I don’t doubt the addictive nature of games, in fact I’d go as far as to say a good game should be addictive. If a game sinks its teeth in and doesn’t let go (like my daughters hamster did last night) then chances are the games developers have done something right. We see it more and more these days as well, with those visual XP bars (even in games you wouldn’t traditionally expect to see them in) that creep up slowly, subtly egging you on to reach that next level.

I think anyone that considers themselves a gamer has, whether they are aware of it or not, been subjected to these addictive mechanisms and they probably have a different effect depending on the person. As a general rule, I find that I can play single player story elements of a game in healthy doses (strategy games being the exception). Online multiplayer is a  more “dangerous” area for me – but only manifests itself in the form of later than expected nights and probably a tired, slightly grouchy me in the morning.

I found out that I am not immune though, and this is where I stand up and say: My name is AngryFodder and I am an Ogame addict. Well, to be exact, I believe I was gaming under the handle “pint_of_Stella” (and later “Badger”) in that game and I’ve now been “clean” for a fair few years. However, if memory serves, an addict is never truly clean and needs to be wary of that fact daily.

So what the fuck is ogame and why was I addicted? Ogame is browser based space game that pre-dates the likes of farmville or even facebook for that matter. You create an account and sign up to a universe, which is populated by thousands of other players.

You start with your home planet and a small amount of the games three resources; metal, crystal and deuterium. From there you start to develop your planet, building mines (that increase resource production), research labs, shipyards, technologies and fleets of spaceships. Think command and conquer and how it’s tech tree works.

All of these things take time and resources though. You start out small, but a few (real) months down the line, you will have a network of planets and fleets of spaceships at your disposal. The ultimate goal is to keep getting bigger and stronger, dominating the universe. You can setup alliances with other players, trade resources, attack other players and take their resources or simply just sit back and carefully manage your own resources. In reality you’ll probably want to be doing all of these things if you’re to become a top player.

One of the best ways to advance is to destroy rival fleets and harvest the debris field. A successful large attack can net you more resources than your combined mines will create in a week. To do this, you need to build yourself an attack fleet and this is where the cat and mouse game really kicks in.

You spend your time scanning rival planets, searching for a weaker prey to attack. All the time, bigger fish are out there, doing the exact same thing to you. Your fleet becomes your biggest asset and as you grow it, you need to defend it at all costs. All the time it’s sitting on a planet, it can be attacked, so you need to be online to keep an eye on it. When you’re going offline, the game doesn’t go offline with you – that server is still running, 24/7. You do a thing called “fleet saving”, a process that syncs your real life and the game together: break the synchronicity and the consequences will probably be dire. Welcome to ogame – your life is no longer your own.

Without going into the complexity of the process, in simplest terms, you need to be online whenever your fleet is on a planet and whenever it is due to arrive at a planet. I shit you not, this is a game that encourages stalking. Top players become sneaky, dirty, underhanded mother fuckers (and I know, because I was one). You send Trojan horses in the form of friendly messages to players – not because you want to talk to them, because you want to know if they are online. You build up a picture of your rivals, their habits, when they are online, when they are likely to be offline – where they are from, what time zone they’re on. Information is power in this game and the more time you invest, the more it pays off and the more you climb the ranks.

So where am I going with all this? Well for me, you measure addiction by the impact it has on real life, and ogame, for me, took over my life. It has to really, if you want to be a decent player. Fleets don’t take minutes or even hours to build – they take months or even years. That can all be wiped out in a blink of an eye because you weren’t able to log in one morning.

I’ve had to set alarms to wake me up at 3am, so I can then trudge to the computer and get online, as earlier in the day an incoming attack made me recall a fleet save. Bear in mind this was before 3g, I’ve had to phone people from days out with the family and ask them to log in for me, then guide them through the fleet save process. I’ve been late for appointments because I was waiting on my fleet to get back. I’ve lied to people because of this game!

Eventually, and despite my diligent efforts, I was wiped-out. The resulting battle report made the “Hall of fame” on the forums, due to the number of ships involved and the resulting resources created. Ironically, I was online at the time as well. My rival had utilised an elaborate, yet ingenious strategy that meant they could sneak in an attack well under the usual 1+ hour attack time.

I remember being more shocked than angry and in a way, quite impressed. I think part of me was probably even a little relieved and had been looking for an exit strategy. I quickly made the decision to offer the account out on the forums to anyone that wanted it (accounts were sometimes even sold on ebay). This was done not out of anger or resentment, but because despite the serious blow, I still had a top account with high level mines and technology. It would be all too easy to lick my wounds and start the rebuilding process – I’d done it many times in the past after smaller loses.

As stupid as it sounds, I can’t explain to you the feeling of leaving Ogame behind. It really was as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. In life, sometimes people do put massive time and dedication into things, to the point it can have a negative impact on their relationship, friendships and even their health. There are times this is regrettable but ultimately worth while. A video game though, isn’t one of those times.


Aliens: Colonial Marines

I’m an Aliens fan; although being a fan of Aliens is a relative term. I’m the fan that saw the movies and thought that they were, on aggregate,  really good. I’m not the fan that cosplays as a fucking xenomorph and swarms to movie conventions with other like-minded bellends upon a weekend. I wonder if it’s this relatively low level of fandom that affords me the benefit of viewing Aliens Colonial Marines in a positive light, where a more hardcore fan would take offence?

See the gaming community are a funny bunch. Realistically, there are only about 3 scores a game can receive: 7, 8 or 9. Scores of 10 are mythical beasts that are eyed with suspicion and come under attack should one ever try and raise its ludicrous head. Anything below a 7 is clearly a game that is less than nothing and thus, should be killed with fire.

When a reviewer steps out of the “7,8,9” zone, a point of distinction is invariably being made. When a reviewer starts moving into the sub 5 scores, they’re nailing that point of distinction to your face with a sledgehammer: “This game is a pile of steaming shit!”. And yet it’s those sub 5 scores that Aliens consistently scored by reviews sites – which I think really triggered a point of contention with me.

A 2.5? They gave it a 2.5!?

A 2.5? They gave it a 2.5!?

See Aliens Colonial Marines isn’t a bad game. Admittedly, that doesn’t mean that it’s a great game either, but it’s certainly not the barely playable mess of a 2.5’s that some sites described it as. It’s a painfully average first person shooter, redeemed a little by it’s iconic backdrop. All the elements – graphics, sound, setting, story, characters,  gameplay, etc – gel together to make a perfectly serviceable Aliens game.

So why has it been shit on from such a great height? As the game had some lofty expectations, possibly an element of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” came into play. Possibly an element of anger seeping in and poisoning the well of level headed games critique, as reviewers felt lied to by earlier game footage. Or possibly just a differing of opinion and the game is actually considered, by most, to be a big bag of Alien space-wank.