Busy, busy, busy… And what else happened this week?

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Oh, hedgehog, you silly sausage!

I’ve been busy job hunting over the last few days, so I haven’t had much time to write anything. However, there has been some interesting stuff going on that I haven’t covered, which I thought would be cool to highlight here.

  1. XBox LIVE Indie Games developers saw their titles moved back to the Games & Demos section of the 360 dashboard, as they rightly should have stayed in the first place. Great news for those devs that reportedly saw their sales halve overnight, and it puts Microsoft in a pretty good light, too – listening to the little guy, and responding. (Via Eurogamer.net.)
  2. A bunch of Black Ops stuff: strong review scores all-roundrecord-breaking salesproblems with the PC version of the game; and patches and promises from Treyarch. Pretty bummed out to see the PC version released in a state that left the multiplayer unplayable for a lot of people, and in the end it convinced me to buy the cheaper 360 version instead. I just can’t be arsed with the hassle of broken games any more, and then waiting for a patch to come out. Too little, too late, for me. (Multiple sources.)
  3. This slideshow presentation on “Gamification” and how marketers misunderstand the concept, where they go wrong with it, and what makes games actually “fun” to play. These are essential, fundamental ideas that marketers – both social media and digital – need to get their heads around for their efforts to succeed in this space. Badges aren’t enough, people! (Authored by Sebastian Deterding.)
  4. Trouble for Windows Phone 7: after initially optimistic reports of high demand around the world, it appears that handsets featuring the new OS have only sold 40,000 units in the US so far, while in Europe the numbers stand at around 250,000, faring slightly better. I suggested it could be a supply problem holding back demand. Nevertheless, it’s not auspicious news, but the expectations for the phones have been remarkably, somewhat unfairly, high. The word “flop” has been thrown around too quickly, in my opinion, and in others’. It’s certainly possible that the phone will indeed flop, but it’s still too early to tell, and I think it’s a mistake to count Microsoft out just like that. I hope the platform achieves some sort of success, as competition breeds innovation and, generally, lower-priced deals for consumers. (Multiple sources.)
  5. More phones news, but this time it’s Android: alleged photos on the Nexus S, the heir apparent to the much beloved Nexus One, from Engadget; and TNW has some very limited information on what kind of carrier availability to expect. Not a whole lot of substantiated facts, to be honest, but at this point I think it’s plausible that there will be a Nexus-branded phone coming out at some point, if it wasn’t already in the making. Too many people want it to happen. (Multiple sources.)
  6. In a pretty clever PR stunt, Sega set up a road crossing in London for one day to raise awareness around hedgehog-related road fatalities – and also to promote their new game, Sonic Colours! It got coverage across gaming sites and in at least one broadsheet. (Hey! The Daily Mail counts, right?) Worth it if only for the above featured super-cute picture of an actual hedgehog wearing teeny-tiny Sonic boots. Priceless. (Via Eurogamer.net, again.)
  7. Giant Bomb published a Quick Look on Tron: Evolution (thankfully, someone came to their senses and got rid of the additional sub-title, “The Video Game”). Having not really followed Tron’s progress, I was totally surprised by what I saw: it actually looked good – like, really, really good; like a game you’d want to play for more than five minutes, as opposed to the usual film-licensed shovelware. I don’t know why I should be so surprised, though. Disney Interactive has really started to take gaming seriously: they released Split/Second: Velocity earlier this year, which I derived immense enjoyment from, out of both its innovative concept and slick execution; they’ve got Epic Mickey on the Wii coming out, also looking like a quality product, from Warren Spector, one of the industry’s greats; and they’ve got this, Tron, too – also looking phenomenal. (Via Giant Bomb.)
  8. Rockstar has announced a new trailer and release date for L.A. Noire, which seems styled like a Chinatown-esque, third-person action game. It looks stunning, really; I’m at a loss for words. I’m a big fan of film noir, and it’s hokey, pulpy, melodramtic elements often can play out very well in a video game setting. (Via Joystiq.)
  9. Finally, we get to me shamelessly self-promoting my new article featured on Resolution-Magazine, entitled “The Miser’s Guide to Gaming On A Budget“. Hopefully it will serve some use for people who, like me, don’t have all the money in the world to spend on games – but wish they did. (Via Resolution-Magazine.)

And that’s all, folks! Tune in next time for… something else, I suspect.

Site Update – 08/01/10

January 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just finished Batman: Arkham Asylum last night. Wow, what a game. Every aspect of it is so polished, so perfectly tuned and designed. If Modern Warfare 2 was my first choice for my favourite game of 2009, Arkham Asylum has to be second. It kind of feels like Resident Evil, crossed with Shadow Complex, then bred with a really slick 3D brawler. In every sense of the word, it is awesome and, at the bargain price of £17.99, an excellent deal.

