Wednesday, December 30, 2009

You want to play now? Too bad

Yes I know this is a picture of the Xbox title update but I couldn't find any PS3 title update pictures online and I'm too lazy to go and take a picture myself
Why do game updates on PS3 take so long?

We're having some friends over on New year's day, so I popped in Buzz and Singstar to make sure they were updated and could just be played straight away if the mood takes us.

There have been two updates for Buzz, weighing in at 345MB and 51MB. What the hell, almost 400MB of updates to a quiz game? On my 2Mb broadband connection (not the broadest for sure, but we take what we can get out in the country) this takes half an hour, during which the PS3 is out of action (no background downloading of title updates, unlike the iPhone).

When a game update is available for the 360 it generally takes 30 seconds or so to download and patch, before launching me back in to the game.

Come on Sony, sort it out.

And can any readers tell me what on earth is in these enormous updates? It can't all be code, so what other stuff am I getting?

Oh well, DJ Hero has arrived now so we might just play that instead.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bored-er Lands?

Borderlands: Ass and mutant dog things.
Ok, that may be an over exaggeration, but after an hour or so of play it's really not grabbed me like I expected.

I liked:

The HUD elements being introduced by name and moving in to place as they are "installed" was a very neat way of telling you what was what in a fairly seamless manner.

The graphic style is very nice in motion.

The intro and character introductions are nicely done.

I don't like:

The robot with the annoying voice saying "I'm over here" all the time.

Not having the shop and RPG elements explained to me properly. Surely you don't expect me to read a manual in this day and age? Eurgh.

The early quests all being really boring "run here and shoot five of these" type things, followed by backtracking to the start.

I will keep pressing on though. Enough people I trust have told me it's great that I feel it'll grab me eventually. I just wonder if it will be one of those games like Fallout 3 that I end up ploughing hours in to and get a bit OCD with, but still never really feels like it clicks.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Tasty Treat

Wait a minute, this isn't the right picture for this article.
At this festive and celebratory time, my thoughts always naturally turn towards rich, delicious food, and a little more good drink than is good for me.

Which reminded me of a special treat I was sent this year - Mountain Dew World of Warcraft Gamefuel. Except for the "delicious" part, but then we're getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Apparently Pepsi often make special editions of their sugary liquid, and since my blog is read by gamers (and it would seem at least one of the Mountain Dew marketing team) I was offered some free bottles in return for saying nice things about it.

This was very much a conundrum - with a fledgling blog, do I sell out early, or wait until I have a more sizeable readership and sell out later for bigger bucks? I opted for a middle road, choosing to accept the swag in return for an article about it. And here is that article.

For those not in the "know", there are two factions in World of Warcraft and for ease of identification they are coloured blue and red. Hence two versions of Mtn Dew (that's the accepted shorthand, says Wikipedia).

First I tried the blue one: "Dew with a Punch of Wild Fruit Flavor" sounds delicious (after all who wouldn't like a punch in the mouth?). The description helps to persuade you to drink it, even though your brain is screaming that pouring what looks like antifreeze into your mouth is Not A Good Idea.

My brain may have been right - a couple of gulps had the not entirely pleasant side effect of making my mouth numb. After drinking a third of the bottle I felt dizzy and had a headache, which I put down to the chemicals and sugar coursing through my veins. I started to wonder if this was what a superhero would feel like after drinking their perfectly safe chemical concoction, and shortly before their powers first manifested.

Overall I would describe the taste as being a bit like someone had crushed up a roll of Barratt's refreshers and mixed the resulting powder into a can of 7 Up.

It's worth noting at this point that the dizzying blue version only contains 25 percent of my daily allowance of sugar per bottle, as opposed to the red mixture's 26%. With this knowledge I decide to wait until the next day to try the second variety.

After an uncomfortable and restless night's sleep (and a morning where I awoke with no noticeable superpowers, to some disappointment) I crack open the second bottle at work the next day.

"Dew with a Blast of Citrus Cherry Flavor" provokes many of the same physical symptoms as the blue bottle had, though curiously no worse. Obviously after tipping over the magical 25% sugary threshold an extra one percent isn't going to cause any extra fuss. Either that or my heart had already started to grow immune.

This second variety tastes like eating an entire packet of Haribo Starmix in one mouthful. And I'm pretty sure that "Citrus Cherry" isn't even a proper flavour.

Once again I felt ill after having less than half a bottle. I'm clearly not cut out for a life of a hardcore gamer, surviving on my wits, network latency, and enough sugar to kill an elephant.

So I can conclude that Mountain Dew Gamefuel is delicious, and well worth purchasing. Unfortunately due to some clerical error the World of Warcraft editions will be well off the shelves by the time this update is published.

If anyone from Mountain Dew would like to send me some more freebies, I think I'll pass if it's all the same to you. Cheers,

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's been a quiet year

Torchlight by Runic Games
Well, a quiet year on this blog. Three months since the last post I think is something of a record for me.

For the most part this has been because of the time I've spent stateside this year for work. Although being so far from friends and family was very hard, I had a very interesting and productive time out there, and even managed to enjoy myself every now and then.

I also met some great, talented people, a learned a lot.

Once I got back home I wanted to do nothing else but spend some serious quality time with my family, and also catch up a bit of some of the games I missed this year.

Now I am mostly caught up, and with the new year approaching, I am intending to get back up to speed with a few personal projects - this blog included.

Of course I have said this before and nothing came of it, and I'm sure regular readers (the few of you who remain) remember my fickle nature - as an example of that, you see that post juts below this one? About the PSPGo being a bit silly? Yeah, guess who owns one of them now.

(And I was wrong, by the way, they are very nice sexy pieces of kit.)

Anyway, before Christmas I will leave you with this piece of advice - buy Torchlight from the Steam sale. It is really quite amazingly polished, runs brilliantly on my laptop, and it pretty engrossing. The guys at Runic Games deserve much reward for their effort.

Happy Christmas and all that, I hope you all get what you want.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Am I missing something here?

Sony's PSPGo
Ok, at the time of writing I can buy a white PSP 3000 base unit from for £129.99, and a 16Gb Memory Stick Pro Duo for £54.99.

