Thursday, November 15, 2007

Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

Yes, yes, I realise I've utterly missed the boat talking about this game. But I wrote all of this stuff a month ago and just never got around to editing and posting it. Honest. And at least I've actually finished it now.

So, my take on it:

Even by the end I still often found myself wishing I could use the d-pad and face buttons for movement and combat a lot of the time. Especially when being chased by enemies who needed stunning with an item before they could be killed, since the controls don't let you use items and move at the same time as far as I could tell.

I loved a lot of the touchscreen control stuff. Boomerang control and being able to write on the map are the two stand outs, and there are some very nice puzzles involving those and some of the other touch screen features.

I really liked some of the "3d on both screens" sequences (in particular the boss of the 'bow and arrow' dungeon is a brilliant idea).

Some of the other dual screen stuff I've heard people rave about left me cold, mainly because I've played other games that do the same things. If you've got a very gimmicky use for the DS' functions (like closing it) I suspect people will only think it's cool for the first game they see it in.

I hate anything that makes me blow or shout at the mic, and Zelda seems to use these just often enough to be annoying. I have no problems looking like a tit while I'm playing games (I have a Live headset after all), but having to blow or make a loud noise is just pointless.

I found the boat travel either boring (I ended up spending a lot of time shooting seagulls earlier in the game, just for something to pass the time) or annoying (the number of enemies increased dramatically towards the end of the game when I had to do a lot of sailing). Thankfully they have an option teleport that you can unlock if you explore.

I really liked the salvage mini-game, but it was a shame that the damage you took could only be repaired in one place. It just meant that I didn't bother with it as much as I otherwise would have done, because I didn't want to have to endure more sailing back and forth.

Finally, I found a lot of the items boring. Many of them seemed to be included because they are expected of a Zelda game, rather than because they played to the game's touch screen control strengths. I hoped they would have taken the opportunity to completely revamp the tool set, but I guess that would probably upset a bunch of people.

Overall, I'd say it's very good. Very good indeed. Probably the best "full game" type thing I've played on the DS.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Nice bit of recruiting

Call of Duty 4's multiplayer message of the day from today. Made me chuckle - Infinity Ward is a very cool developer.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Good idea - Overlord's jester

One of the many nice touches in the game is the jester who lives in your tower.

Whenever you're near him he'll shout out a nickname for your overlord, all of which are linked to in-game events. If, for example, you'd just butchered an entire village, he might refer to you as the "oppressor of humans".

As you progress through the game the number of nickname-worthy events increases, until eventually he has a whole roll of overblown titles for you, which he uses in the reverse order that you did them. The order actually has a nice side effect, in that standing around him quickly clues you up on what the last thing you did was.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bad idea - PGR4's horizontal menus

It's nice when a company spends a lot of time and effort on their game's presentation. It often leads to menu systems that look great, are a little bit different, and are very functional as well.

But PGR4's menus have made a bit of a blunder. Every option is listed horizontally, meaning that typically only 2 or 3 options are visible to you at once. This means that you can't see what all of the options in any given menu are without scrolling through them first, and if you're on the middle option you can't tell if you should scroll left or right to get to the option you want.

Please, no more horizontal menus. It was tried and ... it didn't work.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good idea - Video and photo editors

Video and photo editors in games are a brilliant idea, and thankfully this sort of thing seems to be getting more popular. All three of the big name 360 games I'm playing at the moment (Skate, Halo 3, and PGR4) have some sort of video or photo capturing mode.

There are two excellent reasons to include this sort of thing in a game.

First, it helps build community. Players will mess around in your game in the hope of getting an interesting video, and will want to share it with their friends. If their friends like what they see then you might even get an extra sale out of it!

Secondly, it's something that your marketing department will probably love you for forever. Screenshot taking and movie making is part of their job, so the better the tools are for this, the easier their job is. If you put it in as a game feature then everybody wins - they get something that has a good level of instruction, user friendliness, and functionality (instead of something hastily cobbled together in an afternoon because the developer was told they had to), and you get to use the time it takes to implement such a feature on something that's not going to be stripped from the release version. It's a USP for almost free, essentially.

Although it's a brilliant feature in these games, each gets some areas right, while being poor in others - I haven't come across something that I'd consider a 'perfect' implementation yet.



Skate's has the option to jog forwards and backwards as slowly or quickly as you like, and to set markers for camera and effects changes (adding slow motion, full screen effects, and the like). It uploads video footage as pre-rendered movies, so they can be viewed outside of the game (which makes them great for sharing online). That does, however, mean the videos downloaded to view on your console are displayed at a fixed resolution, and have larger file sizes.



Halo 3's theatre has background uploading and downloading of files, so once you have recorded your masterpiece you can keep playing the game while it uploads. It also stores the videos as raw data - so movies can only be viewed in-game, but do result in smaller files, and allows viewers to switch cameras on downloaded clips, and watch the movie in whatever resolution they use. Halo 3 also records entire matches, and allows you to share the whole thing (though you'd have to play a blinder for anyone to want to watch a full 15 minutes of you playing).



PGR4's editor I've only had a brief mess around with, but mainly seems to feature much more in-depth camera control - allowing you to set zoom, rotation, and focal points for your pictures.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Imagine all the babies

I can't tell if it's me who really doesn't understand, or Ubisoft. To me, this range of games is borderline insulting. But then maybe young girls don't care that they have stereotypical 'girl' interests, and which game publisher wouldn't happily shit out "Imagine Washing Up and Doing My Laundry, and Get Me a Beer While You're in the Kitchen?" if they thought they'd make money out of it?

The advertising blurb says that they are

A range of games specifically created to match the interests and ambitions of today's young girls. Aspirational.
Is "having babies" really something to aspire to? When asked in school what they want to be when they grow up, how many young girls respond "my ambition is to be happy while cooking"? I could get along with the quote slightly better if they'd picked careers to make games from, but half of these aren't jobs, and sound to me suspiciously like indoctrinating young girls into a lifetime of domestic servitude*.

I don't know, maybe I'm just really upset that no-one will ever make "Imagine Being a Slightly Fed Up Games Designer".

* And I understand that being a housewife is a tough and demanding role - I certainly couldn't do it. But these titles are each pinpointing one specific part, as if being a housewife is clearly too much unless handled piecemeal.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Too many good games.

Bioshock, Halo 3, Skate, Mass Effect, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Project Gotham Racing 4, Halflife Orange Box, Call of Duty 4.

And I'm sure there's plenty of quality out there that I've forgotten about, or aren't really that interested in*. Forget "is this next gen?" - it doesn't matter. It's a brilliant time to be a gamer.

* I'm saving "I think all 3d Mario games are rubbish" for another confessions post.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bad idea - Overlord's repeating dialogue

I sometimes feel sorry for the guys who write dialogue for games. Imagine crafting what you think is a perfect little one-liner - a throwaway funny comment for a towns person to make as their oppressor strolls past with his goblin army.

Then imagine playing the game and realising that your joke has been ruined in the implementation by five townspeople saying it one after the other so it sounds like some sort of fantasy land catchphrase.

I mainly feel sorry for the people who were playing it through as good overlords, at least the evil players could kill everyone.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Focus

There's an interesting update on Make It Big In Games right now, about focussing your game's design. That's all really, I don't have any new content to post so I may as well pimp someone else's good stuff.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What did Halo ever do for us?

A subject that seems to come up fairly often (and you'll no doubt see a lot more frequently in a week's time when people rush to be the first and hippest dissenting voice on the internet) in game discussions is "why on earth does everyone think Halo is so good?"

It's usually followed by a list of things that the poster doesn't like about the Halo games, and often surmises that people like them because they're told to, and their feeble sheeple minds can't possibly do anything but play along.

Now, I'm no huge fan of Halo. The level design of both games was fairly shocking in single player, they shoot their load early making them a bit of a grind for the 2nd half, and the online community can at best be described as "retarded".

But I think people downplay (intentionally or otherwise) what they did that made them stand out from most other FPS games (even revered titles like Half-Life 2 don't do anything differently to Doom in the basic mechanics). And while I'm not saying the Halos were the first games to implement these things, I think they probably had a massive influence in them finding their way into a huge number of FPS games since (possibly even to the point of being the accepted way of doing things now)...

  • The regenerating health or shield that allows you to completely recover if you avoid being shot for a bit. Which results in having no health kits and allows slightly more risk-taking on the part of the player.

  • Only being able to carry a very limited set of weapons, forcing players to think a little more about what they want or need to use, instead of just stockpiling a huge personal arsenal in their back pockets.

  • Off-hand grenade throwing, so that you can use them in the heat of combat instead of having to switch to your grenade weapon, throw, then switch back to your gun.
And though it doesn't seem to have caught on in the world of shooters-with-vehicles, personally I much prefer the "point in the direction you want to go and then press forwards, and the game will work out the rest" way of driving as opposed to just rigidly aping how a vehicle drives.

God, I sound like a Halo fanboy now. Eurgh.

Monday, September 17, 2007

You know you're a loser when...

...you get the "Centurion" achievement in Soltrio Solitaire.

