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.

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Black Ops Incoming!

November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

It seems like everyone’s talking about Black Ops at the moment – and I hate to buck a trend. I’m quite looking forward to playing the game, given that I was a fan of Treyarch’s last title in the Call of Duty franchise, World at War. Never really understood the absurd amount of disdain the fanbase had for these guys; nor was I very impressed when Infinity Ward’s community manager at the time, Robert Bowling, publicly attacked Treyarch producer Noah Heller. (Pretty unprofessional, to be honest.)

Since the mass exodus at Infinity Ward, sentiment towards the much maligned studio has shifted significantly. They’re now seen as top dog, where as before they were the annoying little brother tagging along for the ride. It’s good to see them get their dues, and I’m hopeful that this new game will at least equal Infinity Ward’s (RIP) effort in quality.

An anthropomorphised impression of Treyarch.

As with Modern Warfare 2, this is looking to be one of the biggest releases of the year, and the supermarkets have already geared themselves up for a price war against each other and the specialist retailers. Consequently, they’ve been some cool deals popping up here and there. Cheap Arse Gamer has a whole thread dedicated to them, as do several other websites. My current favourite is Tesco’s £25 offer for the game if you also buy a 3-month Xbox LIVE Gold or 2100 MS Points card, which I would probably go for if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m buying the PC version of the game.

Why PC? Well, someone’s got to stick up for the platform – and it is a great platform – but I guess the biggest thing is that Black Ops, unlike its predecessor, includes support for dedicated servers. From my rant last year, you can rightly assume I’m pretty happy about that.

'Every day the same dream' Impressions

January 16, 2010 § 2 Comments

Every day the same dream is a curious indie Flash game from Molleindustria. It was made in six days for the Experimental Gameplay project and is self-described as a “little art game about alienation and refusal of labour.”

In terms of communicating its message, the game is a resounding success. Every critical aspect of it reinforces the theme of being held in a terrifying, banal, futile existence. The characters and environment are all drawn in a kind of 2D Art Deco style, and, save for a few unique objects, the game world is devoid of colour – bleak and monochrome.  There is very little movement and energy from scene to scene, and the animation is regimented, disciplined, almost machine-like.

As the nondescript husband of the nondescript wife going to his nondescript job and every day waking up to perform the same routine, the player can only move linearly through levels, walking either left or right. There is no ‘run’ toggle, and the only interaction with which you have with the world is through a single button, the space key. The game is cyclical, in that it repeats itself as the player repeats, what seems like, the same day over again each time – or is it that every day is the same as the last? (Strange is it sounds, the phrase “Flashback meets Groundhog Day” comes to mind.)

Special mention must go to Jesse Stiles for his work on the soundtrack. His rhythmic, hypnotic mix of electronic beats, drums and acoustic guitar is fantastic and arguably the best part of the game.

It’s a short, succinct experience, granted, and I admit to getting slightly bored before even “finishing” it, but it’s well worth playing simply for the experience. Though I am reluctant to say that it has much replay value, it is a very clever, creative bit of game design, and it is yet another example showing us that it’s possible for games to be both art and, well, games at the same time.

Weekend Impressions: 'Civilization Revolution'; and The Trouble With Being a PC Gamer

January 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Spent most of this afternoon installing a new processor, updating the bios, seeing Windows 7 deliver a huge epic fail message upon reboot, then surfing the Internet frantically for a solution.

For those who’re interested in this sort of stuff, updating the bios reset the boot priority on my hard disks, meaning that it was trying to boot the OS from the wrong one. I spent around 2-3 hours attempting to fix or replace the bootmgr file (the file that wasn’t working) before realising my mistake.

Admittedly, it was my fault for being stupid, but you just don’t have to deal with this kind of crap with consoles. Honestly, I was so tired after having got everything working that I didn’t have the energy or inclination to play any PC games. And yet I’m still considering buying an extra gig of RAM just so I can fill out all the DIMM slots. What’s the point?! I can’t even think of more than half a dozen games I want for the PC this year!