I also completed Modern Warfare 2‘s Spec-ops missions the other day, with the full 69 stars now fully paid for with blood, sweat, laughter and some very bad language. I am, by no means, an apologist for Infinity Ward, but Modern Warfare 2 delivers so much, so well, that I don’t really understand how anyone who likes FPS doesn’t like the game.

Okay, so “No Russian” was an interesting, noteworthy but ultimately flawed experience. A couple of set-pieces – e.g., the Favelas chase sequence – just didn’t work very well, either because of the AI scripting or because of the level design. However, it is only in the context of a totally unrepentant, exhilarating, awe-inspiring Single Player campaign that just keeps on delivering one memorable moment after another, each one more fantastic than the last, that instances of crappy design pop out at you.

Some people criticise the game on the grounds that it lost some of the semi-realism of the first Modern Warfare; some people say that it’s now just some dumb Michael Bay epic, which implies that it deserves no merit for artistry. I just think that’s completely false. Michael Bay, for the most part, makes tiresome, boring films where he jizzes dollar bills over the celluloid screen for two hours and three-quarters. He’s a hack.

Modern Warfare 2, on the other hand, is fun, bombastic and a highly entertaining ride at, pretty much, every step along the way. It’s pulpy, alternate universe science fiction, and I love that kind of crap. It’s not some serious treatise about the nature of war; it’s your regularly occurring summer blockbuster. And that’s fine, to me. What’s wrong with a really well produced dumb, action/sci-fi movie, anyway? Because that is what this is.

I just think that people were expecting too much or something different. I agree that there are some tonal inconsistencies in the game that don’t fit in, but on most fronts it delivers a very powerful, impactful punch in its Single Player. I haven’t even talked about the Multiplayer, but that’s almost a separate game in itself, and it’s also superb.

Rant over.

I’ve also just received the Civilization: Revolution and Brutal Legend from LOVEFiLM. Since playing Halo Wars I’ve been curious to see what solutions developers come up with when attempting to make a competant control scheme for a console RTS.

Ensemble’s swan song, Halo Wars, was a good effort. It had impressive production values and a UI that worked. Despite those things, though, it was a fairly simple game, and even then, when things did get more hectic, there were occasions where the control scheme wasn’t precise enough to handle what was going on. I’m interested to see if Brutal Legend, which has a similar radial menu input, will be an improvement in that department.

Civilization: Revolution isn’t an RTS, but a TBS. However, it looks to be an interesting experiment in how to package a very PC centric strategy game and adapt it to a console. And by “adapt”, Firaxis seem to have done the right thing by completely re-scaling the game design around the limitations of a console, instead of just remapping the PC controls to a 360/PS3 pad. I’m honestly quite looking forward to checking it out.

Incidentally, I should have received Prototype through the post by now. Chances are I’m going to have to e-mail Gameplay and ask for a replacement copy. Seriously, that’s the second game in a row that’s got “lost in the post”. It makes me wonder if someone at the post office is stealing my games.

But that’s just paranoid, right? Bad luck, I guess.

Site Update – 04/01/10

January 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

First off, I should start with an apology. For quite a few weeks the blog has gone neglected, largely due to work and social commitments. Really, what it comes down to is not making promises you can’t keep. And in that vein, I won’t say it won’t happen again or that things will change in the coming year.

In truth, the only reason I’m writing here now is because this is my week off, and, goddamnit, if I don’t write at least something I may as well call the whole thing quits. With that in mind, let’s move on.

This week I’m aiming to give Unity a proper go. Unity is a “game development tool”, recently released for free on “teh Internets”, and I hear it’s fairly well-regarded and respected by the community. I’ve been interested in games design for a while now, but I’ve never really thought about it seriously as a career. Maybe after this week I’ll have a better idea of whether it’s worth going for or not – or, more importantly, whether I’ll be any good at it.

The rest of the time I’m going to be attempting to catch up on all the TV I missed last year, as well as several games I’ve started but never got around to finishing. With all the Holiday deals that happened during the period, with some still appearing, I’ve got so many games to play and so little time to play them. The same old story. I’ve actually divided up the games I’ve got to play across the week, starting off with GTA: The Lost and Damned today. Kind of sad, I know, but it’s the only way I’ll be able to play everything. Really, I feel sorry for the game reviewers, who, I imagine, never have the time to stop and go back to games they liked.

On second thoughts, they also get paid to play games for a living. And then write about them. Lucky gits.

In the meantime I seem to be posting more and more on Twitter. You should be able to see it somewhere on the right-hand side of this page. You’ll have to ignore the faux-prophetic drunken ramblings that appear from time to time, but there’s bound to be something of worth in there, somewhere.

