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Edge Magazine #167 October 2006

Scarred but still fighting

Edge #167, October 2006

What's worse than biting into an apple and finding a worm? Answer: Biting into an apple, and the minute you bite into the apple you unexpectedly poo your pants. And you're on television. And you're the heir to the throne.

There's another thing worse than biting into and finding a worm, and it's this thing: de Quervain's Tendonitis. Or, to put it in terms we both understand; repetitive strain injury. To wit; after years of fondling joypads my wrist has finally given up. But before you all start with the smutty sniggering, it's not the dirty sort of wrist movement that's affecting me, but, basically, my fire-button thumb.

Though I'm currently in a "cycle of healing" (according to my doctor, who has chosen to ignore my insistence that it's no better than it was when I first developed it), it's likely I'll have the RSI for the rest of my life, and it'll keep flaring up, and there isn't a great deal I can do about it, short of not using my wrist. Like that's going to happen. Matron.

In a funny sort of way I take some degree of satisfaction in sustaining a battle scar from playing videogames. I'm clearly more hardcore than I thought I was, and consequently it's been a bit of a shock. There can be no more six-hour sessions on Call Of Duty 2. No more staying up until the wee small hours in World Of WarCraft. I've got to pace myself.

Consequently, it has also severely curtailed my game playing over the last couple of months. I've managed to battle through New Super Mario Bros and Half Life 2: Episode One - doubtless delaying my recovery by months - but it's been left to the DS's stylus to provide my only other gaming thrills, because it's the only way I can play games without getting the bad pains.

It's not all lamentable news - despite my earlier exaggeration, there are signs that it's improving. I've just started playing Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved again, which has been a bit like shoving a water cannon in your mouth after drinking nothing but sand for a week.

All this combined has had the knock-on effect of making me appreciate simplicity in games. Prior to the RSI flare-up I'd been playing Oblivion, the videogame equivalent of calling a spade a sturdy digging tool having a thick handle and a heavy, flat blade that can be pressed into the ground with the foot. It's about as overblown as games get, like adding strings to a rock album, and I'm sort of tired of games that do that (stand up and be counted Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas).

Thing is, it never used to be like this. When games began they were beautifully simple to the point of art. This isn't to say I don't enjoy more complex games, but I'm finding my patience tested more and more. When I settle down to play a game I tend to ask myself: "What's this game about? What's the big idea?" and if I don't have that question answered pretty much off the bat then I tend to drift away from it.

Playing Half-Life 2: Episode One has reminded me just how simple Half-Life 2 was. It is, pretty much, based around a single idea; the physics engine. Yes, that's probably an over-simplification of a beautifully executed game, but the point stands.

Awful confession time: I've never really gotten on with the 3D Mario games. New Super Mario Bros has rammed home for me just how badly I don't get along with them. In many respects Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine do as good a job as you could imagine in translating that 2D world, and the feel of that 2D gameplay, into three dimensions. But the minute you have to start fannying around with a camera you've lost something. It's adding to the gameplay, hiding it beneath an unnecessary complication. It's another thing to do, like the difference between waitress service and having to go and fetch the food from the kitchen yourself.

My heart sank when I saw those videos of Super Mario Galaxy. I'm sure it will be abundant with genius, but it looks - once again - like it adds more yet gameplay atop the original concept.

Given the euphoria which greeted Mario's return to two dimensions, I get the impression I'm not the only one who feels this way. It's like everyone has exhaled, and gone: 'Finally... they remembered what we all liked in the first place.'

When I first saw the videos of Sonic Wild Fire I groaned. I mean, on one level how awful does it look? It's just left and right, using the Wii controller as a sort of handlebar (my wrist just gave a little cheer). Except, the more I thought about it the less awful it seemed. It may yet turn out to be awful, but in principle it's a great idea; strip Sonic back to the essence of the character - his speed. Certainly, it seems a damn sight more of a logical approach than the next gen, and allegedly back-to-basics, "new"Sonic The Hedgehog. Certainly there seems to be a shift back to simpler, high-concept gaming, ironically (having just moaned about Mario Galaxy) spearheaded by Nintendo's DS and Wii.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Or I would be if it didn't make my eyes water.

Mr Biffo co-founded Digitiser, Channel 4's Teletext-based videogames section, and now writes mainly for television

Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me ( right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.

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