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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

To round off Splines' spectacular year-round coverage of current events in gaming, the Blair family have invested in a PS3.

First making friends with the playground bully, now this - there's no denying it Tony, all evidence points to you being an idiot.

Happy New Year, reader!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Can't wait to see Beyond

Reminiscent of the procedurally generated worlds flaunted by Will Wright on his upcoming title Spore, the video below these carefully chosen words demonstrates a project with definite potential. If you like what you see, head on over to the Infinity website and lend your support.

If net-gossip is to be believed, Infinity is yet merely a highly impressive framework awaiting a talented game-greasemonkey to bolt on the features able to lend entertainment to aesthetics. Currently, players are unable to leave their ships and explore on foot. Frankly, I find the lack of an atmospheric re-entry animation leaves much to be desired in the realism-realization theme.

I sincerely hope that the Infinity team absorb the criticism that will likely come their game's way, and emerge all the stronger because of it. Splines will be keeping an eye on this one!

Infinity : Tech Demo

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Poster of Healing

Help out the less fortunate and ensure you don't waste a precious moment of life by skipping on over to the MMO Calendar website and grabbing yourself twelve months of impractical girl-armour with which to adorn your bedroom wall. An epic 100% of proceeds go to Saint Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

An Ernest Opinion

Ernest Adams, of ex-Bullfrog fame, writes of the established trend for two dominant consoles (and an "also-ran") - over at Gamasutra.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Daydream

As I sit here, happily digesting a generous portion of my Grandma's Christmas lunch, lazy thoughts float about my mind. Synapses thrust glances of past memories to the fore. Somehow, my brain interprets the probing of deep, soggy recesses as though a compressed MPEG archive were activated. I look directly ahead: the gentle glow of an LCD. And yet there is another sight, an acceptable, natural, yet incomprehensible cognitive vision.

Ah! It's last night. I'm tipsy. Words drift off the tongue, take form. Grandpa meets my gaze, speaks.

What's required is simplicity. The technology is here. All's needed is some bright spark to put it all together. The internet is too complicated, too many screens, clicks - I want to sit in my living room, point at the screen and have it all come together. I want some feedback; to know I'm making progress, a sense of worth for time invested.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Destroy A Life


Thanks, Penny Arcade!
Click image for legible lettering.

Friday, December 22, 2006

SL Griefer Whallops Below The Belt

Well, it's not often that genitalia features in the news, so let's take advantage of this opportunity to display gratuitous rudeness.

Second Life exists online as a haven for cyber-denizens, encompassing a burgeoning virtual economy (SL's currency, 'Linden Dollars', can be legally converted to real-life cash) driven by user-created content brought into existence through a flexible and innovative development tool. The SL 'game' represents a Sociologist's wet dream; offering an opportunity to observe and partake in an ongoing process of untold ramifications, unravelling as a consequence of large-scale social interaction combined with near total anonymity.

On a side note, ShadowBolt and myself joined SL only yesterday... expect tales of sordid mischief very soon.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sioux City: Skint

In a perhaps inevitable move, Nintendo has become the subject of a nationwide class action lawsuit relating to issues with the wrist strap for the Wii remote.

As Gamasutra aptly note, legislation of this sort against Nintendo could be predicted by Jeff Minter's least legally-aware llama.

It's odd. When I spend hours gaming, then re-enter the real world, for a moment I often forget the same rules don't apply. I particularly yearn for the option to 'save', before I commit myself to taking a risk. I find it ironic how our compensation culture mimics this yearning. If a person suffers a quantative loss (Wiimote + Velocity + TV = Loss) there is a modern human phenomenon whereby people expect the universe to return itself to a state of rightful order. As we can't 'save', we sue.

Update: 8.39 AM 21/12/06

Nintendo's official response:
"
We believe the lawsuit to be completely without merit"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bon Voyage, Doug

Interview: Mode 7 Games

Paul Taylor and Ian Hardingham are the brains behind Mode 7 Games, and jolly top blokes. Between them, the roles usually assigned to a multitude of game designers are neatly compacted and allocated to mere human frames. How they cope with the burden is beyond me, although Ian would perhaps suggest it is his family whom keep his spirits up.

DuBBle: Hello Paul and Ian! I'd like to ask a few questions for Splines, if I may.

