Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Wikileaks

For those who aren't aware of the Wikileaks media explosion that it currently under way, you're missing probably one of the most important show downs of the 21st century. More details can be found on wlcentral.org and at the Guardian, but in summary here is what has happened.

On Sunday 28th of November, Wikileaks (formally of Wikileaks.org but now currently, amongst over a thousand other domains, at Wikileaks.ch) began publishing over 250, 000 leaked Cables from American embassies around the world. This was accompanied by 5 news papers including the Guardian in the UK, who were also given the leak. These cables covered a number of things including criticism of the UK strategy in Afghanistan, that the US government was spying on the UN and that NATO had drawn up a plan of defence against Russia. For more information, I once again point you towards the Guardian website or on on the Cable gate search engine if you want to explore the cables themselves.

This naturally provoked the American government to condemn the site, claiming it was endangering the lives of Americans and setting back diplomacy years. Things then escalated with prominent US politicians calling for Assange - the founder of Wikileaks - to be assassinated. Pressure was applied to companies to drop Wikileaks.

And so they did, Amazon, who were hosting Wikileaks, kicked them of their server, Paypal suspended their account, everyDNS.com dropped their domain so you cannot get to the site from www.wikileaks.org any more and most alarmingly the French government threatened to take action against any company hosting the site in France.

Most recently, Assange has been charged with rape and is currently in court proceedings to extradite him to Sweden. Simultaneously, the American government is looking for laws to prosecute him relating to the leaks.

That is a rough overview and I strongly recommend reading additional things on it as it is an exciting story if nothing else.

The debate regarding whether the leaks should have been released has drawn different opinions. Personally, I am not convinced they are a good thing because some of them will set back key diplomatic relations years. For example, NATO plans against Russia will probably eliminate any chance of nuclear disarmament any time soon. Diplomacy, like all discussions between people, need some secrecy. Even your closest friend won't know everything you think about them. What is not said is an important aspect of communication.

However, this is more a criticism of whoever leaked the documents than Wikileaks, and it certainly isn't the important story to this issue. In fact, most of the leaked documents are basically irrelevant and their importance is probably overstated at the moment.

The rape charges are similarly irrelevant. Irrespective of whether this is an elaborate government conspiracy or Assange being guilty of a very serious crime of which there is little room in my heart for forgiveness, the American government has no right to try and shut down any site at all.

I am also not convinced that some of the counter-actions taken by internet enthusiasts is acceptable. For example, tracking down the two people who have excused Assange of rape and conducting a crowd sourced investigation in to them is at best morally questionable. Sure, it has turned up some quite interesting results, but if it hadn't it would be a serious invasion of privacy in to two victims.

In my opinion, the rape charge is a separate issue. Yes, the case is being conducted suspiciously and at a very coincidental time, but that doesn't instantly mean that Assange is innocent and the accusers guilty. I feel that Assange must be found innocent of these charges and put them behind us. If it seems like he was found innocent simply because of internet pressure that will be far more damaging.

The key issue is the threat this appears to be on freedom of speech. Irrespective of the content published, the American government shouldn't be leaning on companies to try their best to stop Wikileaks broadcasting and they certainly shouldn't be considering arresting him or even assassinating him.

The entire world seems to have gone mad. Sure, the content is damaging and I can understand why the US government is annoyed to have had it leaked, but surely no government claiming to believe in freedom of speech can do anything like prosecute him.

I am sure there are plenty of readers who agree with me and the American government, that actually this leak is not beneficial to anyone. However, I would hope that you all agree that this is irrelevant to the real debate: should a government be able to stop a website that is communicating content which is damaging to said government. For me, the answer is a resounding no.

If it is for you to, I implore you to take action: email your MP, persuade people that freedom of speech is at stake and this is the real debate (as opposed to the actual leak), boycott services that cave in to government demands (though that does make Christmas complicated without Paypal, Amazon, Visa or Mastercard!) and spread the word. I don't know if Assange is guilty of rape, though the circumstances seem quite odd, but I do know that he isn't guilty of treason against the American government and I do know that Wikileaks must be allowed to continue.

On a side note, there is some evidence that Twitter is actively stopping #wikileaks trend, it is certainly receiving more tweets per minute than any of the listed trending topic (though their is apparently a more sophisticated formula behind trending). Either way, follow #wikileaks to keep up to date with all the half rumours and latest news.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Umm, Fable 3?

Long term readers of this blog will know I am a massive fan of the Fable series. While many people did not like Fable 2, I have written at length about how I thought it was a truly fantastic game (that said, looking back through my posts, I have written considerably less than I remember writing... maybe I should do a look back at some point...)

So your probably wondering why there has been no coverage of Fable 3. The sad truth of it is I haven't played it. My excuse is legitamate, I am at university and do not have a 360. As a result, I am saving it until Christmas (where I will be back at home). I am currently avoiding all press and reviews on the game, so I have no idea how it is being received. Believe me, when I get to play it, I will be blogging about it.