In other Soltrio Solitaire news, I've stopped buying the extra game packs. Although that's only because my addiction has focused itself on 3 deck Easthaven in voyage mode (which I am officially the 5th best player in the world at, something I'm not sure if I should be happy or sad about).

And now I've added "Soltrio" to Google toolbar's custom dictionary.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Good idea - The Godfather's assassination missions

The Godfather game got a fair amount of flak, and it's easy to see why. Film license games never get an easy ride of it, but when you're doing a game of what's widely considered one of the best movies of all time you'd better hope you really ace it. And Godfather didn't.

That's not to say it's a terrible game, while there's plenty that could be improved upon, there are a lot of things it does very well.

One of them is the assassination side missions. Upon meeting with various made men you're instructed to whack a range of targets. Each has a little scenario set out with it, and each also offers a bonus objective.

Completing the bonus gives you much more respect and money, but they add a lot to the challenge. In a sandbox game you can usually kill anyone quite easily with your array of weapons, or just by running them over. But when you know that you'll treble your payout by shooting the target in the knees and then killing him with a broken bottle, it adds a motivation that can drastically alter how you approach the situation.

The beauty is that making the much harder objectives optional allows you to bypass any that you're having real trouble with, and fall back on your usual shotgun / molotov / car wielding ways to progress.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Good idea - The Darkness' loading cutscenes

The Darkness has quite long loading times between areas. In order to help maintain the immersion while the game brings up the next level the developers have put in little cutscenes.

These are little monologues by the main character giving details of his background, or filling you in on his thoughts on the story's progression. The story ones are triggered by entering the next level that the game knows you have to pass through to continue, whereas re-entering other locations gives more generic dialogue.

The protagonist stands under a single light in an otherwise featureless void, and the only other things involved are occasionally weapons - quite clever since it means that they only use resources that are guaranteed to be loaded in.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Good idea - Overlord's treasure room

The tower in Overlord is one of those in-game menu type things. Functionality-wise it's just a nice-looking hub that lets you access armoury and dungeon rooms that you could otherwise imagine being on a front-end options list.

It's dressed up nicely though. You can buy upgrades to make it look more impressive, and characters you bring back with you from the main game worlds can be seen wandering about it.

You can find out how much money you have at any time through the pause menu, but while you're in your tower it's always nice to visit the treasure room - a chamber that seems to serve no purpose but to visibly fill with your plundered loot. It gives you a sense that your wealth is increasing that you just can't get from numbers.

It's just a shame you can't interact with in, Scrooge McDuck style.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It's time for another "Good idea, Bad Idea"

It turns out that I really am utterly rubbish at updating this thing. I suppose I could comfort myself with the thought that it's better to only write when you have something worth saying, but then that'd mean I have very little worthwhile to say. And I suspect that most of the previous updates break that rule anyway.

No, I'll stick to the line that I'm too busy and / or lazy to write any full-length updates about games I've been playing, thanks.

With that in mind I thought I'd start doing a series of updates about single features that I like in games. Because then I might actually get some done, and it'll also provide a kind of easy reference in the future when I'm looking for ideas to ... er ... be influenced by, of things that impressed me.

So anyway, there will soon be some updates about things in games that I liked. Oh yes there will.

edit: After thinking a bit more, I'll probably be doing short updates on both good and bad bits of games. Because then I get to moan a bit too, which obviously feels very soothing and cathartic.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Develop awards

First bit of happy news - congratulations to anyone who won a Develop Award last week.

Misery-guts insurgents would like people to believe their "you didn't deserve it" propaganda, but fuck 'em, just bask in the glory of somebody - anybody - recognising your hard work.

In particular well done to Realtime Worlds. I've bleated on enough about how I love Crackdown, and you guys did a great job.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cheer up, sleepy Jean

I've gotten a bit down recently about how fucking miserable everyone in the games industry seems to be.

I know it's probably not the case (I bet there are plenty of happy developers out there, and I know and work with a whole load of them) and it's more than likely just the horribly twisting looking glass that is the internet working its wonderful charm again, but it's still annoying me.

We have cool jobs. I know there are interruptions from management, marketing people sticking their oars in, tools that aren't brilliant, publishers who are out to rob you, budgets are up, innovation is down, there is unpaid overtime, there are bonuses that never materialise, and a world of other things. But I'd still rather be doing this than driving a bus along the same route for 7 days a week.

Misery loves company, or something. I bet happy fun time is getting a bit bored of no-one coming to its party. So I'm going to try and be more positive about the games industry in my infrequent posts from now on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Oh no...

...there's another Soltrio Solitaire game pack up to buy. I swear if they keep up this release schedule I'll have spent £50 on the most comprehensive collection of obscure solitaire rules by Christmas. I might even have to put Soltrio in to Google's custom dictionary.

Still, it's better than buying Golden Axe or Sonic again.

I'm quite excited about E3 this year.

Not because of any particular announcements (though stuff like a release date for Mass Effect, and confirmation that the Europeans will actually get the video marketplace is nice).

No, I'm mainly loving it this year because I didn't have to work my ass off preparing a demo.

Hooray! (And also commiserations to those who did.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Soltrio Solitaire (360)

So ages ago I was going to write an update about a nice little Live Arcade card game, but then I got sidetracked by stupid things like becoming addicted to a nice little Live Arcade card game.

Soltrio Solitaire is excellent because it takes all of the hassle out of card games, but adds no extra hassle. The presentation is clean and easy to follow, with fonts, colours, and cards all being well designed and easily readable. The cards all animate about the place nicely enough, and very crucially you don't have to wait for an animation to play out in order to do your next move, so you're never frustrated by the speed of the presentation holding you back.

It has in-game help for every variation of solitaire (and Christ there are a lot of them. Who knew?), and if the rules don't make it quite clear you can just keep asking the game to suggest moves until the legal moves do click. So even if you don't know how to play "3 Deck Easthaven" you'll soon pick it up.


It also has a series of "life lines" that let you do things like shuffle certain rows of cards, move any card back to the pile, or add extra shuffles. This might seem like a small addition, but I think for a casual game it's an excellent addition - if you're only one wrong card away from a victory, the game lets you cheat. Because let's face it, playing a single player game of cards is all about me winning with as much cheating as I see fit.

Best of all they keep adding new packs with around 10 sets of game rules on what seems to be a regular basis.

It's one of those implementations (like the Sudoku in Brain Training) that makes you wonder how they got it so right, and how people can get it so badly wrong (like that other Sudoku DS game that I can't quite remember the name of).

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Condemned: Criminal Origins (360)

So it seems that because of my update drought I've never mentioned that I've finished Condemned either.

So, just quickly, this game is great and if you're at all a fan of creepy games (or not a fan of them, but just like great games you can get dirt cheap - I fall in to this category) you should hunt out a copy.

Why is it great? It's very atmospheric with some very nice graphics for a lunch title; It's scary in a way that doesn't rely on cheap jump frights or monster closets; It has one of the better implementations of first person hand to hand combat, which is simple but feels very forceful, and has a little tactical element to it; It has some nice scripted events that are only small things but that help the mood immeasurably, and that often use the game's first person viewpoint to maximum effect; The firearm combat introduces another layer of risk / reward in that waiting for an enemy to run out of bullets will leave them defenseless, but storming them earlier will mean they drop a gun that you can use yourself;

The only downsides are that the investigation element is a bit over-simplified by the context sensitivity (but I'm not sure how they could have made this better without just making it unnecessarily complicated), and that the otherwise excellent story goes batshit insane and kind of undoes its great work on the final level.

I think the best indication of how good Condemned is, though, is how it seems to have stuck with people. While I was playing it people on my friends list kept sending me messages about the game, urging me on and joking about just how scary they found it. I've never had that happen on any other game.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Reasons I don't like Edge magazine

I could write a year's worth of updates on the subject (especially given how few updates I did last month), but this article pretty much sums it up.

  1. Polls of "best games ever" are worth less than the paper they're printed on. Because at least when it was first pulped there was chance that the paper would be used to publish something useful or life-changing, like a treaty on world peace, or the Eastenders 2007 Annual. Instead that once noble tree has given its life so that people can get angry on their internet about how their favourite game scored one lower than a game they're not even terribly keen on.
  2. I've just found out they gave both Halo and Half-Life 2 ten out of ten. I can't remember without checking (and that's far too much effort) if I've ever gone in to this before, but Half-Life 2 must be the highest rated first person shooter that got half of the genre-defining fundamentals very wrong (it was, at least, in first person). And Halo's good, but it's not that good, and I'd be surprised if you could even find someone at Bungie who thought otherwise.
  3. The editor says things like "it worked brilliantly well". The editor.

(And yes, it's been ages since I updated. It's been a busy time at work, and then the only thing that I got really interested in about the games industry in the last month is somthing I can't possibly talk about. Boo.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A passion's need

I love reading articles about Assassin's Creed on Eurogamer. Not because I like to soak up every detail about the game, but because the comments are always an hilarious shitstorm.

On one side you have people banging on about how they'd like to bang on Jade Raymond, and on the other you have the glorious white knights of the internet defending her honour.

I particularly liked this post:

There is no denying that Jade is pretty, but I think it would do the industry a world of good if we are able to attract a greater representation of females in all level. Jade do make us look more normal you know? She is not just a face but articulate and our school boys response would just confirm that our beloved gaming is an immature one!

