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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The perception of games and why it needs to change

Hello, just a quick post. I just posted on my sister blog, Botworks, a article on the public perception of games and why I think it needs to change. It is a topic that means a lot to me and I would really appreciate you guys to have a read and let me know what you think.

(Normal posting to return soon hopefully with a review of Forza 3, which I am still digging)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Forza Motorsport 3 First Impressions

I recently got Forza Motorsport 3 for the Xbox 360. As it is a racing game, I am completely hooked and will be for some hours to come, so you might well say my impressions are highly positive. However, while the game makes a few significant improvements over Forza 2, the game is far from perfect.

The biggest improvement is probably the calendar. While they seem to have misunderstood some of the things I was talking about when I said I wanted a calendar, it solves one of the massive problems with Forza 2: the whole single player feeling like a giant grind. Because of the calendar format, the game accepts failure and encourages you to keep going on regardless. No longer are you stuck on the same races to try and unlock some other ones, it doesn't matter how well you do, the game will give you more races in different cars and different tracks.

The other really big improvement is the track variation. There is a huge variety in the tracks, from windy villages set in stunning vistas to high speed circular race rings and everything in between. There are even point to point tracks up steep mountains. This is a huge step up from Forza 2 where the track set felt very restricted: either go in a dull looking track, or a dull-to-drive track.

The visual improvements are noticeable on the cars and on the tracks, but there are still a few areas that really grate the eye, such as the audience. However, the biggest problem is the loading screens. Is that really the price I have to pay for the amazing looking tracks, and isn't there some sort of compromise?

The multiplayer also feels a bit like two steps forward one step back. It is considerably easier to get in to a decent and competitive game. However, they seem to have stripped some of the features that made the multiplayer in Forza 2 so compelling such as tournaments and pink slip racing (where you bet a car on the outcome of the race).

There are numerous other gripes I could make such as the lack of dynamic weather, the misleading number of tracks (most of them are just sections of other tracks), the rewind feature - which I plan to write more about soon, still not being able to do split screen online and a poor music set list. However, it is a fantastic racing game simply because the people at Turn 10 have got the racing feel down to an absolute tee. Even with the rewind, races are incredibly tense experiences where you really feel like the slightest mistake could send you spinning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Drawn to Life - The Next Chapter [Wii]

Drawn to Life is a platformer with a drawing mechanic that appears both in light puzzles and in decorating your world. The game draws (no pun intended) on a number of other games including flash mini-games you could find on Miniclip. However, I feel that the combination provides an enjoyable and varied single player experience.

The platforming is, on the whole, good. I could gripe about the controls, which don't feel quite as right as Mario. However, the game makes up for it with nice level design that provides a couple of new platform elements mixed in. One of my favourite bits was when you were trying to get down through a maze of trampolines that bounced you up whenever you touched them and you had to use your wings to glide you through. It put a different spin on a mechanic you had been using for the past few levels.

In the game you are invited to draw a number of things. These can be either puzzle elements or elements of the game world. Drawing parts of the world is quite a nice gimmick and makes the world feel your own with your wacky flowers and your bizarre spiders. However, each time you want to draw something, you must sit through a loading screen which really slows down the pace of the game.

You must also draw things to solve puzzles. You won't be stuck on any one of the puzzle for long and quite often they can be beaten using a brute force approach. However, they are quite rewarding. When you draw in to the world, your drawings take on properties based on where you have drawn them. For example, there is one colour where what you draw obeys the laws of physics so you must first build foundations for whatever you need. As I said, they aren't real head scratchers and a lot of the challenge is in the execution but they are still fun.

The game also has some vehicle sequences which are silly but highly entertaining. They require no thinking and minimal skill but they are an absolute blast to play them and provide variation from the platforming.

The single player is respectably long, coming in at about 10 hours. Each level is surprisingly long, normally about 20 minutes. This means that you will feel like you are exploring them. The drawback is, at that length, you never really feel compelled to try and beat your fastest time for them, which reduces the replayability. Each level has loads of coins hidden throughout them and some can be really challenging to get. However, the game doesn't distinguish between the really hard coins and ones that were simply on your path, which means there is no real satisfaction is collecting them.

The game does feature some multiplayer, however it is not worth the time it takes to load. It features 3 almost identical minigames with finicky controls and no replayability. It is a shame the game does not have any co-op, even if it was more like Super Mario Galaxy's as it means the game has virtually no replayability.

Technically this game is acceptable. The long loading screens are a massive pain, and the games graphics aren't going to blow you away. However, it integrates your artwork in to the game well. Sometimes things are a little small and lack the contrast required to make them easily noticeable. The drawing tools are fairly easy to use - even if some of the buttons are a bit small - and provide plenty of options. If you are a perfectionist, there are some things which you will irritate you like not being able to draw a perfect circle.

Overall, this is a really nice game. The lack of decent multiplayer is quite a considerable floor, but the mixture of platforming, puzzle solving and car driving makes for an enjoyable single player that will entertain and challenge most age ranges. The technical floors are a pain, but it is a quality title in many other respects that they can be overlooked.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Civilization: Facebook

It has been announced today, that a persistent version of my favourite game, Civilization, will be coming to Facebook. Without a shadow of a doubt this may be the most dangerous combination ever known to man. While I am not a Facebook user, social networking sites are super addictive, and we all know the powers of Civilization. I expect to see this game banned in many countries under the drug regulations act.

In all seriousness, I am always unsure about persistent games, but if any game is going to turn me one way or anther, it will be Civilization. I cannot wait and will certainly be signing up for the beta.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Halo 3: ODST

As many of my readers will well know, I regard Halo 3 as the perfect console first person shooter. It certainly isn't my favorite game, but that is merely a matter of preference. It does everything so well, from a fantastic to single player to an easy to use, pick-up-and-play multi-player with incredible depth. I could go on. However, this review is about ODST, the half game built off Halo 3. It, regrettably, is not anywhere near as good.

Halo 3:ODST has 3 main components: the campaign, Firefight mode - a co-op mode similar to Horde, and Halo 3 multiplayer with three new maps. You will get all this and the Reach beta for £35.

The campaign was advertised to be a new way of playing Halo 3. Bungie promised a dark story delivered in a novel way, more tactical game play and gritty characters. However, the campaign is dull, short and, particularly near the end, highly repetitive.

You play the part of "The Rookie" a voiceless, faceless entity who walks around a miserable and absurdly dark (in the literal sense) city finding random clues which transport you back to your other, less likeable but equally flat, squad mates. These missions are very much traditional Halo in style except the combat does not seem as fun.

As you have far less health, you cannot simply charge in a-la Halo. However, instead of making the combat more tactical, it simply makes it less enjoyable. It becomes a grind as you take out one enemy at a time, wait for your energy to recharge then take out the next.

The game often feels like it is having an identity crisis. It wants to try and be a more tactical slow paced shooter, which the combat system doesn't seem to support. The permanent health simply does not work with the auto-save system. If you have an auto save that leaves you with no health, and there are no health kits about (or worse, you have to protect some thing which is driving away from you), you are stuck.

The campaign has numerous other problems, ranging from a broken co-op respawn system in one level to copy-and-paste level design towards the end. However, for me, the fundamental issue is it never gets exciting. Everyone remembers the Covenant level in Halo 3 when you had to take down two scarabs, everyone remembers the Hornet sequence, the tank sequence and everyone remembers the end of the last level driving off the exploding Halo ring in a Warthog. There were loads of points were you heart was racing with the whole experience.

