Things and Stuff
Dinosaurs make for great entertainment don't they? Try this for size. Theme Park with dinosaurs. I should just stop there because doesn't that sound awesome? Well how about if I threw in the official Jurassic Park licence with an island ripe for development and more dinos than you could shake a Spinosaurus at? Don't you just wish that such an amazing title existed? Well you'll never guess what, it only flaming does! It's called Jurassic Park Builder, it's on my Kindle Fire right now and best of all it's free! That's right, free.
Alarm bells should be ringing right about now because like my old dad used to say, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is and as you may have guessed there are cracks in this impossibly wonderful sounding state of affairs. Big, gaping crevasses that could swallow a herd of Brontosaurus with a couple of Parasaurolophus in the gaps for good measure. Yes, it's one of THOSE free games, the kind that involves no skill, has no true gameplay and is all about collecting stuff so that you can get more stuff to invest in getting even more stuff, a mindless exercise in waiting for a total to fill. Jurassic Park Builder is a shameless cash-in, the sort of cynical money-grabber that companies are flooding the market with in an attempt to get us to part with more money than we would do for a full title made by people that actually care. It's the sort of vacant, idiot-baiting window-dressing that is indicative of an industry that is creatively and morally bankrupt to the point of self-destruction. I think you can see where I am going with this, yes, I can't stop playing it!
Playing isn't even the right word either. There is no game there. All the stuff about watch towers to keep the carnivores away from the herbivores, electrical storms that can lead to escapes or visiting dignitaries that need to be kept safe is total guff. It makes Farmville look like spinning plates on a unicycle while doing long division on an abacus. It's just about slow and steady progression, the kind of trickle that CoD has perfected except with a Gallimimus instead of a gun. Deep down I know all this but even deeper down I know that there is an undeniable truth which takes me right back to the start. Dinosaurs make for great entertainment don't they?
He hatches today!
I finally got to the end of Season 1 and despite a few bumps on the road it was an amazing journey. There are certainly a few criticisms you could level at it and mechanically it can play pretty clunkily but the story of Lee Everett and how he deals with the zombie (sorry, walker) apocalypse is a powerful and moving one. I won't give any spoilers away but when I got to the end I had that drained but euphoric feeling you get after being totally absorbed by an amazing story.
It's great to have a game where characters and story are at the forefront but it still gives me that odd feeling that I have never played a game where gameplay and storytelling are actually one single entitiy. Games are excellent at setting a tone and giving you a sense of place and titles like Fallout 3 and Bioshock give us the feeling of a story with just the environment but would that be enough to carry a game entirely? It would have been interesting to see Bethesda ditch the main storyline quest and just give us a world to explore.
The Walking Dead falls into the other category and is story focussed to the point where gameplay elements can feel like an afterthought and can even detract from the game. Thankfully these moments are few and far between but they do serve to show how difficult it is to create gameplay to serve story. Either way there is one thing that I can be sure of and that's a definite interest in Season 2. Hopefully the success of the first season will give them plenty of time to really fine tune the sequel and I know that I will be very keen to see what they come up with.
Do you remember when there was all that fuss about always-online DRM? Companies like Ubisoft pushed it with their PC ports of Prince of Persia and Assassins Creed but nobody was worried. No big exclusives would bother with it surely? Then Diablo 3 was released and furious gamers reacted in force. The massive boycott that followed saw Blizzard taking a massive hit, having to can a World of Warcraft expansion that allegedly had cute kung fu pandas. As if that would have worked! Six months later they patched the game so that Diablo fans could finally purchase the game without having to worry about a constant internet connection and always-online DRM became a footnote in history next to 3D or virtual reality. Now if you don't mind I am off to play the excellent Sim City, have you seen it? Its enormous!
Wait, that's not how it happened.
A few days ago a Microsoft exec went on Twitter and made some insensitive comments surrounding the idea of always-online DRM and how we should all just deal with it. Personal reservations about how throwaway, brain-dead Twitter comments are given far more attention that they deserve aside (I am looking at you Joey Barton), this sort of press couldn't come at a worse time for Microsoft as Sony has been winning the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere by abandoning the always-online model, not blocking second hand games and embracing the indie market. However, the most frustrating part of Adam Orth's banal comments was that they represented, to some extent, the truth.
The fact is that most people ARE online all the time. What's the first thing you do when starting your new console for the first time? It's not playing a game, it's setting up a PSN or Xbox Live account. My consoles are online all the time and Microsoft know it. They know my gaming habits, they know what I buy, when I play, what I play, how long for and who with. In fact this month's Xbox Live Reward is for playing and buying Live Arcade titles. We are not just already dealing with it but actively embracing it! Games companies want us online all the time and will sneak it in the back door whenever they can. Surely though, this brazen move by MS is one step too far and as consumers we will exert the power of veto.
