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.

"All your base are belong to us"