There are no such points in ODST. The only "" moment was when you blow up a bridge, and even that was decidedly underwhelming. This is epitomized by the closing sequence - killing the same old enemies that you have been killing for the past 8 years. You find yourself willing it to be over, despite the campaign coming in at under 8 hours. You have to fight off not 1, not 2, not even 3 but 4 ship loads (and checkpoints aren't guaranteed between any of them) of covenant before you can finally close the damn thing.

The whole game is over mercifully quickly, but with an unacceptably large proportion of your time walking round the city and getting lost as you must navigate with a stupid 3D map in a world which is so dark that even your night vision has trouble in some areas.

The one good thing I can honestly say is, when you are able to turn your night vision off, the sky is absolutely amazing. In fact, a lot of the environments are some of the best in Halo yet. The city environment is one that is underused in Halo universe and the game portrays an excellent sense of post-invasion desolation

So once you have finished the campaign you can play Firefight; a cooperative mode for up to 4 players fighting endless waves of Covenant. You actually have to unlock some of the levels, which is very un-Bungie like. This mode is really good. Not because Bungie have done anything to help themselves, simply because Halo combat is fun. It's OK on your own but the multiplayer is intense. Vehicles, tons of grenades and a wide variety of enemies really set this Horde copy cat apart from Horde et al.

So it is a real shame that it has some really basic problems. Things like no saving/continuing mean that each time you must go from the start. Given that to get a half decent score requires about 1 and a half hours, it is as much an endurance challenge as a skill challenge to get far. There are a few pet wishes I have - Forge, play as Master Chief, choosing weapons and skull settings - which are a nuisannce, and most of them are things that Bungie normally do really well. However, by the far the most annoying (and the thing that Bungie is best at) is Matchmaking. The game gets really good with 2 people and the fun just increases as you add more people. However, I don't know 4 people with ODST, let alone have 4 people who are all on at the same time to play Firefight for a couple of hours. I do not know what was going through Bungies mind when they decided to not include Matchmaking for a mode that so obviously needs it.

Which leaves us with the final element; 3 new maps plus all the maps released via Xbox Live Marketplace since Halo 3s launch. If you don't have any of the maps, this is fantastic, but for me, it is 3 maps that are, well, fine. They are Halo maps, they don't stand out as awesome maps like Avalanche or Sandbox, but they were perfectly enjoyable to play on.

Maybe I am being harsh on this game because it is Halo, if it was any other game, maybe I would be pleased. But given that they want a full price for a game where they already had the engine and have been sitting on for 6 months, I think I am being perfectly fair.

If you own Halo 3 and all the maps, this game is simply not worth £35 or even £25. You (and I) can hope they release the maps and Firefight as DLC for ~£15. If you don't own any of the maps, then you should certainly consider it; but only if you plan to use the maps. If you don't own Halo 3 (*shock*), then get Halo 3 because the campaign really is a lot better and there are plenty of maps to be getting started with there. Bungie, I am disappointed.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hearts of Iron 3

When I wrote my first impressions for Hearts of Iron 3 a couple of weeks ago, I didn't sound very pleased with the game. Which is a first when it comes to new games. Normally I start liking it then go off them when I realise a couple of days later that actually it is boring and repetitive.

In truth, my negative impressions didn't disappear the day after I wrote that. Hardly a time went by without me cursing the game numerous times. Playing it became a chore. I only persisted for three reasons:

  1. Troy Goodfellow, a reviewer I respect greatly, said it was good
  2. The concept filled me with a buzz, I wanted to be a commander in a massive theatre of war
  3. I had spent money on it, I wasn't about to chuck it away
However, as you may have guessed, I am now thoroughly in to the game. It is far from perfect, and there are still plenty of elements I curse for just being so stupidly convoluted. However, I now feel comfortable that I am playing it right, and hence write a review.

However, I won't be attaching my normal scoring system to this review like I do with every other game I have ever reviewed. The reason is simple, the score will be completely different depending on who you are. I am not going to lie to you, if the concept of the game does not fill you with excitement you will never get in to the game. Even if it does, you will still need a large amount of patience. Even then, the game is far from perfect. For this reason, I shall not give the game a score. For some of you, it would be an 8.5 whilst for others it would be a 0.

As I have said, the game has numerous flaws. These range from frustrating glitches, poor memory management (the game will lag, unless you are running some kind of super computer, I have 4GB of RAM, which should be more than enough), and plenty of user interface floors.

Getting an overview of what is going on is nearly impossible. The game does a poor job of choosing what information you need to see (like provinces being taken) and what is utterly irrelevant (like minor research developments). You have to manually choose what information you want displayed and how, which simply isn't practical. When you are going through the game for the first time, you don't know what will be important. However, you neither want to be overwhelmed or missing out on key bits of information. I felt both of these as getting in to Hearts of Iron.

They have implemented a fantastic system to break down your troops in to divisions and then companies then brigades, but offer no group selection other than drag and drop, meaning that divisions serve no practical purpose. They also allow you to put theatres or divisions under control of generals. However, it is neither obvious how you do it, nor is it clear if there are disadvantages for using less talented generals.

You start the game with numerous units, but the game lacks a clear overview screen so you must spend the first 45 minutes of any game going through all your units so you have a clear idea of what you have and where they are. I found that unless you are prepared to micromanage everything, your units will not be organised in to any kind of hierarchy and you will simply move

The game gives you control over loads of things, but each screen is overwhelming when you first look at it, with only the ever tempting "Give AI Control" element making sense! Fortunatley, the most important screen, the production screen, where you choose what to build, is fairly intuitive and helpful tool-tips clear up any confusion. However, one of your tasks is to split your resources between various different things through sliders. However, between a bug that means they reset every 5 seconds if you don't close the screen or pause the game, and the fact that there is simply not enough options for controlling them (for example, I want to be able to set some of them to track their minimum value) it becomes a frustrating balancing act, and takes you away from the fun of the game.

Despite all that, once you understand what is going on, the game is fun. Managing your troops and conquering the world is great, once you have got over the oddities of simple things like selecting and transporting troops etc. Because the game models things like supply routes, you have so much more freedom when it comes to strategies. Doing things like encircling your enemy as they run out of supplies make you feel like a real war general. And when the enemy does the same to you, dropping in supplies by plane or using the last of your troops supplies to make a mad dash to re-establish routes creates a real sense of war that no game I have ever played has managed. The World War 2 feel is captured perfectly and the boxes that look like you would find on a generals map help the war aesthetic.

So in short, a really interesting grand strategy game hides behind numerous problems that means this game is going to be a big time investment to get in to. Frustratingly obvious things that seem so simple to fix really detract from the whole experience, even after you have got in to it. As I said at the beginning, you will only get past the huge learning curve if you really want to. If you want a light grand strategy game with immediate rewards, play something like Sins of a Solar Empire, which is much more instantly gratifying. However, if thinking about managing supply lines, moving vast armies and playing the diplomatic game in the epic setting of World War 2 fills you with excitement, then there is a really interesting, deep and rewarding game here.

