Dear Adam Baldwin Supporters…

Over the past few weeks, the Supanova Pop Culture Expo has gained some extra attention for inviting actor Adam Baldwin to their show. Starting next month, Supanova’s events will cover Australia and Baldwin will appear at the Sydney and Perth shows.

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In the past year, Baldwin has become internet famous for his offensive views on women and transgender people amongst other things. He has compared gay marriage to incest, wondered if Barack Obama actually wanted Ebola in America and was a major instigator of #GamerGate. If you’re unfamiliar with #GamerGate, then I envy you. These views and Baldwin’s leading association with a hate group that has made people afraid for their personal safety caused thousands of people to petition Supanova to cancel his appearances. Because if this is what he actually believes, how would women, gay, transgender and most other pop culture fans feel entirely comfortable with a person like this in attendance? Nevertheless, Supanova doubled-down on their booking of Baldwin. Have a look at some of the comments on that page. Go ahead, I’ll wait. In addition to that Facebook post, have a look at the comments on a recent ABC Drum article criticising Supanova. Again, I’ll wait.

Hello Adam Baldwin supporters, I’m talking to you now. First of all, I get it. Firefly was amazing. Out Of Gas and Objects In Space were phenomenal episodes. I love still not knowing what the deal is with Shepard Book. The firefly-class ship has such a cool design. I still get teary-eyed when River says “My turn” in the movie. I get it. I completely understand.

But…

If you are cool with Adam Baldwin’s views then you are living in denial of the pain and trauma he has caused so many people. If you agree with his views, then…look I need to make it plain: you are a horrible person. You…you do understand that, right? Abusing people, dismissing the validity of their existence or legitimacy of their viewpoints because they are not like you is horrible behaviour for a grown adult human being. People have a problem with Adam Baldwin because he treats people as lesser human beings. Is this what your mother taught you? You weren’t raised by wolves, right? When you have kids, is this what you will teach them? I’m shocked that I am typing these words. I just assumed these were inherent things that a person learns as they grow up. Otherwise, if we didn’t, we would be fighting for scraps of meat in the street.

Immediately dismissing criticism, not even acknowledging that it exists or calling someone “butthurt” are solutions to nothing. They don’t help anybody. These are the attitudes of a child who stomps their feet because they don’t want to go to bed. I refuse to believe, at your soul, away from the trappings of the internet, that you are that person.

Another aspect I see is supporters dismissing any sort of abuse against women or transgender people by claiming this whole thing is about “ethics in games journalism”. If this is what you honestly believe, I would really appreciate the answers to two questions.

1. What specific example of the violation of ethics, as you see them in games journalism, are you talking about?

2. Why do you care so much about video game journalism to the point where families have been scared for their lives?

If you can look at all these reasons that I’ve listed and still agree with Adam Baldwin, then we have something to work with. What I mean is, if you honestly judge the actions of Adam Baldwin to be openly ugly towards other people and legitimately say “I still don’t care”, then we have a place to start from and a platform that I understand. I know what kind of person you are. But I’ll bet there’s not a lot of you that truly feel this way. In your heart. For the rest of your life.

Because right now I’m confused. Firefly was an awesome show but there are people just like you who are really afraid to attend Supanova because they might get abused or god forbid, assaulted. And that’s because all the support that I see for Adam Baldwin has been some variation of what I mentioned: violent threats, horrific insults or insane theories that don’t hold water when viewed in the light of day.

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Personally, I’m sad I’m not attending Supanova this year because one of my childhood icons, Dolph Lundgren, will be there. No matter what you’ve heard from people over the years, you have never met a bigger fan of Dolph than me. Dark Angel (aka I Come In Peace) is a fantastic sci-fi movie and his work in Rocky IV, The Punisher, The Joshua Tree, Masters Of The Universe and even total garbage like The Expendables is wonderful to me. A god among mere mortals. So even with all that in my mind, with decades of rabid fandom to finally meet this guy, I can’t simply ignore the fact that Supanova are okay with Adam Baldwin and his horrible, insane views. I can’t do it. I’ve seen enough terrible abuse and twisted attitudes in my nearly 40 years on this planet and I can’t support anything that resembles such behaviour. Not even close. As such, I can’t support or attend Supanova.