On a simmilar note, I will eventually write my review for Civilization 5 but my life has been a bit hectic for the past month.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Civilization 5 IS coming to Macs

I can confirm (to a reasonable extent) that there will be a Mac version of Civilization 5 and we are hopefully not far away from its release. In every Civ 5 mod there is a file called the modinfo file. It contains, among other things, the description of the mod and who made it etc. It also includes a property called . To me, that seems pretty conclusive evidence that a Mac version is on its way.

You heard it here first, Civ 5 for Mac!

Civilization 5 LAN fix

As you can probably tell from the lack of live updates, I am enjoying Civilization 5. Posts coming soon about things I liked and don't like. However, in this post I am going to explain what I had to do to get LAN play working with one copy of the game licensed to one Steam account. My copy was from Amazon but I believe this will work with Steam versions as well.

I am not sure if this counts as piracy but I don't think anyone would buy more than one copy of the game to play the occasional game at a LAN party so it isn't costing anyone any sales...

The problems I had were:

  • Game not showing up in the LAN screen
  • Game stopping on the "Retrieving Host Information" screen
Solution: To solve the first problem, make sure Civ is allowed through all of your firewalls (no special ports, just add an exception.

If you are having the second problem, each computer needs the Steam account to have a different nick name (read below for details)


First you need to choose a host computer and put your steam account on this computer in to offline mode. Then with each extra computer do the following
  1. In Steam, open up the friends window and change your nickname to a unique name/name of the player on that computer
  2. Switch Steam in to offline mode (Steam>Go offline...)
  3. Start Civilization and go to LAN (in Multiplayer)
  4. Hopefully at this point, Windows will ask you if you want to allow Civilization 5 through the firewall, click allow (this should resolve the first issue). If it doesn't prompt you, just add the exception through the Windows Firewall exceptions list
Do this for each computer setting them to a different name each time. Now go online on the host computer and change the nickname to another name. Open Civ, add Civ to the exceptions list and host the game. All players should now be able to join.

Nb, there doesn't appear to be a save option in LAN at the moment. Fortunately the game appears to auto-save every turn so just make sure you end your turn before quitting. I am assuming this is a mistake and will be patched.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Civilization 5 Live Blog

Civilization 5 tuned up today and I am just waiting for Steam to allow me to activate it (at midnight). I will be live blogging impressions tonight and will pick these up after work tomorrow (and before you say, yes I know this is a bad idea).

I have played the demo and I really liked what I saw though I have some reservations. I will be playing as Arabia on a normal map with normal pacing. Also, if anyone wants a game, let me know.

Most recent updates are at the top

[01:44] The game is opening, and there are 100+ achievements, because, honestly, the game wasn't addictive enough
[01:38] 1 hour and 38 minutes after Civ 5 was meant to go live, disk users can now install Civ, which is what I am doing now, planing on playing no later than 2. We'll see how that goes. Approximately 30% of the way there
[11:59] All set to go

[11:50] 10 minutes to go!

Monday, June 28, 2010

3DDS Missed a trick

I have had exams and so my E3 coverage has been, well, missing. The Fable 3 trailer was absurdly over-the-top dramatic and Portal 2 looks amazing, but today I am going to write about the new DS that has a 3D screen.

Everyone says it works fantastically and not having to wear glasses is a massive achievement for Nintendo. Put simply, 3D won't take off until this becomes standard. No one is going to wear special glasses to watch normal TV.

Having said this, I think Nintendo missed a trick with this DS. Only one of the screens is 3D, the one that isn't a touch screen. They said it was because finger prints could mess up the 3D effect. Fine, but I think more importantly touching a 2D display would break the illusion of 3D.

However, what is the first thing people try and do when they see 3D: reach out and touch it. And they could have done this with the DS. The lower touch screen could also have tiny cameras that could detect the positions of your fingertips. If they did this, you would be able to interact with objects in 3D.

Not only would this reinforce the illusion of 3D, it would open up huge game play possibilities. Up till now, most video game puzzles are limited to operating within a 2D environment. This is because both our vision and interactions have been limited to 2D. As soon as games throw in a 3rd dimension, the puzzle becomes frustrating because you can't interact with it in a natural way.

However with a 3D, err, interaction screen, you could do all sorts of puzzles that would have otherwise been very difficult to convert in to a game. It could also have educational purposes, particularly with 3D vector questions (as you can tell, exams have taken over my mind).

I am still unsure about Kinect, and MS massively missed the point when demonstrating their kart racer game. In real driving you have to hold something. Without anything in your hands, the experience (I believe) will feel flat and bland. They could have at least done something cool with it, like accelerating with your feet, to make it feel more like real racing. I was also disappointed that there wasn't any information on how Fable 3 plans to make use of it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Civilization 5 Combat System

Civilization 5 is scheduled for later this year and already significant changes have been announced. Aside from the fact the game is now hex based, the biggest changes seem to be related to how the combat will function in this game. Crucially, you are only allowed one unit per hex, demolishing the standard Civ strategy of "stacks of doom" where you put all your troops in one big pile and advance them towards cities. Further, you are not allowed to leave troops in cities; instead, cities will require long and drawn out sieges. The idea behind this is to reduce the city centric wars that exist in Civilization 4.