Please dont drive Jade away especially if she read this comments! Led, absolutely shocked at your immature and sexist comment.
What a noble and thought-provoking comment. Whoops, hang on - he's not finished yet...
Jade if you do happen to read this I am happy to be contacted for anything.. anything at all!
Oh I see, you just want to get into her pants as well. I find these posts funnier than the lewd ones - the idea of someone thinking that by writing a long and serious comment telling off all of the naughty boys being rude about a lady they will somehow attract her attention and result in some kind of romance, tickles me.

(And somewhere between them you get about 5 posts of people talking about the game, which is looking quite pretty, and worth a play - much like Jade Raymond. Hahahahaha.)

(Sorry Jade.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Humple pie

I recently read an article on Eurogamer where David Doak talked about various bits and pieces Haze related. It was interesting enough, but then I had a brief flick through the comments on the article (I'm my own worst enemy really, but sometimes you just feel like being astounded by the stupidity of your audience, you know?) and came across this gem.

Other developers are usually humble
I have no idea where that idea came from. If I was to list my major peeves with the games industry and the people who work in it (which I almost did once, before I decided that I liked having some bridges left available to me), somewhere near the top would be:

People who appear to not like any games at all, or say everything "looks shit" without playing it, or watching it for more than two minutes.

So many people who work in the industry appear to not like any games at all. I mean, I've not conducted any kind of survey to find out exact numbers, but I've seen it myself in the past, and I know from talking to colleagues that it happens just as often in studios they work at.

I have a firm believe that this particular behaviour is down to a deep-rooted fear that other people think everything they do is shit, too. Or possibly because they know that most of the things they do are shit. It's okay to like a game, or to think it's pretty. Or even to say that they have good tech. There's no crime in offering praise to the competition, it's a good thing.

And I'm still looking forward to Haze.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Picross (DS)

I'm a bit of a Picross fan (it turns out that I'm easily addicted to any puzzles based on grids and numbers), so I snapped this up.

Initially I thought it was rubbish, but I've gradually come around to it- I'm starting to think that it does what it sets out to do pretty well, and it's just that I don't really agree with that initial goal.

This is a Picross game for people who have never played Picross before. The puzzles never get any larger than a 25 by 20 grid, and are rarely challenging (I couldn't imagine why you'd release a puzzle game that has no real 'hard' mode for people who are already good at it, but it's part of the Touch Generations lineup, so maybe it's been decided that they should all be a bit easy).

It fills up a lot of space with utterly pointless challenge modes (based around the raw mechanics of the puzzle, instead of being about trying to uncover a picture - you know, the 'Pic' bit of the name) and even worse timed reaction mini-games that have nothing to do with the puzzles except that they're based on a grid and coloured squares (they're kind of like finding a shoot 'em up featuring the numbers one to nine in a Sudoku game).

The stylus controls are surprisingly uncomfortable since you really need to keep a thumb on the direction pad to avoid having to keep clicking on the edge of the screen. It would be nice to be able to tap on a square to be able to cycle through its states, but because of the "help" mode (that you can't turn off at the default difficulty level) this wouldn't be possible. You also have to access a different mode to mark down 'possible' options. Again, because of not being able to cycle a space's state.

The stylus control system also insists on making you zoom in. A key feature of Picross is being able to see a lot of the board and the numbers clearly, and the zoomed mode just confuses things. I could see it as a necessary evil if the grids were too large for a single screen, but they aren't - and tellingly the d-pad control scheme leaves you zoomed out the whole time.

Presentation-wise it's quite nice, though. As you complete each puzzle you get a nice fully coloured and animated version, and the menus are clear and easy to navigate. It does have an annoying pop up that seems to happen before every grid asking if you want to cheat (yeah, thanks game), and there's no option to turn this off. Also the themed grid colours are awful and distracting, but thankfully you can set it to always use a plain colouring. It would be nice if the menus automatically started the highlight on the last unsolved grid too - I should just be able to turn it on, keep pressing 'A', and start playing the next puzzle, instead I have to scroll past all of the levels I've completed.

But like I said, I've grown to like it. The short simple puzzles fill the time between waking up and having to get out of bed much better than the 45 minute Slitherlinks I'm battling these days. If you're new to Picross you'll probably like it too.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A sensitive area

There's an article on Eurogamer about the new Splinter Cell, where the too-complicated controls of the previous games in the series have been simplified down to three different button presses (and probably some analogue stick wiggling too).

I'm not convinced about going very context sensitive - I like it when a game character responds in a predictable and timely way to my input (though admittedly many games manage to cock-up on this front without any context controls). Unless all of the possible 'aggressive' options take the same time and have the same effect, how does the game know if I want to tip the table over, over throw a scalding cup of coffee at my attacker? Especially now that physics engines are making everything in game worlds movable, the range of possible aggressive actions in a scene should be huge.

Gears of War is just one recent example of context sensitive controls often causing your character to do exactly the wrong thing (the game thinking you want to take cover instead of run away, or vice versa), and also causing a lack of mobility (you can't jump over an obstacle without taking cover behind it first).

I'd also recommend having a quick look through the comments to that article, and keep an eye out for Jachap's post.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Crackdone

I think I might mark today down in my calendar - The day I finally beat Crackdown. Those street races went on for far too long. On the one hand, I'm glad I eventually beat them all using all vehicles, since it filled in a 150 gamerpoint gaping hole in my life (yes, I think I am one of "those" people).

On the other hand, I wish I had managed to beat them by using my awesome driving skills, instead of resorting to cheating by killing all of the other competitors (though to be fair I never tried most of the races properly, so I might have been able to do more than just the half dozen legitimately. And it was nice of the game to not mind my underhand methods). But then on a third hand, I found them to be pretty cheap content with painfully cheaty AI, so I don't really mind that I cheated to finish them.

And on my fourth and final hand, I'm a bit sad to have no challenges left in the game. Still, being Goro presents its own challenges in life (such as deciding which hand to wipe my bum with), so I suppose I'll soldier on.

I hope there's more content on the way for Crackdown. Something a bit more meaty, though I totally understand how much time and effort is required to make good single-player sandbox missions. I wonder how well this stuff sold.

In Crackdown's place I've just started Condemned - a game I bought ages ago because it was cheap, but have always been too scared to start playing. It's a reasonably sunny Saturday afternoon now though, so I'm off into shadowy places to hunt down murderers. I always found it slightly ironic that the company that developed this terrifying game also made something chock-full of scares so cliche that they don't even work on a horror-wuss like me, and then called it FEAR.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Three watch updates

More threes I have recently spotted in games.

God of War 2: three secondary weapons to choose between.
Crackdown: three agency vehicles; three gangs to take down.

I think I'll leave it there, I'm already bored of this joke.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I told you four was a more 'next gen' number

So it seems that both Haze and Halo 3 will have four player online co-op. Lovely, I'm very glad that this is catching on.

Playing through the co-op campaign of G.R.A.W was the best thing about that game, and I enjoyed Gears of War more than most people I work with because I played the entire story in co-op (which meant that I could laugh with my friend during any of the annoying loading cut-scenes).

I would love it if companies made the extra push to get their co-op perfect, though. The ideal situation is being able to play through the regular single player campaign in co-op, but only if you still get the full experience. Rainbow Six: Vegas messed up in this regard since co-op stripped out all of the cut-scenes, so if it was your first play through it would make no sense at all (admittedly, its story wouldn't fit co-op all of the way through, since you start off alone, but I've already written about that cock-up I think that is in a squad-based game). Failing that a dedicated co-op story (even if it reuses assets from the single player).

I would dearly love it if all co-op was drop-in / drop-out as well. Again, Gears of War nailed this perfectly, since the second player and AI-controlled Dominic are interchangeable, allowing you to enter a friend's game no matter what's going on. I had heard Crackdown also had this pre-launch, but the actual system it has turns out to be fairly annoying. If you select that yes, you will let the second player join your city, it boots you out to the menu, and then forces you both to re-spawn. It must be for some technical reason, since I can't understand why any designer would chose this over just allowing the second player to spawn themselves in.

Anyway, Free Radical is one of the few companies that I trust to deliver. Though they still haven't gotten back to me about my three year old job application. Bastards.

Monday, May 21, 2007

G.R.A.W. 2 (360)

I've not really got a lot to write about this. I haven't gotten too far in to it, yet I can still confidently say I've seen everything it has to offer.

Have you played G.R.A.W? Then you've played this. As far as I can tell the only differences are a nicer graphics engine and a vastly improved cross com interface. Now you can view the feeds from your support and team full screen, and control them to an extent while in that view. No more relying on the drunk who's flying the little spy drone thing accidentally managing to get it to the spot you wanted it - you can direct it yourself now. You can also give your team commands in this view, which means you can accurately get them to move to and attack things you can't see, which improves the team gameplay no end.

They've also done a much better job of integrating achievemtns this time around, more like Rainbow Six Vegas or Crackdown's systems where you can view your achievemtns in-game. It also shows you how much progress you've made towards certain achievements, which is lovely and something that I wish more games would do. I mean, they must be tracking these stats internally, so why not let me see how many people I've killed?

