Tag Archives: Retro Gaming

Physical vs. Digital Gaming

A few months ago now, I convinced my partner that purchasing a new Xbox One was the right move to make, and although I’d had Xbox consoles in the past, this one would be the first “all digital” console I’d ever owned.

For many years now, I have had a love hate relationship with gaming, in that although I find it an enjoyable pastime, I am also driven to frustration by it.

Unlock-able levels, progression through games, the achievement of trophies and much more besides means that – at times – gaming has left me in equal parts elated and enraged. And although I fully recognise the general price of new release games haven’t risen that much in the past 20 years, in comparison perhaps to other entertainment mediums, I still feel rather upset if I purchase a title for £50 only to later find I can’t get past Level 1.

This is actually something of a shared experience I’ve inherited from my father. In 1991, he purchased a copy of ‘Terminator 2; Judgement Day’ published by Ocean on Commodore 64. I still have firm memories of the family gathering around to play the game at the time – I can’t have been more than 6 or 7 – and haunted by the lack of progression past Level 2, as John is chased by the T1000 into a storm drain. It never prevented me from (much) later enjoying the film, granted, but it was an early example of how sometimes a pastime can be the most frustrating thing in the world.

So, what has all that got to do with Digital Gaming?

Well, my Dad was a member of a social gaming network, and they frequently met to trade games or discuss titles between themselves. Long before the Internet, this kind of gathering was very much in the first person and a monthly basis in a local marketplace. But the format has not changed at all, since members often traded games with each other, sold the games they could not finish to other members and swapped solutions and cheat codes with each other. In the mid-90s, when PlayStation started to control the gaming stratosphere, rental titles at your local Blockbuster made it possible to enjoy a game for the weekend – and if you didn’t like it or couldn’t play it – you’d paid much less than you might to own it outright.

But, with the advent of the internet and the development of modern technology at the turn of the millennium, console giants began to create more complex and large-scale projects whilst traditional gaming mediums in the “real world” retreated. As the creation and licensing of big budget games became more expensive, studios and developers began looking at ways to save money. In truth, the production and manufacturing of games and their accessories (manuals, boxes etc.) and its subsequent shipping was a huge additional cost which, economically, it made financial sense to attempt to eradicate.

The first step was to digitise components of the game, and so you’d find that certain titles were released without a manual, or if they were – it was abridged – to use less paper and for it to weigh less (adding up each game and each box, that’s a substantial saving per thousand unit) and you’d often find this manual was included – in full – as part of the game on your system.

Thereafter, companies like Sony and Microsoft fixed their attention towards digital content, which could either add to a game, improve it after release (to fix bugs and tweaks) or which allowed a gamer to purchase a title in full without ever leaving the screen. Indeed, with modern upgrades and technology, it is entirely possible to begin packaging and shipping a game for release into the world whilst still working on the latest upgrade to solve the problem before anyone even receives it.

Whilst in the early 90’s the size of the add on contents file might have been more than sufficient to create 10 new Commodore 64 titles on floppy disc, this digital medium meant that hard drive spaces needed to increase exponentially to cope with demand. And where we would normally boot up the Commodore before dinner, with it ready to go when we had finished 20 minutes later, gamers began to express impatience if they needed to wait even a few seconds – Loading Screens and wait times becoming a new enemy.

Sony first attempted a digital only platform in 2009, with the PSP Go, which was a UMD less version of their popular handheld. Given the vast catalogue of games available to purchase on the store at that time – through PS3 and PSP – gamers were able to download and play a wealth of titles through the format. The Xbox 360, which had launched in Nov 2005, was arguably the first console after PC to bring digital gaming to the consumer in a big way – and Sony’s handheld was perhaps a trial run at how a digital only system would be consumed in the marketplace.

Fans reacted positively to the PSP Go, but negatively to the idea of losing their accumulated catalogues of PSP titles, ones which – like Final Fantasy 7 Crisis Core – were purchased physically and could only be played on UMD. Around this time, I bought my first digital content, a copy of Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, the PS1 games I had loved so much, through PSN. Despite having a copy of both games on PS1, and the means to play them, their digital purchase meant I could play them portable on the system of my choice and that I could also use them with a more modern television. That purchase would, ultimately, also inspire me to sell a number of pieces of my collection – which were otherwise taking up space, when I later emigrated from Ireland to Scotland.