The single unit per hex rule combined with the ability for ranged units to fire over hexes implies a much more zoomed in game. This would appear to be a move to make combat more tactical and less about numbers of units. If you can set up an effective choke point, it doesn't matter how many troops your opponent has, you just have your best unit block the way with archers behind them.

Also, there is talk of things like flanking bonuses for bringing your troops round enemies (though quite how this will work is unclear: will you have to point your troops in a specific direction?). All of this tactical layer sounds neat in principal. Wars have never held much attraction for me as they are too much of a slog towards the end of the game and I am not good at rushing. Hopefully the changes will make the wars more engaging.

If they are hoping to move the battles away from the cities the key thing they need to work on is making battles outside of a city beneficial. In Civilization 4, war was a serious thing. It wasn't permanent, but it had lasting diplomatic consequences with the AI and human players would rarely back down after a quick fight. Therefore, if you went to war, you could expect to be at it for quite a long time. The only thing that would justify the costs would be taking enemy cities. I think the early game could be more exciting if armies frequently clashed to capture resource points or territory. It would even fit with the time line, I can't imagine cave men had peace treaties with neighbouring tribes? As it stands, to capture enemy territory you have to capture the city that is creating the border, which seems a bit drastic for a small territory gain. And if Civ 5 make capturing cities harder, wars could just become and rare but final element of the game, no skirmishes, just total war.

My other concern is that it will be too much micro managing. Civilization is not a war game. War is a required part of the game play, but it is not the only part. By keeping it simple (as they have done up till now) it was assumed that your generals on the ground were managing your archers etc. and you just explained to them what you wanted to capture while you managed the economy, diplomacy and politics. How is having to position your archers behind your axe men going to fit with the pacing of the game? Will it heavily favour people who are prepared to do all this micromanaging?

The game is going to bring back advisor who will help you manage your cities, but I have never liked trusting the computer with tasks, particularly when it is optional and particularly when I enjoy managing my cities. Besides, that just means that those with the most patience will just manage it all and get an advantage at the cost of the pacing of the game.

Obviously, details are thin on the ground at the moment and I don't really know how any of this stuff is going to work.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stop the Press: Correction

I have just been alerted to a factual error in my (very) recent review of Blue Toad Investigation Files for the PS3. I have updated the review with the correct information, but in the interest of on-line journalistic integrity please find the updates summaries here along with my apologies at the error.

I initially stated that one episode would cost £6.29 and that all six would be £9.99. This is not the case. Episodes 1 and 2 will cost £9.99. Episode 3 is currently free. Episode 4, 5 & 6 will also be bundled for £9.99. All six can be purchased for £19.98. See my updated review.

On a totally unrelated note, I forgot to mention that John Cleese, from Monty Python and Fawlty Towers will be performing for Fable 3. How awesome is that?

Blue Toad Murder Files

Blue Toad Murder files is a downloadable puzzle board game for the PS3. The game is good with a really impressive mixture of puzzles, if a slightly off pricing model

Each episode, of which there are six, contain twelve puzzles. Despite this large number, they feel different from one and another and there is a nice balance between difficulty. None of the puzzles feel cheap and they include word, logic and spatial challenges which means everyone will be good at something.

In fact all the game play works really well. Four players can play with one controller. It takes the board game ethos of letting you choose how competitive you want to play. If you have younger players you may want to work together so they can do the more challenging puzzles, but the game includes plenty of scoring you so you can play against each other.

The great unmasking is also good. You have to be paying attention for the entire episode to be able to correctly identify who is the criminal. The developers have got the balance just right: you don't have to make any unimaginable leaps of genius, but equally it isn't blatantly obvious who it is; in all of the first three episodes at least one of us got it wrong each time.

The exaggerated town and over-the-top story are mirrored in the voice acting and art style. The narrators voice, whilst initially funny, starts to grate as he does a lot of talking. The characters are amusing with a very British sense of humour (there is even a Basil Fawlty-esque character) that give the game plenty of personality.

My main criticism with the game is how it is priced. There are (going to be) six episodes. Each episode has a self contained mystery to solve, but there is an over-arching conspiracy-theory of a plot to link the six. The idea is you can buy just one episode or the entire series. In principal this is a nice idea, letting you see what it is like before shelling out for the full thing. However, the pricing model simply does not reflect this idea.

[This is updated from the original review, see this post for details] The pricing is complicated: episodes one and two together are 9.99, the third one is currently free and the final three will be bundled for £9.99 unless you buy them all for 19.98. Confused, I was (hence the error). Let me do the maths for you: it is no cheaper to buy all of the bundles than to buy it in one hit. So just do that, which will let you try it out first. It is a really baffling price model, which considering the company is trying something new with the episodic content format is a shame.

