In all honesty, there’s a strong likelihood that Technician Ted might well be the game I played the most of during the eighties, even allowing for the existence of Jet Set Willy. I really like that strand of platformer, okay?
Going back to it in recent years and I’m not entirely sure how I managed it given the difficulty curve could politely be described as “vertical”. Not only is it brutally hard but at a certain point, it ups the difficulty even further by draining your lives without you having to put in any effort.
I’ve talked about this on here before and with the additional wrinkle that Ted is a scab.
However, I still have a fondness for it despite everything. I’m still disappointed that the follow up, Costa Capers, just wasn’t good at all and a further game managed to be so awfully racist that even C&VG couldn’t ignore it, offering a “if you can ignore the background…” as scant consolation.
Anyway. Where were we? Oh yeah, Technician Ted then. Rob (another Rob, not me or the other Rob) takes an amble through the game for a short while and it’s fascinating to see how someone else takes to this wickedly unfair work, experiencing it for the first time.
I spend a lot, like *a lot*, of time in games not so much idling in the videogame sense but being idle within the videogame world. I’m present, not away from the keyboard or controller, I’m doing something but in videogame terms it’s not a productive something.
In the first Destiny I would hop around the tower, leaping into plant pots, sitting down and spinning the camera around. I’d nip onto planets ostensibly to do patrols but often, just finding a nice spot to watch the action unfold. My favourite spot used to be on top of a cliff on Mars, just above a battleground where Vex and Cabal would fight each other. Or, if I felt a bit fruity, climbing atop a platform on the Dreadnought bouncing about, looking at the chaos unfolding below.
In Destiny 2, I’ll spend ages and ages meandering around the new tower (the farm seems like a long time ago now). Bungie have crafted an incredible space, full of nooks and crannies. It’d be rude not to have a look around.
Due to the way other characters are dotted around the map, a lot of areas are bustling, but also plenty aren’t. There’s no videogame reason for me to be meandering around the scaffolding that surrounds the tower but, bluntly, I just like looking around the place so why not?
In No Man’s Sky, I’ll zip around the nexus watching the pretty colours of my jetpack trail fade away. I’ll talk to characters who’ll just shrug me off because their utility in game has long passed. It’s almost like I’m checking in on them to make sure they’re okay. I’m sometimes sad that I can’t visit Artemis, I wonder how they’re getting on in their own simulation. It would be nice to be able to say hello sometime.
No Man’s Sky, like Proteus before it, is a wonderful game to just be in. There’s the odd planet where I’ll get no peace, either storms will tear at my life support or super angry robots will harass me for the crime of possibly disturbing a tiny rock on their oh so perfect planet. Mainly though? Mainly it’s easy for me to find my own peace on a virtual alien world inside No Man’s Sky.
Maybe it’s sitting watching the wildlife bustle around me, maybe it’s visiting a space coach station and watching traders come and go in their spaceships, idly scanning their spaceships in the hope that perhaps one might be the S class design I desire and so, be able to make an offer to buy it. Livens things up a bit sometimes, you know?
Sometimes, it’s flying low in my spaceship. Point it in the direction I fancy heading off in and, well, nothing else. The whole point is nothing else. I’m sitting at home, listening to music! Why not do that and soak up the sights of an alien world?
If I ever fancy something vaguely productive, I’ve got ten storage crates on an enormous capital ship. They could always do with a bit of a tidy. A little bit of a sorting out, as a treat.
Any game that leaves me alone to just walk around, jump around, fly around, tidy an inventory up or something without bothering me, I’m probably going to spend more time doing that than whatever the game tasks me with.
This console generation has saw people build these most amazing worlds and yeah, I totally think about how much effort goes into giving me these places to be in. It’s partly why I love a good photo mode, I can marvel at the work that goes in to making somewhere exist, somewhere I can never see for real. I can peek into every corner, zoom in on details I’d miss were I rushing past. A virtual mindfulness session, or something.
Just being, within a game, is nothing new for me. I’ve always, always found myself doing little in the way of videogame when the mood takes me. There’s a reason Jet Set Willy changed how I viewed games, sure it was plenty of videogame but also a strange, unbelievable mansion, full of the most curious things. Load it up, task myself with visiting a specific place. Do just that. On more tired days, WRITETYPER and go, unbothered.