The crazed obsessive mentality of a PC gamer, ladies and gentleman.

So, having done all that and checked to see how much faster Dragon Age runs – a game I am likely never to get further in past the prologue – I checked out Civilization Revolution for the 360.

Uh, so it’s Civilization 4 made for a console. It’s a very good, faithful adaption for the most part. In fact, the only things I hold against it are: the incrementally irksome advisors who talk simlish to you; and that micromanaging a global empire towards the end of the game becomes a tedious bore. The first issue is minor; the second issue, actually, is something that’s always been somewhat of a problem in the PC titles. So, really, that’s less about lacking the tools to manage (i.e., the limitations of a joypad) and more to do with the functionality not being there. That’s really a design issue, if anything.

Having played the game, though, I don’t think I’ll be coming back for more. And it’s not anything to do with it being a bad port, because it clearly isn’t that. I just feel like I’ve played enough Civilization over the years to know how every game is going to go down. What it comes down to is that the gameplay hasn’t evolved, and it doesn’t excite me anymore. For me, Total War has stolen the crown away from Civilization, and unless ol’ Sid has something different for number five, he can count me out.

Tomorrow I’ll likely be starting Brutal Legend and seeing what that’s all about. While I’ll be doing that, of course, I’ll be attempting to overclock my processor and graphics card until it starts making funny noises or blows up. Why? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why.

Death of a Community

October 24, 2009 § 1 Comment

Last weekend Robert Bowling, Creative Strategist for Infinity Ward, casually dropped a large, megaton-sized bombshell on the PC gaming community: Modern Warfare 2 – sequel to 2007’s critically acclaimed, best-selling hit – won’t have dedicated servers or mod support built-in.

Since then, e-petitions have been signed, journalists have tweeted, and other industry figures have weighed in. Public opinion seems to be split into two camps: most are outraged; others are nonplussed. Meanwhile, Bowling has attempted to calm the waves of discontent through a blog post, defending Infinity Ward’s decision and reassuring the PC community that this is, in fact, a step forward.

Tom Bramwell, editor of Eurogamer.net, had this to say in response:

IW man’s blog about why IWNet is a good thing suggests he doesn’t understand why the concept so upset people in the first place.

And this is the point. The heart of the issue doesn’t lie in a list of pros and cons; it lies in a philosophy – a set of principles that have been at the core of the PC gaming experience for as long as it’s been alive.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Site Update – 17/10/09

October 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

Got a cold, so I won’t be up to much this weekend. I will probably be attempting to finish off Halo Wars while starting Red Faction: Guerrilla on the 360. I’ll also be going back to Empire: Total War, since I’m kind of curious to see what all the updates inbetween have done to the game. I’ll also be watching The Lookout, which supposedly showcases rising-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s talents as a Proper Serious Actor in Hollywood. (I kid. If anything, Brick did that for him in 2005.)

I’m just going to say a quick few things about Halo Wars. I rented the game to see how well Ensemble succeeded in making a traditional RTS game for a console. The answer is that it’s pretty functional and, in the majority of times, works fairly well. However, when you need swift, nimble movement, when you need to select troops on an individual basis quickly and efficiently, the game can’t accomodate that. If only they’d hid this flaw better, but they actually created a level where you do have to be able to do this, and when the pathfinding fails and you aren’t able to react in time – through no fault of your own, but the controls – it’s a bit of downer.

Halo Wars is fun, and the presentation is really excellent, and Ensemble should be commended for their strong efforts, but this isn’t the game to revolutionise RTSs on a console.

Oh, and Peep Show was excellent last night. Best yet for the series.

Weekend Impressions: 'Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal'; 'Halo: ODST'; 'Gran Torino'; and demos galore!