My question is: why can you? Despite what we want to dream, Firefly is never coming back. And Jayne Cobb wasn’t that cool.

 

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SUNRISE, SUNSET

Some people had issues with the variety and quality of video games in 2014. I can understand. A vast amount of titles were delayed until 2015 and more than a few that did come out, didn’t work properly. Those are probably the top two reasons to get people upset when it comes to games. If your game is broken or simply doesn’t come out, of course the reaction will be extreme.

So we look to the future. Or at least, the present. 2015 is ready to drop a lot of exciting games on people’s heads. I’m writing this in January and already there’s at least three new games I’m itching to play. But this year, I vow to not jump the gun. In 2014, I purchased a worrying amount of games that I have barely touched. This year, I will wring each game dry before moving on to the next one. This will prove to be much more rewarding. Hype for new games will be ever present but fingers crossed that my willpower is strong.

However, that’s for tomorrow and beyond. For now, 2014 had its moments and if you were looking, some absolute masterpieces.

1. Alien Isolation 

2. Olli Olli 

3. Watch Dogs 

4. P.T.

5. The Long Dark 

6. Neverending Nightmares

7. Destiny

8. Game Of Thrones Episode 1: Iron From Ice

9. Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure

10. Valiant Hearts: The Great War

ALIEN ISOLATION: THE BEST GAME OF 2014

There are many reasons why Alien Isolation is the bravest and most groundbreaking game of last year. From top to bottom, it is staggering that it exists in its current form. At so many points, I expected it to dive into comfortable mediocrity. I thought perhaps it would not follow through on its initial promises of game design and story and fall victim to some studio executive’s demands after they glanced at quarterly financial reports. But before I get into further detail, let’s talk about something else. The reason we’ve arrived here. Let’s talk about the alien itself.

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To this day, in the Alien lore, nobody knows where this terrifying race of creatures came from. Obviously, you could argue about tangential explanations in comics or half-prequels but in the core three films, the alien remains a mystery. The derelict ship found by the crew of the Nostromo on the planet LV-426 doesn’t belong to the alien nor is it their home. Kane, Dallas and Lambert stumble across the eggs early in the 22nd century and the alien has been tearing through the human race ever since.

It’s a fascinating creature that is unlike anything else. The blood that courses through its veins contains highly corrosive acidity and its double jaws are powerful to puncture human skulls. Lethal is not a strong enough word to describe this creature. Fatal would be a more suitable term. Everything about it, from its physicality to the sheer psychopathic philosophy, is fatal to anything that it comes in contact with. In that respect, it is complete and brilliant.

In the films, there are characters who remark upon this. Ash, the android, says that he “admires its purity” and in his opinion, it is “unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality”. Ripley, when she confronts the coward employee of the company, Carter Burke, talks about the alien in a way that elevates it above the petty squabbling and betrayal that human beings are prone to repeat. She says “I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.” The general viewpoint is that the alien creature couldn’t be more singular. It solely exists to eliminate everything in its path and generate more of its kind. More than that, we just don’t know.

Creative Assembly’s Alien Isolation bears so much similarity to the alien itself, I have to believe the developers thought the same thing while they were making it. The game is devout in its belief to never stray from what it wants to achieve. No matter what. The tension it produces never goes away and despite toying with guns, other humans and some light puzzles, the mission statement to create a consistent stealth experience ruled by a single antagonist doesn’t waver.

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Not counting the Predator-related efforts, there have been approximately twenty attempts to capture the Alien movies in video game form. Apart from an extremely underrated experience developed by WayForward, Alien games have never achieved anything more than average to poor. This reputation culminated in 2013 in what can only be described as an extinction level event of awful in Aliens: Colonial Marines. This was seemingly the final nail in the coffin for games based in the Alien universe. Which in turn, makes Alien Isolation all the more shocking. Coming from the same publisher as Gearbox’s trainwreck, I can only imagine Sega gave Creative Assembly full responsibility and creative carte blanche. Because who cares, right? What difference does it make? It can’t possibly get any worse.

