Friday, 15 February 2013

Living With a Gamer

Hi there. You may have noticed by now that I’m a bit of a gamer. Now I wont make any wild claims like I’m the greatest gamer, that I pwn on more games than anyone I know. I don’t. In fact, I’m a pretty good gamer, and I know my limits. But gaming is a huge part of my life, a part that provides me with my little piece of me time.

My wife understands this in abundance, and is always more than happy for me to spend my evenings on the computer having a wind-down chill-out gaming session, after a long days work. I love that girl.

But it does make me think (and from thinking, I write these things) about the foibles of gamers be it big things or little things, and it’s those foibles – mostly my own – that I thought I’d happily share with you today.

Just one more level/mission/level up/etc…

This one must be something that is more widespread than just in my own head. I’ve truly lost count of the amount of times that the midnight oil has been burning, the kids are all asleep, I know that in a few hours I must get up for work but there I am slogging away through whatever game I’m playing at the time.
          “Are you coming to bed yeah?” Carriecakes would ask.
          “Yeah, yeah…just let me finish this side mission.” Toolbox 24 would reply.
But of course it’s not just me, it can’t be! And it wont just be those with partners, it’ll be any gamer who knows that they should stop playing because it’s late.
          “I should really come off now, it’s getting late and I have to be up early to get to work/school on time.” Thinks Joe EveryGamer. “Oh fuck it, I only need an hour’s kip to see me through!!”

I’m sure this trait isn't limited to gamers alone, there must be people out there who stay up late watching their favourite TV show, movie or reading their favourite books – the latter I cannot understand though, when I start reading, it sends me to sleep.

I think this is why cans Relentless and Monster are usually to hand for most gamers…

Oh my god you’ve got to see this…

 I am so guilty of this. So guilty it’s untrue.

With most games, if there are cool bits, or funny glitches or you’ve done something you think is spectacular. You want to share this with people. Unfortunately for my betrothed, my go-to guy is her.

I even did this last night playing FIFA 12, a random glitch meant that Stephen Crainey of Blackpool ended up – very roughly – face fucking El Hadji Diouf. That’s really the only way I can put it…I actually wish I had saved the video, uploaded it to Youtube then I could prove this trait by showing it here and now. Suffice to say, I chuckled, paused my game, went into the instant replay bit, changed the angle and like a child, asked Carriecakes to stop what she was doing to witness the hilarity.

Now whether it’s just her politeness in not wanting to make me feel stupid or whether she genuinely doesn’t mind…I’m still not sure. I do know that I’ll keep doing it whatever the case may be.

But then of course that’s something on a minor scale. I’ll show her bits on Mass Effect, GTA, The Sims or Unchartered for example because she really enjoys them herself. But then I wont show her bits on Dragon Age, because – well quite frankly I’m still quite green on that one myself (have started again on it after a 2 year hiatus), and I’m pretty sure she isn’t over-struck on that whole LoTR-esque action. I may be wrong though.

The bigger scale, are the people who do what I suggested I could have done earlier. Those people with such a blatant need to show the world, even their most minor exploits in a game, as much as possible – via YouTube. Now it’s a legitimate tool, and a great way for sharing videos that you’ve made with friends and other people, but it’s when you see snippet videos of people scoring normal goals in FIFA, or doing unremarkable things in Skyrim that makes you think – why is this wasting space online?

The only awesome fan things to look for are video game fails. Good times.

Grumpy Grumperson

That’s right, this jovial bundle of gaming awesomeness can be a bit of a grumpersaurus. A grumpersaurus rex.

And usually it’ll be something gaming related. Something like not getting my evening dose of game time, or something going wrong with a game that I’m playing or finishing a game through to the end…and then being in that weird little haze when there’s nothing I can think of for a couple of hours to a couple of days, to play – so I end up playing something mindless and repetitive. I end up playing FIFA.

I then proceed to slouch about a bit. Sighing a fair bit more than usual. Having more toilet breaks, and being generally quiet. This grumpy version of myself usually dies a quiet death once I’ve figured out what I’m in the mood for.


Maybe not such a surprise but I get a deep sense of “MY GAME” Syndrome. My games are my games, they’re my things and they’re mine.

Not yours. Not his. Not hers. Mine.

But being a father does not lend itself so easily to the role of “selfish gamer”. Not easily at all.

