next several hours. Of course, the Japanese and German armies were conducting genocide and torture, and stopping that is a fairly justifiable goal (as long as we’re clear that no side was squeaky clean), but I’m just saying that I’ve never seen a game take the opportunity to do what Letters from Iwo Jima by Clint Eastwood did.

This is why I’m a bit concerned that Call of Duty are returning to World War 2 as a setting this year. For the last several years they’ve been doing fictional settings and usually have some big opening set piece showing you exactly how evil your enemies are and why you should kill them all (they blew up your house and neighbours, usually). Their games are so formulaic that I’m concerned they’ll miss their chance to advance the genre of war games by just ticking all the same boxes in a new (well, old) setting and perpetuating the notion that Americans are always good, and Nazis are always bad. That said, they seem to be heavily influenced by Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan so maybe they will have some shades of grey in their narrative and do something new.

Battlefield 1 at least lets you play as both sides in a conflict and although human lives are reduced to mere ‘tickets’, I do admit that I felt remorse when sitting in a machine gun nest, mowing down a charge across the trenches by the players on the other team.

Yes, it’s a game, but it represents something. Yes, the players will respawn and so it’s more like a game of paintball or virtual tag than an actual battle, but this is where my empathy for pixels idea comes in. Real lives were ended doing exactly this kind of action that I’m doing right now. I sincerely hope that when you watch the last hour of Titanic you feel a lot more moved than when you watch Con Air. Similarly, I hope than when you play games based on the world wars or Vietnam, that a part of you doesn’t glorify the killing in the same way as you the glory kills in Doom.

They’re different beasts, I think, and deserve different treatments from the creators. I hope that Call of Duty: WW2 gets some of that.

Games with more moral weight

I’ve referenced more linear games here so far, but RPGs are traditionally much better at giving weight to your moral decisions, even if they are nearly always set in fantasy or post-apocalyptic worlds.

I recently played Westerado, an indie cowboy RPG/ murder mystery in an open world that you have a lot of agency over. It doesn’t take itself fully seriously, but because you can go anywhere and kill anyone, you feel like you’ve some real responsibility in the world. Because of this responsibility, when I found myself riding out with some US Army soldiers who’d been fighting with native American tribes, and we than happened upon said tribes in a sudden ambush, I said “oh fuck no I will not be killing native Americans and still pretending I’m the good guy”. I ran from the fight. I failed that side quest. I think the army were all killed but I’m not sure. But that was my story. The game didn’t establish that these natives were out of line in any particular way, just that the army were fighting them. So my own knowledge of history filled in the rest.  While I was happy enough to help the army bring food to settlers (or whatever we were doing in that quest) I was not taking part in any genocide. Pixelated or not.

Here is an example of an extremely unrealistic looking game reaching me on a real level. An historical setting (fictional as the specifics are) and a game where my choices can have a lasting effect can create real empathy even for pixelated characters.

Mechanics for deeper, more sympathetic NPCs

Assuming you want some moral ambiguity or emotional weight in your game, particularly if you’re making a war game, what tools could be used to advance this agenda?

Just having NPCs chatter together is a very simple way of humanising them (for better or worse) before you go in guns blazing or not. It’s tried and true in linear games, but challenging in open worlds where the dialogue inevitably can start to repeat, and feel insincere.

The opening level of Battlefield 1 had you fighting a pitched battle on the Western front. Each time you died (in this level only), as the screen faded to black, you got your character’s name and the year of their birth and death. What it would say on their tombstone, basically. You then respawned as a new soldier elsewhere in the battle. This gave a weight to death that most war games (and the rest of this one) usually can’t deliver. If you add to that system something like “loving father and husband” or “always dreaming” you’ve a better system already.

Valiant Hearts has you play as characters from both sides of the trenches, and actually never has you kill anyone. It shows your Franco-German family in tact before the war, then watches as, torn apart by circumstance, they struggle to reunite.

This War of Mine has you play a war game from the point of view of starving families trying to survive amidst the rubble, where you make decisions to kill innocents because you need food for your own kids. The shocking reality of the unseen other side of war games was powerful.

Apart from historical settings that bring their own moral weight (and ethical dilemmas in terms of storytelling) to the table, you could use procedural generation to fill out backstories for each and every NPC that lives or dies. It’s its own challenge, but it’s possible. Watchdogs had a system where you could hack the phone of anyone in the open world and get a little summary of that person as an individual. That’s not an end in itself, but it’s a tool in the box.