Add them together, and you get the functionality of a PSPGo, but for £184.98. And how much does the PSPGo cost? £199.99


Actually, I wasn't being quite honest. You don't get the functionality of a PSPGo, but in a cheaper package. You get slightly more, as you can still play USB games.

I have a soft spot for the PSP, probably more than it deserves, but this just seems like crazy pricing to me. As a consumer I'm constantly walking the line between "more money than sense" and "just the right amount of money for my limited amount of sense", and am prone to splash out on upgraded toys on a whim (hey, I bought a DSi because my DS was broken cosmetically). But the DSi also offered more than the DS. Not much more, but still, it felt like an upgrade.

I don't even particularly object to having to rebuy my old games to download, as the pricing on the Playstation Store doesn't seem too far out of line (though as I write this I realise I may have crossed that money/sense divide again).

For the convenience of carrying around a good sized library of games, that load faster than before, and without the horrible UMD drive noises, that doesn't seem like too much of a burden. Especially when they are great games, like Rockstar's PSP back catalogue, for example. Ahem.

But overall I find it hard to get excited about the PSPGo, as I've not seen or heard any evidence of a real reason to consider it an upgrade.

Which is a shame to me. And I guess, possibly Sony.

Monday, September 28, 2009

When "The Future" bites you in the ass

Valve's Steam
Today I found out that I can't purchase things on Steam while I'm not in my home country.

As I've mentioned a few times in the past, I'm currently working in the US for an extended period, and it suddenly struck me that there were things on Steam that would actually run and play quite well on this rickety old laptop I have with me.

I put in my billing address. It gets confused - I don't seem to be in that country (I hadn't noticed, myself). It wants me to enter my current country. Ok. It's not happy them either.

I need to verify my current country, apparently. I have verified it, that's definitely the country I'm in right now. It's just not the same one as for my billing address.

Oh well. I gave up and go back to playing some stuff on my DSi and PSP, the online stores for both of which work fine when you're abroad.

I guess there's just going to be no Loom and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis for me this weekend :(

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wikki wikki wi wild

Tom Nook's cold dead eyes. He just sees you as profit and loss.
Fuck you, Tom Nook.

So, having recently finished Professor Layton's Diabolical Box, I had an urge to buy another DS game, and start getting some serious time out of that DSi I bought and then never used.

Browsing the isles of the (curiously Atlantis themed) Fry's near where I'm staying, I came across Animal Crossing, which had two things going for it. First, I'd been meaning to pick up a copy for ages, since I'd only heard good things about it. And second, it was meant to contain hours and hours of gameplay, which is good if you live by yourself in a hotel room.

First impressions (and that's all I can give since I've actually only played a couple of hours on it) were disappointing.

I'd heard this was a great "casual" game, but to me the tutorial was pretty half-arsed and confusing. It started with a really long conversation where you get to enter all kind of details about what sort of village I wanted to live in. Once I actually got control found it didn't really tell me what to do in a lot of places.

I was soon introduced to the criminal Tom Nook. He seems to make his living from forcing mortgages upon new residents, and then enslaving them until they pay the money back.

That's right, the game begins with me having a mortgage, and having to run deliveries back and forward across the town in a minimal wage job. Anyone who says games are about living a fantasy has obviously not played Animal Crossing.

In general though the graphic style is nice, and I like the way the world rotates away behind you. Everything looks a bit ropey in movement, though. It feels like it's not entirely comfortable in its 3d shoes, and would be better suited to some more detailed sprites instead.

The whole thing also feels a little bit flakey in a way I wasn't expecting: Missing animation frames for example (movement using the stylus is analogue, but using the direction pad reveals it has no tweening on direction changes); The cursor pops around the place a lot of the time; the UI is a horrible clash of colours and thrown together icons, and feels half finsihed (possible even worse than the one in Viva Pinata), which is saying something.

Anyway, two hours in and I still haven't hit the "game" of the game. Which I guess shows that my second reason for buying it is probably true. But the opening has been so bad it's put me off a little bit.

I also probably doesn't help that my DSi is set to UK time when I am living eight hours behind that. I did notice the post-tutorial flow seems to fall on its arse if Tom's shop is shut due to the game thinking it's 3am.

Maybe more Animal Crossing-ery later...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Professor Layton chasing after a small boy
One benefit I've found to living in the US (as I currently do) is that when companies decide to be all weird about release dates, and encourage people to pirate their games by releasing them months later in the UK, I can get them at the earlier date.

And so it came to be that I have already played through and finished Professor Layton's Diabolical Box, before it's hit the shelves of the UK (oh, and Ghostbusters on the Xbox as well).

Although of course, UK buyers will never see this on the shelves of Game, they'll get "Pandora's Box" instead. In a rare case for name changery, it turns out the US name makes more sense, since the box in question is the Elyssian Box, and is indeed quite diabolical by reputation. This Pandora lady doesn't figure in to it at all.

I do wonder if they're deliberately giving these things slightly suggestive names, though. I bet the Prof loves Pandora's Box (or maybe not, given that he spends all of his time in the company of a young boy. And at least this game makes some jokes around that, with some characters questioning the motives of such a pairing).

Anyway, on to the game. Like the first, it's a point and click adventure, only with bizarre logic puzzles shoehorned in, rather than inventory manipulation and conversation choices. It has far less reliance of repeated puzzles than the first (which I seem to remember had a massive number of sliding block, chess, and matchstick puzzles, of which this only has a few), which makes it feel much more fresh throughout.

It does retain most of the other downsides of the previous game, though. In particular I noticed a couple of puzzles with trick answers that could be very annoying if you didn't realise, and also some puzzles that could have had "trick" answers but thegame expects the straight ones. The combination of the two together in the same game makes for some haphzard guessing, as does the slightly ambiguous wording of some puzzles (they really should have the top screen puzzle explanations scrollable, so they can fit in more than a page of text).

There was also one puzzle that, even after seeing what the game thought the answer was, I couldn't work out for the life of me. It's the one with the twelve portraits where you have to remove all of the women (the Prof and Luke don't like having women around, I think). If you're able to give me a proper explanation of how it works me email address is just on the right, there.