It it worth noting that the manual is particularly useful and, at time of publication, the game is not cheaper on Steam than at retail shops. As such, if you are going to get it, I strongly recommend purchasing it in real life. I am hopefully going to write a very short noobs guide to getting in to Hears of Iron 3 over the next week.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Peter Molyenux Interview - Fable 3 to use Natal

Peter Molyenux has given an interview (which you can view here, first 30 seconds or so in Dutch, but the interview is in English)

Among other things, Molyenux states that, while Fable 3 will use a standard Xbox 360 controller, it will also make some use of Natal, Microsoft's forthcoming camera controller. As I said when Fable 3 was originally announced, I think the Natal element will be in communication. I think it is clear from their work with Milo that Lionhead believe they can make some sort of communication model work in Natal. Also, given that Fable 3 requires you to start a revolution and run a country, talking to people could be central to the actual gameplay. You only have to look at real politics and see that charm and good public speaking skills can be more important than actual policy.

Obviously, Fable 3 is still some time away, and Peter does have a tendency to promise things which don't wind up in the game. None the less, I am already excited about this release.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Forza Motor Sport 3 Demo

The Forza Motor Sport 3 demo is out on the Xbox Live Marketplace, you should probably go grab it now.

For me Forza Motor Sport 2 had 3 main problems:

1) Too linear and repetitive single player
2) Bland racing environments
3) No weather effects

While the demo does not include any single player out of race experience, previews have talked about a race calendar, so number 1 looks like it should be fixed.

The demo definitely does show improved racing environments! Obviously they picked the most stunning track, but it really is impressive. I don't think I have ever seen such a graphical step up in a sequel that is on the same generation. However, I have seen no mention of weather anywhere, so I am guessing that is still missing.

The big new feature is the rewind feature. At first, I was over the moon and impressed at such a bold decision for a realistic racing sim. However, as there is no limitation and no (visible) penalty for using it, it encourages perfectionism.

In Forza, it is very easy to mess up, a slight misjudgement can ruin your car and lose the race. Before, this meant a restart, which was incredibly frustrating. With such a high chance of failure, one might expect minimal punishment, so the rewind is a step in the right direction.

However, part of the fun is fighting back. With the rewind system, I can see players (me) using it more and more frequently for less and less serious crashes. This will slowly eat away at my sense of satisfaction and even race excitement. If it was limited per race, then you could avoid the frustration of a slight mistake causing ruin without meaning that every lap will be perfect.

Overall, it was pretty good. There was only a limited selection of cars, one track and no multiplayer, so you don't get a huge feel for the game. The interior views do nothing for me. I find it claustrophobic (I think you need a massive TV for it to be really good) and much prefer driving in the out-of-car view, so for me that was a waste of money. Hopefully the matchmaking will be more sophisticated, as I remember trying to get a game in FM 2 to be a pain. All in all, it was pretty much what I was expecting, if you are in to racing games, I am guessing that this game is going to fill you need for cars and provide an enjoyable racing experience. Expect a review some time around Christmas (hopefully before).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dawn of War 2 - Chaos Rising

The first expansion pack to Dawn of War 2 has been announced. It will feature, amongst other things, the Chaos Space Marines. For me, I was really hoping for the Imperial Guard, but I am hardly surprised by their choice; Chaos was a frequent demand and they should fit in with the current races online.

The expansion pack will also include some new units. This is fine if it doesn't upset the very carefully balanced multiplayer. Personally, I thought the multiplayer had enough units, the last thing I need is a bunch of redundant units I need to try out; or worse, that totally unbalance the whole thing.

It will also include a new single player campaign which, given how much I enjoyed the first one, is something I am looking forward to. My worry is that the novelty will have worn off and the missions will simply be repetitive A to B jobs. However, as you can carry through your characters, there should be a continued sense of attachment to your troops.

It is also worth noting that this is different from the previously announced Last Stand, which will be a free add-on coming out this October. This includes a new co-op mode similar to Horde mode in Gears of War 2.

The full stand alone expansion pack will be out in Spring 2010, when I will surely buy it. Until then, Dawn of War 2 remains one of the few games I actively play online, so if you are up for a game, my live ID is theTHK123 and my Steam ID is thk123.

On a side note, I went to see Coldplay at Wembley on Saturday (19th September) and they were really good! You can view all my videos on youtube.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 thoughts

Activision are calling this the biggest video game launch ever. While I am not sure I quite agree with that (err, Halo 3 anyone?), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 certainly is the biggest launch of the year, even with Sims 3 and Halo: ODST. So what am I expecting from it?

Call of Duty has always been a reputable series, bringing a slightly arcadey feel to the World War 2 theme that Medal of Honour could never quite manage. However, its real fame came in the form of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. While I was impressed with the action packed single player, the thing that stood out from the start was the multiplayer. A couple of years on, the game has stood the test of time and easily rivals Halo for number of dedicated multiplayer gamers. The innovative level system has inspired many first person shooters and really was the key to making the game play addictive.

This was demonstrated by the sales of Call of Duty 5. While this game was handed back to Treyarch, developers of Call of Duty 1 and 3, they used the Call of Duty 4 engine. The game was perfectly respectable, but it was very similar to Call of Duty 4, in spite of the different settings. Its nazzi zombies mode was interesting, but the game was not radically innovative like Modern Warfare was.

It was around this time that Activison announced that there would be a new Call of Duty game every year, with Infinity Ward and Treyarch taking it in turns.

This brings us back to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the first Infinity Ward sequel to Call of Duty 4, scheduled for release on the 10th of November. For me, this game is pivotal to the future of the franchise. If Infinity Ward can keep the game play fresh and different from Call of Duty 4, then I believe the franchise can survive 2 or maybe 3 more instalments. However, if the single player gets shorter due to the reduced developement time and the multiplayer offers little over 4 and 5, it is difficult to see everyone abandoning the current iteration every year for what will essentially be the same game.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Hearts of Iron 3: First Impressions

I got a new game a couple of days ago called Hearts of Iron 3. It is developed by the little known Paradox Interactive (Most famous title, Europa Universalis and, more recently, East India Company). The game is a grand strategy game set in World War 2. You can control one of any (and I mean any) country in World War 2. I have never really played any grand strategy games (except maybe Sins of a Solar Empire, depending on how you classify it) and so I found the scale intimidating. A grand strategy game is a strategy game where you are in charge of every large-scale thing, from managing divisions of troops to diplomacy and espionage without touching the troop to troop control or even squad to squad.

Having to manage hundreds of units across a huge map is challenging but the pace is slow enough that is manageable. However, when you throw in supply lines, production management, technology, diplomacy and espionage, it is very difficult when each screen is confusing and new. It isn't that there is too much to do in the time you've got: at the slowest pace, there is rarely enough; it is simply that it all requires a lot of focus to fully understand what all the sliders, boxes and columns mean and their various effects.

And I am not going to tell you that after two days I find it easy. None the less, the game does a lot to help. All of those screens can be left to an AI. I don't know if it is competent, but it allows me to focus on working out other things. You can even divide up the map and leave control of areas to the AI. Also, to the games credit, by default a lot of your country runs with very little player input so you can just move your troops around if that's what you want. The problem with this is, I just can't really resist playing with everything!

