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On Taking Risks With Video Game Violence

Tomb Raider

Video games are fairly violent, I think that is a statement all gamers can agree with, if not totally then at least partially. The medium was built upon games that had you destroying enemies in order to win. When games were first around, this was mainly due to a level of technology that allowed for only a few things to be on screen at once, and an understanding of basic gameplay tropes.

Well its 2012, and games are starting to mature, and along with that comes high tech consoles and PC's that can deliver almost photo realistic visuals. The same tropes exist today, and killing enemies as a means of progress is so engrained in the medium that games that dont have it are relegated to the indie scene, the problem I have, though, is that no one is taking a risk with the violence in games.

This might be a controversial stance, but the whole world, and especially game critics such as the fine folks at Gamespot, are talking about how games need to move forward, to mature and grow as gamers mature and grow, and find it's own niche as entertainment, instead of trying to copy movies. The thing about that argument is that only AAA blockbuster games try to copy movies, and even then it is action movies with tons of inconsequential violence.

The movies that deal with the cost of violence, what actually happens to victims, their families and the emotional trauma of the ordeal they are put through are never, or rarely, given a video game make over. Take the movie Irreversible, for example, there is no game version of that. If you dont know the movie, look it up on IMDB (dont watch it, unless over 18 and have a strong stomach), done? Good, as you can see, there will never be a game about the same themes, but there should be.

When all the controversy over the new Tomb Raider reboot occurred earlier this year, I think I must have been the only one on earth who thought that Crystal Dynamicsshouldhave put the supposed 'rape' scene in the game. This is not because I condone the act, of course I don't, but I would have applauded the developers for having the stones to put something so brutal into a 'gritty' reboot of a title led by a female protagonist. At the end of the day, in that situation, that act of violence would have been a very real threat for a young women alone on a island full of gun toting criminals.

People talk about how video games need to mature, but no one seems to have the stones to do it properly, to take the risk and say "Our game deals with this stuff". The Last of Us, another game where such themes and acts of violence would make sense given the world around the characters, wont push this envelope either, despite high praise for how meaningful the combat in the game is right now.

This all stems from the fact that games are still considered as a past time for kids, and as such, developers and publishers are unwilling to put extreme violence into their game worlds because they know that kids will play those games because their parents refuse to pay attention to content warnings on game boxes. It will be those same parents that go crazy and say games are the devil when they discover what is actually in the game and what they are letting their kids play, despite clear warnings that only those over 18 should play them.

Game creators need to take risks with the violence in games, there is room for it. The medium is growing so fast and so many people are wanting more mature stories within the titles being created that by necessity the violence must also mature. I am not saying women should get assaulted in every game from this point onward, but if it makes sense in the context of the world the developers are trying to create, then why shouldn't it be a thing that they can put into their creation?

This is a controversial subject at the best of times, and it is true that not every game needs violence of any form in it, let alone highly sensitive and mature acts of brutality. However, creating titles that create highly violent worlds, but leave out the more brutal acts is not helping the medium, and is keeping it back from reaching the same level as movies or books.

I am fully aware that this post is the same as putting a crosshairs on my back, but no one else seems to asking why such acts of violence are left out of 'mature' games, so I guess I had better do it. If you think I am wrong, agree with me or are unsure, feel free to let me know.

The Bourne Legacy = Halo?

It's an interesting title that isn't it? Why would one of the best spy movie/book series equate to one of the best sci-fi epics in gaming history? Let me explain, and also state this post contains massive spoilers of both the Bourne movies and Halo games and books.

First of all let me say that I know that The Bourne series is a book and movie affair, while Halo is a FPS video game and book series. However, this is about the lore, the core tenant of both that makes them so compelling to millions of people around the world. I watched the latest movie, The Bourne Legacy on Tuesday night, and I really enjoyed it. It was a really good action movie, not the best in the series by a long shot but very cool. However, one part of the lore got me thinking about Halo.

Aaron Cross, The Bourne Legacy's protagonist, is part of a shadowy CIA intiative to create the ultimate agent, much like Jason Bourne before him. Both were subjected to behavioural modification and enhancements, with Cross having his IQ and body chemistry altered to make him the perfect Assassin, however this also resulted in a dependancy on chems to keep him both controlable and alive.

