Gamer – Martin Gaston

22 Sep

Well, we’re back. Sorry for the hiatus, it was a little longer than first expected as I arrived home to a bulging inbox and far too much to do at home. So, from today we’ll be back doing what we do best – pestering Gamers for their opinions on anything and everything. We’ve got some great interviews coming up soon, especially once I’ve nagged some people into sending their responses back.

So, without further ado, I bring you, arguably the King of straplines – Martin Gaston.

Q1. Who the hell are you and what do you do?

My name is Martin Gaston and I do many things. I’m also a Staff Writer for VideoGamer.com.

Q2. When did you first get into games? How old were you?

Let me get out a calculator. We’re in 2010, so if I work backwards I end up, probably, at Christmas 1993 or thereabouts – which would have made me 7, which sounds about right. I got a Sega Master System (II) for my Christmas present that year. I wanted a Mega Drive, which my parents couldn’t afford, so I made do with the tinier 8-bit cousin. Basically, I was both delighted and furious.

I remember hooking the thing up on Christmas day – all the malarkey with RF boxes and tuning channels meant I had to get my Dad to do it, and he wasn’t best pleased. My only game (until my birthday eight months later, where I got Sonic and Batman Returns) was Alex Kidd in Miracle World. I never completed it. What kind of game, lacking any means of a save system, forces you to play a random game of rock, paper, scissors with each boss? The designers for that game are complete shits.

Q3. Omit nothing, what is your gaming history? Where did it start and how did it progress?

I eventually got a Mega Drive – round about the time Donkey Kong Country 2 was coming out, which made me question whether or not I wanted a Mega Drive in the first place. Then I saw Sonic 3, and all was well.

These were the Olden Times, before pre-owned was evil, so I used to buy second-hand games from a pawn shop called Curiosity Corner, which (sadly) closed down by the time the Playstation was getting big. My primary factors for purchase were whether they were a) cheap and b) had a nice front cover. Some games ended up being incredible (Gunstar Heroes) and others I wasn’t so fond of (Alisha Dragoon). Still, I treasured them all like antiques for years until I decided I wanted a Playstation, when I promptly proceeded to obey my mother’s commands and give them all to my little brother in exchange for the magnificent grey box and a copy of Tekken 2.

I was also lucky enough to get my first PC for Christmas 1998, which allowed me to run Half-Life with software rendering. It looked phenomenal. Half-Life turned me into a PC gamer, but having a PC/Playstation combo was fantastic and allowed me to play pretty much everything. I had a friend who lived nearby with an N64, which gave me access to Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time. I won the 32-bit era, that’s for sure.

It becomes a bit more standardised after that – I got more money as I became older and fatter, so I ended up purchasing most things. I own every single console from the fifth generation onwards, and I still make a habit of upgrading my PC. I’m such a nerd.

When it comes to actual games, by my count (and I do keep count – I’m very sad) I’ve completed 189 games since 2005. That’s about a quarter of the amount I own.

Q4. Why do you actually play games? Is it for fun? Or maybe something else?

Fun, primarily. I generally like my games to be gamey – shooty, drivy, racey and that sort of thing. Give me a high score board, basically. Case in point: my gaming highlight for 2010 is either Bad Company 2 online (single player is dire) or Super Street Fighter IV.

It’s ironic, perhaps, that most of my all-time favourite games tend to be driven by narrative, but games that actually do story well are few and far between. It’s much better to play something that’s fun than mill about in some sort of delightfully obtuse faux-narrative for a few hours, I think.

I like my games like I like my writing, basically: simple and to the point, which is probably why I think The Path is total shit.

Q5. If you could choose one game (just one) to give to other gamers, one that epitomises videogames for you, what would it be?

I think, right now, I’d probably give them Modern Warfare 2. I played a few matches with two of my brothers last night, and I remember thinking how it’s probably been almost a decade since the three of us sat and played a game together in that way: we’re all very different people, so it’s exceedingly rare for something to universally appeal to all three of us. It was fun. And I was clearly doing the best, which was nice.

Q6. What was the last game you completed? Did you enjoy it?

I just finished Shank. It had a pretty good go, but there were only really a few enemy types and the system wasn’t quite as compelling as it needed to be. The controls were a bit off, which stops it from ascending into something genuinely compulsive like Devil May Cry 3 or Ninja Gaiden. But you also get to strangle dudes to death with a chain, so it’s swings and roundabouts really.

Q7. Now the tough stuff… Favourite gaming platform ever… and why?