The hierarchy is central to the game, particularly in how you divide control up with the AI and how to manage supplies. This is something I like a lot in games, I like knowing how things break down. However, this game lacks the visual clarity to make it really clear what is going on. There are three levels to it and they require geographical knowledge of your chosen country. Keeping track of all this can be difficult, and isn't helped by the lack of an overview screen, which could help immensely.

The interface has a few other issues and the relentless pop-ups alerting you to everything from irrelevant technologies discoveries, vitally important battle results and various other stuff is overwhelming when you are trying to do something, like control your troops.

I hope I can figure this game out because, due to the sheer amount it models (weather, transport etc.), there should be plenty of opportunities for developing interesting strategies. I have always held a secret belief that I could conquer more than Hitler, so once I figure out stuff, I look forward to my world conquest.

On a side note, if anyone has this game and fancies a multiplayer game, give me a week and then post a comment or something.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Fable 3

A few days after me making a prediction that Lionhead were working on something big, Lionhead announce Fable 3!

Fable 3 will put you as King or Queen in the land of Albion. The game is set not long after Fable 2 and you will be playing your hero's son or daughter. Hopefully this means the game will use your actions in Fable 2 to shape the world that Fable 3 is set in. The press release hints at some election campaigning, where I would assume you can either promise good things or beat people in to submission. It also suggests that you will be controlling policy. It is unclear what kind of game this Fable will be, given these strange implications. However, the employment includes combat animators so I think it will still be an adventure game, at least in camera perspective.

I think it is fairly safe to assume that it will use Natal in some respect. What I hope happens, and would build on from the AI demo at E3, would be you have to talk to your people. This would certainly be a significant step up from Fable 2, where you had to communicate in sign language. If the E3 demo was not staged, then it is not inconceivable that you could give speeches etc. However, given that it almost certainly was, maybe not. All I hope is that I don't have to do the walking in real life.

Fable 3 is scheduled for release in late 2010, which probably means early 2011 which is still 2 years away. This will probably wind up being the game that sells Natal for me. Stay tuned for more updates.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A new Lionhead Project?

Just a quick post, but I think Lionhead are working on something. This is hardly an announcement, I don't think anyone thought they were just sitting around. Obviously they have the thing they are working on for Natal. However, be it that or be it something else, I think we are going to hear something about it soon.

Firstly, they have a new website (which is at the moment, at least on my computer, very laggy and likes to crash for no apparent reason). Each day it has had a different quote from famous historic people. Also, they are recruiting a lot of new people, most notably programmers on contract working on high profile Xbox 360 game. The fact that they are on contract suggests that they are approaching the finish rather than just starting. Finally, I think if there were more Fable DLC, we would have heard about it by now.

All in all, I think we will see an announcement fairly soon (I hope) for something unexpected. I don't think it is their AI project thing because that has little do with history and I can't see them needing a Technical Combat Designer to help create creature combat animations for a game where the demo showed the player drawing a fish for a little girl (call it a hunch).

Anyway, on holday tommorow so another expanse of no posting, sorry.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Red Faction: Guerilla

When I first saw this game I thought it was going to be some solid lowest common denominator entertainment. However, what you actually get is a surprisingly deep, if a little repetitive, respectably long single player. For me, this is the spiritual sequel to the original Mercenaries and a worthy purchase if you are looking for something to play over the summer.

The main selling point of this game is the impressive physics engine, so I should probably start with that. Exploding stuff is fun. Sometimes the buildings feel a little fragile and yet remarkably can stay standing on a single support. None the less, the demolition requires thinking and it is rewarding when they come down. The fact that every man made structure is destroyable and stays destroyed makes the world come alive. Destroy a bridge and you will see people having to drive round it, for example. I was a little surprised to discover you couldn't destroy the rocks (that was, after all, the main selling point for the original Red Faction) but fear not, there is not a shortage of things to destroy.

However, that is far from the only link to Mercenaries, which also had loads of permanent destruction. The single player takes place in a large explorable world with plenty of driving. The single player is a lengthy experience that will take about 15 hours to complete with plenty still to do. In some ways, the game play can get quite repetitive and you spend far too much driving around. While there is a wide variety of types of missions, they most boil down to exploding buildings and driving vehicles. However, the vastly superior (in numbers and weapons) enemies force you to use the map in imaginative ways to try and get in and out as quickly as possible.

That is probably the single players greatest strength. For the most part, you do feel like a guerilla using hit and run tactics. It is a pleasant change from the normal one man army who defeats everything. The learning curve for the single player is also excellent and towards the end of the game it is very challenging.

In fact, the single player experience does load right, an interesting world to explore, collectibles with in game rewards, a believable population, nicely paced game play and climaxes coming at the end of each area that you liberate. However, one of my favourite parts to the experience were the demolition challenges. In these you get a limited set of equipment and within a set time you must destroy a building. These required a lot of thinking, with some of them being very challenging.

However, the single player is not perfect. For me, the biggest let down is the story. For once, the actual story has not really been overused. For most games it is a complete evil you are fighting. However, in this, you are basically fighting a corrupt power. However, I think the game does a poor job of turning you against them. Straight after the tutorial they kill your brother. This would, in theory, turn you against them. However, the developers go to early, you don't really know or care about your brother. I think there needed to be an extended period at the start where you were helping the Red Faction without going on all out attack on EDF (Not sure how they would stop this being boring). That way, when they kiled your brother, you cared. Also, they could use this time to show the EDF abusing their power.

The ending is a bit of a let down (aren't they all!). The climax comes right before the final boss battle, which just feels tacked on and lame. I also thought that they could have done something more interesting with the world after you had finished it; immeditatly after I defeated the EDF, I got called to intercept one of their couriers.

None the less, overall the single player is one of the better experiences in recent memory. The audio and visual presentation is fantastic and the world presents a suprisingly large amount of variety when exploring.

The game has two types of multi-player. The online multiplayer does nothing for me. The jetpacks do make combat an interesting experience but the game isn't about to supplant Halo. It is perfectly functional but things like 3 shot rocket launchers and proximity mines feel unbalanced and frustrating. It also doesn't really make full use of things like destruction to set it apart from other games. It just feels like an online mode that was there because a game should have online, not because they had anything special to add.

However, the game also includes a "pass the controler" mode. Yes, that is right, a take it in turns multi-player which you probably haven't seen since Worms on the PS1! However, it is suprsingly good. Basically, you have to destroy more than your opponents in a time limit. However, to make things interesting, all of your actions use time as well. So, swinging the hammer will take 3 seconds off your time. Therefore, it is key to think about your actions. In one game, for example, I rigged a tower to fall on top of a building to score more. The forthought required for this is a rare feature in any multi-player games and reinforces my point there is more to this game than meets the eye.

In conclusion, I really like Red Faction. The single player is long, challenging and interesting. Whilst the story won't do much for you, some excellent pacing and an interesting world make is a must if you are looking for something to play over the summer. The explosions make for an interesting focus to the game. Sometimes it needs more variety, but for the large part, it is highly entertaining.

The multi-player is not fantastic, but it isn't bad. There is nothing in the online mode to keep you, it is basically a standard online experience with some unbalanced and frustrating weapons. The pass the controller mode, on the other hand, is really good. Although I am sure that given enough time, you could work out exactly the dominant explosions, when you first start it with somone else, it is entertaining, different and plays to the strengths of the game.