Now lets look at Halo. The protagonist is Master Chief John-117, a Spartan - the next generation super soldier created by Halo's version of the CIA, ONI, which also had its version of Operation Treadstone (the program that created Bourne) called Section III.

A member of ONI, Dr Catherine Halsey set in motion the Spartan-II program to counter a growing civil war across the galaxy, and the UNSC was getting desperate to over come this threat, long before the alien enemy of the Covenant was encountered. So ONI, after a careful screening process, kidnapped children from different worlds, took them to Reach, robbed them of thier identity (apart from their first name) and started training them from the age of just six.

Now the protagonists of Bourne were not trained from such a young age, however, they were robbed of thier identities, Jason Bourne was originally David Webb and Aaron Cross was Kenneth Kitsom. Both also had Army careers before being recruited into the programs that created Bourne and Cross, so were heavily trained before being dramatically altered by Treadstone and Outcome (Treadstone without the 'inconsistency').

At the age of just fourteen, the Spartan candidates were given biological enhancements, along with augmentations to allow for advanced communication and battlefield awareness. Thier skeleton's were heavily augmented, and this resulted in 33 of the final 75 actually surviving - including Master Chief.

In the Bourne series, no one is quite sure exactly how many 'program participants' Treadstone and Outcome used, but it is more than just Bourne and Cross.

Now I am not saying that Halo was directly influenced by the Bourne books, but it is easy to see why they could have been, the similarities between the two are certainly compelling. The genetic and biological enhancements, behavourial modification and 'living weapon' ethos covers both universe's, and it could be argued that hundreds of years before Dr Halsey came up with her Spartans, Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross were the first tentative steps towards true super soldiers.

Could they be the same universe just at different times? Well sure they could. The reality is somewhat different, but what if during a future Halo title you come across ancient ONI files that make mention of the CIA and a strange program called Treadstone and its successors? that would be very cool. It won't happen, we all know that, but it would be cool.

The Bourne Legacy and Halo, not as different as they first appear are they?

On Microsoft's E3 2011 Briefing

So E3 2011 is here and Microsoft kicked off the event in style. Here isa run down of some the stuff they unveiled at the event and my thoughts on it, along with a conclusion, enjoy!

New Dashboad Exeperience

Frankly, this should have come with Kinect from the start. But, programming cool stuff takes time so I am going to give them a pass on this one. Especially since it looks so dam slick.

NDE will bring all those wonderful Kinect voice controls into focus, letting you navigate the dashboard using your vocal cords and maybe a few gestures. It also combines Bing, Microsofts search engine, to hunt Xbox live for all content related to your query. Saying 'Xbox Bing Harry Potter' is a bit cumbersome and should really be changed to just 'Find Harry Potter' to make the Bing stuff less instrusive, but hey marketing is marketing and so this is what we get for now. It may change, you never know.

Some cool looking changes to Avatar's so that they actually look like you are coming too so that rounds out the NDE, which will be with you this fall/Autumn.

Kinect support in Mass Effect 3 and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Now this really got me excited for the future of Kinect. Yes, it is optional and yes it is obviously gonna make you feel like a total dumbass, but dam does it look cool and shows what Kinect is Capable of.

Mass Effect was shown to have voice command support, letting you speak what you want Shepard to say during conversations and actually call out commands to squad members, making the combat more fluid and dare I say it, immersive.

The Ghost Recon Kinect demo was for a feature called Gun Smith, which as the name implies lets you customize your weapons, allowing for up to 10 million combinations. Voice control can do this, but gestures make you look like something from the Iron Man movies, spreading your hands to open out a weapon to its component parts, then clapping them together to combine it again.

IPTV and entertainment features

In the UK there is a version of this already in that Sky Player lets you watch live TV assuming you have a multiroom pass, but more channels and voice controls could really make this stuff worthwhile.

Exactly what partners would be adding thier TV line-up to the 360 wasn't announced so this could just be something and nothing, but here's hoping, especially for the way my console is setup - the spare room on a TV with no aerial - that it works well.

The Halo Games

Belittle me all you want, Halo is my favourite game franchise of all time. I devour everything I can on it, the books, comics, games and movies (assuming that ever happens!).

So we have Halo Anniversary coming soon which is a very neat bit of fan service, but lets be honest, that is all it is. If you have played it on the original Xbox, you know what your getting here. Microsoft are a sneaky bunch though, and end the conference on a high: A sneak peek of Halo 4!

