eXTReMe Tracker

Monday, October 01, 2007

Really Busy

Normal service will resume when life gets its act together.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Review: Global Conflicts: Palestine

Format: PC
Developer: Serious Games Interactive
Publisher: Serious Games Interactive

I liken my experience of Global Conflicts: Palestine to the average Palestinian's right to freedom of movement within the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza: it's fractured and unreliable, yet impossible to give up on. I digitally downloaded my copy of GC:P from the Serious Games website, expecting an experience that would be more 'serious' than 'game', but thinking the price of twenty Euros a meager one considering that I'd be throwing a few crumbs to a small political fish in the main stream. I was surprised to discover a game that is challenging in three ways: to fickle human preconceptions, to intellectual and emotional disengagement, and to the calm temperament of those who expect a game to be finished before it's put on sale.

Character selection took a broom and rattled it around the recesses of my mind, clearing out cobwebs of comprehension and my assumptions about what defines someone as 'Palestinian', 'Israeli', or indeed 'Impartial'. The player can be represented by either a chap who identifies himself as having a Palestinian heritage or as an Israeli lady. Both characters share in common that they've lived most of their lives in America, they're both established journalists in their mid-thirtees, and they each have a personal interest in returning to a perceived homeland in the Middle East. Don't fret, choice of character doesn't affect much - the player will be thrust into the employ of a balding, bespectacled editor-man either way - and I suspect Serious Games' intention for character choice was to engage the player's imagination rather than to significantly affect the gameplay. The aim of each mission is to collect noteworthy quotes by engaging in conversation with local residents. The player's purpose being the piecing together of an appropriate article for one of three newspapers which each cater to a divergent demographic.

Errands are the currency of friendship, and the desert's denizens won't feel confident enough to confide in the player until their journalist has run a marathon - delivering messages and gifts throughout the domain - and, back in the real world, the player has begun to contemplate the risks of repetitive strain injury after countless clicks, unaided by an autorun. Coaxing a juicy quote out of an Abrahimic esophagus won't be easy even once you've successfully established an American Express franchise in Jerusalem: you'll need to maintain a polite veneer over your mighty pen before directing it towards a pointed question. My experience of GC:P has taught me that, by commencing dialogue with a query about my subject's health or about the status of their family, I'd find myself facing a much easier task and a more malleable interviewee. GC:P's citizens are fickle folk, and they'll quickly void their opinion of you from one day to the next, so you'll need to persuade them to like you all over again if you happen to want their opinion for the next story you write.

GC:P is a game about perspective. The player, as a freelance journalist, must consider the culture, daily life, attitudes, and expectations of the people they'll be interacting with, both individually and as a collective readership for each of the newspapers. A quote that I've collected may have a high news value (reflected by an on-screen display, frustratingly present only after the quote-collection section of the game is over), but if it's been sourced from an Israeli settler claiming a right to land because of the Palestinians' ineptitude to grow or build on it, then the quote is unlikely to generate interest amongst the editors of Palestine Today. I began the game thinking that I'd write for the international press in an effort to maintain impartiality as I strolled boldly between two decisively partisan communities. In actuality, I stumbled upon Hard Mode. Serious Games seem keen to stress an attitude of 'With us or against us' and they show this with their character's aversion to the international press: framed to be both biased and unconcerned with the humanity of the conflict. Intentional or not, I developed an opinion that writing for an Israeli or Palestinian paper would lead to wider recognition for my stories because the conflict is so intensely immediate to the people who live in the occupied territories that they couldn't become apathetic in the way that we 'Others' have the privilege of being able to.

If you wander from the café to the market in GC:P's Jerusalem, you'll be gifted with a bunch of bugs for free. People crossing the street will, for comic effect, adhere themselves to seemingly sticky sides of passing cars, and then proceed to thrash violently until another zombie-like pedestrian bumps them free. A quick flick through your notebook will result in a stuttering effect on the (criminally limited) sound samples of city life. You'll find that important people (who you'll frequently find standing on the pavement, staring at the traffic) won't talk to you - "Sorry, I'm too busy right now" - if you've already talked to them once during the mission. And may your god bless you if you'd like to ring the phone and complete the final mission, because it was impossible for me. I've done a fair bit of forum browsing in an effort to find a solution to this game-ruining bug and found two sources that attest to there being a patch to fix the problem next week.

I've enjoyed playing Global Conflicts: Palestine, to the extent that I felt a pang of sorrow when the game abruptly ended on me without a proper conclusion. Yet, I can't recommend it to you unless you'd like to use the game as a teaching aid instead of for fun. There's a lot to be learned from the conversations you'll have with the well-developed characters of GC:P, and each mission begins with a helpful list of points to consider as you play. If Serious Games patch their creation to a level of reliable functionality then GC:P would be perfect for schools and I'm sure it would provide a wonderfully vivid teaching-aid for the classroom environment.

Playing Columbine

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Snake Seeker

I had intended to write something a little more substantial than what you're soon going to regret reading. That was, until I was approached by a Greek friend and persuaded into proof-reading his 86 page computing dissertation, placing a rather downpour-like dampener on my aspirations to stimulate my readers both intellectually and spiritually. Honestly, this impromptu-essayship is awfully convenient: I enjoy the silly stories.

What more can I say? Click on the thing. Tell me what you think for a change.

It'll be like this only Capcom..ier

Monday, September 10, 2007

Splines Flames Lair

I'm quite certain that Sony's mission won't be complete until a day in the life of a game reviewer goes like this:

Awaiting Instructions. Connecting to Sony ... ... ...
Connection Established.

Commencing Review.

Undue Sony-bashing? No. They've only gone and issued a Lair Reviewer's Guide, for flip's sake.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

One Frustrated Consumer, To Go

If I don't intend to buy a game, is it OK to pirate it? The God and/or EULA-fearing mind would deliver a firm, 'Certainly not, infidel' to a query of this kind, yet I'll persist for the sake of madness, heathens, and blog posts greater than one sentence in length. Let's lay a framework for what will surely earn us rigorous flagellation in the afterlife: my question specifically regards Medieval 2: Total War, which is an ace game and the receiver of hearty compliments across the known world when it came to review-time, yet in using Rome's engine and Medieval 1's source material, it's hardly pushing the boundaries of what The Creative Assembly can achieve. I'll concede that I've made a value-judgement: that Medieval 2's full-price is not worth the samey entertainment I'll receive in playing it. My logic is based on an assumption and could therefore be incorrect.

Through acts of digital piracy, we circumvent the monetary reward-giving that our economy relies upon to drive creativity. The Creative Assembly is thus aptly named because it consists of a group that have come to be united through their profession and the knowledge that their efforts in developing games will provide them with an income and livelihood, stability of existence and intellectual stimulation. I ask you: do we need a games industry for games innovation? A misnomer of a suggestion would be that mod teams excel at applying their skills for creativity, and at no cost to the end-user, framing their serious hobby in a loftier light than those of career-professionals. I say 'misnomer' because the modder's existence is reactive - the act of modification is applied to another group's product - and therefore the foundation of games modding lies upon the software-ceiling defined by a (not necessarily, but often) financially incentivized group.