The side collectibles are interesting: collecting camera parts and slotting them into the right places to fix the camera unlocks a "spot the difference" mode on some scenes, which in turn unlocks further puzzles; Hamster toys are used for creating a good exercise course for a fat hamster, who eventually points out hints for you; finally tea making is the weakest side activity (though thematically the strongest link to the good Prof) as it was never really that clear what sort of tea to brew for a character, and you couldn't just try again straight away like in most of the game.

Story-wise there was a lot of intrigue, but in the end just didn't hang together as well as the Bi-Curious Village. Once again they managed to come up with a way of explaining the puzzle-fascination of the people in the game, though this time their cleverness only covers two thirds of the population. Basically there's a small village somewhere north of London entirely populated by mentally ill Riddler types.

As far as characters go it was a mixed bag. A few returning characters, one of whom had a pretty funny introduction, though there were some that I had honestly forgotten the significance of (I guess that's what comes of releasing the games two or three years apart in the west). A few very memorable new characters, and a whole boat load of forgettables (including almost everyone in the game's main location). Though I did like the inclusion of a show girl who keeps inviting Luke in for an eyeful.

Design wise another thing that annoyed me quite a lot was the massive long ending sequence (which included credits, and then a post-credits scene) where I couldn't save. Since my DSi was showing red battery, I was quite nervous to try and get through this, but bizarrely you can't skip or fast forward the credits at all. Let me save during this shit, it's a portable system.

So overall - if you're a fan of the first, this is not quite as good, but still very enjoyable, and stands out against most of the stuff on the DS. And if you#ve never played the first, get that one instead.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Another month bites the dust

Jade Raymond's lovely smile and deep brown eyes that you could get lost in
I've just realised I've got over a donzen draft articles that I haven't yet had the time to polish up and publish.

Honestly, I've been playing more games and writing about them than the month long inactivity of this blog would suggest. I will get around to posting thoughts on Ghostbusters, Shadow Complex, Monkey Island, and more very soon.

Look, here's a picture of Jade Raymond to keep the masses happy. She's just been promoted, if you didn't know, and according to a bunch of oddballs on self-proclaimed industry voice* The Chaos Engine, this is a terrible and/or very suspicious thing. A pretty girl who's good at her job, whoever heard of such a jape?

Anyway, that's enough baiting from me for the time being.

* Read "bunch of two dozen regulars who like to argue with each other, while eleven hundred lurkers hang around to see if their company gets a mention or some really juicy gossip gets accidentally spilled"

Sunday, August 09, 2009

What's wrong with the games industry today?

Eurgh, look at those big ugly pixels. It makes me sick.
This is what's wrong with the games industry today.

Why bother talking about the actual content of a game or demo, when you can nit-pick minutiae of frame rate, resolution, and pixels that no player will ever notice in practice?

That way, you can encourage both pointless system fanboyism that never gets anybody anywhere, and a worthless race for slight graphical superiority that also never gets anybody anywhere.

And while everybody's worrying about this shit, and spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on wages so that their game will be imperceptibly better looking, we can all just hope that enough staff are left over to make sure everything else that's meant to be in the game makes it.

I'm a self-confessed graphics whore, but really this has got to stop.

Oh, and go out and buy Batman: Arkham Asylum when it comes out at the end of the month. If the demo is anything to go by, it is a really good game. With some nice graphics.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bitch stole ma skull

Look, it's not dead! I've just been very busy, as usual. It turns out working in America for months really gets in the way of writing stupid things about videogames.

Anyway, I have found some time to play a few things, so here are some short reviews.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a fairly decent hack n slash that could really have done with more variation in environments and enemies. And fewer puzzles. Who buys a Wolverine game for puzzles about teleporters and power cells? And why does the futuristic weapon X facility only have enough power cells to power half of the things in it at once?

I started off thinking that Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena was as good as I remembered, but then quickly realised it wasn't. If you were a fan of Butcher Bay a few years back, I don't recommend picking this up unless you want Vin Diesel to stomp on your rose tinted glasses.

The level design is patchy, the action sections are trudging and monotonous (with some horrible repeating sound effects), and the generic badass dialogue and delivery gets annoying after about 5 minutes. The Dark Athena bit is not nearly as well put together as Butcher Bay, either.

Prototype is pretty much the definition of a 7/10 game for me. It's sort of pretty, with sort of good presentation, sort of fun combat, and sort of fun movement.

But the more I play it, the more it annoys me: every mission seems to go on long past the point where it is fun, and generally seem to end up with repeating the same action over and over, waiting for a bar to fill up or an arbitrary number of enemies to die; the protagonist is a complete emo arse; the enemy AI is stupid to the point of making a nonsense of the stealth mechanics; there are some very odd control mappings; selecting which of your powers to use doesn't pause or slow down the game, so you really need to have chosen which power to use before an encounter starts; the "hold one button to traverse anything" system felt nice at first, but then I realised it had removed any sense of achievement for scaling a tall building, or getting across the city; and the map is often quite useless, with targets being shown somewhere inside a block, but with no alleyways being visible, so you can't tell where the way in is.

I like the web of intrigue and the upgrade progression though.

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand surprised me by genuinely being a very good arcade shooter. Okay, so you have to either a) look past the gangsta rubbish, b) enjoy it in a tongue in cheek fashion, or c) enjoy it in a genuine "they know how we roll, but still they frontin' on us" way.

It doesn't do anything terribly original, but every feature that is in there (and there are quite a lot of elements to the game) is well implemented and nothing feels horribly out of place or useless.

It's surprisingly long as well - I thought I'd reached the end (I reached a boss fight with a helicopter, after about 6 hours of play and killing everyone who had been involved in the stealing of ma(sic) skull), but looking on the internet it turns out that I'm only half way through, and more skull stealers are about to come out of the wood work in their helicopters (every boss fight in this game involves a helicopter, oddly).

Probably the game I have enjoyed most out of the four in this post (I am halfway between b and c, if you were wondering).

Obviously the question on everyone's minds right now, though, is whether I will remember to update my blog again in the future. Tune in next week to find out the answer (most probably no).

