Category Archives: Video Games

5 Ways to increase Happiness and Play More

Today is the International day of Happiness!  What better way to celebrate than to play a game with others!

The benefits of play for anyone, especially playing with other people are numerous and well documented.  A quick internet search brings up many articles, such as this and this for example, and there are many more.

I have covered some unplugged games and console games that can be played together in previous blog posts, but how do you actually get time to play all of these games?  If you are anything like me, you already have a fairly busy lifestyle and maybe even though you really want to you don’t think you’ll ever have time for playing, not least finding other people to play with.

In this case, below is a list of things that I have tried and you can try too, to increase your play time and improve your life!  The list is not exhaustive, so any ideas you have are very welcome, just leave a comment 🙂

1. Play Time starts at home

If you live with others, try to start a regular game night every week (or more than one if you’re keen, I play almost every day!).  Setting a regular night will help encourage people to play more.  Take turns in deciding what to play, to ensure everyone is more engaged in the activity.  As well as increasing the level of fun in the household, playing with the people you live with also helps you bond and can improve everything about your day-to-day home life.

2. Replace wasteful habits with playful ones

A lot of people spend a lot of time on wasteful habits these days, such as binge-watching TV series and spending too long checking social media, etc on mobile phones.  While these things in moderation are fine and provide people a way to disconnect, it is very easy to spend too much time and end up regretting the time wasted.  Instead of crashing on the sofa with your other half and watching another 10 episodes of the Walking Dead, why not start your evening relaxation with a game or two?  Or try turning off your phone for half an hour for a game of snakes and ladders with the kids! After the gaming session you can still see an episode or two, or check Facebook again, but you will feel that you have used your relaxation time overall in a more fulfilling way.

3. Tell people about it

This one may seem obvious, but if you want to increase the amount of play in your life, tell other people that you like playing games!  I tried using this tactic more from the start of this year (partly by starting the blog you are reading now!) and just because more people know I’m into games, I find myself playing more, either by others inviting me to play games or as an icebreaker to lead to an invite for them to play one of my games.

This is possibly one of the most important things you can do as a gamer, as there are more other people out there who like games than you think , but just don’t like to talk about it, as it may not be cool, or may be considered childish.  I disagree of course, gaming is for everyone!

4. Gaming in the workplace? Surely not!

A couple of weeks ago I set myself a challenge – try to play games in my office.  It took quite a lot of time for me to build up the courage, but I did it!  The most difficult part of this is making that initial suggestion.  I sent an email around my department, suggesting we play a game on a Friday lunchtime.  I was hopeful, but realistically thought that no-one would be interested.  In the end the response was overwhelming, with more than half of the people in the department being up for it!  This goes along with my point 3 above, if you don’t tell anybody you want to play, you won’t play!

So far we have had one lunchtime gaming session, we played Jungle Speed, which is a great short game for a lunch break.  My longer term goals are to try and get a more regular fortnightly gaming session, or possibly open up the invitation to the whole building!  That may take a while, need to build up more confidence..

5. Find other gamers

So, you realise you are into games, and want to find others as into it as you?  Well, surprise surprise, there are hundreds like you!  The best way to find others with similar interests to you these days is through the internet, of course.  When searching, make sure you try to find people that live near you, so you can meet and game in person, and for safety try to find gaming groups rather than individuals.  There are gaming groups all over the place, who are all generally friendly and welcoming to newbies and probably have regular meet-ups where you can join in.  My home city even has a board gaming café pop-up that runs once a month and is open to everyone, and an annual board gaming festival, which I went to last year with my family and was great!  In fact, a lot of the games I featured in this post were first played there.

New Zelda Excitement!

Just thought I’d write a quick post about one of my favourite game series, which seems to be lesser known by non-gamers – The Legend of Zelda!

There is a new Zelda game coming out tomorrow, for the new Nintendo Switch console (also out tomorrow), but the game is also out for the Wii U.  More on those consoles here!  it is called Breath of the Wild, and reviews so far are already calling it probably the best game ever made.  This is not a light statement to make, especially for gamers, who prize their own personal top ten games over anyone else’s, but among gamers the Zelda series is one which is much more than others on or near the top of most of their best games ever lists.

breath-of-the-wild

The Zelda games are kind of their own genre.  They are mostly role playing, more or less open world, action adventure games, starring the hero Link (Zelda is the princess that Link has to rescue).  They have been around for as long as Nintendo have been making consoles, with the first one being released on the NES.  Although they are not quite as well known as Mario, they are one of Nintendo’s biggest game series, with at least one Zelda game released on each hand-held or home console (more or less..).

links-awakening
Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy

 

The first Zelda game I played was Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy.  Even with its basic black and green graphics, the game still had the ability to immerse me in the fantasy world that it created and got me hooked for the series.  Since then I have played several other Zelda games and loved each and every one of them.

