Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Well I went right ahead and unlocked that SKX achievement on Condemned 2, which wiped out practially all of the progress I'd made towards getting 93% completion and put me in a bit of a jam in terms of getting everything I want to do actually done. What a fool.

Still when the chance to grab a notoriously tricky achievement crops up it's better to get it out of the way and then you don't have to worry about it further down the line. A friend has offered to help me get the two ranked achievements as well (as the online mode is a wilderness) so that will mean I can pretty much mop up the rest of the game solo. I really enjoyed the first Condemned back in the day so I'm curious what the second one will have to offer.

I suspect it will have gone down a (slightly) more mainstream route and not be as creepy or bewildering as the first. I could be wrong though, so here's hoping for more of the same. Assuming I can invest some time into blitzing through all of the multiplayer modes on my own then I could start the single player as early as next week, and with a decent guide for the hidden items etc then I should be able to make pretty good progress. Fingers crossed.

At least I've now chalked off A World of Keflings and Rockstar Table Tennis, so that is two more completions in the plus column. As things stand I'm at 297,117GS, with 293 completions and a 92.50% completion ratio.

That leaves me needing a further 2883 points, 7 completions and 61 achievements to hit all of my targets. Oh joy......

So out of my previous targets I'll have the following (added Brothers in Arms):

Bioshock - complete Brass Balls DLC - will give me 100g, 1 achievement and 1 completion.
FIFA 12 - complete Euro 12 DLC - will give me 100g, 3 achievements and 1 completion.
Halo ODST - complete firefight and Endure - will give me 70g, 4 achievements and 1 completion.
Tomb Raider Legend - complete DLC - will give me 185g, 7 achievements and 1 completion.
Bioshock 2 - complete DLC - will give me 250g, 15 achievements and 1 completion.
Brothers in Arms - complete 0 point tasks - will give me 0g, 7 achievements and 1 completion.

That's a grand total of 705 points, 6 completions and 27 achievements so I'll then be at (theoretically) 297,822GS, 299 completions and 24 achievements to hit my goal. So I'll still have 2178 points to grab from games I've already started in order to get those 24 achievements, and hopefully I can snag another completion along the way. The real issue is that Halo 4 is imminent, and that is likely to complicate matters even further. Perhaps my goal of having a lofty completion percentage is just going to have to be strewn by the wayside, but I sincerely hope not. I'm fairly hopeful that if I can invest a fair bit of time into Condemned 2 then I can salvage my initial target.

It just goes to show that I think about this kind of thing way too much and that, while I certainly play games for fun, I also like to set myself little challenges and benchmarks as well. It's something I've done my whole life, even going back to my Spectrum, NES and SNES days, so I see no reason to stop now that I actually have a fully implemented system (achievements) that helps me take that OCD to the next level.

An era of easy games, and Dark Souls

I drafted this piece nearly a year ago, as I was playing through Dark Souls, with the intention that it would have been a starting point for a website article. The idea never really got off the ground but it occured to me that I could post it up here so it wasn't a total waste. Enjoy.
Dark Souls is a relic of a bygone era, a game that demands just as much in terms of patience and persistence as it does in terms of skill. For most gamers it seems like such a challenge is simply too much, and it certainly didn’t come as much of a surprise when I spotted pre-owned copies of the game on store shelves only a day or so after its launch. The strategy guide was on prominent display too, and when I displayed an interest the manager gave me a wry smile and said that I’d need all of the help I could get. Dark Souls has done well for itself, but just how many people will ever make it through to the end credits seems to be less certain and that’s a shame. The real question though is probably one that can be asked on a broader scale: do gamers want difficult games anymore?

Personally speaking, I’m a bit of a relic myself in gaming terms. With my first gaming machine being the almighty Spectrum 128k, which had roughly the same capabilities as a dubious Mario gaming watch from a few years later. Games at the time were plentiful, cheap and usually as hard as nails. Seriously, if you know anyone that “completed” Jet Set Willy then I’d be eminently surprised. The same could be said of titles at your local arcade, where the challenge was less about reaching some mythical end screen and more about setting a high score that didn’t just prop up the ass end of the scoreboard. Back in the day games by their very nature were challenging and had to be so to get the best out of players and keep them coming back for another go.

Obviously, in terms of difficulty, the whole issue is entirely subjective as a game that may well stymie one player for months could last another, more experienced gamer, mere days. However, can you honestly think of a recent game that was so difficult you literally couldn’t complete it, a game that made you give up in frustration and never go back? The answer is probably no, as most people have no problem getting to the end of the majority of modern games. It’s certainly apparent that changes in the basic technology involved in making and playing games may well have played an important role in this trend, not to mention the changing make up of gamers themselves.

At the moment you can be knee deep in a game, swatting aside your foes as your press towards your ultimate goal. Suddenly the greatest force of evil known to man rears its head and says, “Put down that controller, or we’ll be late!” Yes, the wife is going to drag you off somewhere and there is naught that can be done, other than saving your progress of course. Such a simple mechanic and yet probably the single biggest reason that most games seem that much easier compared to their older brethren. Older titles had to be completed in one sitting, and while this usually made them shorter as a result it also meant they had much more tension and being down to your last life, energy bar or quarter actually meant something. Nowadays if you bite the big one, then you’re free to restart at your last save or checkpoint with no strings attached.

Without a sense of ultimate failure then where is the tension? Even playing a game on the hardest difficulty merely becomes a case of trial and error until you find the right route or merely get lucky in some way. Notable examples do exist, like the limited save features on Dead Space 2 or Hitman, or the brutal difficulty of games like Lost Planet and Ninja Gaiden where mere persistence will not be enough. However, these games have seemingly become the exception to the rule and when it comes to previews/reviews the sheer difficulty present is often mentioned above and beyond any other feature of the game, as if it was some kind of freakish, rarity to be examined scientifically from a distance rather than enjoyed. Instead of welcoming a challenging game, players often shy away from it and spend their time on something else.

Could this be down to the way games themselves have evolved though? Older titles, even stretching towards the NES era, used to just give you the basic controls in the manual and then throw you in at the deep end. Players had to rely on their own intelligence to survive, which often meant grasping the rules of the world they were pitted against and then reacting accordingly. Nowadays, even the biggest game world seems to have some kind of tutorial attached to it. Be it the most flagrant on screen pop ups that tell you which button is punch (usually the button you’ve been using to punch for five minutes) or the slightly sneakier route of having a short intro level or dungeon, that guides you through the mechanics without putting you in any extreme danger. With so many costs and implications attached to putting a game into the world it seems that developers cannot risk alienating people from the get go, annoying them with tutorials maybe, but not putting them off entirely.

Players now can rightly expect to complete pretty much any title that is set down in front of them, most of the time without much in the way of external guidance, and that is pretty much down to the way the market for games has developed. Old arcade titles and computer games were much cheaper to produce, and it wasn’t uncommon for entire titles to be developed by just one or two people. Now though entire teams are dedicated to just one title and the cost of failure is that much higher. Companies can no longer take the risk of making a game too challenging, as it is more than likely to be a stumbling block towards future sales, instead they have to provide players with an experience that balances the experience with the rewards on offer.

As the market for games has grown, so too has the make up of that market. The so called hardcore market of gamers has been joined by an equally large portion of players that simply may not have the time, skill or inclination to persist with a title that introduces you to the Game Over screen at an early juncture and then keeps it as your most constant companion. Similarly, as the average age of gamers continues to grow then those people that had a lot more free time to play games at a young age will find themselves with far more responsibilities in terms of work and family as they get older, thus meaning that an easier and shorter game is much more welcome as it will allow them to have the same experience without pouring in countless hours. 

Developers find new ways to lure in these gamers, by adding in tutorials, checkpoints and co-op play in a bid to keep their interest until the credits roll. Then a wealth of potential side-quests, online modes and collectibles can provide the extra content that the lack of difficulty takes away. So when the inevitable sequel rolls around, players will be more interested in picking up a game that has a story they are familiar with, controls they enjoyed and a more comfortable difficulty level than a game they just a few hours into and then got no further.