However, I have three (UH OH) main problems with this game:

It take itself far too seriously. It's all "tangos", "do your job, soldier" and whatnot.

The single player has a lot of cutscenes where you have no control, whereas I'm sure the first one didn't have that many - most of the story was delivered while you were 'in character'. It made the first one feel a lot more immersive - you were this guy, with the news channels reporting the situation getting steadily worse around you. This time around it feels less urgent.

It's an expansion pack being milked at full price. Thankfully I managed to get a cheap copy, but none of my usual co-op friends from the first one did, so for now I'm stuck alone with it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

If at first you don't succeed.

Recently Microsoft added the ability to have your Xbox stay on in a low power mode while it finishes any downloads that you'd queued up from Live. It sounds like a great feature, like the download queues themselves, and it is pretty good. But it needs another feature to compliment it that the Xbox doesn't currently offer: Automatic retries on downloads.

The problem is that if you set up something to download and it fails, one of two things happens. Either the item is dropped from the list uncompleted (which is annoying since your Xbox will think it's finished, and switch itself off), or an error code message comes up on a separate system blade (which as well as dropping the item from your download list will also stop your Xbox from turning itself off until you press 'OK').

With an automatic retry option these annoying situations could be avoided. Is it really that hard to check if the download is 100% finished before it leaves the list? They could even put in settings for maximum retry attempts and time.


Incidentally, this post has nothing to do with why I'm not playing the Halo 3 beta right now, having set it to download before I left for work this morning.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

OMG Bungie are fucking ruining my life!

(Or words to that effect.)

Well, sometimes you just see an exciting bandwagon and want to hop on board, you know what I mean? How very bizarre that people have booked days off work and bought a $50 game they don't want, just so they can stress test a game.

I'm just annoyed that people on my friends list who see me playing Crackdown tonight are going to be thinking that I'm just killing time until the download becomes available.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Crack slightly further down.

The Crackdown downloadable content is pretty good. A bit too heavy on the repetitive tasks (complete all races in all cars, collect all cars, do all this with X setting etc). It's a shame they removed the "play with wandering gangs" option, so now you can only either have the end game 'no gangs' or start the city again from scratch. Why they couldn't have three options I don't know (I doubt that any of the devs read this blog, or that anyone would take the three thing seriously).

The new weapons are fun: the minigun takes a bit too long to spin up, holding it back from being great, but I suppose they might have felt the need to balance it, since new players could start the game with it; the harpoon gun is very nice, let down by the bodies vanishing after you go only a short distance away. The new vehicles feel slightly more pointless than the old ones, though the buggy is surprisingly great fun to drive and do stunts with.

Rocket tag is a fun addition that's made even better if you trying playing it with gang hit squads chasing you, but the other new two player modes feel under-developed.

One thing I've learnt in the past though, is that if your car races have cheaty warpy elastic band AI you shouldn't put radar blips on them since it makes their underhanded ways very obvious to the player.

I think I might be about to fall off the "no longer addicted to Crackdown" wagon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

God of War 2 (PS2)

And there was me thinking I probably wouldn't end up writing any updates about PS2 games, since I couldn't think of any decent ones coming out.

What I love about God of War 2 is the fantastic sense of scale and drama. You've got to admire any team that has managed themselves and their game so well that they can spend a lot of time and effort on relatively throwaway sections of the game, making it all blow your socks off.

The puzzles in it are also very nice for the most part. There are a few that had me stumped due to the solution being a special case that I wasn't aware of, or being obscured by the camera (which is an interesting choice in itself - the camera is an active part of many puzzles, in particular hidden areas are usually accessed by paths that are slightly outside of the standard path through an area, which you could never do in a game with an degree of player controlled camera).

Overall I felt this was struggling more than the first one though.

In the first game felt like I was being dragged along by the story - though I had an overall goal, I was always being directed to a new figure or place that could help - whereas this one largely seems to be propelled by interest in seeing where you go next - the story sits at 'go and visit the sisters of fate, they're just over there, so fight through this next bit' with you travelling the linear path to reach them.

This game is a lot more reliant on quick time events, which to me is a shame since I find them largely shit. While your character does something awesome in the background you have to concentrate on pressing symbols as they pop up. I thought everyone agreed that Dragon's Lair was rubbish, but apparently not.

Finally, it often feels like it's just throwing mythological characters at you just for the sake of using them up. Some of them don't make sense either - in one particular case a (normal, not superhuman) character had managed to get ahead of me, despite him going to another location first, whereas I went directly there. Given the route I had to take to get to that point, I have no idea how he got there.

Overall it's a great game though - one of those where you end each playing session going over what you've just been through in your head. I can't wait to see what they do in the sequel.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The 3rd place.

What is it about the number three that just seems to entrance designers so? Is there some magic trilogy thing going on (actually, it seems quite common in books and movies to have trilogies too - what's that all about?)

So much stuff seems to be set up in threes, once you start looking for it - Just Cause has missions where you have to destroy three targets, or plant three satellite beacons. Most games have three difficulty levels. Rainbow Six Vegas had three people in a team. There are three modern Prince of Persia games. Command and Conquer Three has three factions in it. The Playstation Three. The Xbox Three-sixty (yeah okay, bit tenuous that one).

How many times have other designers put threes into their games? How many times have they caught themselves doing it and changed their design. The answer to all of these questions is most likely not three, thankfully.

To all designers out there who read this update (probably just me, then) I urge you - join with me and make the number three history in games from now on.

Besides, four is way more next-gen, baby.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Words confuse me.

After a couple of recent updates I've decided I'm going to have to add some common games industry words to the custom dictionary for Google toolbar's spellchecker. Not too long ago I remember a discussion on the Chaos Engine about the correct hyphenation for these terms (and if they should be hyphenated at all), and being a bit lazy I thought I could get an update out of it, instead of just looking at that (and besides, I seem to remember no solid answers being arrived at).

Anyway, I'm currently thinking the following:

  • Gameplay, not game-play or game play because they both look funny (hey I'm not saying this is a scientific study).
  • Cut-scene instead of cutscene. Though I'm not too sure about this one, both look kind of right to me.
  • Mini-game. If I'm remembering my English language teacher correctly, this is right because the 'mini' is a prefix.
Is there any kind of industry standard for these? It's one of those things that you sometimes stumble across quite by accident that make you realise just how young the industry is, and how much more we have to do.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Supermodels on my D(s).

In a strange turn of events, I've recently been playing a few new DS games. I say 'strange' because, unlike apparently the entire rest of the world, I've had a very small DS software collection until about two weeks ago.

I only bought one for Advance Wars, you see, and picked up a couple of other interesting-looking titles along with it - Phoenix Wright (the first one), and Trauma Centre, both of which left me a bit cold if I'm being honest. Phoenix Wright because even in the tutorial I found it annoyingly linear, and Trauma Centre demanded too much skill from me in too short an amount of time. And not much else in the DS's library has appealed to me since then (except for Hotel Dusk a few months back).

But in the last month I've bought three new DS games, effectively doubling my collection. I shall list them now, for your reading pleasure.

Theme Park, which is a port of the old game Theme Park (remarkable, I know, but I'm sure that no matter how much intelligence I hope my readership has, someone won't have realised). The interface has been nicely ported, apart from one thing - to select things in some menus you have to draw ticks or circles. Why do people keep doing this? Just because it's a DS game it doesn't mean you have to shoe-horn in some retarded gesture system to make it worthwhile - the two screens and touch screen are fine enhancements to the interface all by themselves. I swear, some day someone will release a game where you select options on the main menu by blowing on the microphone.

Slitherlink came highly recommended by Eurogamer. If, like me, you have a sordid past filled with easy addiction to grid-and-numbers puzzles like soduko, minesweeper, and picross, this will be an entirely new form of electronic heroin. There's not a lot more to be said about it really. The menus are utterly incomprehensible to me, but by experimenting before I'd invested too much time into my save game I managed to work out what most of the buttons do.

Puzzle Quest was a game I'd heard mentioned all over the place on the internet - it seems to be one of those occasional titles that gets picked up on as something of a darling to the hardcore gamer wannabe elite. Except this turned out to be very good, and not something deeply average but arty looking. There's a PC demo kicking around somewhere and after a quick play I knew I'd have to buy it. It's a fairly basic fantasy RPG but instead of a tiresome turn-and-stats based combat system you play a Bejewelled clone against the monsters. Its design genius also extends to you not losing any progress if you lose a fight, and in fact you keep the gold and experience gained during that scrap, so you're still progressing, even when you fail.

So there you have it - a brief round-up of some DS games I've been playing. This isn't just an Xbox fansite after all, see?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Blow me.

I was idly flicking through MCV the other day (it makes great toilet reading at work, since technically you're doing industry research and not wasting time, and also if you piss yourself laughing at the letters indie retailers write in every week then at least you're in the right place), and I stumbled across an advert for Logitech's new PS3 controller - the ChillStream. Its USP seems to be that it has tiny holes in the grips, allowing your brutishly large simian gamer hands to receive a constant flow of cooling air.