Aside from being somewhere, it’s a reminder that these are worlds built from imagination, curious and unreal. Places that simply cannot, nor will ever be able to exist. Something I love in books, in films, why Dr Who remains my TV love for conjuring new worlds year over year.
And why, for everything else videogames have worked into their worlds, the most valuable thing they’ve ever added is a button that lets me sit my character down in the game world, to be able to spend time somewhere impossible, to find my peace in someone else’s dreams.
Don’t know what it is about Jedi Academy inspiring some neat pieces of writing but I’m certainly grateful for it, whatever it is.
It helps that Rebind is a personal fave of a site right now. It’s absolutely chock full of great and thoughtful pieces covering the length and breadth of games with a lovely emphasis on games that really deserve your eyeballs.
Anyhoo. Catching up a bit tonight and this piece on Jedi Academy makes a strong point about giving the player breathing room and how it relates to toxicity. I’ve been playing a lot of games which blur the line between entertainment and being put to work in recent months and yeah, basically. Yeah.
One of the nicer things from the past few years in big box games is both Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed edging away from many of their less savoury elements and, as a result, making me pull fewer faces in their direction, becoming games I want to play and look forward to more of. Saints Row Syndrome, if you will.
In the case of Far Cry it’s been the slow but sure erosion of some of its nastier elements, culminating in the much less obnoxious than 5 (and very colourful) New Dawn and in Assassin’s Creed it’s the shift towards much breezier, less aggressively policed, adventuring in quasi-historical settings.
Also, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey lets you climb Zeus’s titty. This is important.
Because I’m nothing if not the videogame equivalent of a trainspotter (a gamespotter?), there’s a certain pleasure in watching how the people making these things move closer and closer to their ideals of what they want the game to be. Something made possible by the iterative approach Ubi afford to their game series.
Where a lot of games zig and zag from one entry to the next, there’s a clear line of progress found in Ubi titles (especially since the whole furore about Assassin’s Creed: Unity).
I take a ridiculous amount of joy from seeing if I can spot the stuff that’ll be kept and the stuff that’ll be discarded, seeing what will be cross pollinated to other series and how that emerges. It’s a fascinatingly public (and long term as games take ages to make) insight into how games move forward mainly through variations on a theme, rather than huge innovations.
And oh, the craft. There’s some incredibly impressive (and sometimes frankly showy offy) stuff found in these things. Yes, the success, money and team size of a big box game lends itself to more bombastic videogames, the real beauty for me is in how it affords teams the ability to include the little moments too time consuming or expensive for smaller outfits.
It’s the person in the background doing something, it’s the way the boat drifts seamlessly into dock and it somehow feels like a boat being moored, it’s the least videogamey stuff in videogames. It’s the stuff that lets folk really show off the skills they bring into videogames, the marriage of so many disciplines that go into making things shine.
From QA to art to sound to toolmakers and everyone else. It’s adding a more human element to a bunch of zeroes and ones and it’s literally all in the details.
It’s not something I value over and above the magic smaller teams can achieve, the tangents they can go on, avenues they can take us down, it’s just one more thing I enjoy in videogames. One more “Wait, we can do that? Woah” to a list of many.
Assassin’s Creed:Odyssey is chock full of this stuff. It is videogame excess in craft and in length, in art, sound and in an absurd amount of human effort spent on making it exist. It’s almost the poster child for it, a big showy “look what we can do” built on a familiar formula tuned to very much allow for this sort of thing.
I’m enjoying it hugely and like I said, it lets you climb Zeus’s titty and more videogames should do that. It’d get points for that alone.
If you ever want to shut me up for an hour and a half (a totally understandable goal) then the easiest way to do it would be to sit me down with a pulpy adventure novel, an old comic or a black and white film, TV series, or whatever. Not just any old stuff, mind. I do like my tat. A bit of the old what ho pip pip with space zombies or a rogue mummy or something, no budget too small, and I’m an incredibly happy Bob.