They are enjoyable and if you are looking for a nice family game, £10 is great for three individual episodes. Though they have very little re-playability, they are fun enough to justify the price. I look forward to playing the final three, which are scheduled for the 8th of April. Because of the price scheme, you should get the first three soon (as the third one is only free for a limited time). I will review the other three when they are released.

This review has been updated to include factual corrections relating to the (quite) complicated price scheme. For full details of the changes, please view my correction post. Veteran Gamer believes in journalistic integrity and apologizes for this.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mass Effect 2

Masss Effect 2 has numerous issues, especially with the combat, that will frequently anger you. But I can forgive all of these simply because it provides one of the best single player story driven experiences I have ever played.

Clearly, I love this game, so let me pick apart the problems and then point out why I don't care. The combat, for me is the biggest sticking point. For an elite commando, the controls feel clunky and unresponsive. The cover system will have you jumping randomly in to and out of cover and team management still leaves a lot to be desired. Your team seem to largely ignore what you say and it is impossible to explain any marginally complicated plans as you have to maintain eye contact with what you want them to do. I don't expect Rainbow Six level of control, but in its current state, it feels utterly pointless. Co-operative might help to alleviate this problem and would certainly add to re-playability, but it is sadly not present.

The game also has this stupid resource collection mini-”game” that makes no sense in the context of the story and is so dull you will think it's a huge practical joke. The long loading screens also make a return. At the very least they could give you access to your menu so you can read all the information on the back ground while you wait.

However, none of this matters one ounce to me. I have already written too much about the story but I really did love it. The way all your choices, failures and successes are so beautifully woven in to the end provides a compelling experience. The intricate characters, complete setting and quality voice acting made the entire experience a real treat. You were emotionally invested in the characters from about 20 minutes in to the game right up until the dramatic conclusion. The game is really good at making you feel the weight of responsibility as commander and caring for your team in a genuine way.

In conclusion, it is pretty clear that I loved this game. Yes, it has a half broken cover system, long load screens and numerous other problems, but I don't care. I keep using the word “experience” and that is exactly what this games gives, an experience that is worth putting up with all the problems twice.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Story & Mass Effect 2

I have finished my first run through of Mass Effect 2 (review will be up soon) and it has been one hell of a ride. In this post I will be talking about the story, and more importantly, the delivery of the story. I will try to avoid ruining plot turns, but I am with the faction that says good story can't really be spoiled, so consider this a warning if you want everything to be completely fresh. When I wrote this, I hadn't actually finished the story, so don't worry about ending spoilers.

Mass Effect's story is fantastic for a number of reasons. The actual plot isn't actually one of them, it's fine, but it's just standard science fiction stuff. However, Bioware does the other parts so well: the characters are deep and diverse, the setting is complete with really interesting inter-race relationships and the voice acting is stellar (inter-stellar? Ed.).

However, as great and important as all that stuff is, I want to look at how Bioware have handled the dynamic nature of their story. What makes this story so great is that you are emotionally invested in it; that's why I loved Fable 2 despite it having a clich├ęd story.

Some games seem to think that, because books contain good stories, a book is a good model for a game story. There is definitely space for this kind of game, but I don't think that is the way to go if you want story to be central to your game. By making the stories more dynamic, the experience becomes more individual and that, for me, is what made me become emotionally invested in Mass Effect 2. With all this talk about stories, let me tell you a story.

In Mass Effect 2, there are a group of missions called the loyalty missions. You have to complete these to earn the loyalty of a specific crew members. One of your crew is an elite assassin who has a terminal illness. He recently discovered that his son, who he has kept in the dark about his line of work, just discovered what his father does and has now decided to become an assassin. Obviously, his Dad doesn't want this for him and wants to go and stop him. So you find out about what his target is going to be. You then split up, you tailing the target. Unfortunately, I lost the target in a crowd when he went through a door. We then ran to the apartment of the target to try and save him. Just as we get there we see his son shoot the target and run away. You have failed: a politician who may have changed the city for the better lies dead, a son has entered in to a life of crime never to be seen again and the father will die with the weight of that on his head, and it was entirely your fault. There is no restarting or trying again, just responsibility: if I had been better, this could have been avoided

Suddenly the game is personal, you have let down someone on your team and there is nothing you can do. Whenever you talk to him, he is miserably and dejected. You had one shot and you screwed it up. Mass Effect had this to some respect, but with Mass Effect 2 they have really ran with it. Failure and success aren't necessarily linked to restarting and the consequences of failure and cleverly woven in to the story.

The best books are the ones where you find yourself forming an empathy with the fictional characters. And this is what Mass Effect 2 does so well, you feel the pressures and responsibilities as a leader of a team. These are your decisions, your team will stick by them, but you must live with the consequences. And knowing that things can go wrong, like in the case of that loyalty mission, provides that pressure that forces you to care about what you say and do.

Your relationships with the crew also enforce this idea. For example, I accidentally led two of my crew on, hinting (and then out right declaring) that I liked them. The decision there was of course what I said. I could have told one of them we should just be friends, keep stuff professional, but I didn't and now, despite trying to be a positive role model for my team, I may have created a massive divide.