As for playing together, even though the games are single player, in the same way as watching a movie together, the Zelda games can absolutely be enjoyed with others.  I have played through at least half of the games with my wife, and that has only increased my enjoyment and given us an amazing shared experience.  With this new game I am extremely tempted to coordinate time off work with her so that we can spend a whole day immersed in the land of Hyrule together with no other distractions.

zelda-ocarina-of-time
Zelda: Ocarina of Time

 

Now I have kids, I have, of course introduced them to the series.  We are currently playing through the widely regarded best of all, the Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. We are currently on the water temple, and fans of the game will know that we may be there some time..  it is great to see them as excited as I was for this game when playing it for the first time.  Just about as excited as I am for this new game – The Breath of the Wild!

So here is a picture of my boy as excited as me!:

zelda-im-ready-2

Nintendo: The Masters of Playing Games Together (part 2)

nintendo-console-games-collage
Just a few amazing multiplayer games from the Wii U. CW from top left: Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Splatoon and Rayman Legends

So, I wrote about the early days of Nintendo consoles in a previous blog post (check it out if you haven’t already), and here is the second part, looking at the most recent consoles and their very newest one, soon to be released – the Nintendo Switch.

Wii

wii-console

Nintendo is really the best console maker if you are looking for something to be able to play with others in the same living room. One console that absolutely mastered that aspect, so much that it ended up in almost every living room in the late noughties, was the Wii.

When this console released back in 2006, it caused a bit of a gaming revolution (coincidentally, this was the console’s codename before release..).  It wasn’t the most powerful console graphics-wise, but it had a  completely new way of playing: motion controls.  Rather than trying to compete with the other main consoles of the time, PS3 and Xbox 360, Nintendo deliberately tried to market the game to absolutely everyone, in an attempt to increase the number of people playing games in the world rather than pleasing existing gamers – kind of what I’m trying to do with this blog!  This approach, coupled with the super casual-friendly game Wii Sports coming free with the console was extremely successful, and the console has sold over 100 million in its lifetime.

For me, the Wii was the first console I owned as a married man (so, co-owned with the wife..).  It was great to play with friends and portable enough to bring to family gatherings for Christmas Wii bowling tournaments. It continued the multiplayer racing excellence with the best Mario Kart ever (at the time), and it did have several other excellent games.

One of the best games on the console, and my personal favourite game of all time, was Mario Galaxy, and its sequel. This used the Wii remote controllers in an ingenious way and introduced asynchronous co-op multiplayer, definitely a mouthful, but a great way to play together! In this case one player controlled Mario, while the other used the Wii remote pointer to help by collecting power-ups, stopping baddies, etc. This was a great way to play for my wife and I, she was generally the helper as she wasn’t so good at the platforming, while I would never have 100% completed the games without playing together with her. I would say that this kind of gaming style is ideal for the type of couples I see where one is really into gaming and the other not (this does not apply to my wife, she loves games too!).

Wii U

wii-u-console

Then we come to Nintendo’s current console, well, for the next week anyway, the Wii U. Unfortunately, due to poor marketing (and naming) from Nintendo, people still believe that this is just a Wii with a new controller. It isn’t! It’s a new generation, the first HD console from Ninty. It came out in 2012 and unfortunately due to the above poor marketing it did not sell nearly as well as its predecessor. It is a really good console though, almost on par with the Wii, and now would be a great time to buy it, since it will probably be going cheap when the next generation comes out, and there is a good selection of games (also cheap now).

The games in the main image are some of the best the Wii U has to offer, and they are all up to Nintendo’s usual very high multiplayer standard. Again, Mario Kart 8 is the best Mario Kart, Super Mario 3D World, while not quite up to Mario Galaxy’s standard, is probably the best multiplayer Mario game. Splatoon is Nintendo’s take on an online shooter, and is fantastic paint splatting fun, and finally in that picture there is Rayman, not made by Nintendo but a superbly designed same-room multiplayer platform game nonetheless.

For me, this console generation followed the creation of my own generation, and was the first console we got after having kids. This is a great console to play with kids, as its any Nintendo console. We have had a lot of fun with our children playing Mario, Pikmin, Toad, Donkey Kong, Rayman etc. together, and I can see us still using this console all through this year.

Switch

Nintendo Switch Console
Another weird console from the big N

So, what about Nintendo’s future? Well, on the 3rd of March 2017 they’ll release their next console, the Switch. As you can see from the image, they still don’t care about looking like the others and have gone for another strange design. The main feature of this console is that it works on the TV and as a handheld. You can switch between the two modes as easily as removing the tablet-like console from the main unit (hence the name).

Ninty have again prioritised playing together with this offering, as the included ‘joy-con’ controllers (red and blue above) can be separated and used as two controllers out of the box. Also, if you are lucky enough to have 7 other friends who also have the console (unlikely..) they can be connected in a local network for up to 8 player multiplayer!