From a business perspective a decrease in difficulty is exactly what the market demands, as more and more people become drawn to the console market but do not have the time or disposable income to spend on a wide range of titles. However, such a move may also take away some of what makes games such an interesting medium. Instead of being challenged throughout a title, you are practically taking part in an interactive movie, with titles becoming increasingly linear and similar. The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that used to come from completing a title is simply replaced by a sense of “what’s next?” as gamers move onto the next big thing. Setting that high score or beating that almost impossible game are rapidly becoming things of the past, as if you’ve completed the latest Call of Duty or Gears title then you can safely assume that the vast majority of other players have too, and in half the time it took you, with one hand tied behind their back.

Dark Souls is a relic, but it is also a relic that drew me into its world for three weeks and over a hundred hours of my life. A relic that made me celebrate every hard fought boss battle, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact it took me ten attempts to finally emerge triumphant. A relic that is sadly becoming a much rarer breed in today’s marketplace of quick thrills and simplistic gaming. Not every game needs to be this hard but, thankfully, it serves as a pertinent reminder of why some games should be.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back to normal

Well, it all got a bit preachy and strange for a minute there but sadly it is back to the everyday for now. I do actually enjoy debating gaming related issues and often feel that certain segments of the gaming press take themselves far too seriously. Such is life........

Anyway, I have been doing a few reviews recently so feel free to check them out (see the lovely links to the right - CLICK THEM, CLICK THEM NOW!).  I'm starting to think that Kinect dance games are rather like Indian food - you never get a bad one really. Seriously, I've never had a bad Indian meal - ever, from anywhere. Likewise most dance games work because, well, it's probably harder for them not to.

On the flipside it seems that making a good FPS is getting harder than ever, at least judging by 007 Legends and MoH: Warfighter. A couple of more bland and uninspired offerings you will be hard pressed to enjoy. Sure they have their moments but they are generally lost in a pea soup of tired design. Ho hum.

Aside from reviewing games that I have no further intention to play (my backup and wife's account gained nearly 2k in combined gamerscore, ha ha) I've also been chipping away at the master plan I'd previously laid out.

I'm thirty six games away from FINALLY being done with FIFA 12 and its tedious DLC. The whole notion of collecting mosaic pieces got old a long time ago - I mean they could have at least made it into some sort of competition or league structure, but noooooo........gits.

I've also managed to blitz through most of the Keflings DLC as well, so I should have that bad boy done with in an hour or so's play. Hopefully they don't churn any more achievements out for that one, but as it's at a weird 450 points so far I feel they may well cash in some more.

Against my better judgement I've also made an attempt to get started on the zero point achievements in Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway. I wasn't going to bother, but as it will be seven achievements (for zero gamerscore) and another completion I thought, why not? Just need one more person to help out and then I can get another game done with.

However, all of my good work may well be undermined - by ME. As I've been chipping away at the SKX achievement on Condemned 2. It requires me to kill nine unique players who have previously snagged the Serial Killer (1,000 MP kills) achievement. Now I've done precisely zero other achievements on the game, so it doesn't show up in my stats yet. However, after a good weekend of begging people to help and joining a profitable boosting session, I have 8/9 kills - with the last one already lined up. Oh dear.

This means that once that achievement pops all of my previous work will need re-evaluating. Brothers in Arms would help me out in that regard and I think I should still be able to hit all of my targets but we shall see. Here's hoping.

It also occurred to me that Halo 4 is incoming and my friends are going to want us to start up the campaign and so on almost immediately. So that will be another speedbump on my quest to get everything tidied away by the end of the year. Curses. I'm hopeful that I can rejig things enough to get everything done and dusted but it is going to be more of an effort than I previously thought.

Ah well, at least it will make life interesting. Bring on the pain.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bribery, twitter and games journalism

The last couple of days have been fairly interesting to say the least, especially if you follow a lot of games writers and editors on twitter. Suffice it to say the industry has not exactly covered itself in glory but some of the perceived ideas and outcomes seem to have blurred the lines. Many people have since jumped on the bandwagon and it seems strange that the original issues are now just being diluted in a feverish quest for page hits.

Personally I'm not here to take sides as I'm very much on the periphery of the gaming industry, I focus solely on writing reviews and previews for two websites (that are owned by the same company) and outside of that remit I have very little else to do with the industry at large. I don't go to awards shows, I don't attend PR events and I don't meet up with other writers on a very regular basis. The only time this actually happens is when I get shipped off to Gamescom each year and, while I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people and have a good time, the main focus is always on trying to get the best information and articles I can for the people that read my stuff.

Oh, did I mention I don't get paid for this? I probably should before I get tarred with seemingly the same brush that most people do. Heck, I don't even get sent review copies for all of the games that we cover. In the past, when the site was starting out, I would pretty much buy every game that I needed to review. That statistic then probably got to about 50/50 in the last couple of years and then, in the last year, we have finally reached a standing where review copies provide the bulk of our material.

Anyway, let's break this down into what happened, the fallout and my ramblings (seeing as no one else is really answering the supposed issue at all).

What happened?

A week or so ago the GMA's happened. It's basically an awards show, where a bunch of publishers/stores/sites etc sponsor a shindig to reward the best publications and writers. People get to submit their nominations and so on in advance which is then whittled down to a shortlist and then a separate panel votes on the winner. Easy.

Now as part of this event a PR company was running a competition where people could win a free PS3 by retweeting a hashtag. Some people took exception to that idea and accused anyone taking part of having a massive conflict of interest. Cue a twitter row and then a bevy of articles.

As people probably know, or people who choose to read this anyway, the main cause of this furore was an article by Robert Florence over at Eurogamer (here). That's a link to the full article prior to the cuts, but more on that in a moment.

In the article Rob (or Rab if you prefer) takes a rather broad swipe at the strange, almost symbiotic, relationship between the gaming press and gaming PR. He does this by pointing out that there is often a fine line between having a merely good relationship and one that is far too close for comfort. However, ever since then there seems to have been some kind of meltdown. Part of which is brought on by Rob himself and part by other people.

Now, when you are writing an article about the possibility of corruption in the gaming industry it's a topic that is inevitably going to stir up some controversy. Rob knew that going in, heck most of his articles on Eurogamer have stirred the hornets nest in one way or another. That's what he does and that is exactly why he was hired. To say otherwise would be foolishly naive.

However, what Rob also seems to do is take an active delight in what he writes about. It is easy to say "well someone had to say it" but there are ways and means to get your point across without appearing to victimise individuals. On the one hand you have Rob saying this (I've added the emphasis):

"I want to make a confession. I stalk games journalists. It's something I've always done. I keep an eye on people. I have a mental list of games journos who are the very worst of the bunch. The ones who are at every PR launch event, the ones who tweet about all the freebies they get. I am fascinated by them. I won't name them here, because it's a horrible thing to do, but I'm sure some of you will know who they are."

It's an issue we may well be aware of. Heck even in my small time capacity I'm aware of it. People who write about games purely and simply to get free shit. You only have to be at E3 or the so called 'industry only day' at Gamescom to see that. So called writers wandering around with whatever they can carry and doing very little in the way of work or journalism. But to say that is an industry wide endemic may be a touch off the mark - those people, by and large, are amateurs. People that write for their own little website and have somehow managed to wangle their way into an event they should never really be a part of. I'm sure there are people in the 'serious' side of games journalism that have been given, and accepted, free stuff too but it all comes down to how they act. If they get a bunch of swag and give it away to their readers, stuff it in a drawer or never even mention it to anyone - have they been comprised? Has their integrity been shattered in some way? I doubt it.

The problem with Rob's article is that, precisely before making his statement not to name names, he did exactly that. Blurting out the names of two writers so they could be held up for scrutiny (I don't really include Geoff Keighley as he, or his show, are quite clearly sponsored by a variety of companies). Does it really matter that when questioning whether they were 'corrupt' or not he added the proviso, "I'm sure she isn't"? Not really, because you can already see that he has made up his mind, and the whole gist of the article is to help the reader make up their mind too. These people were WRONG and are PROBABLY corrupt. He could have made the self same point without naming any names (as he stated) but chose not to. He chose that probably knowing what the fallout would be.

The article in general merely scratched the surface of its potential argument while throwing two scapegoats out to dry. Is tweeting a hashtag to enter a competition advertising? Yes it is. Is doing so somehow completely overriding all of your journalistic integrity? Unlikely.