Piracy is wrong, according to the publishers of games, because the act of creation requires resources (in terms of necessary hardware and software, talented people and their wages), and that these resources were applied under the knowledge that, as in a car factory, the final product would be of greater monetary worth than the combined expenditure. I think that there's something sadly remiss with the computer game industry of today. Whilst a game's demo and many reviews could be analogous to the 'test drive' of a new car - both serve to be testament to the quality of the product and an aid to the consumer's certainty that they'd be correct to make a purchase - cars tend to vary in quality depending on the price a customer is willing to pay, yet computer game prices remain static (according to their system) and only the age rating fluctuates. Game publishers encourage their developers to produce their games at regular and frequent intervals, knowing that they will sell regardless of quality. A game therefore requires itself to be on the shelf and ready for sale before it risks becoming a financial liability. It is thus wrong for publishers to claim that piracy stifles creativity because, I suggest, piracy is a reflection of a game's lack of innovation and, additionally, a game's quality is dictated by market forces long before a publisher could be aware of the harm piracy may do to their game's sales.

I'd like gaming to be placed back at the fingertips of the enthusiast. If energy and curiosity were the driving force behind game creation, and donations were the method of revenue being earned, then I'm sure we'd see a return to technically simple but terrifically original games being in the majority. I believe that the capitalist market-system produces little of worth (see the military-industrial complex), that it engages its consumers in a downward spiral of lowering expectations and rising prices.

So, back to my original question: If I don't intend to buy a game, is it OK to pirate it? I'm sure that it is not. The fact stands that Medieval 2: Total War was produced with economic venture in mind and that I'd be abusing my power as a net-savvy irate individual if I were to obtain a copy against the will of its developers. Instead of swallowing this grey goo that trails all over the face of modern gaming, thinking that we've achieved a sly victory because we've eaten a shallow meal for free, we should be producing our own artefacts of worth: sumptuous everlasting cascades that we can each banquet upon together, rather than queue for yet another McDonalds to be eaten hurriedly amongst greasy, slouched figures in an endless cycle of fast-food life. I, for one, will make a point to create alongside my consumption. In fact, I'll model my life upon the Kinder Egg :)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Obliterate Homes, Help the Homeless

It's not often that e-philanthropy takes the form of swooping TIE-Fighters 'sploding up the place, so we should be grateful that SOE have gifted Star Wars: Galaxies' players with the opportunity to take wrathful revenge on the derelict housing that (assumedly) has blighted the past few years of their online existence, offering both maniacal satisfaction and the knowledge that a charitable donation will be made for each galactic-emigrant's home destroyed. A department of Sony's Online division is located in Austin (Texas) and so perhaps they've monkeysphered their way to choosing Austin Habitat for Humanity as the charity that will receive the proceeds that result from each of Star Wars Galaxies' ex-resident's living spaces becoming Jawa jewels.

I think that Sony have made the best of a bad situation. Clearly, a plethora of players no longer consider SWG their home, yet their homes still remain in virtual existence on the surface of one of SWG's many planets. SWG's new subscribers now find that living space is at a premium on Tatooine, and they're reasonably disgruntled that most of the existing sandy-coloured shacks lie abandoned and unclaimed. Now, considering SWG's relatively low player base (relative to you know what), server-expansion no longer presents itself as a viable option, making the deletion of accounts and destruction of long-abandoned virtual property a transient 'out with the old and in with the new' necessity. The fact that SOE chooses to contribute to charity (when they could simply edit the residences out of existence) is, to me, evidence of businesses' necessity to retain good public relations becoming a positive force for humanity.

The Sentiment is Shared

I had to rejigger this post because of some copyright issue over at YouTube. Fortunately, Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw remains someone for whom I'd gladly donate ten pints of my blood ... and I'd wash out my own milk bottles so he could carry it home to use in case of emergency.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Review: Bioshock

Format: PC
Developer: 2K/Irrational
Publisher: 2K

I'm awash with disappointment. Bioshock is not the exceptional game that I'd been told (and sincerely hoped) it would be. High production values and a no-doubt talented development team have combined to found an exhibit of the most paradoxically ocean-deep yet Serious Sam-shallow soggy mush of storytelling and saline gaming. I summon Sam because Bioshock all too often betrays its simple-shooter essence. The truth is, despite its sprawling cityscape, voice-recorded backstory, and literary-inspiration, Bioshock herds the player along a pre-defined path in a manner akin to a headless kamikaze. Once the basic rules have been defined (hack the cameras, electrify the water, exploit the Daddies), Bioshock is a tiresome and repetitive trawl, although it is trawl through some eye-searing and ear-arousing locales.

Ken Levine - Bioshock's project director -once worked as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures. I find Mr. Levine fascinating because he opines that a player must retain freedom of control throughout the telling of a game's story, yet I think that Bioshock has failed to bring this premise to fruition. Rapture is introduced through a torrent of set-pieces that revolve like a whirlpool around the player. I think that the first fifteen minutes of Bioshock may be one of choreographed-gaming's greatest achievements. Then, like a hurricane, Bioshock's energy dissipates upon dry land, and tiresome convention sets in. Bioshock's story is largely told through the discovery of superbly voice-acted tape recordings that are scattered like jetsam throughout the city. The recordings serve to permeate ripples from Rapture's past, describing one man's impractical ideology and the dystopian implications of remaining doubtless when reality's tide erodes a ruler's fantasy. One could argue that this system gifts the player with a freedom to continue their game whilst revelling in Rapture's past, yet I felt that the recordings necessitated my standing still in order to avoid triggering combat, or any other such noisy distraction, until the playback ceased. There are a few pipette-drops of genius dispersed within this inverted fish-tank of disembodied storytelling - Brechtian acknowledgments of gaming's similarity with theatre - but they remain sadly infrequent tips to an iceberg that remains largely submerged below the high tide defined by Deus Ex.

Almost every room in Rapture contains a few bad guys and represents an equipment-expending battle. I'm the kind of person who likes to thoroughly explore the games I play, so I felt unduly punished when I found that areas I'd previously cleared of enemies had become re-populated with another happy-go-lucky set of spritely psychopaths. An internal conflict emerged: should I continue to explore this level and risk the loss of my best ammunition or should I continue to the next in the hope that I'll get to appreciate the city's intricacies without suffering through the wasteful chore of combat? There was a solution: play the game like an online shooter and treat the ability to re-spawn upon death as advantageous excuse to skimp on using med-kits. By half way through Bioshock, I'd even grown accustomed to teasing the baddies with telekenetically-thrown scraps of rubbish to the face so that I could be fatally flung as a shortcut to the nearest re-spawn point. When I'd completed the game, I felt as though I'd failed to fully understand Bioshock, yet I'd loathe to live another few hours playing it.

The bloody ballet of Bioshock's combat is renditioned through use of plasmids (think Jedi force powers) and conventional weaponry. Together they fuse to become complimentary methods of mass maiming. An early example of the plasmid and weapon's symbiosis comes in the form of Atlas' 'one-two punch': the sadist's catatonic coupling of the lighting plasmid's stunning shock and the wrench for good old fashioned bludgeoning. I fumbled around in the settings to find the button I should press to lean - to no avail - there isn't one! Merely entering a room is usually enough to alert all of its inhabitants to your presence, signaling the development team's departure from common sense and a welcome to Rapture. Later in the game, two separate tonics (subtle plasmids) negate this problem, imbuing the player with silent footsteps and Predator-style camouflage. Oddly, the player's enemies seem to have their own set of poor-man's plasmids (and, in some cases, no special powers at all) even though their character as 'splicers' hinges on their overuse of super-human augmentation.