Nintendo Switch console in handheld mode
The console in handheld mode

Games-wise, this is looking good, but not from launch. I would recommend waiting until later in the year, maybe Christmas for this one, by which time there will be a very decent selection. At launch they will have the Wii sports equivalent minigame packed 1-2-Switch, the latest Just Dance and the amazing looking Zelda game, Breath of the Wild though, so it is quite tempting..

I can’t predict the future, but I really hope that this is a success for Nintendo. The reason I like them so much is that their attitude to gaming seems to be the same as mine – it’s better to play together – and I would live to see this kind of gameplay increasing in the world.

Nintendo: The Masters of Playing Games Together (part 1)

In previous blog posts I’ve mainly been talking about ‘unplugged’ games, i.e. board games or card games. My main gaming love is still playing on a games console however. There is something about them that just hits that enjoyment sweet spot for me, and no matter how much I get into other kinds of games I don’t think I’ll ever like them more than video games.

There are obviously many games to choose from when it comes to consoles, but I want to focus on my experiences of playing together with other people, i.e. in the same room, rather than single player or online multiplayer.

nintendo-retro-console-games-collage
Some classic Nintendo console games. cw from top left: Mario Kart (SNES), Super Mario Bros (NES), Tetris (Game Boy) and Goldeneye (N64)

If you ask any video gamer who is the best at same-room multiplayer games, the answer has to be Nintendo. With the increase of mobile phone/tablet gaming, and online gaming, playing together with family or friends is decreasing in general. Nintendo however are still, and always have been, the greatest supporters of this style of play, so let me indulge in a bit of nostalgia, and make the rest of this blog post about them.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

nes-console

Even Nintendo’s first console, the NES, was known as the Famicom in Japan, short for family computer, and came with two controllers in every pack, showing that they always had family gaming in mind. I never owned or played this one myself when it was first out, but it did revolutionise console gaming, as this detailed Wikipedia article explains.  The first games of classic franchises, such as Mario Bros and Zelda were on this console, and the games they made then (over 30 years ago) are still very playable and enjoyable today. This has recently been proven by last year’s release of the NES Classic Mini, which is a mini replica of the original with 30 of its best games included. This has been extremely popular, and sold out really quickly after launch. I had a chance to play one around Christmas time, and a short try to show the kids quickly turned into a couple of hours of taking turns and just having ‘one more go’, the classic hook of a well designed game.

Game Boy

game-boy-consoleMy personal first experience of Nintendo was with the Game Boy. I didn’t want one at the time, I thought I wanted the rival, the Sega Game Gear. It had colour graphics, while the Game Boy was only black and white (well, technically black and green..). I soon realised though that graphics were not the main reason to play a game, playability was.

Being a single player handheld console, you may think that this is a strange choice for me to show examples of playing together. Just a simple game like Tetris however kept my siblings and I (even my mum) entertained for hours, trying to beat each other’s high scores.  Then there was Super Mario Land, which introduced the “level or life about” style of play in our house, as it was much more fun to experience the game together.  Nintendo also tried to promote multiplayer even with this console, with a “link cable” that you could use to attach two Game Boys together and play (among other things) a Tetris battle!

Super Nintendo (SNES)

snes-consoleWhile I never owned a SNES myself, some of my best childhood gaming memories come from playing this console. The main reason was Mario Kart, which had its first outing on the SNES. This was a revolution at the time, the playability and fun-factor was spot on, as well as the futuristic (at the time) quasi-3D graphics. It is considered by many to be one of the best games of all time.

The main fun to be had from this game was playing together with others in split-screen mode. There was the normal racing mode, but arguably more fun was the battle mode, where you had to burst balloons tired to your opponents’ by throwing green (or better, red) shells at them.

I remember playing this with my friends a lot, when I must have been 11 or 12. In particular, there was one sleepover where a group of about 5 of us played non stop, literally until the sun came up. Definitely one of my best gaming memories, and it cemented my lifetime love of Nintendo games.

Nintendo 64

nintendo-64Another console that holds many multiplayer memories for me is the N64. This console added to the possibilities by allowing up to four players at the same time!

This was about during my last years of school, so many an afternoon with free period was spent either having a four way Mario Kart battle, or better, a four way deathmatch on Goldeneye! You can keep your calls of duty and your battlefields, Goldeneye was so much more fun as you had to play together in the same room, and even if you have audio chat over the internet, the atmosphere and shared experiences this creates is so much better (especially in Golden Gun mode!)

Nintendo did have other consoles that I haven’t featured here, such as further iterations on the Game Boy: Colour, Mini, Advance, and later the extremely popular DS handheld.  Of course the GameCube home console shouldn’t go without a mention. I could go on forever about how great all of these are, but since I don’t want to bore you (more than you already are) I’ll stop there.

In the next part of this Nintendo themed blog, I’ll continue with the more modern consoles, the Wii and Wii U, and look to the near future with the soon to be released new console – the Switch! Stay tuned for that!