Well the track record says otherwise. When Diablo 3 came out we did just #dealwithit, we made sure that we would #dealwithit when EA insisted on Origin or when Blizzard pushed Battlenet and although we hated the idea that we needed to #dealwithit with Sim City we did that too. How is it that we are all happy to take to Facebook or Twitter or Gamespot or whatever digital mouthpiece to legitimately moan about all the unpleasant business practices that big companies engage in, but when it comes to the real opportunity to exert some power, the boycott, we don't. Despite all the big-boy claims that Blizzard or EA or whoever can go and do one, we still give them our cash. Its a model that not only works but one whose success we are all complicit in.
Microsoft have distanced themselves from, but not denied Adam Orth's comments and they now face an uphill PR battle. Although nothing has been confirmed, if they do announce that they are putting out an always-online console then there will be a lot of frustration but when it comes down to it are they really just using the stick when Sony are using the carrot? If you want to play Halo you have to get a Microsoft product. Want the full Journey experience? Then get a PS3 and then get online. In principle I hate the idea of always-online DRM but now I realise it is harder than ever to distance myself from it as I am already a part of it.
I know that I should be getting excited about the PS4, MGSV, Battlefield 4 and a host of other sexy new titles but instead I have decided to take a look back and get a couple of older games. Thanks to PSN I now have access to a digital library of PSOne and PS2 games and despite the best efforts of the PS3 and the PSN store to confuse and befuddle me (that's a whole other blog) I now have Front Mission 3 and Vagrant Story snoozing happily on my PS3.
All this is great but it means that I am without a manual and as one of the few weirdos that actually like having a manual (I also invert the y-axis too) diving into a pair of JRPGs can be a little intimidating. Thankfully help is at hand and I have found a handy website called replacementdocs that has loads of pdf versions of manuals for older games. Pretty useful for those of us who are going back and playing games from a few years ago.
I have been playing newer games too and finished Binary Domain on the weekend which was a lot of fun. It's one of those titles like Spec Ops: The Line that had no publicity, a dull demo and critical reception that was below 9 but is well worth buying. It certainly has it's weak spots (push past the dull start) but somehow it grows into something greater than the sum of it's parts. Plus it has cool mechs and if that doesnt get your motor running then there must be something wrong with you.
Look at the legs on that one!
You know when a game is good when it sticks in your mind after you put the controller down and Bioshock 2 has definitely fit that bill in the past few weeks. I have been watching gameplay, reading about it and even listening to the soundtrack to the first game when not actually playing it. When a developer (or writer or director) can create a world that feels so tangible and real that every character has a full biography you have to marvel at the work that has gone into it even before you take into account the artistic vision that creates such phenomenal visual design.
Well, it's all over now and while the Bioshock series has moved into the heavens my memories will still be beneath the ocean where vast buildings slowly decay and the mournful cries of Big Daddies fill the leaking and rusted corridors. A huge tomb to the dead dreams of Andrew Ryan. No gods or kings, only men.
Kickstarter is an amazing thing. It's as revolutionary as ebay was to selling in the way it brings people together, giving us the opportunity to connect directly with artists, inventors, filmmakers, musicians, board game designers, videogame designers, fashion designers and a whole host of creative people who just need that break. It cuts out the need for bank loans, home remortgages and uncomfortable Dragons Den style pitches where the whim of just a few people can decide whether someone's creative vision is fulfilled or abandoned. Instead it throws that vision out to the entire world and we choose collectively what we would like to see. A far more elegant and democratic process and one we can actually feel like a little part of.
It's not just the homebrew designers that are pitching either, elder statesmen from the videogame world are also asking for our support. Tim Schafer, Charles Cecil and David Braben have turned to the crowd-funding model and in an industry where recognised names are few and far between this is like seeing Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg or James Cameron abandon their big studio backers and turn to Joe Public instead. When Cliffy B blogged that the games industry was going to consist of either enormous blockbusters or smaller independents he must have had crowd-funding in mind, you may not like him but when that guy speaks you have to listen (although I get the impression that if you were in the room with him you would have no choice BUT to listen).
While I would love to see these big directors take on smaller projects (I have often heard stated that limitation encourages creativity) I can't get Prometheus, Warhorse and Avatar out my head, films that were as bloated and headless as washed-up corpses and this is where my worries about Kickstarter begins. Well-meaning gamers could walk away feeling burned when projects fail, or even worse, succeed badly.
Kickstarter are very open about the failure of projects and have a clear policy about what happens in these cases. The most straightforward is where a project fails to meet it's target in the allotted time frame. In this case pledges are not charged and the project ends. While this is a shame, I have heard that some game developers have considered this a blessing in disguise. If an idea is not good enough to excite the imaginations of the kickstarter community in it's most open and loose beginnings then it may need to be seriously reconsidered or even ditched.