If the player wants to save themselves a bit of dosh (and blood), they'll have to learn to plumb. That's because a vital component of Bioshock comes in the form of tubes, which need to be neatly arranged to form a channel so that liquid may flow from one point to another. You see, the organisation of pipes acts as a 'fun' metaphor that represents the hacking of equipment such as turrets and vending machines. I'd previously had a wholly unrealistic and romanticised opinion about the excitement of hacking, but after playing Bioshock I realise that the life of a hacker is simple and brimming with mild stimulations. Hackers are no risk to the US government because their role can be simply outlined using the 'series of tubes' language that senators are able to understand.

Without spoiling anything, I can say that I'd expect to be granted a degree of freedom after a major event that takes place during Bioshock. Perhaps the player's avatar has a chain tattooed on his wrists for a reason: to signify total adherence to each order he will be given during the game. Bioshock's publishers framed their game as an intellectual stimulation, so it's sadly ironic that the only choices to face the player regard violence and occasionally the choice to refrain from killing someone.

Perhaps I've been too harsh on Bioshock. Perhaps it deserves the uproar that it has provoked through its commercial and critical success. I remain firmly unimpressed. I expected so much more. If you've yet to play Bioshock then I recommend you think twice before you make a purchase.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Value of Games

Ian Bogost is a sage amongst milder herbs. According to Bogost (and contrary to Splines' previous reports), we're all a little to blame for the failure of the original Manhunt 2, Carmageddon, Fahrenheit, and every other game deemed too 'adult' for retail acceptability. Bogost, who is the founder of Persuasive Games, conceives a need to critically assess the ramifications of the label 'Adults Only' (AO): the decisively fatalistic rating which the US' ESRB deemed appropriate for Manhunt 2 last June.

Reading this statement, I think that Bogost is outlining a failure of duty (and the existence of a duty!) on the behalf of those that produce, distribute, and enable the playing of games:

"A number of commenters… are calling for… an AO version for PC sold outside the traditional videogame retail channels… I suspect such a move is financially unimaginable in contemporary videogames […] But game devs and publishers are going to have to start making moves like this if they also want to continue making calls for the protection of games as speech. Who will take this argument seriously if game creators are so willing to compromise their intentions?"

To use a civil rights analogy (why not): I think that we as gamers should consider the example of Dr. King, who successfully displayed that a valid and effective strategy to bring an end to discrimination is to avoid an adversarial mentality and instead to persuade those who would discriminate (against games as a worthy medium) that we should be recognized as members of the community with a valuable contribution to make.

We can achieve the respect of doubters in a number of ways. We as gamers can take it as our duty to show our favorite games to our friends, relatives, and people who would really prefer we didn't. We can tell people why we love games, how the media tends to report only on the negative aspects of gaming, and that 'Adults Only' should not be demonized because a lot of gamers are just that: adults. We can praise the efforts of the many developers that strive to exceed expectations and to produce something truly exceptional. We can reject the studio that fails to defend its creation when it comes under criticism for being 'too extreme'. Games are a creative vision. Developers: for you to submit to outside interference is like poking yourself in the eye, suddenly that vision becomes blurry and indistinct.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Decades of Decadence, Decimated?

The United Kingdom plays venue to past glory and modern mediocrity. This statement could never resound with greater poignancy than with respect to the UK's history of games development. This sceptered isle once hosted a plethora of innovators and instigators: pioneers that led the world's first virtual revolution. Today, talented British developers leave their native shores in multiples of 56, heading for a warmer reception within cultures that view gaming as a valid contributor rather than incidental childs'-play.

Bearing our temperamentally transitional history in mind, I'm mindfully skeptical yet tinted with a pang of glee when a prominent Conservative MP announces an ambition towards, "Tax breaks for the games industry similar to those experienced by the film industry".

I'll write more on this issue should the ambition become a promise. Until then, I'll be remaining cautiously optimistic.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

No Tricks or Treats, Only Manhunt 2

Hi. Just a quickie to update you with news that Manhunt 2 has undergone an ordeal as Rockstar's psychotic staffers hurriedly applied the surgical blade to modify their game's body in time for a Halloween release date. No anesthetic was used due to the game already being knocked out by a severe blow to the freedoms of game developers when the BBFC refused to certify the game (in its original form) earlier this year.

In other noteworthy news, I have Bioshock, and it's good. Unfortunately I have to go to some stupid partnering of husband and wife in legal matrimony this weekend, guaranteeing the whole forty-eight hours to be a total wash-out. A few frustrating rotations of my clock's big daddy hand occurred before Securom replied to my e-mail and kindly allowed me to manually activate the game I'd paid for.

Although I would never advocate piracy, I think this form of mockery is objectively quite justified:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Massive Damage

The ever clever Gamasutra today begins a new feature - Game Design Essentials: 20 Difficult Games - providing informed insight into the 'skill-test' philosophy of early video games (as opposed to the modern focus on narrative and thus the requirement that players reach the 'end' of the game). John Harris, the article's author, shoots my weak-spot:
"[D]ifficulty in a video game must be handled carefully. Nothing attracts the ire of those fickle game bloggers quite like them getting their asses handed to them by a game."
I'll concede this is fair criticism, especially regarding this rambling rejection of the English language. I'll contemplate Harris' sentiment and ideally become a better writer because of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Frau Chancellor, Tear Down This Wall!

Tonight, as conference-goers settle into their hotel rooms in Leipzig, news filters through the binary-vine that Crytek's Avni Yerli cannot envision a future for his development team in Germany should the state enact proposed legislation against violent games. A tougher law is needed, according to the German government, because of the (disputed) risk that the playing of violent games may lead increased aggressiveness in a gamer's behaviour.

I have sympathy for the German people. I think the state is acting out of concern for the individuals under its charge, yet I fear it may have 'set up the bomb' on this one: somebody's going to get hurt before the round is over, no matter where the truth lies in the video games violence debate. If the legislation does not come to fruition, the government will disappoint the 59% of German people who feel that a ban on violent gaming is appropriate (see 'proposed legislation', above). Yet, if a ban is enacted, the economy is guaranteed to suffer. The existence of Crytek and the Leipzig conference within Germany provides onlookers with strong evidence that the German people value gaming in their lives and with their wallets.

I think that I've yet to reach the core of the issue: should the state halt their proposal at draft, this will happen because of coercion. The German people are in majority consensus that violent games are bad for society, so a decision to halt legislation would be a demonstration of the state putting economy above welfare in its priorities. My ideal solution would be for everyone involved to have a stein of bier and an academically-supported chit-chat which would (of course) result in all the skeptics agreeing that they were wrong and that Manhunt 2 and all its companions should become part of the school syllabus. Failing that, I'd simply like the German state to agree that, due to insufficient evidence either way, video games are not a risk to peoples' sanity and should therefore not be restricted any further. The ratings system is, after all, a restriction, and it should be tailored to meet the opinions and sensibilities of the people.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

Olympus Yawns

Note: This post is written about God of War 1, I've yet to play its sequel. Apologies that this blog's material is often archaic. I have a lot of catching up to do with my playing of console games and learning how to write good.