Monday, March 09, 2009

You're not the boss of me

Viking: Battle for Asgard
I've recently been playing through Creative Assembly's Viking: Battle for Asgard. It's an open-world brawler, and I've generally thought it was quite a decent game - a solid 70%er. It had a few too many flaws to be a classic, but generally was a fun way to pass the time.

After this afternoon though, I'll have nothing but bad memories of it. I've just spent an hour trying to beat the final boss, and have eventually given up in frustration.

Things that I hate about the final boss in Viking, in no particular order, are:

  • It offers nothing new to experience (at least, the bit I gave up on doesn't). No new enemy types, no new weapons or effects. It is entirely unspectacular in any way.

  • It swarms me with tough enemies, who respawn whenever I've whittled their numbers down.

  • It traps me in a series of small locations, surrounded by walls of health-sapping fire. Have I mentioned that the camera doesn't cope well in confined spaces yet?

  • It forces me to survive for an arbitrary amount of time before it will let me into the next identical area. If you miss the opportunity to move on (perhaps you're being attacked by respawning enemies, for example) then you have to wait (and fight) until the next window. My record, at the point of giving up, was to reach three of the four quadrants.
It is possible that I'm missing something about the combat system, or the layout of the fight in general. This is quite likely, since the game never really gives you any kind of proper combat tutorial, aside from briefly checking you're physically able to perform the button press combinations required for each new move.

So yes, it is quite likely that I have managed to not pick up on a finer point of the system, that would allow me to defeat the boss. Though, if that does prove to be the case, that will be rather poor - making a game that an average player can bumble through by blind luck without understanding what they should be doing, only to fall at the last hurdle.

And just while I'm on a roll about the combat system in Viking, I will mention something else (though again, maybe I'm missing something here). It's a game that prides itself on combat in numbers, and rarely will you be fighting a solitary enemy. But the enemies, their attack sets, and their AI, can combine in such a way that attacks from a few enemies will land in a row, while you're in a knockback state that stops you blocking. By random chance, it's entirely possible to lose more than half of your health to three mid-range enemies, through what appears to be no fault of your own.

I'm of the school of thought that holds boss battles to be an antiquity of the arcade days - a way of artificially forcing players to pump more money into a machine, that requires minimal effort on the part of the creator.

In a modern game, if you absolutely must have a final boss (and I understand that a lot of games have stories that would feel incomplete without a climactic showdown), then I think they should be fairly easy to overcome. The player has bested your entire game (including the final level, which I can entirely agree with making more difficult than the rest of the game) - allow them this final victory, and allow them closure on your story.

The design team on Viking has decided that, as wafer thin as its story is, I shouldn't be able to see what happens at the end. Effectively they've pressed STOP on the DVD, when I only had 5 minutes of a 10 hour movie left to watch.

And because I fell at the final hurdle (and I know it's the final one, I checked a FAQ to see if it could offer any tips), I'll not bother ever playing the game again. I don't want to experience another half hour of frustration, just to get a brief cutscene.

Bye, Viking, it was (kind of) fun playing you.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Games Reviewed in Ten Words - F.E.A.R. 2

FEAR 2 Project Origin Bored Looking Man
Not quite as good. Still fun though. Shut up Cortana.

(Thanks Shallow for the suggestion.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Not Some Experimental Indie-Darling

Indie-ish darling Juno
James Parker is a games writer and former colleague who I've briefly mentioned before. His blog is always good reading, and I thought this recent article was particularly interesting. Here's a chunk...

You can't go anywhere on the internet where they are talking about game stories without some enthusiastic comment poster presenting their incredible and unique vision of the future where games provide a truly interactive storytelling experience. "Not just branching plotlines", they continue, "but genuine non-linear storytelling!" and the world is rocked to its very core!

But I would argue that there already exists a genre that presents exactly the kind of non-linear storytelling that their visionary eye can predict, and not only that, but that it has done so for a number of years, although it isn't necessarily the first place you’d look – it’s not some experimental indie-darling, it's not a text-based adventure from a veteran of the industry...
Go and read the full article to see which game he's talking about.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Games and games and games and games

Viking Battle for Asgard
I've got nothing specific to write about this week, so I've gone for the tried and tested route of rambling half-coherently about a bunch of games that I have been playing.

First up is Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise. Two years and three days ago I wrote about the interface to Viva Pinata. I played the first game a lot (980 points, gamerscore fans!) and though I'd got used to the annoyances (the loading delays, the odd pauses, the haphazard layout) I couldn't understand how they had made it into the finished game.

I also thought it was fairly obvious where the weaknesses were, so for a sequel it should have been quite an easy job to fix. It's not like there's a lot else different, so some staff could spend the full development time making it, if not a joy to use, at least not a chore.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the crap interface is back. There are some minor improvements (some shortcutting to the seed menu, for example), but they are far outweighed by the sheer stupidity of one addition.

Question: how do you take the horribly unintuitive, complicated, slow interface from Viva Pinata, and make it worse?

Answer: by adding randomly flashing elements that serve no purpose but to confuse people.

I'm not even kidding. Watch this Youtube video, and skip to around the 30 second mark. Can you see the little coloured tabs with symbols on that are flipping in and out around the dialogue box? That happens all over the place, and it's horribly distracting and confusing. Especially during the tutorials, where the game is trying to bring your attention to something else, and there are randomly blinking elements animating all over the place.

Speaking of the tutorial, they've got that wrong again too. It's entirely overwhelming (keep in mind I played the first game a huge amount two years ago, and I was lost following it) because the game runs normally in the background. So while it's slowly trying to take you through things step by step, it's constantly being interrupted by cutscenes to show new Pinata arriving, or messages about you levelling up, or something else that doesn't matter at all at the time, but that the game can't help itself but pop in your face.

Not only is it distracting, but it's a lesson in false cause and effect. Did the new Pinata arrive because of what I was just doing, or because of some other random occurrence? You end up battling to work out what elements are a direct consequence of your most recent action, and which just coincidentally fired off at the exact time you did what the tutorial was telling you.

And then once the fairly short tutorial has finished, you're just left on your own. No gentle diminishing of the hand holding. It's just there, leading you through each step, then suddenly not there at all.