Now, back in 1991, my Dad would often – albeit frowned upon – purchase copies of games created ‘at a discount’. This made economic sense, and it was practical too, since (if you were not very good at a game) it took the sting out of a full price purchase. Modern technology means that gaming piracy has, to a large extent, been all but eradicated. And digital content has certainly helped with this. Developer sales and discounts, incentives online which avoid needing to include a retailer, mean digital content can often be more affordable than its physical counterpart beyond a certain point in the release cycle.

If gamers are saving money, that’s good news for gamers and good news for developers, with many indie composers relying solely on a digital platform – being unable to afford to create a physical product (at least initially) and hoping consumers will purchase their titles at a reduced or discounted price.

In the days of the ZX Spectrum it was often not uncommon for a game to have been developed by just one person using a home brew format, and digital content allows small development teams and lone individuals the chance – once again – to create truly great games that can be released in a mass market forum. One example of these titles is Rocket League, which itself is a sequel, released originally as Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars on PlayStation 3 in 2008. What began as a small development team slowly grew – to the point that Rocket League itself received more pre orders than any other title when initially released on digital format – and is still being ported and having content developed for it today, over 5 years after its original release.

Personally, I’m not that fond of paying £50 for a digital copy of Resident Evil 3 (which I did recently) only to realise I’m unable to trade the title once completed, maybe helping me to purchase another game or make some money back. Capcom, the developers of the Resident Evil series, have been some of the most outspoken developers against second hand sales – going so far as to include a bug within games (see Resident Evil ‘The Mercenaries’ 3DS) preventing the deletion of save data. Although then Capcom VP Christian Svenson went on record to say this was not a business decision, many at the time felt it was a way to attempt to curb this kind of trade. Regardless of the reasoning, and probably because of the controversy, Capcom have not since repeated this move.

Jill really regretted lending Kendo her copy of ‘Sensible Soccer’ just prior to the outbreak in Raccoon City

On the opposite side of my own argument, however, I can acknowledge that digital gaming has done me an immense favour. Titles like ‘Resident Evil 3’, ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ and ‘Batman Arkham Knight’ on Xbox One’s digital console may not physically be on my shelf but will remain with me whenever I need them. And my original Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid purchases from 2008/9 remain – to this day – on my PSN account, whenever I need to re download them. Circumstances over time have meant that there have often been occasions when I’ve needed to sell a console or material to pay essential bills; and having that digital account preserved for future use has been huge relief, not just on my wallet!

I could therefore argue that I have owned these titles for 12 years, far longer than any other physical game I still have today. I was upset about having to repurchase ‘Final Fantasy VII’ on the Xbox One (the 2019 port of the game) to play the same title I loved on another system – but this was my choice, and allowed me to once again experience an improved functionality and timings added with the latest revision.

The second-hand marketplace, however, very much has its place. Being able to browse titles in a store like CEX allows for me to discover, in much the same way as another gamer might browse the sale section of the digital shop; what is new to me and worth a cheap purchase.

In 2018 I bought a copy of the ‘Arkham Collection’ on Xbox One and needed to return it, owing to a broken disc – another unfortunate side effect of physical titles – but as CEX themselves do not take any account for the codes or digital content that might available in the box of your purchase, I had already attempted to redeem these, finding to my surprise that they were all valid. Subsequently, I had returned a title worth £20 to me for a full refund, but the codes earned from this experience were valued at £36. Proving it always pays to check the codes.

And whilst some may also argue the high street itself is dying, and this could be argued to be true, the advent of Internet shopping in its place means that gamers are still very much given the choice between physical and digital gaming. It does not necessarily have to be on the shelves of your local gaming store (provided you even have one) to be purchased in a physical format.

In recent years, physical gaming has fought back, with companies like Play Asia and Limited Run Games producing physical copies of titles in specific numbers as their USP – allowing those who want to purchase the game physically to do so – but not limiting the games scope or fanbase.

Additionally, by producing games in such limited numbers, it generates hype around a title, sells for a concentrated period at a fixed price (to a largely committed and dedicated audience) and saves on the immense shipping costs otherwise associated with producing so many more titles for the manufacturer and online retailers. Limited Run Games fluctuate in price, as you would expect, and second-hand sale and trade is by no means discouraged either, meaning there’s always a market for those titles.