This review is based on a copy of the game supplied by the publisher

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sims 3

I have an admission to make. I have never played the Sims before. Therefore this review is probably unique, as I am coming to this game anew. It is a very difficult game for me to review as it is difficult for me to know where it is the game letting me down, and where it is me not enjoying the basic premise of the game.

One of the most significant improvements to the game is the introduction of an explorable city. Technically, this is very impressive. You can zoom right in and watch what your Sims are watching on their TV and zoom right out to see the entire neighbourhood without even a whiff of loading screen.

The graphics do help you in to the Sims world. The audio sounds good and when you zoom in all the way, you can really get inside your Sim's world. There is nice audio variation, and the whole world looks and sounds very believable. Your Sims, for the large part, act believably, moving around and communicating convincingly .

The game also introduces the “moodlets” system. A moodlet is a symbol which shows a single emotion affecting your Sim. It tells you the impact it is having, what is causing it and when it will go/get worse. For example you might have a tired moodlet, which says that the sim is very tired, making him 30 less happy, and in two hours time, he will become extremly tired. These are very good at showing instantly what is affecting your Sims and what you need to do at making them happier.

Both of these features help to minimize the barrier between our world and the world of the Sims. This is very important as the game's main pleasure come from the reality TV style game play of watching the lives of these characters. If you were constantly reminded of the virtual nature, it would be hard to relate to the characters.

However, the technical improvement come at a cost. The game takes a long time to load at the start. On my reasonably powerful computer (4GB RAM, 2.4Ghz x2 processor, 256Mb graphics card) it runs fairly well on low-medium settings. However, fairly well is the important part, it hardly feels lightning fast. Furthermore, I had to turn down the settings, as it was running at an inconsistent frame rate. For what is meant to be a casual game, I find this surprising.

My only criticism as a first time Simer would be working out what I should do for my first game. There are a number of choices at the start. I chose to make a family of four, which turned out to be rather ambitious for my first game. I also, foolishly, randomly created all but one of my characters and ended up with a mother who hated children and the outdoors. I also felt there should have been more guidance when choosing where to put your house. I ended up living in a very expensive part of town meaning, leaving me no money for improvements.

One of my favourite parts of the game is creating stuff. Building houses is fun as it is easy to do. However, I found that often there wasn't enough money to do it. Also, as what you made had to be practically useful, you couldn't have as much fun as you could in Spore. For content creation, I much preferred Spore's creators, which were so much easier to make interesting things. I also prefer the way you made styles to go on Spore creations, as I felt it gave you more freedom.

Another element that I though was superior in Spore was the online connectivity. One of my favourite parts about Spore was the fact that other people's creations were integrated so well in to your universe. In Sims, to get other people's stuff, you actually have to leave the game. There is no “Visit a friend” where you take your Sim's to someone else's game, which would have worked well. For me, this is a major disappointment. There is a load of potential for community building in this game. For example, you can create movies, so why not have it so that you can go to the cinema and watch other peoples creations?

My other major problem with the game may just be because it is a Sims game. For me, the actions are quite repetitive. I don't enjoy deliberately messing things up - I never made disasters in Sim City, so for me the game is just about doing things right. But then, when I am playing at my best, things run smoothly, and that is it. I do get attached to my characters, but not a lot. They annoy me as much as make me smile. They get unnecessarily angry when people get in their way, which stop me relating to their lives. It is nice when you build up a family and get a sense of continuity, but the day to day challenges frustrate me, rather than entertain me.

I also think the disasters that upset their lives lack variety. The shower breaks, the sink breaks, the oven breaks. You never get neighbours who start fighting in the street, or major crime or anything. Maybe it is because I am not the target market. But for me, the game gets repetitive if I play it how I want to play it. While I do get pleasure from seeing their lives run well, it is not enough to combat the repetitiveness of the rest of the game.

For me, that is probably the biggest problem. The gameplay is repetitive and lacks any substantial rewards to keep me going. At the end of the day, I haven't saved the world, or won a battle. I have just got another day older. This game does a lot well. There is plenty of variety within the jobs, the world looks great, the Sims interact with each other really well. The depth is really impressive. You have so much control other things like organising parties and days out. However, I did not feel like I can ever spend enough time or money on the parts I enjoy; building my house, organising parties, having nicely running families and instead find myself putting up with the repetitive area's of the gameplay. However, I am prepared to except that the Sims is not aimed at me, and therefore my thoughts on the gameplay are unfair.

However, I don't think my thoughts on the lack of multi player integration are. I am surprised by the barriers put in the way of content sharing and the lack of online play. The technical issues also surprise me, given the target market, casual gamers, will not have a super computer or want to spend the time messing around with graphic settings to get the right balance of frame rate and appearance.

In conclusion, I don't think Sims is for me. However, even if it was, I don't believe that it has as many features as similar games such as Spore, which I do enjoy.

This review is based on a review copy supplied by the publisher.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Project Natal = new console?!

It is rumoured that Project Natal – Microsoft's new motion camera and voice recognition hardware - will launch with a new console. This is a shocking revelation if Microsoft really is going to be releasing a new console. This announcement, assuming it is accurate, is highly disturbing.

In the article, they talk about how games will be developed for both platforms, with the new platform having slightly superior graphics. This has a number of implications. Firstly, the already expensive business of producing HD games is going to get a whole lot more expensive. Ok, so the hardware is going to be similar, and it won't be double production costs. None the less, it is going to cost more, even if it is only one and half times more.

And what do developers get with this increased cost, certainly not increased sales. It isn't like there is a market waiting for this console. Think about it, casual gamers, who would be lured in by Natal would prefer to buy the (presumably) cheaper Xbox 360 with Natal. The traditional gamers already own a 360 and the best case scenario is that they will ditch the 360 for the new box. Net gain in customers due to the new console, 0.

This increased cost without increased profit might contribute to the safe-bet game market. We will see more sequels and less new IP. We might even see increased cost in games across the board (Microsoft, I don't imagine, would want new Xbox games more expensive that 360 games, and Sony and Nintendo might be tempted to follow suit).

Speaking in really predictive terms, this may speed up the inevitable, piracy on consoles. One of the reasons the PC market is shrinking compared with the console market is piracy. It is assumed that piracy on console is impossible. Nothing is impossible for a pirate. Given time, all the consoles will be cracked, the market will level out and new anti-piracy measures will have to be taken. Increasingly expensive games may act as a catalyst to the process.

And then you start hitting other problems. Sure, at first the new games will look slightly better on the new console, but hey, us 360 owners don't mind, our games still look fine. But then developers start investing money in making new games look great for the new console. There are a couple of levels that don't quite run at 60FPS on the Xbox 360. No huge deal, they were epic levels. Then it starts appearing in places where it matters, online. New Xbox owners will get a lag free (read: advantageous) experience, whilst 360 users have to lag along. Then 360 owners have to start installing games to get them to play. They have to start turning down graphics options in game if they want a solid 60FPS. Remind you of any other dying piece of hardware (in terms of game sales). Oh yeah, the PC!