Dwarf Fortress procedurally generates its entire world and history when you launch a new game. Co-creator Tarn Adams and Kitfox Games’ Tanya X Short have some great GDC talks and blogs about procedural generation, including a book they co-wrote called Procedural Generation in Game Design coming out soon. Do check some of it out if you’re interested in the area.

I’ve experimented myself with generating a small town’s size of population. Everyone gets a name, age and job. Every year people grow up and either die, marry, have kids, or do nothing extraordinary. Over a few seconds I grow this town by several generations and all of a sudden have a family history for every character still alive at the moment I start playing the game properly. I’m planning on using something similar to this in Sons of Sol to flesh out your wingmates’ backgrounds, though we don’t yet know the extent of player interaction with wingmates outside of the main missions.

In Conclusion

There are many more ways we could flesh out NPCs. Better AI is one. We could even get as far as giving NPCs the levels of interactivity that the hosts in Westworld have. Though I think the point of that show is that some people will just refuse to acknowledge the humanity in artificial things, while others can empathise with them very naturally; less because they’re fooled by looks or behaviour, but more because they’re emotionally invested in the story.

Humans have always loved storytelling, and creators have always found new and better ways of expanding our toolset for crafting them. We have amazing tools for creating empathy and understanding through interaction now.

Games are chief among the most consumed media in the modern age. Violence and conflict are a core part of many of our games, but also a significant part of the real world that we live in. In a world that too often seems to lack empathy and a willingness to understand our adversaries, games could be our best tool to foster a willingness to understand other sides in a conflict. I think it’s important that we start to do this more often. It doesn’t suit every game, but where killing humans is the main activity, and especially in historical war games, I think we can and should do better than we have been. We’re moving the right way, I think, but let’s keep it up.

Until next time..

Sword Fighting in Games

 Image from Chivalry: Medieval Warfare
Image from Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

Sword fighting is a big part of our popular culture. It’s almost as big as the cult of the Gun. TV shows and movies like Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Vikings,  or The Three Musketeers romanticise the sword-wielding hero or heroine and the art of melee combat.

Games have always been a great way for us to get in touch with our fantasies and role play the hero (or villain), and while they’ve done a great job of satisfying the gun-wielding hero fantasy, they’ve always (in my eyes, let’s say) fallen short in the domain of melee combat. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very fun games centred around melee combat, but I’m talking more about simulating the real life experience, and giving the player a true virtual taste of what the real thing is like!

I’ve both been to the shooting range a couple of times (rare in Ireland) and taken fencing in college (and, of course, played countless games) so I feel a can compare both of the real experiences with the virtual to some worthwhile degree.

With guns, the essential components are that you point and shoot. The physical impact and damage aren’t part of your interaction. Games can simulate this very well. The click of a button or pulling of the Right Trigger on a controller feels analogous to pulling a gun’s trigger. Going further into the realism side, games can also simulate what it’s like to have to move to cover or work with a team in a fire fight. The only parts of gun fighting in games that I think aren’t represented are the kickback (yes I know recoil is often simulated, but it can’t give you the pain and bruising in your shoulder that comes from firing a shotgun) and reloading. Usually we just hit a button and trigger a quick reloading animation. In real life, it’s actually quite difficult to load bullets into a clip  (clip into gun is easier, but I feel Gordon Freeman would have fumbled once or twice in real life), and awkward enough to chamber a round in a bolt-action rifle. The noise of firing a gun can be physically painful too, and forgetting to turn the safety off is a concern, but where’s the fun in simulating that?

Bringing sword fighting into games is an entirely different prospect, though, and it’s miles behind its counterpart. Why is this? There are several reasons.


Well, holding and swinging a sword are easy enough to simulate, but not accurately. Your attack isn’t the twitch of a finger, but a flick of the wrist, or a swing of the arms, or a kick. It doesn’t feel as correct to just click to do this. We tend not to notice this too much however as we’re used to pressing a button in a game and seeing something happen, so this is fine in a way, but it is straight away a large disconnect between what you do in real life and what you can do in a game.

Virtual Reality might have something to contribute here, but it brings its own problems. The Oculus Touch or the HTC Vive’s controllers would allow you to hold and swing somewhat realistically. See the video below for Vive’s controllers being used by a Disney animator to paint in 3D. They can’t simulate the weight of your weapon, though. A claymore (sword, not mine) or broadsword will have a lot more weight and momentum than a katana blade or fencing foil, so the controls will still feel wrong.

