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The future of gaming in 2015

October 4th, 2014 at 11:00 by Chris Parr

Gaming Week 2014

Whether you’re slaying dragons, returning to a medieval era as an infamous assassin, or hijacking cars to a rocking 80’s soundtrack, the gaming industry offers the most bizarre (yet perfectly acceptable) storylines that have the power to suck you into a realm of virtual reality for hours.

Living in a generation of ever adapting online technology, it seems only normal that consumers suffer from a short attention span, meaning that game designers are working even harder to ensure our demands are met for entertaining storylines, detailed graphics and a more immersive experience.

With pro-gamers seeking more innovative platforms, better peripherals, social integration and online interaction within gaming titles, the future of gaming can only become more cutting-edge.

The Plusnet team had the chance to catch up with gaming journalists the UK News Editor of GameSpot, Rob Crossley, and Leon Hurley, News Editor of Kotaku UK, to explore the upcoming trends.

Oculus Rift

Virtual Reality (or VR) is as niche as it comes for now and has already proven to be a popular user experience for the lucky few that have had the opportunity to play around. Toying with your senses, the Oculus Rift head mounted display unit takes you into a whole new world, creating a false sense of reality.

Impressed by the device, Rob Crossley believes it will be perfect for keen gamers yet is sceptical of its wider business appeal outside the hardcore gaming community.

“It’s not as natural for consumers to place a device on their head focusing on one screen only as it is to use multiple screens, such as going on social media on a smart phone while gaming on a larger device. I’m not convinced that everyone will want to finish a long day at work and then come home, wanting to instantly wear the Oculus Rift device, but it is very exciting technology especially for the avid gamers out there.”

Although originally designed to entertain gamers, interest in the device has since snowballed across different industries with TV broadcaster NBC recently stating its plans to release an Oculus Rift Tour, giving fans of popular TV series ‘The Voice’ a chance to feel like one of the judges on the show.

According to Leon, the Oculus Rift is at least another year away, he said;

“tech wise, so soon after a generation change, I can’t see too much changing radically in terms of hardware. I think the big changes are going to be software-based or conceptual.”

Using the environment

With most games, we only have the chance to use one single screen (or maybe two if you’re real keen) to immerse ourselves into the character’s world, unless you’re Oculus Rifting. Yet last year, Microsoft unveiled Microsoft Illumiroom, a system that blows the traditional way we display games out of the water and brings the virtual world directly to you and into your room. Illumiroom has the power to transform your entire room around your TV into an extension of the screen, and if you do not want to cry into the console in your hand, we suggest avoiding this video.  Sadly, the everyday gamer will most likely not be able to afford the system as Microsoft said the cost will total thousands of dollars.

Yet not all hope is lost as the public launch of the Illumiroom may lead to other companies rivalling the software and creating one suitable for those on a more modest budget.

Social Aspects

The tech world has exploded with the growth of gaming ‘celebs’ who are all visible across almost every social media and video platform, making it possible to tune into their channels and watch the ‘stars’ blog and play games, following their every gaming move, tip and trick.

As a result of these huge communities and followings, popular bloggers such as PewDiePie make millions of dollars by covering humorous walkthroughs of games like Minecraft and entertaining his viewers. With popular platforms such as Twitch (video platform and community for gamers) continuously rising, it seems more than likely that we can expect to see a trend in game developers designing methods of incorporating social media into our play.

Rob Crossley reckons that game developers will be putting more thought into the user’s online behaviour.

“I believe they are going to be asking the question, ‘how will people use this game online?’ as adding streaming and sharing features seems to be the way forward in the industry.”

Leon Hurley agrees and told Plusnet:

“I expect to see more and more social integration in game design and more steps towards streaming platforms and services like PlayStation Now or EA’s subscription program.”

Indie games on the rise

Rob Crossley has high hopes for Indie Games and reckons they will have the chance to compete alongside big names in the industry as support and funding has become readily available.