The speech system is another thing I really like about the game. Part of this is again down to the quality of the writing. However, the way what you say can have real consequences and that you can say the wrong thing at the wrong time gives it so much weight.

You won't know the consequences of what you are going to say and while the game does help you a little bit, it isn't always clear which one is going to be the most beneficial. I am sure there are people who will criticize it because sometimes it isn't even clear what you are going to say or the limited options means you can't say what you want to say. However, to me, this makes perfect sense. Frequently in life we are not able to say what we want to say, things go wrong, we mean to comfort someone but we end up antagonising the situation.

Of course, all this isn't just good design that most games ignore, this requires a huge amount of effort. I saw some unreferenced statistic saying that Mass Effect 2 contained 20 000 lines of dialogue, similar to about 20 films. The game didn't cost 20x as much as a cinema ticket, and so it would be unreasonable to expect this standard from every game. And like I said, there is plenty of room for the linear you-can't-make-mistakes stories like Halo's, just don't expect me to write a piece on the story of said game!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A crazy week or so - your Veteran Gamer news update

A news post on all the stuff that has been going down. It has been a bizarre week (give or take a few days) for the games industry, so I figured I should probably write something about it. After this, I promise to deliver my Mass Effect posts along with a review (and a review of a little PS3 downloadable game called Blue Toad Investigations).

Starting with the AppoclayPS3 (kudos to whoever came up with that). If you missed this, for 24 hours every single fat PS3 bricked. As it turned out, it was to do with the internal clock, which got confused as it thought that 2010 was a leap year. Fortunately for PS3 owners and Sony, the problem resolved itself when a new day dawned. Clearly Sony had no idea to fix it: they provided virtually no updates on their twitter stream (never a good sign) and the fix was wait until the next day.

Then Valve took centre stage, hinting at two separate things. Firstly, a mysterious patch to Portal meant that if you picked up and walked around with the radio, you could pick up encrypted signals. Which, if you are far clever than me, lead you through some Morse code clues to a BBS (a bulletin board system). The other cool Valve related story is that Steam is coming to the Mac. Whilst it hasn't been announced, the pictures give a pretty clear story...

Since starting writing this and thanks to an internet failure, Portal 2 has actually been confirmed and it will have co-operative too. Stay tuned for more details.

Then things started to get nasty. Activision, publisher of the $1 billion grossing Modern Warfare 2, has sacked the two leads at Infinity Ward (the developers of Call of Duty), Jason West & Vince Zampella. As always happens when nobody knows anything, the internet went crazy. However, as the dust has settled details are emerging. More recently, the two ex-employees have filed a law suit against Activision.

The basis behind their case is that the reason they were fired was not actually strong enough to justify getting rid of them and instead was timed so they would not have to be paid royalties for Modern Warfare 2.

The other key aspect is West and Zampella challenging Activision regarding the ownership of the Call of Duty IP. If they are able to satisfy the court that they still own the IP, then they could stop Activision from releasing further Call of Duty titles until the matter has been resolved.

Some of the stuff in the court documents, if true, is very scary:

"Activision conducted the invesigation in a manner designed to maximize the inconvenience and anxiety it would cause West and Zampella. On little notice, Activision insisted on conducting interviews over the President's Day holiday weekend; West and Zampella were interrogated for over six hours in a windowless conference room..."


It goes on, that is the stuff of nightmares. Kotaku has posted the full script and it is a scary read. This cannot be allowed to go on, publishers cannot attack their staff like this. The IGDA (independent game developers association) is broadcasting its board meeting this time, hopefully they will discuss this and what they plan to do. You can watch it at GD.net next Friday.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fable 3 and Civilization 5

My two favourite franchises, Civilization and Fable, are both receiving sequels this year! Fable 3 we already knew about, however the Civilization announcement is new. Please note, Civilization 5 is different from the previously announced Civilization Facebook, which should also be coming out this year.

Fable 3

I mentioned that Peter Molyneux would be demoing and talking about Fable 3 at this years X10. The key things to take away from it are:

  • Traditional RPG levelling and health systems have been cut
  • Like your character, your weapons will now change according to how you use them
  • There are two continents
  • The expressions wheel has been replaced by something called touch, though the details are still hazy as to how it actually works
  • The game will support but not require Natal. How the game will use Natal has not been announced
One thing that Molyneux did say is that they are still not talking about the second half of the game, where you have to rule a country (beyond a few hazy details like you will have a treasury and you will have to decided how to spend the countries money). Judging by the inclusion of a second continent, I would imagine there will be some kind of diplomacy/military conquest.

The weapon development is quite interesting. Basically, as you use your weapon, it will become more powerful and specialised. If you kill innocents, it will constantly drip blood, killing certain types of creatures will cause it to develop a certain appearance. The cool thing is, you can name your sword and then trade it online. Which means you will have actual legendary swords that you have to try and track down. The problem with this is of course the fact the game exists in sub-perfect world; optimal swords will be found and mass produced, flooding the market and near-breaking the system.