The other problem with VR controllers would be the clash. In real life you might swing your arm all the way from upper right to lower left, but in the game your sword hits an opponent’s armour, or blade, or a wall, and it stops! So your real arms are now in a different place to your game arms. You’ve immediately got another big disconnect in the experience. This is why I don’t think VR will improve sword fighting in games at all. With that said, it could offer some neat experiences. A lightsabre or nano-blade can cut through anything supposedly, except for another blade. So if the VR game let you wield a sword like Raiden has in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and never fight somebody with a similar weapon, then the experience would be very fun, but it wouldn’t be a sword fighting experience, just a sword using one.

At 1:43 in the video below these input problems are summed up very well, and humorously. Sadly, even though it passed Kickstarter, Clang was later cancelled. If you watch the video look out for Gabe Newell’s cameo!

So we can’t get around input with currently available technology, but there are several other areas to improve upon to give us better sword fighting in games.


As I mentioned, the clash of blades can’t be simulated in the player’s input device (beyond a little vibration in the controller, maybe) but it’s also quite difficult to truly simulate in the computer. We use physics to bounce objects around the room after an explosion or crash or whatever. Essentially, each frame, the computer checks where an object is and what its velocity is, if it’s in collision this frame it will calculate the new positions and velocities for the colliding objects on the next frame. If not, it will continue on its trajectory (usually adjusted for gravity and air resistance in some form). This happens 50 times per second or so. To be clear, a physics check is checking where something is at a given time. The collision happens if the objects’ “colliders” are touching.

To try to use this system to detect the clash of swords is impractical. To take just one measurement I found online, in an experiment, a sword slash was found to travel 190 cm in 1/4 of a second. So 7.6 metres every second. If the physics check is done sixty times per second that means the sword moved 12.6 cm every frame. That’s a lot! The thickness of a foil is less than 1 cm, so even saying that two foils coming at each other have a combined collision-thickness of 2cm, there’s a high chance that they won’t be in the same place on any frame. One frame they’ll be 6 cm before colliding, and the next frame they’ll be 6 cm after colliding without ever having made the collision. 

So a literal physical simulation is impossible. Can we cheat? Well, yes. We have to. That same physics limitation above is why bullets aren’t physically simulated in games but are instead simulated using “raycasting”. This is shooting a line straight out from somewhere (a gun) at a given time to see what it touches. Most bullets in games work this way but even long range sniper shots have developed to the point where they still use raycasting but can also simulate bullet drop, wind resistance, and travel time. They cheat to deliver a very physically ‘real’ bullet for the player. Computer game design is all about cheating the limitations to fake realistic experiences!

So we have to cheat to make sword virtual sword fighting a “reality”. 

What’s been done before?

Titanic: Adventure Out Of Time (1996)

This was earliest game I ever played that had any degree of simulated sword fighting. I should actually do a retro review of that game but I’d have to get my hands on it again. Go to 7:19 in the video below to see the fencing scene.

There are very few lets plays of the game and the ones that are there just have the player spamming the attack button to win, sadly. Stamina wasn’t represented in this game so this was possible, but if you played it ‘properly’ there was quite a bit in there. You moved your blade around the screen with the mouse and clicked to attack from that direction. If I remember correctly, right clicking would block. The attacker (who didn’t get a chance in this video) would telegraph his moves a little before he made them. This is realistic and seen in games. You can’t just hit somebody. You have to start by swinging your arm, and the position of the arm gives a clue as to whether you’re going to attack overhead, left, right, or forward, for example. Games draw out this telegraphing longer to make it easier for the player. In real life, you try to attack as quickly as you can to not give the opponent time to successfully block. Harder enemies in games often give you less telegraphing time than easy ones.