I don't like God of War. Let's get this promptly out of the way: I'm not very good at it, I got up to the part with a wooden floor that, if you battle too long on top of it, drops you to the detriment of your continued existence, and then (after several replays with accompanying new plans) I quit.

As I played God of War, early as the first locked door on the assailed ship, I realised that GoW's developers had one simple rule for their players: 'Do it our way, or fail'. 'Don't bother thinking about bashing that wooden door down with your brutish oaks of arms, gamer', the developers would say to me, 'just follow our chore-list and you'll have lots of fun, we promise'. And so I carried out my tasks like a good demi-god. It wasn't long until Kratos was directed into another room of the house, this time hoovering in Athens, then dusting in the desert. I was already tired by the point I was ordered to polish that wooden floor within a strict time limit, my meager skills and withered frame were simply not up to the task. 'Yet you must persist', said the developers, 'There's a key in that room, and you can't progress until we let the red barriers down, and we won't do that until all the enemies are dead'. So I hurried and all the enemies died along with me when we fell madly into the dark room below.

'Oh, another job', confessed the developers as they speedily reassembled Kratos' corpse, 'We couldn't put you back together in that room because of, you know, the floorboards being the way they are and all, and we couldn't begin the procedure in the room before that either, you see, the enemy AI is as crooked as Atlas' back and, you know, it couldn't be helped but, sometimes they keep on spawning and jam into that room and - oh, I expect you noticed the evil-flavoured jam when you tried to get into the floorboard-trap area, is that why you're cut as well as smushed? So anyway, the job, well, we need you to run across this contraption of giant saw-blades and then along a conveyor-belt with crushing spiked blocks that move unpredictably and then climb a wall. You probably remember doing this before your death, right? Well, all we need you to do is keep repeating this perilous run until you've worked out how to kill all those enemies in a cruel rigid time limit. See you soon!'
'You've properly stitched me up this time', I thought.

My complaint isn't simply that GoW is linear, I think it's lacking even the most spartan smidgen of ambition. The enemies, for example (barring their AI, which is basic yet functional), are reminiscent of Robotron: the player knows exactly how they're going to behave based on their appearance, they're incapable of evoking surprise or projecting a sense of individual character, they're drones. The difference between Robotron and GoW (besides the volume of memory that their respective developers had to play with) being that Robotron placed the player in combat with entities that we'd expect to display drone-like behaviour (being that they were, in fact, drones), yet GoW's beasts, such as the Cyclops, should be inherently selfish and individualistic. When I see a young Minotaur throw its youth away as a slave to such uninspired development, I weep.

Another thing, developers, if you're going to develop such a limited set of rules and situations and call them a game, at least make them consistent. If I try to jump over a ledge to reach some goodies and find that I can't, I don't expect that I then will fall to my doom when I try it over some foreboding precipice. The opposite is true, if you prevent me from callously throwing myself off a cliff I might well assume I can't take an aerial root towards nearby goodies. That, and Kratos looks like he's found footing on an invisible Mario-block each time he performs the double-jump upon which so much of GoW's platforming depends.

GoW is definitely the worst game I've played since Armed Assault.

A Visceral Update

"Bookmark it, RSS to it, marry it. It’s a big, new, and exciting thing that will be updated every day with comment and thoughts on PC gaming news, games and esoterica."

I'll bet Kieron Gillen has already made a gag about cocking the gun, innu-ending any prospect of humour in this post before it's even begun. If you like gaming, click the link.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Case of History Deleting

If you were to click this link right now, it probably wouldn't work. Why am I providing you with a dead link? Well, perusers of the internet have palpitated their quivering left-clicking fingers with such rapidity over the Wikipedia Scanner that the website has been, "Disabled until the onslaught of traffic wanes".

I'm telling you about this because, beside offering the amateur sleuth an opportunity to raise aloft the torch of transparency, Wikipedia Scanner's skilful deployment has led to a conglomeration of shamed corporate employees, including an Electronic Arts staffer who would prefer public ignorance about Trip Hawkins or EA Spouse.

I have nothing but contempt for these corporate representatives. Their actions are as despicable as they are futile. Wikipedia takes stock of earlier versions of each entry, placing the painless process of healing an ignoramus' incursion in contrast with the cruel and unusual punishments these poor human specimens will endure at the behest of their embarrassed employers.

Review: Colin McRae: DiRT

Format: PC
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters

Not since the original TOCA Touring Car on the PS1 had I played a racing game, or even felt compelled to do so. It was therefore with a lumbering weight of apprehension that I picked up my newly-purchased XBox 360 controller after double-clicking DiRT's desktop icon. I felt like a stranger in a sensuous new land, the foreign sound of a lady groaning in pleasure was to greet me like an aroused ambassador, and then, the most sumptuous menu screen ever. Gliding through the available play modes - Career, Championship and Rally World - I began to feel at home as I pondered on which option tempted me most. A defining characteristic of the rally is that drivers rarely undertake a challenge without a co-driver and pacenotes, this ethos extends to most aspects of DiRT. If the player finds themselves in a fix, the Y button on the 360 controller (or up-arrow on the keyboard) provokes a knowledgeable chap to chirp up, furnishing the player with usually useful information in specific regard to whatever currently holds the game's attention. Because of a decade of suspended knowledge, DiRT is to me a simulation game because what it lacks in missile launchers it makes up for in potential to tinker with technobits before the race. Codemasters have thoughtfully provided an explanation at the precipice of every pitfall, instructing newcomers on how to handle themselves when approaching such hazardous questions as, 'Should my rear toe-angle be negatively aligned for best performance?', simplifying the issue for genre-cretins.

Goatherds will kindly move aside

The developers of DiRT have done a darn-fine job. Before playing, I would have insisted that racing is a pure and emotionally-detached event, closer to a science of angles and traction than a whole-hearted adventure, now I know better. I know that the car in the above screenshot is a Mitsubishi Evo IX Lancer, what's more, it's my Lancer, and we've been through a lot together. In each of DiRT's modes, courses are unlocked and thus the player is materially rewarded for their accomplishments. Many games, notably MMOs, use a similar 'new stuff after strife' system because it achieves a heightened sense of ownership. I don't think it's sensible to use a system such as this in a game like DiRT because it typically shrouds the best bits. DiRT goes so far as to reveal the events' name, the type of course and car involved, yet demands that the player earn the privilege to play most of the game . Codemasters ascend a steep incline of success once the better content is unlocked. As I conquered the Career Mode's tiers I was able to choose from a worthy roster of motors, learning for myself the nuances of torque and track alike.

Codemasters developed a new engine before spraying DiRT onto our screens, and its performance to annoyance ratio is top-notch. It's clear that the publishing/development duo have acquired a brimming toolbox during McRae's many trials (DiRT being the seventh iteration of the series), the rally cars' handling, the fidelity of the scenery, the camera-angles available to the player in-game and the playback features present in the action-replay, they're all marvellous. What's absent from this list of pure-gold gameplay? Well, I say that the rally cars handle well because the buggies (that are much flaunted in DiRT's publicity) handle like soap in a bath: they're slippery and you'll ultimately face frustration. The in-race camera-angles are both functional and attractive, so it's a shameful revelation that Codemaster's positioning of most of their track-side cameras is dire, dire like the kind of Bugbear that would pulverise a lesser game into the damp gravel of obscurity.