It was just an FMV, but Halo fans are anxious for a new trilogy and this will set off a brand new adventure for Master Chief and with no Covenant threat to speak off, 343 studios can go buck wild with new enemies and locations.

Conclusion

I am excited for the next year of Xbox 360. Kinect might actually come into it's own, the set top box ideal MS have been chasing for years could become a reality and Halo 4. Let me say that again Halo 4! Can Nintendo and Sony compete? lets find out!

On 'Fun' games

This blog post is inspired by TechnologoDoom's recent blog post entitled 'Why I am against fun' and started as a comment on his/her post.

I don't want to get in a war of words of TechnologoDoom, please understand, but I have more to say on this subject than a simple comment would really allow. The jist of their blog is that they do not think the term 'fun' is appropriate to games, and represents a slightly lazy way of describing how a game affects people. While there is some truth to this statement, I do not fully agree, I believe TechnologoDoom is taking the meaning of the word fun too literally and in the process over thinking how it relates to games.

Fun is more than the literal meaning of the word. Like so many terms these days, it is used in more than one way by many people. I wouldn't necessarily call Heavy Rain fun because it is trying to push the mediums story telling forward and create a unique game experience, one that affects people on an emotional level. Indeed, the games director, David Cage, has stated that he wants to make a game that makes people cry, and that is a very noble goal.

Now, Heavy Rain is a great game, one of my top ten of 2010, but while it affected me with its gripping story and great characterization, I played it for two reasons A) the story, I simply wanted a great story that held my attention and B) I wanted to see exactly what can be done with game narrative. Notice I did not call it fun.

Heavy Rain is not fun because it is a serious, adult/mature title trying to show games can be more than 'See how many AI enemies you can kill in the next 5 minutes'. A game that is fun however, is Vanquish, a title I received as a Christmas present and played through twice in just over a week.

Vanquish is fun because it has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, the story is total hokum, the characters spout some of the most ridiculous dialogue ever conceived and yet there is a level of polish and love in it on a par with Heavy Rain. Fun doesn't just describe how a game makes you feel, it can describe the sheer ridiculousness of a title that it puts a smile on your face when you play because it is like your in on the joke the developers had while making it.

That might seem a little stupid, but I don't really care, to be honest. Fun is a perfect way to describe games that know they are bit on the daft side, yet play great, with some great mechanics, characters and stories. When developers make a great game and have fun with it you know, because it bleeds into the rest of the game, as it has with Vanquish.

To put it another way, it is like the difference between Saving Private Ryan and the new A-TEAM movie. One is a serious and dire portrait of what war is really like, and how saving a single man in the middle of aconflict can provide hope to the world. The other is just a fun, dumb action movie, where all involved had a great time making it and everyone knows it is more than a little bit ridiculous, and the viewer is in on the joke.

So sorry TechnologoDoom, I will not remove fun from my gaming vocabulary, there is nothing wrong with it. Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a very light and stupid story line, but the game is immense fun not because it affects me on an emotional level, but because it is a great game with inventive levels. I am not being lazy describing it as fun, because I am happy and smiling whenever I play it. Again Vanquish is fun because it is so stupid, but it is stupid in a way I can get behind because the developers know it is stupid and embraces that fact.

In conclusion, if you think a game is fun, describe it that way. If it makes you smile, if you know that it makes you happy when you play it and you always enjoy your time with it, it is fun and should be described as such, then when pushed on why it is fun, talk more about the details. Not all games suit the word, but 'Fun' is a great way to describe some.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Short Review

Back when the original Super Mario Galaxy was released, someone asked me what I thought of the latest game to feature everyone's favourite mushroom-eating plumber. My response was simple: "It makes me happy."

Fast forward to the present, and the first numbered Mario sequel in over 15 years sees a return to the formula that made the original so great – yet with some subtle improvements, new friends, and some of the most fiendish puzzles ever devised in any medium, let alone videogames.

Every level is unique in some way. This was true of the original, but here it feels more refined and more varied. There are your typical ice and fire levels, but what about the level in which you spend half your time floating on clouds? Or the one where everything is pitch black apart from a small spark of light coming from Mario's hat? Then there's the level where everything is three times larger than you are.