Likewise he seems to state that while people can be games journalists they cannot also be fans of said games. If you get a new game and tweet about being excited to play it (maybe with a picture - you devil). WRONG. If you announce your excitement of upcoming games. WRONG. If you use a backdrop from one of your favourite game series. WRONG. Only he never states exactly why these things could be wrong. Are we meant to assume that all games writers cannot possibly be critical of their favourite series? Or would it be safe to assume that they could be even more critical? Who knows.

The first thing I see when I notice someone has a Tomb Raider backdrop is not that it's an advert, merely that said person is probably a fan of the game - and the same could be said for the vast majority of people in the same situation. Could it be seen as an advert? Well it's possible, but probably more possible if you were writing an article about game industry corruption. For the average person it's just a picture and they move on.

Entering a competition, or defending said competition, are hardly the bastions of corruption they are made out to be. Perhaps if Rob had actually gone into some depth about grossly expensive press trips, PR days out (that sometimes have nothing to do with the games in question) and a stream of swag sent to writers doors then he would have had a point. Though again that would only be true if he could somehow prove that these nefarious deeds had ever been reciprocated by the people attending them. Had bad games got good scores or received positive coverage? We don't know and neither does that article, as it makes a generalisation without having the facts to back them up. A hashtag competition, entered by more PR people than actual journos if truth be told (a fact conveniently overlooked) is hardly the starting point of a slip slide into hell.

The general thrust is a world where PR control all games writers which couldn't be further from the truth. But more on that later.

What happened next (aka: THE INTERNET!)

Then the inevitable happened. Someone asked for the comments to be removed, Eurogamer obliged and Rob resigned. An unfortunate chain of events, but that was nothing compared to what would follow.

As ever with the internet, and games writers in general, something had to be done. So a flurry of articles and opinions started to form. People had already gotten testy over the hashtag competition itself, so with the resulting article being censored now came the cries of freedom of speech and so on.

Industry veterans like Ben Kuchera and Stu Campbell gave their five cents and were queueing up (along with sites like Killscreen, Forbes and the rest) to try and interview Rob to get his angle on the events that transpired and how badly he had been treated. The leading voice amongst these people was John Walker (Rock, Paper, Shotgun) a writer held in high esteem amongst the community.

They came out and said it was appalling that Rob had been fired (he actually quit) and laid the blame solely on the shoulders of a writer named in the article who had asked for the comments, questioning their morals, to be removed. Interestingly none of them even so much as mentioned the second writer whose name was also removed - strange that.

Now I agree with freedom of the press, as having the right to quote and respond to people is vital in society. However, yet again it is worth noting that the article in question would have been absolutely fine with names omitted - the reason they were not was to simply get a response. Which begs the question of why everyone was shocked when that is exactly what happened.

Now John, to his credit, was less interested in the competition and all of that nonsense. His main concern was the fact that another writer had been censored, in his view unjustly, and that the discussion of PR in games was being ignored. He has some valid comments if truth be told but, for me, the only mistake anyone ever made here was actually stating publicly that they wanted the comments removed. If this had all happened behind the scenes with no public gallery then it may have worked out much differently.

(Though I will point out that John also seems to believe that the article in question would have had minimal impact on either of the two people mentioned. I wonder if John would have, after reading that piece, ever consider hiring the two writers in question should the opportunity arise? Or would his view have been tainted by Rob's article - again, it comes back to perception and intent.)

No, my issue with the posts by John Walker (and the numerous other people trawling this affair for a few hits - at least John kept it to his own blog) was the quite obvious impact it inevitably had. The GMA awards, the article itself and the censorship of it were actually fairly well confined to begin with - with most of the flare ups only being between PR and games industry people, plus a number of disgruntled Eurogamer users.

Then articles sprung up in sites across the globe, and every article suddenly had a certain writers name attached to it, blaming her solely for Rob's departure (again, for the back rows, he resigned - admittedly he did so on principle but it was still his own choice). Comments boards were outraged and people were throwing up and retweeting links to articles decrying her behaviour.

Then the internet happened.

People started bombarding her and her employer with insults, abuse and the rest. They started to trawl through her history and try to find any hint of possible corruption and conflict of interest in her actions. In short: the trolls emerged. They all point with glee about the fact the writer in question is now trying to remove any issues from her resume and so on. Considering most observers state this should have been done anyway then how can her doing WHAT YOU WANTED now be a source of derision?

After a round of wailing and gnashing of teeth we had the obvious attempts to calm things down. Rob Florence stated that he didn't endorse insults, John Walker informed us that anyone who said certain things should chop off their hands. And yet.........

John Walker made a few quotes that I find especially interesting:

"Those are the two things she did wrong. Both, I believe, were stupid. The latter, I believe, was despicable."

"And now, thanks to the magic of the Streisand Effect, which (she) undoubtedly brought down on herself."

"(She) absolutely should be condemned for her actions this morning."

The word despicable, for me, is usually reserved for the worst the world has to offer. So in this instance I find it unbelievably harsh, to then follow that up to say that the writer in question has brought this all on themselves and should be condemned, well......

When John Walker (who has 7000+ followers and who knows how many fans on RPS) decries someone in a very public way can he honestly say he didn't expect to send some bile her way? Can he honestly stand back and say 'oh, I didn't think that would happen - it's awful.' I rather doubt it. The same can be said for Rob himself who must have known the impact his article would have on the two people he named even then. All of the other public, and iconic, gaming figures too must know how the internet works. When someone in a position of authority, someone that people look up to, points a finger and tells their rabid fans how awful someone is - what do they think would be the outcome? Multiply that by all of the other senior writers and websites that leaped to Rob's defence and the torrent of abuse was inevitable.

Again, I have no issue with people having the discussion. Talking about the effect of PR. Talking about the state of the industry as a whole. It's the only way we can all grow and learn. After all gaming is a big business now, but it's still a very small place to work - so when people start to call one another out, publicly, then the end result is going to be exactly what happened which is one writer being set upon by the rabid fans of countless websites that are somehow emerging as paragons of virtue in all of this. Wrongly in my opinion.

These writers may well be respected and may well have valid points but their actions have merely served to exacerbate an already bad situation. Saying someone had 'brought this on themselves' while standing next to the fire with a handful of coal is about as far from the moral high ground as you can get.

PR vs Writers

In my opinion the real problem with Rob's article and the subsequent defence of it by numerous people, including John Walker, is the seeming misunderstanding of the influence PR has on the gaming industry at large. While they are constantly slapping each other on the back and saying a discussion about the chummy relationship needs to occur you have to look at the facts.

We live in an age of gaming magazines, e-zines, websites, blogs, podcasts and video channels, the number of outlets for gaming information is frankly staggering and the ease with which a new site can pop up can't be ignored. Back in the day gaming news was purely down to magazines, or newspapers, and previews and reviews were held in much higher regard mainly because they just weren't as regular or as mainstream. It wouldn't surprise me if opinions could easily be bought back then - as it would have much more of an impact due to the confined nature of the readership and medium. Now though?

Well who do you bribe?

Serious question.

If you make a terrible game and pass it onto the PR company to 'sell' then there is only so much they can do. They can invite writers to press junkets, hold fun days with swanky cars and C-list celebrities, heck they can send out a novelty sausage with the games name emblazoned down one side. But that will not stop the game from being bad.

The reviews will roll in and they will still be negative. Metacritic and the like, for all of their faults, quickly highlight any anomalies and shows a fairly reasonable representation of how well a game has performed. So are the PR going to try and put money/games/consoles in the pockets of every writer they can find in order to change their mind? Of course not. But they have to play the game, they have to sell that product as if it's the best thing in the world and, guess what, the writers will smile, be nice and make small talk. Then the game will get a bad review anyway. For people to believe that a free meal and a game would be enough to make people sell out is nothing short of ludicrous.

With so many sites pushing out so much news then they will be eager to lap up exclusives, accept review copies of games to get content up early and attend events to get preview material. It's in the sites best interests to get that information as well as the PR's interests to put it out there. People will gradually gain contacts, make friends even, meet new writers and generally become more familiar with each other - but that is not down to some nefarious deal or self-serving interest - it's simply human nature. If you talk to people on a regular basis then the walls come down, and that's the same in any walk of life. Some journos and PR don't get on at all, but they keep things professional, others get on like best friends and can STILL keep things professional.