Whoever made that decision was astoundingly correct. The crippling fear of the creature practically drips off the walls in Isolation. More than once, I remember hiding in a vent or under a hospital bed while the alien stalks the halls, searching for sign of life. I dare not move in these moments. The alien’s senses are sharp as a razor blade and the slightest noise or action will send it right into your face. In one section of the space station Sevastopol, I hid beneath a desk after detecting the creature moving around. In surrounding rooms, other human survivors wandered. All of them oblivious to the impending danger that headed their way. In my (hopefully) safe refuge under the desk, I couldn’t see anything that was happening but my ears were up and at attention. The thumping footsteps of the creature followed by gunshots from the survivors. And then, chaos. Screaming and running. Hissing followed by rapid sprinting from the creature. Then a survivor entered the room I was occupying and I heard him yell for his life as the alien tore him apart. I stayed under that desk for quite some time afterwards. I don’t mind telling you I was shaken.

Ten, twenty, maybe even fifty years from now, I will still be amazed by Isolation. It does everything right so often, it feels like it was always meant to be rather than an out-of-nowhere absolute mega-bomb of courage on the part of the developers. Which it completely is. Of course this was the Alien game that needed to be made. How on earth did everyone go so long without realising it before now? On some level, Creative Assembly have made everyone look like an idiot. It was so obvious and yet so insane.

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I’m prepared to call Alien Isolation a seminal masterpiece. In the future, I hope its influence is felt throughout the video game industry. Not only as a masterstroke of games design and storytelling but as the best example yet of being able to transport the player into an already-established movie universe. Isolation opens the door for developers to walk through and leave behind the days when movie-based games were nothing more than another bullet point in a contract alongside cereal and plush toys. This wasn’t a game rushed out to meet a box office deadline. Creative Assembly made it their mission to put everything in place to ensure whoever played their game felt that same raw terror they felt when they watch Ridley Scott’s Alien. Only on a heightened scale because this time, you couldn’t get away.

Bravo to everyone involved. You have made this Alien fan very happy for years to come. Thank you.

GAME OF THE YEAR 2014 – (2) OLLI OLLI

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It is very rare that you come across a game that’s special enough to make you feel like you could play it anytime, anywhere for the rest of your life. Let me give you a couple of examples:

Road Rash 2 is rather simple. It’s a motorbike racing game for the Megadrive. In addition to having revolutionary controls for the time, it has the added bonus of being able to attack other riders with chains and baseball bats etc. Plus if you’re not careful you can get busted by the cops. The sense of speed and fun in every track resonates over 20 years later. At the other end of the spectrum, Full Throttle is Tim Schaefer’s first solo adventure game and it’s a masterpiece of writing, characters and story. The quasi-futuristic world it creates is magical. I could hang out in those bars and trailer parks all day long. The concept of a second Full Throttle tattoo is never far from my mind.

These games are the ones I turn to when the vision of a post-apocalyptic world comes up. It wouldn’t matter if every other game in existence was reduced to dust because I would be happy to play these two for 100 years. Again and again. I never get sick of everything they offer. So I was never sure if a third game would ever enter this highly exclusive group. Perhaps these titles from the 1990’s were so influential to me simply because I was a younger man. Maybe that part of me had grown up and moved on.

Olli Olli is, without a doubt, that third game. It locked itself into position only after a few hours of playing it. It is perfect. It stands tall as one of those mythical ‘desert island’ games. The kind that you could lose yourself in for hours no matter what. Everything else just fades into the background. Nothing else is of consequence while playing Olli Olli. It’s like you’re wired into the singular purpose for which it was designed. Phone ringing? Olli Olli. Dishes piling up? Olli Olli. Need to go out and run some errands and maybe pay some bills before they come knocking on your door with a court summons? Olli Olli. Olli Olli. Olli Olli.