It is very early days, this console hasn't even be confirmed. None the less, I play console games because everything just works. As a gamer, I prefer RTS's to action games and FPS's are better on the PC (except Halo 3, which I enjoy loads, but not because it is on the console) None the less, I play a huge amount of console games because everything on the PC is a bit iffy, even though my PC is good. This development, however, represents a trend (along with patches) towards the PC for consoles. Hopefully I am over-exaggerating, but consider this a warning.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

E3 - Nintendo Press Conference

Due to technical issues and my review copy of Sims 3, I did not watch either the Sony or Nintendo conferences live. I have since watched the recording of Nintendo's (I'll watch Sony's tomorrow). Here are my thoughts on said conference.

It was really lame. I don't even mean what they were announcing, which actually had some nice games, which I'll come to in a minute. What it was really lacking was any glamour, excitement or show pizazz that make E3 E3. In actual fact, I am more excited about a forth coming Metroid than ODST, but when Microsoft announce something, they are so much better at it. Everything that they announced at their conference, felt like a huge thing which you could really get excited about, as you can tell from my coverage of it. With Nintendo, even with their big announcements, I found myself falling asleep. The whole conference was poorly presented and, unlike Microsoft, did not make use of multiple presenters, instead relying on Reggie and the stupid ski woman from last year.

It was like they forgot what E3 was, a chance to show off your best. They did precisely what Microsoft said they weren't going to do, talk about sales. Seriously, it is so dull. The who press conference lacked excitement or charisma. It felt like they hadn't even tried.

So if you could keep yourself awake through the dull presentation, you were rewarded with some interesting game announcements. Admittedly, they had nothing on Microsoft. There is a trailer for a new Metroid game. It is unclear even what perspective the game will take place is, with shots that seem both in the first person and side on. Once again, Nintendo let themselves down by not having a play demo or anyone talking about the game. They said there were some surprises for Metroid fans, but they didn't say what. Nintendo, this mysterious thing doesn't work! Give us something.

They also announced a sequel to Super Mario Galaxy which looked identical to the first, but providing the level design is just as good, then that will be good. Once again, there was no demonstration of the game or explanation or anything.

They also announced a new Mario game (they made 4 Mario related announcements, if your keeping count) where the main feature is 4 player co-op. It looks quite interesting, and back to basics Mario style platforming. It looks like it could be a lot of fun when you get four players together. No doubt it won't use online, which is a shame, so it will stay as a fun party experience.

They also demonstrated Wii Motion Plus, a heart beat monitor, and Facebook on DS, but I wasn't fussed by these. Wii Motion Plus was out did by Natal and should have been in the Wii Remote in the first place.

There was no Zelda announcement (except for DS), a short video for the Conduit and very little to keep my attention. I am sorry Nintendo, I stuck up for you last year and the year before. I have stood by the Wii when all my friends have turned away, but that was pathetic, I am so sorry, you have failed.

Monday, June 01, 2009

E3 - Microsoft Press Conference

Well, I unbelievably forgot all my E3 predictions beyond the announcement of Forza 3, which is pretty much a given anyway. The Microsoft press conference is scheduled for 18:20GMT tonight. You can watch it live on Gamespot. I will be posting thoughts here as the conference starts. The one thing I am desperately hoping for is Metal Gear Solid for the 360, although I am not optimistic.

The other major thing to look forward to at this conference is Peter Molyenux. The very fact that he has been given as slot means he must have some announcement. I think it is one of three things.

  1. A big addition to Fable 2 - most likely
  2. Fable Wars - a RTS based on the Fable franchise - not likely
  3. Fable 3 - I think it is too soon to be announcing anything at E3, even less likely
The big addition, which I think is most likely, will be akin to Halo 3: Recon. It will use the same engine as Fable 2, which will allow them to release it before the next E3, but will be a whole game. What I suspect they will do is, it will be about your child. As those who have already seen the future, you will know that your child is destined for great things. What I think they might do is create a game set 20 years after Fable 2. The world will be based on what you did in Fable 2. It will magnify the decisions you made and the character you became and alter the world accordingly. For example, if you have been corrupt, everyone would be poor. This would be similar to how the world changed after the training section, except on a larger scale.

As for an RTS, I think it is possible, but not very likely. Peter has talked before about new technologies which allow them to animate many unique things at the same time, the kind of technology required for an RTS. However, it seems unlikely they would have any where near enough work to show.

As for Fable 3, while there definitely will be a Fable 3, I think it is too soon to announce it, E3 2010 maybe.

Skip to the conclusion


Conference thoughts
[14:20] - Conference starts in 4 hours
[18:25] - And we are off
[18:30] - No, I can't get the stream either...
[18:40] - Finally got a feed, except it's the Beatles!
[18:42] - MS say no charts, is that because of bad sales?
[18:46] - At first, I thought it was just a Wii Fit board, but to be fair, it moves on the ground, which is a huge improvement. But seriously, stop using celebrities, it's so annoying
[18:49] - CoD trailer, already seen, still looks pretty cool
[18:56] - CoD game play footage shown. Looks very CoD 4ish, some nice environments and some gimmicks to make you feel part of the story. Oh yeah, and plenty of action. Should be good for the CoD fans
[18:57] - Urgh, Final Fantasy - not my cup of tea I'm afraid
[19:03] - Ooo, Epic Games, give that man I microphone
[19:05] - Ooo, a Xbox version of Metroid Prime made by Epic, awesome!
[19:07] - Free racing game! Otherwise I wouldn't care
[19:10] - L4D 2?! That better be coming for PC!
[19:11] - Sam Fisher, the new Jack Bauer?! I just wish they could go back to Chaos Theory days
[19:18] - Forza 3!!!
[19:20] - Rolling cars! And interesting environments
[19:21] - They are right about the painting community, I know people who are obsessed
[19:24] - That was awesome... They just did this crazy video of car stunts
[19:25] - Halo 3: Recon footage, they've brought the big guns out early
[19:27] - Stealth gameplay nice...
[19:28] - Certainly an interesting way of telling a story, sounds quite cool
[19:30] - 22nd Sept ODST will drop, new secret project!
[19:32] - Halo 0 presumably, guess Microsoft couldn't resist (Actually called Halo reach and is coming in 2010)
[19:35] - Don't know what to make of this game, Alan Wake, the fact that it is being presented by the writer is quite positive, too early to say I think
[19:38] - MS clearly have high hopes for it, that was quite a long demo. Looks quite Resi Evilish, coming in Spring 2010
[19:39] - Music is coming to Xbox Live, I bet it's not in England...
[19:41] - Yay, being included for once, except I bet it is only for Sky subscribers or something stupid like that :(
[19:45] - I don't care about these things... but coming up is Peter Molyneux!
[19:48] - She is almost as embarrassing as that person from Nintendo last year, except I feel pity more than anger. But yay to Twitter!
[19:50] Big announcement coming up. Oh my word, MGS4!!!!!
[19:51] - OK, not MGS 4, but still, better than no Metal Gear Solid
[19:52] - Don't know who Raiden is, I have never played MGS in my life, how embarrassing
[19:53] - Motion controller for the 360? Wait... Me... the controller?
[19:55] - Why is it with new control schemes the adverts had to be SO embarrassing. Still, looks technically impressive
[19:46] - Tony Hawk just got outplayed...
[19:58] - Life Experience is quite impressive, but like the Wii, it will need games to make use of it
[19:59] - Stephen Spielburg as taken the stage, thank goodness it isn't Peter Molyneux
[20:03] - Take those stupid glasses off NOW!
[20:05] - Nintendo, consider yourself challenged. I imagine these demoers are over-exaggerating things and helping it work, but still looks pretty impressive. And that was a cheap shot at Nintendo
[20:11] - On the second thoughts, that sounds like quite a lot of effort for most games...
[20:12] - Peter Molyneux!
[20:15] - Get lost! How are they doing this? How?! Even without the face recognition it is impressive...
[20:17] - Well, I wasn't predicting that *hastily deletes predictions*


Well Microsoft's conference is over, and it certainly had some surprises. I am pleased about the Metal Gear Solid, although it was really MGS 4 that I wanted to play. None the less, I am sure this new title will contain the same type of thing as MGS 4, which I suppose will have to do. ODST looked really good,(how many of you spotted I put Recon before correcting it to ODST?). Obviously the new Halo is good, but to be honest, it is going to feel forced and a lot of people (me) will be unwilling to drop Halo 3 after sinking time (maps) and money (maps) in to it. The 2010 release date will slip without a doubt, I reckon early 2011 or very late 2010 at best.