The GMA's are often pointed at with derision, as some kind of corporate buy in where peoples pals get rewarded and the true grafters suffer. But is that really the case? People who are good writers win and the rest do not. Plus, if it weren't for having corporate sponsors who would host such an event at all? No one, and then the community at large would miss out. The GMA's aren't for the readers, that's where people seem to be confused, they are for the writers. So if they want to get together and celebrate the best among then, let their hair down and sing bad karaoke - so what? I mean, is just attending a sponsored award show going to change how they write or view games. Does anyone actually believe that? No - it's back to this mythical issue of perception.

PR and journalists don't have to be rivals, as Rob seems to think, as they can maintain a friendly relationship and still get their jobs done. They could be worst enemies and also still get their job done - but it would be a damn sight harder on all involved.

The real issue here then is perception (what a word). The perception that PR have the keys to the kingdom, the perception that writers can be bought. Well here is the final newsflash.

It doesn't matter to readers.

It doesn't matter because some readers believe that anyway. The presence of press events and freebies doesn't fuel their opinions, just like the lack of those things wouldn't diminish their beliefs either. I gave a game 70% and people actively took to the sites forums to say that I'd been bought by rival publishers to give a competitor a low score. So not only do readers believe we are corrupt, they also believe that we are there to be bought by rival companies, as if review scores come down to who pays the most in a strange tug of war.

Readers build up a connection with writers, magazines and sites that they like, and trust, they also have the capacity to form their own opinions about games and the content in front of them as well. Some of them may perceive bias and contention in an article, but the majority will assume (as will probably be the case) that it was written as honestly as possible.

In short it's in everyones best interests for their to be a cordial PR/writer relationship, as it ensures that readers get good, timely, content on a regular basis and everyone wins. There are always going to be exceptions to every rule, and I'm sure sometimes people do cross the line and do so wilfully - but to tar the whole of the industry with the same brush is a colossal leap of imagination. Similarly it would be nice to sit down and discuss things in a calm rational manner - but the way to set that in motion is not to write a name and shame piece, nor is it to label people as despicable and set loose a horde of trolls in their direction. Whether that was your intention or not.

The games industry is, I believe, in a much better place than it used to be. Sure there is a plethora of PR but most sites, which is to say most well known sites, handle them professionally and keep their conduct above reproach. Does entering a competition cross the line? I don't think so, others do, but the real question should be: are most games writers corrupt? And the answer would be emphatically no.

What have we learnt?

In truth, probably nothing. In a few days everything will be as it was with only the careers of a number of writers being any worse for wear. It's true that the original issue may have been lost, but had it been handled in a subtler way (or at least with some editorial restraint) then we could have been having a rational conversation.

I love games. I love writing about games, talking about them and even anticipating them. So when people say the whole industry is corrupt and start to quickly point fingers at one another, form battlegrounds and make a mess - it upsets me, it upsets what I thought the people around me stood for.

Hopefully everyone involved will move forward and bridges will be rebuilt, I doubt it in some cases, but frankly for all of this I have still met some of the best people I know thanks to games. So I have you take my incoherent ramblings in good faith.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The to do list

My general plan of attack, for as long as I can reasonably be expected to stick to it, will be the same for the next two months. I'm hoping to hit 300,000 gamerscore by the end of the year, as well as getting my completion percentage over 93% and having a minimum of 300 full completions (that's all DLC etc) to boot.

While it all sounds very simple, in practice it will require a fair bit of discipline and foresight.

As it stands I'm at 296,727GS, 40 achievements away from 93% (98 away from 93.50% which is my real goal for now) and I have 291 completed games.


That means I'm going to need a further 3263 points from 98 achievements that will also let me finish off 9 games. Sounds impossible right? Well thankfully I have a bunch of games that are mere DLC away from finally being complete so it is, theoretically, possible.

Here is the scheme:

Bioshock - complete Brass Balls DLC - will give me 100g, 1 achievement and 1 completion.
Rockstar Table Tennis - complete Savant - will give me 80g, 1 achievement and 1 completion.
FIFA 12 - complete Euro 12 DLC - will give me 100g, 3 achievements and 1 completion.
Halo ODST - complete firefight and Endure - will give me 70g, 4 achievements and 1 completion.
Tomb Raider Legend - complete DLC - will give me 185g, 7 achievements and 1 completion.
Bioshock 2 - complete DLC - will give me 250g, 15 achievements and 1 completion.
World of Keflings - complete DLC - will give me 250g, 9 achievements and 1 completion.

So those seven games will net me a grand total of 1035g, 40 achievements and seven completions - putting me damn close to my target. In effect I'll be at 93% by this stage so the only thing that matters then is completing two more games in the 2,228 points I will have left to me while at the same time trying to get as many achievements as possible from games I've already started.

The games I had in mind to achieve this will probably be:

LEGO Harry Potter 2 - for 800g, 34 achievements and 1 completion.
LEGO Star Wars - for 740g, 28 achievements and 1 completion.
Disney Sing It HSM3 - for 670 points, 13 achievements and 1 completion.

These are probably the easiest three games I've left uncompleted on my tag and, assuming I can persuade the other half to play them with me, I should be able to plough through them in double quick time.

Now this is all very well, again in theory, but despite the seemingly small amount of achievements from the first batch there is actually a substantial time investment. I will have to complete Bioshock again from start to finish, play through about 100 matches of FIFA, get four people together for a session of Halo Firefight on Heroic and get through over half of the first Tomb Raider title. Not to mention the hours required for the Bioshock 2 and Keflings DLC which will probably not be that quick. Egads.

Throw completing two LEGO games into the mix and this is a real time sink and the odds of me getting it all done by the end of the year is fairly slim. Thankfully I'm on the cusp of finishing Table Tennis once and for all (just an hour or so to go) and I've already made a start on FIFA, Halo and Tomb Raider. I'll probably then try and rush through the DLC portions of my quest before tackling a speed run of Bioshock. If I get all of that done, in a reasonable amount of time, then I can move on to the LEGO games and hope for the best.

The real problem in all of this is that my stats for this task are entirely dependant on me not starting any other new games. A fact that may well prove impossible due to the fact I have a rental copy of Sherlock Holmes sat at home and the fact I've been gearing up to tackle Condemned 2 (mainly as I have two copies of the game and want to get rid of them). I suspect that I will inevitably start playing something new, which will mean a direct impact on my completion percentage. Ho hum!

Still with the right preparation and willpower I'm hoping to get somewhere close. We shall see. My overriding goal is simply to get rid of some old games, thin the herd of easy games I've never started and generally move onto some big titles that I may have missed. I also really want to try Dishonored and X-Com but have deliberately put off buying them until I know I'll actually play them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No pain, no gain

Ever since I decided to finish off the online aspects of Rockstar Table Tennis I've also been dedicating time to getting the Savant achievement. This basically requires you to complete the game on the hardest difficulty with EVERY character. Now you can replay a game every time you lose, so it's not like you need a faultless run in order to progress, but it is still pretty damn taxing.

For anyone who hasn't played the game before, it's fairly brutal. Even on the lower difficulties some of the characters are flat out annoying as hell to beat. The fact they can return smashed shots for an instant winner is a joke and, as you progress, they generally become more irritating. You can combat this to some sense by messing with the options - so you only need to win 7 points to win the match, plus you can alter it so you can serve five times in a row to help you out. Another cute trick is the fact certain character can hit service aces by standing in set spots and serving the ball at near perfect power/spin.

Still, even with those odds in your favour you can expect a bit of a slog. There are two characters who can practically never be Aced (Mark and Jung Soo) and they back that up by being tough to beat. I've also noticed that when using certain characters they all have a chance of being more or less good at serving aces, so some of them might breeze through everyone but the above two while others can barely ace anyone - and even if they do it is unreliable at best.

My main tactic thus far has been to incorporate a kind of death grip on my pad. Using the soft shot option (hold LB) along with a drop shot close to the net (down and left on the LS plus Y+B). As you can imagine, executing this move time and time again can lead to some serious stress on your hands, and my wrists have actually started to feel sore while playing the game in the last few days. I try to mix things up when I can, especially when I have a full focus meter, by using X+A when my opponent returns a slow shot to my right side. I can then spin the ball across to the left of the table and force them wide enough to bury a return to the right. Hopefully. In fairness I just pick up points however I can, forcing them to hit the net, lob up an easy smahs or whatever and I've been pretty good so far.