To be clear, the Titanic game was a point and click adventure/mystery game. Not a combat game, but I saw great promise in its sword combat segment and thought that more realistic sword combat must be on its way soon. How wrong I was. About the “soon” part anyway.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 (1997)

Long name for one game. This one let you wield a lightsabre in first or third person. Sadly, it didn’t have a block move. None of the Dark Forces games in the years since did either. I think this is the greatest failing of these games. You finally got to simulate real lightsabre battles for yourself, but none of them had any of the nuances of a sword fight. To not get hit you just ran out of the way, then started a swing and ran back in. Occasionally you would get in a ‘lock’ (a pushing battle against another blade) and have to click frantically. This mainly happened if you and an enemy were attacking at the same time. It added a token dimension to the combat, but they never tackled a real sword fight simulation and I always found the games to be disappointing on that level. Mostly you just spam the attack button and are shown a few different animations. There’s little skill or decision making involved.
This is how the majority of first person games handle sword fighting and it’s quite disappointing, especially considering how ignored some of the better examples have been. Examples such as..

Thief: The Dark Project (1998)

The first Thief game was a first person stealth game set it medieval times. This is the first game where I ever saw a block move as a useful part of the combat. You weren’t supposed to fight in this game, but if discovered by a guard you could at least defend yourself a little. It was a rudimentary sort of block. If the enemy hit you with a sword it would hurt you, unless you were holding the block button. Satisfactorily, pressing the button made you hold your sword out across your body and if you blocked there was a great sword-clash noise. Importantly, this didn’t reduce damage, as the block seems to do in a lot of games (making it pointless), but it blocked all damage. 
I though “great! We’ve arrived! All sword games should have blocking like this from now on”. They didn’t.

As Time Went On..

 God of War. Great game, but in so way a sword combat simulation
God of War. Great game, but in so way a sword combat simulation

The hack n’ slash genre was where sword games went to grow up it seems. You know these. God of War, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and the newly released Onikira: Demon Killer. Maybe even the Arkham games and Shadow of Mordor have these elements. These are never first person games, and while they sell melee/sword combat and deliver great sounds and visuals and their own unique gameplay, they are far from sword fighting simulations. It’s a well established genre with its own merits and hit games, but it’s a far cry from simulating what it feels like to fight with a sword. As a sweeping generalisation, these games show you sword combat, but you don’t do it. They get away with having you perform combos like A+A+B to do a certain attack, and often press a single block button (sometimes with a direction) to block an attack, no matter what type of attack it is. The animation systems then take over to show you the pretty results, but there’s no real sword combat happening or being simulated in this genre.

Where are the games that took the ideas of Thief and ran with them? They’re few and far between. What could we have had by now if sword fighting in games had been building from 1998’s Thief all this time? It’s hard to say. We could have an entirely unique genre of game today and it’s a minor tragedy that we don’t, I think. Maybe the market was just never there, but I haven’t seen many attempts along the way either.

In Recent Years

We’ve started to see an effort in the last few years to breathe new life into sword fighting in games and evolve the gameplay that Thief hinted to us well over a decade before, but while they’re improvements, and a lot of fun, they are still quite limited.

Mount & Blade: Warband (2010)

Note that the very similar Mount & Blade came out in 2009. I played Warband, not the original, so I can’t speak to sword combat in the first game.

This game is still my favourite example of sword combat. It’s a fantastic game and what sold me on it first was the combat. Swords are far from the only weapons, and each have their own strengths, speeds and weights, but the  basics are similar across all melee weapons. The developers really went out of their way to show off something unique and not enough people know about this game. I never even heard of it until 2014 and a Free Weekend on Steam.

An attacker will telegraph their hit, say by raising their sword over their head if they’re going to attack overhead, or to the left for a slash from your side. The length of time they telegraph for is only ever a split second, but the enemy’s skill level will make this time shorter or longer. You’re not locked onto your opponent. You’re free to look and move in any direction, so after they telegraph, you could just step back out of the way, or you can block in a meaningful way. You hold the right click to block, but that’s not enough, you need to block up, down, left or right (assuming you don’t have a shield, in which case your block covers most directions at once) by moving the mouse correctly up, down, left or right to block the attack. You basically want to look towards the enemy’s weapon to block it. Then you can riposte (fencing term, meaning counter-attack) with an attack of your own in the same four directions. Move your mouse a little to the right while attacking and you’ll slash from the right, and so on.  And when I say riposte, I don’t mean that the game now allows you to attack. You can choose to attack whenever, but getting hit during your swing will stop your attack so you have to use timing wisely. You can even kick to wind your opponent to get a clear opening for a powerful attack, but the kick is short range so it’s hard to hit with. There’s a lot going on here.
One-on-one fights against the computer in this game are the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was fencing in UCD again, without facing a human opponent. In the options menu you can simplify the blocking to just always work, but that destroys this amazing gameplay.