Such an awesome idea targetted at sweaty-fisted gamers hunched over in poorly ventillated rooms had to have been done before, I thought, and after a bit of digging around I found that Nyko released a very similar PC controller ages ago.

Though I suspect B. A. Provan "gameman" might be a Nyko employee. Who else could claim that blowing air on your hands was a technology that had "changed the face of console gaming"? I also liked his suggestion that it was sweaty hands that previously stopped you from playing games for "as long as you want", and not things like hunger, or toilet breaks.

Quite a toilet-centric update this. Sorry, mum!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Make a note in your diaries.

What? No! They've got to be kidding. They can't release three great and involving games on the same day. What the hell are they playing at?

Seriously though - either Play's telling porkies and these aren't all coming out on June 1st, or someone somewhere needs kicking in the head for scheduling three sure-to-be-great games against each other. One way or another there's something rotten here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Set-piece action.

In a break from my usual pop-culture entertainment choices of TV, movies, and video games, I recently went to see a musical.

While I was sat there in the dark, trying to hear what the actors were saying over the rustling of sweet wrappers (I'm sure someone behind me had bought a packet of pass the parcel sweets, since they took ages unwrapping them, and also helpfully waited until after the loud musical numbers had finished and the quieter dialogue sections were going on before stuffing their inconsiderate faces. But anywhere, where was I? ... ) I got to thinking about whether a game structured as a play could work.

And by that I'm not talking story, I'm thinking of set and gameplay.

Set-wise it's pretty interesting. The stage had a basic structure that all of the sets had to fit in to (fairly obviously, I mean, if they went outside for a scene it's not like the audience could go with them), with chunks that slot in to the various places around the edge, and furniture that fills in the space in the middle. The sets tend to be slightly abstract and stylised as well - larger block shapes and a lack of fine details.

The up side of this construction is that all of the locations the script contains fit into one space, and that there is a fair amount of set re-use (both in terms of the same location revisited, and also in terms of some sets being mainly composites of other sets' bits and pieces). The down side is that the sets don't stand up to the kind of prolonged close scrutiny you're able to give most game locations, and also that scripts are limited in the number of locations they can use.

In a play the audience's attention is drawn away from that first negative point by clever use of lighting and pace, which focus your eyes more on the characters. Lighting systems are pretty good in modern engines though, so I'm sure that with proper set direction this aspect would be transferable, and with fewer polys used on the sets, very high quality character models could be used. The pacing is slightly more difficult though.

The main problem I've had while thinking through this idea is - how would the gameplay work? What do you actually do in the game? The obvious answer would be some sort of point-and-click adventure game, but I think the simplicity and restricted nature of the sets might interfere with that - plus each character's location on stage doesn't happen by accident, they're where they are because it works best visually and for the story. Allowing a player free reign to wander around would no longer ensure the best lighting for them, and would spoil the illusion of the set.

Adventure games are famed for their inventories too, which would require a large number of props on the sets, which may not be best for their simple nature (though it could work nicely in gameplay terms since interactive elements would stand out more - no more trawling the mouse around the screen to find an item only a few pixels big).

The dialogue in adventure games tends to be choice-heavy too, usually halting completely as the player gets to choice their next response, which would completely ruin the pacing of scenes. A few games have gotten around this (I think Mass Effect is going to have a go too) by giving the player a limited time to respond, tightening up the pacing of conversations and making it more interesting.

So overall, I'm still not sure if it could be made to work. But I think it would be interesting. It might even be art! Imagine!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Just Cause (360)

You know, I've been playing it for hours now (according to the in-game tally, well over 24), and I still can't work out if I actually enjoy Just Cause or not. I can't even work out if I think it's a good game or not. I'm just totally divided on it.

On one hand, it's very pretty. The foliage has a nice feeling of density about it, even more-so than Far Cry, and the water and clouds and sun are all lovely - you'll see some incredible sunsets during your playing time, and it'll make you long for a nice sunny beach holiday.

The game's main gameplay hook - the stunts - are also pretty well done, for the most part. Once you get the grappling hook (early on in the story) they get even better, but even from the off you have a lovely set of options when it comes to getting in and out of vehicles, and making your way around the game world. Stealing an aircraft, flying above the clouds, then free-falling for what could be a couple of minutes, before popping open your parachute and guiding yourself gently down to the next mission trigger, is a fantastic James Bond feeling.

The map is huge, but really generic. I understand this is probably largely to do with the setting. In order to make it feel like a tropical archipelago (spelt right first time, go me!) it needs a lot of forest and mountain, and not so much man-made stuff. But it just feels featureless. Every now and then you'll stumble on a nice bit - a destroyed bridge, a large city, a monument, a power plant - but they're so far apart you'll be hard pushed to find them again. And the missions don't make full use of all f the space they're given either, often reusing the same stretches and areas. If the map had been a quarter of the size it would have had more diversity without losing anything.

The real problem with the game is that the mission content is so bland and has a real 'half finished' feel to it. Unless I'm missing something some of the side missions are impossible to complete - I'm told to "Destroy the silo", but the silo has no collision and I can't seem to damage it at all.

The story missions are equally boring for the most part, and are totally devoid of any little details that might make you think effort has been poured in to them. Except for the finale, that is - the last three missions are really nice, and you end up using your stunts as a way to complete them, rather than just as a way of getting around the island, as you tend to in other missions.

I could go on, and originally I was going to. The list of charmless and half-arsed bits in Just Cause is as long as a field: the achievement for completing the 7th mission happens when you have 8 story missions on your in-game stats; the cut-scenes look terrible, and feature generic characters; the vehicle handling feels very off; helicopters aren't any fun; enemy tanks can fire at you quickly enough that although their weapon isn't one shot kill, your guy's recoil animation stops you from being able to escape the fatal second hit; the police are ineffectual outside of missions.

But it does have a kind of charm all of its own. Apparently a sequel is under development - I hope that now the tech is working they focus their efforts much more on the scripted content, and really polish that until it shines. And please, do all of your cut-scenes in-engine, with higher poly characters (since not many people feature in them).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

To deal, or not to deal.

I was reading a forum post yesterday about casual games, and complexity. Basically, should casual games be simple? I'd say a simple interface is desirable (possibly even essential, off the top of my head I can't think of a 'casual game' success that's had a complicated interface), but the game itself should be quite deep (or at least offer the depth to players who want it).

A evidence that the casual gaming audience isn't put off by complexity, I offer quiz shows on TV. There are some shows with quite a convoluted set of rules, that still manage to be popular (enough that comedians are writing sketches about them).

Then it hit me - with the rise in interactive services, TV on demand, and IPTV, it would be possible for production companies to record ten minute "tutorial" programmes for quiz shows. A brief run through each round, telling you the rules and what the hell is going on, that you can watch before you waste half an hour with a confused look on your face. At the very least it might me understand what the hell is going on in Deal or No Deal.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Confessions of a games developer.

Not, as you might expect, an update detailing all of the times that I've been merrily scripting away at work, then accidentally slipped, had my trousers fall off, and land on top of a naked lady - with hilarious consequences.

No, this is the start of my list of slightly embarrassing or otherwise unpopular opinions about games. I've mentioned some of these in passing in previous updates, so if they seem familiar, that might be why. Or because I'm trying to ride the cool hate train.

(Please don't hate me.)

  1. I got bored of Half-Life 2 over and over again. Each section had its own game-play element (a vehicle, some team-mates, or a unique weapon for example), which made it feel new and fresh when you started. But each section also went on far too long, to the point that I was completely bored of that element long before I got to the next bit.

  2. I don't like Metroid games. Having to wander about and backtrack each time I'm given new equipment, in the hope of stumbling across where I'm meant to be going next doesn't appeal to me. I like my free-roaming games to have some direction.

  3. I didn't like System Shock 2. It's set in the future, but the weapons fall apart after a couple of shots. Combined with re-spawning enemies it just felt like a very artificial way of trying to make sure I was on the back-foot all the time.

  4. I thought Deus Ex's story was terrible. Generic tinfoil hattery told by generic sci-fi badasses. And at the end of it all, it meant nothing - you could change the outcome in any way you liked in the final mission.

  5. I found Shadow of the Colossus boring. I didn't get emotionally attached to it at all. Really, those big bumbling fucks were asking for it, they were stood between me and my girl. And I didn't find long rides through barren landscapes to be entertaining.

  6. I may never play Okami past the opening section. I had a go of a colleague's copy at work, skipping as fast as I could through the intro sequence. 21 minutes of unskippable cut-scene before I reach the first save point? Holy shit, what on earth were they thinking? Any game that requires me to draw a circle using the PS2's god-awful analogue sticks in order to progress is just going to annoy.

  7. I liked the King Kong game quite a lot. It wasn't awesome or anything, but I felt it had quite a nice sense of scale, and mixed first person shooter with the survival horror feeling of not having enough ammo for the situation you're in. The Kong bits where shit, though.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Retro schmetro.

I'm not really a big fan of retro gaming. Partly it's because of the scene - everyone who's really in to it seems to be a bit of a moron, preaching on about how 3d games ruined everything and how old games were a lot more fun. Partly it's because I'm an unapologetic graphics whore, and so many retro games look like pap these days. And partly it's because most of the fondly-remembered games I've gone back to have turned out to be rubbish.