DiRT lets you take trucks off-road. That's not 'arcade', that's American.

The majority of gaming PCs won't have the horsepower to handle this game at its most maximised detail levels. If you own a 360 and a PC that hasn't had its components churned-over in more than two years, I'd definitely recommend that you purchase the 360 version of DiRT. Aptly enough, only the beginning of each race has performed at a poor speed on my PC, with far smoother acceleration accompanying the majority of races. DiRT remains, under its embossed bonnet, a rally fanatic. As such, the contours of the road will supplant other cars as the abundant challenge for the player's speeding chassis.

DiRT's audio is its disability, its crutch rather than a well-oiled clutch. Once I'd recovered from the startling onset of the stupendously sub-woofed title music, I found DiRT to be wiped clean of any music of merit. There's little audible mettle to the motors, either. The game is proudly loud, but rarely does the audio suit the atmosphere or does the terrain's visual virtuosity risk succumbing to the enunciation of the engine.

In conclusion, DiRT is a game that's well worthy of your time, even if you're not keen on the genre. I'd highly recommend that you purchase an apt controller with rumble and anaglog-stick capabilities, without which you simply won't experience this game as the developers intended. DiRT has left a persistent smudge upon my psyche.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Brining Shock

In a manoeuvre that should be regarded as suspiciously similar to poaching other, better sourced blogs' material, rather than actively engaging in research or any other behaviour with a semblance of professionalism, Splines has a story to report which will flood your chambers with passion, angry passion. Prepare yourself for an imminent jealous rage.

Some normal people have Bioshock early, they have it now, and they got it from Toys R Us. These people simply sauntered in and asked for Irrational Games' unreleased sunken treasure, and they got it. This makes me mad because I want to count myself amongst this gallant few. Sadly, there's no Toys 'R' Us in Lancaster, and I suspect their management may already be wise to the breach in their company's starboard stocks. I'm bitter and twisted, like the salt-water that naive checkout staff have poured into an arm still writhing from a gaping drill-bit wound.

Thanks to Kotaku for this story. Your blog is infinitesimally better than my own, but sadly lacking in grotesque similes. Also, they'll be a review of Bioshock on Splines as soon as my pre-order arrives (must...fight....swelling tide of fury). Also also, I promised a review of DiRT about a week ago and I've yet to deliver, if all goes well then it will be done and dusted by late today or early tomorrow, I can't tell for sure because I've yet to start writing it!

Edit: I don't mean when I say,
"they'll be a review of Bioshock on Splines as soon as my pre-order arrives", that I'll begin writing immediately after viewing the case. There will be a certain length of time between Bioshock's arrival and my preparedness to assemble thoughts on the matter (and then I'll play the game - tee hee).

Monday, August 13, 2007


Thanks to Game Politics I've discovered Erik Bethke and the impressive premise of an online avatar's bill of rights. Erik is CEO of GoPets and developer of a game that goes by the same name. The theoretical possibility of an avatar's judiciously protected properties was hailed by Ralph Koster a chronological chasm of seven years ago, yet the materialisation of habeus corpus remains as removed from existence as a habitual corpse. This despotic state of affairs seems placed to topple as Erik has both the mind and the platform of GoPets by which to virtuously campaign and effect both expectations and reality.

Erik's proposal of action could likely lead to a re-evaluation of reality for other online content producers/hosters such as Blizzard, YouTube, and even bloggers such as myself. We'll need to enquire of ourselves: 'To what extent is this venue a public space? At what point is intervention justfied and do I, as an administrator, possess greater privilege over my visitors?'. The establishment of a tribunal - in which a public panel contemplates evidence and passes judgement - has been put forth by Erik; this system has an inherent advantage in its existence within an MMO, being that a presumedly impartial power (the game's administrator) has access to reliable logging data (such as that of both party's conversations) that can be utilised to ascertain truth when presented to a judicial organisation. Even still, is this kind of logging to be permitted in a surveillance-sensitive society? These are the kind of questions that should (and I'm confident, will) be asked before Erik's formative deadline regarding GoPets' EULA.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ubisoft Baby Bottoms

Hmm... an odd one, this. The question that begs to be asked being: do girls truly relish the prospect of looking after a baby, or is this assumption a result of the demands placed on young women by our society? I can't answer this question, although my experience of life has taught me that truth (a tricky prospect in itself) lies in a compromise between polar notions. Ubisoft's Imagine Babies could be the latest artefact in a lengthy succession of technologies which aim to socially engineer people with the aim to morph them into cooperative and cohesive tools of the state, it could be simple fun.

A definite positive aspect of this creation is that it represents Ubisoft's perception of 'the girl' as a marketable demographic, and the DS as a medium for introducing to the under-represented sex a form of entertainment that they've neglected for the past few decades.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sumotori Dreams: Drunk Guy Simulator

Review: Shadow of the Colossus

Format: PS2
Developer: SCEI Production Team 1

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment International

Urgh, 'SCEI Production Team 1', such a jarring juxtaposition of clinical corporate regimen against the wide-eyed realisation that this team has not been doped or bonded by their employers, but left free to create something truly majestic. In harmony with Cory Barlog's observation (he's the director of God of War I and II), this game drapes a silken subtlety over the themes it elegantly addresses. SotC aptly avoids the temptations of Hollywood-style, testosterone and napalm-fuelled plot progression - eerily - as though this game were developed is an alternate Proto-Hollywood hegemonic yet digitally capable universe. Wonderment at Japan's cultural isolationism aside, SotC features giant freakin' monsters: the colossi. As the protagonist, Wander, you'll be responsible for the felling of the gargantuan inhabitants of this strikingly radiant game-world. So, how can SotC be subtle? The big chap on the game's box wouldn't do so well at a game of hide and seek in and around your grandparents' living room, would he now? Well, it's in the methods used to tell SotC's story, in the way that Wander and Agro (his horse) develop a character and motivation despite the minimum of dialogue (actually, Agro hardly talks at all), but rather through the player's identification and empathy with a duo clearly suffering through adversity. My understanding of SotC was borne through being compelled to supplant my own worldly experience in lieu of any definite knowledge of Wander's world, and, in doing so, to accept the symbiosis of my own personality with that of the protagonist. The colossi are strong characters in the most obvious of ways, however, playing SotC you'll marvel at the many nuances and intricacies that amaze precisely because they don't take up the entire screen with a toenail or attempt to model your avatar on a pancake.

The colossi sport Reactions lenses.

Now that I'm forced to unceremoniously disassemble SotC's gameplay, it's clear that there are three distinct segments, to be named, 'The Briefing', 'The Hunt' and 'The Battle'. The Battle is inverted in upon The Briefing, meaning that once you've killed the Big Bad, you'll find yourself (almost) instantly back in The Temple of Briefing (I'm so glad Sony didn't call it that).

Briefings live up to their name because your boss issues instructions whilst standing before you in his underwear. Although I just lied to you, my reviews are to be trusted. What actually happens is a heavenly light shines down from the roof of the temple, accompanied by succinct orders, furnishing the player with ambiguous and perfectly unhelpful clues about the next colossus. The Briefing is the weakest section of the game and mercifully brief. My ire is raised because I'm no fan of the voice acting, the fictitious in-game language's semiotics, or the content or font present in the subtitled translation. After every fourth colossus is toppled, the player is granted a cutscene of such marvellous quality it almost, almost, dispels the lacklustre quality of The Briefing.