Ultimately, I love and accept my new Xbox and I really like the convenience and the ease of digital gaming, particularly with current world events. But I will never rely solely on digital titles, as physical gaming represents such a huge part of my gaming memories, from those days on the Commodore, to current respite with my PS Vita.

Whilst I suspect I already know the answer, I’d be curious as to whether a younger generation of gamer, without those physical memories and limitations; will still have such a nostalgia and place such importance on physical gaming. It is always going to be cheaper to avoid a bricks and mortar store, and it is always going to be cheaper to buy digital content.

But in my mind, a health mix, of both physical and digital, is enough to ensure even the most casual gamer can make the most of their favourite pastime.

Resident Evil 3 2020 (XBox One, PS4)

As with most gamers my age who owned a PlayStation, it’s fair to say that the console had more than a few titles which captured my interest, and the original inception of the console is the dearest to my heart. Indeed, titles like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid became integral to my DNA as a gamer and remain with me to this day (I am even currently replaying the former on Xbox One after its 2019 port).

The Original Nemesis, about to party like it’s 1999

Resident Evil is certainly a franchise I am more than a little familiar about, and whether it was through my Dad or my brother, the game did arrive in my household in the late 90s. But for whatever reason, it was Resident Evil 3 (released in 1999, when I was 14) that I have the clearest memories of. I have always preferred Resident Evil 2 – going to great lengths in obtaining versions of the game through the ensuing years – but RE3 was without question my first. And, as they say, you never forget your first.

Storyline wise the game picks up as a prequel to the second installation, telling us what Jill Valentine (a protagonist from the first game) did during the 24 hours – or so – prior to the events of the second game. Cinematically, therefore, it ties in with the established cannons and you are never likely to struggle with that. Whilst attempting to escape Raccoon City, Jill is pursued by Nemesis – a creature developed by Umbrella to eradicate the members of her STARS Unit – witnesses to the events in the first game. Nemesis is similar in size to the dreaded ‘Mr X’ of the second installation, but this particular foe is a tyrant in more than just appearance and takes a considerable amount of killing – repeatedly killing – to actually stop.

When I played the original game it’s use of cinematic storytelling and multiple choice options, puzzle solving and framerate made me feel this was one of the best things ever made. Graphically, gamers simply expect more these days, unless they are purposefully looking for an 8-bit indie title – but in 1999 this game was the height of technology and testament to the awesome power of PlayStation. So, we should not underestimate it.

When I had played the remake of Resident Evil 2 in January 2019 I was blown away. This game was, and still is, a masterpiece. Graphically, it looks amazing, and it also tells a tale once told exceptionally well. Whether you are a thirty-year veteran, or this is the first survival horror game you will ever play, Resident Evil 2 is an essential purchase. What I didn’t know, in 1999, was that the third instalment was something of an afterthought, created by Capcom to satisfy a contractual agreement with Sony for an additional title – using the framework and templates already created to build another game. Developers Capcom were able to add enough new features into the third title that it was not immediately evident, certainly not to this impressionable pimple faced gamer.

When I’d heard Capcom planned to release a remake of the third game, after the success of the second’s remastered glories, I assumed enough time had passed for their development team to be working on making the game slightly more unique than previous. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Now, with this game being set in the same location as the second – namely Raccoon City – and using at least one of the same locations, that’s not exactly going to be possible; and I get this, but Resident Evil 3’s remaster suffers from the fault of looking brilliant, but having little or nothing to say which distinguishes it from RE2 DLC.

Let us examine some features, for fear that I am being too harsh, starting with the games opening. This takes place just prior to the outbreak of Racoon City. Now, I felt this was a really good idea, because it separates itself from the original game which started later – after the outbreak had occurred – and gave virtually no establishment. So, credit where due, this was a strong possibility. Also, as I’m a huge fan of 90’s FMV style gaming, it was incredible to see real actors performing roles in the opening moments – adding to the feeling that this was a real story about a real place.