The flaw is that most players, and especially in multiplayer, just spam the attack button and hope to come out on top. Players don’t necessarily engage with the amazing mechanics provided for them. Possibly because they haven’t been trained to in games in general to because this game is so unique.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (2012)

This came along a little later. While Mount & Blade is a strategy/RPG game, this is focussed purely on single level skirmishes (90% of them in multiplayer, though you can practice against bots). This game went further and added a feint move. For a small stamina cost, you could try to trick a player into blocking. Blocking with a blade works as a single move when you click. You click to block, and block for about a second, then have a second of recovery before you can block again. This makes the feint pretty useful to force a block then attack during the recovery time, but it’s not very realistic as a real opponent could just hold their block.
With a shield you can hold your block indefinitely unless you are kicked, but without the shield you automatically drop the block. 

Nicely, you can also use mouse wheel down to perform an overhead smash, or mouse wheel forward to stab forward. This feels pretty good to use and also does a little to remove some of the button mashing problems, but again, this game suffers in large multiplayer battles from players just charging and clicking, without using any blocking or feints in most cases. 
Also, because you can’t hold a block, if you’re outnumbered you’ve no way to block two attacks at once and will nearly always lose. This encourages swarm tactics as the main gameplay and a lot of the sword fighting nuances are lost. If players are outnumbered, you’ll usually just see them running backwards away and blocking, hoping to find some friendly players. (Perhaps these types of games should make it so if you’re running backwards and hit a low obstacle you fall over).

The part of this game I find the best for sword fighting are the one on one multiplayer duels against a human opponent. Since you can’t get bum rushed by one guy, you can actually focus on them and use feints, kicks, and parries much more effectively.

So those are two good sword games. They do a lot to “cheat” and deliver a lot of the realities and considerations of sword fighting into a virtual space, but they still don’t come close to simulating real sword fighting. Nothing I’ve seen so far has been able to balance the strategy, the mind games, the body language reading, the stamina factors, the shock to your arm of a blade impact, the stances, speed, and reactions of real sword fighting. 

If I could explain it in just one way, I’d sum the problem up thus: In real sword fighting, you could be thinking of striking, but worried that you’re becoming predictable and that your opponent might be ready to parry and riposte while you’re off balance in a lunge. You sacrifice your block for an attack, and it also costs you stamina. Real sword fighting is as much about dozens of tiny choices every moment as it is about delivering well-practised attacks. In games, while stamina is now often taken into account, most players still just attack madly because left clicking isn’t as hard as as a lunge attack. Some fighters I’ve known in real life do attack just wildly, but in real life you can beat them easily with just a little skill whereas in a game, they’ve often just chosen the winning tactic. 

The Future

There is a greater awareness coming back to the mechanics of sword games, and many different titles in the coming years will try to tackle to problem in their own unique ways. I’m excited to play all of them.

For Honor

This game looks like a lot of fun. I can’t wait to try it. I would say that its focus is on delivering large scale sword battles. This is pretty unique. We tend to see the large battle in a cutscene or the background and then just fight a couple of guys in the game. It has a new(ish?) take on sword combat where you attack or defend from one of three zones on your body: up, lower left and lower right.

You read where the opponent is aiming for by their body language, and you try to defend into your corresponding zone by moving the control stick to that area. I see this as being more of a step towards sword combat from a hack and slash game than I see it as a sword fighting simulation, but it’s still great to see. The emphasis seems to be too much on a broader battle and third person action (I think first person is important to simulate any real life action, personally) to convince me that this is the game I was always pining for, but it looks awesome for what it is and I can’t wait to try! I particularly appreciate that you have to read body language and adjust your block to succeed. This is very important.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Now these are the guys I think are going to come closest to delivering a good sword fighting experience any time soon. You can see from the video above that they take it very seriously.

I backed them on Kickstarter because of the promise of delivering unique sword fighting. The currently available build is Alpha 0.4, the first version where you can see their sword fighting in action. I played it today (and many of the other games I mentioned) as prep for this article.

Even at the early stages, I can see a lot of promise in the fighting. I was able to slash with the left mouse, stab with the right, or block with Q. All of this from 6 different zones. You are locked onto your opponent, something that serves to simplify your movement and direct your attention. I’m not sure if I like this, though. You only fight one enemy at a time currently, but I wonder what happens when there are multiple enemies.