How about when a project makes it's target but fails to meet it's own development deadlines and eventually tanks? Kickstarter state that in this case they have no liability and the project owners must refund all pledges. This makes sense but if all the money has been spent then what happens next? At the very best this may frustrate people about the Kickstarter ethos but at worst will we see lawsuits? Those that have pledged £5 to Elite: Dangerous might be a little peeved but hopefully happy to write it off in the spirit of adventure but those 6 backers that have pledged a whopping £5000 might be a little less laissez faire. There is also the potential for a game to simply be a terrible, unfinished mess. Just look at Aliens: Colonial Marines. This is especially the case when a project begins to fail.
Ultimately I can see the optimism about Kickstarter waning this year as projects falter or even fail. It happens, and this is where I hope gamers have been reading the Kickstarter FAQ. A pledge alone does not entitle you to any ownership of a project, it is no guarantee of quality or even results and it is certainly not a pre-order, it is a gamble. It's each person stating 'I believe in you' and becoming part of a small community of backers with a shared love of artistic vision. It's an opportunity to become a modest patron of the arts but not get carried away in thinking that in we are in any way going to receive anything good or even anything at all. Take the plunge in good faith but do it knowing that you are throwing caution to the wind.
Dust off your sleeping bag, raid that piggy bank and put your cat on ebay because the next gen is coming. Like a big overachieving head boy, Sony has landed an A+ in New Console Hype 101 and showed up Nintendo who, ironically, actually have a console available to buy. So while Nintendo sulks off to its room to listen to My Chemical Romance and ponder why nobody understands it, Sony are being fastracked to the frat house on the shoulders of glassy-eyed gamers.
Sony have yet to reveal a price point or even a solid release date but that hasn't stopped console fans from placing preorders despite the fact that the use of standard PC parts means that the risk of a shortage is lower than ever. When to buy a console is a tricky choice, too early and you risk exposing yourself to potential starter issues (RROD and 20GB models), too late and you can feel like you have missed the party.
Personally I will not be getting a PS4 day one and although I could give plenty of excuses about why not, the real reason is that I have a kind of weird guilt when parting with money luxury items. With that in mind I have adopted the 5 Game Rule of Console Ownership which states that there must be at least 5 system sellers before I shell out. For example, I bought a PS3 only a few months ago on the back of Uncharted, Killzone, Heavy Rain, Metal Gear Solid 4 and The Last Of Us. I should explain that sub rules dictate that a series only counts as one and The Last Of Us was permitted because I would still be finishing the other titles when it came out - I may have jumped the gun a bit there.
Are there any other 'wait and see' gamers out there? Or is everyone leaving me at the station?
Recently I have been searching for decent gaming podcasts to occupy my brain during quieter moments at work and after initially struggling I have found a few that are well worth a listen.
Naturally the GSUK one was my first port of call and it is posted on a Wednesday afternoon although they do broadcast it live as well. Its generally pretty light-hearted and conversational but it is at it's best when it attracts special guests who always offer an interesting insight into the gaming industry. For example Charles Cecil was on it a few months ago and he is one fascinating guy. GS also do a music-dedicated series too called Sound Byte which is certainly worth a peek.
If you fancy something a little bit more exuberant then the Super Joystiq Podcast is published every Friday. A few US ones I have listened to seem to contain a lot of people just shouting over one another but this one manages to maintain the energy while being informative and fun. The people on it sound like they are having the most fun of any podcast I have listened to and it's infectious. Plus the intro music is amazing. Where can I get that?
Cane and Rinse is a website that I had never heard of until I started my podcast research but I am glad I found it. Each podcast centres around a particular game or series of games and the guys on it really break each title down and they certainly know their stuff. Don't expect a lot of laughs but do prepare to have each game dissected and laid bare. The latest one on Bioshock really shows that the team thoroughly research their subject matter before going on air.
As far as I am aware there are not many programmes on commercial TV or radio that are dedicated to gaming and in fact One Life Left is the only one I can think of but its probably my favourite of the bunch at the moment. Each week there is a theme like 'Work' or 'Curiosity' and the group are given 5 or so games that they have to have played before coming on the show. The games are always very diverse and usually for the PC which interests me as its not a platform I really know much about.
Can anyone else recommend a decent podcast or any gaming related ear-candy?
Just a quick announcement to let you all know that there has been an announcement that there will be an announcement on 20 February from Sony about ... something. Announcement, announcement, announcement. The word has lost all meaning to me as I have read it so many times but I do know one thing, that all these announcement, announcement, announcements are an effort by Sony to get us gamers slavering like tigers at the zoo when the fat camp kids trot by. All aboard the hype train everyone. Toot, toot.
Well I am not having any of it because what we are going to be told on 20 February is that Sony have been developing a PS4 with a tenuous release date of Q4 2013, after which the suit in charge of the bleeding obvious at Sony is going to inform us that night follows day, the Pope is indeed a Catholic and that bears enjoy their poops 'al fresco'. Of course there might be a few shocks as well. New Little Big Planet. No way! A Naughty Dog exclusive. Stone the flaming crows! New Gran Turismo at launch! OK thats stretching things a bit.