I feel slightly ashamed that I'm this baffled by a game that's aimed at a younger audience. Are my synapses really past it?

Anyway, that's enough Pinata bashing. I doubt I'll bother to fire it up again.

The other game that's been getting a lot of play time is Viking: Battle for Asgard. It's a you-vs-insurmountable-odds hack n slash, where you spend the majority of the time wandering around the huge open maps hunting out trapped vikings.

The demon forces of Hel have captured them all you see (most are in cages, but some are just tied to sticks), so you need to free them in order to build an army big enough to trigger the level's climactic assault on a demon stronghold.

Though it's mostly a button basher, there's some strategy to be had - you can pick off some enemies with stealth attacks, if you hide along their patrol route, and most enemy camps have multiple ways in. Though you can always just Rambo it through the front door if you're a double hard viking bastard. Throwing axes and molotov-style fire pots add another level of options as you progress, too.

Not many people I know have picked this up, but I'd definitely recommend it. It's pretty, it's gory, it's fairly non-strenuous. How Eurogamer thought it only justified a 5/10 I'll never work out.

Some other quick thoughts on some demos I've played:

Killzone 2 - Doesn't set the world on fire with ingenuity, but it's a solid shooter. Annoyingly short demo. Will pick up the full game.

FEAR 2 - Predictable "scares", fuzzy controls, doesn't seem to be much different from the original that I found painfully dull. Pass.

HAWX - I'm pretty sure being able to see what direction I'm flying in is quite important when you're in control of a jet plane. The cinematic mode camera is very far out too, giving you boring shots of two very small planes against a big blue background.

Halo Wars - Eventually someone's bound to stumble upon the magic control set that makes RTS games work on consoles. I'm sure this will be good if you're one of the odd people who think Halo has a gripping and interesting back story.

PS - This is the first post I've written entirely on my new laptop (a Dell Studio 17). I like it a lot. Their courier company (Walsh Western) leaves a lot to be desired though, as do the Dell customer support who blatantly lied to me on the phone.

PPS - Also starting to see "the point" in Twitter. It turns out a version of Facebook that just has status updates is what I wanted. Starting to filter out the people who I'd initially followed but who I don't really want to read about, and adding more people who are interesting.

PPPS - It's good to see a lot of positive press about our last game when it hit the NY Comic Con too. People saying nice things about 25 months of your hard work is very gratifying.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Tomb Raiding Prince of Persia

Over the past couple of months I've been playing both the new Prince of Persia game by Ubisoft, and also Tomb Raider underworld by Crystal Dynamics. The two games are very similar, both recent takes on the 3d platforming genre. But which one is better? There's only one way to find out, as Harry Hill would say ... fight!

Tomb Raider doesn't look bad (you can almost feel the spray from some of the ocean bits), but the settings are fairly generic, and the art style is the same as ever. But it's clearly an early lead for Prince of Persia here. In motion the game looks lovely, but when you stand still it is just gorgeous.

Underworld continues the tale from Tomb Raider Legend, with Lara still searching for her mum, while being set back by the white haired Amanda. It's no epic, but it does its job of carrying you around the various world locations. PoP's story is something about an ancient evil being unleashed, and a magical princess who must defeat it. I don't think either game scores points in this category.

Thankfully TR keeps interaction with anyone who isn't Lara to a minimum, the extended cast of Legends either dropped or kept very much to the sidelines. They seem to have decided that Lara is now the sort of person who will not only fill endangered wildlife full of lead, but will also happily kick priceless ancient vases to pieces, in search of whatever trinkets she can find.

PoP, unfortunately, forces you to spend the entire duration of the game in the company of two unlikable forgetables. The prince is some generic thief with a heart - basically Disney's Aladdin. The princess is ... actually, aside from glowing blue, I can't remember anything in particular about her.

Tomb Raider gets a point, by a whisker.

Both games set out to do different things here. PoP's idea is to take the motion of free running, and make it easy to pull off. You spot a point you want to get to, and with a series of simple button presses and some visually impressive acrobatics, you'll be there in a few moments.

Underworld gives Lara a similarly accomplished set of moves, but they're performed more deliberately, and with less speed. The paths through levels are much less obvious (though just as linear once you get going), and the result is a game where you spend a lot more time working out your route.

To me, TR's approach is much better. I felt a sense of achievement after working my way through a section, as if I was exploring it, instead of just passing through.

Combat in Tomb Raider: Hold down lock-on button; hold down fire button; jump about to avoid being hit; wait for enemy to die. Combat in Prince of Persia: Hold down block button; follow on-screen button prompts; wait for enemy to die. No points awarded either way.

Anything Else?
Tomb Raider has a nice series of difficulty setting options, and also has a nice in-game hint system. You can get a hint about either your general goal at the time ("I need to get that door open"), or the specific task ("I should try the switch over by the door").

PoP has some utterly hateful yellow "special move" pads that make me think of turning the game off every time I have to use one.

The Ronseal Test
Tomb Raider Underworld - You raid some tombs, and explore the underworld of Norse legend. Prince of Persia - He's not a prince in this one, and it isn't set in Persia. Pretty conclusive, that.

To sum up, if you're after a 3d platforming game to play, get Tomb Raider. If you want someone else to play while you watch something pretty, get Prince of Persia.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Social Whirlwind

For anyone that's interested, I've joined Twitter, and the minutiae of my day can be read (or how about experienced?) at

At the moment I'm struggling to see the point in a version of what seems to be a Facebook that only has status updates on it, but I'm expecting that eventually a breakthrough will occur and it'll all become clear as day.

On the plus side, there are a lot of other games industry people on there (you can find a lot of them through the listings on Game Industry Tweet). And a fair amount of them seem to post more interesting or funny tweets* than me.

* Why do all new social networking things insist on inventing their own stupid terminology that makes you sound like a fool?

Monday, February 02, 2009

It's my game and I'll cheat if I want to

About a week ago, EA announced that there would be some downloadable content for Skate 2 that, if bought, would unlock everything in the game.

This seemed to kick up quite a fuss online, with the usual cries that EA were ruining everything.

Personally, I don't really see what the problem is with this DLC.

