The GameCity prize fight: how do non-gamers decide the best game of the year?

The GameCity prize is the Turner prize of gaming – a serious consideration of the artform. This year the award went to indie title SpaceTeam, and the arguments that led there were fascinating…

The GameCity prize for 2013 has gone to SpaceTeam, a smartphone title described by its creators as, “a co-operative shouting game.” It was shortlisted against mainstream hits Fifa 14, The Last of Us and XCOM, as well as indie favourites Faster Than Light and Thomas Was Alone. And a daft and amusing game which involves yelling jargon at other participants in order to save a malfunctioning space ship won out against them all.

This is pretty much why the GameCity prize is important. While other annual video game accolades are handed out by game reviewers or dedicated game players, the GameCity festival decides its prize by calling in a panel of judges from outside the industry – most of whom never play games. They have a totally different slant on the mechanics of fun, and on what games should do.

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Thief – hands-on in the city of stealth

Eidos Montreal’s reboot of the respected stealth-‘n-steal series is out in a month. Here’s what is right – and wrong – with the return of Garrett, the master thief

As obvious as it sounds to say so, in Thief you nick things. You nick a lot of things. Broaches, necklaces, wallets, candelabras – anything valuable that’s lying around, really – all disappear into lead character Garrett’s bottomless sack. You find some of these trinkets in the oddest of places. One would expect to find a golden bracelet or two in a wall safe behind a painting, but who on earth leaves a goblet on a rooftop or a couple of coins at the edge of a pond?

It’s possible Eidos Montreal has left these treasures scattered around its game in order to put players into the headspace of its protagonist. If that’s the case, it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of game design because stealing stuff in Thief isn’t just fun, it’s addictive. After you’ve snagged your first five or six baubles, you turn into a veritable magpie, filled with the need to obtain any shiny object that catches your eye – even if it means potentially exposing Garrett to danger in order to do so.

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Tap Happy Sabotage: four screens, one game

The latest ultra-competitive touchscreen game from Alistair Aitcheson allows four friends to hook up their tablets and play on one enormous battlefield

Alistair Aitcheson likes people to fight over his games. Literally, physically fight right over them. His first smartphone and tablet title, Greedy Bankers, had a multiplayer mode where participants could steal money from each other on screen. His second, Slamjet Stadium, was a futuristic sports sim, in which two opponents fought it out to score goals in a trap-filled arena. Both games encouraged players to interact physically, knocking each other away from the screen, intentionally controlling the other person’s onscreen avatars. He has seen full-blown wrestling matches erupt as a result.

His new game, Tap Happy Sabotage, is a continuation of that philosophy into uncharted territory. Developed for an Intel App Innovation competition it was designed to showcase the capabilities of the company’s 27-inch touchscreen monitors. Each player has to pick an icon card to represent them on the screen. The cards have nice pictures of flowers or parrots or bees on them – it looks cute, but Aitcheson is just messing with you. Next, the competitors gather around the screen and over a series of different round have to quickly tap their card when they see it displayed on screen amongst a myriad of others – the first person to hit their card wins the match. To make matters more complex however, each player card has a sort of evil twin which looks similar: tap that in the heat of the battle and you immediately lose. 

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How World of Warcraft helped me come out as transgender

The online game isn’t only a place for slaying dragons. It is also a safe environment in which to explore gender issues

In early 2006, almost five years before I came out to my family and friends as transgender, I started playing the online fantasy game, World of Warcraft. I played it a lot. As with other multiplayer online adventures (MMOs), players live in a Tolkien-esque world of trolls and elves, battling for treasure among millions of other players. But World of Warcraft, and other games like it, are often about much more important things than looted gold and slayed dragons. They provide a place in which identity can be explored safely. And for me, someone who the world viewed as male, World of Warcraft provided a space to discover that I felt more comfortable when treated as female.

One of the very first things you do as a World of Warcraft player is design your character. You can decide on their race, their physical attributes and most importantly for me, their gender. When I first got involved in playing the game, I was fourteen and in deep denial about my own feelings regarding my gender expression and identity. While socialising, I had begun to act in a stereotypically male way, as though I wanted to prove to the world that I wasn’t different. I was making an active rejection of everything female in an attempt to deny something that was becoming ever more clear to me. However, for some reason I couldn’t explain, when it came to World of Warcraft I opted to play the game as a female character.

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Oculus Rift: Valve promises to take virtual reality to the masses

Valve is backing the Kickstarter-funded VR headset. But will consumers warm to immersive technologies?