You know that last episode of The Apprentice where the finalists have to present a new kind of shoe or something and its all a bit uncomfortable, well imagine that but with a bigger budget to spend on indoor fireworks and professional dancers. The only surprise will be which slightly confused celebrity will be led on stage. You know that Sony wont be cutting corners with a Kardashian but when Jay-Z (or whoever) comes bounding into the spotlight there will be plenty of navel-gazing after the inevitable awkward banter where Kaz Hirai asks Jay-Z 'Does Beyonce let you play games in the front room?' (Oh Kaz you card) and Jay-Z replies 'I played Street Fighter when I was a kid but don't bother much anymore can I have my cheque please?'
But fear not this will all be washed down by the thick, dry wheatgrass smoothie of a powerpoint presentation where lots of specs will fill up the screen and people like me who have to put up with this kind of brain laxative for a living will glaze over and start wishing they could go back to a time when our dreams of a wild new electronic frontier were alive and well. To think that I labelled all that pointless speculation and flimsy conjecture as a waste of time. Such ignorant guesswork seems like paradise now although on second thoughts this announcement, announcement, announcement probably won't hinder it by much, in fact it might crank it to 11. Will we never learn?
Then when all the dust has settled on Wednesday and caretakers are sweeping up all those drunken journos, throats sore from all that hooting and hollering, we will all feel a little bit hollow, desperate to fill the void within us that Sony have failed to. In our terrible sorrow we will have no choice but to start thinking about the next earth-shattering announcement, announcement, announcement when (and you'll never believe this) Microsoft will tell us that they have been developing a new console (shut uuuuuup) with (are you sitting down) a new (get ready for it). Halo! Its like stepping out the Matrix people.
I am not sure if it's EA or DICE that hate their own consumers but someone is making it difficult for me to love Battlefield 3 at the moment. After caving in and purchasing a Premium pass I am now unable to download all the extra content as it won't physically fit on my hard drive. My original beef was that they included the DLC in the update patches you were forced to download which meant you had to devote space to stuff you couldn't even access. However the upside was that if you did want it then it would all be there right? Wrong.
It seems that after Close Quarters someone must have thought that the solution was to separate out patches so instead of one massive patch there are, wait, TWO massive patches? Whose idea was that? What the hell is in all these giant files and how come they are so ridiculously enormous? It's maddening. Is there no way around it? We all welcome patches that smooth out bugs and hinder cheats but this is just preposterous. The only workaround is to buy a USB pen drive to house all these extra files that do virtually nothing. Thanks guys.
Have you ever had that weird feeling where you play a game but aren't so keen on it yet the next day you keep thinking about it only to repeat the cycle over and over? That's the feeling I am getting with Metal Gear Solid 4 at the moment and even though I have been underwhelmed by the experience so far there is something about it that keeps sticking in my mind. I am not sure why but there are three possible reasons
1. The subconscious part of me knows it's a great game and is just waiting for the rest of my brain to catch up.
2. The building blocks of the game aren't great but the Hideo Kojima magic touch is undeniably entrancing.
3. It's actually a terrible game and I am kidding myself because it has Metal Gear Solid on the front.
Not sure so far but I am definitely going to throw myself into it. Let's hope it's more of a Justified than a Heroes.
In other news I finished Far Cry 3 last night and the ending was just amazing. Those last few levels were a blast, literally. I know that as gamers we are supposed to promote our hobby as more than gun fantasy but when gun fantasies are this spectacular you have to enjoy the ride. OK, an escape through an army of bad guys that like to park their jeeps next to red barrels may not be Dostoyevsky but it was a lot more fun than Crime & Punishment. And as we all know, red barrels are gaming for fun.
Seriously though, gaming IS maturing as a hobby and there IS a definite need to make this clear to people but at the same time Hollywood produces mountains of melodramatic, hollow action films or predictable, bland romantic comedies and they seem to be immune from the hate train. People snaffle them up because they are simple distractions, would you want every film to be a Mulholland Drive or Citizen Kane? Probably not.
I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami and he is easily one of my favourite authors. I remember the first time I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and being transfixed by it. Train rides to work just disappeared in a flash of pages and I couldn't wait to get back to it when I had to put it down and get back to real life. His style has come under a lot of criticism as being overburdened with superfluous detail, lacking in focus and not challenging the reader and while his books do have a relaxed, meandering pace, I enjoy them and surely that is what counts. I love the fact that hidden in each novel could be a world of hidden meanings and clever allegories, or that these simply told stories are just written for their own sake and nothing more.