Now, this usually raises the heckles of a dedicated retro gamer. "How can that be? Surely if a game used to be fun, then it should still be fun today?"

My off-the cuff answer tends to be that, once upon a time I found the shiny square on Baby's First Activity Center to be pretty entertaining, but I've moved on now (okay, you dragged it out of me - I was 26).

If they don't get put off by my flippant response and keep asking, I'll go for something along the lines of the following...

What usually makes a game fun to me is mainly the interactivity, but also the combination of that with the audiovisuals (graphics whore, remember?).

I might have enjoyed an olden days game (calling them that tends to annoy retro people too) years ago because, although the gameplay was fairly weak, I found the AVs really impressive. Those games I wouldn't find fun any more, because their flashy crutch is rubbish by today's standards. Something like Resident Evil would fit into this line-up.

On the other end, I might have found a retro game great because of its at-the-time unheard of interactivity and scope. Unfortunately the genre that particular game sits in has moved on now to provide much more finely tuned or expansive experiences, making the game feel shallow or clunky in comparison. I would put all of the Tomb Raiders up to Legends here (how on earth did they manage to keep that going all of those years?).

There's some cross over between these two categories as well, wherein both the ground-breaking interaction, and awesome AVs have dated badly. Hello, Carmageddon!

The thing is, I have to point out at about this time that I don't think all old games are shit, or look like steaming dog mess. There are plenty of old games that are still fun. Some because their AVs haven't dated so heavily (for someone who turns their nose up at retro, you might be surprised to know I have a couple of books on pixel art - done well it's timeless). And some still feel as well-tuned and deep as their current genre-mates (or moreso, but "LOL dumbing down" is a different kettle of gamer morons).

But if Xbox Live Arcade, Wii's Virtual Console, and Sony's eDist (though I'm led to believe this isn't full of Digital Eclipse shovelware. Yet) should have taught you anything, it's that old games aren't all as much fun as they used to be. And they certainly aren't worth paying £2 for (two pounds?!? I remember when all of the new releases were two pounds, not like games these days costing forty quid. Sorry, what did you say about Street Fighter 2 on the SNES, I wasn't listening? etc. Fade to black).

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Is there anything wrong with the PSP?

An interesting article on Gamasutra, asking this question of a few of the industry's top people (that last bit was sarcasm by the way, I've never heard of any of them or their companies, but I'm sure they are all very important people - they must be good since for the most part I agree with them).

I find it interesting anyway, since I've spent a fair bit of time with Sony's handheld, and done my own haphazard research into what people do and don't like about it. Most of the points raised in the article I agree with, but this is one I often see brought up.

the market is showing that you must develop a game specifically for the portable platform and not just repurpose console [i.e. PS1] games
It's just not really true. The biggest selling games on the PSP are, for want of a better phrase, 'repurposed' console games (crueler people would say ports, but those people are talking out of their arses). What Konami released a Metal Gear game that was pitched towards being a handheld title, the fans went mental, demanding a 'proper' Metal Gear game be released (which it was, in the end).

A lot of the detractors don't really seem to grasp that there are more uses for a handheld console than just when you're on the move. Most people only have one television in their living room, and quite a few spend a lot of time away from home for work. These people (or at least the ones that play games) would like to play exactly the same games as they do on their PS2 when they're at home (or when their partner isn't using the TV to watch Soapstars Dancing on Ice).

So what do I think about the PSP? I honestly think it's a great piece of kit. The UMD drive was a bit of a misstep, since it's the seek time that causes most of the bad loading times for which the PSP is infamous (though I'm not sure what else they could have done - even now it would be crazy to make a download-only handheld, let alone a couple of years ago, and cartridges would be very expensive if you're going to fit a whole UMD's worth of stuff on). I think it would be nice if the games were a bit cheaper (no matter how much work goes into a title, in people's minds it's still "only a handheld game", so by definition not worth as much as console software). And I wish Sony would get their arses into gear with the online store so that I can download PS1 games without a PS3.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Games I wish someone would do a new version of ... Knights of the Sky

Next on the GIWSWDANVO list is this fantastic flight sim by Microprose.

To me, flight sims are kind of boring. I point the blame more at the advances of modern aviation than at the developers, though. Autopilots mean that you can point and click at a destination and expect the plane to get you there without any nasty mountains getting in the way. Even when you want to fly yourself the plane still has enough brains to not let you do anything terribly stupid - after all, they cost a fortune, so it's in everyone's interests that you don't just nosedive into the floor. And things like heat seeking missiles that can pick out a target, shoot off, and destroy it, all long before your puny human eyes have worked out that there's a slightly darker bit in those clouds over there, take the fun out of dog fights.

Which is why historical flight sims should be great (let's forget about Blazing Angels for now, because it was bobbins). Fun dogfighting, planes that are glorified biscuit tins, held together by string, and (this is the most important part) masses of Biggles-style atmosphere.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Kameo (360)

Continuing my need to mine the back catalogue of 360 titles while I'm waiting for something cool and new to come out (especially since MS won't confirm Mass Effect's date), I got myself a copy of Kameo.

I think Kameo was one of the first 360 games I ever played - in the demo machine at a popular high-street electrical retailer. Looking back with what I know now, I can tell it was the first level, where the game pretty much throws you in at the deep end, with a selection of characters and a horde of trolls to fight. I thought it was awful and it helped reaffirm my thoughts that I didn't really need or want a 360 for five months. They probably could have picked a better demo game, to be fair.

After I got my 360 another demo became available, showing a wider range of the game-play available, and I warmed to it. The fairy forest place seemed more interesting, and the horseback fights against huge numbers of trolls suggested a nice variety of things to do. So now that it's on the greatest hits, or platinum, or whatever the budget re-release thing is called, I thought I'd give it a go.

The graphics are nice, but in a strange and over-detailed way. It's kind of like the difference between modern Disney cartoons that go for a stylised look, and Sword in the Stone, where they were clearly showing off how detailed they could make animated movies. I don't think the art style really works that well - it feels like it doesn't really know what it wants to be. It's a shame - I get the feeling they were pushed in this direction as an attempt to show off what the new hardware is capable of.

The other very noticeable thing is that the guy who wrote their particle system must have been the toast of the art department. There isn't a single location that isn't swimming in glowing dust or billowing clouds, and it makes some of the areas more difficult to navigate than they should be (and also a fair bit uglier).

The character designs are a bit of a let-down too. Generic-looking elves and trolls are the staple, but the "elemental warriors" that the game revolves around are also a fairly uninspired bunch. I think the problem here is that there are ten of them, and each has roughly one unique ability that level progression and puzzles might use. And since there are only 5 elements (fire, water, earth, ice, and plants) you get two characters for each (I actually had to check this just now, since I'd forgotten some of the warriors I'd unlocked - that's how memorable they are). Why not just make 5 warriors, making each of them twice as useful and more unique? It'd cut down on the "rescue X from the shadow troll" battle repetition too.

The controls aren't too bad - combat moves are all on the shoulder buttons, which makes them easy to access no matter what you're doing (though usually it will be fighting, since that's what the majority of the game is about) - though often your character will decide to 'lock on' to an enemy you're actually running away from, which makes you character judder as they try and point one way, and you try and get them to go the exact opposite direction.

My main gripe is that they were obviously quite proud of their spherical collision physics. There are a lot of puzzles in the game that are based around you pushing a globe-shaped object around, and two (I think) of the characters you can be travel using balls. Since these sections rely entirely on the physics engine they suffer the same quirks as any physics-based games do - sometimes you can have the right idea, but will fail just because there isn't enough "give" in the event. So after failing a few times with that approach, you'll think you're doing it wrong, and try something else. It can be very frustrating.

Overall I'd have a hard time recommending Kameo to anyone who wasn't a) quite hungry for a platform adventure type game, or b) a bit bored. It's cheap, and not just in the cost department.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Arcade round-up (360)

Yeah yeah, I know almost all of my updates that are actually about games are for the 360. Look, when they start releasing a steady stream of things I want to play on other consoles, I'll write about those too, okay?

Anyway, quite a few new things have been plopping out onto Live Arcade recently, so I thought I'd do a quick round-up of what I think about them (if you don't care then I really don't really understand why you would still be reading this blog).

Worms: I can't believe that 13 years after they first released a Worms game, they still haven't fixed the AI. It basically picks between "fearsomely accurate, can fire against the wind across the whole map and still land the shot perfectly" and "completely ineffective, shooting off the edge of the screen". How about calculating the great shot, then messing it up a little? That at least would look more believable.

Alien Hominid: Punishingly difficult, but very nice looking, shoot 'em up. Personally I find the gameplay awful, but then I was never really in to the Metal Slug games either. I'm a wuss when it comes to hard games.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: It turns out that without the rose-tinted specs, this is a really plain, boring beat 'em up. I recently discovered the same thing about the Golden Axe games, but they at least had magic and things to ride in order to offer some variation. What's the point in having co-op in something if the players never have to interact?

Assault Heroes: A good shoot 'em up, but the levels go on for so long that I ended up getting bored and deliberately lost on the second level.