“Compared to 15 years ago, developers now have numerous amounts of resources available to them. For example, they can now use Kickstarter or Sony’s funding program to help them fund projects and they can promote their games online via social media creating their own gaming communities which can help them establish top quality games more than ever before. AAA games generally will still be very comfortable in the gaming industry due to customer loyalty and thanks to the constant demand for better games so AAA will always have a place, but we’re already seeing a trend in Indie Games becoming more and more popular today.”

Graphics

The history of graphics show huge improvements already. Just take a minute to think back to your Gameboy times playing Zelda in comparison to the full HD visuals of Battlefield 4. Already, it seems graphically harder to push the limit.

“The difference between this and the last generation for example is not as pronounced as it has been in the past,” said Leon Hurley, who thinks the next big improvement will be in a game’s narrative.

“As games get more detailed and capable of portraying emotion more subtly the ‘angry man with a gun’ character is getting harder to pull off. Stories are going to be the next big thing to improve with better, more plausible characters and stories that aren’t focused purely on conflict and explosions.”

PC vs Console

PC gaming, having always had a dedicated but perhaps underrepresented following, is now seemingly entering a renaissance period. Our latest statistics show that gaming traffic on PCs has nearly doubled in one year, up from 25% to 45%.

Many are now opting out of using consoles as a result of frequent updates,  and so gamers are turning to the PC, putting that good old RAM into practice and investing time and money into high-tech gaming.

The ability to upgrade your PC hardware to match the demand of more powerful games is often a far cheaper alternative than emptying your pockets on the latest console every other year.

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The rise of the game streamer

October 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 by Chris Parr

Gaming Week 2014

With Twitch.tv recently being purchased for $970 million by Amazon, the world of streaming games is becoming big business. YouTube is also awash with walkthroughs and people having fun playing any games you can imagine, from the latest major releases to relatively small indie games.

We take a look at how gaming and eSports have become more mainstream and the rise of Twitch.tv.

Over recent years there’s been a noted increase in the amount of content produced by gamers online, from live streams to YouTube videos and the more traditional written guides.

From humble beginnings

Twitch started back in June 2011, focussing on video games and playthroughs by users. Over the last few years it’s grown vastly and now covers many of the top eSports events and competitions, allowing viewers to watch live or on-demand.

Earlier in 2014 rumours began to emerge that Google were looking to acquire Twitch and add them to their portfolio, however this did not emerge. Instead there was an announcement that Amazon.com were to buy Twitch for $970million, with the deal expected to be complete by the end of the year.

Twitch bandwidth increase

Twitch traffic is definitely growing, over the last few months we’ve seen around a 27% increase in bandwidth to Twitch.tv alone. Towards the start of the year Twitch was ranked 4th in peak Internet traffic in the US. Although not yet at those levels over here the figures are increasing and with more people now having access to superfast fibre speeds and the increased upload speeds that come along with these, we’ll probably continue to see this rise.

YouTubers

Alongside the streamers are those who produce videos for YouTube, some do straddle the divide and do content for both.

One of the most successful and popular YouTuber’s is Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie. He currently has 27 million (yes million) subscribers to his YouTube channel and pulls in around $4 million in ad sales on his channel per year according to an article in the The Wall Street Journal (paywalled). PewDiePie’s videos regularly attract several million views.

eSports

With streaming and video content so accessible, it’s no surprise that eSports are coming more in to the mainstream. Some recent competitions have attracted high viewing figures with the recent ESL Cologne One event having over 3 million unique views and at one point reaching 400,000 concurrent sessions. Couple this with the huge prize funds on offer and we can safely say that eSports will be around for many years to come.

The light hearted side of streaming

A lot of the content on Twitch follows a similar format, the streamer playing a game whilst interacting with people in their chat. Recently there have been some variations in this, with a couple of the more creative ones hitting more mainstream media too. These include 2 fish playing the classic beat-em-up Streetfighter.

