As the calendar has now hit May, this is the fourth month in a row of Community Interviews, and we’re not stopping yet. This week I’m speaking to SyntheticMortal
who resides in Scotland. I’m losing track of where the pins are in the world map, but I think this is our first visit there this year!
____________________________________DavieMarshall: Hi SyntheticMortal! Thanks for taking part in this week's Community Interview!
SyntheticMortal: I’m glad to be here! I was actually really surprised that I was picked since I was a self nomination! Anyway, I’m sure I speak on behalf of the TA community when I thank you for taking the time to organise these interviews every week. Also, I hope you are all settled after your recent move.D: I'm all settled and gaming as usual! Now, starting, as we often do, with a Gamertag question. What’s the inspiration behind yours?
SM: I would say that a pretty foolproof method of creating a Gamertag, or any such alias, is to use the “adjective and noun” technique. When I joined the Xbox family I was a huge fan of Industrial and Cybergoth music, and a recurring theme in the subculture is a focus on the artificial. So “Synthetic” jumped in my head right away (the adjective) and I thought “Mortal” sounded good (the noun). It wasn’t until about 6 months later someone pointed out it was sort of an oxymoron...D: Do you have any previous Gamertags, or is it just this one?
SM: This is the only one I’ve had. I purposely avoided a name I would get sick of after a while. There are people on my friends list who seem to have a new Gamertag every other day. For the moment, I’m happy with being “Mortal”. D: And where in Scotland are you from?
SM: I’m in a suburb just South West of Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city. The great thing about living here in Glasgow, and in Scotland in general, is that you can go 10 miles one way and be deep in the city centre, but go 10 miles in the other direction and you find yourself staring at some of the most beautiful scenery in the world! I’m only 20 miles from “the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond!”D: As I understand it, you’re currently at High School?
SM: Yes I am. Luckily for me, I only have 2 days left! I actually bought my suit for Graduation on Wednesday! I know, I should have worn a kilt... Then final exams during May and then I am free until I go to University in October.D: So what kinds of subjects are you currently studying?
SM: This year I have been doing Maths and Computing. I was doing Physics as well, but I dropped that very quickly when I realised how difficult it was! Maths is more of a distraction, it’s the computing that I want to focus on when I leave. I actually created a game called “Ping” for my coursework task, which was obviously a remake of “Pong”. It wasn’t the best game ever, in fact it was a bit rubbish, but I was lucky to have even it handed in on time because it kept refusing to work! Nearly sent me over the edge so it did! D: What’s the plan once you’ve finished High School? Where next for SyntheticMortal? Do you want to follow the ‘Ping’ route and go into gaming?
SM: Well, like I said before I’m going to University in October to study Software Engineering. So that’s going to be the next chapter in my life. Beyond that I’m not sure what I will end up doing. Obviously, the key to finding a good career is to do something you love, so working in the games industry would be ideal! The thing with software, and with technology in general is that it changes so quickly, and with so much of our lives relying on coding, the possibilities are endless! Woah that got deep...D: You must be quite capable with coding (it’s the aspect of my degree I found the most difficult and subsequently I gave up on it). Do you find it easy, or is programming a chore for you?
SM: It depends. Like I said, “Ping” almost sent me over the edge, because of bugs and glitches that happened. The hardest bit is finding the bugs and errors in the mountains of code. It makes me a bit more understanding towards games that have bugs and glitches when they are released, especially if it’s a more open world style of game. Generally though, coding is just like a jigsaw: the pieces are all there, it’s how you put them together that is important.D: How do you manage to fit gaming into your schedule? Do you manage OK, or do you wish there were more hours in the day to squeeze in both studying, and killing things?
SM: No, I manage. I have a lot of free time because I only do 2 subjects, so I can do a lot of study during the day and do my gaming in the evening. Also, because I have an Unconditional for Uni, the pressure is off slightly, so I have a bit more slack to work with. I probably should try and study more than I do though...D: Do you have any other interests that occupy your schedule?
SM: Outside of the gaming world, I really enjoy snowboarding, mountain biking and skateboarding. Luckily, here in Scotland, there are plenty of places to do this, from the slopes near Ben Nevis, to the skate parks of Glasgow and Edinburgh! I am also a huge music fan; I play Guitar and have been studying Sound Engineering as a vocational course in a local Recording Studio. I didn't realise how much behind the scenes work went into recording a CD! I also love movies, The Mighty Boosh and random fact, I am a qualified first aider!D: Woah, OK! Where to start with the potential questions raised in that paragraph! Let’s start with the sporting activities! Snowboarding around Ben Nevis sounds like a great way to spend your time! How experienced are you?