You can do the normal things like feint, block, attack, but depending on your timing with your block or movement you can also sidestep or dodge a strike and then counter-attack, all through a smooth procedural animation system. It is the smoothest flowing combat I’ve seen and there’s enough going on that there is really room to improve your skills through practice (and the RPG stats level-up system in the game), but I would have preferred a non-locked camera. You need to be able to check your surroundings in a fight, even just quickly. I presume the game will have a disengage kind of command, because most of the game is free roaming anyway, but it wasn’t in what I played today. There was also no kick, though that may appear. What I didn’t love was that I seemed to sometimes be able to just hold block to defend an attack from any direction, and other times I couldn’t, so I’m not sure which way the game is going with this. See a gameplay video from the alpha below.

To wrap up, where are we lacking?

Knowing where to block is probably the single largest gap between real sword fighting and what most games do. In reality, you could hold a block, but there’s nine directions you could get attacked from (assuming the enemy is only in front of you then it’s left, right, or middle times high, low, or middle; 3×3), and then they could ‘disengage’ the attack and stab around your parry anyway (with certain weapons like a foil or epee, look it up) to nullify even that block. Most games just let you press block and you’re fine.

Games are supposed to be ‘fun’ (many say, anyway). When I shot clay pigeons in real life, the shooting wasn’t great fun. It hurt (the kickback is enormous)! The fun part was seeing a moving target down range explode into clay fragments. Shooting guns in games is fun because we’ve nailed how they sound and the environmental destruction and death animations.
When I did fencing, I found the most fun part was successfully parrying an attack (giving me the satisfaction of knowing that I was smart enough and quick enough to deflect a real physical attack) and for bonus points, landing the riposte. A bit like how in tennis the most fun part is the back and forth, not the actual scoring of a point.

I think that most people who have designed sword fighting in games must not have done fencing, or if they did then they didn’t remember what was most fun about it. Most of the time the systems seem to be designed around causing damage. I think it should be more about the clash of the blades. The back and forth. You really only need to hit a person once with a sword to end the fight. That should be the result of successfully winning the more fun part of the fight, not the whole focus of the fight, if you ask me. Certainly it would make for a more unique angle to your sword fighting game, and we definitely have the technology to fake these results well, as long as they’re well balanced and play-tested.

Food for thought.. For more, read this great (and shorter) PC Gamer article on the subject.

Until next time..

“Hatred” the game. Worth talking about?..

.. yes and no. Not especially. But I’m going to, so I guess the answer is “maybe”?… I’m talking about violence in video games through the lens of the latest ‘offender’ Hatred.

I normally start my blogs with a link to the site or something to get you grounded, but here I’m just going to link the trailer and warn you if you haven’t seen it, that it contains very disturbing imagery and themes. That goes for this blog post too.

 Click for Hatred's trailer. Viewer discretion VERY advised.
Click for Hatred’s trailer. Viewer discretion VERY advised.

So if you didn’t know, Hatred is a video game (isometric twin-stick style shooter) set to release this coming Tuesday (June 2nd, 2015) , developed by Polish developers ‘Destructive Creations’. It’s the latest game to court huge controversy. It’s doing it deliberately. To bait you (even the game and studio names were chosen for maximum effect). To get publicity. To make sales. Because Destructive Creations is a business. How are they doing this?

Hatred is a mass shootings simulator.

We can say it’s lots of other things but that’s the most controversial and accurate term. The game is rated AO (Adults Only) by the American ESRB. Games streaming service Twitch have just recently (since that rating) released rules stating that AO games cannot be streamed on their service. AO games also won’t be stocked by big chains like Walmart. Interestingly, the list of AO rated games is actually very short. Only one of the Grand Theft Auto games, one of the Manhunt games, and none of the Postal or Mortal Kombat games are on there. Mostly, AO games have sex themes, while extreme violence usually gets a Mature (M) rating. So something about this game is really getting peoples’ backs up.

At time of writing, Playstation and Xbox are also not carrying the game, and neither are Good Old Games (GOG) for the PC. All that works in the game’s favour because Steam are selling the game. Meaning everybody’s heard of it, and can still buy it.