In February 2014 a social experiment was launched on Twitch, to try and complete video games by parsing commands sent by viewers through the chat. This was known as Twitch Plays Pokémon and received over 55 million views during the course of the experiment.

Twitch plays pokemon

Do you enjoy watching people play games? Maybe you’re a streamer or post videos to YouTube. Click the share buttons below and let us know what you think.

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How do you become a gaming journalist?

October 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 by Chris Parr

Gaming Week 2014

For many, a love of writing and a love of video games come together to create the role of video game journalist, but what is a video game journalist and how can you be one? Plusnet finds out…

What is a video game journalist?

A video game journalist covers many areas of writing – one day they might write about an upcoming release, the next they could review a game and then they could attend an event. All these different tasks require different writing skills – something David Hutchinson, gaming journalist for The Times, is keen to stress.

“An ability to write for your audience is a must.”

As a video game journalist you’ll need to be able to tailor your writing for whatever site or audience you’re writing for, and be conscious of your spelling and grammar. “A good understanding of the English language and a good grasp of grammar and punctuation is, ironically, more important when writing for smaller titles” says David.

“National papers and big-name websites will have sub-editors to clean up your writing. Smaller sites will expect you to be able to write and publish yourself, so you need to make sure your copy is in top shape”.

How do you start working?

Like any job, you’ll struggle to get out there straight away with no experience. This is enough to put some people off, however by being prepared to work for free you stand a much better chance and can expand your portfolio in no time.

Websites like Game Journalism Jobs provide you with an ever-expanding list of websites hungry for content and provides both voluntary and paid positions, helping you to find places to write for and get your name out there. Whilst you might be wary of writing for free, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting paid work later down the line than someone who hasn’t had their work published before.

As well as contributing to sites, you could consider starting your own blog to direct people to. Journalists tend to have a personal blog where they can write anything – be it video game related or otherwise – and from this they can then link to examples of their work. Having a central place where people can find your work is great when you’re applying for jobs as not only does it show how committed you are, but makes it easier for potential employers to find your work.

Don’t underestimate the value of social media either. Social channels, Twitter especially, offer you a place to share your work, network with other like-minded people and make a (hopefully good) name for yourself. Even if you only share your work on your account, it’s a great way of learning how to build your audience – a skill that will come in handy later on in your career.

“I want to be a video game journalist but am not an avid gamer. Is this a problem?”

For anyone who may be worried about not being madly into video gaming, David has some advice

“many of the best games journalists are average gamers. It gives them the perspective to see what would make a game worth shelling out £50 for for an average punter.”

Whilst being an avid gamer might help you write more in-depth reviews and provide references for other passionate gamers, it’s not a prerequisite for reviewing. The majority of people who play video games will be average gamers (hence the term “average” gamers) so as long as you know your Mario from your Master Chief, you’ll be okay.

Top Tips

David has five final top tips for anyone wanting to start reviewing video games online:

  • If you are writing for the specialist press then by all means go into frame rates and FPS type acronyms, but if you are writing for a more general site or publication, keep it accessible.
  • Be honest and don’t read other peoples reviews until you’ve written your own.
  • Write with interest and flavour, but avoid trying too hard to be funny as what you think as hilarious often falls flat.
  • Use descriptives of the gameplay and environment. It’s not a ‘post-apocalyptic environment’; it’s a ‘post-apocalyptic environment with ashen skies and skeletal buildings’.
  • It doesn’t matter if everyone else hates the game you love. If you can justify why you love the game, it’s a valid review. Don’t worry what everyone else thinks.

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5 Hidden Indie gems you must play

October 1st, 2014 at 11:00 by Guest Blogger

Gaming Week 2014

Following on from his earlier blog in the week, Rhys from AwesomeGames.co.uk has returned into the Plusnet hotseat. He says his favourite character is Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect and the first game he ever played was Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Today he’s bringing our gamers the best five games indie you need to play if you haven’t already….