Castlevania: Not getting into console games until later in life (when I had the money to buy them, since they were far too expensive for my parents to let me buy, quite sensibly in retrospect) means that I'd never really come into contact with any of these games before. I'd read about them, but the combination of Metroid-ish platform exploration and RPG stat increases sounded a bit ... well shit, really (I'll also confess here that I'm not a big Metroid fan either. At some point I should start a list of games that I don't like, but I'm always a bit afraid of it coming across as trying too hard to be edgy and cool). Anyway, I played the demo of this, and it seemed quite nice, so I may well give it a go if I run out of other stuff to play. I mean, what other Arcade platform game could I play - Cloning Clyde? No.

Jetpac Refuelled: Played the demo, thought it was pretty boring.


So, to summarise - Hexic is still the best game on Live Arcade.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Good news!

The awful Datel Trash Talk is not selling well, despite being available at half price. Thank fuck for that.

This is not an April Fool's joke, this is genuine cause for a sigh of relief.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lies, PS3, and statistics.

I'm in two minds about this update. On the one hand, oh dear god no, not another blog post about the bloody PS3. On the other hand, what on earth is going on with developers these days?

Everybody seems to have gone mad, dismounting their usual aloof high-horses to join in with the general internet mudslinging that invariably happens around new console launches.

I'm sure that there are a number of people whose livelihoods depend on a certain console or other doing well, but for the majority it'll just be a case of business as usual - only on a different platform.

I particularly dislike the cynicism around the European PS3 launch - after Chart Track (who I very much hope wouldn't fudge the numbers, since that's pretty much their only line of business, so being discredited would be quite a blow) announced that the PS3 had sold a very healthy number of machines, lot of tinfoil hats have been put on. Apparently having a lot of machines in stock so that people can actually walk in to a shop and buy a console if they want to is a bad thing - it's better for them to still be as rare as rocking horse shit 5 months after launch.

Oh well, hopefully it'll all calm down again soon enough.

(I've actually held on to this update for a few days now, since after I wrote it I found out that Magical Wasteland had just updated with one very similar. But then I thought 'screw it, I need the content' and posted it anyway.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fahrenheit (Xbox)

I'd heard Very Good Things about this, so I borrowed a copy off a colleague, since it's on the 360 backwards compatibility list. And now I wish I'd never bothered, since it firmly sits in the camp of "games that everyone else seems to love but I can't get on with at all, but people will probably only think I'm saying I don't like it to be edgy and cool about games".

First, the good: It's got nice animation, and generally looks nice enough, in a slightly cartoony style. And the story seemed like it might be good.

Then, the bad. A much bigger list, as almost everything about the game's mechanics annoyed me, to the point that I gave up when I hit my first 'game over' about an hour in.

The worst thing by far was the dodgy camera-relative controls that didn't update when the camera moved, and updated immediately when the camera cut - exactly the opposite of the way camera relative controls should work.

It has quick-time event games where you have to press the analogue sticks in certain directions. The graphic for this looks exactly like the coloured indicators of a "Simon" game. Since they'd deliberately chosen that look, I'd foolishly concluded that the game must work like "Simon" - it would show me a sequence, then I would copy it. No, you have to do the sequence at the same time. The HUD element is just pointlessly misleading.

Another 'action' element it features is timed events - sometimes in locations that the player character knows, but the player doesn't. It's my first time in "my" flat, so I have no idea where the bathroom is, where my character usually puts his keys, or what the furniture layout is like - but the game wants me to search for my misplaced apartment keys without any clues as to where they might be.

The game features a sanity bar that seems to work slightly like health - if it empties completely then it's game over, I'm told. Except that totally arbitrary interactions cause the meter to drop, so you have to guess which things are important to the game, and steer clear of everything else, since looking at something as innocent as a photo in your apartment causes him to drop closer to madness. If the picture's that depressing why the bloody hell does he have it next to his computer in his bedroom?

My final gripe is that both of the police characters have different skill sets. Usually not a bad thing, except this game's idea of skill sets is things like "the man can flush toilets, while the woman can inspect holes". So you have to search each location twice, in case there's some odd interaction that only one or the other can complete.

Still, I'm sure if it doesn't infuriate you at every step, it could be quite good. It's certainly the first time I've ever felt myself thinking "I wish I could just read this game as a book and not have to put up with the tiresome game part of it".

(Incidentally, I've been on holiday for a few days, which is why there's been a lack of posts. I wonder what exciting games-related news I've missed...)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gun (360)

Another one that should probably go in the "if you haven't played it by now, you probably have no interest in it" bin. Except I hadn't played it until the other day.

The lazy synopsis is "GTA in the wild west" - ie it's got a free-roaming world, a series of story missions, and a bunch of side activities that you can do for fun and profit. Except in the west, which is nice, since I think there should be more western themed games - it's a cool setting, and people nonchalantly killing each other with revolvers over a minor slight is much cooler than shooting aliens with space machine guns.

The controls are a bit weirdly mapped in places, which means that general shooty-game functions like reloading or crouching aren't anywhere near where you would expect. They seem to have done this so that controls needed in both on-foot and riding schemes don't move between modes - which is a very good idea - but I can't help but think there could have been a more natural mapping.

The horses are very nice, which is pretty important since you use and see them a lot. You have more direct control over your steed than in Shadow of the Colossus, and it still animates smoothly and moves pretty much how you would expect of a horse. So a definite thumbs up to the horse team.

The graphics are okay - it's pretty in places, but definitely "last gen" pretty - you can tell it's an early port. The time-cycle is a bit odd too, and almost feels added as an afterthought. The game has no real concept of time, it's just that some levels are set at night, some at dawn or dusk, and most are midday - which is incredibly jarring when you accept a mission and suddenly time skips about. If they could have got it to cycle constantly it could well have given the game some spectacular views.

As well as the nicely told story missions, you get a helping of side activities too, of the "go here within a time-limit", or "kill these people" type. They have little story-lines running through each activity, which is nice since it gives you a real feel of progression, and the levels unlock as you go through the story, so you can't just hammer through them all in one go.

I also really like that it gives you a quick brief of the mission, and then asks if you want to take it, so if it turns out the next one sounds boring, you can put it off. Your character gains skills from completing these, but it's very gradual so I never noticed any increases in ability. It would have been better to have more discrete advances, as in Crackdown, to give you a better sense of the character advancing.

I'll take a brief moment here to soap-box a bit: Texas hold 'em mini-games are probably the laziest content you can put in a game. Seriously, unless you're actually making a card or casino game, just don't bother. For a start there are better poker engines than yours, so people who want to play poker will most likely play those (and probably be winning actual money from it, too). And what of those poor players who find themselves crawling through boring hand after boring hand, playing characters who make incredibly suspect decisions and don't seem to have any memory, unsure as to why they need to play cards in order to complete the guns-n-horses action game they bought? They will hate you, that's what.

Similar to (but even moreso than) Crackdown, though, this is a game that could do with end-game content. I can understand certain side-missions, like the pony express, having an 'end', but surely the deputy will always have some trouble makers to pacify? Once you complete the missions there is literally nothing to do except ride around and shoot the occasional bandits who attack you.

Anyway, you can almost certainly get it dirt cheap now, so if you like open-world games it's well worth it. I hope they're making a sequel.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Odds and ends

I've been a bit of busy game-playing beaver recently, so I have a few things to write about a few games - but not really enough to make a whole update out of each. So here we go with a bit of a selection box...

I finally slogged through to the finish of Call of Duty 3. I say "slogged" since by the end of this I was just bored. It didn't help that the second-to-last mission felt like a much bigger climax than the finale (which has too many places where you can stand and take a breather, and is almost Scooby Doo corridor in its "you chase the Germans this way, then they chase you back that way" location reuse), or that so many of the levels look and feel identical. I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but I'm firmly in the "make it small & sweet" camp of game length - overall I'd say I enjoyed King Kong more than CoD3 simply because each section finished before I started to tire of it.

Actually, I could even say that I enjoyed King Kong more than Half-Life 2 in this respect, but if I published that I think I might get lynched by angry people.

Anyway, I think I'm done with this series in its current form - I never expected to get into a couple of 2nd world war shooters, but unless they come up with something a bit special for the next one I'll give it a miss. I'm not entirely sure what that "something special" would be - maybe flying sections instead of the tank bits, I'm not convinced.

I'm also done with Crackdown, at least until the downloadable content turns up. And hopefully while I'm playing that I'll stumble across the 16 hidden orbs that I have left to find - whoever decided that 500 hidden items across the city was a nice number needs to be hit around their ADHD head (or possibly already has been).

I think Crackdown would also benefit from some cheap end-game content. Fair enough, you can switch the gangs back on, but it's unfocused and you need to form your own fun. It would be easy to make randomly generating encounters to move the player around and give them definite goals.