One recurring motif that appears in his books is cats. Many people dislike cats and as a cat owner I am often reminded why but there is something magical and aloof about them which fits very neatly with Murakami's books. A pet's life and it's owners usually run parallel to each other. We look after our pets and they take life's path with us but this model doesn't apply to cats. Although they depend on us for food and shelter they don't share our lives alongside us but rather our worlds intersect theirs like the centre of a Venn diagram. I couldn't tell you where my cat is right now, his habits and mood changes on a whim and he will sometimes stare at a corner of the room like there is something there. In his world there is.
This theme of dual worlds and parallel lives that may or may not have a connection pops up in a variety of Murakami's novels and the cats in his books often feel like key figures, navigating through worlds, sage-like and ethereal. In fact, the cat in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is important due to his total absence.
Anyway, I think I got a little carried away in feline philosophy there. I am sure that there aren't many people that spend so much time wondering about their pets position in the fabric of reality so returning to what prompted me to write this blog in the first place is a little parable called The Vegetarian Cat and the Rat told in the current Murakami book I am reading, 1Q84. It's relevance is a mystery but is it's relevance even relevant? The tale goes like this.
A cat met up with a big male rat in the attic and chased him into a corner. The rat, trembling, said, Please dont eat me, Mr. Cat. I have to go back to my family. I have hungry children waiting for me. Please let me go. The cat said, Dont worry, I wont eat you. To tell you the truth, I cant say this too loudly, but Im a vegetarian. I dont eat any meat. You were lucky to run into me. The rat said, Oh, what a wonderful day! What a lucky rat I am to meet up with a vegetarian cat! But the very next second, the cat pounced on the rat, held him down with his claws, and sank his sharp teeth into the rats throat. With his last, painful breath, the rat asked him, But Mr. Cat, didnt you say youre a vegetarian and dont eat any meat? Were you lying to me? The cat licked his chops and said, True, I dont eat meat. That was no lie. Im going to take you home in my mouth and trade you for lettuce.
What does it mean? Maybe nothing but it's been floating around my mind all day.
What the hell is he thinking?
Is it too nerdy to buy a soundtrack to a videogame? I hope not because I got the one for Fez a few days ago and it's blippety bloopity electronica is a great reminder of what an absorbing and magical title it accompanies. Actually it's probably not too nerdy, if anything it's not nerdy enough. Unthinkable 5 years ago, the word geek now appears next to the word chic without snorts of disdain and it seems that nerds are not what they used to be. Maybe there will come a day when cool teenagers break out D&D instead of playing spin the bottle and all the girls will swoon when the best looking lad in school defeats a dragon with his level 13 cleric. The d20 will replace the guitar as the teenage gusset-loosener of choice and the alpha male spot won't be decided by floppy hair and rudimentary knowledge of Nirvana guitar tabs (as in my day) but by the roll of a dice.
It's not likely though is it?
Look what the doctor found in my wife
For those that aren't sure what they are looking at the above is an ultrasound image of a foetus. Yes, an actual human is growing inside my lovely wife. Whether you find the idea to be weird or wonderful it's a bit of a shocker and I am finding it a bit unreal that I will soon be labelled as 'father.' This wasn't unplanned but it has happened rather quickly and I am struggling to get a mental grip on the realities of the situation. Many turn to books or films for advice and guidance but as a man who loves videogames I am turning to my gaming library for assistance. It turns out I probably shouldn't have!
The closest comparison that springs to mind is the escort mission and it must be the nearest gameplay type to my current situation. Sadly I reckon gamers aren't particularly nurturing because I am pretty sure that when you see one coming you roll your eyes in exasperation as much as I do. Remember Ashley from Resident Evil 4? Instead of climbing a tree or waiting on a ledge when trouble shuffled into view she would just stand there while zombie dogs bit her face off. Then when you went to check on her she would accuse you of looking up her skirt. What a cheek! But she wasn't the worse. At least Ashley had the sense to duck when you pointed a gun at her, how about the human sheep from Dead Rising? I remember taking a swing at a big horde of zombies when one fool put himself in the way. I can only assume he was some zombie rights activist but his reward for such kind behaviour was getting his head stoved in with a sledgehammer. Unlike real life you can reload a game but with a frustrating escort mission you might not want to.
But there is one exception. In Ico I genuinely wanted to save the girl and despite her frailty the game somehow fostered a bond between me and my fragile ward. It would have been nice if she had swung a stick or something every so often but then again Sheva in Resident Evil 5 had a gun and she spent most of the time pumping ammo into the sky so it's probably not worth the effort. I'll stick with Ico then.
So it seems there is some hope and on continued reflection even the unfriendliest of games have a protective element. In Call of Duty or Battlefield there are usually a few NPCs under your wing that charge with you into action. Naturally there are the fodder that get themselves shot to tatters in the first 10 seconds but Private A. Smith or Lieutenant B. Shootman aren't my concern. I am talking about mustachioed he-man Captain Price or fearless lunatic Private Haggard. Men who stand side-by-side with us as we battle whichever group are on the hate-list at Activision HQ that week. Should these men take a bullet we would be there to patch them up and send them back into the fray. The problem is that they don't. These are super-soldiers that can take an RPG to the chest and just run it off. You are a delicate meatbag that they are taking along for the ride but should you fall that's it. They move on and you don't. It's a one-way love.