But hold on a minute. This is just a 2D skateboarding game we’re talking about. Each course can be finished in about a minute and once you’ve figured out the double-tap ollie controls, you’re all set. On the surface, this is practically a phone game right? I’m afraid not. Olli Olli picks its battles very carefully when it comes to razor-sharp game design. Not only is the gameplay staggeringly addictive, it is as deep as an ocean trench. This tiny skateboarding sprite of a man in a red cap has an insane collection of tricks and skills in his arsenal. Much like EA’s Skate series, they’re all there for the taking from the start rather than prizes to be unlocked. You just have to get as good as the game convinces you that you can be. It pulls you along each course with exciting, unrelenting momentum. It never wants to let you go and never allows to think that you can’t do better.

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The platform of choice also mattered. Olli Olli was released first on the Vita in January. There, it was great. It felt like it belonged. It fit alongside such unique experiences like Hotline Miami and TxK that made Sony’s handheld such a compelling system for incredible, ‘one-more-go’ games. But then, in August, it came to the PlayStation 4. Unexpectedly, the upgrade to the DualShock 4 controller made a significant impact. To put it another way: on the Vita, nothing was wrong but on the PS4, everything was right. If there was a controller + game combination that seemed like they were made for each other, it’s these two. Using the touchpad to restart the course is a stroke of simple genius.

Olli Olli is the most difficult game I played this year. The positive aspect to this was I never felt frustrated. Every mistake I made was mine and mine alone. At no point did I feel like the London-based developer, Roll7, was punishing me. On the contrary, I felt like they wanted me to succeed. They charmed me into continuing whereas lesser games might get deleted from my library. Whatever dark magic they injected into their game to balance that line between elation and despair, it worked. It’s a stunning game on all fronts. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Oh, and the soundtrack is consistently amazing.

GAME OF THE YEAR 2014 – (3) WATCH DOGS

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Watch Dogs is the best game Ubisoft has released in years. It has the most interesting and well realised open-world ever created. The combat and multiplayer are downright revolutionary. The story goes to dark corners of the human psyche that most developers would never dare to touch. It reinvents police chases to make them perpetually thrilling and unpredictable instead of a bog-standard annoyance. It contains side-missions that are endlessly addictive, some of the most realistically creepy villains in a video game and a quality story in downloadable content which I ravenously played to completion.

Considering how this game was received, those previous statements may sound insane to some people. I completely understand why. Nobody saw this game for what it was. Just for what they thought it should be. It should have been the spearhead for next-generation consoles. It should have been the game that paved the way for stunning visuals, groundbreaking gameplay and anything else you wished your new PS4 or Xbox One could deliver. And you know what? It’s a damn shame. A shame that nobody realised that Watch Dogs is all that and more.

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When I load up my completed save of Watch Dogs, I wait until the dead of night and then walk the streets of Chicago. I breathe in the alleyways. I stroll past dive bars and newsstands. Occasionally, a crime happens and I decide to shut it down before it gets out of control. Then I continue walking. Maybe catch a train or admire some architecture.

The point is, I’m still attached to this world. This world where the Blume Corporation were overconfident with their automated city-wide operating system. Where the Chicago South Club engaged in crimes that no human being should ever be exposed to. Where Maurice Vega waited so long to die and Aiden Pearce is a fugitive whose name is now spoken only in whispers. Long after the story was over, Chicago still felt alive. I still felt unfinished with every street and every building. That’s why walking around at night feels right. There’s a constant underlying menace in Watch Dogs that is still present.

The only reliable company I have on these dark streets is Brian Reitzell’s thrilling score. His electronic melodies filled with tension and sadness reflects Watch Dogs’ present-day cyberpunk. It is an eerie, consistent collection of tracks. Without Reitzell’s work, this game wouldn’t have the final shine that gives Chicago that extra edge.