The other good thing is they are doing co-operative properly. You can use your actual character. Naturally, it being Fable, I am now super excited for this game.

Civilization 5

Details are still very vague at this point. Probably the most significant change is the move from squares to hexagons. They also said that there would be indirect attacks from units like archers. This all suggest, along with the screen shots, more tactical combat (placing your archers behind swordsmen type of thing) and less stacks of doom.


They also commented on improved diplomacy, which is good. For me, I found the biggest problem with Civilization 4 is that there is little reason the interact with the other nations, particularly in the end game when military victory is far too much of a grind to be seriously considered. Which is a shame as I have always liked the idea of combined military arms.

On that note, one thing I would like to see is a more inter-nation interaction during the end game - taking the UN idea to the next level. For example, maybe requiring nations to work together to overcome an flu epidemic or global warming. Something to force nations to consider each other, rather than just becoming isolationist and pushing for the space victory.

The only other thing specified was improved online, which is good, particularly if they introduce things like clans, leagues and experience points. Civilization 4 had a very robust multi-player, but little incentives to keep you playing which made it feel a bit dry.

Two very exciting announcements for my two most anticipated games of the year. Keep an eye of this site for updates as we approach their release (Civ 5: Fall 2010, Fable 3: Before Christmas)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Darksiders [Xbox 360]

Darksiders starts off as a weak, bloody version of Legend of Zelda but by the end is serving up interesting puzzles, fun combat and even a little compelling narrative. Providing you are prepared to put up with the opening couple of hours, there is a polished and clever adventure to be had.


The biggest theme in Darksiders is improvement. The game starts of really dreadful. The combat is incredibly boring and yet the game insists chucking you against hundreds of enemies; fighting them becomes a massive chore. When you get to a puzzle, it is mind numbingly simple, usually hitting something nearby to open a door. The environments are drab grey. The only promise of interest, humans running from angles and demons as the two super powers fight out a massive war on earth, dies out when you realise that the main game is set when the two powers are in a stalemate and all the humans are dead.

However, as the game progresses, everything gets better. You learn new moves and the combat is challenging enough so that you have to use them. By the end of the game, you are skilfully diving in with an attack and shooting back out as they come back at you. You use all your moves to great effect and fighting is really rewarding.

The puzzles follow a similar pattern. After the initial few hours, they become really rewarding. The puzzles are all logical and instead of feeling like you spotted the trick the designer wanted you to, you feel like you worked it out and it is your solution to a problem. Some of them follow the Legend of Zelda method of using your latest tool, but others require you to apply everything you have learnt so far and a little imagination. The only draw back is sometimes, especially in some of the boss fights, there is little feedback to indicate if you are doing the right thing, which is disheartening.

Even the story improves. OK, it never gets great, and the way it is delivered is poor: the game feeds you virtually no story line through out the whole game then at about 85% of the way through, it gives you two massive cut scenes one after the other which deliver the entire story. However, it is almost compelling and by the end, your previously boring character has a much more defined personality. The story is very confusing, partly because of the bulk delivery, but the ending is quite neat (hopefully a 4 player co-operative sequel?)

I had a lot of fun with this game. It presents some really cool locations later on, even if you feel you have visited some of them before (the sand dunes, for example, mimic the sand dunes in Legend of Zelda). It looks good, the game loads smoothly when travelling between environments and although the controls aren't perfect, the combat works well.

Zelda fans will have a great time with this game and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has the time to get past the opening section.

This review was based on a promotional copy supplied by the publisher.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Fable 3 announcement

In an interview with Peter Molyneux, the legendary designer said he was going to make an announcement at X10, a Microsoft conference on the 11th of February. He said the announcement was going to "upset people".

Obviously, I don't know what it is. However, given that we know Fable 3 will use Natal in some respect, I would not be surprised to find out the announcement is that Fable 3 will require Natal. He also said that he thought it was "the right thing to do". Given his support for Natal, and the fact that Natal's success depends upon high profile games being released on it, this would appear to support the theory.

I'm of two minds about Natal. I am still struggling to see how it can be used to enhance game play interactions. Sure, it is technically impressive, but the whole emotion recognition thing that Milo was doing isn't magic. That requires impressive software as well as impressive hardware. I fear this means that more likely than not, Milo-style interaction is going to be a rare phenomena rather than the norm. Natal is going to be a lot of money to buy and a lot of money for developers to develop for. Given there is a certain sense of the Wii reign coming to an end, I suspect developers will be weary about jumping on the next band wagon until it has been proven viable.

Obviously, I can't help but be excited anyway.

In other news, I have finished Darksiders and will post a review hopefully before the end of the week. Then I am on to Mass Effect 2, which so far has been amazing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Crispy Gamer

Some of you may have heard of a gaming news site called Crispy Gamer. Earlier this month, the upper management laid off all of the writers. Quite aside from the fact this obviously sucks for all those involved, this was one of the best gaming sites out there, with thought provoking and excellently written articles on various different topics. They employed a collection of very talented writers that, regardless of whether you agreed or not, always drew you in to a good debate.