OK so maybe trying to find the caring side to Call of Duty is a bit ambitious but there are characters in games that are specifically identified by their role as father, characters like Max Payne or Kratos. Actually they are not the best examples of model parents either but they loved their offspring (to death in Kratos's case) and they can teach me what NOT to do. At least now I know that I shouldn't involve myself in organised crime and when in a brutal, frenzied rage, don't go straight home. Valuable life lessons there. But of course I am forgetting about the best gaming daddy of all, Octodad. He is not the biological parent (obviously) but he is still a caring provider to his kids. By not being an octopus I am already one step ahead. Things are looking up.
In fact there is an example of an entire genre where protection and development are at it's very core, the tower defense game. Think about it. You are put in charge of a vulnerable and defenseless ...... well, something and must protect it from external forces hell bent on it's destruction. You are it's champion and protector and through your wisdom and patience you must take your delicate core from weak and new to strong, experienced and sophisticated. An example to us all.
Of course there are plenty more examples of games that require looking after someone or something but they all have their drawbacks as parent trainers. Bioshock had Big Daddies but they let their kids turn into junkies, Pikmin had the little leaf creatures that you gently tended but only so you could lob them at bug-eyed plant monsters and Lost In blue put you in the care of a lost and frightened girl far from home who sadly was just too boring to live for. But these are no good. It's the loving triforce of Ico, Octodad and Desktop Defence that I am interested in and developers need to take notice, mash them all together, market them to nervous fathers-to-be and then take my money. I just need a catchy name before setting up my Kickstarter account. Any ideas?
Burn the tree, throw away the Christmas decorations and get all those dodgy presents re-gifted asap. Christmas is over, a new year has begun and life has returned to normal. This means that I will not be able to get up when the clock is on double digits and will definitely not be able to go to bed when it's on single ones either. Returning to real life can be pretty painful but at least there is a cosy 3-day work week to ease me back in. It's not all bad.
So here I am back at my desk wondering how all the lovely people on GS are getting along. Catching up with all the blogs occupied my time nicely for a bit and it seems that there are a few people proudly displaying their Christmas gaming swag. Good idea, here's mine (although it's a bit of a cheat as I bought 2 of them for myself).
FAR CRY 3
The quality of this game is undeniable but for the moment I am not feeling that magic that so many people have been. It could be a combination of stellar reviews and me loving it's predecessor that is creating unrealistic expectations but it seems to be lacking that 'je ne sais quoi' that others are drooling over. More play needed.
One fast-travel option away from greatness this Live puzzle-platformer is a real treat. Cute visuals, clever gameplay and a great soundtrack mask a devious little fox of a game that will rob you of an afternoon. Nice hat, shame about the map.
GOD OF WAR 3
This has been the highlight for me. I love the God Of War games but had forgotten how much. Stepping back into Kratos's blood soaked sandals is an absolute joy, well, maybe joy is the wrong word when you are considering a game where you play a man who headbutts a god to death in the first 20 minutes but I am loving it! Plus it has the best QTE prompt ever (at the end of the Poseidon fight for those that remember).
Well, I hope that you all had a nice Christmas and a pleasant New Year and that 2013 is as good as it can be.
Well, I did it. All 16 colossi were bested over the weekend and I moved onto Ico as planned. Then somewhere along the way I ended up abandoning Ico and replaying Condemned 2. I am not quite sure how I went from a touching, magical adventure to a violent punch 'em up but there you go. For those that haven't played it (and you really should) Condemned 2 is a deeply unsettling story set in a city full of violent thugs who delight in picking up blunt objects with which to bludgeon you to death with. Luckily the main character (who in the greatest action movie traditions is a grizzled ex-cop with a unique brand of justice and a heavy drinking problem back for one last case) is equally proficient in the subtle art of head-stovery. It's all good 18+ fun and there can't be many games that let you rip off toilet seats to beat a goon to death with then lob him off a balcony for good measure. Plus for those that have played it there's that Black Lake Lodge level. Remember that? It's even better the second time.
The next games on the to-do list are those that have been featured in the PSN and Live Christmas deals which are the sort of sale I can get along with. No going elbow-to-elbow with the sweaty populace who have been driven into mince-pie fuelled shopping desperation, just a casual few presses on a controller while sat on a comfy sofa, munching on a jaffa cake and slurping a lovely cup of tea. As long as PSN data isn't hacked again, that would be bad. Of course there is the Mayan apocalypse in a couple of days but at least I'll get a start on Fez, Journey and The Unfinished Swan before the world is reduced to rubble. I am not too worried though as a lifetime of gaming have taught me how to manage a tight inventory, cycle confidently between fortification and repulsion and most importantly that any injury can be overcome by having a quick breather behind the uniformly waist-high bits of rubble that will be handily dotted around the smouldering crater that we once called civilisation. I would have invested in Tokyo Jungle just to make sure but you don't want to plan all the fun out of the end of the world, do you?