It has to be the PC. It’s served me the longest, and will continue to do so after the current sets of consoles have YLOD’d and RROD’d themselves into oblivion. And it plays both Civlization and StarCraft. Enough said.

Q8. Favourite game or franchise?

Deus Ex is my favourite game of all time, simply because I’d never played anything like it before. Just typing its name makes me want to load up Steam and reinstall it. It’s hard to quantify what it is that makes it so special, but I think that’s part of the joy – it’s a true jack of all trades, dipping into many different elements at once to make sure there’s always something, somewhere to be doing. It’s so good I forgive it for the fact it actually gets a bit shitty after Hong Kong.

The fact it was released at the turn of the millennium makes it all the more significant. I remember playing it and thinking that this was how all games in the 21st century would be like. Hah.

Q9. How do you feel about online gaming?

If you’re talking about, say, playing Street Fighter over Xbox Live then I’m all for it – I’m far more inclined to purchase a game with a solid online mode (Modern Warfare, Bad Company, Street Fighter etc.) than I am anything else. The only caveat is that I won’t try and communicate with anyone in public games because they’re almost definitely foul mouthed and racist fifteen year olds.

My problem is when online gaming is shoehorned into absolutely chuffing everything. I see Dead Space 2 is going to have multiplayer modes, for instance. I love a bit of Dead Space, but the chances of me actually playing that game online are pretty much zero. EA might as well just get out the millions of dollars it’s going to spend on that and just burn it.

Q10. And motion control?

I can take it or leave it. When it works it’s okay, but I’ll almost always take the controller option if it’s available. I don’t really think motion control is aimed at me, and that’s okay. I’ll be buggered if I can understand the appeal of Microsoft’s Kinect, however. If I wanted to spend my days flailing my arms about and pretending I was on a raft I’d just pretend I was Robinson Crusoe. And, crikey, the Move launch titles are shocking.

Q11. How about 3D gaming?

I think the problem most people have with 3D gaming is that they see it as an emerging technology way outside of their price range. Which it totally is, but that’s the point: this is foundling technology, and the only people who could possibly afford it are bankers and celebrities. I certainly won’t buy one for many years – I still don’t really have a Blu-Ray player, for Pete’s sake – but I think it’s nice that companies are investing into new tech.

Just imagine if they could pull it off without glasses and that weird half-headache you get when your eyes first try and adjust to the screen trickery? That would be amazing!

Q12. Where do YOU want to see the industry in five years time?

I’d like games to be slightly cheaper, for a start. Publishers make a big hullaballoo about how expensive it is to develop games, but they’ve also recently developed an uncanny habit of reducing their titles to £20 a single week after launch – they’re completely screwing with their most devout fanbase at the moment, and it’s going to put them in a grim situation when people realise that they might as well wait three weeks and never pay £40 for a game ever again.

On the other side of the coin is are the people who say they’d like to see more creative and original games, yet wait until Brutal Legend is £9.99 before they bother picking it up. In the case of Brutal Legend that’s fair enough – the game is bobbins – but when a publisher decides to launch a wave of new IP it’s up to the consumer to support it with their wallets. When you look at the sales figures, it’s no wonder everyone is chasing the Call of Duty dream at the moment.

Case in point: Singularity. The only people I know who’ve actually played Singularity are games journalists who got a copy for free, and they’ve almost all universally made a point about how stupid Activision is for not supporting it – but they’re sure as hell not going to buy a copy of it. You need to do your best to support the kind of games you want to see being made. I’ve got my copy of Halo: Reach pre-ordered, basically.

Publishers are trying to dangle shiny new trinkets – motion controls and 3D – in our faces to keep the scene fresh, but there are bigger things we need to address. The UK’s biggest specialist games retailer is in bad shape, publishers are trying to treat people who purchase pre-owned games like criminals and all the money men are investing way too much money trying to grab the same slice of the market.

I think we’ve reach a point where not everything has to be a super-glitzy blockbuster title, too. Just look at the success of the App Store. We’ve reached this odd situation where games are either pitched at 59p, 1200 Microsoft Points or £40 – it’s all frightfully bizarre. I’d like to see what would happen if some big publishers allowed developers to aim for the middle ground: games that aren’t technologically groundbreaking but are allowed to be creative, pitched at a £20-ish RRP. I think that could be quite interesting.

Q13. What does gaming mean to you?

That’s an odd one. I use it as a means of expression (via my job), a way to relax and also a way to get so viciously competitive my stomach ties itself into knots. I’m probably wrong in the head. I blame all the videogames, personally.

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