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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.

Monday, July 09, 2007

EU3: Loading Units On To Ships

I checked Splines' tracker today to find a lot of my visitors are referred through a Google search under the query 'How do I load units onto my boats in Europa Universalis?' or some such. Well, I just happen to know the answer - and you're going to be kicking yourself. So, due to popular demand, here's the solution you've been searching for:

To load your units onto ships in Europa Universalis 3, simply order your ships into an ocean square adjacent to the territory in which you have armies, when the ships have reached their destination (this process usually takes around 2/3 days) order your men to move into the ocean square - they will do so, and, instead of drowning, they will board the boats.

Yes, the solution seems silly. You probably assumed that the boats had to be docked in order that the men could safely walk the gangplank. Today, common sense has not prevailed. However, you may still yet rule the seas. Apply the knowledge I have had conferred upon you this day, and you'll be the scourge of smelly foreigners everywhere.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Hollow Assumption

Under Hu Jintao, China's poorly fleshed-out 'purification' policy had led to the absurd censorship of skeletons in World of Warcraft. Apparently, the sight of exposed bones will upset the 'harmony' of China's erstwhile immaculate society. The9 - licensee of WoW in China - swiftly complied, burying the offensive textures and replacing them with softer, squelchier, socially harmonious undead horrors.

Beijing's 'purification' is a reactionary policy, aiming to address corruption, inefficiency, dishonesty, and generally every other symptom of a selfish, individualised, society. 'Purification' shares much in common with recent British political machinations - essentially, the wanton imposition of policy based on a nostalgic and idealised vision of our nation's past. I hold both the UK and Chinese government guilty of conceptually simplifying their subjects, betrayed through the design and enactment of law that is both oppressive and totally ineffective at progressing a healthy common conciousness.

Perhaps the removal of WoW's skeletons will have an unforeseen effect upon The People's Republic. The internet and oppression share a commonality - they both hold the potential to unite people, either through ease of communication or by the shared agreement that an unacceptable situation exists. Through instances of unnecessary state interference, discontent may grow to become a force for change. So, oppressive states of the world, keep it up! Each time you interfere, your resistors' identity and mission becomes clearer. Be assured, when the time for change comes, the skeletons in your closet will be displayed for all the world to see.