SM: Put it this way, I am experienced enough to get down a slope with minimal bruising... usually. I’d say I’m about a level 4 out of 6, with 1 being “on a snowboard for the first time” and 6 being “Expert”. A lot of what I know is self taught though, although safely. We have an indoor ski slope here in Glasgow that is basically a giant freezer and is filled with snow all year round. I would never recommend throwing yourself down a black run and trying to learn that way, you should only ever go on slopes where you feel comfortable in your own ability. D: Is it as difficult to do as it looks?
SM: It can be daunting at first but you find you pick things up very quickly. It does depend what kind of surface you are on though. Ultimately, there is no substitute for snow so if you had a choice between a wet slope and a dry slope, always go for wet. Apart from that you just have to get used to the balancing and overcome the fear of going fast down a hill with a board strapping your feet together...D: Have you ever had any accidents in any of your pursuits? Fear of a broken leg or similar used to put me off these kinds of things when I was younger!
SM: I’ve never actually broken a bone. Ever. I know now I’ve said that I’ll end up in A&E tomorrow. *sigh* Anyway, I have had a few injuries, but nothing major. A few sprained limbs here and there. Occasionally hitting yourself in the back of your head with your own board... The most dramatic bail I ever had was probably when I went flying off the side of a quarter pipe and landed on top of a padded (thankfully) fence. Luckily I only had a couple of bruised ribs but it took me a while to get back into it.D: Moving on, how about favourite bands?
SM: I actually just discovered Steampunk music which I think is absolutely fantastic. For those that don’t know, Steampunk is a genre of art, music and literature. The best way to describe it would probably be to try and imagine what someone from the Victorian times would expect the future to be like. So Steampunk imagery is usually very modern or futuristic, but with the aesthetic feel of the Victorian age. That’s about as basic as a description could get though. At the moment, I really like ‘Abney Park’, ‘Dr Steel’, ‘Creature Feature’, ‘Emilie Autumn’ and a few others. I also really like Industrial music, with ‘KMFDM’ and ‘Combichrist’ among my favourites!D: Are you big on music games too?
SM: I enjoy a good session of Guitar Hero: Metallica
every so often. I’m not the kind of person who obsesses over getting 100% on Expert. I see them as casual games you pick up when you have a few minutes spare. Although I do understand the leaderboard aspect that causes people to obsess over the 100%.D: What would you say your favourite genre is? What kind of game can hold your attention the longest?
SM: I do love an epic RPG. Games like the Mass Effect
series and of course The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
. I have a bad habit of finishing short games, like Call of Duty
, in one sitting, maybe 5 hours at the most. I like a game that can keep you entertained for weeks. I like a game that allows you to roam a huge world and even after you complete the main story, will keep you coming back for more. I am a huge fan of branching storylines that can make each consecutive playthrough completely different. Although I am open to many different genres, as my games list will tell.D: Typically I find most of the addictive games tend to be some of the ‘retro’ titles. Do you have much of a history prior to getting your Xbox?
SM: I remember being very young and playing my uncle’s sega megadrive, although the only games I remember playing are James Pond
, Sonic the Hedgehog
and Ecco the Dolphin
, all of which I absolutely loved. Then I played my cousins N64, then eventually got my black handbag, I mean Gamecube. I loved my Gamecube, and was really disappointed when shops stopped selling games for it.
I also owned every Nintendo handheld, except the Gameboy Advance SP, up until the first generation DS. Since then the new DS consoles haven’t changed enough to warrant me buying another one. I even had the original Gameboy, even though it came out in ’89 and I wasn’t born until ’93!D: Being a man with a strong Nintendo history, what do you miss most from the Nintendo games catalogue? Super Smash Bros. perhaps?
SM: I actually haven’t ever played a Zelda
game! And while I never owned it, I did have some hilarious nights with friends playing Super Smash Bros. Melee
. I also miss the Metroid
, the Phoenix Wright
games and of course... Pokemon
! I used to play Pokemon blue
over and over and over again! D: For me it’s Zelda and of course Mario. Pokemon is some dangerous addiction that I only kicked when the battery in my Pokemon Silver cartridge died and I lost all my level 100s. Mew included! That said though, these new ‘Wii’ generation of the games doesn’t appeal to me. Do you think Nintendo will pull anything special out of the bag with the Wii 2?