I’m not embarrassed to confess that a few years back, I realised that even if I never ventured past stuff made before 1960, there would still be so much stuff to keep me content until the day I climb the curtain rail and join the choir invisible. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t stick to stuff before 1960 (I’d struggle to write about videogames for one thing) but that I could was a wonderfully comforting thought.
The joy of these things for me is best summed up by Christopher Lee (for my money, the best film Dracula) describing his time in Hammer Horror films: “You’re treading such a very, very narrow line between credibility and absurdity”.
Credibility and absurdity! That’s absolutely it. You can tell me a shrubbery is a deadly weapon providing everybody around it can convince me they really believe it (or, alternately, have enough fun with it that the enjoyment becomes rather infectious). As long as it can be made to seem credible within the fiction, we’re good. And bonus! One of the many pleasures of a good B movie, pulp story or comic or whatever is that you can’t really rule out someone trying to convince you that the deadly weapon is a shrubbery.
Thinking a bit more on this whilst I sat waiting for the kettle to boil, I realised that this is precisely the thing that I look for in a lot of my favourite videogames. Not necessarily a shrubbery (though I am a huge fan) but that conviction in walking that very fine line between credibility and absurdity.
How much of this I take for granted too! Even the most ordinary of videogames can’t resist the allure of a pair of trousers that make you cast even better magic spells, a first aid box that gives your heavily armed hedgehog super strength. Credibility and absurdity! Though perhaps a little less Christopher Lee and maybe more Wile E Coyote’s shopping list. Not that I mind, they’re both titans of the big screen.
Oh, and with some of their finest work before 1960. Perfect.
It’s been nearly four years now and I’m still enamoured with No Man’s Sky. You’d think I’d be bored really but nope, I’m not bored of it in the slightest.
I’m sure it helps that like a lot of games these days, it’s an evolving experience. Originally a curious mix of (the also excellent) Out There and a stranger, much much older approach to the open world game, it was a game out of time and out of step with trends. A larger debt owed to the original Elite, to Mercenary, to Tau Ceti and the likes than to the Ubisoft template employed by so many games.
Whilst No Man’s Sky never really transitioned to that template it has, over time, become a more gentle experience. No longer a universe filled with glorious nothing, it’s now inhabited by other people, a shared universe in a literal sense. There’s a hub where strangers and friends can meet, visit each other’s building works, share treasures and goods amongst fellow travellers as they’re passing through.
You can still happily ignore all that for the most part because the universe is enormous, because there’s enough room for huge amounts of people to continue to discover the undiscovered. Without accessing the hub you can go days, weeks, months without encountering anyone else. Or just flat out turn the multiplayer component off and never see another soul ever.
It’s a largely generous game with the exception of the tightly regulated availability of the Quicksilver currency, used for grabbing cosmetic extras. Elsewhere pain points are fewer, the recent missions to acquire a living spacecraft making for a notable agonising exception.
Sure, that’s all (bad stuff aside!) helped me want to stick with the game. I’m glad I got to play and enjoy the curio that the game launched as but I’m far more content to noodle within its spaces today. It’s generally just kinda nicer, you know?
And oh, it looks so much better too. Each major update has brought upheavals to the art style. It’s not *always* quite as coherent as it should be but it has become more and more something really quite remarkable over the years. Colours, props, the way the worlds are generated have been vastly improved over time. In 2020, it looks much more beautiful than it ever promised to be.
Again, again, I’m not entirely without complaints. The washed out colours of the creatures the player encounters on their travels has been a bugbear since the earliest versions. At least now they’re largely not just an awful shade of yellow more often than not but they’re still not great. The same often applies to the props too. I find myself perpetually longing for the flora and fauna to be more vibrant. (And we don’t speak about the atrocious rain texture either because dear me).
But mainly, it’s beautiful. Beautiful enough that I’ve racked up thousands of screenshots and still find taking pictures a joy. Beautiful enough that it can still leave me in awe, when I’ve surely peeked into every nook and cranny the game has.
That’s really something, thousands of hours spent inside its universe and almost four years since launch. It’s still impressing me.