Boss fights, too, are some of the most inventive yet seen in a Mario game, and while they do still require the learning of attack patterns, none are unfairly challenging. The basic core of these fights is always the same – find weak spot, attack, repeat – but they are never a chore, and are varied enough to ensure that each is a pleasure to play through. It simply has to be played to be believed.

And that's the true crux of why Galaxy 2 is so special. Describing it to you will only serve to whet your appetite, and nothing will compare to playing it for yourself and seeing exactly how the gorgeous art style, fantastically cheery music and tight, well-conceived controls combine to create one of the best platform games ever made.

At the beginning of this review, I said that the first Super Mario Galaxy was brilliant simply because it made me happy. Its sequel does that and more, and just goes to show that when Nintendo set out to make a truly great game, they go above and beyond the call of duty at every turn.

Score: 9.5

On Meta-games in the real world

Christmas is just around the corner, in case the massive list of games you absolutely must have before the end of the year hasn't told you, and so I have begun my christmas shopping a bit early, today in fact.

When looking around for presents, I went into my local Gamestation. For those who don't know the store (mainly our american friends), think Gamestop without the annoying pre-order questions, (for the Britains - GAME but how that store should be run!) and I discovered that they had started promoting thier own reward card, a first for the chain.

I know I probably shouldn't get yet another loyalty card, since I have one for GAME, HMV, Tescos, Sainbury's and at least one other, however Gamestation's effort intrigued me. Now for some time, the company has been billing itself as the 'gamers game store' one that only employ's gamers and therefore it's staff can inform it's customers much better than competitors, which I have generally found to be true. Thier reward card has taken this concept to a new level, and made the idea of earning points a meta game of sorts.

I am not trying to big up Gamestation or anything, I dont work for them in any form (though I used to work at GAME before leaving after being particularly annoyed at the BS politics that company has), but this idea seems to be a cunning one. It is simple, rather than earn points to be redeemed in store, you earn XP - yes that XP, just like you have earned in a thousand RPG's over the years -as you buy and trade in games.

It's strange that simply renaming the points system to 'XP' has me so intrigued, but they have also come up with a surprisingly cunning reward system to get your coveted trade-in's. Accolades as they are know, are essentially achievements but ones that you can actually get something with, as they earn you bonus XP for completing them. They are a title stupid at this point - trade in one game within 14 days of it's release nets you 500 XP, or buying your first pre-owned game for an extra 250 XP - but the possibilities for such a system are endless.

Imagine in-store competitions where you earn extra XP just for taking part, or incentives that earn you extra XP for buying T-shirts when you buy a new release. Obviously, this encourages you to spend more money than you initially wanted to, but from a business stand point it is a great system, and one I have noticed is becoming more and more common.

Turning relatively mundane tasks into a meta game is slowly starting to become a bit of an underground hit, with the iPhone app Epicwin, from what I hear, proving to be very popular with those that have tried it. If this continues to grow, who knows what we will see, and taking it to a fairly logical extreme, could we each have an XP pool for everything we do?

Think about it, a small app on your PC and other devices that earns you a minimal amount of XP for everything you do. Open a web browser - 5 XP, check email - 20 XP, fix a problem with your PC - 100 XP (andmakemy job - I work as IT support - a hell of a lot easier!). The work place could encorporate it too, setting every employee up with certain goals to reach by a certain point in the day, as well as letting them set up thier own daily to do list in the vein of Epicwin, which can then be used to single out those striving to meet or exceed those goals.

Of course, in the work place it could back fire and show those that really don't care and are half a**ing their jobs, but essentially the idea is sound. It wil be very interesting to see where this concept will go, for now it is just to-do lists and reward card schemes, but the possibilities are endless and the ones I have listed above just the tip of the iceberg. The XP system can be used to grant rewards with retail partners as well, imagining being able to buy 360 or PS3 game from play with XP earned just for actually going to work and doing your job!

What do you think? Could these meta games hold the future for rewards and incentives? are they just a passing fad? discuss!

On my adventures since last we spoke

It's been awhile since my last post on the beloved Gamespot, and after the response I got from the fantastic community here for my last post, and with a little help from Brendan Sinclair, I have decided to give an update on my progress since my last post.

For those that haven't read it, my last post was about my attempts to get into the games industry, which failed miserably, and you can read it here. Well since then I have started trying once again, with mixed results, but my confidence has been boosted and I will hopefully achieve my dream before September 2011 which is when I turn 30. That is my new goal, it is just down to me to make it happen.