Let me just get a few things out of the way because they’re not my focus here: 

  1. Private companies choosing not to carry/broadcast a game is not censorship. It’s a business decision by a private company, no matter how big they are.
  2. Video games do not cause people to be violent. Scientific research shows the opposite, in fact. Get over it. That fight was lost ten years ago when Marilyn Manson and Eminem failed to convince your children to commit mass suicide while playing Grand Theft Auto. It’s done.
  3. Violent games have always existed, just the graphics have gotten better.
  4. This is not even the first game about slaughtering civilian humans for the pure perverse sake of it. Postal, Carmageddon and Manhunt already exist with multiple games in each franchise. Hatred has been (not unfairly) described as a remake of Postal.
  5. Grand Theft Auto is a silly game which is not ABOUT killing civilians, even though you can. That’s very different.
  6. Games are art. Super-art, in fact, since they combine music, storytelling, digital sculpture, painting/drawing, language and physics. Artists in other media are generally allowed tackle whatever subject they want. Games being interactive is the difference between games and several (but not all) other art forms but this shouldn’t exclude it from being allowed to tackle the same subject matter because the interactive perspective can be used to great and valuable effect.
  7. The old adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is bull! There is. Such an absolute statement can’t be true. Absolute statements are always incorrect. Always! Including this one!
 psst.. Obi-Wan! That's an absolute statement. You're a Jedi! Act like it!
psst.. Obi-Wan! That’s an absolute statement. You’re a Jedi! Act like it!

God I’m feeling pundit-y today. Okay let’s go with it.

With Hatred, the developers have deliberately set out to gain maximum exposure through controversy, and to weather the bad publicity by taking the good with it. They made a calculated risk, which to date has paid off. Before anybody knows if there’s a good GAME here, they at least know it exists as a product, and there is definitely a sick little niche audience, as well as support from entrenched “games as art” and “you can’t censor us” camps.

The move could have backfired, let’s be clear. When the game first went up for approval on Steam Greenlight, the backlash began and it was removed by Steam. Cries of foul play abounded and Steam chief executive Gabe Newell publicly returned the game to Greenlight and apologised for its removal. If Steam had refused to carry the title, it would basically have been game over, but the gamble paid off, with massive free publicity (some good, some bad, not all bad).

So those are facts. How about some opinions.

Firstly, on a tangent, the amount of fraudulent and scam stuff on Steam that they SHOULD be removing is too long for them to be picking on legit games from legit studios, if you ask me. No matter how controversial. The protagonist here is at least an equal-opportunities psychopath and the game uses original assets. But that’s a blog for another day.

I wouldn’t have made this tasteless a game, personally, but I think its greatest sin is that it actually looks a bit boring and repetitive. By way of disclaimer, it’s not out yet and I haven’t played it but I’ve watched gameplay videos from Gamespot and numerous other Youtubers with review copies. The controls look like they could have used work. Some people don’t like the art style, though I have to say that I do. The world is dark. Black and white. This reflects your character’s clouded and binary viewpoint quite artistically I think. The destruction physics also look quite tasty, so kudos there.

The most shocking part of the game is definitely its executions. The only way to get back your health is to walk up to an injured person and ‘Execute’ them, which will give you one of several extremely cold and violent, up-close-and-personal kills from a close-in camera view. Since this is how you get health, you have to do them to play the game. While there’s a large number of execution animations, they are still limited, and they quickly desensitise you, since you’re doing them mechanically as often as possible to boost your health, you’ve already seen most of them before after just a few minutes. Speaking objectively, I think it’s a bad gameplay move, as it makes their chief (and most visceral) mechanic lose its edge and get boring before the first level is even over. Then you’re just left with a twin-stick shooter. The targets may as well be zombies at this stage.. almost.

Not that the executions don’t shock. They absolutely do!! Head stomping, stabbing (in various ways), guns in the mouth, all while the victims moan or beg for their lives. It’s horrific, but there’s nothing here that you can’t see in movies, or haven’t seen worse of in other games. This game doesn’t even seem to have dismemberment either (see Soldier of Fortune series) but I’ll allow that I could just not have seen it. I think it’s just blood and bodies. So what’s so extra-chilling about it?