For a few years, back in the early 90s, virtual reality (VR) looked like the obvious future for video games. Here was a technology capable of truly immersing participants in the digital environment; the essentially alienating presence of the 2D screen would be gone for ever, to be replaced by computer-generated realms that we could step into and exist in. Consumer headsets by companies such as Virtuality and Victormaxx crept on to the market, as films like the Lawnmower Man and Disclosure considered the implications of our soon-to-be lives in cyberspace. But the screens were low-resolution and the motion tracking primitive, the sensors prone to sickening lag. The gulf between expectation and reality was impassable. The future moved on.

Two decades later, in a packed room at the Washington State Convention Centre, Valve Corporation told the industry that virtual reality can become a consumer reality by 2015. When Valve says something, people in the technology sector listen. Not only has it produced two of the most beautiful and sophisticated science fiction game series’ of all time (Half-Life and Portal), it also runs the Steam digital distribution service, where 75m PC owners purchase 20m games a month. During a talk at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference, attendees discovered that Valve will be working closely with the creators of the Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift, a VR device that has received a huge amount of positive attention in the gaming press. The aim? To “drive PC VR forward”.

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The 30 greatest video games that time forgot

From lost adventures to forgotten puzzlers, here are the classic titles that games history has cruelly overlooked

History is not always kind to great games. Titles once heralded as masterworks are often lost as console cycles turn. Alternatively, there are the offbeat outliers completely shunned during their own lifetimes, only to be quietly ransacked by later generations of designers.

Here, we be remember 30 brilliant, idiosyncratic, challenging or just plain weird titles that have been erased from the gaming annals, or at least criminally overlooked. Each one of these did something interesting with gaming, just not interesting enough to be endlessly recalled in misty-eyed retro articles or on otherwise pretty good Charlie Brooker documentaries.

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The 30 greatest video games that time forgot – part two

The second part of our trawl through gaming history’s less explored avenues

• The 30 greatest video games that time forgot – part one

It’s the second instalment in our look at games that perhaps don’t invoke as much warmhearted nostalgia as they really ought to. Some of these were huge at the time, but have since been overlooked, other managed to slip completely under the radar.

Many of these will be familiar to veteran gamers, though, so if you can think of some even more obscure classics, please add them in the comments section.

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Starbound: how a small UK studio built a whole universe

This vast space-exploration game has 1 million players – despite its unfinished state. How did a tiny team manage it? And what is a poop monster?

The most important thing you should know about Starbound is that you can play the trumpet.

At no point will this come in handy. In this procedurally generated universe of technocratic apes, evil sentient flowers and obscure and concerning monsters of many varieties, not once will the trumpet assist you in solving your problems. You can’t use it as a weapon (though there are plenty of those to be found). You can’t eat it or use it to keep warm (though you can plant a farm and warm yourself at a campfire). It is an absolutely useless trumpet. But you can team up with your friends and use it to take part in a harmonic rendition of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, and that’s why it matters so much.

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The 30 greatest video games that time forgot – part one

From early rhythm action to weird puzzlers, discover the best games most players have never heard of

History is not always kind to great games. Titles once heralded as masterworks are often lost as console cycles turn. Alternatively, there are the offbeat outliers completely shunned during their own lifetimes, only to be quietly ransacked by later generations of designers.

Over the next three days, we’ll be remembering 30 brilliant, idiosyncratic, challenging or just plain weird titles that have been erased from the gaming annals, or at least criminally overlooked. Each one of these did something interesting with gaming, but not interesting enough to be endlessly recalled in misty-eyed retro articles or on Charlie Brooker-fronted TV shows (which are otherwise excellent and include really great interviewees).

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Tetris is back – for the PS4 and Xbox One

Publisher Ubisoft is bringing the 30-year-old game to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. But can the original be improved?

During the summer of 1992, between my first and second years at university, I was working at a video game studio in Leamington Spa. We were supposed to be coding a game called Tank Commander for the PC, a long forgotten battle simulation – but one day someone brought in a Game Link cable, which allowed the connection of two Nintendo Game Boy consoles together. Of course, we immediately loaded up the Tetris competitive mode, in which any lines you cleared on your own screen would be cruelly transferred on to the bottom of your opponent’s stack. Work ground to a halt and didn’t really start up again for several days.

Most gamers have Tetris addiction stories. Since Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov first developed the falling shape puzzler while working at the Moscow Academy of Sciences, it has sold hundreds of millions of copies on more than 50 different hardware platforms. Scientists and designers have pondered over its incredible appeal, the extraordinary compulsion people have to fit variously shaped tetriminos into a bucket. The beauty of Tetris is its simplicity – you need to understand no archaic conventions or rules of gaming. It is also essentially about something that we all find intrinsically satisfying: tidying up. Tetris is about imposing order, even if the task is Sisyphean, because the shapes don’t stop falling until your stack reaches the top of the screen. And then it’s all over.

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