So first of all, let me say again a big thank you to everyone's comments on my previous post. Most were positive and some really helpful and I got a mention on the Hotspot with both Brendan and Kevin saying that I am not too old so I shouldn't give up. A special thanks goes out to user Drmikeready, who's information on an Open University course on games design really helped, and I took that course and passed with a quite a high mark. I believe the OU is a UK only thing (though I could be wrong) but if your interested in the course it is couse number T151 and does ask you to create a game at the end using Game Maker.

In other news, I have also started writting for a video games website called beefjack. It's a small site with a great staff and some really helpful editors and other writers, the biggest problem with that is that I don't have a degree in English, so my grammar can be a little off at times, but then thats what editors are for, I just hope I am not annoying them too much!

I have also downloaded Microsoft's XNA platform and have started trying to figure out how to create a game with it. I have quite a good idea (I think!) I just have to figure out how to actually code and implement it. Some level of artistic skill would be good too, though I figured a way around that, and potentially a way around my lack of musical skill too!

So in all, I am still not a part of the games industry proper. My writing is not a paid position because the site simply isn't big enough yet (though I am hoping some of the fine folks here will check it out), and I have actually made a small crappy platform game with a better one on the way assuming I get the time to sit down and figure XNA out.

There are several things to take away from this: 1) despite what I said previously, there can be time to change careers and do what you really want to do, you just have to have a little encouragement and be willing to put the effort in, 2) there is more than one way into the games industry, 3) you have to be willing to except your limitations and 4) the Gamespot community is awesome.

If I ever do end up with a proper job in the games industry, either writing about or creating games, I will let the Gamespot crew know, because, at least in part, I will have got there with your help! Thanks again!

On Getting Into The Games Industry....And Failing Miserabley

This time next week I will 28 years old. Shortly there after, I will have been married for the some total of 2 months. So I am getting older and being all growed up, and now have a wife to think about as well as myself.

Like many people, I am searching for something though. Not happiness in love or anything as cheesy as that since I have already found it, but rather contentness in my job and career. I have never really thought of myself as particularly creative until the last few years, when I have been unable to scratch a growing creative itch, and it is getting annoying.

So, like a lot of people reading and using this very site, I have decided I want to go into the games industry and here is a short account of my attempts thus far. I have to point out at an early stage though, so far, I have not been successful, I am still working as an IT support analyst and not particularly enjoying it anymore. It's a good job don't get me wrong, but it is not what I want to do for the next forty years.

So for the last couple of years I have been applying for jobs as a QA tester for various companies, trying to get into the industry on a low grade footing and work my way up. Unfortunately, this has gone quite according to plan. The first interview I ever had I was suited and booted and ready to go, and I walked in immediately felt over dressed, since everyone else, including other interviewee's where in jeans and a shirt or t-shirt. Also insulted a game one of the interviewers made, so that wasn't so good. Alas, that job, at Kuju in Surrey, was not to be mine.

So I continued applying for other studios, eventually having a interview with Outrun 2006 developer Sumo Digital. Having learnt from my previous attempt, I attended the interview with a shirt and trousers, which I felt was a lot better and meant I wasn't as out of place, especially when one of the guys interviewing me walked in still wearing motorcycle leathers. The interview seemed to go well, though I still wasn't to get the job.

At this point I got more than a little bit determined, and started sending my C.V. into various Yorkshire studios on a regular basis (one to two month intervals). Eventually, this scored me a second interview with Sumo Digital, which again went well and the guys recognised me and we had a great informal interview. They told me they had a new round of tester roles coming up and I would be high on their list. I am still waiting to here from them, and that was coming close to 2 years ago now.

From that point on I have been scanning games industry job sites on a regular basis to find a suitable position, even taking the tactic of sending my c.v. in once a month for a as long as the QA position was listed on the studios site (sorry Rockstar leeds!). As you can probably tell I am getting a bit desperate here.

The reason I chose to tell you about this so far unsuccessful venture is because on Saturday, I had a very nice chap come round to my home from a company called Train2game. For those of you who don't know about them, train2game offer TIGA endorsed game programmer and game designer courses on a work from home basis. The idea behind his visit is that they only offer the courses to a select few individuals in a given post code area, and after a 2 hour interview about my gaming habits, what I want to do in the industry, why I want to change careers and various other things, he said that he wants to offer me a position on the course and that he needs to know by 10am Monday if I want it.