For example. A couple of months ago, I was progressing nicely through Bully. Evening after evening, class after class, my little Jimmy Hopkins was slowly climbing the high school ranks and doing it with aplomb. Then one evening, before I’d had the chance to play…one of…them…(the kids) comes in…
          “Have you got Bully? I really want to play that this evening!” he asked. Now of course I had Bully, it was in the Xbox as he asked, I wasn’t going to be on the computer for about an hour after I did my stuff…
          “Yeah, it’s in the Xbox.” I said with a slight exhale, small enough to hide the anguish I was feeling inside. He then took the game away…and I haven’t seen it since. Now this was in like October / November last year. I got yanked out of my zone, and to this day, really don’t want to play Bully. I’m just not in the mood for it, and most likely wont be for a good few months yet.

Now I could have said, “Yeah, but I’m going to be playing that in a short while so you can’t have it.” Or “Yeah, but I want to keep playing it myself, so you can take it for a while but give it back when you’re done.” Or simply “no” but I find that I’m soft like that…well I am with the boys, but not with my girls. Or girl I should say, my youngest is too young to give a shit about anything more than her Mickey Mouse toys. Nah my eldest girl will come down while I’m playing and she’ll want to watch me, even though it’s a good deal past her bedtime. Most times I’ll let her sit and watch me, but then a lot of the time…I’ll just tell her that I’m not playing until she’s gone to bed.

After all…it’s MY GAME!!!!

You’ll Love it…trust me! Really you will!!

No this isn’t the slightly awkward part of the conversation where I ask the Mrs if I can do…“that”…

Think of my last point - MY GAME!!! – and turn it on it’s head. When I get close to finishing a game, I always start to think the same thing. “I loved this game so much…Carriecakes would love it too!!” even though I know she has her evening things much like I have my gaming, and that she doesn’t mind listening to what I’m doing or indeed watching from time to time…she just hasn’t got the time to play like I do…not with the amount of comping she does!!

But I still have that insistence in my mind, that if I love a game, then everyone I know, and everyone on Earth must love it too. As you can probably tell by my insistence that Mass Effect is mentioned if not in every post, then every other post, and to a large degree!

But then, that’s the point of this blog – MonkeyBoxGaming: Where games go to be loved up and down. I don’t want to talk about games I think are shit. What’s the point? It’s a waste of my time, and it’ll be a waste of your time. I just want to talk about games I think are good, and that you’d like…in fact this blog shows what I mean in this point. (For the most part)

I’m sure there are more things as well, but for now I cannot think of them. There is work and play to be done. And I am a master of both…ish.

Toolbox 24

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

RIP Robin Sachs

It is with great sadness that I learnt today of the passing of Robin Sachs, 61.

The English actor has appeared mostly in TV Series in the US, most notably in the 90's remake of Babylon 5 and as Ethan Rayne in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

His mention on this blog however is due to his immaculate voice work in video games, most notably in BioWare titles such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

His iconic, gruff voice was perfect for voice acting, and he managed to bring a level of reality to his characters, maybe most notably, and affectionately as Zaeed Massani in Mass Effect 2 and 3. Here is a compilation of Zaeed's stories which gained some cult like notoriety, and led to many people making up more wild and inventive stories for him...usually where everyone but Zaeed died.

Well...he is a goddamn hero.

RIP Mr Sachs. An underrated talent if ever there was one.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Mass Effect for the Ladies

Listen Sweetheart, Put Your Knickers On and Throw Out A Singularity

Alright there’s a slight change of tactic for this blog post. Basically if you’ve got a a lil’ sumsin sumsin swinging between your legs…or just tucked up there like a scared dormouse, then thank you very much for coming, but I need your Wives or Girlfriends. And they’re gonna be all like “Oh Toolbox, you’re so handsome! Thank you for doing this for us!” And you boys…are gonna be jealous, and full of hate for me.

But I don’t care.

I love da ladies.
My Shepard's motto thanks to MANS1AY3R on YouTube (Mass Effect Poop)
Right before I crack on, I must stress that this blog post was suggested by my lovely wife, Mrs Toolbox 24 (Carriecakes), because I keep going on at her about it and she thinks that my persuasive argument could be turned onto the interweb for other lovely ladies to enjoy.

But I warn you now, it’s about Mass Effect.

That’s right it is another Mass Effect post, but with a slight difference. Anybody who has read these blogs in detail will know that I’m quite in love with the BioWare trilogy for the Xbox 360, PC and now PS3. And something that I’ve been going on at my Carriecakes for about a year now, is: “Why don’t you play once I’ve finished my current play-through?”

Now my Carriecakes loves a good game, she’s pretty good as well, kicking some serious arse in Bully, Left 4 Dead and GTA:IV, but I said to her that if she really wants a game she can sink her teeth into, then she should look no further than Commander Shepard.