The most enjoyable thing for me though (and I do appreciate this would also be the stuff that confounds some) is that many additions to the game exist with no grand purpose inside the main game. All terrain vehicles, futuristic motorbikes, submarines, living spaceships and most recently, mechs have little great utility beyond “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and yes, yes, it would. If you want to accumulate a freighter, a bunch of spacecraft you can pilot, frigates you can send off to explore the stars you can. There’s even a bytebeat device that you can program to play tunes because why not.
That’s the thing I love in a lot of games and especially adore in No Man’s Sky. Popping things in there because why not? Because it seemed like a good idea, because it might be fun, because it might just look fine, because it might give someone (player or developer) a giggle for five seconds. All valid. All exciting prospects to me.
And I guess when it comes to the crunch, that’s the reason I’m still there, still tootling away in the vast universe that Hello have conjured into being. After 4 years, No Man’s Sky doesn’t feel any less of a dream game for me. Over time, it’s become more so. And so much of that more so can be traced to some folk sitting there in a room and going “I could put a mech in…?” and then putting a mech in because they can. And, of course, for the game being the eternal 70’s sci fi book cover generator I fell in love with to begin with.
Honestly, I think Ant Workshop, makers of Dead End Job, should be in touch with the Guinness Book Of Records because if they’re not the frontrunners, they’re definitely in with a shake for the Most Puns In A Videogame world record. In all my years (which are many), I don’t think I’ve ever seen the likes. It’s practically obscene.
Luckily, some truly rotten puns are a fairly good way to crack a smile out of me! The more of a leap, the better. Which pretty much means I spent way, way more time laughing at Dead End Job than is probably healthy.
Such a relief too because as much as I adore videogames, what passes off as humour in videogames is fairly often lost on me. For every game that manages to sneak a memorable joke under the radar, there’s a thousand where the joke is “I just said that thing off the internet” and oh, oh dear. Please, no.
So yeah, Dead End Job got more than its fair quota of laughs out of me. It’s also a really grand looking and sounding game. Styling itself around the idea of what if Ghostbusters arrived freshly formed as a nineties MTV-era cartoon, it doesn’t exactly pick itself an easy look to pull off. It does pull it off though, incredibly well.
Everything bops and squidges nicely, characters land somewhere between cute and grotesque in that oh so very nineties fashion, it even has title cards for the start of each mission! And it’s a small touch but one I loved, Dead End Job does that sort of “meanwhile, back at the house…” interstitial scene cartoons lifted from a myriad of sitcoms over the years complete with guitar break. Oh, and it has a theme song too because of course it does. If you’re going to do this stuff then might as well go all in and then some, eh?
It’s a pleasingly tough but not too tough twin stick shooter. You’re tasked with clearing an area out to earn money, each area is (as is oh so in vogue at the moment) made up of a shuffled around selection of rooms. Clear all the rooms, rescue a couple of folk on the way, get out and cash up then head onto the next bunch of rooms.
It’s a fairly routine set up made more interesting by having to work around incredibly cluttered rooms where things often have a tendency to explode, managing some (thankfully far, far from obnoxious) weapon cooldown timers and having to catch the ghosts with your ghost vacuum in fairly short order after hitting them with your definitely not a proton pack (honest guv) laser beam.
Everything is so big and chunky that there isn’t quite as much room to muck around in as you need so making space (by blowing things up) becomes a priority very quickly. Ghosts also have a tendency to leave slime trails behind them which should you try and wade through them, slow you down. There’s always plenty to be taking into account in order to make the space less cramped and more amenable to a bit of busting.
There’s a reasonably sized bestiary of ghouls and ghosts to catch, certainly far more than many games would bother with, and best of all the game allows you to rename each and every one of them. Not since Fable 2 have so many things found themselves mysteriously called Bernard by my hand. Look, I know it’s a problem I have, I’m trying to be better but gnnnnng BERNARD.
I really, really enjoyed myself with Dead End Job and it’s one I can see myself coming back to for a good few years. Helped, in no small amount, by it making me smile so much with its awful, awful puns.
Dead End Job is on Windows, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and Apple Arcade. It’s (wait for it) dead good.