For me, and I guess anyone else who has an ounce of social awareness, it’s that the victims are total innocents, not soldiers, terrorists, aliens or zombies, and that cold-blooded killings and executions like these require a special brand of evil and have really happened to real people. And this time you’re the perpetrator. Consider Columbine, the Washington Sniper attacks, the shootings at the Dark Knight Rises showing in Colorado, or the 2011 Anders Behring Breivik attacks in Norway. I’ve linked them because I think it’s important to learn and remember these things. And here I’ve only looked back 16 years max, and only gone with non-politically and non-religiously motivated individuals (or pairs) using guns for their massacres. This means I’ve excluded the Boston marathon bombings, Charlie Hebdo, and Kenyan shopping mall attacks. And that’s without even having to think hard. Always pointed out is that non-political mass shootings seem more prevalent in the United States for whatever reason. Even in Norway, Breivik claimed he was targeting the Labor party. And forgetting about our Western orientation, we live in a world where ISIS do this sort of thing every day. We should get disgusted once in a while and think about the violence real people suffer.

 Columbine High School security cam footage.
Columbine High School security cam footage.

Should this subject be banned from video games, movies, art, music? Absolutely not! See my point 6 above. I think that war movies, for example, should be made and some of them should be made as violent and realistic as possible. We shouldn’t enjoy them as action movies. We should fear them as warnings and revere them as real-life horror stories. Fury and Saving Private Ryan stand out. Recently, on Memorial Day, Brenda Romero posted a video of her uncle John Bacon, who served in the US 101st Airborne on D-day, talking about his experiences and the movie Saving Private Ryan. Speaking about the violence of the movie (to paraphrase) he said it was good. That it’s important for people to know “what we did”. Which I took to mean, what they saw, suffered, and did themselves. I do think that it’s important that these movies and games are made.

I don’t play war games like action movies. I play them like war movies. I regret every German, Italian or Japanese soldier who comes on screen and has to die so that I can live and go home (odd how you never play the Axis in single-player shooters). Most of them weren’t bad people. Sure, there absolutely were war crimes (on ALL sides) but the great human tragedies were that individuals who never wanted to get caught up in a war for any reason, had to go and fight and/or die. Sure, some wanted to. They wanted to defend their loved ones. Or were brainwashed by what they were told the enemy were doing and would do! Or some just wanted to go and see what killing a foreigner was like (let’s not pretend there weren’t a few).

I know not everybody sees war games like I do, but they should really try to consider that perspective if they haven’t before. Playing the D-day landings in Medal of Honour: Allied Assault is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in gaming (and not just for the difficulty of the game itself). Just try make yourself get out from behind those tank traps!

I think my reasoning for war games and movies transfers logically onto murder simulators. They should be disgusting, violent, cruel, disturbing, and they should be made. Occasionally. Not for entertainment (though profit is fine, people have to eat) but for education. So we don’t forget. Not so that we get desensitised (see my point 2 above. Ripping somebody’s guts out in Mortal Kombat won’t make you any less likely to feel nauseated if you see somebody get a nasty cut chopping onions)  but so that we are aware and might try to prevent tragedies like this in the future. Think hard about what you want out of that 2nd Amendment, America.

As for Hatred. Do I think Destructive Creations had such noble goals? Not as such. Some team members may have. But below is a statement from the company’s website. Basically they say they’re trying to buck trends, offend people, make you think (okay, good) and that it’s “just a game” so don’t take it so seriously. That last one actually gets my own back up, as it trivialises every point that I’m trying to make, and damages the industry every time somebody says it. Like saying “I don’t believe in fairies”.

 Click to see this on company's website. PS I take things seriously. It seems the fairest way to take them to me.
Click to see this on company’s website. PS I take things seriously. It seems the fairest way to take them to me.

To tie this off, Hatred is deliberately controversial but not unique or ground-breaking. Hatred should make you think and disgust you and if not then you’re one sick ignorant puppy. Hatred is trying to get your back up and make you talk about it to anybody who’ll listen (and you’re probably falling for it). Hatred is a game I’m giving free publicity to because I wanted to discuss some ignored angles for the better-hood of the games industry and gamers. Hatred is self aware with a tiny tiny pinch of humour thrown in, but it’s not funny. Hatred as a game looks visually interesting, but a little boring otherwise. Hatred is releasing this week and price isn’t confirmed but conjecture puts it around €30.

Hatred should make you stop and think. But don’t hate or laud it because of what it is. Because what it ISN’T is unique, an incredible game, or deliberately making any particularly important statements. Buy it if you like. But please know all that. 

In a world where we see everything through a computer-screen-tinted glasses and think everything is entertainment, games like this are tapping on the glass and seeing are you still human. Think about it.