My wife is away for the weekend and this little gamer will be all on his own. **sniffles** But I won't be pawing forlornly at the door, only breaking my high-pitched whining to glance furtively at my food bowl. No. I will be using this as a chance to live like a bachelor for a weekend, safe in the knowledge that I will not be doing any housework, building, going to the tip or any of that husbandy guff. Instead I will be in 'the nest'!
This gaming nest will be a Sheldon Cooper-esque perfect spot on the sofa where all remotes, controllers and cans of beer are within easy reach and I can game constantly without human contact for as long as I wish. My current plan is to get my PS2 out of the loft and play Shadow of the Colossus from start to finish (with Ico in reserve if I haven't scratched my pre-gen gaming itch by the time Sunday night rolls around). Then I will give the house a quick tidy (made simple by the fact that I won't have cooked or even moved much in three days) and it will be clean and ship-shape for the wife. I am a man with a plan!
Sequels are good. There, I said it. While it's easy to criticize companies for giving us what can feel like annual DLC, it's worth noting that the usual suspects (CoD, FIFA etc.) not only sell well but generally review well too. It makes plain business sense for the likes of EA and Activision to profit on an established brand and although I would always champion a fresh, new IP it's hard to deny the quality of so-called 'triple-A' sequels. This may bring snorts of disdain from eye-rolling haters but their scoffery should really be directed at the exiled, ostracised and forgotten hermits of the past and instead of demanding less they should be crying for more.
Although some spec-snobs will disagree the WiiU has officially landed us in the next-generation (or in a new current generation again - I am never sure when that changes) and with it comes the opportunity for developers to exploit this power to tear up the rulebook and create new and original experiences but there is also the potential to give some lesser known titles a second chance. Titles that may not have met their own expectations in terms of sales, reviews or even quality, but ones that had the ambition to offer up something that we may not have been ready for on older hardware. Here are a few examples
Portal 2 proved that a co-operative puzzle game wouldn't just work, but that it could be great. Although Project Eden may have been presented as a shooter, at it's heart it was a puzzler. Sure there was a lot of combat but it was of the stand and shoot variety and involved little or no strategy due to Bioshock-styIe respawn booths every ten feet or so. No, the combat was there as a nice little palate-cleanser between wandering around in a Monkey Island kind of fug until you managed to stumble over the solution. Four characters each with separate skills had to descend deeper into the bowels of a MegaCity One type complex, constantly hindered by failing lifts, collapsing walkways and annoying beasties. With Live and PSN this could be rebooted with new graphics and drop in / drop out play that games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island use so effortlessly.
Stubbs the Zombie
Zombie games are hardly a rarity but the difference with Stubbs the Zombie was that you didn't destroy the zombie horde you created it. As the original zombie it was up to you to bite unsuspecting humans, reducing them to shambling warriors so they could spread the plague to others and so on until you could take on the military and then ultimately the world. With a cute soundtrack and a great sense of humour this game turned the genre on it's head and had a real sense of fun in it's skull-munching gameplay. So while the original meant that you could create a zombie horde of only about 8 or so, a powerhouse sequel could increase that number a hundred-fold to create a Dead Rising sized mob of brain-hungry monsters to throw against all those undead haters out there.
The herd 'em up is hardly a crowded genre which makes Herdy Gerdy the best by default but it doesn't mean it wasn't full of great ideas. Big open levels were full of various creatures like the fearful Dupes or musical Bleeps that you would have to round up and herd into their appropriate pen. Dangerous creatures roamed the countryside too like the bear-like Gromps that could knock you out and start eating your carefully herded flock. A cutesy and whimsical look hid a challenging depth and if you wanted to get 100% in each level it would take some serious planning. Sadly it felt rough around the edges and basic issues like a lack of checkpoints, long loading times and a woeful map meant that the difficulty could occasionally tip from fun challenge to unfair slog. With current-gen technology there is the opportunity for bigger maps, greater creature numbers / diversity and the chance to bring this forgotten gem back from obscurity.