It had the feel of more of a Sunday news paper rather than Gamespot. Instead of just covering the latest news stories and blockbuster reviews, it examined topics such as the No Russian mission in Call of Duty or the punishing difficulty of demon souls. It also had a light-hearted video section, the the most useful review score system ever and even a comic strip.

As you can tell from this rambling love letter, I will sorely miss the writers on this site and will make a concerted effort to follow them, wherever they go.

What I am worried about is what this implies for digital games journalism in general. Presumably the reason these writers were let go was because it was not financially viable to keep them on. Crispy was funded by adverts, and while there was hardly a shortage of them, it is difficult to believe they were making a fortune out of it.

Talent writers want decent pay. I am worried that there isn't enough money to pay for talented writers and the only option is to turn to people like me who are just desperate to write about games.

To be fair, this is not limited to games, or even digital media. All news outlets are struggling to deal with this era. Advertising is becoming worth less and less as we all become attuned to just ignoring it. Someone needs to come up with a viable business model for journalism because no one seems prepared to pay for it any more.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar - We are across the uncanny valey

I just got back from seeing Avatar, and wow... just wow. If you have been living under a rock, Avatar is a 15-year-in-the-making epic directed by the apparently mad James Cameron (of Titanic fame, no other). It is amazing.


Sure, the story is fairly standard, the character development is predictable and some of the dialogue is weak. However, that somewhat fades in to insignificance in the beautiful backdrop that is Pandora.

Cameron gets what makes a good film, it is more than just a good plot- that's a play. It is more than interesting characters, that's a book, it is about the imagery. It's about affecting the viewer through the visual elements. I could explain to you just how AMAZING this film looks, because it is breathtaking, but it is the way that Cameron uses the stunning technology that makes this film what it is; what separates it from the equally technically impressive Transformers 2.

The world that is created in this film is so believable that when you see a strange creature, your initial reaction is "that cannot be real", like when you watch BBC documentaries of wonderful creatures, instead of accepting it as blatant CGI. The world that Cameron has so masterfully created is both bizarre and believable; technology and imagination working in tandem.

Through this world Cameron is able to hang a basically average story and make you care. You find yourself hating the humans attacking this world where there is still so much to find out. It makes you sympathise with the indigenous people, juxtaposing the cold, technology dependant environment of the humans with the self sufficient, natural world of the Navi.


The story is so completely inseparable from the presentation that, while I can say if you wrote a book with the same plot it would fail, I think to say that the film fails because of the story and hence the film is merely a technology demo is to miss what a film is - the combination of story and camera shots. Avatar is something that you have to experience on the big screen, loud and in 3D. It is the first time in a long time where I have walked away from the cinema feeling that the £10 price was justified. A must see for all.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Games I missed in 2009

Well it is that time of year where all the year review posts begin. I WON'T be doing any decade look backs for a number of reason. Most importantly, technically the decade ends next year! Further, this is the first and only decade which I have actively played video games, so I won't have anything to compare it against. Also, the time span is so great and technology has changed so much that it would be diminishing to any title to say that they can be compared on the same scale.

I believe that even Game of the Year awards are a bit pointless as there are too many different ways of comparing games and no one game is going to come out on top of all the others in everything. Instead, I plan to do a post of great, important or otherwise noteworthy games of 2009 and this post, the games I wished I had got round to playing (and hopefully will at some point) but didn't.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Like everyone else, I started out dismissing this game simply because it was based on a license. However, time and again I hear positive things about it. For example, I recently read an interview with the developer on Crispy Gamer where they talked about combining different gameplay elements seamlessly. I love the idea of a game that combines action, stealth and sleuthing. In fact, everything about the game sounds really interesting, from the story to the gameplay. The art style and even the combat engine. Great to see a decent license-based game.

Assassin's Creed 2

Assassin's Creed was one of those games I probably should have played but I never really got round to it. My limited time with AC2 was very positive and apparently the developers mixed up the single player so it is less repetitive. The in game world is gorgeous and even with my short time, I was desperate to see more of it.

New Super Mario Bro's Wii

I love the original Mario's, I have a weird love of challenging platformers (odd as most other games I enjoy are often nearer the easy end of challenge). I think this is partly because in 2D, absolute perfection is possible. In 3D, there are too many variables for everything to be spot on, but in 2D, there is a correct time to jump, a correct time to stop sprinting etc. Judging by the reviews of this game, it is classic Mario with multiplayer. Sure, people say that playing co-operative is annoying, but the competitive is where it is at. Finally I can race people head to head on 2D Mario levels - that sounds like something I will enjoy.

Brutal Legend

A strategy game on a console? After Three Moves Ahead covered Brutal Legend, I was sold. I have always quite liked the idea of a strategy game where you control someone on the field, and if Tom Chick says it works, then I am giving it a shot.

inFAMOUS and Uncharted 2

I am a sucker for open world games, particularly ones that give you moral decisions. So I was disappointed that the two most talked about open world games this year were PS3 exclusives. Given a chance, I would probably play them to death.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2


Enough has been written about this game already, so I won't bother. Suffice to say that at some point, I should probably get it.