Now, just to make clear - this isn't unlocking stuff that without the DLC is unobtainable. This is unlocking the things that anyone with enough time and skill could get on their own.

From a game design point of view - if a player wants to unlock everything from the start, that's up to them. Usually games use unlockable content as a series of carrots to lead you through a game, but honestly, if a game needs that to keep players interested then it has serious problems anyway. And from everything I've heard Skate 2 is a good enough game anyway. Players having the best weapon, all available outfits, or the fastest skateboard at the start of the game shouldn't break your game design. At worst it should unbalance it, but anything more serious is a cock-up on your part.

From a business point of view the DLC obviously makes a lot of sense, getting some extra money for little extra work.

From a customer point of view, I can see it's a little muddier. But plenty of games, both contemporary and retro, contain no cheats at all to unlock all of the content. Saints Row 2, for example, has a wealth of missions, weapons, upgrades, and clothes. But no cheat code to unlock them all. So someone who has bought that game will be required to play for however many hours to access all of the content.

The thing is, what if they don't have the time? Why should a player who has a lot of spare time or skill get access to more of a game, when they have paid the same amount for it?

In short, what is wrong with money rich, time poor, players accessing the whole game?

PS - I have eventually buckled, and bought a copy of Left 4 Dead that wasn't in a sale. So if, like me, you were waiting, it'll probably turn up in a 2 for £20 offer any day now. If you already have a copy though, hit me up when I'm on Live, and I'll play at shooting zombies with you. If you weren't even thinking about buying it - why the hell not? It is very good indeed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

They said "Captain", I said "What?"

Just a quick update to recommend an interesting article. Eurogamer has posted a postmortem by Jon Hare (ex-Sensible Software boss) on Sex 'n' Drugs 'n' Rock 'n' Roll.

It's a good read, mainly because you don't often get this kind of article on totally dead titles, and the postmortems I have read tend to be a little too much on the "there were a few minor issues, but it was generally all rosey and we pulled it off because are great" side for my liking.

Since I can't think of a developer I know who doesn't have at least one canned title in their past, there really should be more of this sort of thing, though I can understand that currently operating studios might not want to draw attention to their failures.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I forgot to put an update in my last post about how I got on with wading through the mass of things I wanted to consume while on holiday. I know it's not terribly interesting for most people, but what is a blog good for if not me writing about things that I like? And if you're not that bothered you probably wouldn't be reading my half-arsed ramblings anyway.

I got through most of the books in was intending to read: Bye Bye Balham, which is a collection of a few months' worth of Richard Herring's Warming Up, and is very funny, and also strangely reassuring (the book contains notes made during its compilation, so with five years' worth of hindsight); The Dunwich Horror and Other Stories. The works of Lovecraft are one of those things that I've heard referenced a lot in design circles, but never got around to dipping in to, and I'm glad that I have now, because it was very good; Instructions for Living Someone Else's Life, which is probably now my second favourite Mil Millington book, and though it was funny it also made me think about people's perspectives on life.

I also re-started Design of Everything Things. I find the book very dry, and combined with the dated nature of a number of examples, it becomes a slog. In the end I think I have given up, again. At around the same point I did the first time, judging by the overturned corners. I guess a beachy paradise island just isn't the place to read about how doors are stupidly designed.

What I did find funny was that afterwards I was playing PicPic on the DS (sorry, I've just noticed that this simple puzzle game is selling for £47 on's marketplace. Professor Layton - the first one, for any inter-continental readers, since someone's dragging their feet at releasing them over here - was in a similar situation just before Christmas, are companies vastly under-rating now many carts they need to burn?) and it's clear the designers haven't thought about the interface much at all.

For example, in the Magipix game (sort of like Minesweeper in that you mark squares one of two colours depending on the value of an adjacent tile), there is no way of telling which face button will turn a tile each colour, you have to use trial and error. This is down to the colours being laid out horizontally on the touch screen (when using the stylus controls, you tap the colour you want to change your pen to), which don't map to the control pad at all. Would it really have been hard to find the space to lay out the colours in a cross formation? Probably not, it just wasn't thought about. Even after a few hours of playing, I was still finding that I had to pause and think about which button mapped to which colour, due entirely to this poor design.

Another interface problem that struck me was that the three games contained in PicPic use different controls for similar features - to delete a placed link in one game you have to place the cursor over the number, and hold the 'paint' button down. Whereas in another game to empty a square you press a 'clear' face button. And the controls for moving your cursor to a different point in the maze game seem entirely random.

Oh yes, it uses a horrible font for the numbers in the games, too.

Since getting back from holiday I've been thoroughly immersing myself in the grey bleakness of the non-tropical world by watching Saw and Saw 2. I am truly ahead of the curve when it comes to movies (though, and sorry to keep banging on about my holiday, but ... actually I'm not, on the plane home the Jason Statham "Death Race" remake was on the in flight entertainment. I was going to atch it, but it was preceded by a message saying that it had been edited for content, and I figured that in a movie called Death Race, the only bits I would really be interested in watching are going to be the ones that would be cut. So I almost watched a fairly recent movie).

Back to Saw... I'd seen the 3rd one which made very little sense to me, and thought I should catch up on the first two, which were meant to be better. The first one was, but the second has a bit too much of the psychic serial killer thing going on, where the actions of half a dozen unstable individuals would have to have been predicated accuractely for the outcome to turn out how Jigsaw wanted.

Anyway, after watching them I was thinking that the series would fit pretty well into a video game. A torture porn version of Professor Layton, where you have to solve puzzles and work out solutions to traps within a time limit or people die. I think it would have legs (unlike probably half of the people in the game by the time it was over). And they're clearly willing to bend and whore the IP a little bit - I mean, who doesn't watch a horror movie and think "wow, what I'd really like to do is ride a roller coaster based entirely around this?".

PS - I just saw the trailer video for Section 8, which looks incredibly generic, but this line did make me laugh "Section 8 are elite shock troops, top-grade insertion specialists". I mean, if you're going to specialise in insertion, I guess focussing on top-grade makes sense.