Firstly I'd like to congratulate you on your achivements. I can hardly comprehend the sacrifices you guys have had to endure whilst developing Determinance. I want you both to know that your efforts stand testamount to the ideals of gameplay and originality - oft lauded by the games industry but rarely delivered by any but the most daring of developers.

PAUL: Thank you. We've definitely learned a lot about the balance of originality and fun gameplay in making Determinance, and we know that gamers will appreciate the effort that's gone in to reconciling those two elements.

Q: The steriotypical game developer is thought of to be underpaid and overworked. Do you find yourselves adhering to this steriotype?

IAN : No. It's a huge amount of work but when you're doing it for yourself somehow "overworked" doesn't seem to be the feeling, and it always helps that I can (and do) get up at midday. And as far as "underpaid" goes, we haven't earnt anything yet but somehow that makes it seem much less underpaid than earning a bad salary - Paul may well have a different opinion on that! My family helps me out so I'm never short of whiskey, and as long as you have whiskey everything seems pretty rock-n-roll. When I run out of whiskey I'll be underpaid.

PAUL: I think that "underpaid and overworked" feeling is largely something that people in big commercial development houses experience. As we fund ourselves through various means, and we're working hard on something that we believe in, we've got nobody to bitch at but ourselves. You don't want to see Ian when he's run out of whiskey.

Q: To what extent have Mode 7 been left to fend for themselves whilst working on Determinance? Have you recieved much support from within the industry?

IAN: Zero, but I somehow think that's pretty reasonable. We've been working on this for three years but until this September we didn't have a product. Until then we had a bunch of ideas barely visible on a beta which looked pretty much unfinishable by two guys. During most of our development is seemed like the outside world couldn't see the potential of the idea, which I did and do still find very hard to understand. But on the other hand, Determinance really wasn't very good until this summer. It all came together through a period of bad feedback and very hard work and as soon as we got there, people started really taking notice. Easy as it would be to rile against the industry for not supporting us, we just didn't have anything particularly worth supporting until very recently, when all of the three years of hard work finally came together. And then people really started responding.

When I first had the idea for Determinance in 2003 it was like a diamond encased in mud and rock. We spent the last three years trying to expose the diamond by haphazardly cutting chunks, but the convoluted development is a huge part of what Determinance is today. I'd like to say we made one mistake and we should have prototyped right at the beginning (instead of plunging straight into full production), but I don't think we would have come out with what we have now if we'd done that. In fact, we might well have given up. Only with the huge investment of time already in the 'broken' Determinance did we have the motivation to fix it.

PAUL: Ian's right in that we've had no practical support from industry-types, but that's not to say that we haven't had encouragement and also been able to work with people to fill in some gaps. The GarageGames community was invaluable in that there were talented people around who were happy to work with us. We've also had some nice words of support and help in other ways from some indie developers: Jamie Fristrom at Treyarch; Mark Healey who did Ragdoll Kung Fu, Peter Stock who did Armadillo Run. On the PR side, PC Gamer UK have been phenomenal supporting us, as have sites like Gametunnel. There's some shameful behaviour out there in the world of commercial games journalism, but we're lucky there's still some people who are willing to take a look at new games and not just be spoon-fed by expensive agencies.

Q: Determinance constantly radiates a sense of humour. Is this a reflection of your personalities shining through the coding? Will future Mode 7 games carry on this comedic quirk?

IAN: Two things. In the very initial design document for Determinance I wanted the flying protagonists to be hugely irreverent, care-free and mocking characters. The script for the un-finished single player story (which by the way Paul thinks is ATROCIOUS) is really defined by the conversational style - playground joshing intermixed with the hugely epic, the style I really wanted to become known for. That drives the look and the voice acting of the characters - we had the entire script voice-acted and the taunts done by the actors, so each character has an actual back-story which I think helps immensely.But that's just the specific thing. Paul and I both refuse to take anything seriously, especially not anything as fundamentally ridiculous as game development. We're also both very different kinds of gamer, and the clash of the two different ways we think about games often leads to really amusing "compromises".

I have a huge dislike of things "trying" to be funny - I think you need to amuse yourself and not worry about other people. They'll follow.

PAUL: I don't actually have a sense of humour or a personality: those parts of my brain are now used to carry "information" like Johnny Mnemonic. Mode 7's not going to make any more games because Ian's analogy about the diamond was so fucking painful to read that I'm leaving him.

