Wow… blast from the past

Iain Banks: My Favourite Game

Iain Banks: My Favourite Game

The acclaimed author talks Culture, the pitfalls of virtual reality, and the draw of Civilization.

Iain Banks

Novelist Iain Banks might be better known as Iain M Banks, the pen name under which most of his speculative fiction is published. Of this oeuvre, his Culture series is most widely celebrated, depicting a utopian, galaxy-spanning civilisation whose citizens (when they aren’t meddling in the affairs of lesser races) have plenty of time for gaming.

What’s your earliest gaming memory?
I did get kinda hooked on Asteroids. I just loved, and to some extent still love, Asteroids. I love the abstract beauty of it – there was something so simple about it, and obviously the simplicity came from the constraints of the CPUs of the time. I always had this theory that eventually, one day, I would ram the rocks with my spaceship and somehow survive due to skill or luck. It never worked, obviously. Later on, I got really, really hooked onCivilization in all its different forms – up to IV, anyway. I think that what attracted me was the abstract sense of a godlike view of something underneath. I kind of noticed that my interest – or obsession – with Civilization started to fall away a bit when it got a bit too… graphics-friendly. 

I used to create games: my dad used to work in the admirality, he was the first officer on a ship and he was in charge of all the charts. When I was a kid he used to bring the old charts home, the ones that were too annotated to be used anymore. I’d draw on the back - they were huge, poster-sized bits of paper, and I used to draw games, countries and stuff. I once came up with the idea of Super Risk. It was this ludicrous expansion of Risk where it had actual resources, so you could only have tanks, for instance, if you had access to Iron, or whatever. Then I heard about this game calledCivilization and I thought, “That sounds really good as well!”.

As a writer, does the interactive nature of games interest you? 
I’ve always liked the idea of that quite a lot, but when I sat there and thought about it, I said, ‘No, maybe it’s not for me.’ And that might just be because I’m an old dog trying to learn a new trick, and it’s not a good idea. If you write a story really well, like Shakespeare, the whole point of tragedy is that there’s a kind of inevitability. But at the same time, I do love that there’s the potential for something fabulous in making it more interactive. I just haven’t really thought of a way to make that work.

Do you write on the same computer you play games on? 
I certainly used to, but nowadays I’ve got separate computers for writing, doing music on and another for the internet so they’re actually quite sub-divided and make a mockery of having a computer in the first place.

How in touch with current gaming trends are you?
One thing that’s put me off continually is the whole thing where you get these cutaway bits. You have your fun, then you have to go back and be lectured and brought back into the story. I hate that. 

Games are a huge part of the Culture. Do you think that’s inevitable in a post-scarcity society?
Definitely. They’ll become more and more immersive – we’ll go from being surrounded by screens, and then eventually it’ll be implants. And people will end up in that state to the extent that it’s indistinguishable from real life. There’ll be people who just self-medicate with games, especially in the Culture where there’s not much of a chance to become – because money is irrelevant – a hyper-billionaire, but you could pretend to in a virtual reality. So people who have a desperate need to exploit others, or be cruel, or whatever, they’ll self-medicate with games. The rest of us, us nice normal people, we’ll just have fun. 

Do you find it worrying that people could become so fully immersed?
I don’t know. In a sense all I can do is say that if anything like that comes to pass, then we will find out what we’re like as a species. You’d hope you can create a society in which people don’t need to spend their entire lives in their heads, a society that was sufficiently interesting and fulfilling that not everyone would choose to stay in a virtual environment all the time – because there’d basically be a sense that you’ve failed. If reality is so boring that games are the only way to go to enjoy yourself, then you’ve kind of failed as a society. 

In Player Of Games, the games discussed clearly have origins in board games. Looking at the state of videogames today, do you think that’s accurate? 
I guess it goes for the big game, the main game, Azad, that’s played in the empire of the same name - it became set in stone at a very early stage and became more and more complicated within its own parameters. A bit like imagining chess, but with a much bigger board, or multiple boards, dimensions and so on. But because it became part of the fabric of the physical system of the empire itself at such an early stage, it was always going to resist any attempt to turn it into an electronic form.

The way people play Azad reflects aspects of their personality and philosophy. Is that the thing that attracts you to games like Civilization where you have a rule-set and you can express it however  you see fit? 
Definitely, yes. A lot of the best games - classical games, if you like - are very simple. There’s a very simple set of rules that are quite easily mastered and an almost infinite set of possibilities that open up, and your own particular character starts to come into it to that degree. 