PPS - It was my birthday recently and amongst the presents, I got pretty much the entire new Lego Pirate range. That's where the banner picture comes from. Lego is ace, and anyone who says a grown man shouldn't be playing with it is just a stinkyface who should bum right off. Sorry if the post title and picture led you to think this was going to be another fascinating industry rant about piracy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fallout over Battlefront

Bah, why is it so cold and grey and miserable in the UK, when it is so warm and sunny and happy in other bits of the world?

Just before I went on holiday I completed Fallout 3, I just didn't have time to scrawl down some of my thoughts about it. Be aware that the next three paragraphs have some fairly major spoilers, if you've not got that far yourself...

I felt that the story had and ending that was pretty much a cop out, which tried hard to be dramatic and meaningful but didn't really turn out that way. The build up in the Citadel was good, and watching the robot being activated felt like something big was happening. The problem with the next section was that, although following the robot as it effortlessly carved its way towards the water purifier was cool, it gave me nothing to do but tag along. I had spent the game amassing a collection of decent guns, including fully repairing a nuclear missile launcher, but the robot had it all covered, leaving me to use my arsenal only when I got inside, and had to take on a handful of grunts, of the type I had obliterated many times before. It felt kind of pointless.

I also think the game let itself down once I reached the final dialogue section, and had to make "the choice". Stood there, I had a companion with me who could survive major levels of radiation radiation (in fact, this had been a major point in a quest earlier), but who suddenly got all philosophical about destinies - to the point that they were willing to force one of two people to die. Given that the companion had gone to great lengths to help me, and also prove how human they still were inside, this didn't fit right at all. And also made them come across as a completely petty arsehole.

Anyway, my character didn't die in the end. Which sort of highlights another problem with forcing life or death choices on a player in big sandbox story games - trying to force the player to interact with one specific character for enough play time proportionally so that the character feels important enough to save. My choice was either I die (me, who I had spent 80 hours in the company of at this point), or some woman who I had barely ever spoken to (I had maybe scraped an hour's interaction with her, since I found her to be a bit aloof) died. Which is no choice at all in the dog-eat-dog world of Fallout. I would have had more internal conflict if I'd been forced to pick between myself and the chirpy supply woman from Megaton (though I guess depending on your choices she could have been immune to radiation too). So it was quite nnoying that I couldn't keep playing. I guess they would have needed too much extra dialogue - pretty much everyone in the game world would have been affected by the change brought about by the end of the story. Though I seem to remember reading somewhere that one of the downloadable content packs will change the end of game story, to allow players to continue.

End of major story spoilers, if you've bothered to scan over them.

Overall, my favourite bits of Fallout were the non-story scenarios I stumbled on. For example, finding a village with three houses. The first two had very chipper families living there. Their chirpiness was suspicious, as was the nagging feeling that in a world of mutants, raiders and other beasties, these wholesome guys shouldn't have survived so long. An old man resided in the third house, who warned me to get out of town as fast as I could, and to look in the shed behind one of the other houses if I wanted more information. It turns out the town is populated by inbred cannibals who kill and eat everyone who ever visits. I managed to talk them out of killing me by pretending to have the same tastes as they did, but accidentally let slip that the old man had warned me. The families say they're going to have to stop him from meddling, and then start to walk towards his house. I spring into action and at point blank range pump shotgun shells into the backs of their heads. It seemed like the right thing to do to save the old man.

Though thinking back, I've now left two children and a defenseless old man living out there in the wilderness, so they're probably pretty fucked anyway.

The situation at Free Radical has led to some footage being leaked of their version of Star Wars Battlefront 3 (which has now been moved by Lucasarts to Rebellion, who did the PSP versions of the previous Battlefront titles). I'm not going to link to the footage here for fear of upsetting someone, but a Google search should probably do you right, it seems to have been posted in a few places now.

I found it interesting, not because it showed anything spectacular, but because it looked exactly how I would expect a next-gen (current gen? I get so confused) version of the Battlefront games to look. Which makes me wonder how it has taken so long to develop? Now, I have no idea how long FRD were working on it, maybe Lucasarts dragged their heels in commissioning the game, but this would seem strange to me too. The previous Battlefront games were hugely popular titles on Live (looking at the most recent figures posted by Major Nelson, it's the second most played original Xbox title, even now), so I would have expected the third version to be green lit pretty much as soon as 360 and PS3 kits were available, to give a couple of years development, and have the sure-fire hit title on shelves just as the consoles are maturing a little.

But apparently not. Anyway, if a decent Battlefront game gets released at some point, I'll buy it. I did love the first two on my Xbox.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Little Big Planet

Sorry, I mean LittleBigPlanet of course. A game that Sony wants to be cool, so it isn't allowed to have a normal name.

I haven't spent a huge amount of time with LBP. Unfortunately for it, or me, it came out when I was still very much obsessed with Fable 2. And like that game, I think "charming" is the key djective - I really can't imagine describing LBP without using that word. Everything about the game drips character, and the whole thing is incredibly well polished.

My short time with it was not long after release, and the user created levels were still a little ropey for the most part, with a few gems. I'm hoping that by the time I get around to spending more time with it the community will have had enough experience with the tool set to have created more worlds that match the pre-packaged ones.

Still, any game where you can stick a horse's tail to your friend's forehead can't be all bad, right?

Monday, January 12, 2009

On holiday

I'll make no attempt to hide that this post has been written in advance and then scheduled to publish today. The reason for this pre-record (as I'm told they call it in radio and TV circles, and I figured that if I start comparing the games industry to radio - instead of movies - I might be at the forefront of some exciting new stupid internet arguments this year) is because I'm on holiday.

Which means that as you're reading this I should be spending some proper time with the DS games I've bought but haven't got around to looking at beyond the tutorial levels - in particular PicPic and Soul Bubbles. Though it all kind of depends on whether my DS manages to survive the beach, since about six months go the little plastic ratchet things that keep the lid open at certain angles snapped off. Now I have a floppy DS.

So I might not be playing much DS. Being away from the gaming comforts of home (if you imagine that I won't have my iPod Touch with me either, though I'm not sure what the score is with chargers where we're going, and playing games on that eats the battery faster than a PSP) will be good in other ways though. I will hopefully get around to reading some books I've had on a pile next to my bed for ages (the Design of Everyday Things, Richard Herrin's Bye Bye Balham, and Charlie Brooker's Dawn of the Dumb).