SM: I think they will have to. I agree with you 100%, The Wii focused on its control system to provide sales, and that worked for a good many years. Now though, we have the Playstation Move and of course Kinect, both of which allow motion control on more powerful consoles with HD graphics. Nintendo need to remember their roots and bring back some quality games, and stop focusing so heavily on “the casual gamer”. D: How do you feel handheld consoles have fared over time? Do you think their popularity has diminished somewhat with the arrival of smartphones?
SM: I’ve never really thought about that one. I think smartphones and handheld consoles each have their own niches; I would say that games like Angry Birds
, addictive as they may be, are games you can play for 5-10 minutes at a time, whereas handheld games are games that you can really sink your teeth into and play on a long plane journey. Again, it’s a really interesting point. It will be interesting to see what Sony and Nintendo do with their respective handhelds next gen.D: A question that I haven’t asked for a while now! What was the first game you can remember playing? If it had achievements, what might the first achievement you ever unlocked be?
SM: Hmmm... I think it would probably be Ecco the Dolphin
: “Greenpeace won’t be happy: Kill Ecco 1000 times”, My four year old self was horrifically bad at that game.D: And what the last achievement you unlocked on your Xbox recently?
SM: The last achievement I got was ‘Weapon Master’ achievement in The Saboteur
. A very underrated game! I love the black, white and red, sin city art style. I know that art style has a name but I can’t remember it. That was on the 17th of April though. Since then I’ve lost my motivation to get achievements. That always happens though. I’ll just play games for the experience, and then once I have gradually gotten to say, 30500GS, I’ll have a wee achievement drive until I get to the next thousand, and then the cycle starts all over again. D: Do you have it bad for those tasty, tasty achievements?
SM: I wouldn’t say I’m too bad. 30000GS in 2 and half years is acceptable enough I think. I like clever achievements that challenge you to play a game in a way you wouldn’t originally. The Orange Box
achievements are really good in that sense.D: Have you ever played any games purely for the ‘Achievement Unlocked’ sound? Be honest now!
SM: *cough* Lost: Via Domus
*cough* In my defense though, I actually am a fan of the show and I thought it was actually quite a good game (minus the fuse puzzles, they were just annoying). Just Cause
is another one, although again that is a good game. Then you have blockbuster games like Mass Effect 2
that just vomit gamerscore at you!D: Ah now I’ve played Lost: Via Domus too. It wasn’t purely for the GS I swear! (Though it did bleed Gamerscore very quickly!) What’s the hardest you’ve ever worked for an achievement?
SM: Probably the little rocket man achievement in The Orange Box
that was a pain! There is probably someone sitting at Valve right now in a huge black chair stroking a white cat and laughing manically knowing the frustration they have caused to all the gamers stupid enough to attempt that. Of course, it would have been a lot easier if I had used the invincibility cheat. I know it isn’t the hardest achievement, but it is very frustrating when you have to retrace the last hour of the game when you realise that the gnome has fallen out of your car. D: Do you game a lot across Xbox LIVE? I tend to go through phases of playing online a lot, and then hitting Single Player games for long lengths of time.
SM: It varies really. It took me a long time to begin playing online in the first place. I am probably the same, I have been playing multiplayer a lot recently, but to put things into perspective, I didn’t start playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
online until Call of Duty: Black Ops
came out because before that I was almost completely a single player gamer, minus the occasional game of Rush on Battlefield: Bad Company 2D: What’s your most memorable moment on Xbox LIVE? I ask as I notice in your TA bio you say, ‘since I joined [TrueAchievements, I] saw that not everyone on LIVE is a dick’. Some bad experiences I take it!
SM: Haha yeah, I play games to have fun. Some people seem to have forgotten that that’s all it is, a game. It’s a strange phenomenon. If you are in a lobby and getting threatened with getting hacked because you kill someone in a game, it ruins things for everyone. That’s partly why I love this site, it allows similarly minded gamers to organise gaming sessions and avoid some of the hate on Xbox LIVE. One final point, if you have a swastika as your emblem on Call of Duty: Black Ops
and you play me, you are getting instantly reported, if you have no respect for others then I have no respect for you. Rant over. Let’s move on!D: Where do you set up for those sessions in front of the Xbox, whether it be on LIVE or single player?