You’ve written hard and soft sci-fi. Which is better suited to games? How would a Culture game play?
I’d like a game that’s a cross between the two. Different types of people can go into the game and choose to focus on different aspects – a sort of comprehensive game. If it was based on the Culture, you could either have a completely fulfilling shoot ‘em up, with all the exciting adversaries the Culture’s come up against in the past, or a much more subtle political game – that’d intrigue me. If I had the complete freedom of a team of programmers at my command, the game would be adjustable… [it wouldn’t] force you to play in a certain form.

Until then, what’s your favourite game?
Civilization. It’s the one I still have to resist going back to in a sense, even though I’ve slightly fallen out of love with it. I think Civ III might have been my favourite of all. It is still my favourite game, and I do kind of have to resist its lure. Because I’ve discovered that I can spend months playing it and realise, ‘Uh-oh, not only have I not read a book for ages, I haven’t written one either.’

DayZ (Arma 2 Mod)

DayZ is a multiplayer persistent world survival zombie apocalypse mod for Arma 2: Combined Operations. This game can only be played on designated DayZ servers, because hosts run a third party program that saves your character to a database which is linked up with every other DayZ server in the world. It is hyper realistic meaning that if you get hit you will start to bleed and need to bandage yourself, you have to drink and eat regularly to survive, there are no factions and friendly fire is activated, wherever the server’s timezone is is what the time is in the game, and most importantly there is permadeath (you have to respawn with starter items when you die).

There are three Aussie servers up that are packed to the brim almost 24/7, one being 70 slot and the others being 40 slot. The mod has gained much popularity in the past week and some people are going as far to say that it could possibly be the mod of the year.

I’ve played it for a few days now and it definitely takes a while to get used to, the Arma 2 engine is a large scale military simulator so it lacks some of the refined points that other games such as Battlefield 3 have, but what it lacks in mechanics it gains in sheer atmosphere. Playing DayZ is unlike any other game you’ve played. If you fire a bullet in the middle of a city you will most likely attract dozens of zombies and die, you are usually always better off avoiding zombies as much as possible. PvP is a huge part of the game, there is a large variety of weapons to find and vehicles ranging from motorbikes to helicopters. 

You can play a pacifist, get some friends, claim a town for yourself, build fencing and get a stockpile of adequate supplies to defend yourself. Or… why would you do all the hard work yourself—why not find a helpless survivor with a bag full of loot, persuade him to join you and then kill him to take it all for yourself? More often than not your best bet is to not trust a soul in this game, there is a punishment for murdering someone—you lose humanity and eventually turn into a bandit which makes you kill on sight for most people, but that doesn’t stop people.

This is not a game for everyone, you have to be willing to immerse yourself into the environment, it will take you hours to accomplish even simpler things, and you will inevitably die and respawn with nothing many times before you learn how to stay safe (the average life expectancy is 4 hours and 37 minutes).

If you wish to join the fray, the easiest way is to probably buy Arma 2 Combined Operations from Steam (you need both Arma 2 and Operation Arrowhead for DayZ to work). And follow this guide.

WinterSmash 2011

Our next event is almost here!
  • What: Over 200 player LAN party!
  • When: 9th and 10th of July 2011 
  • Where: QSAC Stadium, Track and Field room
  • Cost: $15 for Saturday / $10 for Sunday

Telstra confirms NBN network buyout

The Australian Stock Exchange has confirmed Telstra and NBN Co have signed an $11 billion agreement to allow the new high-speed broadband network to use Telstra’s existing network and infrastructure.

Once this is passed by the shareholders there will be very little that the coalition can do to stop the NBN.

LS supporting ACL in Sydney

LanSmash will be supporting our Consoles cousins by providing equipment and manpower for their next event in Sydney.

When: 2nd of July 2011
Where: UNSW Roundhouse 
Entry Cost: $25
Prizes: Flight to Brisbane for finals!
More Details:

Featuring Marvel vs Capcom 3, Super Street Fighter 4 AE, and Super Smash Brothers Melee.  

For those that can’t make it to the event we’ll be streaming the fighting finals throughout Saturday.

Apologies for not posting this up sooner!

The latest Earthforce Defense Force is due out around the same-time as WinterSmash! For those that haven’t seen the early versions being played at LS before think of it as a crazy alien co-op shoot’em’up.

We’ll be dedicating a setup for this game to play-out throughout the weekend and expect gamers to help us beat the game before the weekend is out!

Microsoft helps celebrate FireFox 5 by sending the Mozilla team a cupcake.

They probably figured the update was not worthy of a cake.