Dropship - United Peace Force
To my mind Ace Combat has lost it's identity. You could never have said it was a flight sim but you still had to fly the thing, Ace Combat never felt like a corridor shooter before Assault Horizon. This leaves a gap in the market for a console flight game that wants you to actually fly and Dropship is the perfect game to leap into that breach. The Dropships that you flew were of the VTOL type that meant you could hover like a helicopter and then shoot off like a jet. It was tricky to control but incredibly satisfying when you made that pinpoint rescue landing under fire and then jetted away to safety. A modern version could not only make the game look a lot better (which wouldn't be hard) but could create some huge battles and set pieces in both a campaign mode and hectic multiplayer. Just leave out the jeep sequences.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Based on several Lovecraft stories this game was a disturbing trip into the occult. At the start you arrive in the sinister town of Innsborough on a straightforward missing person case but things start to go very bad, very quickly as you realise that the town is under the influence of monstrous ancient beings. Like Eternal Darkness on the Gamecube (itself in sequel limbo) you had a sanity system which meant that looking at the horrible creatures of the dark for too long would drive you mad and eventually to suicide. Reminiscent of Half Life the game was very linear and the story-telling and atmosphere meant it never felt like you were just running down a fancy corridor. An updated version of this could be fantastic and with HD visuals and sound it could be something really special.
There are plenty of other games that deserve a sequel treatment like Soul Reaver, Thief, Fear Effect or Beyond Good & Evil but these are well known and often requested. It's the less well-known that need a voice. Those titles that may not have been great but were trying great things. So if a developer is short of ideas but doesn't want to crib off the usual then they could definitely try some of the above for inspiration.
Those Ubisoft guys are nice chaps aren't they? I only got Ghost Recon: Future Soldier on Wednesday and they have already laid on a double xp weekend as a Thanksgiving present for me. Thanks guys. That double xp has helped me to unlock all those extras like a cap and bulb and, well not much actually. If this was Call of Duty I would have had about 6000 messages by now all telling me how I have got bonus xp for shooting 10 baddies with an M16 or walking ten feet in iron sights or wearing a cap at a jaunty angle or whatnot. It turns out that GR:FS is pretty meagre.
So this means I have had to learn a new MP shooter along with it's game mechanics, maps and exploits without the attention deficit pleasing bonus fodder that most MP shooters provide us with. Winning the round is actually the reward for playing. Crazy. It's quite a challenge but it reminds me of the days learning the ropes on Rainbow Six: Vegas where progression was slow and success was hard fought. Nonetheless it's a great MP experience and although it has it's strange quirks (landing a frag grenade at the feet of a trio of soldiers just knocked them over for example) I am enjoying it despite the fact that I always end up starting the round as Team Bodark which kind of makes me think that the host and his buddies are starting on the favourable side of the map. Still, there is that feeling of playing a game that nobody else is (at least on my friends list) which makes me feel like those guys that listen to bands you never heard of. Aren't I teh coolzies?
I have been playing the SP as well and the 'ghost' element of sneaking around is pretty neat. That moment where you get discovered, all hell breaks loose and it switches from high tension to mania in an instant is a great one. Sadly the story is a bit loose so far and uses the kind of world-hopping dizziness that probably masks the fact that there isn't much of a story there. I don't mind. I have come to just enjoy it as a series of set pieces threaded loosely around a theme and a pitched battle through traffic in a crowded street in Pakistan or sneaking through a Siberian airport are enjoyable for their own sake. Overall, it's a lot of fun. Anyone care for a game?
After 9 functions, 6 procedures and 3 tables I have finally managed to get a working version of minesweeper in Oracle SQL Developer. At best this is of very limited interest to a tiny handful of people that just happen to use a certain querying language but I am pretty pleased with myself. For reference it's like making a game using Microsoft Access although that would probably look better. Still, it's quite a challenge and now I can play Minesweeper and it looks like I am working!
For those that are interested here's how I did it (for the rest goodbye and thanks for getting this far):
Step 1: I created a table with 11 columns and 10 rows. A procedure (which itself references a further 'randomiser' procedure) then takes in the number of mines as a parameter and distributes them randomly through the first 10 columns as an X. Where there is no mine it adds an a, b,c,d,e,f,g,h, i or j depending on the column and in the last column it just numbers it from 1-10. These last two steps are important as reference data.
Step 2: Now the mines (and reference data) are in place next comes the numbers. For this I needed a second table and another procedure to populate it (the reason I needed a second table was to overcome the mutating table issue that comes when you try and update a table that is currently in use). This new procedure moves down each of the first ten columns of the first table and populates the second table with either the mine (X) or a number which is determined by one of 9 functions (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right, left, right, top, bottom or centre) that concatenates the content of all the adjacent positions and then counts the number of mines.
Step 3: A third table (the game table) was created that was entirely populated by blank values. A 'guess' procedure was made (where you specify a column and row ie. 'B7') which then looks at the second reference table and populates it's value into this final game table (the main problem is that after each guess I have to re-query the table with a simple select statement but it still works). The final piece of the puzzle is to create a flag procedure that then populates an F into a field that I think is a mine (and then re-query of course).
There you have it. All this took me about a day and a half and although I confess that is was during work time it's still teaching myself valuable skills in PL/SQL that I can apply to my job. Probably. But just in case my manager is not a Minesweeper fan be sure to tell him I was just doing basic technical exercises. On the other hand if he is a fan then tell him that Battleships is only days away!