IT’S no secret that the indie gaming scene is booming in 2014, with many games such as Braid, Dust: An Elysian Tail and Amnesia: The Dark Descent enjoying critical acclaim normally reserved for time-tested classics. In such a vast market of games, there are naturally a bunch that are left at the wayside, many of which are worth playing. Without further ado, here are five hidden indie gems that are certainly worth your time.

5. ARES: Extinction Agenda

This action platformer puts you in the role of the titular Ares, a combat robot tasked with rescuing the survivors of a violent outbreak of malicious machines. The game features elements of Megaman and Metroid with its changeable suit that grant a variety of powers and its focus on exploring an environment where everything is out to kill you. There’s also a crafting element to the game that allows you to increase Ares’ power even more as you progress through the game. With a soundtrack composed by the incredible Hyperduck Soundworks, ARES: Extinction Agenda hits pretty much all the marks required of a great game, and is sure to satisfy fans of high-octane, run n’ gun action.

4. Pineapple Smash Crew

A top-down shooter with a strong focus on throwing grenades, Pineapple Smash Crew combines the thrills and difficulty of Smash TV with the careful planning and tactics of Cannon Fodder. As a team of four marines who move as one unit, you’re tasked with clearing out spaceships overrun by vicious creatures and robots, armed with machine guns and capable of picking up a variety of grenade types. These include homing grenades, grenades that transform into missiles and make a beeline for the enemy, and special grenades that heal your units. Assigning various grenades to your squad is crucial to your success as it’s very easy to die, and once a team member is gone, they’re not coming back, and will be replaced with a new member once the mission is over. Pineapple Smash Crew is a fun, unique take on the top-down shooter subgenre and should appeal to players that love fast-paced action and strategy.

3. Cloudphobia

Cloudphobia is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up with a rather unique central mechanic: each stage has a very limited amount of time in order to complete it, as in too little time to reasonably finish the level. Of course, it wouldn’t be much fun if the game was impossible, so you’re able to activate a booster that will zoom you through the level at intense speeds. The trade-off here is that you’re naturally more vulnerable to enemy attacks. However, you can’t just boost to the end of the stage without a care in the world; you have to make sure you’re shooting down enemy ships as if they pass you, it’ll damage the mothership you’re tasked with protecting. If you or the mothership runs out of health, it’s game over. This interesting mix of mechanics makes for an intense experience that’ll have you on edge at all times. It helps that the game is also rather gorgeous to behold, and the design of the ships is creatively elegant.

2. Iji

Akin to a side-scrolling System Shock 2, Iji is probably the best game ever made within the Game Maker engine. You are the titular Iji, a young woman whose life is thrown into turmoil when an alien race exterminates most life on Earth, so they might make it a home for themselves. Iji is given multiple cybernetic augmentations in order to save her life, and she is tasked with finding out why these aliens have wrought such destruction on Earth. The story is actually a lot deeper than it sounds, featuring a very compelling narrative that encourages the player to complete the game in its entirety. As a shooter, the game is unique in that you can choose which level of aggression with which to take on your enemies with. Going in guns blazing is of course the most obvious way of progression, but Iji may also take a more pacifistic approach, and the choices she makes in this area affects the events of the story. Iji was one of the first games composed by the epic Hyperduck Soundworks, crafting a soundtrack that’s both memorable and leaves a powerful impression, much like the game itself.

1. The Knytt Series

Developed by Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren, the Knytt series of games focus on exploring a hostile environment for power-ups in order to further progress through the world. The games are very simple and have a Metroid style of progression; traverse what you’re able to until you come across a power-up that allows you to travel across even more terrain and explore the world at a greater degree. There is no combat, just the ability to explore and take in the surroundings. Above all else, it’s the series trademark presentation that makes it stand out. Featuring a variety of tranquil and often sombre locales, the series takes you through lush fields, ancient temples, quaint villages, lava-filled canyons, abandoned laboratories, polluted factories, firefly-lit forests and much more; and this is what makes the games such a joy to play. They require very little of the player, yet at the same time present an exploration-based experience that’s completely immersive from start to finish.

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