Sadly, the game hit a stumbling block almost immediately, as it’s first ten minutes are both glorious – owing to the scenery, the backdrops, the actions, the little Easter eggs; but also feels rushed, the player moved from one place to the next in an effort to escape Nemesis. You are introduced to Brad Vickers, the helicopter pilot from the first game, which is a great plus – only to have the character quickly and meaninglessly written out in what feels like seconds.

In the Resident Evil 2 remaster, the player has the large section at the start of the original PS1 game removed, there’s no interaction at the gun shop (Leon gets that later) and no running through the basketball court (that happens for Claire, in her orphanage side quest), so you almost immediately stumble upon the Police Station within the first three to four minutes. In RE3, this felt exactly the same, since no sooner am I taking my seat to get into the game we’ve met Carlos, Brad is most probably dead, Nemesis has killed a lot of people and you’re crashing off a parking lot in a Buick.

As soon as Carlos is introduced, UCBS becomes a thing, and what took an hour of PS1 gaming to reach in the original has happened in 15 – at most. I was also disappointed at Nemesis, mainly as Jill battles him about four/five times in this game, and with the exception of the Police Station and the Hospital (just) there is little to no time in order for soaking in the moment and exploring. But then maybe I am being a little too critical, this is not Grand Theft Auto or Sleeping Dogs, this is Resident Evil 3 and the action is always moving forward.

Tyrell’s character is expanded upon greatly in the storyline, and this was a treat, though I’m not sure whether that happened because the developers wanted it too or because it was a lot more PC to have African American, Russian and Latino characters playing heroes whilst the protagonist is a female. Either way, the characters that do feature in Resident Evil 3 (even the cameos) are excellent, and there are some ties in with events in Resident Evil 2 remastered as well.

Puzzle wise the codes remain from Resident Evil 2 in some areas, which is a nice nod, whilst in others it is the bolt cutters and the lockpick which ultimately become your best friends. I found the early portions of the game to be the most satisfying, breaking into locked stores, wandering through the streets of Raccoon City, and generally appreciating the setting. The second portion of the game, after the Police Station in particular, felt like it was also winding up too fast. Whether I am just being a bit of a moaning Michael or not, there was shortened bursts of gameplay that would have benefited massively from being dragged out.

Even without a guide or walk through, taking the wrong path did not lead to a diversion, as you either found an empty section of corridor or a locked area. Considering the story line actually encourages faster playthroughs (and you’re rewarded trophies for doing so) it seems like Capcom weren’t that fussed about additional content.

While it was a nice attempt, and does take a few shots at fan service, the pay offs just aren’t worth it – then again, maybe that’s why Eagles from Street Fighter opened a Pet Store there!

Resident Evil 3 (PS1)

With the remake having recently hit shelves (physically and digitally, mind); this past week seemed like a perfect chance to go back and tackle the Survival Horror of the original Resident Evil 3; Nemesis on PlayStation 1.

With its sequel, Resident Evil 2, having partially revolutionised the gaming market upon release in January 1998 it might come as quite the surprise to learn RE3 was something of an afterthought. Wishing to release the games official sequel (which would later become Code Veronica) a contractual obligation to Sony meant a prequel built upon the same graphics engine was required.

Thankfully, nobody was complaining, and it fell to Jill Valentine (a protagonist in the first film) to help the player navigate the twenty four hours (or so) prior to Leon and Claire’s arrival in Raccoon City. Very much post Outbreak, the game did manage to focus a little heavier on FMV and story driven sequences than its predecessors, with the multiple-choice options at various locations of the game adding both immediate replay value and some surprising twists.

The game is not lacking in content and you won’t be disappointed. Despite its 20 year plus age, this title remains both challenging and narratively complex. Playing it on the PSVita, with the lights off and curtains drawn, is particularly special.

Bumblebee (2018)


It’s fair to say that I’ve recently fallen out of touch with the latest cinema releases. Work commitments have met that I haven’t been obsessing as much as I hoped. Hearing of Bumblebee long before actually seeing it, I was aware this project existed, but given the lack of a now traditional Star Wars release at Christmas it seemed that this ideal summer blockbuster had been delayed to fill the void. Whether or not this film had actually been purposefully delayed, I’m not sure, but I did find it amusing that with the Christmas decorations all around us we went to see a movie set in the height of summer.

Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is a young woman working at a summer’s fair in 1987. Grieving the loss of her father and listening to The Smiths, Charlie spends her time obsessing over an old Mustang she owns in the garage, hoping that the open road will bring freedom and change from suburban life and her mother’s new boyfriend. In many respects, it’s a very atypical script, but I did find it was written with a view to this being 2018. Supporting character Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) is not your typical “boy next door” and Charlie – although sometimes jealous of others – is not outwardly looking for fame or popularity.

There are several scenes in which you’d expect the typical Shia Le Beouf attitudes, and yet they’re not forthcoming, so as Tears for Fears blasts from the tape deck in the Volkswagen you remember all the fun you can have with your clothes on for a change. In an era of ‘Me Too’ it’s actually rather refreshing to see some elements adapted and incorporated into the film, but it does drag you a little out of reality, and also reminds you just how ridiculous (and possibly dated and even sexist) Shia making moves on Megan Fox was in the original film. The jury’s still out on that.

Into this rather interesting mix comes Bumblebee, fresh from the war on Cybertron, which provides G1 Transformer fans like me with their greatest few minutes on film in the franchise so far. I’ll say early in my review that this film is worth watching but it’s the scenes on Cybertron – which in themselves amount to a relative sprinkling – that bring the film together. Cameos from Cliffjumper, Shockwave, Soundwave, Ravage and Arcee are just the beginning as we learn some vital clues as to B-127’s original mission.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this film was the minimal casting. Asides from Bumblebee and a few cameos, the most predominant involvement comes from two no name Decepticons. To be fair, they do have names, but I found it rather unusual that a female Decepticon would be so well positioned as to climb the ranks in the organization. I’m not being sexist, it’s just that any G1 Transformers fan will tell you that Arcee was about the only female Transformer with a back story; and she was an Autobot!

Shatter and Dropkick (don’t look them up, they don’t have any linage) are introduced as new one shot characters and, to be fair to 2018, it’s a refreshing change. My feeling is that they’re soldiers on a mission and we’re not necessarily dealing with a command line here, which makes the story far less contained then it could have been, and I actually think that’s a real bonus. The appearance of Blitzwing early in the movie is something that caught me off guard, but I was pleased that he was at least given his real name, if not that he used the colours of Jetfire – something that could have made for a really interesting plot dynamic.

The film is set in California and looks glorious, even if it limits the use of urban areas due to the timeframe of the plot, but at least one shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the coastline is enough to put on a postcard. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a real lack of money with this film, but I think this easily makes it my second favorite Transformer film after Michael Bay’s original – something I remember adoring so much about that first installment. There are so many glorious nuggets of 80s culture that I don’t want to ruin it for you, but look out for that moment where Sammy Hagar is playing on the radio and there’s a scene in the tunnel from Back to the Future. Also, for those film fans, it’s the same song Marty hears as he arrives in an alternative 1985 during the second installment.

Of course, as this film is a prequel, there are some serious plot holes. Sector 7 features in the film primarily through Agent Burns (John Cena) and Dr Powell (John Ortiz) but there’s no mention of either Witwicky or the All Spark and – if I remember correctly – it was Sector 7 who built the Hoover Dam around the All Spark and MBE1, that is, Lord Megatron. His complete absence from this film is unsurprising but it’s also interesting that nobody from Sector 7 – especially upon encountering the Decepticons for the first time – doesn’t believe they bear a striking resemblance to a creature that’s been in the basement since 1907.

Looking past plot holes like this, and the one in which Ratchet is still trying to fix the vocal processor Bumblebee had damaged (try ripped apart) almost 15 years after it was first lost, you actually do have a really good film. The soundtrack is nothing short of phenomenal and the first twenty minutes of the film paint a picture that between Duran Duran, Bon Jovi and The Smiths we really must be in the 80s…though I myself took a real shine to the scene in which we take a moment to appreciate that Vinyl truly is better to cassette while Bumblebee watches The Breakfast Club on VHS. Oh nostalgia, you’ve done it again.

Private Photography

I’ve taken some time recently, with a new camera, to capture some photography and I’d like to share it here for the first time. Photography is something I’ve always loved and I just tried to capture some things within my life that make me smile. And find something each session that makes me happy, whether it’s fleeting (because it’s food) or it means a lot more (because it’s radio)