Kind of worries me, though, that we’re now condensing written communication into tiny 140 words or less paragraphs. Maybe, someday, we’ll end up using a system of logograms, much like in the Chinese or Egyptian written languages. Hey, it could happen!

Site Update – 13/12/09

December 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’ve been sort of busy this weekend with social engagements, so I haven’t been gaming too much. I have been playing F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, which is fairly good, if not anything spectacular. The issue I have with that game is with the jump-scares. I hate jump-scares, be it in any form of media; I think it’s lazy and cheap. Similarly, I also hate flash frames for exactly the same reason.

But ignoring my general distaste for those old horror movie cliches, more than anything else it slows down the gameplay. Honestly, the scares in the game are overly contrived, extremely predictable and, therefore, not particularly scary. And, really, I just want to get on to the bits where I can shoot dudes in slow-mo, causing them to fly off in a delectable shower of blood and gore.

I also played some Modern Warfare 2 Spec Ops with a buddy of mine. Some of those levels are really well designed and completely awesome in co-op play. Seriously, the next person who tells me that Modern Warfare 2 is not deserving of, at the very least, being in the top ten games of year, needs a glove-slap to the face. Okay, it’s definately not perfect, but I cannot think of any other game in ’09 that excels so much, and in so many areas.

Site Update – 29/11/09

November 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

So I’ve been doing a lot of catching up this weekend, mostly to little or no avail. I’ve still got several games left on my shelf, most of them almost completely unfinished, staring me in the face. Adding to that, I’ve still got more to come through the post and several that I’m playing at the moment – and again, the chances of their being completed to a reasonable standard?

Let’s just say it’s not looking too likely at this point.

One of the games I’ve been playing is Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. It’s a Wild West themed first-person shooter, and from a technical standpoint it’s actually pretty good. The graphics look really impressive most of the time, and the gunplay mechanics are just great. The problem it has is in its story and characters, both of which fail on fundamental levels. Very simply, the two playable characters in the game are so completely unlikable that you don’t care what happens to them; hence, no engagement. The plot is also an absolute joke – cliched, sophomoric, boring. In other words, whenever there’s the story part of the game to deal with, I start falling asleep; whenever a fight breaks out, I’m glued to my HDTV.

If only they could have just given the player an open world, a silent protagonist, a faction system and prestige/reputation system something like in Sid Meier’s Pirates!, then Ubisoft would have had a real winner on their hands.

Edit: Also, Gul Dukat – or, rather, the actor who plays him – is in this game. For those who aren’t Star Trek fans, Gul Dukat was this really sleazy, slimy bastard from Deep Space Nine, portrayed by Marc Alaimo. He was a great baddie and probably one of the most memorable characters from the show. Unfortunately, he’s voicing one of the playable characters, Ray, here, and all I hear is Dukat. No, even Dukat had his good points, or at least he was interesting. Ray in comparison is just some dumb hick who you’re supposed to care about, but really don’t. Not Alaimo’s fault, of course; just bad writing.

Site Update – 21/11/09

November 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

I just finished X-Men Origins: Wolverine this weekend and have found it to be a fairly entertaining experience. There are some small things that are quite forward thinking in that game, like the Statistics screen that tells you how far you off from getting certain achievements. The all-important combat mechanics are also very smoothly implemented, and the only flaw there is in the repetitive and unchallenging nature of the gameplay (which, if I am to be fair, is not an easy task to overcome given the genre). What I can’t forgive the game for is its level of bugginess that made me fail a boss fight a dozen times in a row and the constant re-use of level assets to pad out its length. That’s just not on, son.

I also watched Synecdoche, New York this afternoon. That film is a bit of an overlong mess, but in that way I think it helps reinforce the theme: of art imitating life, imitating art, devouring itself ad infinitum. It’s a touching film and just incredibly sad. I love it for its ambition and the way it beautifully expresses how we attempt to deconstruct and conceptualize our lives in such a way to have meaning, and the tragedy of never really being able to achieve that.

Speaking of meaningless human activity, I’ve started playing Borderlands. I’ve said it elsewhere, but I’ll repeat it here: it’s a rewards structure wrapped up in pretty packaging; it’s the gambler’s fallacy of believing in the possibility of something better being just around that corner – or, in this case, after completing that next quest. None of this, of course, makes it a bad game. What it does make it, is hollow. And the moment you realise the futility inherent in that type of gameplay is the moment you’ll stop playing and find something “better” to do with your time.

Or you can just shrug your shoulders, do like I do, and play for the sake of it. After all, what does it matter if you just think you’re having fun, anyway?

Site Update – 15/11/09

November 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

No post this weekend. Modern Warfare 2. Enough said.

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