Q: What are your views on the connotations of the word 'Freeform'?

IAN: Ha. I believe the back-story to this question is that we were describing Determinance as a freeform sword-fighting game but had to stop because people thought that meant we were a sandbox RPG. I'm goingto let Paul do most of the answering on this one.

PAUL: Some people are idiots, so they associate words with processes and objects rather than looking at what they might actually mean. I take the word "freeform" to mean "unconstrained" and not "a bit like GTA". Thus, we were calling Determinance a freeform game because you can move the sword wherever you want, and there were no preset moves, but idiocy prevailed and we had to relent. I also hate the words "sandbox" and"febrile".

Q: Do you truly believe that blogs such as Splines are able to make a positive impact on public opinion for games developers?

IAN: I think it's pretty obvious that the news side of gaming blogs is pretty much sewn up by the big sites, so it's got to be about opinion. Any kind of loyal readership gives a blog power to impact an indie developer. If you have only a hundred readers and you recommend them to play an indie game, and half of them try it and half of them like it then you've given that game twenty-five new players who will tell their friends. That can be a huge impact on an indie developer and that's with only a hundred readers. If someone plays a game and someone they respect has said it's good they're 200% more likely to like it.

On a slightly different note, I think there's space for a vastly critical indie-games site. All the big ones right now just want to"support" indies by giving everything a positive review and not really saying the hard truths. You won't make many friends that way but you will increase the respectability of the industry - something we need right now.

PAUL: Yeah, Splines and its ilk are very important. I agree with Ian in that we would like to see some more intelligent opinion - the problems are always two-fold. One, you have to write well, and two you have to spend a lot of time marketing your blog as well as writing it, which is something that writers don't generally like doing. I've certainly struggled with both on our blog! I would dearly love to see more opinion on the indie games sector, which is why we've started doing more opinion pieces. We're starting to line up some guest-bloggers too, which I'm quite excited about. I think that big companies need to pay attention to smaller blogs -they're the ground-swell of opinion. We've obviously had great experiences with Splines and with Addicted Geek, which is somewhat similar in some respects, so we love the smaller blogs.

Q: When are we able to purchase Determinance? Will the game be available in stores?

IAN: We very much hope you can purchase Determinance from one of several online publishers in January. If it happens, boxes will come later.

PAUL: Ian just said "in January" because our actual deadline is January 14th and he and I both know that SOMETHING will happen to make us miss that. God mocks all deadlines we've ever set.

Q: What are Mode 7's plans for the future?

IAN: We've already tentatively started design work on our next game, but a lot of what happens to us depends on how Determinance is received.

PAUL: Yeah, we want to see what happens with the game and then what the community needs from us. If it's viable to do further Determinance game modes and so on then we'll do that, but we're excited about the nextgame idea too.

DuBBle: I wish you both the best of luck. I'll be following Mode 7's progress, and you can rest assured Determinance will grace my hard drive so long as I am a gamer.

IAN: Huge thanks for the support, and it's great to be here.

PAUL: Cheers, mate - that's nice to hear, although ending the interview with "Well, it's a shame your game is so dire", pulling your trousers down and making a noise like a pheasant is always more amusing, I find.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Steam Blown Away


Amongst those one million people suffering the effects of an energy failure are Valve's Steam servers. Remember the wild speculation of naysayers when Steam first went live? People said that so long as Valve maintained a single, central server, there would be a risk that one day the system may go down and thus all Steam-dependent games could become unplayable. The prophesied day is upon us. High winds in Seattle have forced the local energy authorities to cut off the juice, leaving many Steam users unable to touch their legitimately purchased game software.

Valve should have foreseen a failure of this type and built in a system of redundancy. Instead, it is their customers that foot the bill.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sony's Greener Grass: Bitter

Ever wonder how Sony got away with replacing the rumble functionality of their controller for Sixaxis' awful attempt at stealing the motion-sensitive market from Nintendo? It's largely due to the shocking appeal of Wii. Thankyou, ladies and gentlemen, I'll be here all night.

Youth in Crisis

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mode 7 : The UK's Best Mode

Mode 7 Games, developers of the innovative multiplayer swordfighting game Determinance, are at this very moment readying themselves for the imminent release of their game. Amazingly, Paul Taylor has somehow found the time to begin a weekly feature on the Mode 7 blog in which he hopes to raise thought and discussion over abstract gaming principals - beginning this week with Some Kind of Horrible Pun on Virtual Reality.