Unfortunately for me, £135 a month for three years to be able to pay for the course is too rich, so, being unable to get any decent help from the government or parents or anything, I had to decline the course, effectively ending my dream for at least another year. I am still trying to find that dream job but the current economic climate isn't making it any easier.

The morale of the story is this: decide what you want to do with your life quickly. In school I wasn't much of an academic, and the only thing I really decided on was that I wanted to work with computers when I got older. If I had decided I wanted to work in games a lot sooner than I had, I may well have put more effort in, knowing I had to get the grades to get onto a decent course at university to be able to leap into the industry. Alas, I only realised what I really want to do in the last five or so years, which is just about the right time to be way too late.

So kids, decide what you want to do quickly. Take a week out of your life and really look at yourself, what you like to do, what interests you, what makes you happy, and decide to make that career a reality. Hell, if you genuinely want to become a real life pet detective, do it, but decide soon because even though people say you can always re-train, the reality is an expensive and time consuming process that at a point, just isn't viable anymore. Don't make my mistake, take the advice and figure out what you want do soon.

I hope my story has helped and you take away more than 'this guy is a looser' from it. And if anyone from a games studio is reading, I am looking for work right now so please contact me for a copy of my C.V!

On getting that first review copy

So for the last few months I have been contributing to a smaller gaming site as a writer. I wont say its name cause I am above shameless self promotion. Honest. Anyway for this site I have been writing news, reviews and features and though it isnt the holy grail of actually being a paid games journalist, it is as close as I can get at the moment.

An interesting thing happened yesterday though. While I was going through my emails from the site, the boss of the UK guys who contribute said that the site has thier first review copying coming in the next couple of days. Naturally I was excited for the site, as it is a fairly big deal, but most important of all, he wanted me to review it. Colour me excited.

I havent received the game yet, which will be this weeks summer of arcade release, Trials HD, but my excitment has so far gotten me out of a real funk (life sucks and all that, despite the fact I got married to the love of my life two weeks ago), excited about a game I really wasnt that bothered about before and even more infused to become a bona fide games journalist.

So I cant speak to the quality of the game as yet as I havent played any of it, but I do want to discuss another issue that this impending big event in my life has had me thinking about, that is of reviews in general. Now, the issue of games, movies and even book reviews, are, at best, controversial, with some people saying that ratings shouldnt be given to mediums that are, arguably, very personal, while others say that it is invaluable to steer them from the rubbish to the great, and is the seed of another post all together, but I have something else I want to discuss on a more personal level.

From listening to the Hotspot and other podcasts, professional reviewers seem to be generally always having a pop at movies, books and, of course, games. Now, to say that I have watched the same movies and read the same books and played the same games and had a different opinion is kinda mute, as everybody knows that everybody has a opinion and that it is thiers and thiers alone. However, it worries me that as I review more games, I will become as, well, frankly, cynical as the professionals, and things I have enjoyed when I haven't been a reviewer I will no longerlike, making me only fullfilled when those great movies or books come along.

I like to think I can switch off my reviewer mode andsee bad movies (I count Guyver: Dark Hero as one of my favourites, butappreciate it is rubbish atthe same time), but thismay beme fighting tooth and nail against the envitable. I have played and enjoyed games lots of people say suck, theoriginal Matrix game being one of them.

It makes me wonder that if Brendan, Tor, Tom and the rest of the gamespot crew werent reviewing games and playing alot of them all the time, would they have more of an appriciation of movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or even Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li?

If they are truely going into everything they can critque with the mindset of a reviewer, then surely thier enjoyment of that piece will be marred by them looking for flaws, and mentally taking notes as to what they did and didnt enjoy. I loved Revenge of the Fallen, though it wasnt as good as the first, and this is because I just sat back and enjoyed it, and didnt even notice half the bad points the team talked about on the hotspot a few weeks ago. This is either an alarming warning about ADD, or the difference between a review mind engaged and a review mind disengaged.

As I get closer to my dream of becoming a professional in this most heralded of industries, I worry that I will become jaded, as so many of my one day peers have become. I dont know if that is a risk I have to take, and whether it is a bad thing or not is questionable, but I would like to think I can buck the trend, and only review when I need to. I hope some of you will go forth and read some of the reviews I have on this site, and see what you think.