Moving on: The Hunt. In the above picture you'll see Wander holding his sword aloft, beaming radiant sunlight against the matted chest of a hideous beast. This sword-and-sunlight dynamic forms a crucial element of SotC. Holding the controller's circle button whilst manipulating the left analog stick allows the player to harness and reflect any light source towards a target. This technique has two major applications: the cone of light will focus and become more intense when pointed in the direction of the next colossus on Wander's death-list, the second application regards battles, I'll cover that in a moment. I like SotC's reflective navigation because, as well as being beautiful (along with the rest of the game), the mechanic remains embedded in the world - it's feasible - I find this preferential to a jarring radar-display, HUD-based or otherwise 'artificial' mechanic. I call this segment 'The Hunt' because of the distance you'll travel before encountering your mark. The environment is diverse in setting and rendered in a remarkable style that I find reminiscent of high-exposure photography. Distance travelled in SotC should be measured in pleasure.

The battles are mostly great. From the walkthrough I consulted (I have no shame!), I've garnered that people's opinions vary widely as to which colossi are rubbish and those that are the most difficult to beat. For example, I read that people had a lot of trouble dealing with the sand-worm, but I found that if you allowed Agro to take charge of whatever direction he cared to carry you, killing the beast was simple. Aptly demonstrated by Blockhead, computer games have a talent for exposing our strengths and humiliating inadequacies. I fell off the last boss so much I had to quit the game before my head exploded. To describe how a colossus is reduced to an inert hill or small mountain, it's best that I attempt to tackle a summary of how SotC's platforming is handled. The use of L1, to grab, is paramount. It's possible for Wander to grab and then shimmy (or pull himself up, or jump away from) almost any ledge, mossed or hairy (yes, hairy) surface in the game. Hair comes into the equation via the follicles of our big-hearted chums (they're not big-hearted because they love you, sorry), who are often covered in the stuff, allowing you to grasp the intricacies of stabbing your sword deep into the places they'd rather you didn't. Oh, yes! The sword, I said I'd mention the sword's light once more: it's very helpful to shine a beam, caressing the colossus with the glow, because the points at which the rays focus will aid you in identifying the important parts of your adversary's body, this equates to the parts you should stab or fire an arrow at. Alternately, if you clamber close enough to one of these points when your sword is unsheathed then the magic of exploitation will cause a symbol on the colossus to glow. Fighting a colossus is a lot better than I've made it appear. You won't be thinking about ledges or even hair during the battle, you'll be screaming 'Dios mio!' (this article is pending localisation).

Wander represents the proverbial David to the colossi's Goliath, as such, his life often dangles on the line depending on the dangling ability of the player. Health rarely presents a problem until the later colossi, but stamina is an ever-present hazard. Handily, gauges accurately plot the decline of both attributes, allowing the player to remedy Wander's imminent cessation of wandering. I particularly enjoy the moments when Wander runs out of stamina and regains just enough during his fall to manage a desperate grasp onto an obscure invert of the colossus - I've actually discovered weak points using this, ahem, 'method'.

"Hi, I came for the gymkhana"

I adore the audio. The orchestral accompaniment serves as a suitable incense to the chambers of sacred sites and long-forgotten halls of worship that comprise much of SotC. The game makes use of a central musical score which is then modulated according to the moment's theme and place, perhaps a knowing tip of the hat to the player's discovery of the unknown amidst the familiar: the unforeseen swell of a viola set against the rebellious nature of a game that goes beyond expectations, a world without restraint, an orchestra loosed into this setting lacking a conductor.

I want to believe that SotC exists as a grand design which, like the ancient monuments of its world, stand in defiance of reason or regulation. This can't be true, SotC has been developed, as all PS2 games, through a series of staff meetings, bosses, underlings, compromises and amendments. Yet, what I love most about this game is that not a hint of sacrifice taints the purity of vision that radiates to the depths of this holy font of gaming.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A-Life of Drink

Having just learned that Stalker's 'A-Life' system (the AI routine whereby NPCs would act with intelligent, situationally-concious autonomy within the Zone, behaving like this without the need for a player to trigger their actions or to even be present during their performance) was not simplified, as I'd assumed, but rather deactivated until the player had completed the main objectives in an area ... well, I'm not exactly sure what to think. I desperately wanted to be impressed by Stalker, yet I was dismayed after years of hype by GDC's seeming deviation from their ambitious mantra, so much so that I need a drink. Now I discover that the Ukrainian developer's unstable AI script lies dormant in the sarcophagus of a mutated oddity in the vast vault of gaming. I'm intoxicated with joy because the script was unleashed upon the public, yet I won't forget my troubles for long: GDC's bartenders have poured me a weak substitute for the shot of pure meths I'd hoped to ingest. As I stumble back to my hovel, half-unconscious, I dream to myself of how good it would have been for GDC to include a sandbox 'Zone Experience Mode' whereby I could discover for myself just how competently the A-Life system is able to screw up the plot. I trip over and a dog urinates on my shoe. I think to myself, 'nice programming'.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Under Pressure

As the weather becomes a whole lot less soggy, I'm reminded of an archaic term that the indigenous peoples of England would use when referring to this time of year. As late as AD2006, the racially diverse natives of the realm would celebrate the coming of fair weather as the 'some-uur'. They would cast away their ceremonial garb - the cagoule - instead, parading with a red chest and peeling nose to the local shrine of Bir-Gaadon. Every year, a drought was expected by those who work and play in the field of gaming; presumedly because the marketing executives - whose job it was to maximise sales of computer games - were all overcome with the duties of looking after their kids during the school holidays: when younglings had a lot of free time and very little to do. The drought signalled low yields in the seasonal harvest. The year's Big Brother game would herald a lull in quality that would persist until proper gaming weather (that's sleet and gales) resumed around October, or sometimes mid-June.

Summer need not be a drought. There's a rollicking repertoire of rich gaming heritage, fertile furrows in which your interest and talent may take root. I've only recently come into ownership of a PS2. It's wonderful to approach my local games store and to look upon the shelves with the wisdom that is conferred upon oneself through being a long-time gamer. I know exactly which games I'd like to buy and I can weigh my opinions against those held by the community. I can be assured that my purchases won't disappoint, and, what's more, the select plucking and purchase of great games from an older format is the embodiment of choosing gameplay over graphics. A flashy game will likely cause tremors when it explodes into the public's attention, but only a truly classic game will emit ripples of pleasure with permanence. So I encourage you: try something new this Summer, buy something old!

This is all not to say that there's nothing new worth playing right now, in fact, this is one of the best Summers of gaming in living memory. With only a minor whiff of favouritism, I'll gladly declare my viewpoint of PC gaming to be on the precipice of the Gobi desert, staving off the arid expanse with the rejuvenating aquatic Bioshock (released later this month) and relocating vast quantities of sand with Colin McRae DiRT (Splines review very soon - promise); I can't think of anything equally olympian on the consoles besides the PS2's God of War 2 - so there's another reason to go out and buy yourself a seven year old artefact of awesome.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Determinance's Reward

Paul from Mode 7 will be presiding over this year's GDC. Representing the contribution that indie games can make to 'big development', he'll be engaged in discussion alongside a panel of fellow games creators. Paul remarks:

"This is obviously a big deal for us [...] hopefully people will appreciate my ideas on paying attention to the community which builds up around a game: something to which mainstream devs should be taking a more “indie” approach."