You see I think what a lot of ladies don’t quite realise (Carriecakes included) is that Mass Effect is not just a space shoot ‘em up. Yes it’s a sci-fi, but it isn’t like Star Wars or Star Trek which were good but come on, pretty campy space operas! This is more gritty, feels more normal (they even take the piss out of the clich├ęd “What is this strange human emotion you call…love?”) the aliens in the game are a bit strange at first, but then after a while you look at them like they’re normal people – because that’s what the game tries to convey. Yes they’re aliens, but in the words of Kaiden Alenko (potential love interest for both female and male players) “They're not different or special, they're jerks or saints. Just like us. I mean, if one ass was enough to judge a whole race. I'd hate humans too."

Anyway enough of this, read on for some reasons why ladies, you should be kicking your other half off the computer for a while and indulging yourself in the best thing to happen to video games since Shigeru Miyamoto thought “I’m going to create a game, with a tubby, Italian plumber as the main character…”


Right, firstly if you want some kind of in-depth thing, there is another blog post with it all in. But this is merely to let you know not just a brief synopsis of the story, but also what else it can offer you.

Firstly I’ll get it out of the way, the best way to give you a short n sweet taste of the story is to first, give you the opening scrawl from Mass Effect.

In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time.

They called it the greatest discovery in human history.

The civilizations of the galaxy call it... MASS EFFECT.

So in a short little space of text, you have the basic setting for the game. And before you even start playing, think to yourself, do you want to be a heroine or a bitch?

Because as well as shaping your story through the game you can shape your story pre-game by changing how you were brought up and changing your career history. Being a Spaceborn with the War Hero career gives you extra points in the paragon route, whereas being an Earthborn with the Ruthless career history gives you more renegade points. There’s a middle option as well of being a Colony born Shepard who was the Sole Survivor of a terrible incident. But you can mix and match these things as well.

I’m rambling. The point is, before you even start playing, you can get a feel for how your Shepard will be.

Oh yeah and as you can see, you can customise how your Shepard looks...
There is a bit of an epic main storyline, but there are a number of rich and full characters who you can interact with, and even romance as the game goes on. The first game is quite limited for its romance options, which is fine – but you have even more in ME2 and potential awkward situations in ME3. I wont spill too much, but just know that there are good options for FemShep (female Shepherd!) ((you’ll soon love your FemShep)) to romance from brooding humans, to a super-awesome alien sharpshooter to a gravel voiced alien assassin. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t get all…tentacle-y, it’s all done very organically and you don’t even think anything of it.

Again, I’m getting a bit off topic. Let me just tell you that there are hundreds of little tales within Mass Effect, from tales of love, revenge, sorrow, anger and even some good old face-palming comedy. Each of these little side stories can help shape your Shepard, like the waves of the sea shape the stones on the shore…you like that?

Anyway, the point being that you could play it for an hour or have a nice few hours to get into it, and not be thinking “Yawn, this is just a load of tosh.” And depending on the ways you approach the game, the way the game plays out will be different as well with each play though. For example, one key decision in the first game will affect the way humans are looked at in the second game.

The Role of Women

I’m gonna be real careful now…

Women play a massive part in the Mass Effect universe, especially since for the first real time in a game or story ever, you can play the entire game as either a male or female Shepard. You never hear their first name, so you can call them what you want, it has no effect whatsoever. You could keep the default John/Jane or name them what you want – oh actually if, or indeed, when you want to play through the game again (all three games of course) you should change their names each time, simply so when you transfer from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 then 3, you know which Shepard to move over (if you have 3 Jane Shepard’s, it can make things confusing!).

Anyway, the women of Mass Effect. Firstly as I say, you can play through the whole game, as either male or female Shepard, referred to as either Shepard or FemShep in the online world. Which when you think about the amount of dialogue in the entire game, from chatting to random people you walk past, to having the big conversations with big characters – is no mean feat . Considering Mass Effect 2 has a total of about 30,000 lines of dialogue, to have 2 actors playing the main character is some feat and a sign of their commitment to making the game appealing to the fairer sex as well as women! (HAHAHA)

Not only that, but there is a general consensus around the various online communities that Jennifer Hale does a much better job as FemShep than Mark Meer does as Shep – one that I would agree with. But anyway…

Looking at the game in detail, I’ll delve into the history of the Mass Effect universe a smidge. In the game, the most established, technically advanced and influential race in the galaxy is the Asari – an all-female race. Not only that, but they are ageless and live for around 1000 years. Neat huh?
Top Row From Left: Jack, Ashley, Miranda and Tali.
Bottom Row From Left: Liara and Kelly. 
 The first human ambassador to the council was Anita Goyle, and one of the key people in the beginning of the game is a young quarian female called Tali’Zorah nar Rayya  - and she becomes a key member of your squad potentially, for all 3 games.