The big thing was obviously this motion thing (by the way, the name is stupid, no one is going to remember that, it's worse than the Wii, at least that was short). Technically, it looks impressive, but these things always do in such controlled environments. What Peter Molyneux has supposedly done is incredible, but I will wait until someone from a respected site says it's as good as he says it is. Like the Wii, this technology is entirely dependant on developers. If we just see another batch of mini-game/party games, then it will fail. Non-gamers have already bought the Wii, they will be unwilling, in these economic times, to buy another games console, even with this easily marketable gimmick.

It is also going to suffer from the same problems as the Wii did in that, I don't want to stand up for a few hours playing games. I am not going to buy hardware for the sake of easy menu navigation and a few mini games I'll only play once. I'll buy it if it enhances the games that I play loads of, but then, if I play them loads, I don't want to stand up...

I think that it is going to be hard to develop for and, as developers have already invested a large amount of money in to traditional 360 development cycles, they will be unwilling to pour more money in to an unproven tech. None the less, even my scepticism can't quite stop me feeling a little excited if it really does work that well.

Some nice game previews there, Splinter Cell looks like 24, CoD 6 looks like CoD 4 but better and obviously a new Left4Dead is good for everyone, and Steam will obviously be releasing for the PC. I was surprised to not see anything about Bioshock 2 or Assassins Creed 2

Overall, a very nice conference, Nintendo must be crying. They just got out-done at their own game, however it turns out in the end.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I've seen the future

And I was pretty pleased. I am, of course, talking about the Fable 2 DLC currently available on the Xbox Live market place. It comes in at a less-than-average 580 Microsoft points, and, being related to Fable, I snapped it up the day it came out. And finished it the next day. Despite having to do the first quest twice due to a glitch. And than taking my time. And having exams. It is short, I can't hide that from you. However, what there is, is pretty good, albeit missing any moral decisions. Included are three quests and glimpse of the future. Without wanting to give too much away, here are my thoughts.

The first quest takes place in a black and white world in which you must restore colour. While I do think they could have used this backdrop more thoroughly, it was an enjoyable quest. At least, it was the first time, but I'll get to that in a minute. The thing that really made the quest work were the enemies. Each enemy could only be killed through one of the combat disciplines (melee, ranged or Will) While I wouldn't describe it as hard in the traditional sense, being forced to use your different abilities added variety to an otherwise dull combat system. It got particularly interesting when the game started throwing different colours at you, and you were forced to play much more dynamically instead of just spamming level 1 fire spells.

The quest was somewhat undermined when, at the end, I got stuck in a wall. The game would only let me fast travel if I reset the quest, but, when faced with an eternity living in a wall, that seemed like a small price to pay. None the less, it was frustrating and to top it all, I ended up with far less of the collectibles at the end.

The second quest was quite amusing, as you were forced to dress up in various different costumes and perform expressions, which is always fun. Also, towards the end it had these interesting puzzles which were almost lemming-like. You had to summon various different types of Hobbes, each with their own unique uses. You had to use them to solve some environmental puzzles. For example, there was a toxic river which you couldn't cross. First, you had to summon an explosive Hobbe to destroy a wall which reveals a second summoning point. You use this one to summon a Hobbe with stilts to walk across the river and activate a switch. Once again, it wasn't very hard, but they were enjoyable enough to work out. I would have liked to see this mechanic expanded upon.

When you do go to see the future, you will, most likely, be unimpressed. There is hardly some ground breaking secret within it. It varies a little depending on your character. Sadly, little is the operative word. All you can definitely get from it is that Lionhead plan to make another Fable. If you wanted, you could read in to it that they are considering making a real time strategy game, but that is quite a stretch.

The third and final stretch of the game is definitely the highlight. Although not hard, as Lionhead promised, the arena poses an interesting challenge with its high scores. You are tasked with killing as much as you can in a tight time limit. It is not hard to get all the prizes, but I have yet to face the final boss, so it isn't easy. It also emphasises the need for two screens in co-op, as it is virtually impossible to actually co-operate. Instead, you end up fighting for the single view, making shooting specific things and getting the combo things virtually impossible.

As you would expect from Fable DLC, it comes with nice costumes and collectibles. This time, it even has some amusing achievements in addition to the normal collection ones. It has a couple of nice locations to explore, new characters to meet and weapons to use. The only obvious omission is the lack of any moral decisions there were so focal in Fable 2. I would have liked to see many of the mechanics expanded upon. None the less, for 580 Microsoft points I do recommend it. It is an enjoyable reason to return to Fable with some interesting quests.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Posting hiatus is over

I know it is early than I said it would be. However, I had to end the posting hiatus prematurely for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I have written my Fable 2: See the Future impressions and can see no real reason for keeping them from you! As a sneak preview (I'll be posting it tomorrow) I really enjoyed it, but it didn't have a moral decision, which I felt was odd at best.

Secondly, THQ have just granted me a review copy of Red Faction: Guerrilla (!) which, while I haven't covered before, does look very cool (see video below). Also, it looks like it has a Team Fortress 2 style online, which, given how much I am enjoying that, should be good to see. Anyway, as I am being given a copy of this game, I feel somewhat obliged to review it around the time when it was released. The review embargo is until the 5th of June, so expect the review some time around then.

Also, as you may have gathered, I have the Orange Box. Steam were selling it at the outrageous price of £5, so I couldn't refuse. And what a package! I can't work out which game I like most. I have the Cinematic Mod for Half-Life 2 and I am loving every second of this beautifully well paced first person shooter, more than any other FPS ever (except maybe Metroid Prime, but that isn't a real shooter). Then there is Portal, which I am going to devote a whole post to just expressing my shear love for the game. And then there is Team Fortress Two, which was recently patched to include some really cool maps (it's like Steam love me). The whole game is that amazingly balanced online experience that hasn't got old yet.

Talking of free maps, Relic have added more maps and even a new game mode to Dawn of War 2. The game goes from strength to strength, with the 2v2 mode adding even more strategy to the game, but I'll be talking more about that too.

And I sold out and got both map packs for Halo 3. I haven't really played much of Legendary, but I have made a map that I am pretty pleased with in Sandbox (I'll probably be posting about it on my game development blog). I really got it as I was going to have points left over from Fable, and I wanted Sandbox, so I just got it all so I could play it online.