Ok, so what did I miss on my miss list? Any other important titles that I should have played? To do this, you need to know what I have played, so stay tuned for my 2009 round up of what I did play.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why you should probably get Solium Infernum

Solium Inferum is a turn based strategy game produced by Cryptic Comet, a one man indie outfit. It is seriously addictive and the more you play of it, the more you appreciate the beauty of the design. Every little thing is connected to seemingly everything else, nothing is without its caveats and no decision is straight forward.

The basic premise of the game is that you are in Hell, the devil has gone away and someone needs to rule. You and up to 5 other archfiends must compete to build up prestige prestige through insults, demands, vendettas, surprises and general nastiness. The winner is the person with the most prestige when the game ends. Unless someone storms the capital of hell and holds it for 5 turns. (I told you everything had a caveat)

First off, I'll mention some of the things that are drastically different from any game I've played. Firstly, you can only do two things per turn. Unless you capture certain places or buy certain things (Getting the idea? Always with the caveats). This includes gathering resources, purchasing new units, initiating diplomatic actions and of course, moving and fighting. This means that for every thing you choose to do, there are countless other things that you would quite like to do. As a result, every decision requires deep thinking and planning.

Another really noteworthy feature is the diplomacy. As the game is set in hell, everything is very cut-throat. However, it is also heavily regulated. You cannot simply march in to someone else's territory and claim it as your own (yup, you guessed it, another caveat: unless you have played a specific event that means they are excommunicated from the council). You must either make a demand or insult them. If you make a demand, then they can either refuse, at which point you can declare war. However, they can just concede to the demand, and there is nothing you can do and you must wait a couple of turns before you can make another demand. If you insult them, the ball is in their court, they can either accept the insult or refuse it and then they can choose the terms of the vendetta.

Even the vendetta is not as simple as it sounds. You can choose a straight vendetta, where you then set your objective (capture X hexes, destroy X legions or capture X places of power). However, you can also challenge them to one on one combat. One of the things you can bid on at the market (yes, you can't buy anything, it is all a massive auction open to all players with only one of each unit, relic, manuscript etc.) is a hero unit called a Praetor. These can be attached to your legions to make them powerful or used in one on one combat. This means you can have no army, no adjoining borders and still crush the opponent. As the game is a battle for prestige rather than territory, the fact that you won't capture any territory is not an issue.

Now no doubt you found all that very confusing. That is because there is too much for me to explain in a single post. Instead, what I hoped to have done was revealed the strategic depth that this game has. It is not without its flaws. The AI is not very challenging at the moment (although it has already had improvements since the game came out last week!) and the multiplayer is limited to Play be Email, which is OK, but a bit of hassle. It also has no in game tutorial, few hotkeys and even fewer tooltips which makes learning the game a pain.

Having said that and despite what everyone else is saying, I didn't actually find the game that difficult to get the basics down. Unlike Hearts of Iron 3, where I felt simply overwhelmed by everything I didn't understand, this game allowed me to introduce myself to new concepts when I felt ready. Sure, some things are weird and very different from many other games. However, the games theme is so interesting and so effectively spread throughout the whole game, from the flavour text to the artwork, the names and places, that it is a real joy to spend time in the game learning things. At the very least you should download the demo, it runs under Windows and Linux. Vic, the developer, has said he trying to get a Mac version out, but can't guarantee it.

So please, go ahead, download the demo. I might try to do a beginners guide to it at some point, but I want to feel like I understand everything before I try to do that.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why I am hyped for Solium Infernum

Any Twitter followers will be aware that I am looking forward to a indie turn based, card based, hex based strategy game called Solium Infernum. I am looking forward to it for a number of different reasons, but this quote from a live blog at Quarter to Three by Ben Stones pretty much epitomises it:

"SI isn't ... a game about making loose pacts to not attack one another. It's a game in which the players are all beholden to a set of strict political rules that govern their interactions, and each tries to twist the rules to their favor without actually breaking them. It's a give and take sort of deal where there are very granular consequences for everything that you choose to do.

For example, one diplomatic action you can choose to do is spend a number of your Prestige points to insult one of your opponents in front of the Conclave. If you do this, the Conclave's rules of conduct take effect and govern how your opponent can react. If they accept the insult, they lose face, and you get your original Prestige investment back, as well as an equal number of Prestige points from the insulted player. The other player can also refuse the insult and force you to lose your Prestige investment at no cost to themselves, but if they do, then they are required to claim Vendetta against you, which means that they have go to war for a certain number of turns. In that time period, they must achieve a certain objective (capture X number of Cantons, capture a certain Place of Power) or they lose Prestige (usually more than they would have lost if they had just accepted the insult).

So it's more of a back and forth, action and reaction sort of diplomacy, governed by rules. In that respect, it's not at all like Diplomacy."
I cannot wait, I will definitely be writing something about it when it comes out.

 
"All your base are belong to us"