SM: I know this is one of the worst setups featured so far but it does it's job well enough! Basically, I have a CRT TV that I've had since my Gamecube was my main console. I still have it for two reasons: I don't have enough money to buy a decent size LCD or Plasma, and two, previous gen games generally look horrific on 'modern' tvs. Then I have my Elite and Gamecube below that and a 2 controller charger on top of my Xbox, and two guitar hero controllers in the corner. And that's it!D: What would be your favourite stat on TA? Which one do you strive to get as high as possible? Gamerscore, TA score, TA ratio?
SM: I really like the TA ratio. I think it’s a great idea to see how many other people have an achievement and how difficult it is to obtain. Although mine isn’t great to be honest. I’m a sucker for the achievement noise though, so I guess gamerscore would be the one I try to get to improve on the most.D: You’ve just managed to hit 30,000 Gamerscore, so congratulations are in order! How high will you aim?
SM: Thank you! I have no plans really, as long as games are being released I’ll keep playing them and getting gamerscore. I think this generation is predicted to end somewhere around 2015? I would like to have about 100,000GS by then. That seems like a relatively realistic goal.D: Coming across from Nintendo have achievements ultimately changed the way you approach and play a game?
SM: Yeah, the most obvious advantage is obviously the replay value of games is increased with achievements. Like I said, I enjoy achievements that challenge you to play the game in a different way. It’s fun to play a game your way, then to go back and play it again in a way that you would never have thought of before.D: I’ve spoken to people in these interviews who approach new games differently. Some don’t look at the achievements lists until they’ve completed the game once in full. How do you tackle a brand new title?
SM: I usually look at the achievement lists to get a feel for the achievements in a game, and see if there are any that can be easily picked up first time round. In fact usually I’ll put a new game in the slot and start it, then exit to the dashboard and look at the achievement list while I wait for the game to Install onto the harddrive. I usually play once through though and then go back and pick up any other achievements I gave missed first time round.D: Do have the motivation for repeated playthroughs? As much as I love some games, I hate achievements that require you to go through multiple times to unlock all of the Gamerscore goodness.
SM: Usually if a game is good, I’ll play it more than once anyway. I have a whole load of achievements still to pick up in Too Human
because I couldn’t face playing through it again, but a game like Mass Effect
I’ll play at least four times, to max out my level on both my renegade and paragon characters.D: A bad habit of mine is falling behind on titles. I STILL haven’t played Fallout: New Vegas, or Fable III, not to mention a host of other titles. Do you manage to keep current with your titles, or are you content playing them later on?
SM: No I’m rubbish at picking games up! It’s impossible to keep up though. There are so many great games coming out all the time. I have a huge list of games to pick up. At the top of my list just now is Portal 2
, but there are plenty others after that.D: Does the release line up for the Xbox hold much excitement for you? We keep hearing about LA: Noire and the like, but I’m really intrigued to get my hands on the new Driver title!
SM: I’m quite excited by LA Noire actually, it looks like it could be really good! Then obviously Mass Effect 3, Deus Ex 3, and for some reason, 11.11.11 is etched onto my retinas. [sarcasm] I don’t know why though [/sarcasm]. I’m also interested in seeing what the future holds in terms of Kinect. So far, there have been few, if any, games of worth for the Kinect, and therefore I have yet to part with any cash. Hopefully there will be some games coming soon that will convince me to pick it up!D: And as we begin to draw this interview to a close now I hope you’ve found the whole process enjoyable, and not too terrible!
SM: It’s been fun! Thanks again for having me! It’s been a really interesting experience!D: To finish up I’d like to say thank you for working with me to get this Community Interview out on time, and I’ll hand the front page over to you for your closing statement!
SM: I’d just like to say thank you to Rich for all the amazing work he does for the site, all the newshounds for spending their own time writing the articles we see on the homepage everyday, all the people that suggest news stories. All the people that participate in forums and also a special thanks to Banahnah
for helping me out in my first gaming session as part of the site!
A snowboarding gamer in Scotland. A few firsts in this interview! If you think you can offer us something totally new or different for next Sunday, don't hesitate to get in touch with me, or nominate someone who you think I should consider. The more info the better!
If you’d like to be featured in a future Community Interview, or would like to nominate a gamer on this site to be featured themselves, please send a PM to DavieMarshall