And finally for this update, I started (and have pretty much stopped) playing Fight Night 3 in the last week. On the one hand, it's good fun, and the controls and graphics both help it feel incredibly visceral. On the other hand, it's insanely repetitive - fights can usually be won with the same tactic, and the career mode consists of just train - fight - train - fight. It would have been nice to have a say in sponsorship deals, pre and post-match interviews to psych-out your opponent, or even just to be able to customise your ring entry routine a little.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More guff from the BBC

The holy grail for game makers is to use ray-tracing to depict scenes far more realistically
I wish they'd stop putting rubbish like this in their news stories about games. Still, I bet by the time you read this they'll have changed the caption for the ray-traced Spider Mastermind so it doesn't say it's from Quake.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A solution to the problem of games piracy

Immediate press release to all game publishers: The 'as old as the industry' problem of games priacy has been solved by the no-nonsense, clear-headed thinking of Craig, from Hampshire.

He writes:

I dont condone donwloading pirate game as they are too expensive to buy.
At the moment an average cost of a PC game is £29.99 and £39.99 for a Xbox 360 game.
If you took the PC price and multiplied it by an average amount of people that buy the game (say 3 million) thats a total of £89 million pounds.
Out of that £89m you have to take out overheads, maufacturing costs and other things but i would still stay they made a profit of £50-60m I know that the companies have to make a profit to be able to make better and more interesting games but why should it be at the cost of the public.
If they lowered the price of buying a game to say £10-15 then surely in the long run more people will buy it and in doing so profits would increase.
So, there you have it - quarter the prices of games, and you will sell over four times the amount (that would be 12 million per title, given our current average).

While we're at it, we should probably let the rest of the business world know that making a profit from consumers isn't really on. Hopefully sometime soon Craig will let us know where the money for our wages is allowed to come from.

(If you're bored, I recommend reading more of the comments published with that article. You don't want to miss gems like "The internet is so vast hackers can literally go underground if they so wished!")

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You know what Xbox Live is really missing?

Datel does.

The clever folks in their research and development department have spent hours analysing the millions of Xbox Live players, observing their habits, and listening to their voice communications. They then ran this mountain of data through a very complicated computing machine (probably one so advance that they had to ask Dave Perry to help show them how to even plug it in).

This calculating behemoth then spat out the specifications for this monstrous hunk of cheap plastic.

I introduce to you, the Datel Trash Talk, a device specifically created to more easily facilitate your being the most annoying player on Xbox Live at any given moment. My reaction to stumbling across that product page was pretty much an "the end of Planet of the Apes" type moment.

Why not slip in a soundbite from your favourite film or TV show, to activate during the game?
If you have to even ask that question, you'll never really understand the pain you have caused, you phenomenal cretins. God damn you all to hell.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Games I wish someone would do a new version of ... Syndicate

Number 2 in the series that regular readers are already calling GIWSWDANVO.

It would be lovely if someone took a look at doing a 'homage' to Bullfrog's two Syndicate games (moreso the first than the second, but then the fun of nuclear handgrenades and destructible scenery shouldn't be overlooked).

It seems to me that these days you could do the series spectacular justice. Large detailed blocks of cities, groups of agents from rival companies, destructible buildings and scenery, high-tech weaponry. Think of Mercenaries, but with more focus and with four player characters. And co-op. Yes please.

Friday, March 09, 2007

"It's like GTA, only with more stuff in it."

This follows on a bit from a previous update.

Now, as you might have read on the extensive bio to the right there, I'm a designer, so I'm looking at this purely from a design perspective - maybe things are very different in other disciplines - and I've interviewed a fair number of people (enough that I've forgotten how many it is, but let's say that two dozen would be a conservative guess).

Candidates who've been through 'game' degrees (design, programming, whatever) almost always have the weakest grasp of what modern games are doing, and what is reasonable.

The most memorable example was a wildly ambitious project that would need mountains of assets, that due to its branching structure most players would never see, and wrapped tightly around a single licensed IP. This particular candidate had achieved good results in their course, and actually received special reward for their design, despite it being suicide for any studio that decided to create it. Why are video game design courses, at the very least not educating people about the pitfalls and realities of professional development?

The answer is that they (the lecturers) don't realise that's what we (the developers) want people (the potential employees) to know.

Many development studios are trying to remedy this situation now by working more closely with the universities that offer these courses. Blitz Games now even hold annual open days to allow students to see what working in 'the trenches' is like.

So hopefully the situation will get better, not worse. And we did give that guy a job - he was talented enough, and we figured he'd soon learn the errors of his ways. Time will tell.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Two Dave Perry posts in a row!

Over on gamesindustry.biz, the famed celebrity developer is asked how he thinks consoles should be in the future...

"One thing I wanted to do was to have consoles scaleable based on what you can afford. You start with great, you don't start with sh*t - then if I want to spend $1000 on my Xbox, I should be able to do that, to add more memory, make it run faster, do whatever I want to customise my machine."
This is amazing stuff - just to think that at some point far in the distant mists of time, companies will create the kind of upgradable personal computing machine that Dave has dared to imagine here. I'm not quite the visionary he is though, so I can only wonder at what such a device might look like.

I hope he says something incredibly mockable tomorrow so that I can continue to build my combo score.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

This will not end well.

Dave "Not the Games Animal one" Perry has apparently created the largest game development studio in the world, with a whopping 20,000 professional, enthusiastic, and talented staff. Or maybe he's just collected e-mail addresses on the internet, but I think that's much less likely than the first option.

Using the tried-and-tested "infinite monkeys" theory Perry plans to create a jaw-dropping, World of Warcraft-beating masterpiece. And certainly not just "WoW, but with like, planes and cars, and dinosaurs, and ninjas, and pirates, and it'll be awesome".

The 1998 PC game Half Life spawned an entire industry when fans created a modified (mod) version of the title, called Counter Strike.
I now realise that my games history is incredibly shaky, since I was aways under the impression that CounterStrike had essentially been created by two talented and driven people, whereas apparently it was the result of some kind of horrific forums-and-media circus.
A professional team of artists, programmers, designers, and audio staff will build the MMO but the creative impetus will come from the users.
Sucks to be the paid designers in that little group. What the hell do you know about finely tuned weapon balance, you schmuck? WoW_is_gay_309 has just posted a poll on the forums and 573 people agree with him that "the M16A2 rifle is, like, way underpowered, in real life it does more damage", so get it sorted to his satisfaction - or you're not going home this weekend.
"accepting that the combined intelligence of all these people is far beyond your own."
I almost agreed with this, then I remembered he was talking about MMO players. Still, even with all my negativity, it's good to see that they are entirely confident in what they're doing, safe in the knowledge that out of their expected 100,000 developers they will definitely get a lot of good ideas. I mean, it's not even as if they've got a back-up plan, in the (obviously extremely unlikely) chance that all of the submissions they get are utter fanboy toss of the highest order.
But he also said there was a back-up plan in place, if the contributions from gamers prove disappointing." If they deliver zero, we can still ship a title," he said.
Oh. Never mind.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Richard Joseph dies aged 53

Bit of sad news - this guy wrote some fantastic music. I think The Chaos Engine has probably one of my favourite game soundtracks ever, and his work with Sensible was just great.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Live Free or Work Hard

I recently read an article on Nintendo.com about getting into the games industry. The main point seemed to be that you have to be clever, and you also have to work very hard, and consequently you won't have time to play any games.

Is that really such a good idea? If you go to a design job interview an can't talk about the good and bad points of recent games, and all of your cool new ideas have already been done half a year ago, you're not going to come across at your best.

I'm always amazed (in a bad way) by how many people in games development don't play games regularly. I've often come across the opinion that playing games is for QA and designers - but surely it's an advantage for artists and programmers to look at what the rest of the industry is up to as well? How can you hope to make a competitive product if you don't know what you're competing against?


As a bit of a footnote, I also take exception to the last line of the article: "But if it’s truly what you love, putting in the hours will be easy." Which sounds dangerously close to the 'you should accept crunch and overtime as an integral part of games development' myth that's so very damaging to the industry, and that a lot of developers are trying hard to stamp out.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Clunk, click, vroom, smash.

Not content with causing all of the world's murders and wars, it seems that games are now the cause of bad driving.

I can believe this "indisputable link" based on the evidence presented in the article, though - I mean, Road Rash on the Megadrive is pretty realistic by today's standards, you know? I can't help but think the 'Games Animal' Dave Perry would have been a better source to quote, though. If anybody knows about slightly mental people playing games, it'll be him.

edit: Ok, it seems the BBC have "got with the times" and updated the article. When I wrote this update, it was a Megadrive controller in that picture, not a CUNTNUC one. I didn't just pull that Road Rash thing out of nowhere, honest!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Zoë Balls, more like.

Just when I was wondering what to post about today, someone bails me out by doing something terribly mockable. Thanks, Kuju - oh, sorry Zoë Mode.

Seriously, what the hell?

Her personality represents the kind of consumers we're targeting, and to some extent the type of people that work at the studio
So you've done this because her personality is your target audience? Oh, hang on...

Everything about Zoë Mode as a personality is the real true essence of what the studio is.
You've done it because the dev studio staff have the same interests as a young girl?

We're saying we're about making games for people like this
Now you're back to "she's the target audience"? Which is it (probably better to step away from the "we like the same things as young girls do" line, it sounds rather creepy)? I hope this takes off, I would like to see more game studios and production companies named after an imaginary target audience member.

Tomorrow's update - Epic Games renamed as "Butch McMuscles".