Good luck dude!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bounding Blockhead

Oh, if you hate Okami's Blockheads as much as I do, then check this out. You only have to break the resolve (or, just break) two Blockheads in Okami and the first is a pushover. This link will definitely help you out with the infuriating second obligatory Blockhead on Oni Island.

On a side note, it's odd: I've trawled forums searching for a solution to the Blockhead issue that faces this nation and it seems that there are two distinct groups of people out there - some overcome the obstacle with ease, others find only failure, suffering, and a diminishing sense of self-worth, worsening with each passing moment in Blockhead's stony presence. I'm quite sure this has something to do with mental ability, speciality, lobes and what-not.

If you'd like to know more about this affliction that many morons cope with daily, check out this video - would memorising the location and order of those dotty flashes be difficult for you?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Review: Okami

As this is my first review that stretches beyond the realm of the PC, I've decided to make an amendment to all my future reviews, like so:

Format: PS2
Developer: Clover Studios
Publisher: Capcom

Should I have toiled for the now dearly-departed Clover, Okami would be the game for which I'd wish my team's life, and strife, to be remembered by. Okami Amaterasu's Adventure strides a century of history for the people of Nippon - a charming yet tormented land, depicted in the artistic style and baring the traditional hallmarks of Japanese society. In discovering Nippon, you'll be embodied by the lupine sun-goddess Amaterasu. Okami's lengthy and satisfying tale is a rejuvenation and concoction of several Japanese folkloric yarns, it's also a platform game - as such, Clover gladly and knowingly embrace cliché, resulting in a clever game for culturally astute gamers.

Clover's efforts are boundlessly distinguished through imagination, variety, and quality that even the most earthly mutt could sense. Epic character radiates from the bright, warm heart of Okami. A simple mechanic permeates the game: the celestial brush technique - the means by which Amaterasu's power is expressed - utilising the analog stick, thick black paint may be daubed upon the player's world; paint may conjure a gust of wind, snap lofty vines to serve your ascent, or slash an enemy clean in half. There are thirteen brush techniques in all, each represented by a unique gesture that is (usually) evoked during the press of R1 to pause the action. It was quite frightening the first time my karmic serenity was shattered when an enemy failed to freeze as I drew, even more so when later bosses raced me in finishing their own gestures!

Amaterasu draws the circle of Rejuvination - the show-off.

Now, about those clichés: Amaterasu quests to recover the lost brush techniques in order that she might have the power to win the battle against the evil that blights the land. Yes. The tale is generic, yet the telling of the tale is spectacular. Amaterasu can't speak, she gets her point across through barks and emotive facial expressions. For a strongly narrative-led game, a subdued protagonist could be harmful (contrary to this, Final Fantasy VII may have benefited from a 'blank-slate' main character), and so it was thoughtful of Clover to provide Issun as a vocal companion whose diminutive stature grants him an easy ride on Amaterasu's snout. Issun and Amaterasu together provide a complex symbiotic duet, providing resolve to one another and to you, the player. Resolve is a central and recurrent theme of Okami: it's suggested to be the driving-force of Good's defence against Evil; the 'happy-go-lucky, full-throttle, leap-before-you-think Ammy' is Issun's perception of the sun-goddess, and the source of much of Okami's humour. Death, betrayal, and the absence of cherry cakes will each take their tragic toll on the player's psyche before Okami concludes.

Okami refuses to be leashed by any pre-supposed limitation of the platforming genre. The camera (which, I hasten to add, is far from infallible), provides zest to stale perspectives - shifting from a close, following viewpoint, to wide-pan encompassments of the landscape and side-on Streets of Rage-style deep, faux-3D avenues. Clover's aversion to dogmatic depictions of avatar and arena credit Okami with a flexible and appropriate angle for every situation and challenge.

Amaterasu: not above howling during appropriate moments.

Okami's world is painted in a lusciously vivid manner. Clover's palette of textures perfectly compliments the PS2, being both simple and elegant, they're truly beautiful. I'd often find myself stop, just to appreciate - I can't often say that about a computer game. The Celestial Envoys (they're the gods' representatives within Nippon) are tasked with spreading the good word using their skills with paint and brush, so it's appropriate that Nippon should be seen as a canvas from the eyes of a goddess. Although loading screens are frequent, their duration is brief, and my PS2 never strained at the rendition of a sight.

Although the musical score is of a high quality, I almost lost my composure with irritation at the odd track's fleeting length and repetition - the worst offenders are the accompaniments to dungeons; with the outdoor ambiance lengthier than the sun's rays and just as bright. I noticed the occasional re-use of sound effects for different situations (such as the noise of the spider boss being identical to the wailing of a ghost later in the game), but this is hardly damning criticism. I like the use of audio cues to let the player know when a certain brush technique is appropriate - this was of special merit during the final, protracted, boss fight - without which I'd have probably taken forty hours to finish off the blasted swine. By coincidence, forty hours was the duration of my playtime. I enjoyed every second.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Tale to Inhale

It's an odd tale today, folks. Fragments of this story have been broken gratuitously like the crockery at a Greek wedding, so you may have already picked up a remnant of the ruckus. Here, thanks to Medialoper's skills with super-glue and dexterity of knee shuffling, I can present to you an account which may resemble the truth:

Second Life is home to many weirdos -this is the tale of one of them. The above picture displays what once was the distastefully verbose home and place of business to a certain Mr Legoean Ferraris (Lego for short). Lego's business (prior to designing obtuse Kirby-slandering public monuments) was as a consultant providing a service to US electoral campaigners in need of advice when setting up their virtual campaign headquarters within Second Life. You could say that, despite his eagerness to embrace this new era of politically integrated virtual worlds, Lego remained a traditionalist: he thought of his profession as serious one, extending this ethos to the decorum-void that is Second Life. His offices were to be a sombre place. Then, tragedy:

The Kirby Emporium set up shop directly across the street. On its roof - a bulbous pink creature - the friendly visage of a rotating giant Kirby. By Lego's thinking, the Kirby sign represented a threat to the serenity of business, it had to go. Quite how Lego's lobes concocted the, 'Kirby hates our troops juxtaposition with Adolf Hitler' ideological message, perhaps we'll never know, but we can be certain that Lego was assured: if he renovated his business to reflect this daring motif, passers-by would stop then collapse down to their knees in sudden overbearing empathy with Lego's plight.

The conclusion to this tale was quite unexpected to Lego. Perhaps our creatively-minded consultant was unaware, but a silent partner in The Kirby Emporium venture was non other than the virtual land owner upon which both Lego and Kirby spent their days. Lego's architecture was reported to Second Life staff and his plot of land (worth hundreds of dollars) was confiscated by the land owner. It's important to note that ultimately Kirby was victorious, framing him as a strong candidate for Reichs-Fuhrer in next year's elections.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all this? Well, the social laws of Second Life remain in an oft-hypocritical state of flux. Although Lego had treated his freedom of speech too liberally for the virtual tastes of the virtual world, virtually all of your property can be legally 'confiscated' by money-grubbing land owners with seemingly (also, virtually) no respite from the cyber rozzers. So, it's probably for the best, before you invest, to sign a contract prior to putting this 'New Media' thing to the test.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

An Appetising Prospect

I've added a new link on the right: Games for Lunch. Here's how Kyle Orland chooses to describe his wholly readworthy compendium:

"Games for Lunch spends an hour with a different game every weekday and writes a stream-of-consciousness review about the experience. Each review ends with an answer to the only important question at that point: Do I want to keep playing?"