I've managed to complete nine of the eleven players (including a run on default settings with Jung Soo) and I'm three games from making that ten, with Juergen. That will just leave me with Jesper to do - which is ironic as I'd already completed an expert run with him years ago but wiped my save. Maybe the game will recognise that he has already been through that hell, but I doubt it. Should have this knocked out by the weekend.

I know my aching hands will thank me for it.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Well after finally updating my completion list I kind of wish I hadn't bothered as I've only polished off a trifling 27 games in the year to date. Considering I normally go for 52 (or one a week, if you will) throughout the year then it's fairly obvious that I've been slacking.

It looks amazingly unlikely that I'll hit my target by the end of the year unless I suddenly become a millionaire and can spend a few weeks purely sitting around in my pants playing games (I don't actually do this, by the way). Hopefully I can at least edge my way up to 40 or so games complete as I'm on the verge of finishing off another 5-6 games so that will be something. I suppose it comes down to the fact I have spent my time on time consuming titles and games with a ton of DLC. I've also not played too many super quick and easy games this year, or arcade titles for that matter, so I suppose that will have made an impact too.

Suffice it to say that I need to pull my finger out and hopefully get myself up to 300 completions total, 300k in gamerscore and a completion percentage of over 93% by the end of the year. Otherwise I'll be a touch miffed.

In a bid to kickstart said progress I have been playing Rockstar Table Tennis in order to snag the last couple of achievements I need. I'm hoping to team up with a friend to get the 50 Online Tournaments task out of the way this weekend, then I just need to complete the game on the highest difficulty with every player. Easy right?

Not really.

This game is pretty challenging even at the lower difficulties and even utilising a serving trick, that lets you get an ace from certain positions every time, only helps so far. This trick doesn't work against every player so some form of skill has to come into play. Thankfully I'm getting moderately good at the game now so I'm currently holding my own. I've completed the hardest circuit with two of the eleven players and I'm halfway through a third, so fingers crossed that I can get it done.

I'm also hoping to finally finish off GRAW 2 this weekend (Ghost Recon for non-fans) as I have the last bunch of DLC lined up to do with a bunch of like minded folks. It went well last week so hopefully this time will follow a similar pattern. Fingers crossed.

Then it will be back to FIFA 12 and grinding my way through the required 159 games to finish off the DLC. I've no idea how many I've done so far but hopefully I'm at least a third of the way through. I really loved FIFA 12 when it came out but ridiculous tasks like this can go that one step too far and turn love for a game into apathy. Honestly, who comes up with this stuff?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Brief catch up and update

Gah! I actually came on here during my lunch in order to try and do a hefty update to the Wall of Death (don't want people to think I was underachieveing in terms of time divided by DEATH!) but instead I've ended up fiddling about moving my list of completed games to its own spangly page, as you can see, and getting my review links up to date as well.

Both still need a bit of work (as I haven't added a new completion to the list since last year) but at least they are in the right place. I also chucked the My Horse and Me 2 review to the top of the heap because, well, why not? I did it a few years back but it still makes me chuckle even now. Hopefully I will eventually move all of my reviews to their own dedicated page as well, but for now they can make do where they are.

In gaming terms I've actually been doing something that most completionists often talk about but never actually get around to. Yes, I've been tackling the semi-completed pile of shame. So after getting the vast majority of the points from Spiderman 3 (except the ludicrous trick races), I've moved onto DLC in FIFA 12 and Ghost Recon 2 - so both games will hopefully soon be done and done. Then I can go back to Tomb Raider Legend and finally finish the dire DLC on that, before setting my sights on Bioshock 1/2 for the DLC stuff I still have on each.

I've also started chipping away at the remaining Halo ODST tasks as well, so hopefully that will be chalked off soon - plus I've made rapid progress on Rockstar Table Tennis which is a nice surprise. I've managed to get the online GOAT achievement plus I completed the Expert tour on default settings too. Boo yah! Just need 50+ online tourney wins (which I'm looking to do this weekend) and to complete the expert tour with every player then it will be done. A nice little treat that one, especially as you can change the settings to 7 points and 1 game to win after doing your default run - so hopefully I can chip away at it.

The only new game I've started was Borderlands 2 which I'm thoroughly enjoying. Hopefully I can make some good progress on that once I've cleared the decks a little more.

Friday, October 12, 2012

DISNEY WORLD!!!! - Week 2

Monday: Busch Gardens. The first day of the second week saw us heading over to Tampa and Busch Gardens. Luckily there was a free coach - or should I say coaches, as about seven turned up - so it wasn't a major hassle. Our driver, Dan, was a fun guy though he did make us endure Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 on the way over. The horror. The park itself was a mix of thrill rides, a la Islands of Adventure, and a mini safari park. The rides were all good again, especially the Cheetah Hunt, and we went on pretty much everything except for the old school wooden coaster which was closed for the day for some reason. I have to admit to bottling it on Shiekra (the 90 degree vertical drop) as I've been on similar rides in the past and not really enjoyed them. The wife went on it solo and said it was fun and that I was a wuss. I have to say that, with hindsight, it was probably no worse than most of the other stuff. I blame it partially on the fact I'd been feeling a bit weird all day and then made matters worse by eating a burger that really disagreed with me. Thankfully we'd been on most of the rides by then (twice) so it was all good. We relaxed by going on the safari tour and the overhead cable cars for some scenic views.

Tuesday: Epcot (again). As our last trip to Epcot had been washed out, we headed back to finish off. We went on the Spaceship Earth ride, which is worth it just for the funny ending video, plus trips to see Captain EO (which has dated quite a bit) and the Imagination Centre ride. We also wandered around the World Showcase which is worth it just for the selection of food and the frankly epic store in the Japanese section of the area. Good times. We also popped to Downtown Disney afterwards and had a browse around some of the stores there. I have to say that some of the art on sale was simply jaw dropping - as often it was in a completely non-Disney style and made traditional characters/films look stunning. Sadly they cost a fortune or I would have snapped something up.

Wednesday: Universal Studios. We left this until near the end as we have already been to the LA equivalent (twice for me) so figured this wouldn't have much else to offer. We were both gutted to discover that there is no backstage tour at the Florida location - which was one of the highlights in LA. Luckily some of the other stuff made up for it. We rode the Ripride Rocket a couple of times, which is made fun by the fact you can choose your own soundtrack and by the hefty drop right at the start (making me again wonder why I didn't go on the similar ride at Busch Gardens, ah well). We also went on the Simpsons ride, the Despicable Me ride (fun 3D goodness) and I saw Shrek 4D for like the millionth time. The Twister experience was hit and miss and the Men in Black ride was yet another gun game, which seems to be all the rage right now. There was also the fun Disaster show which featured a hologram Christopher Walken hamming it up to good effect. We were even going to go on the ET ride but with the queue at 30 minutes (for a kids ride) we decided not to bother. Still it was a fairly chilled out day with plenty to see.

Thursday: Seaworld. We left Seaworld until last as Sam was really not that fussed but it turned out to be surprisingly awesome. We saw the early dolphin show, which also included some aerial gymnastics and a host of trained birds, and it was superb. The Shamu show at midday was equally good too, so much so that we wondered why we had written this place off. There are also two really good coasters in the Manta and Kraken rides, as well as yet another flume ride (which we gave a miss after going on four others throughout the week). We also got to touch a manta and a dolphin and see some sharks up close and personal. It was a really relaxed day and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Friday: Nothing. This was our chance to recharge our batteries before heading back home as our flight back was the day after. We packed up the suitcases, which were practically full of US candy/cookies, and then headed out. We went to the Outlet Stores but to be honest they weren't that much cheaper than back home (seems to be some kind of urban legend) so we headed back to play some miniature golf instead which was fun as we both cheated outrageously.