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Details make up the solid foundation of everything here. Like how Aiden runs with his pistol slightly behind his back. Or the way Lucky Quinn looks at people with disgust. Whereas some Ubisoft products seem like a big mess with no sense of cohesion, Watch Dogs feels like a deliberate world. It’s littered with attention to the most ignored corners of itself. Nobody needed to write interesting, funny and disturbing stories when Aiden spies on people’s apartments. But those stories are there.

Ironically, it was the marketing of Watch Dogs that sold it short. Without that nine minute presentation at E2 2012, the response to it would have been very different. Instead of combing through every frame of footage to see how the light reflected off park benches, people may have allowed the tale of Aiden Pearce and his dead niece to stand on its own merits. Because when I did that, I discovered a thrilling open-world that I never wanted to leave.

GAME OF THE YEAR 2014 – (4) P.T.

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If there’s one long-standing frustration in video games, it’s being a fan of Silent Hill. In recent years, that name has become synonymous with disappointment. Even the most dedicated fans will admit there are more mediocre or bad games than good ones. It’s a sad feeling because there’s magic within the alleyways of that foggy mountain town. But it has been overshadowed by poor stories, clunky gameplay and two bloody awful movies. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Silent Hill was dead and buried but it had almost become a joke within the video game community. Konami was just happy with keeping the series’ head just barely above water and not injecting new life into it. The popular opinion was Silent Hill needed to move on and evolve if it wanted to survive. The only stronger opinion was that it was probably too late for such a colossal resurrection to even be attempted.

If marketing dollars didn’t rule so many decisions in big-budget video games, more games would arrive in the same fashion as P.T.. A short confusing teaser during the GamesCom press conference in Germany told viewers that this strange vision of horror was already available for download on the PlayStation Network. When I started playing it, nobody knew what it was all about but it quickly blew my mind. Not only did the lighting and atmosphere feel so advanced, the whole package felt effortless. Like the mad geniuses behind this experience knew something we didn’t when it came to making games in 2014.

The fact that it came out of nowhere certainly helped its impact but it was how it expertly captured the unfettered fear of the unknown that had people sitting up and taking notice. From the opening seconds, it was clear something VERY wrong had occurred in this house. The radio reports of domestic homicide was a disturbing omen and the rainstorm outside the single barred-up window enveloped the house in endless claustrophobia.

I had very real difficulties moving forward. I was legitimately scared. With no idea what to expect, a flurry of cockroaches or knock on a door would have me terrified. I made sure to play it in the dead of night with headphones and despite my constant hesitation, it was the only way to experience what this ‘interactive teaser’ had to offer. There’s one moment in particular I want to mention. Walking the hallway for what must have been the third or fourth time, I started to hear the sound of weeping. Not the “Oh dear, someone is sad, I better cheer them up” kind of weeping but rather the “Oh dear god, what is that, let me out of this house, I will punch my way through this wall if I have to oh god oh god oh god” kind. Creeping forward, I turned a corner and saw this:

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Up until this point, I had not seen anybody in this house. But this “person” was just standing there, lit only by a single light. I was frozen to the spot. There were no music cues to signify their arrival, no predictable jump-scare clanging on the soundtrack. Just utter silence. That’s what made it incredibly creepy. What was this mysterious figure going to do? Was there any more of them? This was the moment that I knew P.T. was something very special. I must have stared at this figure for a least a minute or two before taking a few steps forward. The lights went out and they were gone. It was an amazing encounter that stands as my favourite “moment” of 2014. I have tremendous respect for every miniscule design decision that resulted in this event. I’m still in awe.

Before long, it was revealed that P.T. was a ‘playable teaser’ for a new Silent Hill game designed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro. This was an absolute revelation. You’re telling me this unprecedented style of horror gameplay will be part of a series that everybody thought was lost to mediocrity and apathy? Unbelievable. This information coupled with how P.T. was delivered towered above the majority of video game announcements in 2014. It was incredibly bold and breathed life into something I thought to be long dead. A further cinematic (non-playable) teaser was released soon after that featured headless ghosts, creepy toys and a massive giant chasing the player through hallways and into the depths of a dark basement. It displayed the same sensibilities as P.T. and as such, gave me tremendous hope that whatever ‘Silent Hills’ will be, it will hold true to what this original vision contained.