September 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

I finally finished Bad Company this weekend and am now suitably happy about my gamerscore to move on (sad, I know). So, leaving that in my wake, I’ve played a little of the Forza 3 and Wolfenstein demos as well as ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, an XBLA title. ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is yet another game about maiming zombies (those guys really need some political representation) and plays like yet another dual-stick shooter. It looks okay, but this sort of thing is getting pretty old now. Besides, they totally messed up with how the chainsaw weapon handles – and, as anyone knows, if you include a chainsaw in your zombie game then it must be both fun to use and look cool. The chainsaw in ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE fails on both counts; hence, they can forget the 800 MS points.

Wolfenstein felt pretty underwhelming, and although I probably will play through the game at some point, it looks like it’s only worth a rental. It’s hard to pin down exactly what doesn’t gel, but I think that they went in the wrong direction with the Veil powers, and the tone of the game feels sort of off. whatever it is, it plays out more like any number of generic shooters than a Wolfenstein game. Shame.

I’ve never played a Forza title before so I came to Forza 3 with little idea of what to expect, other than it being a driving sim analagous to GT. I played through the demo track twice with two different cars and, yes, it looks good; nonetheless, it feels devoid of any sense of real speed or excitement and, in short, it’s a bit boring. That said, I think it may just be the case that game is not for me. I have no interest in cars, tuning, paint jobs and all that jazz. I like racing and crashing into things and blue skies and an awesome soundtrack behind it all.

And here we come to another series of games I really should have played by now but haven’t. I’ve just started Halo: ODST‘s singleplayer campaign and it’s shaping up nicely. I’m still sort of transitioning to the controls, my last Halo game I played having been the original on the Xbox, but I like it so far. I haven’t even tried the multiplayer disk yet or the Firefight mode, so those are things to look forward to. Whatever some people might say, I think that the game probably represents a good deal for those without all the Halo 3 multiplayer map packs, and I have it on fairly good authority that the Firefight mode is pretty cool. Besides, even if the main campaign is short, if it’s enjoyable enough then people will play through it again, alone or together in online co-op, on the harder difficulty settings. My thoughts, at the moment, are sort of apathetic, though. I missed out on the Halo buzz that came with the second and third sequels, so I really don’t have much attachment to this universe unlike other people. Also, and this may be me, Bungie seem to make their level designs a little too “boxy” for my taste – artificial and inorganic. It was the same thing in the original Halo and I’m half surprised it’s the same in ODST. It’s an aesthetic thing more than anything else, but if you compare ODST‘s New Mombasa with Half-Life 2‘s City 17 then the former looks like a bit of a joke.

I managed to grab Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal for free during Telltale’s “Talk Like A Pirate Day” celebrations. It’s an amusing diversion and I’m sure that fans of either the series or of point-and-click games will enjoy it. I actually found myself quite getting into it until I got completely stuck and had to look at GameFAQs for the solution. And here in lies the problem with this genre: as soon as you get stuck, it stops being fun and becomes a case of randomly clicking at shit; no longer is it a test of logic and intelligence but a pointless exercise of trial and error. It doesn’t help that in these cases the solution is often so nonsensically convoluted that you’d only really stumble on it by luck. I should point out here that it’s not that I’m hating on Monkey Island specifically, but I think that it’s unacceptable that there is no mechanic in place to help the player when this happens. Jesus, just a hint button would be nice or some feedback from Guybrush. I don’t find it suprising that point-and-clicks fell by the wayside because it’s clear to me that they never evolved at all, and that which doesn’t evolve dies (profound insight indeed).

Lastly, I got around to watching Gran Torino last night – a film I’ve been looking forward to since I saw the trailer with Clint Eastwood growling at people to get off his lawn. Having now seen it, my conclusion is that it only just about works because of Clint Eastwood’s presence, because of his acting history and what we associate about him. The character he plays is a racist, xenophobic asshole, and it’s only because it’s Clint that the character is just about made likable. But, really, the script is so cliched, uninspired and predictable and not even Clint’s aura can hide that. The truth is, if it were any other actor the film would be crap. Actually, you know what word comes to mind, right now, thinking about it? Lazy. And way too easy.

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