Interesting, nay?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Wince of Persia

Last Monday bore witness to the Union of Islamic Student Societies' riposte against Kuma War's Assault on Iran. The student body, challenging stereotypes, toiled with furore to develop The Special Operation: an FPS that radiates Kuma's ethos of giving their players a broadly defined setting and a gun and then letting them do what comes naturally (shoot people in the face, obv.)

"This is our defense against the enemy’s cultural onslaught. We tried to promote the idea of defense, sacrifice and martyrdom in this game."
- Mohammad Taqi Fakhrian (member of the Union of Islamic Student Societies)

I'm hugely impressed to see the medium of games utilised to express issues of vast human importance such as one's discontent with unreasonable and unrepresentative products of the media or one's pride for their nation, yet, judging by this YouTube video, The Special Operation lacks the ambition to warrant analysis or acclaim.

Granted, I may be wrong. I should play the game before passing judgement. I'm not going to. Unfortunately for the Union of Islamic Student Societies, their point was instantly custardised the moment such a bold statement as the one above met with my perception of a game that seemingly has fought fire with fondue. To declare another your enemy and their product a 'cultural onslaught', I'd expect you able to identity your enemy's weakness and to counter-attack with something of greater worth. If I'd invested three years into coding and embedding meaning into a game and The Special Operation was my result, I'd have to consider a brisk shower under the cultural onslaught to freshen me up before I tried once more. I've shot virtual people in the face many times, never once learning anything in the experience. Please, students, try again - but show me something worth learning next time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Masters of the Past: XCOM: Terror From the Deep

XCOM: Terror From The Deep is almost certainly my favourite game of all time. Released by Microprose in 1995, the sequel to UFO: Enemy Unknown has captured my heart and mind, taken them back to base, researched them, and discovered my weak-spot for sumptuous turn-based strategy. Terror From The Deep is a pleasure with depth, complexity, surprise, and imagination beyond human game developers' modern capabilities. The title of this post truly belies the significance of this game - not only a master of the past but a paradigm of the present.

The mechanics of the game are simple enough to serve as a freely navigable reef to a novice of the genre. From the outset, Terror From The Deep presents a crystal-clear expanse that the player may approach at their own pace, paddling or diving, developing strategy or carried along by the ebb of the tide.

Terror From the Deep
consists of three distinct phases: the geosphere (above left), the mission (right), and base management (use your imagination). Beginning a new game, you'll immediately be confronted by Microprose's ambition - you'll be asked 'Where would you like to place your first base?' - and, instantly, a conduit of importance forms between yourself and the game world; You'll ask, 'If I site my headquarters in the Mediterranean, giving protection to Europe, Africa and Asia, am I leaving my main funding provider - the US - open to attack, and myself open to charges of neglect?'. Yeah, funding. In XCom, money makes the world go round. Without money your R+D teams will be figuratively dead in the water, worse - your ill-equipped aquanauts will literally meet the same fate.

Microprose have created an immensely challenging game. In a recent PC Gamer article, John Walker provided a URL for an XCOM difficulty augmenting utility, stating that many view the game as too difficult. I appreciate the relentless tricky tide. From the very outset, with fearsome foreboding, the alien threat will progress with the pace of a tsunami, each day becoming technologically, numerically... even biologically superior to Earth's defence force (that's you). You have one single advantage: experience. If you can keep your aquanauts alive, they'll develop from scared seamen into hardened reliable veterans - as capable of washing away Martians as is Fairy Liquid to stubborn, engrained filth. The XCOM defence force will forever struggle to keep pace with alien development, because it is only by encountering new alien technology in missions (and overcoming its perils) that your squad will return home carrying new toys to be retrofitted for Earth's purposes.

Now: the atmosphere. Microprose have worked a miracle - Terror From the Deep is both turn-based and tense. Some would say that this tension arises from the frailty of your aquanauts, knowing that 'End Turn' could also spell the an end to the lives of your team. I agree, I find that notion quite chilling. Yet, it's my own imagination that terrifies me. When my aquanauts disembark onto the seabed, I'm certain that I'm being watched, that the aliens are aware of my presence, my violation of their domain. They're never friendly, even at the best of times, yet when I've shot down their ship and now I'm coming to steal their stuff - I know they're mad, and they're prepared to stop me. And although the graphics are basic by today's standards, those infernal aquatic demons have not aged one bit - catching glimpse of one during the alien's turn-phase remains genuinely, heart-pumping, anxiety attack provoking and 'Is that a fish tank down your pants?' scary.

Microprose, in UFO and XCOM, were early adopters and pioneers of gameplay components that we as gamers have still to yet take for granted. Although Dune 2 had introduced 'fog of war' to gaming three years prior to XCOM, Microprose's series brought about a revolution in the implementation and importance of 'line of sight' (the realistic necessity such as that for an object to be seen by a viewer, no obstruction should present itself between the two parties). The inclusion of 'line of sight' in XCOM allowed for squad-based tactics and environmental cover to be empowered by new predominance. Destructible terrain was also of grand significance, woe betide the player that fails to lend weight to the fragility of the oceanic rock that once served as cover for five aquanauts - now chipped away to reveal five crouching blue fools.

That concludes today's voyage into gaming past. If you'd like to buy XCOM: Terror From the Deep then I'd recommended a search on Ebay because Play.com doesn't stock the game any more and Amazon.co.uk offers the high high price of twenty three quid. As I mentioned in my previous post, you can download the game over Steam for five dollars, yet, this is the version that I've been playing over the past few days and I can tell you it's terribly prone to crashing on Windows XP. I don't believe any version of the game is compatible with Vista... yet.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Vista: Terror's Not Cheap

The weekend worries me. This is the weekend in which I install Windows Vista - the crippling OS that liquidates youthful computers, rendering them outrageously senile. I'm installing it because I have a DX10 graphics card and I want to be able to say that I have a DX10 capable machine. I'm installing it because I'm stupid. These Summer months are apparently as frigid and barren for DX10 games as is the landscape of Lost Planet: the PC's solitary wanderer able to take advantage of the new oasis of fancy fidelity. Unfortunately, the only exceptional feature of Lost Planet lies in its tundra of trilinear titillation, yet my knowledge of this fact, (and my inevitable forthcoming purchase of such a shallow game) only serves to exalt my own failure as a gaming connoisseur and a human being.

I'm most apprehensive about opening my eyes to the weekend's Vista because:
Thud! Typing this has knocked some sense into me - I'm not going to upgrade, for now. I'm having way too much fun playing XCom: Terror From The Deep (£2.50 on Steam, click the link above). Until Service Pack 1 or a significant patch for Vista is released, I'll be keeping my copy in alien containment, where my scientists can learn from it without risk of exposure.