I'm enrolled for the final beta test of Determinance and (hopefully) I'll be bringing an interview with the Mode 7 team to Splines very soon.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Supreme Developer


You'll find a fantastic interview with Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games on the PC Gamer Podcast. Chris portrays himself as some kind of easy-going gaming sage, his words are clearly shaped by years of experience but his sense of humour does not appear to have suffered from it. If you'd like to skip directly to the interview, Chris is introduced 16 minutes 46 seconds into the podcast.
Wii on CNN

Friday, December 08, 2006

PC & Wii - Meant to be?

Launch day +1. As the already minimal Wii stocks of Europe are depleted, Nintendo promises that all lusting customers will be satisfied before Christmas. However, HMV spokesman Tim Ellis admits his business could have "sold many more times than we've got, to be honest", as many retailers face the trauma of demand in excess of supply.

Perhaps Nintendo have underestimated the popularity of the Wii amongst PC gamers. From my perspective, the Wii aims to deliver a gaming experience which is both absent and genuinely missed by the PC gaming community. Rather like the Nintendo DS, there is a certain youthful flexibility - a willingness to adapt and morph according to player's needs and desires, which is embodied by the Wii.

Contrary to popular belief, even the greatest grumpy sweaty nerdling needs a break from Khelgar-herding once in a while. The PC Gamer Forums are testament to this, possessing a thread in excess of 2000 replies on this very issue.

Even as a socially inept, visually disturbing excuse for a human being, my Wii has secured itself a place in the living room, essentially fermenting into the natural squalor of student life.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This Month in Games : December

The Gaming Orchard's plethora of juicy offerings would appear to have dropped a month early, leaving PC gamers with a bitter taste in their mouth this Christmas, with such examples of anti-climatic mediocrity as Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, Bad Day LA and Archlord (my rant on which can be found here).

This month, I'll be focusing on the console releases. For PC game stocking fillers, please refer back to last month's This Month in Games or buy the excellent Guild Wars: Nightfall or the budget release of the time-enduring, marvellous The Longest Journey.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess


Released by Nintendo to serve as one of many reasons to buy a Wii, but also available for the Gamecube, TP could well become the paradigm of Link's adventures to date. Darker and with greater visual flair than its many siblings, TP offers little new to the series, but refines much of what made the previous games so good. Link's well-endowed boffin, and your tennis elbow (if you are playing on the Wii) will be tested to the limits by the multifaceted challenges to be overcome. TP leads the player through a drastic transformation from elf to wolf, as the levels are designed to have gamers shift through Soul Reaver style planes in order to fully explore both Hyrule and the mysterious 'Twilight'. Nintendo's 'gameplay over graphics' ethos should lead us to expect, in TP, an experience wholly capable of reminding gamers why we place such pride in our passion.

Gears of War


Out now on Microsoft's 360 and developed by Epic, Gears of War has been hyped so much it's hard to separate the P from the R. Dark, gory and short are three words I would use to describe GoW's action and one word which would be applicable to my love-making. GoW's gunplay places emphasis on the player's understanding and exploitation of available cover; so called 'blind fire' (discharging a weapon without line-of-sight to pinpoint an enemy) is included as a feasible option for suppressing a threat. Microsoft will be crossing their collective fingers in anticipation for the sales figures on this one, as GoW's profits may well bare prophetic tidings for the future competitiveness of the 360 against its rivals, the PS3 and Wii.




It's GTA: Vice City on your PSP! I think Rockstar are really on to something big here - combining a free-roaming virtual cityscape with the liberty of mobile gaming is bound to help countless impressionable young teens successfully transition beyond the shock of real life not being fun in comparison to videogames. Commute whilst playing everyone's favorite 'murder simulator'! The tiny PSP would appear to handle VCS's visuals to the best of its ability. Portable gaming suits the series' dynamics for streamlined useage of multiple functions assigned to a single button. This game is likely to help dissipate many long, wasted hours, transforming time into useful practice for a life of crime.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Addicted to [EPIX]

TotalBiscuit(John Bain) from wcradio.com speaks at The University of Advancing Technology TechForum 2006 about addiction to video games, namely World of Warcraft.