On the whole I loved the trip and would certainly recommend it to anyone. The Disney parks have a reputation as being kiddified money pits, but there is still plenty to see and enjoy even if you're an adult. If you mix them in with the more grown up Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens then there will be something for everyone. Here are my top likes/dislikes:

  • Food - International Drive had a bevy of fairly decent chain restaurants which all offered fairly reasonable prices and a good range of food. I got Sam hooked on Johnny Rockets in particular, so here's hoping we can find some more.
  • Islands of Adventure/Busch Gardens - Not being a thrill ride fan I wasn't sure about both of these parks but they delivered, and how. I loved every ride and there was plenty to see and do even when the queues picked up.
  • Magic Kingdom - still probably the best all around Disney park, just for the vibe of the place and the overall mix of rides/shows/attractions. Good for kids, and big kids.
  • Free transport - all the buses/monorail in the Disney parks are free, so getting around them is fairly easy. Plus, the free coach to Busch Gardens was a great help too. With friendly and helpful staff this was never a problem
  • Walmart - best shop ever. Done and done.
  • Theme park food - often overpriced and never really that good, we often just took snacks in with us and then ate a main meal after we had been back to the hotel and got changed.
  • I-ride - the shuttle on International Drive was rubbish, they go nowhere near either Disney or Universal and they get packed with tourists within two or three stops. I would hate to see how bad they were in peak season. We got stuck with them after being persuaded to buy a 7 day pass, but ditched them as soon as that ran out. We waited over an hour for a ride at one point after two consecutive buses would not stop due to being full. AVOID.
  • Disney Hollywood Studios - probably the worst park for me. It had a few good attractions (especially the Beauty and the Beast show) but was just too small and the backstage tour was a major disappointment. You are likely to see all parks assuming you are going but I'd leave this until last.
  • Crazy heat - I'm English, so we don't like searing heat followed by torrential downpours followed by searing heat. MAKE UP YOUR MIND! On some days the heat made wandering the parks a real chore if truth be told, but you should soldier on as you never know when the rain might hit.

Monday, October 08, 2012

DISNEY WORLD!!!! - Week 1

After writing about the dreary world of office politics and how it led to a change of gainful employment, I figured what better way to pull it back than to write about something a little bit more fun. Don't fret though peeps - I'll be getting back to gaming ASAP.

Yes - I recently went on holiday to Disneyworld in Florida. My wife and I have no children but that probably made the whole experience more enjoyable, as I cannot imagine having to hustle a couple of little 'uns through the saccharine sweet wilderness of a theme park.

We also paid a visit to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Busch Gardens and Seaworld, because.......well, why wouldn't you?

I have to say that despite the over the top reliance on merchandise and inflated food prices, we had a pretty good time practically everywhere. It probably helped that we went out of season as it kept all of our queueing to a minimum, in fact the longest we waited for any ride was probably about 15 minutes and that was usually in the afternoon. Our policy was to get to the parks early, get on all of the big rides early and then take in the shows and stores as the day wore on. Plus, we avoided going to any of the parks on weekends as we figured it would be fairly busy.

Here is how our two weeks panned out:

Sunday: Bog all. Had a lie in after the long flight the night before, then we got up and wandered all the way down International Drive (where our hotel was) to check out the local amenities.

Monday: Magic Kingdom. The stereotypical Disney park, with all the characters wandering around (and gargantuan queues to have photos with them) plus a range of rides, shows and attractions. We went on Space Mountain first, then followed that up with Thunder Mountain, then Splash Mountain and then Thunder Mountain again. Whole lotta mountains in this vicinity. In between times we also went on the Dumbo ride, Buzz Lightyears Space Adventure, It's a Small World (ha ha, you just have to), the Steamboat and saw the Hall of Presidents. I'm probably forgetting some other bits and bobs, but on the whole it was a fun old day. We've actually been to Tokyo Disney and this was much the same, but good times nonetheless. We also hung around for the parade and got stood next to a family who happened to have a Woody toy - along comes Woody himself and he makes a big deal over the kid and his toy, which was really nice and quite funny to see.

Tuesday: Epcot Centre. We went on the Mission to Mars ride ASAP (just as well as it was out of commission later in the week) plus we had a go on Soarin (God bless Patrick Warburton) and the Living with the Land ride. We then started to head around the World Showcase but were interrupted by a torrential downpour. We tried to wait it out but after half an hour there was no joy, so we caved and bought ponchos (as we had stupidly left ours at the hotel). We legged it back to the buses and then to the hotel, and the rain continued for the next few hours. Thankfully this was pretty much the only day that bad weather would come into play so I guess we were lucky for that.

Wednesday: Islands of Adventure. This was the day I had most trepidation about, as I've never been that fond of big rides, while the wife loves them. I promised her I would do my best though and after some initial trepidation it has to be said that I had a blast. The Dragon Challenge ride and Forbidden Journey in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter were good fun. I shouted "Arch your back like a Dragon" on the Challenge ride in my best Will Ferrell voice - then proceeded to annoy the wife by using it as my catchphrase on every big ride thereafter. We also went on the Spiderman ride, Jurassic Park Adventure, Rip Saw Rapids and the Bilge Rat Barges - we did the latter three back to back and I was soaked to the skin. We had to stop for ten minutes to dry out in the sun which was a welcome relief. We also went on the Hulk, which had been closed earlier on but luckily reopened, and I have to say that was probably the best of the day - just getting blasted into a series of loops and twists. Good times.

Thursday: Disney Hollywood Studios. A bit of a disappointment really. The Tower of Terror ride was fun, and the the Aerosmith roller coaster not too bad as well. Plus, we really loved the Beauty and the Beast show. However, the old Star Wars ride was average at best as was the Muppet 3D affair and other than a fairly fun Indiana Jones themed stunt show there wasn't that much else to see or do. This was easily the smallest park and the one we spent the least amount of time wandering around/

Friday:Disney Animal Kingdom. We went on the Everest ride first, but it was fairly tame and dull if you ask me (listening to the kids shrieking you would think it they were being tortured) and other than a ropey old Dinosaur ride that was pretty much it. We did go on the rapids but they were nowhere near as good, or wet, as Islands of Adventure so that was a shame. The highlight of the day was the mini safari ride where you piled onto a bus/jeep thing and went to have a look at the local wildlife in the par. Seeing rhinos, hippos, lions and the like up close was pretty fun and the tour guide, who was called Valeria, was super knowledgeable and interesting which really sold it. We also saw the Bugs Life show and went on a couple of the nature walks so it was a fairly relaxing and chilled out day all in all.

Saturday/Sunday: We spent the weekend going to the local Mall (rubbish - mainly clothing stores, bah) and then onto Walmart (awesome - we spent a fortune on food and Peanut Butter M&Ms). Then Sunday we wandered down to Wonderworks and tinkered with the hands on exhibits before I got a touch terrified at the rope walking course (clearly heights are my issue, though it never felt as bad on the rides so go figure). We had been getting up at just after 6am most of the week so these days gave us a chance to have a lie in and conserve some energy ready for another assualt the coming Monday.

Friday, October 05, 2012

How I Changed Jobs (Part 2)

So I got suspended. Truly that must make me some kind of villain or something, right?

The reasons given for my suspension (which I actually had to ask for as the so called letter I was given on the day I was suspended was intentionally vague) were thus: Using my work computer to write my blog (how ironic right?), using my work computer to send personal emails, using my mobile in work time, not supporting my work colleagues appropriately and leaving work without authorised permission.

Terrible stuff indeed, but let's go through these things one at a time so we can see just how much of a joke these charges actually were.

Using my work computer to write my blog - well I have been guilty of that, but only during my lunchbreaks when we do have permission to use the internet. What made this charge more interesting was the fact that my manager and ALL of my colleagues provided written statements saying they had seen me updating my blog through out the month of April this year. Interesting considering my last post on here, as anyone who visits regularly can attest, was done in 2011. Yes, my manager convinced my whole team to lie in order to get rid of me. Classy.

But it gets better. She also provided specific times and dates when she was supposed to have witnessed me doing said activity first hand. Interestingly our company has a signing in/out sheet for fire safety requirements. Guess what? On every single occasion and time she listed either I was out of the office (on work business) or she was. Thus the companies own policies prove me innocent. Neat huh? The fact she just made up a bunch of times and dates without even thinking to check whether I was actually present or not pretty much sums up how things were going to go.

She also produced some of my old appraisal notes (as we have a one to one with the manager every so often) to back up her claim that she had warned me about this before. You know what the problem is with old notes? If you are going to doctor them then do not go outside the lefthand margin and use a different pen. Yes - she ADDED extra lines to my old appraisal notes which were not there before. I called her on it and she said that was 'my opinion' but despite five requests for copies of the original notes (one a formal written one from my solicitor) they still failed to turn up. What a shocker.