P.T. hit like a knife through the ribs and was unlike anything else this year. Even though I could barely move, I loved everything about it. It both terrified me as a horror fan and filled me with hope as devotee of Silent Hill. I sincerely hope other game publishers take note of the way it was released. I understand how the marketing machine works but P.T. arriving with no fanfare whatsoever made so much more impact than any number of developer diaries or character trailers. It was just the cherry on top that it turned out to be the finest horror game this year.

GAME OF THE YEAR 2014 – (5) THE LONG DARK

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Alright, picture this: it’s a bone-chillingly cold night and you’re searching everywhere for something to keep your feet warm. You search drawers and cupboards for anything until finally, you come across a clean and woolly pair of socks. You know the kind. They’re like wearing scarves on your toes. You sit on the edge of the bed and put them on and it’s a fantastic feeling and small victory for yourself. Now, take that feeling, amplify it by about 1,000 percent, surround yourself by potential blizzards, endless snow and ice, ravenous wolves and the occasional frozen corpse.

That’s the central theme of The Long Dark: small, quiet victories. Trapped alone, cold and hungry in the Canadian wilderness, you are left to your own devices to survive with a bare minimum of supplies. I have no map or sense of what lies beyond the trees in front of me. I can hear a wolf howling from somewhere over a hill. My stomach is grumbling and I sorely need rest. But my main priority is to find someplace warm so I don’t freeze to death. So when I find enough matches, fuel and newspaper to light a small pot-belly stove in an abandoned ice-fishing shack, it feels like a massive triumph.

The concept and elation of discovery is something that video games excel at. In The Long Dark’s sandbox world, stumbling across areas and items that you can put to good use in order to stay alive is executed perfectly. It borders on an addiction, as all good discovery does. But it’s not all easy times. Seeing a house on the horizon is incredibly exciting but you must make sure you can survive the trek over there. Wolves are very dangerous creatures in this wilderness and visibility reduces to almost nothing if a heavy blizzard descends upon you.

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There’s nothing as predictable as zombies in The Long Dark. An electrical storm has knocked out the power and you’re totally alone. You versus nature. Which makes for a very solitary experience. But once you manage to find (or create) warm clothes, food and water, the desire to search the nearby forest or snow-covered railway car becomes too strong to ignore. It’s a great feeling to set up a base in somebody’s dimly lit lounge room but you can’t linger for long. You’re probably running low on food.

The Long Dark is still in an Alpha stage and all the modes are not present. It’s currently an endless sandbox game with three difficulties and two massive areas. Still to come is a story mode and more features. Hinterland Studios have taken risks to design a game where unusual aspects such as windchill, fragile tools and sickness play a huge part. The adverse effects of the outdoors are highly detailed and need to be managed with care if you hope to survive more than a couple of days. Some developers might be nervous to commit to such a realistic simulation but frankly, it’s a relief to play.

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Not nearly enough games allow the player room to breathe. Standing in the deathly quiet control room of a dam while you set up a bedroll by the light of a single match is oddly satisfying. You can take your time to achieve your goals. I don’t just mean that it’s an open-world game and you can do whatever you want. The world created by Hinterland Studios feels ancient and stoic. It will be there long after you run out of water or get killed by a wolf so you might as well think about your actions long before taking them. The only reason to rush is to avoid dying alone, cold and hungry.

I’ve always wanted to visit Canada and while I’m aware this isn’t a fully accurate portrayal of what it has to offer, I’m still excited more than ever before to find out. Liberties have obviously been taken (killer wolves and no need to dig latrines) but there’s a tranquility in The Long Dark that few games possess. A sense of being at peace. I can momentarily enjoy that before heading out into the snow for another hike of discovery and wonder. And hopefully, a can opener.