What do you think about reviews and reviewers? are they all jaded, or just more precise in thier enjoyment habits?

On how to run a charity game tournament at work

As previous readers of my blog can tell you, I work as an IT support tech (and if I haven't mentioned that before, now you know!), and that is in a call centre for a insurance firm. The atmosphere is really good and generally the staff are a good lot, and every week, like many places, we have a dress down day where we pay £1 and that money goes to charity just so we can wear jeans and a t shirt to work, which, I am sure you will agree, is a nice thing to do.

Every so often, we have specific 'fun days' for the larger charities, such as red nose day or children in need, where we have a range of activites throughout the day along with cake stalls and other nonesense. Over the last couple of years I have taken it upon myself to introduce my beloved hobby to the workers there, and have decided to run tournaments on those big charity days so I can a) feel like I am helping and b) get people to play games they normally dont. Its a good thing, not just an excuse to toss off work for a day. Honest.

Each time I have run a tournament I have messed about with the formula a little bit, but have now come up with a few concrete rules on how to go about running them, which I thought I would share with you, the lovely people of Gamespot, just in case you too decide to run such an event. So here are my rules to running successful tournament at work:

1 -Keep the matches short

Remember, you are still at work, so pick a game where the matches are short and can be finished within five minutes. I prefer to use fighting games for this, such as Street Fighter IV, but Fifa or a racing game could work too. This will have the dual effect of keeping players interested and not annoying any managers.

2 -Pick a straight forward game

You dont want anything too complex as people will not be into it, and the win conditions need to be clear. Again fighting games are good for this, and since people can pretty much just button bash and you dont have to really tell them what to do, then it saves on stress for all involved.

3 -Keep the whole thing small

The last time I run a tournament, its was Street Fighter IV and I had unlocked every character, so I decided to make it a boys vs girls tournament (in the first round at least) and say that people can only pick one character and once they had that character is gone from the list. This was a bad idea, as too many people meant I found it hard to get people to come and play and keep it going through lunches (a particular problem in call centres). So keep the tournament places small, with 12 being the absolute maximum for a decent running game.

4 - Open registration well in advance

Give it at least a few days before the tournament so that people can get thier names down and make sure they are actually in on the day, and keep all involved up to date on any changes, the venue and game.

5 -Play yourself

Dont be afraid to put your own name down, as alot of people, especially work friends, will want to take you on. This is mostly so when you walk around they can take the mick, but hey it works, and ifyou trounce them then you can do it instead, which lets be honest, is always a good thing.

6 -Dont make people look daft

Unless they are drunk, which I hope they arent if they are at work, people will not play anything that makes them look stupid. So a singstar tournament, unless you work at a music label or something, is probably not the best plan as we are all aware (those of us who are over 18 at least) that karaoke is best done intoxicated to the eyeballs.

7 -Make sure you have all the right equipment

It may sound stupid, but you can't run a gaming tournament if you dont have a TV and a few spare power sockets, so make sure the venue (often a meeting room) has all the right gear. Oh and check the TV for sound play back, as thinking every TV has speakers built in has proven my downfall in the past.

8 -Make it fun

A bit of a no brainer, but if you can get some sort of prize for the winner, do so, and dont be afraid to trash talk, even if your not playing. Commentate, and after each match consider sending an email around the office announcing the winners and loosers (especially fun if a very manly man gets beat by a girl lol) and even update twitter as a laugh.

9 -Keep a list of participants handy

Again a no brainer, but also arrange into a tournament structure on a spreadsheet and print it, so that you can easily work out who isplaying who next. This will save you having to remember and be an easy reference for people who ask who they are playing. If its a fighting game your running, put down peoples characters too, so those who do know about the game can think about it in advance.

10 -Get the payment fee's early

Remember the tournament is for charity, so if you are charging an entry fee (£1/$1 is a good start point) collect it before the people play. This will mean you can concentrate on running the thing and not have to remember who has paid and who hasn't on the day.

So there you have it, my top ten hints on how to run a smooth tournament at work. Admittedly, most are provided by common sense, but some are lessons learnt the hard way. Thanks for reading, and I hope your tournaments go well. If you have any other tips. please let me know!