Using my computer to send personal emails - this is the only one I would hold my hands up to, but again it was done (in the main) on my lunch. Plus, if I sent one or two personal emails a week then that would probably be a rush. The thing here is that we were actually allowed to send personal emails and my former manager was the one who had set up a separate folder on my computer for storing the bloody things. Everyone on the team has done this a fact my manager actually admitted to in my consequent meeting with her, and yet I'm the only one punished. If we are going to be picky then I would also point out that my former company had no specific legal policy about staff not using the work computer. I suspect they do now.......

Using my mobile in work time - Another good one that the majority of the team is far more guilty of than I am. My manager herself would take calls from her sons, family and partner almost every other day, most notably while just sitting at her desk and ignoring the work phone. Likewise other team members were constantly allowed to use their phone at their desks to call family and friends. Or to make urgent gym appointments and hairdressers bookings - you know, the stuff that absolutely could not wait. For my part my mobile usage was confined to my lunch break and I almost never received calls except for when I moved house earlier in the year - at which point I informed my manager I would receive some calls during work hours and specifically asked if that would be ok. I was told yes at the time but obviously that opinion changed when they wanted rid of me.

Not supporting my work colleagues - this is the best one really. As my supposed colleagues all wrote statements about how I would check their work and tell them what mistakes they had made, which would in turn make them feel uncomfortable. My job was to act as their supervisor, and part of that role was (shockingly) to check their work. If I did find mistakes then, yeah, I would tell them and let them know how it might be done. I'd never do this in a mean way and would often just make a joke out of it. The sad part is that the same mistakes would come up over and over again, and because my boss would never punish the perpetrators it was left to me to let them know what they'd done wrong. Guess what - if you stop making mistakes then I'll stop finding them while doing MY job.

Leaving work without authorisation - This one was just flat out petty. My manager had gone out to a meeting, so I was left in the office with three other people. Then my wife called, practically in tears, and said she was unwell. She could barely concentrate and had trouble just walking around at work. I offered to go and collect her and take her to the doctors. I let the other three members of the team know what was happening and they promised to let my boss know. I also tried to track down the senior manager and let him know, but he was out of the office too. So I went and got her anyway. On my way home my boss texted me and asked if anything was ok as the team had told her what happened. I apologised and explained the situation. However, in her so called witness statement my manager claimed she had no idea where I had gone, neither did ANY of the team. Luckily I kept the text as proof and she later admitted (on tape) that she had known where I went to boot. Stay classy.

So this was the supposed case against me, none of which amounts to anything worthy of a suspension especially considering my flawless disciplinary and attendance record prior to this. After this point it was really a chain of errors from my company resulting in the suspension being lifted, but here are some highlights.

Firstly, as soon as I was suspended I was invited to a disciplinary hearing which was going to be chaired by my manager. Both of which went against our own company policy as I was entitled to give my side of the story in an investigation meeting first, not to mention that. as the person bringing the complaint AND my direct line manager she should not have been anywhere near the meeting. I raised both points and the meeting was changed to an investigation, but she was still running it. More on that fubar later.

As the meeting I basically made them look like idiots. I provided evidence in my favour for every single accusation, not to mention the fact I actually recorded the whole thing using a dictaphone. I asked permission to do so (very important) and that made it all the sweeter when they provided me with their heavily doctored version of events. Seriously, why would you change what was said when I HAVE THE WHOLE CONVERSATION ON TAPE? It blows my mind. I remember my mother offered to type out the recording and spent the whole evening laughing at my managers statements and saying that it may as well have been me running the interview.

Knowing they didn't have a leg to stand on they actually went out of the meeting and tried to dig up more evidence to use against me. They broke into my desk drawer and computer, finding a cheque from a client and a small amount of cash that I had yet to pay into the bank. Please note that said items were locked securely in my drawer. This cheque/cash combo then became the main part of their case against me - yes, they changed the allegations AFTER my investigation meeting. Despite the fact that I have my manager on tape admitting she leaves cash/cheques in her desk for long periods of time which 'is not the point Lee' or so she claims. They also went back and acquired even more anonymous witness statements against my behaviour - meaning there were now nine witness statements from a team of five (not including me). Somehow that maths doesn't work out - oh, you got the same people to give statements twice. Of course that makes sense and is fair.

She unsurprisingly recommended that the investigation by turned into a full blown disciplinary proceeding, and sent me a letter saying how the decision had been reached. A letter dating two days BEFORE my investigation hearing. So she had decided to discipline me before hearing my side of the story effectively - seems unbiased and reasonable.

At this point it was clear that the whole thing was a witch hunt so I got a solicitor involved and proceeded to formally take apart their case one step at a time. I remained suspended for the better part of a month while my company tried to figure out what to do and then, all of a sudden, the suspension was lifted and I went back to work as if nothing had happened. I was still invited to a sham of a disciplinary meeting, where a different manager just sat there and listened to my side of the story. They presented no evidence against me (which they should), gave me no timescale for a decision (which they should) and would not answer any of my questions.

A couple of weeks later the manager from the disciplinary meeting said the decision letter was almost ready, but she didn't understand some of the details in it so was not prepared to sign it off just yet.

That's right......

She basically admitted that someone else had made the decision and she was just signing her name on the paperwork. Do ho ho!

Unsurprisingly, I was given a final written warning which was the worst they could do in the circumstances as they had botched the disciplinary to such an extent that sacking me would have led straight to a lawsuit. I appealed against said warning and cited all of the policies that they had broken along the way that led to my appeal. The letter I handed to my senior manager was over 14 pages long.........

Interestingly, the company policies stated that if the disciplinary procedure had been broken to a significant extent then my appeal should be upheld automatically. They had no way to duck that argument so instead the senior manager in question basically avoided me for the better part of a month until I finally found a new job and got the hell out of there. I sent him a final letter stating that I considered my disciplinary case still open as he should have found the time in a whole month to hear my appeal.

He then called me and said a couple of interesting things......

'Lee I've kept out of this since the start, as I knew it would go to appeal.'

YES - HE JUST ADMITTED THAT HE HAD MADE, OR KNOWN, THE DECISION FROM THE GET GO. Otherwise how would you 'know' it was going to appeal, the charges could have been dropped for all he knew - assuming he was actually neutral. His statement was a lie regardless, as multiple members of staff that had been involved had mentioned his involvement by name in terms of writing letters, getting a solicitor for the company etc. No one else could have signed these things off.

'Following written policies is not the be all and end all'

This was in response to the fact I had proven that I'd broken no company policies and done nothing illegal in any way, coupled with the countless admissions of similar acts from other staff (mobile use, personal emails etc). He basically just said that even though I'd done nothing wrong he FELT they should punish me anyway - what a true and just system, eh?

Through it all I kept a good sense of humour, as I'd been stagnating in the same place for years so this gave me the impetus to go out and find a good job that offered far more chance of advancement. Plus, my new role has way less aggravation and a far higher salary, so what's not to like. The real issue I had was with just how readily some people I'd thought of as friends had turned on me - one of them actually admitted that she hadn't written her 'witness' statement but it was more than her job was worth to say anything.

Quite why my manager would choose an underperforming, incompetent friend over someone that had been doing their best for years on end is beyond me, but such is the state of the world. The most satisfying thing was when I came back from suspension and checked on the online banking.

The company used to basically loan money to clients every day, track those loans on a spreadsheet and then transfer back the money owed at the end of the week from each individuals account. Pretty easy and a task I had been in charge of for a while. In my absence my manager had fucked up nearly a hundred transactions resulting in £15,000.00 of underpayments (clients that owed us money) and £12,000.00 of overpayment's (clients that hadn't owed anything but she'd taken money from anyway). Neither of these lists crossed over in terms of the same people either so the whole thing was a complete mess and no one but me knew it. I could have left it I suppose, but instead I spent three weeks correcting everything and saving spreadsheets, lists etc then on my final day I emailed it all to the senior manager with an explanation of what had happened. A bit of last minute proof that he had backed the lame horse.

After all of that I feel in a better place. I could have sued their asses, but it would have taken 10-12 months to get to court with me paying solicitors fees all the while. Frankly I would have probably just got back the money I put in and it didn't seem worth the effort. Justice may well be only for the rich it seems. I was already down £2k in solicitors fees as it was, but I still felt as though I had 'won' for want of a better word. I'd forced them to take me back to work when they had been trying for all the world to sack me, and I still have all the recordings, letters and evidence on file that makes then look like the spiteful idiots they were. I may have lost out financially, but I felt in a pretty good place.

