Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Which I Lash Out at Ineffectual Archaeological Academia But Disguise it as a Gaming Blog Because I'm Sneaky Like That

Despite the title, this is actually the 1st in my new serial killing, er blogging, series so bear with me....this will eventually turn back into a post about gaming.

There were a couple schools of thought in archaeological theory with regards to conducting research into past, or present, peoples and cultures. There were, now that I think about it, likely a lot more than two schools of thought but I can’t remember that far back, and more recently I was too busy actually working to do much theoretical pontificating, unlike my counterparts who skulked in their ivory towers, leering at their students, and stressing about their next presumptuous publication.........can you taste that bitterness folks, can you? It's hanging in the air like smoke I’d say, but please don't mistake it for jealousy because it's really just contempt, I assure you. Oh, and if you are a professor, working in a University or College I of course don't mean're different, I'm sure, and thanks for reading my blog.

Anyhoooo, back to theories and such......

One of the inherent problems in archaeology and anthropology is that people have different ways of looking at the same thing (subjective little buggers, aren’t we?). One school of thought suggested that we should rise above our subjective natures and look at different peoples and their culture from a purely scientific point of view. Data collection should be free of our own biases and opinions. The other school of thought stated that it was not possible to do this, and that our own beliefs, mores, and cultural norms will always be a lens through which we interpret everything. The best we can do then, is to understand that, state our biases, and then do the best we can.

Never a purist (nor one to believe in a load of bollocks) I fell into the second camp. I think that approach holds true not only for archaeology (and its associated hunt for treasure and/or cute, gullible grad students who think you're great because you've traveled all over the world stealing the cultural treasures of other nations, right Mr. Jones?) but with a lot of things. I'm sure, by now, you're wondering what my bloody point is, what it has to do with games, and (if you’re working at a university) if you should alert security to seal off the roof. Right, so here it comes:

Xsyon is a game I want to like.

I posted about this previously and stated some of the things that really interest me: Its sandbox approach, its focus on a primitive start up, the involvement of an archaeologist in the project, the social experiment that will allow (force) players into creating an entire world which will evolve both technologically and physically- all at the players initiative- really does fascinate me in an intellectual way. The end result of all that is I really want to like this game. The following review, and those to come, must be read and understood with this in mind as per the Post-Processual intellectual egg-heads mentioned previously (see, I had a point that went beyond insulting academics). I can’t promise you I’ll be fair, but at the very least you’ve been warned.

Xsyon (P)reviewed: Installment The First

In the beginning God (that being me in this case) created a character and sent them forth into the world. And they were frightened. Petrified really. The opening music caught me off guard and scared the daylights out of me. I've played Left 4 Dead, and at one time I'd watch anything labeled 'horror’, so I'm not easily scared but that intro music is something else. I thought I was going to be mobbed by a pack of angry beasts. I looked left, then right, then behind me. Then up.  I prepared for imminent attack, but no, nothing. Thankfully the music fades after a few minutes, your adrenaline recedes and with shaky hands you can get back to the game.

I was alone, with only my axe, a bag with my crafting tools, a fishing rod, and the clothes on my back. That's it. Tutorial? Bah! They had one but the scary animals from the music track killed it. Make your own way. Oh, and I was hungry, and thirsty, and I had no food. No quest guy? What the hell.......

This is one of the reasons that I want to like Xsyon. It is a great idea which treats the player like they may have the ability to think for themselves (me human, me use brain). It's going to be a difficult balance for any game like this, I think, to get that right and attract a decent payer base. A lot of these, what should we call them- Sandbox? Niche market? Indie?- games can suffer from the 'take-it or leave-it because-we're-different-syndrome'. I felt Darkfall was a bit like that.   
Xsyon features a skill-based character progression system with some leveling as well. I'm not sure how that works, and I’ve yet to gain a level, but we'll see soon enough. I've only 'rolled' two different characters to see the difference in starting crafting specialties, and the equipment they provide, but be warned- and this may make fellow altoholics a bit weak at the knees- you can have only one character. Or, if you prefer it in the form of an 80's movie quote:

There can be only one.

You are free to call him Highlander, if you wish, but there are no alts allowed. And as an aside, now that I've lived in Scotland, I think I can say that might be the worst Scottish accent ever, so rest easy Mr. Gibson you won't get that title (although Racist Of The Year is still up for grabs, so have another drink and get talking! Oh, look, Mel, it's a half Nigerian-Muslim, half Polish-Jewish woman working as a police officer: What do you make of that?).

Getting back to the actual gaming experience I have to say, in fairness (and despite my bias), it isn't exactly polished. It kind of reminds me of Fallen Earth which had very disappointing, amateurish graphics (at release). Xsyon is better than the Fallen Earth of a year ago (when I played it) but I would say it’s of a similar standard. I am not bound by an NDA so I'm ending this installment with some screenies for you to see, but remember, it is beta, and these were taken prior to the latest 1.8 gb patch which has upgraded the textures, or so I'm told:

Rivers: They helped early civilizations flourish, and as an added bonus, my dogs love them!

Scavenging a Garbage Heap.

I look very angry, and rightfully so. It took me ages to craft that club. I lost my hair due to the stress involved.

FIRE! Who's you're (warm) daddy now!

A look at the backpack and grass pouch (which I made, thank you very much) contents, and the skill (crafting) bar in the upper right.

For man is not an animal, and he must bathe. Or at least drink or he will die in this game.

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