And finally I can try out a new gadget, which is always good. I bought myself a waterproof digital camera. So hopefully I should come back with some ace pictures of fish from my snorkelling.

Non-holiday stuff I have been up to recently...

I finished Gears of War 2. Even at the end it left me with the feeling that yes, it was all very exciting, but it was still very bitty, with each section having its own special new rule or element that you have to pay attention to. It also seemed to focus quite a bit on vehicle sections that I thought were rubbish for the most part, and downright confusing in sections. It wouldn't surprise me if, even though it feels like a longer game than the first Gears, it turned out that measured section for section, there is less time spent doing the core "in cover, shooting enemies" gameplay that I bought it for. Really nice blood effects at the end of the second act, though.

And finally, for this update, I watched the Hitman movie (based off the IO Interactive game series, if you didn't know). Timothy Olyphant wasn't vey good at all in the lead role, he looked far too young and his voice was just odd - for half of his "menacing" lines he sounded like his voice would crack and he was about to cry. The love interest angle seemed very out of place too.

47's bodycount in the movie is also surprisingly high, which doesn't really fit with the intention of the games that you should be able to finish each level by only killing the target and leaving other people with a headache at worst. But after thinking about it I realised that the film matched what tends to happen when I play Hitman - a disguise eventually fails, and from that point on I have to shoot my way in and out. Usually about five minutes into a level.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Falling out

Fallout 3
(To give a bit of background, this is a post I made to a message board when I was asked how I was finding Fallout 3. For something that's been pretty much roundly given the game of the year award, I thought it was interesting to look back on my early game experience - I think at this point I was around level 8, had just found Rivet City in the main quest, and had done a couple of side quests with my character, who was generally leaning towards good karma and small guns for combat. I've edited it to add more detail where I thought I was being too brief.)

I seem to spend a lot of time not managing to shoot things even in VATS (in fact, that seems to make my accuracy even worse a lot of the time, and I can't move while I'm shooting, so I often get mauled if there's more than one enemy), and running low on ammo and health (though I just got a perk that gives me more ammo, and I've started getting better weapons more reliably).

Having to carry around 5 of the same weapon so you can repair yours when it turns to dust in your hands is great fun. (At this stage I wasn't finding assault rifles regularly, so my hoarding instinct was kicking in.)

It's incredibly brown and grey. The entire main city bit is build like a fucking maze linked together by dull subways, so you can't just look at the map at a place you want to go, fast travel to the nearest place, and head straight there, because chances are the place you're heading to is in some stupid isolated pocket surrounded by unclimbable wrecked road.

Super mutants are shit. I wish it would fuck off with them. If you wanted to put orcs in your sci-fi game, just call them space orcs and be done with it. Same point can be made with the zombies, I'm feeling very let down by their reliance on staple fantasy enemies.

That perky bitch in Megaton who's writing a book is the only funny thing I've encountered so far. Megaton itself is a horrible maze of a place that I can get lost in, which might be atmospheric, but I find deeply annoying when I just want to find a specific person or building.

When VATS does let me make a good shot and I take a raider's head off with one bullet, that feels ace. Some of the dynamic camera stuff the targetting thing does is nice too.

The core of the whole thing is a very outdated RPG with pages of numbers that it never really explains to you (and I know I should expect to have to read the manual for a role playing game, but urgh I just, like, can't be bothered, you know?), and daft experience / levelling up that has no relation to what you've done in the game. I need "lockpicking" 50 before I can even attempt to pick some locks, and "science" 50 before I can attempt to crack the code of some computers (even though they both use the same mechanics as lower versions). Oblivion wasn't nearly as backwards thinking as this - I can only guess they did it to stop Fallout fans from killing them for making it more FPSish.

The main inventory / HUD thing uses a horrible font and colour and cramps everything into the middle of the screen for no good reason other than to fit with their explanation of the gadet in the game world. Although it doesn't fit because it makes no sense that a thing on my arm knows how many assault rifles I'm carrying, what "perks" I have, or how many luck points I have. So it would have just been nicer to use well designed and laid out menus that I could read more easily.

It will let you give things away to shop keepers for free without properly warning you that they can't afford to pay. When you do that, the shopkeeper doesn't even call you a sucker or make any comment afterwards.

So yeah, basically I'm not entirely sure how much fun I'm having with it, despite having logged around 13 hours (at least, since that doesn't count the reloaded save from when I started doing a side question then halfway through realised I was nowhere near leveled up enough for it, but was too low on health and ammo to fight my way back out past the giant scorpions again). I keep expecting for it to break into its stride and really wow me with something cool.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

iTouch myself

Why is it so hard to find a stock image of an iPod Touch without Macy Gray on it?
If you own an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you might be fooled into thinking there aren't many good games for it. The decent to crap ratio of games on the app store is frightenly low, and when adverts are heavily pushing the frame-rate impaired Crash Bandicoot Kart Racing (or whatever it's called, research has never been high on my list of editing priorities), it would be easy to think everything is rubbish.

To help you out, here are some that I like (with the store links, if I can work out how on earth to make that work).

TanZen (link is to the free Lite version). A simple puzzle game based around placing geometric shapes to fill in an outline. I had a non-computer version of this as a kid, which is probably why it appeals to me. The author keep spublishing updates with new puzzles in too, which is nice.

Enigmo Another puzzle game, in this one you have to direct the flow of liquids using a limited set of pieces.

Solebon (link is to the free version). Solitaire.Not a lot else to say really, though the presentation and controls are nice and slick. It would have been easy to go a bit mad and royally cock this up.

SPiN A fast paced puzzle game. You're given a 3d object, and an outline of that shape in a certain rotation. By using the intuitive touch screen controls, you have to rotate the shape to fit the outline before the timer runs out. Another game with really excellent presentation.

Hero of Sparta The simplest way of describing this is "God of War lite, on the iPhone". A great example of how the gadget is capable of more than just quick hit casual games.

Snail Mail Like the bonus stages from Sonic 2, only with tilt controls that actually work.