Oh yes, and the small point that E3 is coming and I best get my predictions in early. And guessing Forza 3 doesn't count as a prediction, it's like "predicting" that the sun will rise tomorrow, it's all but guaranteed.

Anyway, hope all is well with everyone. I am 3/5s of my way through my exams, I am addicted to Twitter and the weather was fantastic, until today.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Posting hiatus continues, but, I had to quickly show you this:

Wordle: Veteran Gamer

Sorry about the size, click on it to see it full size. Basically it searches my RSS feed and finds the most common words. Based on their popularity it assigns a size. I may try and use it more frequently on a separate page. I am planning on introducing a couple of new pages to Veteran Gamer anyway, so stay tuned for that. Don't ask me how it can do that, I've got no idea... Check it out out @

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Posting hiatus

Well you will have probably noticed posts seems to have dried up. To avoid the situation which happened last year I am posting an official hiatus notice. Due to exams, posting on this blog, (and my game development blog) will halt. Posting will resume on June 15th with a post about the Fable 2 DLC.

In the mean time, I will leave you with some links.

Firstly, a personal shout out. I mentioned my game development blog, which I am pleased to report has successfully taken off (as in, past the first two posts, which so many of my other blogs didn't). Better yet, it has got a couple of posts about Frozen Kangaroo, the real time strategy game I am working on. Most recently, about how the nuclear weapons will function.

Secondly, I am really enjoying the Three Moves Ahead podcast from Flash of Steel. If you want a taster of what the podcast is like, my favourite one was about symettry and asymettry in games. The podcast is well worth a subscribe because it combines genuinely interesting discussion about games design with some funny personalities. Better yet, it doesn't just focus on the latest game release.

Finally, an odd link. I am linking to this site primarily so that it can be found by Google. It is a website I designed (email me @ if you fancy one for yourself) and so I need Google to index it. However, if you are looking for plants in your work place, and you are based the home counties, this is the site to go to -Renaissance Plants

Monday, April 06, 2009

Fable 2's second DLC announced

And it's called See the future. Some more information was released today, not least, that it will come out in May. You can read the full release here.

It appears to be centered around a strong story element. It also suggests that it will be harder than anything found in Fable (admittedly difficult for it to be any easier...)

The other interesting feature appears to be similar to their April Fool's Joke, where you can change the breed of your dog. Customisation is always fun, and hopefully they won't take it at all seriously an include some weird breeds and custom colors (maybe even using your existing dyes!)

However, the most important part of the press release is the price: 560 Microsoft Points (about £8). This is 240 points cheaper than the usual 800. Hopefully, this is Lionhead being nice, although I fear it means it is not very long. It also doesn't appear to include any new areas and the press release lists only three quests.

Either way, more Fable = Good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Steam: The future of game distribution...

Steam is the future of game distribution...but not yet. Steam Powered Games is rapidly changing the way games are bought and played on the PC, however, there are still a few issues that is going to stop it becoming truly main stream.

Unless you have been living in a hole for the past two years, you will probably have heard of Steam. It provides 3 basic functions: firstly, a gaming community system akin to Xbox live, complete with common friends list, in game tools (including a web browser and chat) and everything else you would expect. Secondly, it offers dedicated servers for large multi-player games such as Counter Strike. However, probably the most unique of its services is the ability to download (legally) entire games straight to your PC - the gaming equivalent to iTunes, if you will.

Judging by PC sales last year, the PC market is now completely dependant upon Steam for its survival. And believe me, I think it will survive. But Steam isn't quite ready to conquer the world. Here are the things that I think they need to resolve to go truly main stream.

1)Bandwidth - Steam side
For years, one of the biggest obstacles for online game distribution was that high speed broadband was not common, and even where it was, it wasn't anywhere near fast enough. This isn't true any more. As far as I am concerned, in the UK within the next 5 years, 5-10Mb broadband will be standard with 20-100 being fairly common. Which is fast enough.

The problem, would currently appear to be at Steams end. I have above average, 20Mb broadband, normally getting about 15mb/s. However, downloading a game from Steam, I will normally get no more than 1mb/s, usually a lot, lot less. Like 10-20Kb/s. I don't think Steam is capping the download. Instead I think their server can't deal with the downloads.

Obviously, this will improve over time. However, if they want to become mainstream, it has got to be as quick as walking in to town. A download cannot take 24 hours.

They are offering a solution which lightens the problem, called pre-loading. Basically, the user downloads the game before it comes out, but can't play it until it does. This is a good idea. Make sure every game is doing it. Make it so it is available as early as possible and make it possible for people to download it a little bit at a time whilst leading up to the release. If the download is available a month before the game comes out (as is usually possible) then every time people log in to Steam, it downloads what it can in the background, then the load will be shared out effectively across the 30 day period.


Part of the reason that Steam is as successful as it is, is because virtually every game released, is released on to it. If you had to see if a title was available, you just would stop bothering. Steam has received loads of publisher support. Partly, this is due to their excellent anti-piracy techniques. As far as I am aware, Steam games are not easily hacked. When playing a Steam game, the game checks its legitimacy against the Steam servers. This is good, as piracy is a very real threat to PC games.

This is fine, until the connection with Steam is lost. It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen. If you are charging people to pay games, you have to let them play them, whenever they want to. Either guarantee 100% up-time on your servers or find a work around. Maybe less frequent checking, or allow it to fail a few times. I wouldn't mind, but it has happened twice in two days - Xbox Live doesn't fall over, ever. Well OK, maybe at Christmas, but it didn't stop you playing games, and it certainly doesn't happen on a daily basis.

Survival of the fittest

When playing Dawn of War 2, I have to manage my Steam overlay window, my Games for Windows Live (GFWL) dashboard, and, if I have any attention left, Dawn of War 2. I think that Steam needs to sign a deal with Microsoft or else they are going to start competing against each other. That is bad for Steam, as Steam will lose, simply because there will never be Steam on the Xbox, and the Xbox isn't going anywhere.

Steam need to agree with Microsoft to work together, as Microsoft could easily do what Steam does. Were Microsoft to sell games they would have far greater bandwidth with which to do it. Factor in that they could sell 360 games too, and they would be very attractive to sell with. I don't care how it is done, but make Steam needs to join Microsoft, because they can't beat them.


Like iTunes, Steam needs to be cheaper than retail stores. For a good few years yet, people will have an attachment to physical objects. No one is going to pay more (or even the same) for a download. Particularly when it isn't even much more convenient with the 24 hour+ downloads. Game regularly under sells Steam. Steam needs to be doing much more dynamic pricing to keep the prices low. Admittedly, they do more than iTunes, but iTunes offers something that shops don't; £0.79 songs. Seeming as Steam can't do an equivalent (one level of a game just wouldn't work as people would view it as a demo), it needs to be cheaper in general.

I genuinely believe that the future of games is in downloading. Better deals can be granted to everyone and the community system is an excellent reward. However, I don't believe it will necessarily be Steam that wins. They are winning at the moment, but like I said, Microsoft could sweep in at any point.

What do you think? Do you buy all your games from Steam, or do you cling to the polythene wrapping? Do you think that broadband is ready for this? Post your remarks below, I would love to see some other opinions on this.

"All your base are belong to us"