In fact, some of the strongest, if not THE strongest, characters in the game are women. From Ashley Williams, a marine who’s harder than your average structural girder to Miranda Lawson, a genetically perfect human who is headstrong and confident but shows her sensitive side after a bit of digging (actually, certain camera angles are just for the men…you’ll see why).

Anyway there’s more to wanting to play than just a “hurrah!” to girl power! Of course there is!

Friends…And More?  

Now, your Shepard is gonna be a hard bitch. Whether she’s nice or nasty, after a while you won’t be able to deny that your Shep kicks arse and takes names in her sleep – especially once your fingers and thumbs are in perfect rhythm for doing it!!

But a hard bitch cannot always do things on her own, which is why she needs some very capable people by her side. But not just that, because anyone that can shoot straight and do some damage can be capable, but that doesn’t exactly mean that you believe they’ve got your back when you’re marching into hell. Which is why those capable men and women you fight with, need to be your friends as well as anything else!

So do it, in between the fire-fights and the various tasks and missions you do, get to know your squad. Ask them about anything and everything, and pretty soon they’ll be opening up to you. Not only that, but the more you do it with some people, the more likely it is that they and maybe you, will want to be more than just good friends.

Establishing romances with squad-mates is a great little diversion from the main story arc, and can make the game feel that little bit more important. And because it’s up to you who you go for, it’s more than just reading a relationship evolve in a book, or watching it blossom in a movie – you’re the driving force behind it all. And hey, if you don’t like someone, be a twat to them. They’ll still have your back…won’t they?

Immersion and Emotion

Easy for me to say as a Mass Effect stalwart, but I can – without a shadow of a doubt – say that the Mass Effect trilogy is the most immersive entertainment vehicle I’ve ever experienced. As good as some books can be, as good as some TV shows or films are, none of them suck you in quite like Mass Effect. The whole universe, from the background details and information to the graphical background, immersion is what this game is about.

I can, of an evening, forget everything. From any important but worrying issues going on in my life, to work, to the boring things like what chores need to be done in the morning, they all just disappear while I don’t just play as Commander Shepard…I am Commander Shepard.
Commander Shepard...Toolbox 24 Style
And emotion, I cannot leave out the emotions that the trilogy will evoke in you. From anxiety, to happiness, sadness and even a little fear here and there, this game will touch each of them and more. Hmmm…


Well yes, I suppose that the main genre you could stick onto it is Science Fiction. But for a game series that from start to finish will take well in excess of 100 hours to complete, you have to know that the trilogy is more than just a sci-fi. It’s a drama, it has lots of comedy intertwined into it, there are parts that are really horrific, some bits that are melancholy, it’s a thriller and obviously as well, it’s got a ton of action. Not the Transformers style of “let’s just blow everything up for the duration of the whole thing in the hopes that people will like it”. There are action sequences, and rightly so, considering what goes on, but it all feels right.

And finally…


You may or may not have seen or heard the amount of stink that was kicked up in 2012 after the games release of the final game in the trilogy, Mass Effect 3. But let me reassure you. When you get ME3, there is a free piece of Download Content called “Extended Cut” (which I believe is only free until midway through 2014) get it before doing anything.

The original endings to ME3 were…lacklustre. As if they had been rushed in half an afternoon the day before the game was released. And I must admit, they left me feeling as though I would never want to touch any of the games again. But with the EC, the ultimate ending to the trilogy is far more tasty, far more fitting and really does give a good sense of closure to the story arc.

The controversy that came about was labelled as “entitled gamers” or a “spoilt kid” attitude to the world. An “I WANT!!!!” culture. But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth was that the majority of the people who supported BioWare (ME developers) felt as though the game was rushed through, and pre-release promises were abandoned. BioWare however pulled it off though, and through the free release of the Extended Cut, rebuilt a lot of bridges.

Right…well that’s about it really, I didn’t want to say too much with any spoilers, because the first time you play it through should be as pure as it was for me. If you don’t like it, that’s just fine, but if you give it a go, and think “Hey…I can really get into this!” then I’ll feel mighty vindicated that I wrote this post.
Once you've played it...this is what you'll all be like when you see me.
Thanks for reading, I’ll see you soon!

Toolbox 24