So onwards and upwards - just don't let the bastards get you down.

Oh - I should also point out that I've barely scratched the surface of all the mistakes, lies and issues that came up as part of this process but figured people might start drooling a little at some point. Didn't want you to share my suffering literally, ha!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

How I changed jobs (Part 1)

I've been meaning to chronicle my career shift, if only for my own satisfaction and due to the fact that the way it occurred was so mind bogglingly infuriating that I cannot quite believe it to this day. So I figured I'd jot down what happened and leave people free to make up their own minds about what happened.

Bit of back story I suppose. My last role was that of an Appointee Officer for a company that shall remain nameless. What this means in real terms was that I was the second in command of a small team (varying from 5-7 people depending on people leaving etc) that was tasked with managing the personal finances of vulnerable clients. This meant we looked after money for elderly people with no relatives, people with physical injuries and those with learning difficulties. We would look after every aspect of their finances, from receiving their benefit payments, paying bills, providing money for shopping right the way through to booking them holidays and so on. A pretty in depth job but one that was also equal parts interesting and frustrating. You would not believe how many family members are prepared to rip off their own relatives - but I digress.

I'd been working at said place for six years and doing pretty well at it. My old manager had gone through a bit of a rough patch personally speaking and it was fair to say that I had taken on more and more responsibility, without anything in the way of reward. Eventually a new managing director was put in place and he seemed to take an instant dislike to our team and insisted on putting in place a series of regimented procedures that made our jobs that much harder. Which is not to say that some of them were not necessary as it makes sense for a company dealing with the finances of 400+ vulnerable people to have accountability, however, he basically implemented things in as roughshod a manner as he could while offering the team no chance for new personnel, training or even overtime to battle the workload.

After about a year of his constant questioning of how we did things my manager basically said enough was enough and resigned, without even having another job lined up which should tell you something. I was equal parts worried about the direction of the team and excited about the prospect of finally moving up the ranks (I'd been there four years at this point).

However, at the interviews it became rapidly apparent that I was going to be basically overlooked due to the fact I'd worked closely with the previous manager. How could I improve the team, they said, if I hadn't been able to do so under my old boss? Um, maybe because she was the person in charge and I couldn't force her to change the way the team was run? Anyway, cut a long story short, they hired someone external to the company that had zero experience in terms of being an appointee, interacting with social services, handling benefits etc. I found that especially interesting as part of the interview had been to do a presentation on the state of the appointee department and ways it could be improved - a presentation no one else could surely have delivered if they had no reasonable experience (bearing in mind that, from a legal standpoint, the interviewees should all be treated fairly and the same). She did have some management experience, but the overall message I got was that she was hired for basically NOT being me. Lucky for her.

So instead of being the manager I was now working for a manager who had no clue about anything we currently did or any of the procedures we had in place. The fact she had also been instructed to raise the teams profitability at any cost, seemingly, would come into play too. I can't say I was too upset about not getting the job, at least not at first, more with the way the interviews had been carried out in a completely biased way. Cest la vie!

Our new manager was, at least, the sociable type and made every effort to get on with the team and try to pick up what it was exactly that we did. Due to senior management allowing the former manager a handover period of exactly one day (I kid you not) she basically had no chance of passing everything to the new boss, so it was only a matter of time before things went to pot.

Over the course of the next year or so things gradually began to disintegrate. Tasks that used to be standard fare for the team gradually became more and more overlooked. Filing was not getting done, bank statements were not being checked, bills were going unpaid or being paid from the wrong clients account entirely. The reasons for this were many and various. A team member left to go to a new good and was not adequately replaced, another had a serious long term illness and was absent for a prolonged period and no one who subsequently joined the team was adequately trained.

The main problem was one of the staff, a girl that had become good friends with the new manager. She would constantly make basic errors on a variety of tasks. Including paying cheques from the wrong persons account, not logging payments at all so the company was liable, or agreeing to phone requests for money and purchase etc but then not noting them down anywhere leading to a number of complaints. It didn't help that she would lie about completing work only for unfinished documents to turn up on her desk after we had received a phone call complaining about us not doing this or that. Not only that but she was constantly late to work - arriving late on over 30+ separate occasions in one four month period. Any one of the countless errors she made should have been grounds for some kind of disciplinary procedure. Instead, because of her friendship with the team manager, the issues were overlooked time and time again. I made at least four separate formal complaints about her in the last year of my employment there, and all of them were ignored. It got to the point where other members of the team would not pass her work because they feared it would simply not get done.

Finally, at the start of this year I had simply had enough. I sent a lengthy email, detailing all of the issues caused by this particular colleague, to the current managing director (a different fellow to the one that had done the appointee management interviews - who had himself been made redundant on a technicality). He invited me to a meeting to discuss the problem and go over possible solutions. I discussed the possibility of her being retrained, though raised the issue that such action had been tried before and she refused to change her attitude, he suggested replacing her entirely and I said that may well be the only option. He said he would have to discuss the problem with my manager, as she would have to have a say, and then we could proceed.

Three weeks later, and having heard nothing from the director in the interim, my manager summoned me to the boardroom downstairs (along with another colleague) and promptly said I was suspended.

Then things got really interesting........

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Lies, damn lies and statistics

RETAIL - 33 games

Assassins Creed: BH – 270/1000
Battlefield 2: MC - 500/1000
Beatles Rock Band – 130/1000
Bladestorm - 150/1000
Call of Duty: B. Ops - 1200/1700
Call of Duty: WaW - 1000/1500
Catherine - 35/1000
Disney Sing It HSM3 - 330/1000
Fairytale Fights - 380/1000
Fallout New Vegas - 155/1655
FIFA 12 - 1000/1250
Gears of War 3 - 1765/2000
Ghost Recon FS - 1000/1170
GRAW - 752/1000
GRAW 2 - 1000/1250
Guitar Hero 2 - 320/1000
Halo ODST – 900/1000
Kinect Adventures - 85/1000
Lego Harry Potter 2 - 200/1000
Lego Star Wars TCS - 260/1000
Perfect Dark Zero - 150/1000
Risen - 70/1000
Spiderman 3 - 910/1000
Splinter Cell: DA - 670/1000
Star Wars: Republic Heroes - 365/1000
Supreme Commander - 110/1000
Table Tennis - 630/1000
The Sims 3 – 150/1000
Tomb Raider: Legend - 1065/1250
Tropico 4 - 1040/1250
Vampire Rain - 650/1000
WSC 2007 - 550/1000
You’re in the Movies - 140/1000

TOTAL - 17932/37025

ARCADE - 8 games

A World of Keflings - 200/250
Boogie Bunnies - 115/200
Eets: Chowdown - 40/200
Geometry Wars - 40/200
Ilomilo - 100/250
Texas Hold ‘Em - 105/200
Wallace and Gromit - 115/200
Where's Wally - 40/200

TOTAL - 755/1700

Overall - 18687/38725

Here are all the games on my current to do list, which is actually in a bit better shape than the last time I tried this exercise (well over a year ago).

I'm actually hoping I can chalk off a few games in relatively short order as I only need to polish off DLC on games like Tomb Raider, Tropico 4, FIFA 12 and two of the Ghost Recon games. Not to mention a couple of the Arcade titles should be fairly simple too. We shall see. There are also at least three/four retail titles on there that could be sorted in relatively short order if I can get my other half to sit down and play some Lego games with me. Would be nice to just get a few more games out of the way so I can concentrate solely on newer titles and games I've been putting off for too long now.

At the moment my main goal is just to polish off as many games as I can, as well as hopefully starting a few of the easier titles that have been sat on my shelves for years. The next generation is probably right around the corner so it really does make sense for me to try and get rid of as many old games as I can while they are still worth something.

With 20,038 points sat on my tag from games I've already started then I really want to try and get that figure down to about 10k if I can. I also have a few other games sat around that I'll never finish (due to closed servers, glitched achievements etc) so this is my target area for now. Hopefully I can get focused on these badboys and blitz through a few things. Good intentions and all that. Though I expect that with Xmas and, more importantly, review season coming up my card may well just get swamped. We shall see.